The Star Eagle Adventures VI: Semper Fidelis

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by CeJay, Sep 15, 2014.

  1. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Michael Owens understood that they had to move fast. Their only advantage at the moment was the fact that General Lam didn’t know that Wasco had switched sides. Therefore he had been able to send a message back to the embassy to make the general believe that he and his search team had come up empty handed at the monastery and that they were moving on to their next location to try and apprehend the fugitive Starfleet officers and Gul Belore.

    Instead they were planning on commandeering the Marine shuttle—it had taken Deen only a few minutes to locate its transponder and make it transmit false data—to use it to make the trip to Forward Operating Command Phoenix, a Marine base located almost four-thousand miles south from the capital and close to Cardassian-held territory. Phoenix was the headquarters of Lieutenant Colonel Svea van der Meer and her First Battalion, a close friend of Wasco’s, and according to the major, just about the only senior officer on Valeria who might be willing to ask questions first and shoot later at anyone suggesting turning against General Xiaogang Lam.

    It was a huge gamble of course but as far as Michael was concerned, it was one of their only remaining chances to see this war end quickly and bloodlessly.

    “I don’t understand why I cannot wear that uniform and you be the prisoner.” Sharval had made it clear that she was not crazy about the idea of trying to appeal to other Marines, the very same people who were responsible for bringing this war to her world in the first place. She appreciated their plan of having her and Belore act as prisoners in order to get close to the base even less.

    “I think it’s pretty obvious.” Owens zipped up a tactical vest over the combat fatigues he now wore. They had borrowed the uniforms from two of their own prisoners they had left tied up in the barn. They had been understandably reluctant to part with their clothes and Michael had provided them their civilian attire instead so he didn’t have to rob them of their dignity as well. It hadn’t helped to improve their mood much. “Starfleet doesn’t have any Valerian Marines as far as I know. You would stand out far too much, defeating the purpose of our little charade.”

    She smirked. “I do tend to stand out wherever I go. Can’t help that I’ve been blessed with such great natural beauty.” She winked at Deen who stood nearby and who was also finishing up pulling on the combat equipment. “I believe you understand what a curse that can be, don’t you, dear?”

    Deen offered a minuscule nod but not much else. Even though Deen most likely understood perfectly and much more so than Sharval could ever imagine. It didn’t take much to realize that the young woman didn’t appreciate the condescending tone. Or perhaps, Michael thought, there was more to what Deen found objectionable about the Valerian woman.

    Sharval didn’t pay the Tenarian any further attention and instead focused on Owens again as they prepared to board the shuttle. “Did I mention that I believe this is a horrible idea?”

    Belore shot her a brief glance. “Many times.”

    “Good. Because I want it to be known that this is incredibly foolish. First of all, little princess over there doesn’t look anything like a Marine. She’s far too young.” She indicated back towards Deen who responded with a scowl.

    Michael had to admit that she war right. Even after putting up her glowing golden locks and hiding them inside her helmet, Deen looked far too petite to be a Marine. And her peaceful and alluring aura didn’t exactly lend itself to a person trained as a warrior either.

    “And second, I may not know much about your people’s culture but in mine, the notion of fooling soldiers with fake prisoners is a terribly obvious ploy. Nobody is going to fall for this.”

    “We don’t need to fool everyone. We just need to get close enough to Phoenix so that we can speak to van der Meer.” Wasco of course didn’t have to fake being anything other than himself and seemed the most confident in this plan.

    Owens nodded. “Exactly. Just play your part and we should be alright.” Then he boarded the shuttle along with the others, not missing that Sharval was the last person to step inside and even then only hesitantly.

    Once he was sure she had taken a seat on one of the benches lining the bulkheads, he took the chair next to Wasco who would steer the vessel towards the Marine base.

    With little further delay the major had the main hatch secured, took off gently and pointed the shuttle’s nose southward. To reduce their chance of detection he kept the shuttle fairly low, less than two hundred feet over the ground and their speed just below breaking the sound barrier.

    It would mean of course that people on the ground could easily spot them but hopefully the sight of a Starfleet Marine shuttle wasn’t an uncommon sight on Valeria. However if they were detected by sensors, somebody might have deduced that their transponder signal had them traveling into an entirely different direction.

    The rain seemed to pick up the further south they were heading, pelting the shuttle’s windscreen with increasing intensity. Michael could see that the rolling hills which had dominated the surroundings of the monastery quickly gave way to large areas of forested lands. Wasco did his best to avoid any population centers, of which there weren’t many as the Valerians didn’t tend to cluster around cities.

    They didn’t encounter any trouble until approaching the base nearly five hours after they had first set out.

    “We’re being hailed.” Wasco looked at Owens.

    “Let’s hear it.”

    “Shuttle Sierra-November-Two-Two-Six, this is FOC Phoenix Control. Please identify yourself and state the purpose of your approach.”

    Owens nodded at Wasco, letting him know to respond.

    “Phoenix control, this is Major Cesar Wasco on the Shuttle Sierra-November-Two-Two-Six. We are transporting two prisoners to Phoenix detention. An enemy Cardassian combatant and a Valerian national suspected of sabotage. Requesting permission to approach.”

    There was a momentary delay and Owens held his breath. If they didn’t buy there little story there was little to stop them from shooting the shuttle out of the sky.

    “Sierra-November-Two-Two-Six, Phoenix Control. Scans confirms you are carrying a Cardassian and Valerian on your shuttle. You are cleared to land on platform Seven-Four-Oscar. Disengage all engines once on the ground and await your escort.”

    “Solid copy on all, Phoenix Control. Sierra-November-Two-Two-Six, out.”

    Owens could see the base coming into view. The large compound was strategically positioned on a small rise in the jungle below. It was heavily defended, similarly to the fusion plant they had scouted earlier. It was larger however and with much more activity. Wasco didn’t steer the shuttle directly towards the base but to a small landing area at the foot of the hill, at least a few hundred yards from the base itself. No doubt intended as a security buffer.

    Michael stood and headed towards the back to find Deen along with Belore and Sharval. “So far so good. Now we just have to convince them to let us in.” He presented two small and thin silvery discs which he had retrieved from his tactical vest.

    Sharval, now on her feet as well, smirked when she recognized the purpose of the small devices and held up her wrists in front of him. “Tell the truth, you’ve been wanting to tie me up from the moment you’ve met me.”

    He offered a little smile in response and then dropped the device in between her wrists. The silvery disc immediately hummed to the life, sensing the right composition of skin and bones and forced them together.

    “A bit tight, no?”

    He shrugged and handed the second disc to Deen who restraint Belore in a similar fashion.

    A few short moments later Wasco had sat down the shuttle and joined the others in the back. He considered the captain. “I suggest you let me do the talking, sir.”

    “Those are your people, Major. If you can’t get us passed them, nobody can.” He grabbed an assault rifle and Deen and Wasco did the same. He gently poked Sharval in the back when she remained reluctant to head towards the exit.

    “Hey, take it easy there, Sky Knight.”

    “You don’t stop calling me that soon and we might find out what else I can do with this.”

    She shook her head in mock disgust. “You’re enjoying this far too much.”

    Owens responded with a tiny smile. Sharval was obviously a woman of action, somebody who liked to take charge. Now she had been reduced to a role in which she could do nothing but follow and it obviously caused her some frustration. And he did take a little pleasure of seeing her out of her comfort zone for once. He quickly forced himself to present a more serious mien when the shuttle hatch began to open and a group of four heavily armed Marines came into view.

    Thankfully none of them appeared particularly suspicious of their new guests. Their phaser rifles were hanging by their sides or slung over their backs as they waited patiently for Wasco and the others to disembark.

    Owens found that Sharval’s comment about Deen’s age earlier didn’t hold water. The lead Marine was noticeably younger than even the Tenarian. He offered a crisp salute to the major.

    “At ease, Corporal. Just here to drop off a couple of prisoners we picked up a few klicks north of here. Looks like the locals are scheming with the Cardassians now.”

    The young corporal relaxed and shot Belore and Sharval poisonous glares. “Not surprised at all, sir. Damn Valerians can’t be trusted. They think the Spoonheads will be their friends? They’ve got another thing coming. We can take them from here.”

    Owens and Deen exchanged a very brief look of concern.

    “That’s alright, Corporal, we might as well take them in ourselves and brief the colonel while we’re here.”

    The young man considered the major for a moment and then let his eyes wander over the rest of his team and his prisoners.

    “But I do have a timetable, Corporal. General Lam wants me back at HQ as soon as possible.”

    That forced the man’s focus back towards Wasco. He offered a curt nod. “Of course, sir. We’ll escort you.”

    He shook his head. “That won’t be necessary, we’ll find our way.” Without waiting for a response from the corporal, Wasco set out towards the base, following clear signage pointing to the main gate on top of the hill.

    Owens felt the corporal’s eyes resting on their team for a while but risked a quick glance over his shoulder after a couple of minutes and was relieved to find that he and his men had seemingly moved on to other duties.

    “That was almost too easy.”

    He graced Sharval with a satisfied little smile. “Oh ye of little faith.”

    Her responding blank look gave proof that she didn’t fully understand the reference.

    “I suggest we don’t count our chickens just yet.”

    The Valerian turned towards Deen next, clearly having a hard time following the idioms.

    But Owens was more concerned with the reason for her concern. They had nearly reached the gate when he spotted another group of six Marines approaching with fast steps, heading them off. These ones looked much more determined, led by what appeared to be a more experienced NCO.

    “Relax and keep moving unless they say otherwise.” Wasco followed his own advice.

    They said otherwise. “Stop right there.”

    Wasco halted just a few short yards from the main gate.

    “Major Wasco?”

    He turned to regard the new Marine unit and the Deltan sergeant who was leading them and who had called out to him. “Yes, Gunnery Sergeant. What is it? We are in a bit of hurry.”

    “This can’t be good.” Belore kept his voice low as the Marines nearly completely surrounded him and the others.

    The Deltan took a moment to look Wasco and the others over.

    “As I said, we don’t have a lot of time, Sergeant. I would appreciate it if you’d let us pass.” Wasco’s voice was sharp, no doubt the same kind of tone he relied on when giving orders to his men when in combat. It had worked pretty well on the young corporal earlier but the Deltan didn’t seem willing to bow to his authority quite so quickly.

    “You need to come with us, sir.”

    Wasco shook his head. “What I need to do, Sergeant, is deliver these prisoners, brief the colonel and return to HQ as quickly as possible.”

    The sergeant stepped closer and Owens suspected trouble immediately. It became even more obvious when the other Marines raised their rifles. They didn’t aim them but the implication was clear. “Major, I have orders from General Lam to bring you back to HQ immediately. Now I would much prefer to do this as respectfully to you as possible considering your rank. But if you force my hand, we can do this a lot less civilly.”

    “Let me speak to the colonel first.”

    The sergeant shook his head. “The general was very clear about this, sir. He wants you, Captain Owens and Gul Belore back at HQ without delay.”

    And with that, all pretenses disappeared. Owens wasn’t entirely sure how Lam had found out about their attempt to get to Phoenix but the most likely scenario involved Thelos and the other Marines having managed to free themselves and contact Lam about Wasco’s defection which in turn had likely prompted an alarm going out to all bases in the area.

    “You will lower your weapons and come with us now.”

    With the niceties apparently out of the way, the Marines aimed their weapons at the no longer disguised Starfleet team and their prisoners.

    “Told you this was too easy.” Sharval raised her arms in frustration, causing a couple of rifles to draw beads on her.

    “Listen to me, Marine. All I’m asking for is a word with Colonel van der Meer. Five minutes. After that we’ll go wherever you want to take us.”

    “I can’t do that, sir.”

    Owens understood what was at stake here. Considering the kind of orders Lam had given Sergeant Thalos, it stood to reason that this man had similar instructions concerning Belore’s and his own fate. And even if he had not been told to terminate them, somebody else would have been ordered to do just that, most likely making it look like an accident.

    Michael took a careful step forward until he stood side by side with Wasco, keeping his rifle down and making sure not to give the Marines any reason to fire. “This is one of those orders you do not want to follow, Sergeant. What you don’t realize is that this war is over. Has been for days. We have been sent here under orders from Starfleet Command to end it. Orders your general is ignoring.”

    The sergeant considered Owens suspiciously. Clearly it wasn’t enough to sway him. A few words from an officer he had never met before would not trump the oath he had sworn to follow the orders of his commanders.

    “Jonar Arik?”

    Apparently surprised at hearing his name, the Deltan looked towards the person who had uttered it. Owens stepped aside to allow Deen to step forward.

    “DeMara Deen?” He seemed completely baffled at finding that woman here and Owens could tell that Deen seemed just as surprised.

    The Deltan’s face turned into a wide smile and at first Michael attributed this to the general reaction many people had when they met a Tenarian for the first time. But there was much more there than that. There was recognition in his eyes and he actually instructed his men to lower their rifles when they drew on her.

    “I can’t believe it’s you. You are a Marine?”

    He nodded with a widening grin. “Yeah. What the hells are you doing here?”

    It took her moment to respond, getting over her own shock of this entirely unexpected encounter. “I serve on Eagle under Captain Owens.” She indicated towards Michael. “I cannot believe you became a Marine. You were studying sciences at the Academy.”

    That grin didn’t leave his face. “Trust me, Dee, it’s a long story.”

    It was then that Owens finally understood who this sergeant was. Jonar Arik had been a cadet at the Academy at the same time Deen had been there. In fact, at the same time he had been a tutor. He was fairly sure Arik had not attended any of his classes but he did remember that he had been a very close friend of Deen’s who back then had refused to engage in any kind of intimate relationship until she had rather suddenly gotten involved with him. It had made her reconsider leaving Starfleet Academy after she had grown increasingly frustrated at the amount of attention she had invited there.

    Sharval took a half step forward. “I am all in favor of beautiful reunions with long lost acquaintances but perhaps now that we have established that we’re all friend here, perhaps we could meet with this colonel of yours.”

    Arik looked torn. “I have my orders.”

    Deen considered him with her powerful purple eyes. “Please, Jonar, let us talk to her. The captain is right, the war with the Dominion is over and we need to find a way to end it here on Valeria as well. The colonel may help.”

    He wasn’t immediately convinced. Even Deen’s near magical charm couldn’t cut through years of training and dedication to following orders. But then he nodded slowly. “I’ll let her know you’re here and of your request. If she agrees I’ll take you to see her.”

    “That’s all we ask.” Deen smiled at him.

    Sergeant Arik stepped away from Owens and the others to make the call but the rest of his men remained in place, keeping watchful eyes on them.

    “I think I’m about to change my mind about you.” Sharval looked towards Deen. “You can be quite useful to have around.”

    “I’m not just a pretty face.”

    She shrugged. “I don’t know if I’d go that far.”

    Deen scowled at her but before she could come back with a response, Arik returned.

    “Follow me. I’ll take you to Colonel van der Meer now.”

    * * *​
  2. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Eagle had made good time by really pushing her powerful warp engines this time and had managed to arrive in the Mittias system only a few minutes after Sacajawea which had already entered orbit around the small moon of the third planet. The larger ship joined her with little delay.

    Star felt anxious and not just because she had to deal with Mahoney again which had become an increasingly unpleasant experience. She fully expected another conflict and not necessarily with the enemy. Her entire body was tense as she sat up even straighter in the captain’s chair. She had wanted the chance to prove herself handling things in Captain Owens’ absence ever since she had arrived on Eagle and now that he was gone, all of a sudden she wished for nothing more than for him being in the center seat instead of her. “Stanmore, give me a picture here. What’s on that moon?”

    The operations officer checked his console. “The heavy electromagnetic radiation in this system is making sensor readings unreliable, sir.”

    The turbolift doors opened to allow Elijah Katanga and Nora Laas to enter the bridge. Star noticed that they had been in deep conversation which quickly concluded after they stepped out onto the bridge. She felt a small tinge of irrational jealousy, as if she didn’t appreciate the idea that her closest and perhaps only friend on this ship was warming up to the one person who had once been her archrival. She quickly shook off those thoughts, she had much more important things to concern herself with.

    She turned towards the rear of the bridge were Xylion had once again manned his science station. “Commander, anything you can do?”

    The Vulcan was already at work. “I am compensating for the gamma ray interference by utilizing the lateral sensor array.” This approach seemed to yield results after just a few seconds. “I am still not able to distinguish individual life sign readings, however sensors are detecting a cluster of bio signs on the surface as well as multiple structures and starship energy signatures.”

    “Can you determine the type of ships?”

    Xylion turned from his station. “Not with complete accuracy. In my estimation there is a 77.82% chance that the vessels are escorts of Cardassian origin.”

    “Looks to me we’re in the right place.” Nora had taken position next to Trinik on the raised platform behind the command area. Of course nobody would have ever confused the Bajoran as a tactical officer, the security chief was much more of a hands-on kind of person and didn’t usually spend a lot of time on the bridge. “And it seems like a pretty good hiding place for pirates.”

    Star had to agree and nodded.

    A soft trill from the tactical station caught Trinik’s attention. “Sir, we are being hailed by the Sacajawea.”

    She glanced towards the screen. “Took them long enough.”

    Katanga had taken his usual chair to her left. “Remember to be civil now.”

    “Who me? When am I ever not?” She stood and took a few steps towards the screen, bracing herself to face her worst nightmare yet again. “Put him through please.”

    Mahoney, as usual, didn’t look happy at all. “Commander, I take it you have been able to scan the moon’s surface with your advanced sensors?”

    Star was fairly sure he was being sarcastic even if it wasn’t called for. She nodded. “Looks as if you found their base.”

    That self-satisfying smile returned to his features. “We’ve tried to hail them a few times but they are unwilling to respond. I’ve already advised the Thulians that we have located the source of all their troubles and that we will be dealing with it swiftly.”

    She frowned at that. She didn’t like when people were getting ahead of themselves.

    “I want you to commence an orbital bombardment. Target their ships on the surface and wipe them out. That will pretty much put an end to their abilities to carry out any further raids on freighters in this sector.”

    And strand perhaps hundreds of people on a remote little moon in the middle of nowhere, thought Star. Not to mention kill whoever would be unlucky enough to still be in those ships. But what bothered her even more at that moment was the fact that he had apparently decided to let her do all the dirty work and she wondered why. Was it so he could keep his hands clean if things went sideways? Did he plan to add her actions of destroying a pirate base from orbit to the long list of things he would be using to try and get her cashiered out of the service? She wouldn’t have put it passed him.

    Katanga got out of his chair, clearly not comfortable at all with this order. “I think we should try to talk to them first. Give them every opportunity to surrender.”

    Mahoney shook his head. “We’ve already tried that. And not just today. They have continuously spurned all our efforts to open a dialogue. Even the man you took into custody has decided to be uncooperative. Now it’s time for resolute action. Which is entirely appropriate considering they were directly responsible for annihilating an entire colony.”

    Star took another step closer to the screen to underscore her next point. “I’m not so sure about that. We’ve made a number of observations which don’t quite match up with the image of ruthless pirates. There were multiple fake warp signatures around Yarra III even though we’ve been able to establish only one vessel was responsible for the attack. And we are not able to verify that that vessel was the same used by these so-called pirates. What’s more, throughout the attack—which lasted minutes—the outpost didn’t once return fire.”

    “So they were caught unaware.”

    “There are too many unanswered questions. Such as why the Thulian freighters are going out of their way to pass through the Valerian system even if it is nowhere near their normal flight route and the detour is costing them days. Something isn’t right here and I believe whoever is on that base might provide us some answers. Lets try and find a way to talk to them before we decide to turn the surface of that moon into glass. We could send an away team down there.”

    “And risk turning them into hostages?” He resolutely shook his head. “I don’t think so. I need you to carry out your orders, Commander. The longer we delay the greater the chance they may manage an escape.”

    She uttered a heavy sigh. “Damn it, Evan, listen to me. I know we’ve had our disagreements but—

    “No, you listen to me, Commander.” The man practically exploded like an erupting volcano, gripping the armrests of his chair tightly as if he was trying to keep himself from jumping out of it. “You start following my orders, do you understand? Every single one I give you. That is your duty in case you had forgotten. And you will start showing me the respect I deserve. Not once over the last couple of days have you referred to me as sir or captain, that stops now, am I making myself clear? You don’t even realize the trouble you’re already in. After you have repeatedly ignored and disobeyed my direct orders, you should consider yourself lucky I haven’t had you removed of command yet. My patience with you—which has been significant—has come to its end. You will start following my orders to the letter or so help me God, you’ll spend the rest of your Starfleet career behind bars. Now, fire on that goddamned moon.” Mahoney stabbed a control on his armrest and his image disappeared from the viewscreen.

    Dead silence fell over the bridge, almost as if nobody was willing to do as much as utter an errant breath after Mahoney’s seething tirade. Even Star had been shocked into wordlessness, not having expected him to lose his temper in such a public manner. Perhaps she shouldn’t have been surprised but so far he had managed to hide his simmering hate for her behind a mask of civility, only letting it shine through when they had been alone.

    The problem of course was the fact that he was right. She had not shown him the kind of respect that would have been expected from her and she had in fact disregarded his orders, was considering doing so even now. As far as Starfleet Command was concerned, Mahoney would have been entirely within his rights to relieve her of command and after that it’d be just a formality until she would face another court martial. He had her exactly where he had wanted her.

    Star felt the eyes of the entire bridge crew on her, watching her carefully to see what her next order would be.

    It was the security chief who spoke up first. “I don’t give a frak what this guy’s problem is. You are right, there is something else going on here and we need to find out what it is.”

    She couldn’t hide her amazement at hearing supportive words from the very same woman who just a few months ago wouldn’t have hesitated for a second to speak out against her.

    Xylion had stood from his station. “Agreed. The evidence, while circumstantial at this time, warrants further investigation. Additionally, any instruction to carry out an unprovoked orbital bombardment of the moon’s surface which could lead to a high number of casualties is not only ill-advised, it might constitute an illegal order under Starfleet regulations.”

    “And in my professional medical opinion,” Katanga said, taking a reaffirming step into her direction. “Captain Mahoney is displaying obvious signs of higher than normal stress levels which may cloud his judgment in this matter. Personally I believe he’s completely lost his marbles, but that won’t make it into my report. At least not quite in those exact words.”

    Tazla Star smirked. Not just at Katanga’s colorful manner in which he had framed the issue but also at the unexpected support from her officers. It reminded her of something Nora Laas had told her a few days earlier. On this ship, we look out for each other. And she was unquestionably part of this ship now as well. It was the kind of loyalty no amount of latinum in the galaxy could buy.

    She offered them a thankful nod before she glanced at her science officer. “Would we be able to beam down an away team through the interference, Commander?”

    “We should be able to compensate for the radiation by boosting the annular confinement beam. However I would strongly suggest any away team would equip itself with transporter enhancers and communication boosters.”

    Star looked at Nora next.

    The security chief placed her hands on the edge of the horseshoe-shaped tactical console and leaned forward. “I can have a team ready in less than five minutes.”

    “Take the Marines. We don’t know what to expect down there.”

    She was already heading towards the turbolift. “My thinking precisely, Commander.”


    The Bajoran stopped short of reaching the exit and turned back to face Star.

    “We need to find out what’s going on here. This is a fact finding mission, not an assault.”

    Nora uttered a little sigh. “Why do people always think all I am capable of is fighting and shooting? Don’t worry, Commander, I will be extremely diplomatic.” And then she disappeared into the turbolift.

    Star couldn’t help but have doubts about how diplomatic the fiery Bajoran could be, especially when backed by an entire team of Marines. For a moment she considered sending Xylion with her to lead the away mission in her stead but she quickly dismissed the idea as she needed her science officer on the bridge in case there were unforeseen problems with the electromagnetic interference in this system. Besides, she reasoned, Nora had shown real trust in her. It was only fair to return the favor.

    She took a seat in the center chair again and after a moment Katanga followed suit, sitting down next to her and aiming an encouraging glance her way. Then she focused once more on the Sacajawea on the screen. She had decided on her next move, the question now was what would Mahoney’s be? How far would he go to get his revenge on her for once and for all? She had the bad feeling that she would come to regret finding out.

    * * *​
  3. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Sergeant Arik and a couple of his men escorted Wasco, Owens, Deen and the two pretend prisoners into a large briefing room of sorts. An utilitarian table stood at its center and at least six similar chairs surrounded it. Most of the wall screens displayed tactical maps of the area with Starfleet and Cardassian troop locations and other relevant information.

    By the table, leaning against the edge, Owens spotted what had to be van der Meer. Even not standing at her full height, she appeared tall and statuesque with blonde hair pulled tightly into a short ponytail, it’s bright color almost rivaling DeMara’s. As her name had implied she appeared to be of Scandinavian descent and her formfitting fatigues bespoke of a strong and powerful body. Owens guessed her to be in her mid-thirties, similar to Wasco himself. She had a stern look on her face which quickly vanished when she recognized an old friend.

    She stood away from the table. “Tony?”

    Owens knew she was referring to Wasco by his middle name which was Anthony.

    “What in the name of God brings you to this forsaken place?” She quickly approached her fellow Marine and they hugged for a moment.

    Michael was relieved to find her this pleased to see him again. If her reaction had been different, their chances of making her an ally against Lam would have been drastically reduced.

    “Svea, it’s great seeing you again. He made you a lieutenant colonel, huh? Always knew you’d have your own battalion one day.”

    They separated and considered each other for a moment.

    “The reward for loyalty. Wish it had been under different circumstances. My predecessor was killed in combat a few months ago.”

    Arik stepped forward to address the colonel. “Ma’am, we have orders to take the Major and the rest of his group back to HQ immediately, however he was insistent on seeing you first.”

    “Orders from whom?”

    “General Lam, ma’am.”

    She frowned and looked at Wasco and his companions before focusing back on the sergeant. “And how come this is the first I hear about this?”

    The Deltan looked uncomfortable. “Honestly, ma’am, I don’t know.”

    But Wasco had an answer. “Because Lam knows that we came here to see you. He knows that we are old friends and he wanted to make sure we didn’t get a chance to talk.”

    Van der Meer looked concerned. “What the hell is going on here, Tony?”

    “More than you think. This is Captain Owens from the starship Eagle, as well as Lieutenant Deen. Sub-commissioner Sharval from Valerian Security and Gul Belore, representative from the Cardassian government.”

    They all exchanged quick nods.

    “I think it be best if I let Captain Owens explain the situation.”

    Michael stepped forward. “Colonel, Eagle has been dispatched to Valeria as Starfleet Command has been unable to establish communications with General Lam. We have been sent to advise that the Dominion War is over and a peace treaty is now in effect. We are here to prepare your troops to come home.”

    It took van der Meer a moment for those words to sink in. “I think we better sit down.”

    Arik made no move towards any of the chairs. “Ma’am, what about my orders?”

    “Under the circumstances I would recommend that you advise Lam that we are in custody and on our way back to the capital.”

    Van der Meer looked doubtful at Wasco’s suggestion, clearly not liking the idea of lying to a commanding officer.

    “I’ll explain later but trust me, right now that’s the better option than possibly having Lam show up on your doorstep with an entire battalion of his own.”

    The colonel’s eyes grew a little wider then, but clearly still reluctant. She looked at Arik. “Alright, do it. Advise HQ Wasco and the others are in custody and awaiting transfer.” She glanced back at her friend. “You better have one hell of a story to tell me or those orders won’t be too far from the truth.”

    The Deltan appeared as unhappy to carry out those orders as van der Meer had been giving them but he acknowledged them with a curt nod regardless and then left with his two men.

    The colonel took a seat at the table and the others quickly followed suit. Owens had made sure to remove Sharval’s and Belore’s restraints first.

    Van der Meer looked at the faces of her unexpected guests. “Now, somebody mind telling me what kind of trouble you have brought my way?”

    Deen removed her helmet to let her hair out and placed it on the table. “It’s peace, Colonel. You would think it’s the exact opposite of trouble.”

    The Marine couldn’t help but regard the beautiful young woman for a moment, perhaps distracted by her undeniable aura for just a brief moment. “Alright. And that’s very good news but why come to me with this and why is Lam meaning to arrest you?” She glanced back at Owens.

    “A very good question, Colonel.” The captain had now also removed his helmet. “General Lam is not convinced that this peace is a good idea for Valeria.”

    Sharval uttered a displeased grunt. “Because a foreigner clearly knows much better what’s good for us than we do ourselves.”

    Van der Meer aimed her a confused glance before looking back at Owens. “I don’t exactly follow, Captain.”

    “The general believes that regardless of the defeat of the Dominion and the peace treaty now in effect, that the Cardassians still pose a significant threat to Valerian and Federation interests on this planet. He has refused to consider a cease fire which Metral has in principle agreed on, convinced that any such move would be exploited by the Cardassians to take over Valeria. When we attempted to show to the general that the Valerians were willing to accept these kind of risks, his response was to have the Valerian delegation as well as Gul Belore, myself and Lieutenant Deen arrested. Lam will not stop until he has won this war, peace treaty or not.”

    The colonel leaned back in her chair, taking in all this information as her eyes wandered across the room. They finally came to rest on the only Cardassian present. “If the Dominion has surrendered why isn’t Metral doing the same?”

    “Metral is in a similar position as your general, Colonel.” Belore leaned forward slightly. “He has lost contact with Central Command and his last orders were to keep fighting until victory was secured. He is understandably suspicious of these news but when I spoke to him he was at least willing to agree to a cease fire if Lam agreed to do the same.”

    Owens took over. “And we cannot wait for this to sort itself out. Lam has a new fusion plant going operational any day now and plans a major offensive against the Cardassians. Hundreds, if not thousands will be killed in a name of war which is already won. I cannot allow this. It may take days, perhaps even weeks until Starfleet can reestablish communication or sent additional ships to transport the troops home.”

    The colonel uttered a heavy sigh. “And for some reason you thought bringing all this to me would help you?”

    “I knew you’d listen to us, Svea, it’s more than Lam or any other Marine on this world is willing to do. We need to find a way to stop this before it’s too late.”

    She shook her head. “I’m a Marine, Tony, like you. I fight and I follow orders. I’m not a diplomat and I’m sure as hell not a peace envoy.”

    Owens voice took on a sharp edge. “No, Colonel. We are the peace envoy and we’ve told you how successful that has been. As for following orders, Lam is ignoring his, which means any orders he is giving are illegal and therefore null and void.”

    “You speak of orders, Captain, but where are they? It’s not that I don’t believe you but others will not be so quick to trust the words of a starship captain over those of the general they have followed for years.”

    “They are on my ship.”

    “And where is your ship, Captain?”

    He uttered a little sigh. “Not here currently, I’m afraid. They are dealing with an emergency elsewhere.”

    “I think I may be able to help with orders.”

    All eyes turned to DeMara Deen who had promptly removed the tactical vest she still wore. Then she hesitated. “If you gentlemen would be so kind as to divert your glances for a moment.”

    Owens wasn’t sure what she was up to but seeing her insistent eyes he did as she had asked, Wasco and Belore doing the same. He could hear the telltale sound of clothes being undone and then heard Shaval utter a little amused laugh.

    “Here we go.”

    When he turned back to her she held a small green isolinear chip in her hand while she was securing her fatigues again with the other. She answered Owens’ puzzled glance with a playful smirk. “I hid this and kept it with me when Lam had us thrown into that dungeon of his, thought it might come in handy.”

    He understood. Those were the files he had requested from Eagle before she had departed. He didn’t ask where on her body she had concealed them but he had a pretty good idea.

    Belore considered the woman with approval. “Quite ingenious, Lieutenant.”

    Even Sharval couldn’t drop that smirk. “Full of surprises, aren’t you?”

    Deen shrugged and then slid the chip across the table where van der Meer easily caught it. “On this you’ll find all relevant surrender documents, the full text of the Treaty of Bajor as well as our authenticated orders to ensure the end of the ground war on Valeria. Even a declaration signed by all the chief magistrates of Valeria asking for the end of the war and the withdrawal of all foreign troops.”

    She picked up the small thin plastic strip. “It’s a good start but I’m not sure if it’s enough.”

    Sharval uttered a heavy groan. “Of course it’s not.”

    Michael shot her a displeased look, not appreciating her defeatist attitude.

    “Oh come on, it’s obvious what’s going on here.” She leaned back and crossed her arms in front of her chest. “She said it herself, she’s a Marine, just like all the others. Were you really expecting her or anyone else to turn against Lam? These people are practically worshipping that mad man.”

    Both Wasco and van der Meer skewered the Valerian with poisonous glares of their own. The colonel spoke before the major had the chance. “It isn’t that easy. And no, I do not worship General Lam even though I have to admit that I find it difficult to accept that he would so easily disregard these news that you have brought.” She looked back at Owens. “But you have to understand that Marines operate on a rigid system of loyalty to our commanders. It’s the only way we can be such an effective fighting force. I know that other branches in Starfleet do not fully understand this concept but trust me, without it, we wouldn’t stand a chance against the likes of the Jem’Hadar or even the Cardassians who are born and bred or taught from a very young age to give their lives for their cause.”

    Belore nodded along slowly, acceding to that particular point.

    “The general must have his reasons for wanting to continue this fight and I just don’t see a way of how I or anyone else short of his superior officers can make him change his mind about this.”

    “And are you willing to doom hundreds or even thousands of your own men in this pursuit?” Owens kept his tone sharp as a dagger.

    She raised her hands over her eyes for a moment, massaging her forehead in the process. “I joined the Marines precisely to not having to make those kind of decisions, damn it. We follow orders and defend the Federation. That’s what we do.”

    “Then defend the Federation, Colonel. Stop Lam.”

    “And how do you suppose I do that?” Her voice was now just as intense as his as her eyes drilled themselves into Owens’. “You want me to take my battalion and march on the embassy in the capital? Lam controls ten times as many men as I do. Besides, my own men would never follow an order to turn against their own general.”

    Owens shook his head. “We don’t need to march on the capital. What we need is to stop Lam from being able to continue this war. Take away his ability to wage this offensive he has planned and destroy his power plant before it can go operational. With your battalion we have more than enough firepower to achieve this.”

    He could tell that van der Meer remained unconvinced and even Wasco didn’t seem fully committed to this plan. The colonel stood from her chair and walked over to one of the many screens on the wall. Owens could see that she was looking for the location of that facility on one of her maps. It didn’t take her too long to find it. Then she turned around, appearing even more skeptical then before. “A heavily defended plant. How many Marines do you think would lose their lives on such an assault?”

    He recognized it for the rhetorical question that it was. There was no doubt that any direct attack would incur casualties but he could think of no better option. “A lot fewer than a full out offensive will cost.”

    “But that’s different, Captain, surely you can see that. Any offensive is aimed at our enemies, this is an attack on our own people.”

    Belore stood. “We are not your enemies anymore.”

    “And you are bound to kill a great number of my people in this offensive as well.” Sharval didn’t stand but her voice was just a fierce as those of the others. Perhaps even more so. “Are you willing to have that on your conscience, Colonel? Being responsible for all these deaths which could have been avoided if only you’d shown some backbone?”

    But van der Meer simply shook her head, not rising to Sharval’s bait. “Even if I were to agree to this plan of yours, my own commanders wouldn’t go through with it, I can guarantee you that. As I’ve told you, I’ve only been in command for a few months. Not long enough to earn the unquestioned trust of this battalion. If I ordered them to attack a Marine facility, peace treaty or no, I’d be removed from command by my own staff in a heartbeat and the next battalion commander won’t hesitate to have you delivered back to Lam.”

    Sharval shot her a humorless smile. “And here I thought your ethos was loyalty over everything.”

    “Loyalty means more than just following orders. It’s not just some sort of abstract concept which means to stand by you commanders no matter what. It’s loyalty to your own people, to the men and women we fight side by side with. There has never been a mutiny amongst Marines precisely for this reason. We don’t turn against our own. Ever.”

    Wasco nodded. “She’s right.”

    Deen seemed surprised to hear him say this. “Coming from you? You’ve turned against your own, Major.”

    “And it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever had to do.” He pointed at the map. “And doing it on this scale is unthinkable. Certainly to the Marines we would have to ask to fight this battle.”

    Owens suppressed a sigh he felt coming on. He understood what he was up against. Centuries of training and programming to follow orders and being true to one’s nature could not be cast aside this quickly. And even van der Meer, who appeared willing to accept what he had told her, seemed to be in an untenable position. She was clearly not established enough within her own unit to be able to give the kind of orders that had to be given if they wanted to stop what was to come next.

    “What is unthinkable to me is the idea that any more people will die on this world because of this war. So maybe we cannot get Marines to turn against Marines but what if we could reach out to the other commanders? We don’t have to get them to fight Lam, all we need them to do is to refuse to fight at all. Not because you or I are telling them to but because these are the orders coming from Starfleet Command. Orders which override General Lam’s.” He looked straight at van der Meer. “And Marines are supposed to follow orders, correct?”

    She nodded but only hesitantly. “We can try. I can make some careful inquires and this might help.” She held up the chip. “But doing so without Lam finding out is going to be very difficult. I have to be perfectly honest with you, Captain. After following Lam for two years, fighting perhaps the most intense war any of us have ever seen in our lifetimes, I cannot imagine a single commander on this planet not to follow him to the gates of hell if that’s what he would ask of them.”

    * * *​
  4. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    The tension on Sacajawea was so thick, Leva felt as if he could have measured it with a tricorder. Everyone had witnessed Mahoney’s outburst at Tazla Star and for a brief moment he had revealed exactly how he felt about that woman which had once been his captain for a short time. There was seething, unadulterated hatred there.

    He was out of his chair and pacing the compact bridge now, throwing furtive glances at the screen where he could spot Eagle in a parallel orbit around the moon containing the pirate base. “What’s she doing?”

    Alendra shook her head. “Nothing, sir. She’s just sitting there.”

    He glanced at Ensign Mirko Nikolić who Leva had placed at the tactical station to give the young man some hands-on experience. “Hail them again.”

    The Serbian officer shook his head. “They are ignoring us, sir.”

    “Damn that woman, damn her to hell. She’s through. By the time I’m done with her she’s going to be through in Starfleet.” He finally stopped pacing and glanced back at the screen. “Fine, if she wants to continue to disobey direct orders, that’s her decision. She’ll pay the price for this soon enough.” Mahoney had calmed himself somewhat before he turned to consider the tactical officer again. “Looks like we’ll have to do what needs to be done. Ensign, target those ships on the surface and fire. We need to take them out before they can scramble.”

    Leva took a few steps towards his captain. “Sir, the electromagnetic interference in this system is bound to throw off our targeting scanners.” He kept his voice as low as possible. “If we open fire we may cause a great deal of collateral damage.”

    Mahoney shook his head. “I’ve given these people all the chances in the world, Commander. They had plenty of opportunities to surrender. But this ends now, one way or another.”

    Leva held his ground, looking the man in the eye for a moment longer and easily spotting his resolve in this matter. Then he nodded curtly and stepped up next to Nikolić, relieving the younger man to take control of the ship’s weapons himself. Under the circumstances not only did he feel he was better suited for the task, he didn’t want the ensign to have to start his tactical career by accidentally incinerating an occupied building.

    “Fire photon torpedoes.”

    It took Leva a couple of seconds longer than usual to ensure he was targeting the energy signatures of those ships and nothing else. But even when he had confirmation and he had double-checked the results the sensors were providing him, he hesitated.

    Mahoney was not pleased with the delay. “Commander, open fire.”

    Leva tapped the commit control and the ship unleashed a single torpedo towards the surface. Concerned about possible errant shots, he intentionally kept the fire rate as low as possible, even if that meant that they would have to fire a number of additional torpedoes until all targets had been destroyed.

    It took the projectile only a few seconds to traverse the moon’s atmosphere and smash into the surface of the small moon. The sensor feedback was encouraging. “One ship destroyed, two more heavily damaged. Eight ships remaining.”

    Mahoney nodded with a satisfied little smile. “Excellent, keep firing until every single one of their ships is destroyed or beyond repair.”

    Leva promptly fired another torpedo. Then he noticed an incoming message.

    But with him being busy firing the weapons, Alendra handled communications from ops. “Sir, Eagle is advising us that they have sent an away team to the surface and asking us to hold our fire.”

    The captain stepped up next to the Bolian to look over her shoulder almost as if he couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “Goddamnit it, I told her not to do that. Tell her to bring them back right now.”

    Alendra went to work but quickly shook her head before looking up at the captain. Eagle was not complying.

    Mahoney was fuming. Then he turned towards Leva again. “Keep firing, Commander. That’ll make them think twice about being down there when I told them not to be.”

    Leva hesitated again. It was one thing to carry out an orbital bombardment of a pirate installation, it was something else entirely to do so when knowing that your own people could end up in the crossfire. “Sir, I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

    “I don’t care what you think. Keep firing.”

    He went back to his sensors which now confirmed the presence of Starfleet signatures on the surface. They were not close to his targets but with the sensors remaining unreliable, it wouldn’t have taken much for a torpedo to lose its guidance track and impact close to their location. And he was well aware of Eagle’s usual procedure when sending away teams to possibly hostile areas. Nora Laas was going to be down there. The thought that he could be responsible for her death by opening fire again made him unable to see this through. He stood from his station.

    Mahoney hissed angrily before he pointed at the ensign. “You, take over and fire.”

    Nikolić nodded slowly and then glanced at Leva who was doing his best to discourage the young man from taking that seat.

    “Now, Ensign.”

    The additional prompt made him jump in front of the tactical station.

    “Sir, Eagle is moving between us and the surface.” Alendra’s fingers were racing over her console, trying to confirm her own report. Then she nodded. “They are attempting to block us.”

    Leva looked at the screen and noticed with some relieve that his former ship was indeed putting herself directly into their line of fire, her large, oval-shaped saucer almost entirely obstructing their view of the moon.

    Mahoney raced towards the helm. “T’Sara, move us around her.”

    But the Vulcan woman did not appear to have any success. “They are matching our maneuvers, sir, I am unable to establish a clean line of fire.”

    “Keep at it.” Mahoney whirled back towards tactical. “Ensign, keep firing, they’ll move eventually.”

    “Uh, sir, I’m not sure if—“

    “Do it, Ensign, that’s a direct order.”

    Nikolić swallowed noticeably and turned back to the firing controls, obviously not having expected to having to fire on a friendly vessel on his first day at the tactical station.

    Leva had heard enough. “Belay that order, Ensign.” He stepped up to the captain.

    “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Commander?”

    “Trying to stop you from making a mistake, sir.”

    He shook his head. “They’ll move.”

    “And what if they don’t?” His voice was sharp and challenging. He had wanted to sound accommodating, perhaps even diplomatic but it seemed they were long passed that now. Somebody, he decided, needed to step up to this man and as the first officer, that was precisely his job. “They didn’t bring their away team back when you thought they would. What makes you think they’ll move out of the way now?” He shook his head. “You cannot give an order to fire on our own people.”

    The man shot him a venomous glare before pointing at the screen. “Those are the people defying my orders. And there is a price to pay for that.”

    “Yes, perhaps. But not this one.”

    Mahoney whipped back around, his face twitching with anger. “Stand down, Commander, or leave the bridge if you are unable to follow orders!”

    He didn’t move an inch. His voice rising to match Mahoney’s infuriated tone. “I’m not going to let you do this!”

    “I swear to God, Commander, I’ll have you thrown in the brig for insubordination. You’ll share a cell with Tazla Star!”

    “Stand down, Captain or I’ll be forced to—“

    “Forced to do what? You’ll relieve me of command? Who the hell do you think you are? You’ve been on this ship for all but two minutes. You don’t have—“

    “I have all the authority I need, Captain.” Leva didn’t care they were shouting openly now, yelling over each other, while the rest of the bridge crew watched with disbelieve at the power struggle taking place right within their midst.

    “You goddamned Romulan traitor! I gave you every chance—“

    “Like you’re giving those pirates? Like you’re giving our own people on that ship? Face it, Captain, you’ve lost your objectivity the moment you encountered Tazla Star. Whatever happened between the two of you is clouding your judgment.”

    “That is none of your goddamned business, do you understand? Now get off my bridge or I have security drag you out of here.”

    Mahoney was already well in Leva’s personal space, so close in fact, he could smell the man’s breath. But when he made an aggressive move towards him, as if to shove him aside, Leva pretty much reacted on instinct, grabbing Mahoney’s arm and with his superior strength, easily flipped him over, causing him to land on the carpeted floor with a loud thud.

    Mahoney moaned in pain and then fixed his infuriated eyes on his first officer. “Take him down!”

    Leva spotted movement from the corner of his eye. Too late did he realize that Ensign T’Sara had stood from her station with a phaser in hand. One she was pointing right at him.

    But just before she could fire, Alendra threw herself at the Vulcan. The phaser still erupted with bright crimson light but the beam went wide, missing Leva by a few inches and blasting into the master control console at the far end of the bridge, destroying Sacajawea’s ship diagram displayed there by shattering the console into pieces.

    Leva understood that this was getting out of control fast but it was too late now to put the metaphorical genie back into the bottle. Sides had been chosen and he was committed. One glance at Mahoney still splayed out on the floor confirmed it. He had murder in his eyes now and he would not stop until Leva was either dead or inside a brig. And after that, who knew what else he was capable of.

    With no further delay, Leva leaped over the railing separating the central command core from the bridge stations to get back to the tactical console.

    Nikolić, clearly confused as what he was supposed to be doing in this situation, attempted to restrain the half-Romulan as he approached. But he was too slow and inexperienced and Leva easily sidestepped the younger man, grabbed hold of his neck and back and shoved him towards the floor to get him out of his way.

    He reached the tactical station and his fingers raced over the controls.

    Another phaser beam impacted so close to his face, he could feel the heat of the beam against his tapered ear. He ducked instinctively but could not avoid being showered by hot sparks as the blast blew into the console to his right.

    He turned to see that T’Sara had managed to throw off the Bolian and was getting ready to fire yet again. Out of time, Leva hit one last control and watched as the tactical station went completely dark. Mission accomplished he dove for cover and just in time to avoid a third phaser blast meant for him.

    Leva could spot that Alendra had made it towards one of the turbolifts and he promptly followed, keeping low to avoid being skewered by one of those blasts.

    “Shoot him!” But Mahoney was too impatient with his Vulcan helmsman and instead stepped up to her and ripped the weapon out of her hand.

    It was the distraction Leva needed to make a run for the turbolift which Alendra had already boarded.

    Had Mahoney left T’Sara to keep firing she may have had a clear shot at him but by the time he had grabbed the weapon off her, taken aim and pushed the triggering stub, Leva had already taken cover inside the lift car and Mahoney hit nothing but the empty bulkhead inside.

    Leva ordered the lift to move and he could hear the captain cursing loudly as the doors closed. A final phaser blast hitting the closed doors rattled the cabin slightly but by then they were already speeding away from the bridge.

    He pulled himself up and turned to find Alendra sitting on the floor with her head low and her back against the bulkhead. She had her arms wrapped around her knees, pressing them against her chest. “Thanks for your help up there, Marjorie. I managed to disable the tactical and security systems and it will take them some time to get them up and running again.”

    She didn’t make eye contact. Instead she simply raised her blue index finger into the air and in his general direction. “Just … just don’t talk to me.”

    He nodded, understandingly. She had not expected to take his side. After all she had made that fairly clear in their last conversation. He wasn’t entirely sure why she had changed her mind but he knew that even if she regretted her actions now, she was as committed as he was. There was no turning back now.

    Leva leaned against the opposite bulkhead to catch his breath as he listened to the sound of the turbolift passing deck after deck. The truth was he had not planned for any of this. He had suspected that a conflict with Mahoney might become unavoidable but he had foolishly hoped that it would not escalate in such a drastic manner.

    But now, after he had disabled Mahoney’s ability to continue to pose a threat to Eagle, he had no idea what his next step should be. He had never mutinied before and the unfortunate truth remained; he was making things up as he went along.

    * * *​
  5. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    Well that escalated quickly.
  6. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Michael Owens had been understandingly frustrated after their meeting with Colonel van der Meer which had not been nearly as fruitful as he had hoped it would be. Deen sympathized with her position at least to some degree. If somebody had approached her on Eagle, attempting to convince her to plot against her captain, she would have been very skeptical and reluctant as well. Even if he clearly appeared to be in the wrong.

    Loyalty was a tricky thing and she had been fortunate enough never to have been placed in a position of having to choose between allegiance to her friends and commanding officers and having to do the right thing. Both Wasco and van der Meer were in an impossible situation in which they had been asked to turn against a man who wasn’t just a commanding officer, but had also been a mentor and a role model to them. Sharval had called it worship, and perhaps this wasn’t all too far off the mark, especially when the two officers had been younger and more impressionable. Neither of them were puppets, of that she was convinced, but they were also not the kind of people who had ever considered turning against their superiors.

    Deen could only hope that they’d do the right thing in the end. Not just for their sake but also for the sake of the people under their command, the Valerians and even the Cardassians.

    While Owens, Sharval, Belore and Wasco had stayed with the colonel to find a way to stop Lam and end this war, Deen had decided to go looking for somebody she had never expected to find on this planet, not to mention as part of the Marine contingent stationed here.

    Van der Meer had granted her and Owens free access throughout the base but had insisted that they changed back into their Starfleet uniforms, appreciatively not fond of the idea of them walking around in fatigues they had appropriated from captured Marines. Thankfully they had both had the presence of mind not to leave their uniforms back at the monastery.

    Deen quickly found that she stood out like a sore thumb and not just because of her clothing. Of course this wasn’t anything new to her and she offered a friendly smile to everyone she encountered even the Marines who openly stared at her, momentarily entranced by her unfamiliar and inexplicable aura.

    When she asked for directions, they pointed her to one of the barracks and once inside she found the section which housed the senior noncommissioned officers. There were fewer stares here, instead most Marines she came across snapped to attention when they spotted her and she wasn’t entirely sure at first why that was.

    “Officer on deck.” A voice barked as she stepped into what looked like a lounge of sorts with chairs, tables and even a small bar at the corner. The dozen Marines or so quickly turned her way—those sitting, left their chairs—and stood at full attention.

    Deen couldn’t help but blush slightly at that reaction, not one she was used to at all. Even Wasco’s Marines on Eagle weren’t this regimented when she happened to come across one of them on the ship. “Uh … sorry, I didn’t mean to disturb. I’m just looking for a friend.”

    “Don’t apologize. Marines don’t like that.”

    She turned and spotted Jonar Arik just behind her, stepping up to her slowly. “What do I do?”

    He rolled his eyes at her. “Just tell them to be as they were.” He spoke very softly to make sure his fellow Marines wouldn’t overhear him.

    “Right.” She nodded and then turned back to the waiting men in the room. She cleared her throat to make sure her voice would carry. “As you were.”

    And with that every single Marine went back to what they were doing before she had stepped into the lounge. A few of them aimed her curious glances but most of them did everything they could to ignore her presence.

    She turned back to Arik with a sheepish smile but he shook his head before she could speak. “Not here. Come with me.”

    Deen followed him out of the lounge and into a wing of the building which contained living quarters. He stepped into the one which was presumably his but found a fellow Marine sitting at the only desk. The small room contained little else besides it, a chair, a double bunk bed and two storage closets made up the full inventory. “Ric, you mind giving me a minute here?”

    The white bearded Efrosian man turned with a look of annoyance on his face. Once he spotted Deen, he quickly jumped out of his chair, going rigid as a board. “Ma’am.”

    She nodded. “As you were.”

    He relaxed.

    “A minute?”

    A large smile came over the man’s face as he looked back and forth between Jonar Arik and Deen. “I think I’m going to give you more than that.” He squeezed the Deltan’s shoulder as he stepped up to him and then leaned into him to speak right into his ear. “I always knew that celibacy thing was just talk. And boy, do you know how to pick’em.”

    Arik glared. “It’s not like that. She’s an old friend.”

    “Whatever you say.” He padded Arik’s shoulder and then headed for the exit, shooting Deen a big, parting smile. “Ma’am.”

    She responded in kind and watched him go. “What does he think is going to happen here?”

    Arik shook his head and walked to the door to make sure he had gone, then he pressed a control which caused it to slid shut before he turned back to look at his guest. “Ignore him. He’s an idiot.”

    DeMara looked around the room.

    “I’d give you the tour but this is really all there is.”

    She stepped up to the desk and turned back to face him, leaning against it. “I still can’t get over the fact that you joined the Marines. You were such a gentle soul back at the Academy. You were majoring in biology.” She recalled that he had suffered from persistent stutter initially. He had credited her in helping him overcome it during the year they had been together. She wasn’t so sure however if it had really all been her doing.

    He smirked at that. “Last person in the galaxy you’d expect to be a Marine, right?”

    “Pretty much.”

    His face noticeably darkened. “You can thank the Borg for that.”

    She didn’t immediately see the connection.

    “My family lived on New Providence.”

    Deen’s eyes grew wider. She had heard of the fateful Federation colony on Jouret IV. The entire colony had been wiped out by the Borg nearly ten years earlier during their incursion into Federation space. Most people tended to associate that Borg attack with the Battle of Wolf 359 in which thousands had lost their lives when Starfleet had been unable to stop the cube’s advance towards Earth. She knew that many more people had died or had been lost to the Borg on New Providence. She quickly stepped closer to him, placing a hand on his upper arm. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t know. I should have stayed in touch. I should have tried to reach you.”

    He shook his head and freed himself from the contact, stepping away and keeping his back to her. “No, it wasn’t your fault. I was in a dark place for a long time, unwilling to speak to anyone about what had happened.” He turned to regard her again but keeping his distance. “I was serving on the Columbus at the time and we were on a long range exploratory mission in the Beta Quadrant when it happen so I didn’t learn about it for a few months. The counselors did their best but, I don’t know, I guess I really didn’t process any of it very well.”

    She shook her head but respected his space. “Nobody would have.”

    “I wasn’t in a good place, Dee. I got angry and irritated all the time and it really affected my duty. I stayed on Columbus another year but eventually they wanted to ship me off to some sort of sanitarium. I couldn’t do it and decided to quit instead. I wandered around pretty aimlessly for a while until I stumbled over a Marine recruiter looking for ex-Starfleeters. That’s how I ended up here.”

    She desperately wanted to move closer and hug him but she could sense his reluctance.

    He offered a little smile. “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me, Dee. I still think about my family from time to time but for the most part I’ve gotten over losing them and I made a new life for myself here. I can’t say that it’s all been great, especially over the last two years. I’ve seen far too many friends and fellow Marines die.”

    “I’ve lost friends, too. I know it hurts.”

    He nodded slightly at their shared pain even if Deen couldn’t shake the feeling that it had probably been worse for him. Not because he was Deltan or because he had lost his entire family to the Borg but because the bonds he had forged with the men and women he had fought with side by side had likely been stronger than most.

    He forced himself to smile. “Hey, are you still in touch with Anara?”

    She felt a smile of her own coming on when she thought of their common friend from their Academy days. The Deltan woman had been one of her very first acquaintances she had made when she had arrived in San Francisco and who had offered her much invaluable advice on how to deal with the difficulties of attracting a great deal of not always wanted attention due the natural characteristics of both their races. “Yes, we reconnected a few years ago after that ugly business with Admiral Leyton. We’ve stayed in touch quite regularly since then. She’s on the Sutherland. She’s doing pretty well considering.”

    “That’s good.”

    “Listen, if you want to talk, about anything, I’d be more than happy to be here for you.”

    His smile became a little wistful. “You always were a great listener.”

    “And you liked to talk.”

    Arik’s smile became a grin. “Once I stopped stuttering it was difficult to get me to shut up, wasn’t it? I don’t really have that problem anymore.”

    Deen ventured a small step closer. “It’s really good to see you again.”

    He nodded. “So, tell me what brought you to this gods forsaken place. This peace treaty? Is it really true?”

    She nodded. “Yes. The Dominion surrendered. We were sent here to spread the good news and to prepare you and your people to come back home. General Lam doesn’t quite see it that way.”

    “He must have his reasons.”

    Deen frowned. “He doesn’t trust the Cardassians, that’s pretty much all it boils down to. Even the Valerians would rather throw in their lot with them than have this war go on another day. It makes no sense for Lam to try and carry on with this fight.”

    But the Deltan didn’t have a response ready for this. Deen stepped even closer. “Don’t tell me you agree with him?”

    He didn’t look her in the eye when he spoke. “We’re Marines, Dee, you wouldn’t understand.”

    “What the hell does that mean?” She felt a sudden anger rising within her, her voice sounding sharper than perhaps she had wanted to. “What’s the point to keep fighting for no cause?”

    When he looked back at her, his eyes were brimming with his own anger. “We don’t leave a job half done. If the Cardassians aren’t going anywhere—and as long as they don’t surrender— neither will we. We’ve lost too many good people to just pack up and go home just because the politicians in Paris no longer care what happens here.”

    “You cannot be serious? So what, you’re willing to risk thousands of more lives instead? To what end?”

    “To see this through. To make sure those who have already paid a high cost for this war will not have died in vain.”

    Deen didn’t say anything to that but simply stared back at the man she had once been very close to, realizing perhaps for the first time that much more had changed about him than the uniform he now wore.

    An uncomfortable silence filled the room.

    “I’m sorry, Dee, I didn’t mean to fight with you. The truth is, these are decisions made far above my pay grade. I’m just here to achieve an objective and follow orders, whatever they may be. They tell me to go out and fight Cardassians and I’ll do that. They tell me to pack up my things and go home, then I’ll do that, too.”

    A heavy sigh escaped her lips. “Blindly following orders is not a good thing, Jonar.”

    He nodded slightly. “I used to agree with you. But it’s different when you are a Marine, Dee. When you are on a battlefield surrounded by men and women you care about, following orders is what keeps you alive. What keeps them alive. It’s what keeps us focused. What keeps us strong.” His eyes drilled themselves into hers with total conviction. “Victory through strength.”

    She pinned him with a skeptical look. “You almost sound like a Jem’Hadar.”

    Arik shrugged. “There is a reason they are such effective soldiers.”

    She nodded slowly, realizing what an uphill battle it would be for them to try and truly end this war as long as General Lam was determined to continue it. No doubt most Marines on this planet thought like Jonar Arik. And if even he could not be swayed, a Deltan who had once been a promising Starfleet officer, then what hope was there for the others? She turned away and headed for the doors.


    She stopped short to regard her former paramour.

    “I didn’t say it before but I am glad you came here. I didn’t know how much I’ve missed you until seeing you again.”

    She managed a smile. “I’ve missed you too, Jonar.”

    He carefully stepped towards her. “I wouldn’t want you to leave here regretting this unexpected reunion.”

    “I’m not.”

    Arik reached out for her, his hand carefully pushed a few strands of her golden locks out of her face and over her shoulder just like he had used to do a long time ago. Deen didn’t miss that it was the first time he had tried to touch her since she had come into his cabin. She couldn’t deny that she enjoyed it. Couldn’t deny that she felt her heart beat a little faster at sensing him so close to her. She had often been likened to a temptress or a siren, thanks to her aura, but even she was not immune to the Deltan charm. She could have fought it, of course, but when his fingers gently brushed against her face, she knew she didn’t want to.

    It was she who leaned in to kiss him. It had been a very long time since she had kissed anyone like that. “There was some talk about celibacy?”

    Their lips parted for only a moment. “Six years.”

    “I wouldn’t want to ruin this for you.” Of course by this point she was already pulling off his shirt.

    “This would be worth it.”

    She slowly pushed him towards the lower bunk even while they continued to exchange passionate kisses. The bunk was small, clearly not designed for more than one occupant but as far as Deen was concerned, where there was a will, there was a way. “Still a charmer, I see.”

    He had removed her jacket easily and worked on her mustard-colored shirt next “It’s what we Deltans do.”

    They had shed most of their clothes and thoughtlessly littered them all over the floor by the time Arik placed her down gently on his cot. He positioned himself on top of her but didn’t move any closer. Instead he simply stared into her bright purple eyes.


    “I can’t believe I could have forgotten how beautiful you are.”

    She rolled her eyes. “Just not that memorable, I suppose.”

    “You now that’s not what I meant.”

    Deen nodded and reached up to touch his face which she found still surprisingly soft considering his chosen occupation. “I know.”

    “Are you sure you want this?”

    She didn’t hesitate again. “With every fiber of my being.”

    He didn’t make her wait a second longer.

    * * *​
  7. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Well, Deen can stop badgering Owens about his flirtation with Sharval now, seeing as she just jumped into bed with an old flame in about 10 seconds flat! Perhaps her repressed jealousy regarding Owens and Sharval prompted this litttle liaison, who knows? :alienblush:
  8. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Nora Laas was not used to leading away missions, a task usually reserved to either Tazla Star or Commander Xylion. But it appeared that trust was the key term of the week. Captain Owens had trusted Star with taking Eagle to investigate Sacajawea’s distress signal and now Star had paid things forward by letting her handle critical away missions into unknown territory. First the one to the Thulian freighter and now, a much more challenging one to the pirate base on the second moon of Mattias III.

    It helped of course that with Star expecting at least some form of resistance, considering their previous encounters with these pirates, that the security chief had exactly the right kind of expertise to deal with such situations. She had often seen herself as a blunt instrument when it came to away missions, ready to pound any potential threat into submission. She understood that this situation would require a great deal more finesse.

    It hadn’t stopped her however to still approach this mission like any other assault she had ever taken part in.

    As time was an issue and as electromagnetic interference in this system made sensors less reliable than usual, she hadn’t been able to do quite as much research on her target as she would have liked. What initial scans did reveal was the fact that the pirate compound appeared to be fairly spread out, almost the size of a small village and mostly surrounded by dense jungle-like vegetation and what appeared to be a tropic beach on one side. Life sign readings were indeterminate, but their best guess had it at somewhere between one hundred and one hundred fifty individuals, many of which were likely not directly involved in the pirating activity.

    She had decided to deploy with three fire teams made up of a mixture of four Marines and security personnel each and with her leading one directly. Had Wasco been around she would have probably worked closely with him to plan and execute the insertion but she was more than comfortable in taking the lead herself. She knew that on some other ships Marines and security didn’t work well together. This had never been a problem on Eagle. As a former Marine herself, the men respected her and she had started cross-training between the two dedicated units soon after the Marines had joined the crew and now prided herself in the fact that they worked together almost as one.

    Her heavily armed twelve-man team materialized without incident on a small clearing a few hundred yards east from the base. The air was hot and humid not unlike many other tropical rain forests she had visited. The vegetation consisted out of various-size trees with thick foliage ranging from bright green to dark red colors.

    She had exchanged her standard black, gray and gold duty uniform for standard marine combat fatigues outfitted with intelligent camouflage which was already beginning to adapt to the surrounding environment.

    She issued a quick hand signal and the three fire teams split up and entered the jungle to head towards the base, taking thee different and previously agreed upon approach vectors.

    Even before they had covered half the distance, Nora could feel a hand on her shoulder. She stopped and looked behind her to see Sergeant Shin-Ja Moon’s worried expression as he indicated towards the blue sky above.

    Nora’s eyes opened wide when she spotted a bright crimson flare plowing through the atmosphere not unlike a shooting star. This one was heading straight for them. “Get down.” She followed her own advice and flattened herself to the muddy forest floor.

    Not a moment later she heard the detonation of where the torpedo had ripped into the earth, the ground shaking under her from the force of the impact. At least two smaller explosions followed the first as the projectile had apparently found a target; the sounds of screaming yet more proof of its effectiveness.

    She hit her combadge, the signal routed through a communications booster one of the Marines was carrying on his back to cut through the electromagnetic interference. “Nora to Eagle. What’s going on up there? Are we bombarding this place or is this a ground insertion? You can’t have it both ways.”

    Star responded promptly. Sacajawea is firing on the surface. We have the situation under control now.”

    The Bajoran exchanged a dubious look with Moon. “What does that mean?”

    “It means: Don’t worry about it. You’re clear to enter the base. Star out.”

    Nora rolled her eyes. Then she recalled the keyword of the week. If Star said there wasn’t going to be any more problems with Sacajawea firing on the surface than she decided to take her at her word. She tapped her combadge again. “Nora to all fire teams, proceed to target. That strike is bound to have softened them up for us a little.”

    She got back on her feet and headed out, taking point as the rest of her team trailed her, keeping low and with their phaser rifles at the ready.

    Close to the perimeter of the base she spotted two guards. They had clearly been distracted by the bombardment and were turned away from her, glancing instead towards the other side of the base where dark smoke was rising into the sky.

    A quick nod towards Moon let him know what she had planned and both she and the sergeant quietly approached the sentries from behind. She reached for her combat knife strapped to the leg of her fatigues but then hesitated. The war was over and these were not Jem’Hadar soldiers. She sheathed the blade again and made sure Moon was equally going for a non-lethal takedown.

    The whole thing lasted no more than five seconds as they stepped up behind the unaware men and put them both in sleeper holds while covering their mouths to keep them from calling out an alarm. Nora placed her victim carefully onto the forest floor before indicating to a private to bind the two men’s hands behind their back.

    They moved on to the edge of the forest without uttering so much as a single word to each other.

    The compound was made up mostly of simple huts and shacks, consistent with the warm climate on the surface but more importantly most of the habitants were far too busy to pay much attention to their jungle surroundings. Instead many were racing towards a makeshift landing area on the other side of the base where Nora could spot at least six old Cardassian escorts, two of which already in flames and two more apparently heavily damaged by torpedo strikes.

    Some were trying to deal with the fire, desperately attempting to stop it from spreading to the other vessels before the entire fleet could be neutralized while a few other, braver souls, were boarding the remaining ships, probably hoping to be able to take off before they could suffer the same fate.

    Something else suddenly jumped out at her as she was taking a knee close to the large trunk of a tree with massive reddish palms hanging down close to the ground. Something she hadn’t quite expected.

    Nora hit her combadge again, making sure to keep her voice down. “Nora to Star. We have a visual on the base. And Commander, they’re all Valerians.”

    “Say again?”

    “Every person I can see within this base is unmistakably Valerian. Some appear to wear uniforms. This is like no pirate base I’ve ever known.”

    Star didn’t respond right away as she was likely trying to make sense of that report. “Lieutenant, we need to find out what is going on here. I want you to establish contact.”

    Nora nodded. “We bagged a couple of sentries we might be able to convince—“

    As phaser blast ripped through the forest a few dozen yards or so to her right and roughly where fire team Charlie had taken position.

    “Commander, stand by.” She taped her combadge again. “José, what’s going on?”

    But her deputy who she had placed in charge of Charlie didn’t respond straight away. Instead a few more phaser blasts followed the first and she recognized the heavily suppressed sound of the final two blasts as distinctly Starfleet-issue.

    “Sorry, sir.” Lieutenant José Carlos’ voice sounded stressed. “We were surprised by a couple of sentries. The situation has now been resolved.”

    But Nora shook her head. Carlos wasn’t quite correct. The commotion had not gone unnoticed by a number of Valerians inside the compound who were now slowly heading towards Charlie’s position. “You’ve got multiple tangos moving in.”

    “We got’em. How do you want to proceed?”

    Carlos had told her that his team had already locked in on the approaching men and was in sn ideal position to take them down quickly. Of course doing so, in the open, would eliminate any element of stealth they had managed to retain so far.

    It was fight or flight time.

    Nora understood that Star wanted to talk to these people but that was going to be difficult if they retreated now. After a quick glance, the experienced tactician in her told her that they were in a very favorable position. Most of the Valerians, many still unarmed and unaware of any threat looming in the surrounding forest, were at a clear disadvantage. If she aborted now they might not ever get a chance to catch them this unaware again.

    They could still talk after these pirates, or whatever they were, had surrendered.

    “All teams, weapons free. Engage at will.”

    And so the forest erupted with fire.

    But it was precision work at its very finest. The Valerians who had slowly approached Charlie were the first to go down. A handful more unsuspecting men and women were met with the same fate.

    It was a good opening gambit as far as those things could go but Nora understood that few ground battles could be won without pressing an advantage as long as you held it. They needed to keep up the pressure before their opponents had a chance to fully regroup. After all numbers were not on her side.

    She spotted a decent sized shack about a hundred yards from the jungle periphery that she quickly established would give them an excellent vantage point. She taped her combadge. “Beta, Charlie; Alfa will be moving out to the structure at my ten o'clock. I need you both to reposition to cover our flanks. Report when ready.”

    Both team leaders curtly acknowledged before they went on the move. Nora indicated to the three other members of her team to pick up the slack, laying down heavy fire while the other units changed position in the jungle around them.

    “Charlie’s in place.”

    “Beta, ready.”

    “Commence cover. Alfa is Oscar Mike.” With that the forest at her flanks once again began to spit phaser fire and she quickly led her team out in the open, keeping low and firing a few well-aimed blasts to catch a few stragglers who hadn’t seen the new threat before making it safely behind the cover the wooden structure provided.

    She lowered her rifle as she spied through one of the glass-free windows. There were three armed hostiles inside, shouting animatedly and hurrying back and forth as they were desperately trying to find out which way the attack was coming from. Nora indicated to her team with hand gestures how many men she had spotted inside and how she wanted to proceed; stealthily and without letting anyone know how close they truly were.

    Slinging her rile onto her back, she reached for her sidearm and began to open the simple wooden door very slowly with her other hand.

    They had to act quickly in order to take all three Valerians down before anyone knew what had happened. Thankfully this was hardly Nora’s first rodeo. She had lost count how many times she’d snuck up on unsuspecting Cardassians during her time in the Bajoran resistance. She didn’t cherish those memories other than relying on the experiences she had gained and which had become invaluable in situations like these.

    She took aim at the man nearest to her who had his back turned, ready to cut him down and then swiftly move on to the next.

    However, besides talent and expertise in ambushing an enemy, Nora knew that more often then not there were also much more intangible factors at work. Some called this luck even if she did not prescribe to that particular concept at all. It mattered little at that moment if she was a believer or not. Hers had simply run out.

    The man to her right had turned and spotted her before she could get off the shot. And he didn’t hesitate and in a moment of remarkable lucidity, he threw himself at this new threat, thereby preventing Nora from using her weapon, and throwing them both towards the floor.

    In the process of doing so, the door shut close again, cutting her off from the rest of her team for at least a couple of seconds.

    In close quarter combat, a couple of seconds could equate to an eternity.

    The assault team’s weapons were set to stun but to assume that their enemy would show similar restraint could have been a deadly mistake.

    Nora had little time to plan, much less think, and instead her survival instincts kicked in as she was being forcefully thrown to the ground, knowing full well that she was surrounded by armed enemy fighters now who would not hesitate to open fire once they got a clear shot.

    She grabbed hold tightly of the attacker who had run into her as they both went down and then using gravity—which was a fortunate Earth-similar 1.2 gees on this moon—to her advantage, pulling at him hard even as she rolled into a ball as she hit the floor, then extended her legs to use them to catapult the man up and above her head, so he went crashing into the far wall.

    And with him, most likely, went her stealth approach.

    She took no time at all to rest but used her own momentum to jump back onto her feet. Her phaser had gone flying out of her hand and she didn’t have the time to retrieve the rifle at her back. The second man, the one she had targeted initially, had already brought his own weapon to bear to blow her away at point blank range.

    A quick roundhouse kick liberated him from his rifle. She followed through on her pirouette-like move and reached out for the third man’s weapon, grabbing the bulky stock and drove it hard into the surprised Valerian’s solar plexus, before ripping it out of his hands completely.

    Still moving—she hadn’t stopped yet—she swung the freed rifle around like a bat, the grip impacting harshly against the side of the second man’s head, who was immediately knocked down with a nasty, bloody head wound.

    The first man had since climbed onto his feet again and with aggression brimming in his eyes, he charged the Bajoran intruder at full speed.

    He would have done himself a favor had he not telegraphed the attack with a loud roar, allowing Nora to see him coming and sidestepping him just at the right moment. He went flying passed her but managed to whip around quickly.

    What he apparently hadn’t expected however was that Nora would throw him his colleague’s rifle which he caught clumsily. Before he could even think of what to do with it, the security chief stood in front of him, driving the lower end of her palm into his neck with such force, it quite literally took his breath away.

    He reached up for his throat, thereby dropping the rifle, and Nora went in a crouch to sweep the legs out from underneath him which sent him down onto his hands and knees.

    Driving her elbow hard into his back, flattened the man to the floor and for all intents and purposes took him out of the fight.

    Nora knew before she had delivered the final blow that at least one man remained behind her, more than likely already recovered from having his own rifle driven into his midsection. She freed her five inch baton from her belt as she span around on her heels, a quick flick of her wrist was all that was needed to extend it to its full length.

    The third man had indeed recovered and found his combat knife but was not close to fast enough for Nora Laas who had yet to even slow down.

    The first strike hit his right, knife wielding-hand with pinpoint accuracy, causing it to clatter to the floor, the second impacted on his left thigh, all but taking out his leg and he began to topple to his side, before the final blow struck him across his right temple which turned out to be more than he could bare. He landed flat on his face, out cold.

    It was only then that Nora finally stopped, leaning forward, with her hands on her knees, catching a much-needed lungful of air. She turned to look towards the entry where the rest of her team had since taken a knee, their weapons ready to fire. The whole fight had lasted perhaps ten ticks, more then enough time for them to have made it inside and assist their CO. They had instead chosen not to intervene.

    She responded to Shin-Ja Moon’s dumbfound expression at looking over the unconscious bodies littered on the floor with a frown. “What?”

    “I beg your pardon, ma’am, but it was my understanding we were suppose to open a dialogue with these people.”

    She considered her handy work for a moment and then shrugged. “Heat of the moment.”

    He nodded understandingly.

    “And you guys could have helped out at any point, you know that, right?”

    “It looked to me you had things well in hand, ma’am.”

    She nodded with a little smile, now fully recovered from the incident, and pointed at the bodies. “Secure these men.” She recovered her own firearm and replaced it in its holster before taking position underneath one of the windows overlooking the rest of the compound.

    As expected she had an excellent view of the rest of the base from here. But her close and personal rumble with her opponents and not gone unnoticed by the Valerians outside who were quickly increasing in number, even while Beta and Charlie continued to lay down heavy cover fire. The Valerians were beginning to regroup and the shack she had liberated would quickly become their first target. She needed a new plan and quickly. Thankfully, adapting to changing circumstances was yet another trait she had mastered thanks to her history in guerilla warfare, not to mention her stint in the Cardassian Border Wars as a Marine.

    After the three Valerians inside had been tied up, Nora directed the rest of her people to take position by the other windows. She tapped her combadge. “All teams, ready stun grenades, widest possible spread. We’ll go Charlie to Alfa on my mark.”

    She swiftly reached for her combat helmet which was secured behind her and slipped it over her head. With a couple of taps to its side, the helmet secured itself and a visor dropped down in front of her eyes. The other men followed her example.

    Nora tapped her combadge twice, giving the signal, and then brought up her rifle to start firing at the opposing Valerians, this time being assisted by the sensors in her helmet which fed targeting information right into the heads-up display.

    As she had instructed Charlie dropped their grenades first, letting them fly in a high arc so that all four devices rained right on top of the unsuspecting enemy. Each one exploded with a bright flash and smoke. The Valerians cried out in shock and surprise. Nora and her team were unaffected as the visors easily compensated for the bright, disorientating light show.

    The Valerians who tried to retreat into the opposite direction found themselves right in the crosshairs of Beta’s stun grenades flying in from the opposite direction. And once those had done their job, Nora and her team added theirs to the mix for maximum coverage.

    The very few who had not been taken down or rendered incapable to hold a weapon by the grenades were easily picked off by the pinpoint, target-assisted phaser fire. After all through their visors, the smoke was no factor at all.

    Nora kept scanning for targets and found another one quickly, highlighted clearly on her HUD. The short woman seemed somewhat lost as she stumbled across the open, heading roughly towards one of the larger buildings. She lined up her shot and just before she was able to squeeze the trigger, her target turned slightly to reveal her face.

    Nora realized her mistake. This wasn’t a short woman at all. It was a child. No older than twelve or thirteen and definitely not a combatant.

    She spotted an older woman rushing towards the child with frantic expediency, grabbing her and trying to pull her out of the open with what appeared to be motherly concern.

    Nora didn’t fire. Instead she tapped her combadge again. “All teams, cease fire.”

    And just as quickly as the assault had commenced it came to an end.

    The very few Valerians still standing fired a few more rounds towards her general position and into the jungle but by this time it was far too little, far too late.

    “Hold your fire.” Nora shouted from the top of her lungs to make herself heard. “Hold your fire.”

    The last blasts died down and slowly so did the smoke which had obstructed most of the battlefield.

    “We have you surrounded. The smart thing to do here is to lay down your weapons and surrender.”

    She spotted a solitary figure slowly standing up from behind an impromptu barricade of a few crates and barrels. Like most Valerians the man had long and flowing bright hair which looked almost orange under the powerful Mattias sun. He held his head high and if she had to guess, she would have called him a leader of sorts. He wore a brown uniform jacket she didn’t recognize. “You are Starfleet?”

    Nora nodded. “That’s right.” She understood that this didn’t mean what it used to. Starfleet couldn’t claim to still enjoy the best of reputations any longer, especially since many races who had stayed out of the Dominion War had accused the Federation of bringing the Jem’Hadar back with them from the Gamma Quadrant. But at least she knew that very few people had to fear Starfleet the same way they had to fear the Dominion. If nothing else, most races could count on the fact that they’d not be mistreated at the hands of Starfleet officers.

    Her eyes dropped to the beaten and bloodied bodies of the Valerians she had dispatched earlier and wondered if this was still true. She couldn’t say with absolute certainty if she would have displayed that same kind of aggression and uncompromising force before the war. She knew the conflict had changed everyone who had partaken in it, but until that moment she had not fully realized by how much it had changed her as well.

    “If you are from Starfleet, we have nothing further to discuss. We’ll fight until the last man if we have to but we’re not going to make this easy for you.”

    That had not been the response she had expected, not with the superior force and firepower they had displayed here today and with their victory all but assured. She aimed a puzzled look at Moon crouching near by. But he had no answers to give either.

    She knew she had a choice to make as the Valerian was heading back behind his cover, anticipating the fight to continue. Nora knew precisely how to respond to this situation. To ensure to keep her people safe, she had to see this through until all opposition had been neutralized. It was how the rules of engagement dictated she proceeded. It was how she would have dealt with this during the war.

    Then she remembered what she had said on Eagle just before setting out on this mission. Was she really able to be more than just a fighter? She took a deep, courage-building breath of air and decided it was time to find out.

    Taking a page out of Tazla Star’s book, she easily slipped out of the window and into the open, slinging her rifle onto her back and removed her helmet.

    Of course this caused every weapon not belonging to her team to take a bead on her. She decided to ignore that little fact for the time being. Star had told her to be diplomatic and even though she knew she’d never be nominated for a peace price, she knew this was her one and only chance to end this without ay further casualties. “If you prefer we can go back to shooting at each other but I’m telling you right now, I’ve been in enough fire fights in my life to know that we have a decisive tactical advantage. I could turn this place upside down if I wanted to and that’s not even mentioning the two starships in orbit. You have children here, I didn’t know that, and I don’t want to risk hurting them. So what do you say we try talking instead of shooting? I’ll be honest, it’s not really what I’m good at but if you are willing to try it out, I’ll be all for it.”

    More armed Valerians were coming out of the woodwork as she spoke and at least one of those Cardassian ships managed to lift off. She couldn’t help feeling that perhaps she had overplayed her hand.

    “You’re here to help the Thulians get rid of us. Why should we listen to you?”

    She shook her head. “You have the wrong idea. Or at least, I think maybe we do.”

    That seemed to interest the Valerian and he slowly left the barricade to approach Nora with two of his men flanking him closely. Their rifle emitters remained squarely pointed at the Starfleet security officer and Nora had to fight the urge of bringing up her own weapon.

    As he stepped closer she guessed the man to be somewhere around middle age. His uniform displayed a few more insignia then some of the others.

    “I’ll go on a limb here and say that you and your people are not pirates.”

    He shook his head. “No, but I’m sure the Thulians would want to make you believe that.”

    “This is related to their cargo runs, isn't it?”

    The man considered Nora suspiciously, still refusing to lower his weapon. “You are really going to stand there and tell me that you don’t know about this? Your people are the reason why we’re doing all this. The Thulians are the ones who are helping you win this cursed war of yours which you are fighting on our world.”

    Nora Laas looked back at the man with a completely befuddled expression. “I think you better start at the beginning.” She activated her combadge. “Nora to Star.”

    “Go ahead, Lieutenant. What’s your status?”

    “You’ve asked me to make contact. Consider it made, Commander. And I think you might want to hear what they have to say.”

    * * *​
  9. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Nora led the away mission masterfully, and may now have uncovered an important key to defusing this turbulent scenario. That was one hell of an insertion for a 12-person team, and to do so while under fire from both the enemy and your own side... damn! :eek:
  10. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006


    “I have solid intelligence that the war with the Dominion is over, Grent. All I’m saying is that perhaps we need to reevaluate our objectives here on Valeria as well.”

    The Tellarite colonel’s base was less than fifty miles to the east of FOC Phoenix and even at this short distance, the channel was anything but clear, laced with static and the occasional distortion. It was however just clear enough to notice him wrinkling his creased forehead and the twitching of his snout like nose.

    Owens who sat nearby but outside the comm station’s viewfinder didn’t necessarily read this as a bad omen, knowing full well that most Tellarites looked perpetually annoyed.

    “And how precisely have you come into possession of this intelligence, Colonel?”

    Her features hardened. “The how is not what matters here.”

    The man grunted and looked off the screen for a brief moment before glancing back her way. “There are rumors that a Starfleet vessel has visited Valeria and that there was a meeting with the general. Things apparently didn’t go very well.”

    “And I’m very concerned about this, Grent. If they’ve come here to advise us of a general cease fire, or even a peace treaty, aren’t we duty bound to seek such a resolution here as well?”

    “Sure, but I doubt Gul Metral would see it that way.”

    “What if he did? And what if it were Lam who resisted any kind of overtures of peace?”

    He considered her suspiciously. “Ridiculous. What is it you are suggesting exactly?” He moved closer to the screen before ensuring that nobody was close by on his end to overhear their conversation. “Disobeying direct orders?”

    “I’m saying that this warrants a closer look. And that perhaps Lam is wrong. In which case we may need to take action. I have proof I could show you—“

    But the Tellarite quickly shook he head as he leaned back. “I’m not interested and I’m not going to be the first commander in the history of the Starfleet Marine Corps to disobey direct orders from a commanding general. And you should think very carefully if that’s a precedent you wish to be responsible for. This conversation is over. Because I consider you a friend, I shall extend you the courtesy of pretending this discussion never happened. Grent out.”

    And with that his face vanished from the screen.

    Van der Meer uttered a heavy sigh before she glanced at Owens and Belore sitting close by.

    The Cardassian spoke up first. “You could have pushed him harder.”

    “If I had pushed him any harder he would have been even more suspicious than he already was. And friendship or not, at that point he may have started proceedings to have me removed of my command. Grent outranks me.”

    But Belore was not satisfied. “Perhaps some friendships will have to be sacrificed for the purpose of peace, Colonel. No matter how uncomfortable the idea might be to you.”

    The tall woman stood from her chair, her muscles tensing noticeably. “I suggest you watch your tone with me, Gul. I believe I have shown you a fair amount of latitude since you arrived here considering that I have standing orders to shoot Cardassians on sight.”

    Belore stood as well, showing off some of his own mettle. “That’s exactly the attitude you need to overcome, Colonel. We’re at peace now.”

    She didn’t back down. “From what I understand, you surrendered. So technically you are a prisoner of war. Perhaps start acting like one.”

    Owens left his chair also and positioned himself between the two vexed parties. “Alright, let’s both calm down. There’s no point in fighting each other. Our mission is to try and find a way to stop fighting altogether.”

    “That’s your mission, Captain.” Van der Meer’s anger had not yet subsided. “My mission is to try and win this war.” She stepped away from her two guests to put some distance between them, keeping her back to both.

    “Just as I thought.” Belore looked at Owens. “Don’t you see, Captain, she's still committed to her general and his agenda, she couldn’t care less that there is a peace or not.”

    Wasco who had stood to one side, leaning against the wall of the communications room, took a step towards the Cardassian now. “The colonel took us in, didn’t she? She had no reason to do so, in fact she could have let them take us back to the general. There is no point in questioning her loyalties.”

    Belore waved him off. “Right now I’m questioning the loyalties of your entire order, Major. What madness of having a whole army so deluded by the insane fantasies of a single man that they are unable to see the truth.”

    Van der Meer whirled around to skewer the man with a poisonous glare. “Says the Cardassian. Who no doubt was among the first to follow a mad man called Dukat to join with the Dominion to declare war on the entire Alpha Quadrant.”

    He held her sharp scolding stare. “I was never among those. But I have met Gul Dukat so I recognize a mad man when I see one.”

    “That’s enough.” Owens was determined to put an end to this. “I think we could all use a little break.”

    The Cardassian glanced at the captain, offered a short nod and then turned and left the room.

    Van der Meer gestured towards Wasco. “Keep an eye on him, Cesar, make sure he doesn’t wander off too far. We wouldn’t want our Cardassian guest go get hurt now, would we?”

    The major understood and followed Belore out of the room.

    Just as he stepped out, Sergeant Jonar Arik entered. He exchanged a respectful nod with the exiting major and then quickly came to attention in front of the colonel.

    Owens could tell that there was something different about the Deltan, something he hadn’t noticed about him before.

    “At ease, Sergeant.” Van der Meer could see it too. “Are you feeling alright?”

    The man relaxed but offered her a perplexed look. “I’m fine, ma’am. Why do you ask?”

    “You seem to be, I don’t know, glowing?”

    Arik looked embarrassed. “Must be a … uh, hormonal thing.”

    “If you say so.”

    He quickly remembered why he had come. “Ma’am, your presence has been requested in the command room.”

    She nodded. “Lead the way.”

    Owens watched them leave. He didn’t join them. Van der Meer had asked her guests to stay clear of her command staff as much as possible, not comfortable that they would fully appreciate their presence on base. After having witnessed Grent’s reaction to Van der Meer’s mere suggestions, he didn’t think it was a bad idea.

    He didn’t stay in the room by himself for long. Only moments after the colonel and the sergeant had left, Deen joined him.

    It didn’t take him long to realize that she had that same glow that Jonar Arik had sported. And it wasn’t just caused by her aura this time. He regarded her with stark suspicion evident in his eyes.

    She returned his look with youthful innocence, something that tended to come quite naturally to her. “What is it?”

    “Don’t give me that.”

    “Don’t give you what?”

    Michael wasn’t buying this act at all. “You have some nerve, you know that?”

    “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

    He shook his head. “You’re a horrendous liar, Dee. I just didn’t realize you could be a hypocrite as well.”

    She looked hurt at his harsh words.

    “Jonar Arik was just in here a minute ago and he had precisely the same look on his face as you do now.”

    She didn’t try to defend herself in light of this damning evidence.

    “You went to see him, didn’t you?”

    She nodded slowly. “So what? Is there a law against catching up with an old friend I’m not aware of?”

    “Just catch up?”

    She uttered a heavy sigh. “Fine, no, it was more than that, alright? Are you happy now? I do not understand why you have to make this such an issue.”

    Michael stepped close to her. “Dee, I don’t mind in the least who you get involved with.” He stopped himself, reconsidering his words. “No, that’s not true, I do. You are my friend and I don’t want you to get hurt. I remember Arik from the Academy, he was a nice young man then but he’s changed.”

    She shrugged. “We’ve all changed, Michael.”

    “In his case, it’s more like a transformation, wouldn’t you say?”

    Deen shook her head. “It’s mostly a front. He’s not so different to the way he once was when we first met. Some of his believes may have altered over time and he’s gone through quite a bit in the years since but at his core he’s still that same man.”

    “All I’m saying is be careful.”

    She offered a sweet smile. “Thank you for your concern.”

    Michael’s expression turned more serious. “Now, about me and Sharval—“

    She didn’t let him finish. “I’m not a hypocrite, Michael. Jonar and I are completely different. First of all, we’ve got history. And besides, I’m not the one who is already involved with another person.”

    Owens knew she had him there. “Let’s just drop this.”

    Her accusatory purple eyes softened. “Any luck with finding more allies to our cause?”

    He sighed and shook his head. “No, not really. The colonel spoke to three battalion commanders and not one even wanted to consider the possibility that Lam could be wrong. Nobody was interested in as much as looking over the evidence, not even the Vulcan colonel she spoke to.”

    “This isn’t going to be easy.”

    Van der Meer returned then, rushing back into the room along with Wasco, Belore and Sharval, the latter almost immediately sidling up close to Owens. He ignored her for now and instead considered the colonel’s concerned expression. “What’s the matter?”

    “The general just made an announcement.” She stepped up to the comm station and activated the screen which promptly showed and image of Lam sitting behind his desk. This time the transmission was much clearer then what it had been when van der Meer had contacted her fellow battalion commanders.

    “… and I wish to clarify these rumors. A Starfleet vessel has indeed stopped by here at Valeria and I briefly met with its crew. However, they had to depart again to deal with another pressing issue in a neighboring sector of space and were not able to remain to assist us in any way. It makes no difference. Second Regiment, Fourth Division of the Starfleet Marine Corps does not require any outside assistance to defeat our enemy and to ensure the Valerians have a future free of fear from Cardassian terror and brutality.

    We stand now at the cusp of final victory and I ask all of you to show me, one last time, the faith and loyalty which you have bled and sacrificed for much longer and much harder than any general or politician back home could have ever expected.

    Your commanders will shortly issue you orders which will secure this victory for us and for our Valerian friends. So I ask each and every one of you for this one final sacrifice. For Valeria, for the Federation, for the men and women fighting at your side.

    Be smart, stay focused and stay strong. Victory—only through strength. Always.”

    The transmission ended and was replaced with the chevron-shaped Marine emblem which was only a slight variation of the one the regular fleet used.

    Van der Meer turned to the others. “I just received those orders. I am to prepare the entire battalion for a push towards the Cardassian command post deep inside their territory. It’s a highly orchestrated campaign involving every frontline battalion. According to Lam we are to receive additional resources to support this offensive in just under eight hours and move out in ten.”

    Owens took a seat. It was the very move he had come here to prevent.

    Belore shot the woman a warning glance. “Metral will push back as hard as he must. He is not going to make this easy for you.”

    “I’m not expecting him to.”

    “And what about the hundreds of settlements between here and the Cardassian command post?” Sharval had lost any trace of her previous amusement, her features now serious and unapologetic. “What about the innocents caught in the crossfire, Colonel? How are you expecting them to avoid this all-out offensive of yours?”

    “My standing orders are to take every precaution to avoid casualties among the civilian populace.”

    “Even at the cost of your own people?” Sharval’s voice remained intense. “Even if it might cost you a tactical advantage? Even if it may cost you victory?”

    Van der Meer diverted her eyes, the answer was obvious.

    Wasco regarded her old friend. “Svea, are you really planning to follow these orders?”

    “What other choice do I have?”

    “Easy.” Belore took a step towards her. “While all other battalions are moving against my people, you move yours against Lam, arrest him for disregarding orders and arrange an immediate cease fire.”

    “This is a very well planned campaign which relies on every frontline battalion carrying out a specific objective. If mine does not participate it will leave others vulnerable.” She decisively shook her head. “I am not willing to be responsible for that.”

    Owens had walked over to the comm station and was replaying Lam’s announcement with the sound turned down.

    Deen followed him. “What are you thinking?”

    She regarded her and then van der Meer. “Why is it his signal is coming across so clearly? Before the connections were severely limited and unstable. Even when we tried to contact you from orbit.”

    “The general has a communications relay station just outside the capital to communicate with the his regiment across Valeria and to issue orders. It is powerful enough to cut through scramblers, at least on this side of the border.”

    Deen raised an eyebrow. “The same communications station he claimed had been destroyed?”

    The colonel had no answer to this.

    “We need to gain access to it and send our own broadcast,” said Owens.

    Belore looked skeptical. “What makes you think that would work? The colonel already tried that approach and it failed.”

    “That’s because we tried to contact people individually. We need to send a general broadcast that reaches every Marine on this planet at the same time. And we’ll broadcast the surrender documents and peace treaty along with it, making it impossible for anyone to ignore the truth and the fact that the general is disobeying his orders and following his personal agenda by continuing this war. I don’t care how loyal you think Marines are to their commanders, they’re not blind or stupid. At the very least they will think twice before embarking on this offensive.”

    Van der Meer was not yet convinced. “The relay station is going to be heavily defended.”

    “But not as much as the fusion plant, I’m sure.” Owens shot her an insistent look. “We won’t need your entire battalion but you have to give us a platoon or at least a few squads so that we can take over the station.”

    “I don’t like it.”

    “What’s the alternative, Colonel? How many people do you stand to lose in this offensive? And not just in your battalion. This is our best chance to end this for once and for all before any more lives are needlessly lost. The general is claiming he’s doing this for Valeria but all this will achieve is destroy more of their homes and create further casualties. The general thinks he’s doing all this for them but the truth is if he goes through with this, it will be fifty years before the Valerians will even consider trading with the Federation ever again, not to mention consider us as an ally or even becoming a member some day.”

    At that Sharval uttered a sharp laugh. “Make that a hundred years. At this point I’d be happy if I don’t ever see another Federation citizen again in my lifetime.” She glanced at Owens then, looking a little guilty. “With maybe one or two exceptions.”

    His focus remained on van der Meer. “The general spoke about sacrifices for peace but he has this all backwards. His sacrifice is to escalate an unnecessary war which will only bring more suffering and repercussions which will hurt the Federation in the long term. A true sacrifice is to stand up to what is right, even in the face of great opposition, to make the hardest choices, the ones which are the most difficult to contemplate. To dedicate oneself to those choices completely because you know deep down that they are the right ones. If you truly believe the right thing to do here is to follow his orders and throw your people at the Cardassians, I cannot stop you. But if you know, as I do, that nothing good can come out of that, then help me put a stop to all this—here and now.”

    Silence followed as van der Meer struggled with her next decision, one Owens knew would determine the fate of a great many people.

    She finally nodded, reluctantly. “I’ll give you the men you need, Captain. But in ten hours time, if you haven’t managed to convince Lam or the rest of the Marines on this planet, I will give the order to join the assault.”

    It wasn’t what he had hoped for but it was good enough of a compromise for now. It also, of course, didn’t give him much time. He gave her a curt nod and then regarded the others. “Let’s go and end a war.”

    * * *​
  11. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    When all else fails, just post everything on the Internet.
  12. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    She had listened carefully to Nora Laas’ report as well as the story the man who had since identified himself as Whetal, a senior officer in the small and officially disbanded Valerian Space Force had to tell. And the longer she had listened to it, the more it made sense and the angrier she became.

    Once she had head enough, she had the comm link to the surface closed and turned to her most senior officers on the bridge, both having overheard every single word.

    Katanga was slowly shaking his head. “I’ve heard a lot of crazy stories in my life but this clearly ranks in the top percentage. It’s difficult to believe that a Starfleet officer would go along with such a plan.”

    Xylion raised an eyebrow. “It stands to reason that General Lam was not aware of the entire scope of the plan put in place regarding Valeria.”

    “Ignorance is no excuse.”

    Star agreed. “I suppose it is safe to say that we’re done here.”

    The doctor nodded. “We need to get back to Valeria. The captain needs to be made aware. I would think that this changes everything regarding our mission.”

    Star glanced at the Vulcan tactical officer. “Mister Trinik, get me Mahoney on the Sacajawea.” She suppressed a little smirk but in truth she couldn’t wait to see his face when he learned that he had been duped, that his glorious little mission to hunt down pirates was nothing more than a cleverly orchestrated charade to serve a larger purpose. And there definitely wasn’t going to be any opportunity to deepen diplomatic relations with the Thulians. On the contrary.

    The voice which came over the speaker did not belong to Mahoney but to Sacajawea’s half Romulan first officer. “Commander, we have a situation over here. I don’t know how long I can keep this channel open but—“ A sudden burst of static drowned out his words.

    Star whipped around towards the screen to get a look at the other starship in orbit. But there was nothing out of the ordinary to be gleamed there. “Commander Leva? What’s your situation?”

    “This is Captain Mahoney speaking. The situation is under control. Do not—“ But his voice also cut out and then the channel went completely dead.

    “What in the name of Hippocrates’ staff is going on over there?”

    She had no answers to Katanga’s question nor did she believe any were forthcoming from the other ship.

    Trinik confirmed that much. “I am unable to reestablish communications.”

    “What’s the status of their defensive systems?”

    “Shields and weapons are powered down.”

    She glanced at her acting XO next to get his input which he offered promptly. “Two conflicting messages from the ship’s captain and the first officer. It is possible a mutiny is under way on the Sacajawea.”

    Star nodded, she had reached the same conclusion.

    But Katanga was having a harder time believing this. “Mutiny on a Starfleet vessel? You cannot be serious?”

    “With Mahoney involved nothing surprises me anymore.” She shot Xylion another look. “Commander, get an armed security team to meet me in transporter room four.”

    “Wait a minute.” Katanga was not happy about this plan. “You want to go over there yourself? Doesn’t this fall more into Lieutenant Nora’s department?”

    Xylion was of the same mind. “The Doctor is correct. As Eagle’s acting commanding officer you should avoid putting yourself in a potentially hazardous situation.”

    She couldn’t help but smirk. “Both your concern is noted but Nora is still planetside and we don’t have the time to bring her back for this.” It wasn’t strictly speaking true, after all it wouldn’t have been such a great effort to beam the security chief and her Marines directly from the surface of the moon onto the Sacajawea. But the truth was, hazardous or not, she wanted to see Mahoney’s face when he learned the truth. Or better yet, if his crew had turned against him for legitimate reasons, she did not want to miss out on the satisfaction of throwing him into a brig herself.

    “Commander, see if you can get a message through to Leva without making Mahoney aware. Let him know we’re coming over and to meet us in Sacajawea’s main transporter room.” Then she turned towards Katanga, giving him a good-natures clasp against his upper arm. “Don’t worry so much, Eli, things may finally be going my way.” She headed for the turbolift before he could offer a response.

    “Won’t do you much good if you end up dead.”

    But only Xylion remained to overhear his comment which he did with another raised eyebrow before he went to carry out the task Star had asked of him.

    Even though she knew time was a factor, she still made a quick stop on deck fifteen to have one last, brief word with their prisoner who confirmed to her pretty much the entire story Whetal had given her without much prompting.

    Secure in the knowledge that these men were likely speaking the truth, she arrived in the transporter room where a five-man team of heavily armed security guards was already waiting for her. She had two additional teams stand by just in case.

    “Lieutenant Commander Xylion to Commander Star. I have been able to establish communications with Lieutenant Commander Leva through a secure channel. He is standing by to receive you in transporter room one on the Sacajawea.”

    Star nodded and glanced at the Andorian woman standing behind the console. She offered the Trill a quick nod to confirm she had the coordinates for their destination and was ready to commence transport.

    “Excellent. Are their shields still down?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    “Good. You are in charge, Commander, hopefully I won’t be long.” She stepped onto the platform on which her team had already positioned itself and then glanced at the Andorian. “Energize.”

    Tazla Star and the security guards materialized only moments later in a very similar transporter room. As a precaution she had raised and readied her rifle before transport but when she spotted Leva and a Bolian lieutenant awaiting their arrival, she realized it had not been necessary and she lowered her weapon before stepping off the platform. “Commander, mind telling me what’s going on?”

    “The captain tried to continue to fire on that pirate base even after you had confirmed you had a team on surface and Eagle had moved to block us. I had to take action. He didn’t take it very well.”

    “No surprise there. What’s the situation now and where is Mahoney?”

    Leva shook his head slightly. “Honestly, it’s a bit of a mess. The crew doesn’t really know what to do and most are trying to stay out of this altogether. I managed to get a handful of officers on my side and have been able to disable security and tactical systems. Mahoney is still on the bridge with a few officers loyal to him.”

    Star frowned. Mutinies were rare enough but when they happened they tended to be anything but straightforward and nothing like what novels or holodeck adventures would led one to believe. It wasn’t as if there was a manual or a rulebook to cover this eventuality. But the fact that the majority of the crew had not chosen sides actually made things easier, the last thing she wanted was for a firefight to break out between Starfleet personnel in the ship’s corridors.

    She had brought a spare phaser rifle and tossed it to Leva who was only armed with a type-II sidearm. “Time to break the stalemate, Commander. Let’s head for the bridge and arrest Mahoney. As far as I’m concerned he’s crossed a line and you had every right to stand up to him.” She tried to hide her own little satisfaction at these turn of event but she probably wasn’t entirely successful to conceal the gleam in her green eyes.

    Leva caught the weapon easily. “I believe you know the way.”

    She nodded. That she did indeed. “Weapons on stun. Only fire if you are fired upon until we get to the bridge. The plan is to give Mahoney a chance to surrender.”

    The five security guards, Leva and the Bolian stepped carefully out into the corridor, led by Star herself. Things appeared quiet. Somebody, likely Mahoney, had triggered the red alert and bright crimson strobes flashed all along the bulkheads.

    They proceeded slowly down the corridor and came across only a few crewmembers none of which appeared particularly certain of what was happening on their own ship or what, if anything, to do about it. Star instructed everyone she spotted to head back to their quarters and stay there until the situation was resolved. Most followed her orders without question. She didn’t really have the time however to ensure that they did.

    She had her team stop short when they reached the turbolift.

    The Bolian woman who had since identified herself to Star as Lieutenant Alendra, pointed at the doors. “That’s the way to the bridge.”

    Star nodded but considered the doors for another moment without making a move. Then she approached slowly and called the lift. The doors opened when it arrived and they found it empty. Star didn’t step inside.

    Leva shot her a quizzical glance. “Commander?”

    “If you had a crew mutinying against you, wouldn’t disabling easy access to the bridge be the first thing you’d do?”

    He nodded slowly. “It’s a trap.”

    “There are other ways onto the bridge. We could use the Jeffries tubes.”

    Star glanced at the lieutenant and nodded when Sacajawea’s deck layout slowly came back to her. She regarded Leva next. “Take Alendra and two men and make your way to the briefing room behind the bridge using the Jeffries tubes. We’ll head to the ready room. Wait for my signal to take the bridge.”

    Leva nodded sharply and left with the three others.

    Star re-programmed the turbolift before she led her team into the opposite direction.

    Their climb towards deck one was uneventful and they came across no opposition or obvious traps. They reemerged in a small closet directly adjacent to the captain’s ready room on deck one which itself was located directly next to the main bridge. Star crawled out of the Jeffries tube hatch first and with great care, fully cognizant that Mahoney may have retreated to his office. It would have made things easier as they could have confronted him right then and there.

    The closet was empty and so was the ready room.

    “Clear.” She kept her voice down to ensure that whoever was on the bridge remained unaware of their presence in the adjacent room.

    Star glanced around the ready room briefly, remembering the times she had spent behind that desk. Mahoney had given it his own personal touch of course, including a somewhat out of place antique and wooden cabinet in the corner. She spotted a half empty glass sitting on his desk, containing what looked and smelled like whiskey. She wasn’t surprised that Mahoney had taken up drinking on duty.

    She didn’t approach the doors leading to the bridge directly, trying to avoid tripping the sensor and having them open before they were ready. Instead she kept to the bulkhead. Glancing down at the panel next to the door she realized that they had been sealed from the other side. A smart move by Mahoney, she had to give him that.

    Trying to bypass the lock would have taken too much time and the effort would have probably not gone unnoticed by those on the bridge. So instead she gestured two of her men to aim their rifles at the door, the implication was obvious: stand-by to blow it down.

    The two guards nodded and changed the settings on their weapons from stun to explosive force. It also meant that they would not be able to open fire at any living targets as soon as the obstacle was removed but that was a sacrifice she had to accept.

    Star tapped her combadge twice, the agreed signal for Leva to make his move in five seconds time. She surmised he was likely facing a similar obstacle. The signal also caused the turbolift to race towards the bridge.

    Then she waited until she could hear the commotion on the other side of those doors. They had taken the bait. She heard the lift open and pretty much at the same time a barrage of phaser fire being unleashed, likely into the empty lift.

    She gave her men the go ahead.

    They didn’t hesitate and blasted the door, causing both panels to blow out onto the bridge.

    Star and the remaining security guard were through the doorway first, both taking immediate aim at the group of officers who had fired into the lift and they neutralized two before they had even fully realized that that the lift had been nothing more than a distraction.

    Leva’s team had made entry at the same time and he and his people stunned two more of Mahoney’s men.

    Star took stock of the situation. After the first four men had gone done, only four more remained including Mahoney himself who stood close to his chair with a female Vulcan ensign at his side.

    The Vulcan fired at Star’s team and managed to take out one of her security guards before she along with her captain scrambled for cover behind the helm station.

    The other two men in Mahoney’s group had managed to return a few shots as well, stunning another security officer on Leva’s side but were unable to avoid the response and were struck by multiple blasts coming from different angles.

    Star confirmed that her downed man was merely stunned and then moved further onto the bridge, keeping her phaser pointed at the helm behind which she knew Mahoney was hiding. She could see Leva and his people doing the same.

    “It’s over, Evan. Throw away your weapons and come out with your hands up.”

    “Why am I not surprised that you’ve decided to throw in your lot with that treacherous Romulan bastard? Any chance to get back at me, right?”

    Star uttered a heavy sigh. “Cut the dramatics.”

    “I’m the captain of this ship, Taz. My ship, do you understand? You and Leva and whoever else followed him are guilty of mutiny and treason. Starfleet will have your commissions for this.”

    “You are the one who gave an illegal order to fire on fellow Starfleet officers and another starship. You started all this.” She felt her emotions rise. “Leva was right to oppose you.”

    Mahoney uttered a sarcastic laugh. “That was your plan all along, wasn’t it? You put those people down there and placed your ship into my line of fire. You wanted this to happen, admit it. But if you really think this will save you and your career you’ve got another thing coming. There will be a Starfleet inquiry into all this, and I promise you, you’ll walk out of that one in chains.”

    “I’m sure this inquiry will be very interested in your story, Evan. The way you’ve been completely and entirely duped by the Thulians.”

    Mahoney remained behind his cover. “What the hell are you babbling about?”

    “They are not pirates, Evan, they are part of the Valerian fleet and all they’ve been doing is trying to keep the Thulians from supporting the warring parties on Valeria.”

    “That’s ridiculous. To what end?”

    “So that they can wipe each other out. So that there is nobody left to oppose the Thulian’s plans to conquer that world. The world of their ancient enemy.” She let that sink in for a moment. “You haven’t done anything but helping the Thulians in their plan to wage their own war. But I suppose you were too busy trying to make a name for yourself that you couldn't be bothered about anyone who might get hurt in the process. Story of your life, right, Evan?”

    “You goddamned bitch.” He peeked out just enough to squeeze off a shot in her general direction. Star ducked in time and the blast went wide. She indicated to her people to hold their fire. There was nowhere he could go.

    There was an urgent conversation between Mahoney and the only person still standing by him. Star couldn’t make it out but the result quickly became obvious when the Vulcan slowly emerged and threw her phaser at Star’s feet. She raised her hands and stepped away from the console. “In light of this new information, I wish to surrender myself.”

    Star nodded and indicated for her to head towards one of her security officers where the ensign surrendered peacefully.

    The Trill glanced back to where Mahoney still remained in hiding. “That’s it Evan, you’re all out of people willing to support you and your misguided ways. End of the line, don’t you think?”

    He slowly stood and Star noticed that he held on to his phaser. She kept a bead on him and even though she had the overwhelming urge to blast him off his feet, she held her fire, fully aware that he was not pointing that weapon at anybody. She couldn’t afford to make any mistakes now, after all he had been right about at least one thing. There would indeed be a Starfleet inquiry about the events that had taken place here and there were enough people beside Mahoney who would have loved to use that opportunity to have her thrown out of the fleet if she mishandled the situation now.

    Mahoney did not give the impression of a man defeated and with his back to the wall. Instead he had that grin on his face again. The same grin he had once used to seduce her and which tended to make her sick now. “So you’ve got it all working the way you wanted. Managed to turn everybody against me.”

    “You’ve done that all by yourself, Evan. Now, drop the weapon.”

    But he continued as if she hadn’t even spoken. “You’re finally getting your revenge on me, is that it? You think this is over? I haven’t even started with you, do you hear me? I’m still going to destroy you Taz and once I’m done with you, you’ll have nothing.” He glanced at Leva next. “Do you even have the slightest idea who you have decided to follow? Don’t you know who that is?” He pointed at the Trill with his empty hand. “That’s Tazla Star. The former captain of the USS Sacajawea. Court martialed and thrown in jail for getting her own people killed. A place where she should still be rotting today. You think my orders were questionable? You have no idea what this one is capable of. She’s a liar and a killer with loyalties to no one.”

    Star gritted her teeth. “Evan, shut the hell up.”

    “Or what? You’re going to shoot me?” He stepped around the helm station. “No, I don’t think so. I think it’s time to get the truth out for once and for all. To let everybody know what you really are.”

    “Eagle to Commander Star.”

    She uttered a sigh of relief at hearing Xylion’s voice. Anything but having to listen to Mahoney ramble on. She kept her rifle trained on him even as she responded to the Vulcan. “Go ahead, Commander.”

    “Sir, we have just detected two warships which have appeared in this system. Their engine signatures are consistent with Thulian designs.”

    “How long until they get here?” Star looked towards Leva, expecting that she would need his help to deal with this new situation. But she found his eyes opening wide in surprise, glued to the main screen. She turned to follow his glance, passed Mahoney and at the viewer behind him. There she spotted two emerald-colored and dagger-shaped starships heading right towards them. And they were close. Far closer than they had any rights to be. Eagle was in the process of moving to intercept them but it was obvious that it was going to be too late.

    Xylion’s voice came back over the speaker. “Both vessels appear to have used the electromagnetic interference in this system to mask their approach. They will enter weapon’s range in ten seconds. Commander, both vessels have their shields raised and weapons fully powered.”

    Star glanced at Mahoney with an annoyed expression. “Damn you, Evan, did you tell the Thulians about this place?”

    The captain didn’t respond, instead he kept his eyes on the screen and the incoming threat.

    His first officer answered in his stead. “He did, Commander.”

    “That’s just great.” Star looked back at Leva and then indicated towards the tactical station. “Get our shields up and bring weapons online.”

    He didn’t hesitate but shook his head even as he headed there. “It’ll take a moment to undo the lock-out.”

    Star knew they didn’t have the time. She pointed at Alendra next. “Lieutenant, take the helm. Evasive actions.”

    She offered a curt nod and headed for the conn.


    Star heard Leva’s urgent shout and whipped back towards the screen. The two warships had opened fire.

    And just when things had started to go right for a change.

    Star cursed her luck. “Brace for impact!”

    It wasn’t going to be enough.

    * * *​
  13. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    The shuttle was racing north again, heading back the direction Deen and the rest of the away team had traveled from hours earlier. Van der Meer had provided them with a dozen men, less then half a platoon, led by Jonar Arik who was piloting one of the two shuttles which would carry them close to their destination.

    She knew it wasn’t quite as many Marines Michael had hoped for but the colonel was still not entirely convinced of the validity of his plan or, for that matter, its chances of success. She had however given them everything she knew about the communication facility, including blueprints, likely troop deployments and access points. Armed with that information Deen was fairly certain they would be able to find a way to sneak into the facility without arousing too much suspicion.

    Van der Meer had insisted of course that the assault team did not utilize any kind of deadly force against any Marines they’d encounter and the two Starfleet officers had quickly agreed. Belore and Sharval had initially resisted making any such commitment but when their only other option had been to stay behind at Phoenix, they too had submitted to the stipulation even if she hadn’t missed the fact that Michael would have much preferred for at least Sharval to remain at the base instead of coming along on this potentially dangerous mission.

    A small frown crossed her features when she thought about whatever it was that was going on between him and the Valerian woman. She had surprised herself by the strong feelings of disapproval she had experienced when she had caught the first inkling that there was more going on between them than just professional courtesy. But she had categorically dismissed Michael’s notion that she felt any kind of jealously, even if in truth, she wasn’t entirely so certain; wasn’t even sure what jealousy was supposed to feel like.

    She decided to dismiss all and any thoughts about the subject. After all she had already made her views on his budding relationship with Sharval quite clear and he was a grown man, fully able to make his own decisions.

    Deen was sitting in the back of the shuttle alongside six Marines, none of which she could sense wanted to be part of a mission which would see them pitted against their own people. She glanced towards the front and at the smooth-headed Deltan at the controls. He was following closely in the wake of the lead shuttle which contained Owens, Wasco, Sharval, Belore and the remaining Marines.

    A little smile came over her features when she regarded the pilot. Owens had been right, even if she had not wanted to admit to it, but there was little she could object about his relationship with Sharval now that she had reunited with her Academy beau. Reunited and then some.

    She decided to join him. It took her little more than an honest smile for the Marine sitting at Arik’s side to surrender his seat to her. Sometimes she felt guilty about the reaction she had on other people. It didn’t stop her from taking the seat.

    “Hey.” She looked at Jonar beside her.

    He refused to make eye contact. “Lieutenant.”

    Deen rolled her eyes. “Aren’t we long passed that?”

    The Deltan shot her a brief sidelong glance. “This is hardly the time or place for chitchat.”

    She shrugged. “We’ve got hours until we get to where we’re going. Not much else to do but talk and catch up.” She turned her head to look at the Marines behind them, none of which were paying them any undue attention. “And I don’t think you’re going to keep my little visit to your quarters a secret.”

    He sighed at that.

    Deen regarded him seriously. “You don’t regret what happened, do you?”

    “No, I don’t. It’s just, I didn’t expect anything like this.”

    “Well, I didn’t exactly come here trying to reconnect with a long lost friend either, you know.”

    He turned to look at her. “I wasn’t joking about the celibacy. I took an oath, a voluntary one, sure, but still. And I broke it. For you.”

    She nodded understandingly. “I’m sorry.”

    But he quickly shook his head. “Don’t be. I meant it when I said that it was worth it. But Deltans—we don’t do something like that lightly. If we ever break such an oath we only do this because…”

    “Because what?”

    He uttered another sigh. “Because we are serious.”

    Deen looked forward, staring at the raindrops streaking against the windshield for a brief moment. “You know what we had at the Academy was great. We were both younger, I know, but it could be like that again, couldn’t it?” She turned his way again. “Especially now that this war is over.”

    He frowned, diverting his eyes.

    “Right, I forgot, you don’t believe me.”

    Arik shook his head. “It’s not that at all. I have no reason to mistrust you or your captain. And I respect Major Wasco and his uniform, just like I respect Colonel van der Meer. She’s my commander and if she gives me an order I will follow it, even if it means that I have to help you turn against the general. But I don’t have to like it.”

    “He’s wrong, Jonar. Surely you can see that?”

    His intense eyes drove himself deep into hers. “No, I don’t see that at all. All I know is that you and your captain seem to disagree with the decisions he’s made. But none of you really understand. None of you could ever fully grasp the true meaning of loyalty and what it means to trust another person completely, to trust them with your lives. That’s the way I feel about General Lam and nothing you or anyone else can say will change that.”

    Deen considered that for a moment and then shot him a sad smile. “You know that I’ve never been with another man after we were together?”

    His eyes grew with surprise.

    She shrugged. “I guess you’re not the only one who had taken a celibacy oath. Maybe not a real oath but I happen to feel about intimacy just as strongly as you.”

    “I didn’t know.”

    Deen nodded. “Jonar, I admire you, I really do. I think I understand what you’ve been through and the way you’ve overcome all of that in the manner that you did is awe-inspiring. The way you managed to give your life new meaning and to dedicate yourself to this notion of loyalty is impressive.” She leaned in closer to him. “But loyalty can come in a variety of different forms. It’s not just about complete dedication to one man or even an organization or a group of people you fight alongside with. You can also show loyalty to an idea. How about loyalty to peace and fighting as hard as you possibly can to achieve that goal?” She shrugged and then stood. “That’s where my loyalty lies.”

    When Jonar turned to focus back on his instruments, Deen left to head towards the rear once more, kindly asking the Marine she had displaced earlier for her seat back.

    She knew in her heart she wanted to be with Jonar Arik again, that she wanted things to be the way they had once been between them. She understood that it could never be like that again. Too much had happened since those seemingly simpler days. They had both changed, he perhaps more so than she had.

    She hadn’t given up hope however that they could still find a way to be happy together in a different way. If there was anything DeMara Deen was known for it was that no matter how bad things got, no matter how much the odds were stacked against them, she never gave up hope.

    * * *​

    “We’re approaching the landing site. We’ll be setting down half a klick north of the target.”

    Michael stepped up behind the major piloting the lead shuttle. Owens had exchanged his uniform for inconspicuous tactical gear along with DeMara Deen, Sharval and even Belore who had only changed out of his distinct Cardassian military armor under protest.

    Looking out the windshield he frowned when he noticed that they were heading towards what looked like a small Valerian settlement. “I thought we agreed to avoid the local population.”

    “We are.” Wasco glanced briefly over his shoulder. “According to the colonel this place has been abandoned a while ago.”

    Owens looked towards Sharval who confirmed this with a nod. “The inhabitants quickly realized that this place had gotten far too dangerous. Most of them moved further north.”

    He didn’t miss the accusatory tone in her voice. They had abandoned their homes because of a war the Federation and the Dominion had brought to this world. He decided there was little point to dwell on it now. With any luck, all this would come to end in a few short hours.

    Wasco set the shuttle down in the large and overgrown courtyard of what looked like an impressive stone building the size of a small country estate. There was enough room for the other shuttle to park alongside them and a number of tall trees which had obviously not been trimmed in a good while provided some cover.

    Both teams disembarked and stepped onto the wet and muddy ground. The rain here was steadier than what Owens had experience on Valeria before. It didn’t slow down Arik who quickly ordered his men to form a loose perimeter before he joined Wasco, Owens, Deen, Sharval and Belore assembled close to the wide stone steps leading up to the now barricaded main entrance to the house in order to plan their next move.

    Wasco had produced a sturdy, combat padd which currently held a map of their surrounding. He pointed at a cluster of buildings. “We’re here.” The image zoomed out slightly to show a flashing red circle not too far from their current position. “We need to get here.” He zoomed back in to reveal more details about the communications facility, including a small unassuming area which had been highlighted in one of the southern quadrants and at least two hundred meters from the installation proper. “This is our entry point. An emergency exit tunnel which we believe is only lightly defended.”

    Owens considered the map closely and didn’t miss once again that the comm station wasn’t located very far from the heavily defended fusion plant. This worried him as it meant that if they failed, or if something were to go wrong and they’d be detected, Lam’s reinforcements could be on top of them in very little time.

    Shaval indicated towards what looked like a river which ran along the settlement and all the way towards the base. “This is our best way to get there. It may not be a straight line but it is mostly dried out since they built a large damn way up river. We’ll get our feet wet but the bed should keep us out of sight until we get to our destination.”

    Wasco looked towards the Deltan to get his opinion. “Sounds good.”

    “What can we expect once we’re inside?” Owens glanced at the Deltan as well.

    “I’ve been there twice before. The main control room is usually staffed by a dozen Marines and support staff but we don’t need to get in there. I’m pretty certain we can access the network and upload a message from one of the auxiliary rooms which are not always manned. I can show you the way but I don’t think I’ll be able to run the equipment.”

    That’s when Deen nodded. “I can probably help with that. I assume the system will be LCARS based and very similar to what we have on Eagle. It shouldn’t be too difficult to send out a general message which will reach every Marine on this planet.”

    Belore frowned. “Which also means that it won’t take Lam very long to figure out what’s going on or where we are.”

    Michael looked at the Cardassian and then at the others. “We always knew this was going to be the case. This is a one-way trip. Once the message is sent and the truth is out there, Lam will no longer be in a position to escalate this conflict by convincing his troops to mount an offensive. But it will not stop him from brining us in.”

    “And possibly kill us all.”

    Owens considered Sharval’s concerned expression. “That’s a probability, I can’t deny that. Especially considering that he’s tried that before but I cannot imagine he’ll go through with it once we’ve been successful. He’ll have nothing to gain and everything to lose by trying to get rid of us then.”

    “That’s a big gamble.”

    “You don’t have to come with us.” He ignored her scolding look. “This isn’t really your fight.”

    “How can you say that? This is my home.”

    Michael nodded. “Of course but ending this was is as little your responsibility as it was starting it. You and your people are caught in the crossfire of two powers having foolishly decided to make your planet their battlefield. It’s up to us to correct our mistakes and ensure this ends here and now. Its our lives to risk, not yours.”

    Sharval offered him a large smile. “Oh my gallant Sky Knight, however may I repay you for such selflessness?”

    Deen couldn’t help herself and giggled. That was until she received an admonishing glare from her captain.

    “I’m going and that’s all there’s to it.”

    Arik turn his head suddenly and stared at the gray skies above.

    Deen noticed first. “What is it?”

    He shook his head slightly. “That can’t be. Not here.”

    Then Owens began to hear it, too. It was a humming sound and it was steadily getting louder. “What is that?”

    “Trouble.” Arik turned to his men. “Hives, hives! Get to cover, now!” He whipped back around and pointed at the building. “In there!” Before anyone could even think about what was going on, he had already whipped out his rifle and blown open the barricaded doors.

    Wasco was the first to respond and raced up the steps. Belore was next, and Owens grabbed hold of Sharval’s arm as he pushed her forward. Arik took hold of Deen and within moments they were inside the old abandoned building with its squeaky floorboards and desolated interior design which still spoke of something that had been beautiful and grand once upon a time.

    “Get down.” Arik flattened himself onto the floor and the others quickly followed suit.

    The humming had now grown so loud, it was impossible to miss, drowning out even the sound of the rain outside. Just before Michael could ask what they were up against, he felt the entire building rattle and dust and debris coming loose from the ceiling above.

    He thought the worst was over but quickly realized that he was sadly mistaken. Not a moment later he felt as if they had been caught in a middle of a powerful earthquake and he buried his head under his arms to protect it.

    He felt the rain again and when he looked up he realized why. Something had blown right through the roof and destroyed most of the ceiling of the three-story building. Half of it was now exposed to the elements. A dark swarm of something that looked like insects hovered just outside the massive gap.

    Arik was getting back onto his feet. “Move, move, move!”

    Nobody hesitated once they realized that this building was no longer a safe heaven. Arik blasted down another door and threw his shoulder at what little remained off it to break through and get them back outside.

    Owens brought up his rifle and fired a couple of shots into the middle of the ominous swarm which seemed to be following them but found that it had little effect, the mass simply parted effortlessly to avoid the blasts.

    “Safe your ammo.” Arik threw a cylindrical device from his vest onto the ground but kept running towards a nearby building, smaller but equally abandoned.

    When Michael looked back he could see that the device had thrown up an energy screen over their heads which the attacking swarm was not able to penetrate. Judging by the way the Deltan was rushing to find new cover, he assumed it was not going to be a permanent solution.

    The team rushed into the second building but never stopped. Instead Arik used it merely as a waypoint. He sharply changed directions inside and made sure the others following him were staying close and keeping his fast pace. He pointed at a barricaded window and both Wasco and Owens raised their rifles in mid-sprint to blow out its wooden boards.

    Sharval dove through the window first, followed by Deen, Belore and then Owens and the two Marines.

    Outside they found the husk of a large and rusted land vehicle which was missing all its large rubber tires and had become part of an overgrown garden. The Deltan indicated for them to take cover behind it.

    Michael needed a brief moment to catch his breath after their sprint through two buildings. “What are those things?”

    “Hives.” Arik kept his eyes on the direction from which they had fled. The swam was no longer in sight but their insisting humming sound made it all too obvious that they were still close by, most likely trying to reacquire their targets.

    Deen looked at him. “Did Lam find us?”

    Belore shook his head. “Those are Cardassian. I’ve heard of those things. Hundreds of semiautonomous miniature drones which operate much like a swarm of insects. They fire microscopic antimatter projectiles which aren’t particularly destructive by themselves. But you add that by a few hundred—“

    Another building which had been targeted by the drone swarm crumbled to pieces just a few hundred yards from their position.

    Michael got the picture. “What are the Cardassians doing so deep behind enemy lines?”

    “They carry out surprise attacks from time to time. I’ve never seen them use hives around here before. Can’t be a good sign.” Arik raised his rifle, lining up a shot that wasn’t really there. Then he got in touch with the rest of his men.

    Wasco looked at the captain. “Perhaps the general was right and Metral is abusing the talk of a cease fire to launch an offensive of his own.”

    Deen offered an alternative opinion. “Or maybe he found out Lam is getting ready for one and is taking his own steps in response.”

    Both possibilities sounded reasonable to Michael. “It changes nothing. We’re still going through with this.” He turned to look at Sharval, aiming her an insistent look. “I need you to get out of here and I’m not going to take no for an answer this time. If we don’t make it, I need you to find a way to contact my ship once it returns and let them know what has happened.” He removed his combadge and pressed it into the palm of her hand. “Speak to Commander Star and tell her to do whatever it takes to stop Lam.”

    She glanced at the silver and gold chevron shaped pin for a moment. She smiled at him again but this time it was a little sadder than what it used to be. “Alright but I am not going to have to talk to your ship. You’re going to make it through this, after all the Sky Knight always survives.” She leaned towards him and pressed her lips hard against his, not caring in the slightest that they had an audience. Then she whispered in his ear. “Don’t get killed.” After that she was on her feet and ran without ever looking back.

    Owens made sure that the hives weren’t going after her and kept his eyes on Sharval until she disappeared passed a nearby tree line.

    A series of explosions caused him to whip his head back around just in time to see the building in front of them fall in on itself and the swarm of tiny hives emerging from the resulting dust cloud like an unstoppable Biblical plague. Michael had no illusions that those things were much deadlier than locusts.

    “Aim for the left most corner of the hive cloud. Fire on my mark.” Arik wasn’t the most senior officer in the group. He wasn’t even the most senior Marine but nobody hesitated to follow the noncom’s order and everyone raised their rifles, reading them to fire.

    The hives were moving closer, apparently having relocated their target which appeared to be Owens and his team. There were no more buildings or significant obstacles in their path other than the decrepit vehicle they had sought shelter behind. Considering what they had done to solid stone buildings, Michael didn’t consider their chances of surviving a direct attack to be favorable. The only thing that had stopped them before had been Arik’s portable shield but he seemed to be all out of those. He wasn’t sure what their phasers could do against them.

    His finger rested on the trigger of his rifle regardless and even though he had an overwhelming desire to open fire in the desperate hope that it would make a difference this time, he held it in check, waiting for Arik’s signal.

    The humming sound was getting worse and he could feel it all the way in his bones. It was the kind of sound Michael was sure, if he survived this, he’d have nightmares of for weeks to come.


    They unleashed their weapons as one. All but Arik.

    The effect was discouraging. The entire swarm simply shifted to the right and none of their beams seemed to connect with anything but empty air.

    But Arik was not deterred. “Keep firing.” Then he took aim himself. But instead of adding another phaser blast to the cacophony, his weapon unleashed something akin to a grenade which he launched right into the mass off the hives. Not a second later, his grenade was joined by two more, fired from other Marines hidden within the settlement.

    The drones attempted to escape again but with the steady phaser fire they didn’t have many options. The grenades exploded in sequence, one after the other, and the hives were too slow to avoid the blast radius.

    Most blew up right there, many others simply dropped to the ground along with the rain and disappeared somewhere beneath the mud-covered ground. The threat was neutralized.

    Deen uttered a heavy sigh of relieve before she aimed Arik a grateful look. “I think I’d make a horrible Marine. My nerves simply wouldn’t hold up.”

    But the Deltan ignored her, seemingly listening to reports from his men instead. “We’ve got casualties.” He got up from behind their cover and rushed back towards the courtyard where they had parked their shuttles.

    When Owens and the others arrived a few short moments after Arik, they already found two men down, seemingly having been badly injured when the hives had blown apart those buildings. Unable to walk, their comrades had brought them back to the courtyard and the corpsman, a corporal who himself had suffered an injury to his leg, hovered over them but seemed unable to do much besides attempting to alleviate some of their pain.

    Wasco turned to the medic. “How bad is it?”

    “Bad, sir. Yulec lost a lot of blood and Chernov has a bad concussion. There’s very little I can do for them here.”

    “The closest hospital is in the capital.” Arik glanced at the major, awaiting his orders. Of course it wasn’t difficult to know what he was thinking. That the longer they hesitated to get these men medical assistance the greater the chance they would not survive their injuries.

    “Not a good idea. Somebody is bound to ask questions there and Lam will find out what we’re up to.” Belore crossed his arms in front of his chest. “We cannot afford that.”

    “I’m not about to let my people die because of this foolhardy plan of yours which as far as I’m concerned is already FUBAR.”

    Deen took a step towards Arik. “Nobody is saying that, Jonar.”

    But even her calming aura seemed to have a very limited effect on the Deltan at the moment and he glanced back at the Cardassian. “I think I have a good idea what he’s saying, Dee.”

    Belore looked unapologetic. “We’re trying to end a war here and save thousands of souls. A few sacrifices along the way will be unavoidable.”

    “Especially if they are Starfleet Marines, right?”

    “Stand down, Sergeant.”

    Arik kept his baleful eyes on Belore only a moment longer before glancing at Wasco. “Sir, with all due respect, I can’t just stand here and let my people die.”

    The major nodded and then glanced at Owens. He didn’t have to say it but it was clear he agreed with the sergeant.

    Michael kept his eyes on the two Marines on the ground, a spotted Kriosian woman and a brunette human man, both writhing in pain, both in desperate need of medical attention. He could feel the eyes of the others upon him. Then he looked at the corpsman. “Can you fly the shuttle?”

    “Yes, sir.”

    He looked back at Wasco, giving him a nod.

    The major understood. “Let’s load these people on the second shuttle. Corporal, you’ll pilot it to the hospital in the capital. If anyone asks, you were ambushed by Cardassian hives on a routine recon patrol. You will not tell anyone about us or our mission.”

    He nodded sharply before he helped the others move the injured Marines.

    Belore refused to help and shook his head instead. “This is a mistake.”

    Deen shot him a glare. “But they’ll live.”

    “I hope that will be some comfort to you, Lieutenant, when we fail in our mission and as a consequence doom thousands more to die.”

    Owens had heard enough. “All it means is that we have a little less time to pull this off but that doesn’t mean we’re not going to. Let’s get moving. Time is a factor and we’ve got no more of it to waste.”

    They set out before the shuttle had even lifted off, already down three men, they double timed it towards the dried out riverbed which would lead them to their destination. Regardless of the confidence he had displayed, Owens couldn’t entirely help but dread that perhaps Belore had been right after all and that he had just doomed their mission to end this war before countless additional victims could be added to its growing tally of casualties.

    * * *​
  14. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    Two twin lances of super-charged azure energy shot across the void of space and Star could do nothing but hang on for dear life as they struck the unprotected and utterly unprepared Sacajawea dead on.

    She gritted her teeth so hard it hurt just before she felt the deck under feet suddenly give way and she was slammed into the bulkhead with such force, she was sure she had dislocated parts of her body.

    During her short time as Sacajawea’s captain she had only been involved in hostile situations twice and only once had her ship taken any damage which had waylaid them for a few hours. She immediately knew that this was far worse than anything she had ever experienced while serving on this ship. Perhaps even worse than anything she had experienced on Eagle during the war.

    The deck still swayed as she made it slowly back onto her feet even while seemingly every bone in her body protested this move. She glanced towards the status display at the back of the bridge to get an idea of the damage that had been done but then realized that the display had been blown apart in the fire fight earlier and now lay in shambles. An example Sacajawea would be following soon enough if they didn’t act quickly.

    She found Alendra picking herself up from the floor but not nearly quickly enough. Bluish blood trickling down her forehead from a nasty gash that she had suffered. Star reached out for her arm and helped her along, practically pushing her back into the seat. There was no time to consider her injuries, the stakes had become the life or death of over two-hundred crewmembers. “Evasive actions, Lieutenant. Now.”

    She didn’t wait for a reply but turned to look towards the tactical station where she found Leva crawling back into a chair. “Shields?”

    He shook his head. “That hit just blew up the entire grid. I may be able to get a couple of phasers back online but it won’t be much.”

    Star heard a small chuckle which quickly turned into a laugh and she whipped around to spot Mahoney on the floor, sitting up against the railing surrounding the command area. He was nursing a broken or bruised arm. “You doomed us all. We’re all going to die.”

    She skewered him with a murderous glare. “Evan, I’m only going to say this one more time. Shut the hell up or I’ll swear I’ll shoot you myself.”

    It didn’t stop his entirely inappropriate amusement but at least he offered no other comments.

    She ignored him and looked at the screen. Eagle had intercepted the two Thulian ships and appeared to be doing a decent job of trying to keep them occupied. “Star to Xylion. Status?”

    The Vulcan’s voice coming over the speakers was laced with distracting static, most likely a sign that Sacajawea’s comm systems had taken damage as well. “We have engaged the Thulian vessels, Commander.” There was a short pause and she could hear the telltale sounds of battle coming from Eagle’s bridge as the Thulians were now targeting the larger Starfleet ship. Xylion issued a few orders, calm as always, before he spoke to Star again. “However I am unable to guarantee that we will be successful in keeping both ships sufficiently distracted to avoid either one engaging Sacajawea again. I suggest you consider a tactical retreat.”

    It was an option of course but she hated the idea of leaving Eagle to handle both those ship’s on her own.

    Leva flung his head around. “Incoming torpedoes.”

    Star saw it too. One of the Thulian ships had managed to launch at least a handful of projectiles and the bright amber lights were racing right towards them.

    “Lieutenant, emergency evasive.”

    “Unable, sir. Engines are not responding quickly enough.”

    “Brace!” Once again she could do nothing but hold on and hope for the best as her fingers dug into the back of the empty captain’s chair.

    She managed to keep on her feet this time but only barely. Judging by the way the deck plates trembled underneath her boots, they were trying to pull themselves apart. The hit had caused significant damage to the ship’s superstructure.

    “Hull breaches on deck twelve, thirteen, fourteen…” Leva stopped himself. “Multiple decks all across the ships. Emergency force fields are struggling to maintain integrity.”

    Star realized that Xylion had been right. They had to get out of here. “Bridge to engineering. We need warp speed right now.”

    A young, harried voice responded, trying to make himself heard among the noise of what sounded like an engine room falling to pieces around him. “This is Hendricks. Engines are gone. I had to shut down the core after that hit in order to prevent a breach. Impulse is offline, too. I’m not sure what I can do down here. Maybe I can scrounge up enough power for a few phaser blasts.”

    Before Star could respond she caught another glimpse of the screen. The emerald and azure moon was becoming far too prominent, Sacajawea was dropping out of orbit. “Lieutenant, check your altitude and pull her up.”

    But the Bolian woman shook her head with barely contained frustration. “Helm is no longer responding, sir. I’m losing control.”

    Her eyes widened. Sacajawea was now caught in a death spiral towards the surface of the moon without any chance of escape. A dark thought crossed her mind then. A few days earlier, before this insanity had even gotten underway, she had fatefully fantasized for a brief moment that her former ship was forever lost before she even had a chance to come to her rescue. In a twisted and perverse form of wish fulfillment, it now appeared as if exactly that was going to happen. She wondered if it was poetic justice that the ship would perish with her still onboard.

    “Sir, what do you want me to do?” Hendricks was still waiting for instructions down in engineering.

    Star shook her morose thoughts free of her mind. Maybe she’d die on this cursed ship but she was determined that nobody else deserved this fate. “Forget the phasers. I want you to channel whatever energy we’ve got left to thrusters.”

    Alendra turned her head to glance at Star. “It won’t be enough to arrest our descent.”

    “Perhaps not but it might slow us down.” Star considered for a moment that perhaps Eagle could come to their rescue but quickly dismissed this notion. She had her hands full with those two warships and wouldn’t be able to risk lowering her shields or attempting to lasso in the plunging Sacajawea with a tractor beam. She knew Xylion well enough by now to realize that, like most Vulcans, nine times out of ten, he would choose to protect the many over the few. And right now that meant Eagle. She didn’t blame him; it was the right thing to do. “Hendricks, make it happen and then evacuate engineering. We’re abandoning ship. Bridge out.”

    This caused everyone around her to turn and look at her in surprise. Even if it was becoming rapidly obvious that it was their last chance to come out of this alive, it was never easy to abandon a ship to its fate.

    Mahoney had managed to pull himself on his feet again, holding on the railing. “No. We’re not abandoning this ship. I am the captain and I order you—“

    Star was on him in a heartbeat and without thinking twice she brought up her balled fist and socked him right in the face, not caring that she had done so with her right arm, the one which had been replaced with a cybernetic construct years ago. She hardly felt a thing but Mahoney was out cold before he even flopped back to the floor. “I told you to shut up.” She couldn’t quite believe how good that had felt.

    Leva looked at her with a raised eyebrow, making him look uncannily Vulcan. Then he toggled the internal comm. “All hands, this is Commander Leva. Abandon ship. I say again, abandon ship.” What followed was an insistent computer announcement and a blaring siren to make sure every last crewmember got the message and was headed without further delay to the nearest escape pod.

    The problem as far as the bridge was concerned, was the fact that it was still littered with far too many unconscious bodies and Star did the math in her head. There were more people than could fit into the escape pods on this deck. She glanced at her remaining security team. “Start moving these people into the nearest pods. Do it now.”

    They didn’t hesitate.

    She glanced back at the helm. “How much time, Lieutenant?”

    “We have six minutes and twelve seconds until atmospheric conditions will tear apart the hull and escape pods will not survive the launch. Even with minimal thrusters I’m not able to readjust our entry angle to avoid catastrophic damage.”

    Star nodded and then tapped her on the shoulder. “Understood. Help get those people into the escape pods and then get on one yourself.”

    The Bolian stood and followed the order without question.

    Star considered taking the helm herself for a moment but then realized there was nothing more to be done there. The ship was locked in on an irreversible course to burn up in Mittias IIIb’s atmosphere. So instead she turned around and helped the others get the unconscious men and women off the bridge, knowing full well that any second had become valuable.

    And just when she though that maybe they might come out of this thing in one piece, with the bridge nearly completely evacuated and most escape pods already launched, she heard another ominous warning sound coming from the tactical station.

    Leva got there first. “We’ve got another incoming torpedo.”

    She glanced at the screen which had shifted to show a single glowing projectile racing towards them. She had little doubt that it would finish them off for good; destroy them before they even had a chance to be crushed by their uncontrolled plunge towards the unforgiving atmosphere below. She wasn’t sure if it was meant as an act of mercy or if the Thulians just really wanted them dead. It didn’t matter.

    “Let’s go!” She grabbed Mahoney who was one of few remaining officers left on the bridge by the arm even while he was slowly coming back around. Her mind tried to convince her that it was a futile effort, that she couldn’t possibly outrun a torpedo and get to an escape pod below decks before it struck the ship, and yet at the same time her gut insisted that she’d never give up.

    She looked up at Leva and his Bolian lieutenant, who besides her and Mahoney were the last two people on the bridge, waiting by the open turbolift doors and spurring her on. Star decided to listen to her gut.

    Mahoney had other ideas. He pushed away from her suddenly. “No, no, I won’t do it, I won’t come with you. I won’t give you the satisfaction of rescuing me.”

    Star couldn’t believe it. She was half of a mind to just let him stay but she couldn’t quite do it. Not because he was worth rescuing, she was convinced he wasn’t, but because she didn’t want him to take the easy way out. She wanted him to be accountable for everything he had done. She wanted the satisfaction of seeing him behind bars. Who knew, the way things were going she might even join him. “Shut up and come along or I’ll knock you on your ass again.” She reached out for him once more, getting a firm grasp of his arm and she dragged him along even as he fought her all the way.

    She had nearly reached the turbolift when she couldn’t help herself and glance back towards the screen one last time—and immediately wished she hadn’t.

    With a searing flash the torpedo seemed to strike the viewer itself. The entire forward section of the bridge tore away, exposing them to the vacuum of space. For a millisecond or so, Star had a flashback to the very incident which had brought her such disgrace, which had cost her not just half an arm but so much more.

    The temperature plummeted in seconds and a pull of unimaginable force ripped her off her feet and towards certain death. Somehow, she couldn’t explain exactly how, she managed to grab hold of the armrest of the captain’s chair as she flew passed it. Judging by the pain shooting through her body she was certain she had dislocated her arm in the process. Hanging there, suspended in the middle of the bridge, she turned to see that she still had hold of Mahoney with her other hand. It was only thanks to the strength of her artificial limb that she managed to cling to the seat but the additional weight was already causing her to start to slip.

    She looked back the other way to find the turbolift, perhaps twenty feet away. It might as well have been twenty light-years. There was no chance she could reach it with the entire force of space pulling at her.

    With some relief she spotted that Leva had managed to hang on inside the lift car. The Bolian hadn’t been so lucky but the half Romulan had managed to snag her up at the last moment and with his impressive strength pulled her slowly inside the turbolift. Then he glanced up at Star, as if trying to figure out a way to reach her as well. They both knew the gap between them was insurmountable.

    Star mouthed a single word. ‘Go.’

    Leva exchanged one last, meaningful look with her. Perhaps to let her know that it had been an honor to serve with her. Then the turbolift doors closed shut and Star prayed it would take them both to safety before it was too late.

    She knew it was for her.

    Mahoney it seemed was not willing to go quietly. Fueled with the adrenaline of his hatred for her, he inexplicably managed to find purchase by grabbing hold of her uniform and pulled himself up along her body. The freezing cold drained all the color from his face but he still managed to bring it close to her ear. When he spoke, he did so with some difficulty. “This is how is ends for you, Taz. Don’t … fight it. It’s better than what you deserve.” He jerked hard at the back collar of her uniform, determined to pull her free. “Time for you to get off my ship.”

    She moved her free hand towards her chest even if every little movement caused white fiery lances of pain to shoot through her body. “As you’ve kept reminding me, you’re the captain now. And the captain goes down with the ship.” It didn’t take much effort to loosen the fasteners on her jacket. The material gave way instantly, slipping off her and then ripping away with him still holding on to it.

    She heard a surprised little gasp which turned out to be the last thing that came over Evan Mahoney’s lips before he was blown out into space. She looked after him, seeing his body tumbling towards the surface below and with some satisfaction imagined that he would spent his last thoughts cursing her before his body burned up in the atmosphere.

    She had no doubts that she would follow him shortly. She had cheated death far too many times over the years. Fed up with his past failures, the Grim Reaper had finally come to even the score and catch up with Tazla Star for good.

    * * *​
  15. Rat Boy

    Rat Boy Vice Admiral Admiral

    I wonder if we ought to start reading into the fact that Star was never referenced by name in any of the other post-Dominion War stories.
  16. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Uh... Holy Jumpinjehosiphat!! :wtf:

    That was a genuine, nail-biting, roller coaster ride! Yay for Tazla finally shuffling Mahoney off his mortal coil, that ass-hat will not be missed. I hope Star somehow survives this, but this might be one crisis too many for her.
  17. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    “I have the shot, Gunny.”

    Owens watched the Deltan sergeant nod in acknowledgement towards Corporal Alessandro Rossini, one of the snipers in his team, but otherwise give no other orders.

    Three more Marines had also lined up shots while they were hiding themselves in the underbrush near the riverbed which as Sharval had correctly advised had led them within only a few hundred yards of their target. All four snipers were standing by to take down the only Marines currently guarding the service tunnel which Wasco had identified as their ingress into the comm facility.

    Arik’s hesitation was costing them time they didn’t have. “Do it.” Owens whispered urgently and then brought up his binoculars to watch their unaware targets.

    The Deltan finally gave the go ahead.

    “This feels all kinds of wrong.” But Rossini followed the order anyway and so did his fellow Marines as four suppressed and barely visible phaser blasts rang out at nearly the exact same time.

    Their aim was true and all four guards crumbled to the ground, stunned.

    Wasco waited ten more seconds, probably to make sure the assault had gone unnoticed and then was the first one to stand and lead the rest of the team down a slight rise and towards the tunnel entrance. The actual station had been built into a mountain rising just behind it. A few well-concealed comm relays peaked out from it at various locations as the only indication of what lay inside.

    Upon reaching the tunnel entrance, the Marines somewhat reluctantly secured their fellow men, the ones they had just shot. Wasco headed for a panel close to the dark and heavy blast door which functioned as the only entrance to the tunnel and opened it to reveal a simple console behind it. “Now let’s hope Svea’s intel was correct.” He began to input codes into the console.

    Belore stepped up close to him. “What happens if it is not?”

    “Every single alarm in this building will go off and we’ll have half a Marine battalion surround us within twenty seconds.”

    “That would have been a long trip for nothing then.”

    Owens held his breath as he watched Wasco work, fully understanding that their entire plan now rested on the codes van der Meer had provided them to gain access to this facility.

    The Cardassian shook his head. “This is taking too long.” He turned to look at Owens. “What if she sold us out to Lam?”

    The thought had crossed his mind as well. After all she might have only gone along with his plan to humor them but never truly considered helping them at all. Perhaps this was all just some sort of scheme to deliver them back into Lam’s waiting hands. Sure, she was a close friend of Wasco’s but Lam was her superior and Marines were always supposed to follow orders, put them above all other considerations.

    Then the blast door began to rise and the major turned to face Belore. “You were saying?” A little self-satisfying smirk played on his face. A rare sight for him. “A Marine always keeps his word.”

    “You mean like your glorious general?”

    Owens quickly inserted himself. There was no time for another argument, not here. “Alright, let’s go.”

    Wasco shot the man a brief glare before he nodded towards Arik. “Gunnery Sergeant, take point.”

    The Deltan carefully stepped into the facility with his phaser rifle sweeping the tunnel but finding nothing to hinder their progress or offer opposition.

    The others followed.

    “Those guards checked in only a few seconds before we took them down. Which means we have about thirty minutes until their next report is due.” Wasco walked at Owens’ side as they slowly made their way through the narrow and mostly featureless tunnel.

    “Enough time to get our message out. What about internal sensors?”

    “Svea’s access code should have overridden all security systems. All we have to worry about are a few guards or staff members crossing our path.”

    After a hundred yards they reached another blast door. There was just enough room for the ten of them to stack up at either side and hide out of sight.

    Wasco nodded for Owens to activate the door which lifted slowly. Wasco and Arik, lying prone on the floor, fired two shots as soon as the gap had been wide enough. Once the door had fully risen, Michael spotted two more guards who had sagged to the floor and now unconsciously sat up against the walls.

    The Marines secured these two as well.

    The corridor beyond the tunnel was much wider but also far more utilitarian than what he was used to from Eagle or even van der Meer’s base. The floors were covered with simple metallic grates and EPS power lines and ODN conduits were running naked along the walls and ceilings.

    Wasco referred back to his padd which now contained a blueprint of the station. He indicated down the corridor. “The nearest auxiliary comm room is fifty meters down this corridor, left at a junction, third door.”

    Michael nodded and glanced back at Arik. “Lead the way.”

    They had to move slowly, doing their best to cause as little sound as possible which wasn’t easy without any real floor coverings to muffle their steps. When they approached the junction the Marines once again carefully pressed themselves against the walls. Their caution turned out to be unnecessary as all the corridors were clear.

    Owens spotted the door leading to their destination and this time was the first one inside, rifle held at the ready.

    A young technician was the single occupant, sitting at the main console and swiveling his chair around upon hearing the doors behind him opening. His eyes grew wide but he had no chance to react in any other manner to this unexpected intrusion as Owens had already stunned him, causing the man to slump over the console.

    The rest of the team rushed into the room to secure it.

    Two Marines gently removed the technician from the chair to allow Deen access. She put down her rifle and took the seat, quickly getting to work. A smile began to spread over her lips. “This looks promising. I think I can gain access to the comm network from here. We might even be able to push a signal as far as Cardassian territory.”

    Owens stood next to her. “Can we reach the ship?”

    She shook her head. “Perhaps but I would have to reconfigure the relays. I don’t think we have the time for that.”

    “This might be faster.”

    Michael turned towards Wasco who was removing a portable comm unit from an equipment bay.

    “These should be powerful enough to reach orbit.”

    Owens nodded. “Give it a try.” But he left Wasco to his own, for now his priority had to be to send out a message which would make it unmistakably clear to every last Marine on this planet that they were fighting a pointless war, one which’s outcome had already been decided over a week ago.

    “Alright, I think everything’s set up.” Deen glanced back at him and then pointed at a visual sensor to her left. “You can record your message there. Once complete I can send it out on a level one priority using the station’s relay network. In theory that will override all other signals and reach every station and personal comm in range.” She slipped a green isolinear chip into an appropriate slot. “Lastly I attach the official Starfleet orders and documents to the message and even the most loyal Marine would have to think twice if they are doing the right thing here.”

    Belore crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Don’t underestimate years of indoctrination, Lieutenant.”

    “We aren’t Cardassian soldiers.” Wasco said, looking up from working on the mobile comm unit. “Don’t underestimate our ability to see reason.”

    “After all I’ve seen here, I still have to be convinced of that.”

    Both Wasco and Arik appeared ready to shoot back a response, the scolding look in their eyes seemed to imply however that they felt no obligation whatsoever to convince Belore or any Cardassian for that matter of anything at all.

    Owens beat them both to it. “I think we’ve already seen a number of Marines who have been willing to stand up for what is right.” He considered both Wasco and the Deltan, even if Arik hadn’t appeared particularly confident in their plan, perhaps even hesitant. “Now it’s time to make sure the rest will follow their lead.”

    Deen offered him a nod. “Ready whenever you are.”

    Owens stepped up to the visual sensor without further delay and took a deep breath. It wasn’t very often he had to give a speech which could decide between war and peace. This was a task usually left to politicians and diplomats. With none of their ilk anywhere near Valeria, he understood this burden now rested solely on his shoulders.

    He activated the recording, a blinking light on the console confirming it was running. “My name is Michael Owens, captain of the Starfleet starship USS Eagle. I have come to Valeria on direct orders from Starfleet Command to advise Starfleet forces stationed on this world that the Dominion has been defeated following their unconditional surrender at Cardassia Prime. The Treaty of Bajor which has been signed by all belligerent parties stipulates an end to all hostilities between the forces of the Federation Alliance and those of the Dominion, including the Cardassians and the Breen. As part of the treaty, the Federation Alliance has been placed into temporary control of Cardassia to ensure a smooth transition to a new civilian government and to better assist the Cadassian people following the heavy losses they have incurred during the conflict.

    By the order of the Federation Council, all Starfleet and Cardassian forces on Valeria are to immediately stand down from any combat actions and prepare to be transported back to Federation and Cardassian space.”

    He paused for a moment, realizing he needed to strike a more personal tone if he wanted to get through to his audience. “I will not pretend to know the pain and sacrifices both Marines and Cardassian forces have endured while fighting over this world for the last two years. But like most everyone else fighting this war, I too have lost friends and colleagues very dear to me. But the time for fighting is now over and we all need to pull together to heal, morn and rebuilt that which has been lost. Both the Federation and Cardassia have paid dearly in lives and property and it is now our combined task to help those most affected, the millions of people on both sides who have lost so much. Now that the war has been fought, our next duty is just as important and challenging. It’s the battle for peace and our struggle to rebuild our lives and those of the countless people needing our help back home.

    We must also honor the wishes of the people of Valeria and their sovereign leaders, who have been caught in the middle of a war not of their making, and promptly withdraw all of our troops from their territory so they, too, may begin to recover from what has been a most disturbing and traumatic experience for them.

    I have attached to this message, the Dominion Surrender Declaration, the Treaty of Bajor, orders from the Federation Council and the President and the interim leaders of the Cardassian Union as well as the signed declarations from the chief magistrates of the Valerian territories which are available to review for anyone who wishes to do so.

    The war is over and all of you, Marines and Cardassians alike, are desperately needed to come home where you next great challenge awaits you.”

    He kept his steely eyes on the visual pickup a moment longer and then deactivated the recording. When he turned around he could see that every single person in the room was now looking his way with something akin to relieve mirrored on their faces. Owens wasn’t sure if his message was going to be enough to convince Lam and his men to stand down but he knew, at the very least, he had won over this room. Deen, Wasco, Belore and even Jonar Arik offered him curt nods to prove it.

    He glanced at the Tenarian.

    “Just give me a second and I’ll have that broadcasted around the globe.” She offered him a little smirk. “You’re going to be a real celebrity. A true Sky Knight.” She added that last bit with a mischievous little smirk.

    Owens frowned at that. Bad enough Sharval had thrown that term into his face every chance she’d been given, he really didn’t need it to catch on. “Just what I always dreamed of.” He looked passed her and glanced toward Wasco. “Any luck reaching the ship?”

    He shook his head. “Afraid not. And I rather not risk boosting the signal too much. It might invite unwanted attention.”

    “It’s possible Eagle hasn’t returned yet.”

    A quiet curse uttered by Deen caused Owens to redirect his attention her way. It was a bad sign, he could not recall the last time she had used that kind of language.

    “What’s wrong?”

    She shook her head as her hands danced frantically across the console. “I’m not sure but I’m having a real problem getting the signal out. It’s the comm relays. They looked just fine a moment ago but now…”

    Owens placed his hands on the console and leaned in closer to get a look himself. “Now what?”

    Deen glanced up at him with a worried expression. “They’re shutting down. All of them.”

    “I knew getting in here was far too easy. This is a trap.” Belore shot Wasco a deathly glare. “Your friend the colonel betrayed us.”

    The major shook his head. “I don’t believe that.”

    “Of course you don’t. Because a Marine always keeps his word, right? Wake up, Major. She never meant to help us.”

    Owens had to admit that it was a possibility but for now he chose to believe another one. “Lam isn’t stupid. Once he realized we had not been apprehended, he may have guessed that this might be our destination and took precautions.”

    Deen nodded along slowly. “That makes sense. The relays could have been programmed to shut down as soon as anyone tried to send a general broadcast. And judging by the fact that we haven’t been apprehended yet, Lam may just have been careful but not knowing for certain we’d come here.”

    Arik took a step closer. “I take it he knows now?”

    She nodded. “I say that’s a good bet.”

    Owens understood. There was still a chance even if the odds were most likely no longer in their favor. If they ever had been to begin with. He pointed at the portable comm unit. “Take that. We need to get out of here now.”

    Seconds later the team was on the move again, rushing out of the room and retracing their steps.

    “What’s the plan now?”

    Owens glanced at Deen even as they were making their way down the corridor. It was an excellent question. The truth was they had run so low on options to begin with, there hadn't really been a backup plan. He didn’t get much of a chance to think about one either.


    The Marine had hardly spoken the words when a handful of Lam’s men appeared further down the corridor, just beyond the junction that would lead them back towards the tunnel and the exit. All of them had their weapons up and fired the moment they had a clear shot.

    It had been a bad idea. A number of blasts slammed into the walls and the unprotected conduits running along them. A couple of EPS lines ripped apart, showering everyone with red hot sparks. The corridor quickly filled with heated steam of escaping electroplasma.

    The thickening smoke reduced the visibility drastically and caused enough of a distraction for the team to reach the junction unharmed.

    Arik pointed at two of his men. “Cover our escape. Fifteen seconds, stun grenades then go.”

    They nodded and followed the order while Arik indicated for the rest of the team to keep rushing towards the tunnel.

    But they didn’t get very far until they heard the explosion behind them.

    When Owens whipped around he could see that a fire had erupted by the junction, most likely the assaulting Marines had used a grenade of their own before Arik’s men had the chance. One of them, Owens believed it was Rossini had been thrown to the floor where he was stirring slightly. The other Marine was conscious but clearly dazed.

    Arik stopped as he looked back towards the junction.

    Wasco shot the man an instant glance. “We have to get out of here, Sergeant.”

    But Arik shook his head. “We’re not leaving anyone behind.”

    Owens could see the looks being exchanged between the two men and they seemed to arrive at an unspoken agreement. Then Arik turned back towards the junction.

    “Jonar?” Deen tried to follow him but Wasco grabbed hold of her arm, shaking his head. “We need to get out of here now.”

    Owens nodded. He could understand and appreciate their ethos but the truth was he could not risk for them to get captured again. There was still a chance to achieve his mission, to end this war, even if it was becoming more unlikely with each passing second. But as long as there was a chance, he had to do whatever he could to keep going. “Dee, let’s go.”

    But she kept her eyes on Arik instead who had since found his way back to the junction. He helped Rossini onto his feet and found the other Marine still able to walk. He made sure they were able to support each other and sent them on their way to rejoin the rest of the team before he grabbed a stun grenade and tossed it around the corner.

    He was just turning back around to face them when an errant phaser blast blew passed him, missing him by inches.

    His relief was short-lived. The beam had ignited an exposed plasma conduit.

    Arik, understanding the danger, turned and began to run down the corridor.

    He wasn’t fast enough. The conduit exploded and the shockwave ripped him off his feet and he smashed hard into the wall.

    “Jonar!” Deen freed herself from Wasco still holding on to her and rushed towards the fallen Deltan.

    Belore shook his head angrily. “We don’t have time for this.”

    Owens knew he was right. “Wasco, get these people out of here.” He said just before he rushed after Deen.

    He found her kneeling over Arik’s body, carefully rolling him onto his back. Blood was pouring out of his nose and mouth. She reached for his neck and when she sensed Owens above her she looked up with teary eyes. “He’s alive but barely. We … we can’t leave him.”

    Owens nodded. “Help me pick him up.”

    Together they got the Marine off the floor and dragged him between them down the corridor.

    Wasco joined them shortly after.

    Owens glared at him. “I told you to get the others out, Major.”

    “Arik was right, we don’t leave our own behind.” He didn’t hesitate to help them carry the injured Marine, allowing them to adopt a faster pace towards the exit. “Besides, Nora’d kill me if anything happened to you on my watch. She was very clear about that.”

    Michael allowed himself a tiny smirk. He had no doubt she had been.

    The stun grenade Arik had managed to deploy before he had been injured along with the plasma explosion had apparently done the trick as they were not being followed and they managed to clear the tunnel without further incident. Once outside they caught up with Belore and the remaining Marines again.

    “Where to now?” The Cardassian looked impatient, clearly not happy that Owens and the others had risked the mission for the Deltan.

    “The way we came. Back to the shuttle.” Michael handed Arik over to some of his fellow Marines. They had already lost their corpsman so he wasn’t sure what they could do for him. Deen refused to leave his side.

    “And then what, Captain?”

    Owens aimed a poisonous glare at the Cardassian. “I haven’t thought that far ahead yet, alright?” He hadn’t meant to snap at Belore. Owens liked to think of himself as a man who remained cool under pressure, had to be as a starship captain responsible for hundreds of people under his command. But the truth was that the burden of being responsible for trying to stop an entire war was getting to him. Thankfully he relocated his poise quickly enough. “Let’s just get back to the shuttle. I’m sure we figure something out.”

    “That may no longer be an option.”

    Owens glanced at Wasco who was brining up his rifle again. A moment later he realized why. A Marine shuttle was quickly approaching their position and it was definitely not one of theirs, it had the wrong markings. It set down a few hundred yards form the tunnel entrance and two dozen Marines emerged from it, promptly taking aim at Owens and his men.

    Michael looked over what was left of their team. Arik was down and two more of his men were in no condition for a fight while Deen and another Marine attempted to tend to his injuries. It left them severely outmanned and outgunned. And yet it didn’t stop the remaining men to pick up their weapons and drawing beads on the approaching opposition. He noticed the fire in their eyes which spoke of iron-clad determination. They may have been hesitant to having to fight their own people when all this first began, but they were firmly on his side now. On the side of peace, Owens decided.

    Unfortunately for them, Lam’s men were equally prepared to stop what in their eyes was a rebellion against their general and perhaps even against their corps itself. An unspeakable crime as far as a Marine was concerned.

    As he brought up his rifle to defend himself, Owens couldn’t stop himself from considering that perhaps surrender was his only remaining option. There was no way he could imagine coming out of this skirmish as the victor and perhaps there still was a chance to appeal to Lam directly and to reason with him. If he had won over the men surrounding him now, perhaps Lam could also be swayed. If they survived long enough to face him again. He knew there was no guarantee of this, not even if he decided to surrender.

    A loud rumbling noise interrupted his line of thought and it even caught the approaching Marines by surprise. Still a good hundred yards away, they stopped to look towards the tree line from which the sound seemed to be originating from.

    A number of smaller trees snapped like twigs as a massive ground vehicle emerged, bouncing as it rolled easily over trees and rocks alike thanks to its four thick and man-high rubber tires. Owens recognized the design of the brown, bullet shaped vehicle. It was clearly Valerian, except much larger than anything he had seen before. The behemoth even dwarfed the Marine shuttles.

    The vehicle rolled to a stop immediately in front of Owens and his team and effectively blocking the approaching Marines from getting a clear shot at them.

    A smirking Sharval stuck out her head from a small window in the cockpit at the front of the vehicle. “I thought you might need a lift.”

    Owens frowned at her. “And I thought I’d told you to stay out of this.”

    She regarded him with a puzzled look. “Really? That’s your response to my gracious offer?” She ducked back inside. “I guess I can always take my tank somewhere else.”

    He couldn’t help but smirk at her pouting face and her mock annoyance. Then he gestured to his team. “Alright, people, let’s saddle up.”

    The side door to the tank slid open and four Valerian security officers stepped outside. Two of which helped with the injured while the two others moved up to the edge of the vehicle to return fire at the Marines who had since decided that this tank which had appeared so suddenly was a legitimate target.

    The sturdy vehicle however was providing ample cover to allow Owens and his team to board it and within moments everyone was securely inside.

    But regardless of its tough design, Owens could feel it wouldn’t hold up forever, especially since the Marines had increased the power to their weapons, causing the tank to tremble dangerously. “Let’s go, go go!” He made his way into the compact cockpit at the front, having to climb a short ladder in order to reach it.

    Sharval had the vehicle back in motion by the time he got to her and she threw him another large smile. “You didn’t really think I’d just abandon you out here, did you?”

    He had to hang on tightly to the handholds fixed to the low ceiling as the tank rumbled across the land, clearly inertial dampeners not a design feature. “I though I was supposed to be the Sky Knight. Instead it looks as if you have saved me at least twice since I’ve got here. Perhaps that title would be much more suitable for you.”

    Her smile didn’t vanish as she turned back towards the controls. But she shook her head slightly. “I believe you fundamentally misunderstand the legend of the Sky Knight, the Land Maiden and the Ancient Enemy.”

    Before Owens could inquire about this further, he could spot more trouble heading their way. Two additional shuttles were approaching them, determined to cut off the tank. And they wasted little time, firing their phasers, one of which struck its hull, the force of the impact nearly throwing the vehicle on its side. Instead it balanced perilously on only two wheels for a moment and once more forcing Owens to battle gravity.

    “Hang on!” Sharval counter-steered carefully and with a heavy bounce the massive tank landed on all for wheels again. Then she turned sharply and the behemoth blazed into a forest at full speed.

    Owens hung on to dear life, hoping that the men in the back had been able to securely strap themselves in before this mad dash had commenced.

    “As far as me saving the gallant Sky Knight again, I really do hope that you’re cooking up one of those ingenious plans in that brilliant Starfleet mind of yours. Otherwise this is going to be one of the shortest rescue attempts in recorded Valerian history.”

    Owens glanced out of the windshield and knew exactly what she was talking about. Another two shuttles had appeared overhead as Lam was clearly done taking any chances and was throwing at them everything he had. Sharval had been forced to make another sharp turn and too late did she realize where it was taking them.

    They were heading right for the very same ridge which they had visited a day earlier and beyond which Lam’s fusion generator sat at the bottom of the valley. Owens understood that the tank was far too large and heavy to survive going over that cliff. Sharval would be forced to hit the breaks and after that there were very few places to go.

    He also understood something else. Even the most brilliant minds in Starfleet—and he freely admitted his one wasn’t one of those—had its limitations.

    * * *​
  18. Gibraltar

    Gibraltar Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Sep 25, 2005
    US Pacific Northwest
    Dammit, so close! Nothing ever goes easy for these people, does it? Now Owens must contemplate a growing equation of cost vs. benefit,and how much he's willing to sacrifice to try and end this conflict.
  19. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    It wasn’t her duranium composite artificial limb, clinging to the back of the seat which gave way first. It was the captain’s chair itself which betrayed her when it snapped free from the deck suddenly, surrendering to the pull of the vacuum combined with Tazla Star’s weight.

    She had only a brief moment to consider the beautiful irony of it all before she got sucked out into space and freeze to death. Halfway there already, her entire body shivered and her lungs burned from the lack of oxygen.

    Star was convinced this wasn’t going to be a pretty death but then again perhaps there was no such thing. She closed her eyes as she surrendered herself to forces entirely outside of her control.

    The impact was sudden and painful. And yet not as painful as she had expected. In fact she hadn’t expected any kind of impact at all.

    It took her mind a moment to realize that she had not been blown out of the bridge. Instead the emergency force field has snapped into place just in time to keep her from the unforgiving void. Gravity took hold of her not a second later and she was unceremoniously dumped onto the hard deck.

    Her body was stiff from the cold and pain and yet she had the wherewithal to quickly roll to her side when the now loose center chair which had followed her path precisely came close to crashing down on top of her. Instead it smashed into the deck just inches to her right.

    She looked at it wide eyed. Survived, but coming within a hair’s length of getting crushed by the captain’s chair. The ironies just kept coming.

    Star couldn’t help herself but break out into unabashed laughter once her lungs had filled with air again, even if it came over her lips more like raspy coughs. It hurt so much that it brought tears to her eyes and yet she couldn’t stop herself. Perhaps it was the lack of oxygen, perhaps she was slowly going mad. She didn’t know how many more times she would be able to cheat death but she was fairly certain that psychologically speaking she couldn’t handle many more such scenarios.

    She glanced back towards the force field which flickered dangerously as if it may give up containing the bridge’s precious atmosphere at any moment and spotted the flames starting to lick at the hull just beyond it. She understood that she wasn’t out of the woods yet.

    She pushed herself onto her feet, every muscle in her body protesting with vicious pain and greedily took big gulps of air which the life support system had pumped back onto the bridge. It was still freezing cold and it didn’t help matters that her jacket had been ripped off of her and was now floating somewhere in outer space. Only a single sleeve of the garment remained which she quickly shook off.

    “Computer.” Her voice was coarse and she could hardly even hear her own voice, either because the words didn’t vocalize loudly enough or because she had lost most of her hearing, she wasn’t sure. “Computer, how long to the hard deck?”

    “Three minutes, twenty-four seconds. Immediate evacuation is recommended.”

    “Tell me something I don’t know.” She stumbled towards the forward turbolift, trying to will herself to move faster but her legs were still stiff as wood and refused her commands. “Computer, how many people are still on the Sacajawea?”

    “There are two remaining life signs on this vessel.”

    At least that was good news. She was one of those which meant only a single crewmember was still on board who had not yet reached an escape pod for whatever reason.

    To her relief the turbolift doors opened without hesitation and she limped inside. “What is the location of the other lifesign?”

    “Deck six, section forty-four baker.”

    “Take me there.”

    The turbolift set in motion.

    She tried to remember the layout of that deck and was fairly certain it still retained a number of escape pods. If nothing else, Starfleet ships like the Sacajawea were built with redundancy in mind. The ship may have only had a crew of two-hundred but she carried enough escape pods to serve ten times that many people. Finding one shouldn’t have been difficult even after the ship had been fully evacuated.

    She kept stretching her limbs while the lift was racing through the ship, managing to increase her range of movement slowly even if she had to fight through miserable pain in the process.

    The turbolift deposited her as closely as possible to her destination and she set out as soon as the doors opened, still unable to run, she could manage at least a slow jog.

    Much of deck sick had taken significant damage and a number of bulkheads had been ripped open, spewing forth thick smoke some of which Star thought had to be toxic considering the acidic taste it left in her mouth. It was a wonder anyone had made it off that deck at all.

    A number of collapsed support struts hindered her progress once she came close to the section the computer had pointed her to and she had to climb over at least a couple of them, careful not to touch the super heated surfaces.

    Then she heard the subdued moaning.

    The man was pinned underneath a support strut, part of which seemed to rest on his right upper leg. He seemed to be in pain but otherwise conscious.

    Tazla Star didn’t know the crew of Sacajawea, the majority of which had come aboard long after she had left the ship but she recognized this man immediately. After all he was not part of the crew, wasn’t even a member of Starfleet. “Mister West?”

    The bald man turned his head slightly to see who had come for him. “Commander, thank God. I thought everyone had gone.”

    “We’re the last ones.”

    He nodded slowly.

    “Computer, time to hard deck?”

    “Two minutes, twelve seconds. Immediate evacuation is recommended.”

    West’s eyes opened a bit wider. “That’s not a good thing, I take it?”

    She shook her head while she inspected the manner in which the beam had trapped the reporter. “At our current speed and entry angle we’ll be crushed like a raw egg once we hit the lower atmosphere.”

    “I’m sorry I asked. Can you get me out of here?”

    She frowned when she couldn’t see an obvious way.

    He noticed. “I know the noble thing would be to say to forget about me and to save yourself but to tell you the truth, I’ve never been very noble, Commander. I would really appreciate it if you didn’t leave me here to die.”

    “Let me think for a moment.”

    “Yes, yes, of course, but please, think fast.”

    She tried to move the debris manually, ignoring the searing hot pain shooting up her still natural hand but the beam hardly moved at all. “Computer, reduce artificial gravity on deck six, section forty-four baker by thirty percent. Command authorization Star-Bravo-34-Yankee.”

    A discouraging trill from the computer indicated that things weren’t going to be that easy. “Unable to comply, that command authorization is no longer valid on this vessel.”

    “Of course not, thank you, Evan,” she grunted while trying to move the debris once more without any success. Mahoney had naturally deleted her command codes from the ship’s computer the moment he had taken command, spiting her one final time even from beyond the grave.

    It was obvious she needed something with more leverage to produce the required lift. Searching the rest of the debris, she found a narrow rod of solid duranium sticking out from a nearby heap and after pulling at it for a moment it came loose. It was just about the right length.

    She quickly managed to squeeze it in-between the strut which was keeping West pinned to the ground and the other debris. She looked at him. “As soon as you feel the pressure gone, you need to roll free. You might only have a couple of seconds.”

    He nodded.

    Then she pulled down on her impromptu lever with all her strength. At first it seemed like a futile effort, as if no amount of force she could ever produce would make the slightest bit of difference. She threw her entire weight against it and the strut lifted off the ground perhaps an inch or so.

    West did as he had been told. He moaned loudly in pain but understanding the precarious situation, he pulled himself free.

    Star let go and not a moment too soon. She felt as if all her strength had been drained from her body. She still somehow managed to get West back onto his feet but his right leg was useless. They had to support each other to remain moving.

    She spotted what looked like an undamaged escape pod and pointed at it. She nearly collapsed on the way there, and for the final few feet, she was basically using the bulkhead to keep from falling over.

    He managed to crawl in first and then looked up at her while she followed inside. “I think I just thought of the perfect ending to my article.”

    Star rolled her eyes as she secured the hatch. “Why do I think I’m already regretting saving you?”

    But he shook his head. “You’re going to love it, Commander. War hero selflessly rescues intrepid reporter from doomed ship. It’s going to be a must-read.”

    She quickly strapped herself in, not bothering pointing out that he had not yet done so and then slapped the release controls.

    The small pod jerked away so suddenly that West painfully fell onto the floor of the lifeboat. He glanced up at her, seeing her buckled in and with a little smirk on her face. “Maybe I can work on that headline.”

    “It’s not too late for me to open that airlock. I can always claim that the escape pod malfunctioned. Those kind of things happen all the time.”

    The look on his face made it clear that he wasn’t quite sure if she was joking or not. With some effort he pulled himself back into his seat. “Surely you won’t expect me to just drop my story just because you happened to save my life, do you? I have my integrity to uphold after all. Besides I’ve already written an outline and everything. And I can tell it’s going to be a great piece. Maybe even Pulitzer-worthy.”

    She rolled her eyes again and glanced towards the single viewport. The pod had rotated slightly so she couldn’t see Sacajawea anymore. Her relief that the thrusters were pushing the tiny vessel back towards a higher and more stable orbit quickly vanished when she spotted the intimidating sight of one of those Thulian ships. The blade-shaped vessel was heading straight toward them, giving the impression it was fully intent to cutting them up like a roast dinner.

    West spotted the ship as well. “I guess it’s too early for the celebratory champagne.”

    There was a general unspoken rule in combat which stated that you never destroyed escape pods, unfortunately Star could think of more than a dozen races who didn’t believe in such restraint. She knew far too little about the Thulians to know where they came down on that particular issue.

    The more she considered the incoming warship, the more she feared that their manner of dealing with them might have been to crush them outright, the tiny pod would hardly even register against their shields.

    And then, not unlike a guardian angle, Eagle’s comparatively massive hull suddenly swopped in, appearing from seemingly nowhere to place herself in between the Thulians and the escape pod.

    Star didn’t even have the time to utter a sigh of relief before she felt the familiar sensation of being atomized.

    She appeared alongside Atticus West on a transporter room mere seconds later and was promptly thrown down onto the pad when the ship was struck hard by incoming fire, no doubt a thank-you from the warship which Eagle had just cut off in order to protect the escape pod.

    “We have her, bridge, as well as one civilian.”

    Star looked towards the transporter console to see Chief Chow aiming her one of his huge grins. She nodded in acknowledgment of the timely rescue and then limped towards the doors, throwing one last look over her shoulder. “Get yourself to sickbay, Mister West.”

    She didn’t wait for a response and rushed towards the nearest turbolift once outside, thankful that the starship designers had seen it fit to locate the transporter room fairly close to one. She asked for the bridge and was deposited there less than twenty seconds later during which she could feel Eagle take at least a couple more hits.

    She practically stumbled out of the lift and was surprised that it was Leva who caught her before she could go spiraling to the floor. She shot him a thankful glance.

    “Glad to see you were lucky enough to make it out of there in one piece, Commander. What about the captain?”

    She shook her head. “Not quite so lucky, I’m afraid.” And yet even while she said this, she could not manage to work up any kind of regret for the man’s passing. Perhaps the way he had gone had been a harsher fate than she had wished on anybody, but mostly she felt regret that he wouldn’t get to answer for the things he had done.

    It wasn’t hard to tell that the Romulan wasn’t all too broken up about losing his commanding officer either.

    Perhaps, she wondered, that was the worst part of it and she hoped that when her time finally came, there’d be at least somebody, somewhere who would feel some sort of sorrow over her passing.

    She had no time to consider those thoughts and half stumbled and half walked down the command area to reach the seat at the center.

    “Dear Lord, you look awful.” Katanga had rushed to her side, belling his age, and helped her the last few feet and until she could practically fall into the seat the Vulcan science officer had vacated for her. “You shouldn’t even be up here in your condition. You need sickbay, young lady.”

    But she resolutely shook her head. “Later. We’ve got more important things to worry about first.” She glanced at Xylion. “How many people did you manage to rescue from Sacajawea?”

    “Initial estimates indicate that we recovered two-hundred and four crewmembers plus one civilian.”

    Star couldn’t hide her surprise. That was everybody save for Mahoney.

    In the meantime, on the screen, Sacajawea had brought an inferno upon itself. The Starfleet frigate was entirely engulfed in flames as it continued its uncontrolled plunge towards the surface of the moon.

    She watched the spectacle with a mixture of different feelings. She had, of course, secretly hoped for such an outcome. She had imagined this very image and seeing the ship she had never felt at home on, which had never felt like it had been her command to begin with, on which almost every officer who had served under her had seemingly had his own agenda, and which had ultimately served as her last posting before her disgrace, seeing that ship destroyed or forever lost.

    And yet she felt nothing but shame. For her own dark musings on the subject, for all the crewmembers who had lost their ship and even for Starfleet which could ill-afford losing another vessel following a devastating war. Perhaps, she thought, she would look back on this one day and consider it some sort of cathartic event, her past burning up to allow her to truly start over anew. But for now all she could do was feel sorry for the pointless destruction of it all.

    A sudden and intense jolt to the entire ship reminded her that the crisis had not yet passed. “Status of the Thulians?”

    “We have weakened both ship’s shields however they remain otherwise undamaged,” Trinik said from tactical.

    Xylion glanced at Star. “Our priority has been to harass and distract both vessels from targeting Sacajawea.”

    She nodded. “Yeah, well, she’s gone now, isn’t she? Which means we’re done playing nice. Mister Leva, are you willing to help us out at tactical?”

    “I thought you’d never ask.”

    She smirked but didn’t turn to look around. She was in too much pain to move, let alone stand. “Mister Culsten, attack pattern Omega-Four. Commander, I want quantum torpedoes, full spread, all targets. Don’t hold back on my account.”

    The Krellonian helmsman acknowledged the order and a moment later so did Leva who had easily fallen back into his old role of chief tactical officer, Trinik, the Vulcan who had handled matters at that station in his absence offering no complaints.

    The screen shifted from the dying Starfleet ship as Eagle accelerated away from Mittias IIIb but only so they could put sufficient distance between them and the Thulian ships as to safely deploy the most powerful torpedoes in their arsenal.

    Before Star could issue any other orders however Katanga had shoved a medical tricorder close to her face, its trilling sounds and blinking lights acting as quite an irritant. She pushed the device away with a frown. “I can’t think with this thing in my face.”

    The doctor shot her a dark scowl. You have a dislocated arm, multiple bruised ribs and a mild concussion. You’re suffering from acute hypothermia and oxygen depletion. It’s a wonder you’re even conscious.”

    “And yet, somehow, I’m still alive.” Star glanced down at the display in her armrest, realizing that they had reached the minimum safe distance to fire. “Fire quantum torps.”

    “Torpedoes away.”

    Katanga shook his head. “Not sure I call this alive.”

    She turned her head with an irritate expression. “This is really not the time, Eli.” When she realized that intimidation wouldn’t work on the man, her features soften, becoming almost pleading. “Please, just let me deal with this. The moment this is all over, I swear I’ll follow you to sickbay and let you run every treatment and test in the books without so much as a sound of protest.”

    He nodded slowly and then relented. But he stayed close by, no doubt so that he could continue to monitor her vitals.

    “Direct hit to both vessels. Their shields are fluctuating.”

    Star nodded slowly. They had made their point, let them know they meant business. Time for their attackers to get the message and back down.

    Instead they responded in kind and she was nearly thrown out of her seat.

    Stanmore grimaced. “They are returning fire. Shields down to sixty-six percent.”

    Star realized too late what the Thulians were up to next. For a moment it appeared both ships were on some sort of mad kamikaze run, heading straight for Eagle at flank speed. She quickly disregarded that as their strategy. Things were not yet that desperate. Both vessels separated shortly before they reached the Starfleet ship. Star leaned forward in her chair so suddenly it hurt. “Evasive!”

    But Culsten was already shaking his head. “They’re staying with us.”

    The two smaller ships had taken up position directly at Eagle’s flanks and opened fire, from both sides at the same time.

    Star had to hold on for dear life as the ship was being pummeled hard. It felt what she imagined it must have been like on a warship during the gunpowder age, being stuck in between two enemy ships, as if in a vise and getting a double broadside.

    Trinik read out the damage reports. “Lateral shields are down to twelve percent.”

    “Picard Jump.”

    Star smirked at hearing Leva’s succinct recommendation, once again being reminded why the man was so damn good at his job. She nodded. “Do it, Mister Culsten, do it now.”

    “Aye, sir.”

    The Picard Jump was a maneuver based on a more complicated tactic most Starfleet officers learned at the Academy. While the full Picard Maneuver involved visual trickery created by a sudden acceleration to faster-than-light speed, the Picard Jump was just another term for a quick acceleration to warp one while engaged in combat, usually employed as an evasive action faster than any enemy ship could compensate for. In this particular case, the jump would have an additional benefit.

    It lasted less than a second, and with inertial dampeners in place, Star didn’t feel a thing. The screen simply shifted suddenly and with a growing smirk she could see the two ships ripping into each other, instead of into Eagle which had occupied the space between them less than a second previously.

    “Come about and fire at will.”

    Eagle switched onto the offensive once more as unleashed phasers and torpedoes while rushing passed their two targets.

    “Severe hull damage to both vessel.” Star could hear the smile in Leva’s voice. No doubt he was enjoying the payback for the destruction of Sacajawea. Sometimes it wasn’t difficult to tell when his Romulan side asserted itself. “A few more hits and they’re finished.”

    But when Star turned towards her left, she caught a glance of Xylion’s face and it was not encouraging.

    “I’m reading a sudden energy spike on the lead vessel.” The Vulcan turned from his console to consider Star. “The energy reading is similar to that of an energy dampening device.”

    Her eyes opened wide, knowing full well that those weapons had been used by the Breen during the war and had nearly wiped out Starfleet forces before they had been able to create an effective defense against them. A defense Eagle did not currently employ since there were no Breen in the vicinity. “Mister Culsten—“

    It was too late. The sudden blue flash engulfed them and the lights and consoles all around the bridge began to flicker.

    “Status report?”

    “I’m having trouble with navigation.” Culsten’s hand were flying over his controls but with apparently little success.

    Leva experienced a similar problem. “Weapons system and shields are fluctuating.”

    She looked back at her acting first officer. “Commander?”

    “It is not the exact same weapon design deployed by the Breen and it appears to be less effective.” Xylion jumped to his feet and rushed towards the science station at the back.

    “Effective enough,” Katanga said, glancing around the bridge.

    “A full computer reboot should allow us to restart all systems.” The science officer had reached his station and promptly went to work.

    In the meantime Star could see on the flickering screen the ominous sight of the two Thulian ships turning towards them slowly. She knew they were both heavily damaged but without properly working shields, weapons or engines, Eagle would be an easy prey even for them. “Work fast, Commander. We don’t have a lot of time.”

    “A complete reboot of the main computer will consume at least forty-nine seconds if disregarding all safety protocol.” He never stopped his efforts, even as he spoke.

    Leva shook his head as those two ships crept closer. “We don’t have forty-nine seconds.”

    Star winced, realizing he was right. And the Thulians apparently wanted to make sure that this time Eagle could not escape as they moved closer to maneuver into an optimal firing position. They had already destroyed one Starfleet ship today, they’d have little qualms about annihilating another one.

    “Commander!” Star squinted slightly, expecting an imminent barrage of torpedoes.

    “Thirty-one seconds.”

    She shook her head. They’d fire much sooner than that. She wasn’t sure if her career could survive getting two ships shot out from under her in the same day.

    Then the shooting started.

    But it were the Thulians ships which were being hit. And hit hard.

    “Yes.” Culsten raised a clenched fist. “Looks like we made some new friends.”

    Star nodded slowly as she watched a couple of small Cardassian escorts swarming the larger Thulian warship and unleashing phasers and torpedoes. She had already learned the hard way that those ships could pack quite a punch, considering their small size.

    The Thulians had no choice but to abandon their designs on Eagle and turned to defend themselves instead.

    A few moments later the headache-inducing flickering lights, view screen and consoles died and everything went dark instead.

    Star moaned. “This is not an improvement, Commander.”

    Of course had she been patient for just one second longer, she would have had no reason to complain as every single system came back to life then.

    “Full system functionality restored.” Xylion stepped back to the chair next to hers with long confident strides.

    She shot him a brief, appreciative nod as he took his chair again and then focused on the screen once more. “Mister Leva, let’s end this, please. I don’t want them destroyed but I really want them to regret having gotten out of bed this morning.”

    “Loud and clear, sir.”

    Eagle’s payback was swift and devastating as Leva let them have a taste of the majority of the weapons at his disposal, firing phasers on pulse mode, and unleashing a couple of torpedo spreads peppered with quantum projectiles and yet keeping the assault tightly focused on the two Thulians to avoid striking one of the Valerian crafts in a crossfire.

    It took less than a minute until the attackers realized that the battle had decidedly turned and that they were now hopelessly outgunned. The lead ship turned for an escape vector first.

    “Cease fire.” Star watched with a satisfied nod as the first ship jumped to warp and then the second follow shortly after.

    For the first time in a good while she allowed herself to relax in the chair and as the adrenaline slowly began to fade, the pain of her battered and bruised body began to reassert itself with a vengeance. She winced as she tried to fight through it. She had one more job to do. “Stand down from red alert and then hail the Valerians.”

    A moment later a middle-aged and purple-haired man appeared on the screen, typically round nostrils at the side of his nose. “This is Colonel Whetal of the Valerian Spaceforce. Do you require assistance?”

    Star smirked. “Funny I was just going to ask you that. I’m Commander Star of the Federation starship Eagle. It appears we may have gotten off on the wrong foot, as my human colleagues like to say.”

    The man offered a confused look as he clearly didn’t immediately understand the idiom. Then he began to nod as he pieced it together. “I suppose that was partially our fault as well, Commander. But as you can appreciate, we assumed that you and your other ship were aware of what the Thulians were up to and that you were supporting their efforts.”

    “Considering that it appears that certain Federation officials have been accepting their help on Valeria, I can certainly understand your concerns and why you may not have trusted us at first. But let me assure you that this is not official Federation policy. We already have personnel on the ground on Valeria trying to remedy this situation and to bring our troops home.”

    Whetal didn’t appear all that convinced. “I do not envy whoever is doing that job. I have met General Lam and he is a hardheaded individual if I’ve ever knew one. A number of our security forces have been trying to oppose him and this war you’ve brought to our world, in fact, if it weren’t for those orbital weapons platforms you and the Cardassians left behind we would have helped them.”

    Star hadn’t known that. “What we’ve learned here may make it much easier for us to get the Marines to stand down, Colonel. I’ll be ordering this ship back to Valeria at full speed. But first, I believe we are still hosting one of your men whom you might want to take back.”

    He nodded. “That would be appreciated. We will follow you as soon as we have evacuated our base. Many of us brought our families here after the war heated up and we’re all eager to set foot onto our own soil once more.”

    “And you will again shortly, I’m convinced of that.”

    He nodded thankfully. “I hope you remain right.”

    The link terminated then and the starscape with Mittias IIIb in close proximity replaced the image of the Valerian officer.

    Star pulled herself onto her feet with some effort. Katanga was at her side in an instant, steadying her. “Do you want me to get you a stretcher?”

    She shook hear head. “I think I can just about manage.” She looked at Xylion next. “Commander, get Nora and her team back from the surface.” Star spoke to the helmsman next. “Mister Culsten, as soon as everybody is back, set a course for Valeria. Speak to Hopkins down in engineering; I don’t care if we blow every single warp coil in the process, I want to be back there the day before yesterday. Push these engines to their absolute limit.”

    The Krellonian smirked. “Ludicrous speed. Understood.”

    Tazla Star’s eyes came to a rest on the doctor. “I believe we have a date. And I could really go for some of those pain killing concoctions of yours right about now.”

    * * *​
  20. CeJay

    CeJay Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

    Feb 5, 2006

    “Tell me, how do Starfleet officers feel about suicide attacks?”

    Sharval’s question had played on his mind before she had even asked it and ever since he had realized that the tank was heading straight for the valley which contained Lam’s power plant. At their current speed the vehicle was likely not going to survive going over the edge of that cliff but gravity would make sure that neither would the power plant. And without the plant the war was basically over. Lam would not have the resources to launch his offensive. Owens’ mission would be a success even if he would not live to see the end of it.

    And the truth was that he would not think twice about giving his life to achieve a mission which would ensure thousands lived. It fact it was his obligation as a starship captain and a Starfleet officer to make such a decision if the occasion called for it. And during the war he had been tested on that very point more than once.

    But there was something else to consider here. It wasn’t just his life he would sacrifice, it would be Sharval’s and Deen’s and Wasco’s and the rest of the men in the tank and of course dozens of Marines in the facility below. If he had been Vulcan, perhaps he would not have hesitated but Michael Owens was very much human and as such he was not yet ready to choose the most drastic option. There was still a flicker of hope.

    Sharval turned her head and briefly made eye contact.

    He shook his head.

    But the Valerian woman remained stone-faced as if she didn’t care what his answer would be. She’d do it either way, take the decision out of his hands and keep going over that cliff to destroy Lam’s ace in the hole for once an for all. After all she was as determined to end this foreign war on her soil. And was she not a terrorist, willing to risk her life and those of others to achieve her goal?

    Owens’ fears lasted less then a second. Her face turned into one of her wide grins again. “Aw hells, I’m too young and pretty to die like this.”

    She whipped back around and hit the breaks hard, steering the tank sharply to the side in order to avoid plunging it into the valley below.

    Owens squirmed for a moment as he felt the massive vehicle skittering across the ground, having turned sideways now and sliding dangerously close towards the cliff and once again seemingly defying gravity as it balanced on two wheels. Owens leaned heavily into the other direction, willing the tank to fall back and keep it from rolling over and tumbling uncontrollably down that cliff.

    Sharval mirrored the move in her seat. He wasn’t sure if it made a difference in the end but he still uttered a long sigh of relief when the behemoth finally came to a stop with a last, hard bounce, less than ten feet from where the ground began to dive perilously towards the valley.

    For a moment nobody spoke as if neither of them could believe they had survived. Then she swiveled around it the pilot chair. “Close call.”

    “Very much so, yes.”

    She stood. “Say what you will about me, but there’s never a dull moment when I’m around.”

    He reciprocated her smile. “That’s a away of looking at it.” He glanced passed her and out of the forward viewport. The vehicle had turned almost one hundred eighty degrees in that last desperate maneuver, making it fairly easy to look back the way they had come from. The view was not encouraging. “Unfortunately our troubles are far from over.”

    Outside he could spot the first of half a dozen Marine shuttles approaching the ridge to set down. As expected Lam had brought a small army, not willing to take any chances. And with the valley now at their back, the Marines could easily surround them.

    Owens turned away and left the cockpit, trying to figure out his next move. In the spacious loading area of the tank he found Gul Belore, DeMara Deen and Wasco along with ten Marines and six Valerian security troopers. Not even close to half the men Lam would be bringing down on them.

    His eyes were quickly drawn to the far wall, there, strapped tightly to a bunk was the injured Jonar Arik. A Valerian officer, presumably one with medical training, was tending to the Deltan who looked deceptively calm with no apparent external wounds. Had it not been for his paler than usual face, Owens would have guessed the man was merely resting.

    Deen had clearly not moved from his side, even during their escape attempt through the forest and their very near crash into the valley. She was doing her best to stay clear of the medic but kept holding on to Arik’s hand and her eyes remained focus on his face.

    The Valerian stepped up shaking his head and then made eye contact with Deen. “I’m sorry, his internal injuries were too severe. There is nothing more I can do.”

    She looked at the man with complete shock before she turned back towards the dying Marine. Owens could see his eyes slowly opening, looking at the Tenarian and his lips beginning to move. It must have taken him an enormous amount of effort to do so. Owens could not hear what he was saying but Deen quickly moved her head closer to listen to his last words.

    Deen pressed her lips on his dry and now still lips before she hugged him tightly.
    The next time he spotted her face, he could see the tears in her eyes. He carefully approached her. “I’m sorry, Dee.”

    She made eye contact with him then, stood and reached out for him. She didn’t seem to care in the least at that moment that he was her captain, her superior officer, that they were surrounded by strangers and that Lam’s Marines were gathering just outside. Instead she hugged him tightly and he could feel her petite body trembling against his as she was crying. She wasn’t a Starfleet officer in that instant but a young, twenty-five year old woman who had lost a person who had quite suddenly become incredibly important in her life again.

    It wasn’t fair, Owens thought. The war was supposed to be over and Jonar Arik had been killed, not by the enemy but by a stray phaser blast fired from a fellow Marine in a conflict that made about as much sense as the continued war on Valeria.

    He prayed that this wouldn’t break her. Not like it had nearly broken Nora Laas when she had lost Gene Edison or how it had nearly broken him when Jana Tren had died. So far Deen had come through the war mostly unscathed, it had taken a toll on her of course, it had on all of them, but he had always figured it harder on her, after all she had been raised a pacifist, had known about war only intellectually when she had grown up and for most of her Starfleet career. He had always feared that it would change her irrevocably and perhaps this was the last straw.

    “I’m so sorry.” He reached for her shoulders and pushed her away slightly so that she could look up at him, her tears rolling down her cheeks. “But I need you to be strong now. We will morn for Jonar once this is all over but it isn’t yet.”

    She nodded slowly. He knew she understood this, of course, but battling her emotions wasn’t easy. She swallowed hard and wiped away her tears. Then she turned to look at Arik’s body again. Thankfully one of the Marines had found a blanket to cover him up.

    “Captain, I think we’ve got something over here.”

    Owens let go of Deen, hesitantly, but found her strong enough at least to stand by herself and then glanced at Wasco who was kneeling next to the comm booster. The man looked as serious as ever. Owens was sure the death of a fellow Marine had shaken him as well but he knew how to hide it much better.

    “What is it?”

    The major pointed at a small display on the device. “We have contact.”

    Owens stepped closer and then could see it too. A starship was in communications range, either in orbit or fairly close to it. And he recognized the transponder signal. He opened a channel without further delay. “Owens to Eagle, do you read?”

    At first there was nothing but silence.

    Eagle, do you copy?”

    “This is Star. It’s good to hear you voice again, Captain. Are you alright?”

    He was surprised how relieved he felt at hearing Tazla Star. He had been so busy over the last few days, only now did he shamefully admit that there had always been a small nagging feeling in the back of his mind, wondering if his ship was alright. Wondering if he hadn’t made a huge mistake in sending her away with Star in charge. To make matters worse, he knew that the distress signal they had responded to belonged to her old ship, the very same which had started her spiral into infamy and disgrace. He had a ton of questions but for now he knew they had to wait. Instead he needed to figure out a way of how Eagle’s sudden appearance could help him achieve his mission. Maybe even how to keep them all alive.

    He shot a brief glance at the covered body of Jonar Arik. “Things aren’t going well down here, I’m afraid. What’s your status?”

    “We’ve just returned. We’re having some trouble with the orbital platforms. It appears the Starfleet satellites are malfunctioning and are considering us an enemy vessel. We haven’t been able to enter orbit yet.” Her voice was heavily distorted and the channel was filled with distracting static. A few words were so badly mangled Owens had to guess them.

    He glanced out of the viewport where he could see the first shuttles touching down. “I don’t think that’s a malfunction, Commander. Things have gotten somewhat out of control down here and since we last spoke. Is there any risk to the ship?”

    “We don’t believe so. The platforms have a limited range so as long as we hold position we should be fine. It’s enough for communications but we are out of transporter range for now. If you require an urgent extraction, we could attempt to make a run for it.”

    Owens shook his head even though she couldn’t see that. “Negative. You would have to lower your shield which would make you an easy target.” He looked up and out of the viewport again. But this time the one on the other side of the vehicle which allowed him a good view of the power plant in the near distance. He could spot a number of large shuttles which were now crowding the landing platforms and which hadn’t been there before. No doubt they had arrived to load up fully charged energy cells for weapons, shields and other equipment and transport those to the forward operating commands in order to distribute them to the troops getting ready for Lam’s offensive. He considered his options once more and arrived at a decision in only a couple of seconds. “Commander, are you in range to carry out a targeted orbital strike?”

    “We should be able to get closer long enough to carry one out. But with all the scramblers in effect on the surface, it’s going to be real tricky to acquire a target.”

    “That’s fine. Leave the targeting to us. I need you to standby to deliver a heavy payload close to our position within the next few minutes.”

    To her credit Star didn’t hesitate. “Understood. Sir, there is something else you should know. We’ve identified that the Thulians have been assisting both Starfleet and Cardassian forces on Valeria for a few months now.”

    Owens looked up again and this time finding Sharval who had since left the cockpit. Her eyes widened at that revelation.

    “We believe it is part of some sort of convoluted plan to potentially invade Valeria and secure it for themselves.”

    “The Ancient Enemy.” Sharval nearly whispered those words.

    Owens nodded as he realized that even though he understood that Sharval’s Ancient Enemy came straight out of Valerian legend, he also knew that very often legends had their roots in fact. Regardless of fact or fiction, however, the Thulians assisting Lam and perhaps even Gul Metral suddenly made a great deal of sense.

    “Sir, we got a lot of movement out there.”

    Owens turned around to find Wasco who was observing the Marines outside, most of which had now disembarked from their shuttles, heavily armed, aiming their ordnance at the tank. The vehicle had already proven its sturdy design but Owens was fairly certain it wouldn’t hold up a second time, and not to the kind of heavy weapons the Marines had brought along this time. He gave Star final instructions before he closed the channel.

    “Alright, let go and face the music.”

    “We’ll be able to do much more than that.” Belore had taken position next to Wasco, glancing out of the viewports. “It appears the general did not trust his men enough to carry out our arrest. He’s come himself.”

    Owens quickly realized he was right. The general had stepped out of one of the shuttles, armed with nothing more than a holstered sidearm and flanked by half a dozen Marines, including the hard-nosed Andorian sergeant they had run in on a few occasions.

    He nodded. “Perhaps there’s still a chance to end this without further violence.” Owens felt Deen’s hand on his upper arm and turned to look at her.

    Her eyes were still red but the tears were gone. She looked at him with an intensity he could not recall seeing on her face before. Her sadness now replaced by sharp, ugly anger. “Why? Let’s just get Eagle to blow his plant to dust and with it his plans to keep this war going. Let’s end this all here and now.”

    The cold tone in her voice sent shivers up his spine. But he shook his head. “It’ll take Eagle a little while to get in position and warn the people inside the facility. We have to buy them at least that much time and we can’t do that hiding in here.”

    She didn’t look convinced at all but she did let go of him.

    Owens took a deep breath, found his phaser rifle again even if he was certain that it would do him little good, and then opened the hatch to be the first one outside.

    The others followed him with out delay. Deen, surprisingly was the second one out, hefting her own rifle and staying close to her captain. Wasco and Sharval flanked him on his other side while the rest, including Belore, the Marines and the Valerians spread out to form a united front against Lam and his men.

    There were at least forty of them now on the ridge and Owens could spot a couple more shuttles approaching in the distance.

    Lam made his way to the front of his men, even as his bodyguards remained close. “This is it, Captain. This is a far as you go. You’ve made it quite a chase for us and under different circumstances I would find this all very amusing. Unfortunately and what you so tragically fail to realize, the fact remains that your little antics are having serious consequences in delaying the timetable of a meticulously planned military campaign.”

    “I wouldn’t call peace antics, General.” Owens faced off the other man less than fifty yards away, not missing the forty to fifty phaser rifles pointed at him and his team. He had to believe that at least a few of them were aimed at him and were set to kill instead of stun. Lam could always call it a tragic accident afterwards.

    Lam shook his head. “I don’t. But what you are doing here has nothing to do with that. You think of yourself as a man of peace, Captain and no doubt you are telling everyone who will listen that I am a dangerous man. But the truth is that you are far more dangerous than I could ever be. You are a small-minded apologist, Captain. A man with no consideration for the future or the bigger picture. If it were up to you, we’d all lay down our weapons and go home, ignoring the threat right at our doorstep. And get stabbed from behind the moment we’ve turned our backs.”

    “You mean the Cardassians, General? The ones willing to consider a peace that you have ignored. Tell us, are you so convinced of your victory that you simply cannot fathom a peaceful end to this conflict? I suppose considering that the Thulians have been helping you build your power plant, you feel pretty certain of your chances, don’t you?”

    Lam looked momentarily surprised, the first time as far as Owens could remember that his carefully schooled features had slipped to allow some doubt to creep onto his face. It was quickly dispelled. “You may not understand warfare, Captain, not the way a true warrior does but if you are determined to win, you take every advantage you can get.”

    Sharval offered a fierce grin. “So you don’t deny it? How about the fact that Metral is getting the same assistance? How about the fact that you have made a pact with an enemy of Valeria who is seeing this as an opportunity to take our own planet from us?”

    But if Owens or Sharval expected Lam to appear surprised by this news, he knew well how to hide it. For a moment Owens thought that perhaps he simply refused to believe that he could have been fooled in such a way, but then he understood that matters were far worse than that. He took a very small step forward, making certain to move carefully so that no Marine with a nervous trigger finger would put a hole into his head. “You knew, didn’t you? You’re a smart man, General. Some say you are on the fast track to become the next commandant of the Marines and after that who knows where you could end up. You are not the kind of person to get fooled easily. Which means you knew all along what kind of game the Thulians were playing here.”

    Lam’s face remained as firm as a stone mask.

    Sharval looked disgusted. “And you speak about protecting us? This was never about Valeria.”

    The general shook his head. “Don’t you see? Everything I’ve ever done was for Valeria and the Federation. I tried to convince Starfleet Command of the dangers but they wouldn’t listen. So what else could I do? I have put measures in place, I’ve made the preparations. When the Thulians come, the Marines will be the ones left standing and we will be the ones defending Valeria. It’s what we do.”

    There was a moment of stunned silence as Owens tried to understand if Lam truly believed his words. It was difficult to fathom.

    Two more shuttles set down on the quickly crowding ridge and Wasco was the first to realize that these didn’t belong to the same battalion as the others. That they had in fact ridden in very similar shuttles only a short time ago. “It’s van der Meer.”

    Owens turned and true enough, the statuesque colonel disembarked from one of the shuttles, armed with a phaser rifle and accompanied by a dozen of her men.

    Lam shot her a displeased glare. “Colonel, you are supposed to stand by at Phoenix and await instructions to commence the offensive.”

    Van der Meer took in the scene in front of her before she glanced towards her commanding officer. “I figured perhaps you needed assistance.”

    The general considered her for a moment and then nodded.

    Owens couldn’t tell for the life of him which side she was on.

    It was then that Lam noticed the commotion in the valley below. A number of shuttles were taking off in a hurry and Marines as well as support staff were seemingly abandoning their posts while alarm klaxons blared throughout the facility.

    “What the hell is going on down there?”

    Owens shot the man a piercing glance. “They are evacuating, General.”

    Lam looked up, confusion all over his face now. “What?”

    “I have instructed Eagle to destroy your power plant. I am ending this war, one way or the other.”

    The other man took a sudden step forward. “You can’t do that. Without the additional power Metral will have the advantage and attack. Even you wouldn’t be foolish enough to sign the death sentence for thousands of Marines, not to mention millions of Valerians.”

    “Watch me.”

    “You will contact your ship and order them to stand down.”

    But Owens just shook his head. “It’s over, General.”

    “Like hell it is.” He turned around to find his men. “Get me a channel to Eagle right this moment.”

    To Owens’ chagrin, Lam’s men quickly produced a very similar portable comm device he had employed to speak to Star. Sergeant Thalos removed a compact handset which was connected to the unit wirelessly and brought it to the general. “Channel open, sir.”

    Lam practically ripped the device from the Andorian’s hand. “Starship Eagle, this is Lieutenant General Xiaogang Lam. As the ranking Starfleet officer in this sector, I am taking operational command of your ship and you are ordered to stand down forthwith.”

    There was no immediate answer, just static, as all eyes were focused on Lam and the small device in his hand.

    Eagle, do you here me?”

    “This is Commander Tazla Star.” Her voice still sounded distant and buried underneath persistent white noise. And yet nobody missed her next words. “Eagle will take no orders except those of Captain Owens.”

    Michael fought to keep a grin off his face at seeing Lam’s furious expression. He felt pride swelling in his chest at Star’s loyalty to him.

    “You’re making a grave mistake, Commander.”

    “I guess I’ll just have to add it to a growing list, General.”

    “Listen to me carefully. Captain Owens has been removed of command. He has chosen to align himself with enemies of the Federation. He no longer has any authority over your vessel. Now follow my order and stand down.”

    Star hesitated for a moment. “Let me speak to the Captain first.”

    Lam pondered the request for just an instant. Then he held up the device and towards the Owens. “Tell her to stand down, Captain.” He unholstered his phaser with his other hand and pointed it at him. With a flick of his thumb he adjusted the weapon’s power settings, making it unmistakably clear that he was willing to employ deadly force to accomplish is aims. “Do it or you will be solely responsible for what happens next.”

    Michael was certain that the general was good enough of a shot to cut him down easily from that distance. It had been a calculated move on his part. He had not expected Lam to shoot him down in front of all his men and now van der Meer as well. He had underestimated the lengths to which he would go but then of course Owens had planned all of this before he had realized that General Lam had known much more about what was happening on Valeria then he had ever let on.

    Michael didn’t have a death wish but if he had to lay down his life in order to stop a madman from waging a war, then that was a sacrifice he was willing to accept. “I will do no such thing, General. I suppose you’ll just have to shoot me.”

    Lam face twisted into rage as he brought the handset back to his mouth. “Commander Star, I have your captain at gunpoint. I will execute him right here and now for high treason against the Federation which is within my right to do, unless you follow my order this instant and back off your vessel.”

    It was an almost impossible position for Star to be placed in and Owens knew it. He took a step closer. “Tazla, whatever happens, you have your orders. I expect you to follow them.”

    It took a moment for her to respond to this and when she did her voice sounded more distant than ever before. “Understood, sir.”

    “This is your final warning, Captain, order your ship to stand down or you will regret this.”

    Owens took a small step forward even while lowering his rifle. “I think the only person who will regret their actions here today is you, sir.”

    Lam raised the phaser pistol higher, unable to keep his anger from swelling over. “Don’t make me do this.”

    “It’s in your hands, General.”

    Deadly silence had fallen over them all, dozens of men and women, most of them trained to be fighters had become perfectly mute, almost as if a single errant breath could set off the powder keg being ignited in front of their eyes.

    The only sounds: the distant alarm klaxons down in the valley and the downpour of steady rain which soaked everyone on the cliff equally and which had long since become the background soundtrack of this world.

    Michael saw the flash first.

    And even through the persistent silence all around him, he was not sure if he actually ever heard the sound of Lam’s pistol firing.

    Michael had perhaps a microsecond, probably less, to prepare himself for his own death and even in that brief moment he realized that it was far too little time. It didn’t much matter. There wasn’t enough time in the universe to prepare oneself for paying the final price.

    General Lam was too much of an expert warrior not to miss on that distance with a weapon he was likely intimate familiar with and as much as Michael would have liked to think that he would face his imminent death with wide open eyes, he couldn’t help himself but flinch and blink the moment that bright light erupted from Lam’s gun.

    He was struck hard.

    But not has he had expected from the front.

    Instead the impact came from his side and with such force he was slung to the floor.

    The first thing he saw when the world around him took shape again were Cesar Wasco’s eyes. The Marine was lying just a few feet away and it took Michael another moment to understood what had happened.

    Wasco had jumped forward at the last second, pushing him aside and taken the brunt of the blast instead. Owens was the first one to reach the downed Marine, beating DeMara Deen by a mere heartbeat. She had uttered desperate cry the moment the shot had rung out, believing her captain had been gunned down only to find Wasco having played the role of the guardian angle to the last and making good on a promise he had made to Nora Laas.

    Lam’s weapon had been undeniably set to kill, the large and bloody wound on Wasco’s chest giving ultimate proof of this. His shirt was already soaked and blood was trickling down the corners of his mouth. Owens knew immediately that Wasco was already gone even if he made the futile effort to attempt to staunch the large wound, drenching his hands in dark red blood mixing with the rain.

    Owens looked up at Lam who appeared stunned that he had shot not just a fellow Marine but a man he had no doubt considered close to him. “I need a medic here.”

    But Lam didn’t move, perhaps showing indecision for the first time in his life.

    It was van der Meer who jumped into action instead, rushing towards Owens and her fallen friend with a handful of her Marines, one of which had already a medkit in hand. The medic fell onto his knees and Owens made room to let the man work.

    Van der Meer looked down at her friend with a horrifed expression and only barely maintaining her professional demeanor.

    “How … how is he?”

    Owens looked at Lam, the first words he had spoken since he had fired that shot. He had dropped the handset, likely disconnecting the link to Eagle and now stared wide-eyed at Wasco with obvious concern. As far as Owens could tell, it came far too late. Wasco was dying.

    The medic confirmed this just a moment later by sadly shaking his head.

    It made Owens furious. Two good people had already died because Lam was determined to keep fighting his war, determined to protect the Valerians from Cardassians, the Thulians, perhaps even from themselves. Perhaps some of those goals were legitimate but none of the methods he had used were even close.

    Owens faced the general again but before he could speak, he heard the thunder. It took him a moment to realize that it wasn’t the weather which had been responsible for the sudden roar in the sky. It was Eagle. Star had stuck to her orders even though she probably didn’t know if her captain was alive or dead.

    Everyone on the ridge turned to look up to see the bright crimson lights shooting through the clouds and moments later smashing into the power plant.

    Lam turned to see his hopes of winning his own private little war incinerated in front of his eyes. “No!”

    Owens was relieved that he could spot no movements or even shuttles anywhere close to the facility before the torpedoes slammed into it which most likely meant the evacuation had been completed successfully.

    It took only those first three antimatter projectiles to annihilate the facility and the entire ridge rumbled under their feet when the fusion reactors ripped themselves to shreds, blowing a small mushroom cloud high into the sky. The fires would rage for a while longer but the steady rain would make sure it wouldn’t spread to the surrounding forests. Lam’s ace in the hole was no more.

    When Owens turned back around he could see that the general had stepped up next to Major Wasco’s dead body. He had dropped his weapon, letting it fall onto the ground and even his bodyguards were now keeping their distance.

    Van der Meer spoke up first, not able to keep the anger out of her tone. “General Lam, under the authority given to me by the Starfleet Uniform Code of Military Justice, chapter thirteen, section nine, I am temporarily relieving you of your command, pending a formal review of the incident that has transpired here.”

    Lam looked up at her but said nothing, not offering a defense or resistance.

    The colonel glanced at her men, not trusting the general’s Marines to carry out her orders, and they stepped up next to Lam.

    He looked at them before his eyes found van der Meer, then Wasco again and finally Owens. “Whatever I did, I did it for the Federation.”

    Owens just shook his head. “The sad thing, General, is the fact that you truly believe that. And yet all you have accomplished here is weakening it.”

    He had no response for this as he let the Marines escort him towards a shuttle. There was a short tense moment when Sergeant Thelos stepped into their path, the Andorian clearly not happy to allow them to take his general away. But in the end, he stood alone and when he realized this, he too moved aside to let them pass. A short moment later he followed.

    Owens looked at van der Meer. “It’s your show now, Colonel.”

    She sadly shook her head. “I’m not the next highest ranking officer on Valeria.”

    “You’re the highest ranking Marine here. Besides, you’re the one who has detained the general. It is you who will have to give the next order.”

    True enough every last Marine assembled on the ridge was now looking at her.

    It took her a moment to regard all these men. She glanced at her dead friend last.

    A few of her men had already attended to his body, covered it and placed it on a stretcher to be transported.

    Deen looked at the colonel. “Jonar didn’t make it either. They both deserve a proper burial.”

    “And they’ll have one.” Her eyes made contact with the Cardassian and for a brief moment Owens thought that she would place the blame for everything that had happened here at his feet. “Mister Belore, I think it is time that the two of us have another chat. Then we need to get in touch with Gul Metral who I am certain is already preparing his counter offensive. With any luck we can end any more bloodshed before that happens.”

    Belore nodded.

    She considered Owens. “And then, Captain, you’ll have your peace.”

    It took him a moment to respond and when he finally did he sounded tired and beaten even to his own ears. “It’s not my peace, Colonel, and it never was. It belongs to all of us. God knows we’ve all bled enough for it.”

    * * *​