“We’re now entering visual range of the Valkyrie, Captain,” Reported Arkin Jora from the helm.
“On screen,” ordered Lex, “Reduce speed to one quarter impulse.”
The viewscreen changed to show the Akira-class ship, along with the power restored Monitor and the Brunel, which was docked along side. Arkin entered the commands into her console and he felt his ship shudder slightly as she slowed.
“The Valkyrie is hailing us,” said Dulmis.
“On screen,” ordered Lex.
The view of the three starships disappeared, replaced by the Valkyrie’s bridge and the visage of her Bolian Captain, “Welcome back, Captain Lex,” he greeted.
“Thank you, Captain Homtian,” responded Lex, “What’s your status?”
“We’ve completely evacuated the Kennedy, Aurora, Atlantic and Pike,” he replied. “We’ve restored power on the Monitor, but her tactical systems are still offline and she has minimal shields.
“The Klingons have refused to leave the Kimtar and have somehow restored power to most of it systems and have been patrolling the area, although, as we suspected, the warp drive is completely fried.”
“Impressive,” said Lex, “I suppose that we could always attempt to tow them back to base.”
“I think they’d rather go out in a blaze of glory.”
Lex nodded, acknowledging the truth in Homtian’s gallows humour. He checked the panel on his armrest and then looked back up at the viewscreen, “We estimate that the Dominion ships will be within weapons range in the next three minutes. Any chance the Monitor will be able to defend herself before then?”
“None, I’m afraid,” said Homtian. “Captain Geiring estimated another 30 minutes for the weapons and shields. They’ve got a better chance getting the warp drive online and heading for the nearest starbase.”
“Agreed; we’ll cover the Monitor until then,” finished Lex, “Argus out.”
The screen returned to the earlier image of the three starships, which had now been joined by a Klingon Bird of Prey that looked decidedly worse for wear.
How are they keeping that ship together, wondered Lex, his appreciation of the Federation’s warrior allies growing. He turned his attention to Dulmis at opps, “Lieutenant, hail the Monitor.”
After a moment the view screen changed to an image of a Starfleet commander in his mid forties on the bridge of the Nebula-class starship, “Commander Hudson here, acting Captain of the Monitor,” he said by way of introduction, “How can I help you, Captain?”
“Commander, what’s the status of your warp drive repairs?”
“Engineering estimates we’ll be capable of warp 6 in the next ten minutes, but I’ve told them that I’d rather have weapons first.”
“Forget the weapons, they won’t be operational before the Dominion get here,” said Lex, “I want you to get your warp drive functional and head for starbase 375 as soon as possible. The Argus and Valkyrie will cover you until you can get underway.”
“Understood,” replied Hudson, “Monitor out.”
The screen returned to the stars again.
“The dominion ships will be in range in 30 seconds,” warned Bower from the Tactical console.
“Shields up, Red Alert,” Ordered Lex, “Arkin, bring us about to heading 178 mark 032. Keep us between those dominion ships and the Monitor.”
“Aye sir,” replied the helmsman.
“Captain Ga’Mor of the Kimtar has signalled his readiness for battle,” said Dulmis, making Lex smile.
“Acknowledge the Kimtar’s message,” said Lex, “tell him that we are honoured to fight by his side.”
“Dominion ships have entered weapons range,” said Bower, causing Lex’s smile to drop.
“Mr. Bower, target the lead ship and fire at will.”
Lieutenant Richard Parsons checked his tricorder again, unable to understand how this could be so difficult. The instrument was indicating that they were right on top of their next pod but it was nowhere to be seen, even thought the area was quite clear at ground level, due to very little light making through the dense coverage over head.
Ground level , realised Parsons, looking up. Ah hell.
Several meters above he could see the intertwining branches of the forest’s tall trees and nestled in amongst them was the missing pod.
Mox and T’Kare would have been much better suited to this, he thought as tapped his commbadge, “Parsons to McKenzie, Rhodes and Fitch,” he said, “Assemble on my location, I’ve located the pod.”
“Acknowledged,” Replied three different voices from his commbadge in succession.
Parsons slung the backpack off his back and started to route around in it for some climbing equipment, as Nurse Fitch became the first member of the team to reach him. Fitch began to do the same after he saw the pods location.
“Got any climbing experience, Ensign?” asked Parsons.
“Grew up on the colony on Tabernon IV, Sir,” Replied Fitch with a smile. “Not many other hobbies to do there but climbing.”
Parsons nodded, “Bit like growing up in the Alps – you almost can’t help being a Skier,” he replied, strapping himself into his harness.
“Yes sir.” The dark skinned nurse replied, doing the same. Ensign McKenzie, Parsons’ fellow security officer, and Crewman Rhodes, another of Argus’ medical technicians, arrived and joined them at the base of the tree.
“Ensign McKenzie,” said Parsons, “Patrol the area and let me know if you encounter anything unexpected.”
“Aye sir,” she replied and disappeared into the under brush.
“Crewman Rhodes,” continued Parsons, “I want you to remain down here in case we need to lower anyone down from the pod.”
Rhodes nodded his agreement and they both aimed and fired their grappling guns into the branches. When the hooks looked like they had gained purchase, they both detached the lines from their guns and tugged on them. Satisfied that the ropes would hold their weight they began their accent.
The climb was arduous and the bark on the massive tree’s trunk was almost as hard as rock. Fortunately this was more of a help to the two officer’s climb as both of them were more used to climbing rock faces than trees and the tough bark gave them secure foot holds rather than having to use the spikes that protruded from the insteps of their shoes, which got little purchase.
Parsons paused for a moment to reach back and refresh the chalk on his fingertips. Below him Fitch grunted as he made a reach for the next handhold, showing his prowess by using holds that anyone with less than expert skill would have slipped from and fallen.
“You said you grew up on Tabernon IV,” said Parsons as he resumed his climb, “Did you ever attempt Fortune’s Height.”
Fitch smiled, “I tried.” He replied, “I was quite keen on it during my early teens, but my father forbade me. Eventually I did get to try it on 16 th birthday.” He chuckled, “Fell from 10 meters up the face trying for a hold out of my capabilities. Nearly put my academy entry into jeopardy.”
Parsons looked at his feet as he positioned the foundation his next push, “But, huh, you still made it.” He wrapped his arm around the branch that was now in reach above his head.
“I had a good nurse,” he replied, “She inspired me to follow the medical track when I got to the academy.”
Parsons pulled himself up onto the branch and looked at the pod that was now a couple of feet away. From here he could see that the id on its hull marked it as one of the U.S.S. Munich ’s and as Fitch joined him he climbed a little higher looking for a path that would allow him access to the inside. Eventually he found a route and dropped next the entrance hatch. He tried the controls, which gave no response, before pulling the cover off for the manual release as Fitch dropped beside him. He grabbed the handle and yanked it down, causing a gap only a few millimetres wide to open up and that’s when the smell hit them.
Parsons saw Fitch fight his reflex to gag and the Security chief couldn’t really blame him as he stifled his own. The smell coming for the pod was horrible and he already knew that its occupant were no longer among the living. Parsons pulled at the doors and they gave way easily and allowed him full access to the interior. He peered inside, steeling himself for what he would find.
It looked like one of the pods windows had been damaged during its escape from the Munich. As a result it hadn’t survived the entry into the planet’s atmosphere, shattering and letting the intense heat invade the pods interior. The fact that most of the interior was still intact, although severely scorched black, showed that this had happened in the last moments of its planet fall – too hot for the occupants to survive, but not hot enough to destroy it completely. It had to be one of the worst ways to die; the look of terror forever etched on the charred faces of the occupants was a mute testament to this. Parsons thumbed two transport tags and carefully clipped them to the two corpses, before pulling himself out of the pod and tapping his commbadge, “Parsons to Tigris.”
“We’ve found a pod from the Munich, Ensign,” said Parsons, “No Survivors. I’ve tagged two bodies inside the pod, but I should warn you that it’s not a pretty sight.”
“Understood,” Responded Hernandez, “Beaming them back now.”
Parsons looked respectfully at the pod as the blue glow and sound of the transporter came from the inside. After the cycle was complete, he turned to Fitch, “Come on, Crewman,” he said quietly, “let’s get down from this tree.”
Sara Parker activated her wrist beacon and cautiously stepped through the doorway, scanning the dark room with her tricorder as she looked around. The beacon’s beam sliced through the darkness illuminating the smooth white walls that had set this area of the stone temple apart from everywhere else.
Since she become trapped in it several hours ago, Sara had spent the time being lead through the complex of tunnels by the over head lights that had first activated when she had become trapped. The lights would activate about 5 or 6 meters in front of her and deactivate about the same distance behind, but only if she moved forwards and only along a predetermined route. Finally they had illuminated no further than the doorway of the room in which she now stood.
Along the way, Sara had discovered several of the rooms like the one her wrist beacon now illuminated. Lifeless, dust covered control panels were installed on the lower half of the walls with small monitors were embedded above most of the controls. A large viewscreen dominated the wall opposite the door, while a raised surface that looked similar to the diagnostic ‘pool table’ found in the engineering section of most modern starships, took up most of the space in the centre of the room.
Sara walked around the far side of the table scanning up and down with both her beacon and the tricorder. It was obvious that the place hadn’t been used in centuries, or possibly even millennia considering the suspected origins of the city, but Sara wanted to make sure that she didn’t miss anything that could help her in her current situation.
The tricorder beeped and Sara tapped several of the small devices illuminated buttons to bring up the detailed results of its scan. The readings caused her eyebrows to rise in surprise and she looked back at the table where the tricorder had detected a small power signature, almost like a standby switch. It was the first power signature she’d detected since the lights had begun to lead her through the maze of corridors and she moved her hand to press it.
She stopped herself. What if this is some sort of booby trap, she thought to herself, meant for people who uncover too much?
She pulled out the tricorder again and scanned the console. The device revealed nothing new and certainly nothing that looking like a booby trap. She closed the tricorder.
There’s no evidence that the preservers have ever booby-trapped their technology, she though, and what would be the point of leading me all this way here just to set off a booby-trap in a console?
Sara pressed the button. Suddenly the whole room lit up as the overhead light came on and the surrounding control panels activated. Sara moved over to one of the closest controls and started trying to make sense of the alien controls in an attempt to bring up information on the screen. A voice emanating from the main viewer stopped her dead.
“Hello Sara,” said the image of Jonozia Lex.
Yessic stepped into the operations area that the Jem’hadar had setup inside one of the temple’s rooms and looked around, a feeling of importance filling him. In the same way as he always felt the need to be subservient in the presence of the Founder, he always felt his own importance in the presence of the Jem’hadar. Here he was the master and they the servants. It mattered little that, rather than respecting him, the Jem’hadar only really tolerated him, following his orders because he controlled the white and, more importantly, because the founders had programmed it into their genes that that was the order of things.
After a moment Yessic found the person he was looking for - the Jem’hadar first who had summoned him a few moments ago - and his self-importance a showed in his stride as he crossed the room, annoying more than one of the Dominion soldiers present.
“Report,” he ordered as he reached the First.
The first, whose name was Taktuta’Klan and who was a good two feet taller than Yessic, looked down at him. Taktuta’Klan felt this report was little more than a formality and his matter of fact response to the Vorta’s query reflected this, “We have detected the presence of a large power signature from deep inside the temple.”
Yessic appeared to ignore the Jem’hadar’s disrespect as he looked for other reasons to punish him for it, “Why didn’t we detect it when we arrived?”
“It was not there when we first arrived,” Replied Taktuta’Klan in exasperation, “It would seem that it has only recently been activated.”
“You mean that there are still federation personnel down there?” said the Vorta in disbelief.
“Quite possibly, we have no way to know how many were present on the planet when we arrived,” Taktuta’Klan replied reasonably, “Our search of the lower levels was abandoned when we needed the men to form the search parties that are scouring the forest.”
Yessic didn’t like Taktuta’Klan’s implication that he was to fault here, “I want you to send as many Jem’hadar as you can spare to search the lower levels.”
“That will leave us almost completely defenceless.”
“And who are you expecting to defend against?” said Yessic, who was tiring of having his orders questioned, especially by a Jem’hadar, “Your men are dealing with the Starfleet teams on the ground and they’re ship won’t be returning once our re-enforcement are through with them.
“Just follow my orders.” He finished, “remember, ‘obedience bring victory’.”
“And victory is life,” completed Taktuta’Klan, getting annoyed at being lectured to.
“Indeed it is,” Yessic said, feeling his importance again. “Carry on,” he dismissed as he departed, leaving Taktuta’Klan’s opinion of him completely unchanged.
Following the message from Lieutenant Parsons to rendezvous with the rest of her team, Ensign Laura McKenzie carefully worked her way back to the huge tree that she’d left them to climb earlier as she started to patrol the immediate area around it. She was still at a heightened state of readiness and her senses were alert, looking for anything that might indicate a shrouded Jem’hadar anywhere near her position.
Like many of the Argus’ crewmembers, McKenzie was only a few years out of the academy. This was her first exposure to battlefield conditions out side of the simulations and drills and though she’d always known that real combat would be very different to the sims, she had secretly feared that she wouldn’t be able to handle the extra stress and fear she would encounter with the real thing. As it was she found she was coping quite well, mainly because the situation wasn’t allowing her to doubt herself or her abilities and she instead found her fear focused her concentration on the world around her.
Something triggered her warning sense and McKenzie stopped abruptly. Ahead of her she heard voices, not unexpected as she was approaching the rendezvous point, but something was wrong. The voice sounded like Crewman Rhodes’, but it didn’t sound like he was having a conversation, instead there was fear in his voice. Then she heard another voice, but this one was much deeper and that she didn’t recognise it. He said something that sounded like an order and then the sound of a disruptor sliced the air. McKenzie started to move faster, still taking care to be as quite as possible, eventually reaching the a point where she could get a good view of the base of the tree, where she crouched beneath the truck of another fallen tree.
From her hiding place she could see two people lying motionless in close proximity to the base of the tree, but otherwise the area seemed empty. She pulled out her tricorder and scanned the area for any evidence of shrouded Jem’hadar and found none (not that she really expected to – there was no evidence that they were detectable by a tricorder scan). She put the instrument away and moved from her concealment, carefully working her way towards the two prone forms.
The first one she reached was Ensign Fitch. The Nurse was lying completely motionless, a large disruptor burn in the middle of his back where the weapon had been fired close range. An execution, thought McKenzie in horror as she looked for, but didn’t find, a pulse. She moved over to the other body.
Like Fitch, Crewman Rhodes had also been shot a disruptor at close range. Unlike Fitch, Rhodes had been shot in the front and McKenzie found a weak pulse. She reached for her commbadge, “McKenzie to Tigris.”
“Hernandez here,” came the response as Rhodes groaned.
“We’ve been ambushed, Juan,” McKenzie said. “Lieutenant Parsons is missing, Fitch is dead and Rhodes badly injured. He needs emergency medical attention.”
“Understood,” replied Hernandez, “Prepare for beam out.”
McKenzie acknowledged and prepared for the transporter to take her, but before it could she felt Rhodes move.
“The… they t… took…” he said suddenly, “lieutenant… Par… sons…”
McKenzie looked down at him as the transporter beamed them back to the base camp.
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