The first twenty minutes of Blue team’s trek through the Jungle had been largely clear of ground cover thanks to the thick cover overhead. After that the jungle’s density had increased considerably through and this had caused Kate Sheridan draw her metleth, using the Klingon weapon to ease their progress through the underbrush by hacking a path through the thick foliage. This would have no doubt enraged the warrior who had originally taught her the weapon’s combat techniques and, not for the first time, she wondered who they had been, her memory of them as absent as all the others since before she had been discovered floating in a shuttlecraft by the U.S.S. Constitution.
Thinking of the Constitution brought back memories of the suspicion that had been directed towards her during the months that had followed her rescue and that had even continued after Starfleet Intelligence and Temporal Investigations’d clear her for active duty. Commander Patel, who was following close behind her along with Doctor McDonald and Nurse Darwin, was just one of many who had been vocal about her trustworthiness, making his doubts about her very clear since the moment that he’d stepped aboard Argus. While it was an attitude that’s she’d become accustomed to over the past three years, she had hoped that her record would speak for itself by now, but evidently it would not until she had solid proof that she was really who she appeared to be and that was that was unlikely to be coming anytime soon, unfortunately. At least she had an ally in the Captain though and she could always count on Cassaria’s support.
She hacked away at another tangle of vines that found themselves in her way as her mind moved onto less frustrating thoughts. For example she had learnt on this mission was that there seemed to be some history between the Commander and Dr McDonald. She knew that the two of them had severed together previously on the Discovery, but she also knew that McDonald was married with a teenage daughter. Both husband and daughter were living back on mars, where he worked as an interplanetary courier, and their marriage predated her service along side Patel by several years. It also seemed to Kate that although the relationship was long over, either Patel or McDonald was looking to restart it or that they were both finding it difficult not to rekindle the romance after finding themselves working on a starship together again. The sound of Patel tapping his commbadge made Sheridan abandon her line of thought, “Blue Team to Base Camp, status update.”
“All teams have reported in.” came Hernandez’s response, “Green team returned to base after encountering a Jem’hadar team that was attempting to take a survivor from the Yosemite prisoner. Lieutenant T’Kare and Ensign Mox received minor injuries and I have redirected Orange team to Green teams final pod after they completed their allotted targets ahead of schedule.
“Red team was caught in an ambush and both Ensign Fitch and Crewman Rhodes are dead. The Jem’hadar took Lieutenant Parsons prisoner and Ensign McKenzie was unable to pursue.
“Green, Purple and Gold teams have all now returned to base and in all we have so far recovered 12 survivors and 6 bodies, although there is evidence that the Jem’hadar beat us to several of the pods.”
“Acknowledged,” said Patel, “We’re approaching our final objective now. Patel out,” and he closed the channel.
Sheridan started to hack away at the foliage in front of her again, but suddenly stopped dead after only clearing a small amount. “Get down.” She whispered back to the rest of the team as she crouched low. Patel sidled up beside her.
“What is it?” he said, straining to see through the cover.
“There are three Jem’hadar in the clearing ahead,” she replied, “and the pod’s on the far side of it.”
Captain Jonozia Lex grabbed the armrest of his chair and hauled himself back into his seat again as the smoke that filled the bridge caused him to cough. The rest of the bridge crew seemed to have stayed anchored in their seats and not for the first time Lex wondered why Starfleet ships had never been fitted with restraints.
“Report,” he ordered.
“Shields are holding at… 56 percent,” Replied Bower from tactical, “Valkyrie and Brunel are both in good shape. Valkyrie’s shields are at 86 percent while Brunel’s are at 64. The Monitor is powering up her warp drive.”
The absence of the Kimtar’s name remind Lex once again of the Klingons’ early sacrifice that had taken out a Cardassian Galor-class warship as well as a couple of Jem’hadar fighters. The warriors on that ship had defiantly earned their place in StoVoKor this day.
Dulmis made his report from opps, “An EPS conduit has ruptured on deck 11 near stellar cartography. Engineering has rerouted the power to bypass.”
“We’re down to 80% manoeuvrability,” Said Arkin at the helm, completing the round of reports, “The rupture caused a malfunction in the fore-port thrusters.”
“What is the status of the enemy ships?”
“Five enemy ships destroyed and three disabled,” said Bower at tactical, “The remaining three ships are regrouping.”
“Well that’s evened it up a bit,” said Lex as he tapped the controls on his armrest. “Arkin, bring us to 030 mark 015.”
“Aye Sir,” Replied the young Bajoran.
“Incoming.” Warning Bower moments before a torpedo blast rocked the ship, “Shields holding at 47%.”
“Return fire,” ordered Lex.
Streams of phased energy lanced out from the Sovereign-class starship’s arrays, striking the attacking dominion ship in several places and causing an explosion to engulf their starboard nacelle.
“Direct hit, their warp power is disabled,” said Bower, just before several blasts rocked the ship and he added, “They still have impulse power and weapons, and their shields are at 30%.”
“Fire Quantum torpedoes, full spread.”
Five blue bursts of light spread out from the underside of Argus’ saucer before impacting along the side of the Jem’hadar ship, one after the other. The ships shields flash and then failed under the barrage of the first two, allowing the remaining three to work on the ship itself. A moment later the ship exploded in a fireball.
“Target destroyed,” reported Bower with satisfaction, “Remaining enemy ships are withdrawing.”
“Captain, the Monitor has gone to warp,” said Dulmis as he turned from his console to look at Lex.
Lex nodded, satisfied with the small victory they had won but sure that this was far from over, “Mr Dulmis, I want a long range sensor scan.”
“Aye sir,” the operations officer replied, turning back to his console and working the controls. After a few moments he reported, “Captain, I’m detecting a large dominion taskforce on an intercept course. Their ETA is seven hours and forty two minutes.”
“Hail the Valkyrie.”
Captain Homtian’s face appeared on the viewscreen, “Valkyrie here, go ahead.”
“There’s a large dominion fleet en-route to this system, Captain.” Said Lex, “I want you to take the Brunel and fall back to Starbase 375.”
“What about you Captain?”
“I’m taking the Argus back to the system to pickup our search teams,” Lex replied, “We’ll be right behind you.”
“Can we be of assistance?”
Lex shook his head, “I will only take a short while to collect our teams off the surface. You’re better of getting the fleet’s survivors to the Starbase,” He explained, “There’s a hospital ship, the Pasteur, stationed there that can help out with the wounded.”
“Understood,” replied Homtian. “Good luck Captain, Valkyrie out.”
The viewscreen changed to the image of the Akira-class ship arcing away from the Argus and disappearing in a flash as they entered warp along with the Brunel.
“Arkin,” ordered Lex, “set course back to the planet, full impulse.”
“Mr. Bower, you have the bridge,” said Lex as he disappeared into the turbolift.
Lex entered sickbay and found the EMH standing by Lieutenant Commander zh’Var’s bedside, the screen over the injured Andorian’s head showing little to no improvement since Lex had last visited. Lex looked at the EMH questioningly but the look on his face told him the same thing as the bio bed’s readings.
“There’s been no change Captain,” said the balding hologram, “The Commander has slipped into a coma and I’m afraid his cranial injuries were quite extensive. He may never regain consciousness.”
Lex nodded solemnly. Shathren zh’Var had joined Argus’ crew shortly after Lex has begun to oversee the ship’s final system testing and they had worked well together, quickly becoming friends. So when Captain sh’Shaen had asked Lex to for possible second officer candidates Thren had been his only recommendation. Now there was a good possibility Lex had lost both his wife and one of his closest friends today.
“Keep me informed, Doctor.” He said, leaving to resume his post on the bridge.
“Hello Sara.” Said the image of Jonozia Lex on the screen as Sara Parker started the message for the third time, “I’m willing to bet that my face was the last thing you expected to see down here.” He said with a wane smile.
Sara considered her husband’s image for a moment. Her tricorder readings had already confirmed that the message hadn’t was almost 13,000 years old told her that he must have travelled back in time at some point. That the message had been left specifically for her and that Lex held the rank of Captain in the message told her that that point was somewhere in the future, something that was confirmed as the message went on. She continued to watch, noticing the non-smile had disappeared from his face as he continued, “Sara, I leave this message as a warning and although I wish that I could tell you more about why I am leaving this for you and what has lead to this, I cannot.”
Sara could see the pain clearly etched on his face now as if everything was not as it should be, especially where she was concerned as the pain was more visible each time he mentioned her name.
“Do I even survive this?” She asked herself aloud, but the image of Lex simply continued.
“What I can tell toy is this -You must prevent the destruction of this temple at all costs.” He continued, “Do whatever it takes, but know that this place cannot, must not, be destroyed. It would be preferable for it to fall into the hands of the Dominion, than to unleash what is contained here.”
This is what had shocked Sara the most the first time she had seen the message. She’d fully expected it to help her keep the temple from the hands of the Dominion, even if it meant the temple’s destruction, but to hear Lex say that he’d rather see it in the Dominion’s hands, especially with the edge that the advanced technology that now surrounded her would give them, than destroyed worried her considerably. For whatever threat this place’s destruction would unleash to be worse than loosing the war and/or the fall of the federation was extreme to say the least.
“Fortunately our hosts have left you with several pieces of equipment that should allow you to prevent that from happening,” the message had said, much to Sara’s relief, “and I’ll take you through each one, it function and how it works.”
Having already listened to the message twice, Sara had already familiarised herself with the various bits of technology that had been provided and it had convinced her even more that she needed to prevent any of it from falling into the hands of the federations enemies, however the scientist in her had scanned each of the pieces of equipment thoroughly, taking as many readings of their inner workings as possible.
The first had been called the Tantalus field and worked like a sort of disintegrator. Looking like a regular monitor, it had the ability to view almost anywhere within its range, which Sara had so far found was over several hundred meters. Even more intriguing was the ability for it to then target anyone or anything and make them disappear, although she was unable to tell exactly where they went – whether they were sent somewhere else or simply removed from existence. Used on a starship it would make a formidable weapon against any boarding party as there wouldn’t be anywhere on the ship where they couldn’t be targeted and removed from.
Next she’d found a type 2 phaser and a couple of power cells contained in an advanced form of stasis field. Although these seemed to be Starfleet issue they were also more advanced than the technology currently clipped to her belt. From the look of them they appeared to be the next upgrade to the existing technology, confirming further her suspicions that Lex was to journey into the past at some future point. The stasis field itself was far more advanced than anything the Federation currently had and it had allowed its contents to survive for over 10,000 years with next to no degradation – in one of Starfleet’s fields the power cells would have become useless millennia ago.
The final piece of technology had been described as a ‘gateway’, which was the description that Sara would have given it as well even if the message hadn’t named it so. The name fit mainly due to the technology’s similarities to that of the Iconians, although there were several important differences between it and the technology of that ancient race. Like the Iconian gateways, it was able to transport items over large distances but, unlike the Iconian technology, anything further than half a light year required a gateway at the receiving end for it to connect to. This meant that the Preservers must still have used starships for defence and exploration, although interplanetary travel would be simplified greatly once a gateway had been setup on another planet. Using one on its own was likely to be an escape function as there was also no way back without a gateway the other end and Sara guessed that was why this piece had been left for her. If only I had a starship to jump to, she lamented.
Sara moved to the controls of the Tantalus field and actived it. She worked the controls, moving through the solid walls of the temple as if they weren’t there, until she eventually found what she was looking for - still huddled in a group where she’d left them were the scientists that she had been cut off from earlier.
Kate Sheridan carefully peered through the undergrowth and watched the Jem’hadar as they moved about the clearing and beside her Thomas Patel was doing the same with a look of curiosity on his face.
“What are they doing,” he asked, “and why aren’t they shrouded?”
“I don’t know,” responded Sheridan, shaking her head. “They must be a search party. All they have to do to cause maximum casualties is to wait by the downed pods for each team. It doesn’t make sense though, for them to be out in the open like this.”
“Could it be an attempt to draw us out?”
“I don’t see why.” She replied, “It would make more sense for them to simply shroud and then lie in wait. They know we’re trying to get to the pod.”
“We’ve been on the surface for hours.” Patel suggested, “If they were shrouded all that time it would likely use up to much energy and therefore too much white.”
“It doesn’t explain why they’re out in the open though,” said Sheridan. “I can see several good locations that they could conceal themselves for an ambush without the need to shroud.
“It almost looks like their searching for something.” She suggested.
“Strange thing for a search party to be doing,” replied Patel sarcastically, causing Sheridan to give him a nasty look. She opened her mouth to say something but was interrupted by Dr. McDonald.
“It doesn’t matter what they’re doing,” she said. “I’m reading two lifesigns in the pod, but they’re weak. We need to get to them quickly.”
“Ok,” said Patel, “we need to take out those Jem’hadar and get to that pod, and we need to do it now.”
“This could be a trap,” Said Sheridan. “Those life signs could have been faked.”
“It doesn’t matter, we can’t risk it,” responded Patel. “Lieutenant Sheridan and I will take out the Jem’hadar. Dr. McDonald and Nurse Darwin, you will make a run for the pod. Lieutenant, prepare to lay down cover fire on my mark.”
They all nodded in agreement.
Sheridan and Patel burst through the under growth, aimed and fired their phaser rifles as the Doctor and Nurse Darwin made a beeline for the pod. Sheridan’s first shot was perfect, hitting her target square in the chest. She rolled and brought her rifle to bear on the next Jem’hadar, who was making a break for cover. As she was about to fire he fired wildly, getting off a shot that only narrowly missed her and threw her aim off, causing her shot to go wide to the right. By the time she re-targeted he was gone. “Damn it!” she exclaimed.
“Come on Lieutenant.” Shouted Patel as he ran past, making his way to the pod having dealt with his own target. Sheridan hauled herself off her knee and joined Patel in his sprint across the fifty-meter gap to their objective.
“What happened to the third Jem’hadar?” asked Patel.
“He disappeared into the jungle after he got off a lucky shot that threw my aim,” explained Sheridan. “I’ve never heard of a Jem’hadar running from a fight.”
“Me neither.” Said Patel as they reached the pod and started to look it over, “We had best be on our guard.”
The pod had been badly damaged during it entry into the planet’s atmosphere and there were dark brown streaks down its sides under which the remains of its mothership’s registry could be read: U'S ''NN'DY, NC' 7'60'. Patel tried the door controls but it appeared that the main power had failed, so he pulled the face off the inactive control panel and pulled at the manual release. Although the leaver was stiff he eventually managed to pull it back, the door parting with a click. Patel reset the lever and pulled on it again and again it refused to budge at first so, placing his foot against the side of the pod in order to push against it, he pulled hard. There was a sudden snap, the lever released, Patel lost his grip and his balance and he fell to the ground in a completely undignified manor. Sheridan had to stifle a smirk as she helped him to his feet and a quick look at Dr. McDonald and Nurse Darwin told her they had to do the same.
Patel dusted himself off. “Lieutenant, if you could help me with these doors,” he suggested.
“Certainly, Sir,” she replied, swinging her phaser rifle across her back and wrapping her fingers around the edge of the left door. Patel grabbed the right hand door and the two of them pulled attempted to pull the doors into their housing. At first the door resisted, but the broken mechanism was unable to with stand the strain for long and they slowly parted, disappearing into the escape pod’s hull. Sheridan and Patel peered inside.
The inside of the pod was a mess. Wire’s hung from several open panels that had fallen open and part of the right wall was charred. A small monitor near the pods entrance told them that the life support systems were still functioning, but only barely and that the fire suppression system had managed to extinguish the fire before it had failed. Huddled against the left wall, as far away from the fire as the space would allow, were the pod’s two occupants, both of who were unconscious. Dr. McDonald pushed past Sheridan and Patel as she entered the pod and scanned the two survivors with her tricorder.
“They’ve both got third degree burns and are suffering from severe smoke inhalation.” She reported, “I suggest that we beam them back to the base camp immediately.”
“Understood, attach these to their uniforms,” said Patel, handing McDonald two transporter tags before tapping his commbadge. “Patel to Tigris.”
“Demetriushere, Commander,” replied the young ensign who had been left to over see the operations base with Lieutenant Hernandez.
“What’s your status?” enquired Patel.
“Orange team has reached Green team’s remaining pod, but found it empty and have returned to base, along with Yellow team. Sliver team is due to reach their final pod shortly.” The ensign replied, “So far we’ve a total 23 survivors and 8 dead, including the two members of Red team and one member from Sliver team.”
“Ok, make that 25 survivors,” Said Patel. “We’ve just tagged two more for you.”
“Understood, prepare for transport,” he responded, “Energising.”
The two survivors from the Kennedy began to disappear in the blue sparkle of the transporter beam. At the same time Nurse Darwin’s scream heralded her disappearance in a completely different effect.
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