Kate Sheridan narrowly escaped suffering the same fate as Elisha Darwin only because she spun at the nurse’s scream just in time to see her disintegrate in the glow of a disruptor beam. Feeling a second shot slice through the air beside her, her movement placed her on a few important inches from where she had been before.
“Get down!” she cried, pushing Patel behind the pod for cover. From behind the cover she glanced out in the direction the attack had come and saw four Jem’hadar emerging from the jungle. She fired at the lead soldier as Dr. McDonald exited the pod a dived down beside her.
“Seems like our missing Jem’hadar has returned and he’s brought friends,” she said.
Patel tapped his commbadge, “Patel to Tigris. We’re under heavy fire and I’m requesting emergency beam out for three, Code Patel Beta.”
“Acknowledged,” said Demetrius and then added, “Only three, Commander?”
“Nurse Darwin is dead.”
“Oh. Hold on,” Demetrius replied, his sorrow evident but his obligation to his duty still intact. The line went silent for a moment and then he continued, sounding unhappy, “Sir, we can only take two at a time.”
“Understood,” replied Patel. “Lieutenant Sheridan, take Dr. McDonald and beam back to the base camp. I’ll cover you.”
“Commander, it would be better if we beamed out together,” she protested.
“Go, Commander,” he said sternly, “that’s an order!”
“Aye, Sir,” she said reluctantly. “Sheridan to Tigris, prepare to beam Dr. McDonald and me back to base camp.”
“Ready, Sir,” Demetrius responded.
“Energise,” ordered Sheridan.
A moment later the transporter beam enveloped her and she materialised in the cabin of the runabout. She quickly vacated the transporter pad with McDonald close behind. “Beam the Commander back now,” she ordered.
Demetrius quickly reset the system and initiated the cycle that would bring Commander Patel back to the base camp. To Sheridan, this seemed to take forever, but eventually the transporter activated and then disengaged. Sheridan looked down at the pad where Commander Patel’s commbadge had materialised minus its owner. She leant down and picked it up. She turned to Demetrius who was still behind the controls. “Ensign, can you lock onto the Commander’s bio-signs.”
Demetrius worked his console for a moment before shaking his head as he turned back to Sheridan, “Sorry, Commander,” he said. “There’s too much interference for me to get a clear reading.”
“Lieutenant Sheridan,” said Hernandez in surprise as he entered the cabin. “Where’s Commander Patel?”
“He’s been captured by the Jem’hadar,” she explained, “Get me a full status report and assemble the remaining security team members outside the runabout in two minutes.”
Two minutes later Kate Sheridan stood at the runabouts threshold, the assembled security members of the away teams standing before her. She tapped the back of the padd that had been given to her by Lieutenant Hernandez a few moments earlier. It was now nestled in her hands with the final status of the rescue mission contained on it.
In the thirty-two escape pods the rescue teams had found thirty-one people. Of these, five were already dead, 13 had been critically injured and 13 had had only minor injuries. Additionally, they’d lost eight away team members. Three had been killed. The five others had all been captured by the Jem’Hadar, including Commander Patel and Lieutenant Parsons.
The teams had also discovered that nearly half the pods were empty, their doors opened or torn away. Significantly for Sheridan, the majority of these had been found in the area closest to the Preserver ruins. It suggested to her that the Jem’hadar had not only beaten them to those pods, which she always expected would happen, but also confirmed that they were using the ruins as their base of operations. She now had somewhere definite to strike at.
Sheridan straightened her uniform top and addressed the group, “As you all know, we still have several people missing on this planet who are likely in the hands of the Jem’hadar and until this situation is rectified our mission is incomplete,” she began. “However, now that we have completed our search for survivors, it is likely that the Jem’hadar are searching for this base camp and will expect it to remain here and cause us to divide our forces to attempt a rescue and defend this place.
“I cannot risk the safety of those we have rescued so far, especially as many of them need medical attention that can only be provided by the ship’s sickbay. Nor can I risk the medical personnel helping them. As a result, I am ordering the Tigris and the two shuttles back to the ship for their own safety. Any of you are welcome to join them.
“In the mean time I will lead a team to rescue those survivors and team members who are still on the planet. I am looking for volunteers to take part in the extraction of these prisoners from the Dominion’s base of operations in the ancient ruins. If you still wish to volunteer, please raise your right hand.”
Sheridan was enthused to see all twelve people raise their hands.
There were several emotions that were continually turning over in Third Vorac’Talon’s mind as he lead his squad of Jem’hadar through the maze of dark corridors that made up the lower levels of the temple. Firstly, for reasons that were beyond his comprehension, he found himself filled with an inexplicable sense of unease, almost as if he was being watched. This in turn frustrated him, causing his anger to increase towards an enemy he couldn’t see and wasn’t sure was there - something that he, quite ironically for a being with the ability to shroud, considered cowardly. This in turn increased his unease as he had no idea of exactly what the capabilities this enemy might possess when they did eventually decide to strike. In most other humanoids this would lead to a sense of paranoia and fear, but he didn’t fear anything down here in the darkness - a Jem’hadar feared nothing, not even death. Instead, a feeling of anticipation for the coming fight offset his unease. At least then he would he be able to reclaim his life in victory.
The squad reached a dead end. He rechecked his scanning device to check that the power signature that they had been tracking for the past few hours was still registering. After discovering they had been going around in a giant circle at one point and encountering several dead ends similar to this one, he was beginning to believe that there was no way for them to reach it. However, the Vorta believed that this power source had been accessed and activated by Federation survivors hiding out in these lower levels. There had to be a way down here to access it or someone who could at least tell them how to access it, even if it took days to find.
Having now set off down another side corridor, Vorac’Talon turned the next corner and stopped suddenly, indicating to the four Jem’hadar behind him to do the same. Low light emanated from one of the doorways ahead and it flickered every so often, indicating that someone had moved in front of its source. Vorac’Talon indicated to the rest if the squad to shroud and he quickly did so himself, his feelings of unease now completely replaced by those of anticipation. Finally they were getting somewhere.
It had been several hours since the small group of survivors had been cut off from their only means of protection. The doorway Sara Parker had discovered in one of the walls had suddenly closed on her. Dr. Wallace had spent the first couple of hours attempting to re-open it, but the block that had triggered its opening was now permanently recessed into the stone wall and there no longer seemed to be any power to the mechanism. Coming to the conclusion that it had been setup to give access for one time only, meaning it was probably a trap and that Lieutenant Parker was likely already dead, Wallace gave up and rejoined the rest of the group and awaited their rescue.
Since then several more hours had passed and Wallace was feeling restless again. He had returned the where the doorway had opened and was looking for something that he might have missed both the previous times. Again he cursed leaving his tricorder behind when he had fled from the Jem’hadar, restricting his investigation of the opening to feeling for cracks or loose blocks with his hands. As he felt around the blocks and cracks a shiver shuddered down his spine, his muscle control overpowered by the uncontrollable manifestation of a feeling that someone was watching him.
Still shrouded, Vorac’Talon entered the room and found a group of about a dozen scientists sitting around a dim portable light source. Although the likelihood of the light source being the power source that they were looking for was incredibly small, he scanned it anyway. In the eight years since his creation he had encountered many things that were not what the first appeared to be and this had caused him to never rule anything out. The scan told him that it was just a standard Federation portable light source.
He communicated to his men to surround the group and was moving into position himself when one of the scientists suddenly rose to his feet and crossed the room. He indicated to his men to stop, deciding that he wanted to know exactly what this human was up to. Had he detected their presence? As he watched, the scientist walked up to the wall and started to feel around the bricks as if he was searching for something.
He knows about what I’m looking for, thought Vorac’Talon. He indicated to the rest of his squad to surround the rest of the group. Meanwhile, he moved behind the scientist, noticing a shiver run down his back. Subconsciously he does know
I’m here, he thought and then dropped his shroud.
The scream that came from behind him was deafening and nearly caused Dr. Wallace to jump clean out of his skin. He turned to chastise whichever member of the group who had jumped this time at the harmless arachnids that they had encounterd since coming down. Instead he found himself face-to-chest with a seven foot Jem’Hadar that had suddenly appeared and was now towering over him. He nearly screamed himself, but the sound died in his throat when the Jem’hadar spoke.
“Where is the power source?” asked the huge Dominion soldier in a deep booming voice.
“I… I…” stuttered Wallace as his face turned pale.
The Jem’Hadar gathered the front of Wallace’s jacket and shirt and lifted him up to his eyeline, which was a good foot off the ground. “Where is the power source?” he asked again menacingly.
“I… I don’t know what you’re t… talking about.”
Evidently the Jem’Hadar didn’t believe him, but changed tact anyway. “What were you looking for in that wall?”
For a fleeting moment Wallace actually considered lying to the Jem’hadar holding him in the air, but his sense of self-preservation overruled such a foolish notion, “A d… doorway,” he said, “I was looking for a doorway.”
The Jem’Hadar seemed to consider this for a moment. Then, in one fluid motion, he threw Wallace against the far wall and drew his weapon. The last thing Wallace saw before he blacked out was that weapon being pointed at the wall where the entrance had been.
Vorac’Talon drew his weapon and fired at the wall in front of him, which promptly exploded in a shower of rock and dust and caused him to cough as small particles attempted to enter his lungs. He swung his right arm back and forth, trying to clear the dust cloud and see what his disruptor had revealed. When the dust did eventually settle, he found the entranceway to dark tunnel had appeared. Vorac’Talon smiled. He would make second for this.
He turned to face the scientist who he had thrown against the far wall. He was just regaining consciousness. He walked over to him and hauled him to his feet. “Where does the passage lead?” he demanded.
“I d… don’t know,” the scientist replied trembling, his face deathly pale.
Vorac’Talon actually believed him - the man was far too scared to lie to him now – but he couldn’t afford even the smallest possibility that he wasn’t getting the truth.
“I said, ‘where does the passage lead?’” he repeated slightly louder, shaking the man for good measure.
“I don’t know!” he screamed, before he repeated quietly, “I don’t know.”
Vorac’Talon smiled. The man’s reactions yet again confirmed to him the Jem’Hadar’s superiority over the weak races of the Federation. These pathetic species were crumbling before the might of the Dominion. His master would soon win this war and control the alpha quadrant.
“Third!” shouted one of his men from behind him, breaking him from his thoughts. Vorac’Talon let go of the scientist’s coat. The man crumpled to the floor, his legs failing him. The Third turned in the direction of the call.
“What is it?” he ordered.
“Sixth Omar’iklan just disappeared,” reported Fifth Rema’tuklan
Vorac’Talon did a quick head count and came up one short. “Well go find him then!” he ordered.
“He didn’t go anywhere,” protested Rema’tuklan. “He simply disappeared.”
“Don’t be absur…” Vorac’Talon started, but was cut off when Rema’tuklan simple ceased to be. Anger welled up inside him. With a growl he turned back to the scientist who only moments ago he had decided was no longer worth his time. “You did this!”
“You did this!” shouted the Jem’hadar as he advanced on the huddled form of Dr. Gregory Wallace. If the Doctor could have made himself back further into the wall in order to escape the advancing Jem’hadar, he would have. As was his only recourse, Wallace simply pulled his legs closer into himself and shut his eyes tightly, falling back on the age-old principle that if you can’t see them then they can’t see you. However, the killing blow he was sure was to follow never came.
After several moments, he slowly opened one eye. When he found nothing between him and the far wall, he cautiously opened the other. He still found nothing. Feeling slightly more adventurous and sure of himself, he raised his head and looked around the room, but found only the other scientists. He waved his hand out in front of himself, just to make sure that they hadn’t shrouded. His hand encountered nothing. The Jem’hadar were gone.
Wallace pulled himself shakily to his feet and walked over to his fellow survivors. He ached all over. His breathing was shallow. It felt as if he had bruised or broken a couple of his ribs.
“Is,” he started and then paused. It hurt to speak, “Is everyone ok?” he asked, squinting from the pain.
Each of the other nodded in reply before one of them spoke up. “What happened?” he asked.
“I don’t… know,” Wallace forced in reply, turning to look at the doorway he had been attempting to gain access to. The light’s in the tunnel had been turned on, “Although, I’m getting a good idea.”
Holding his side, he began to stumble towards the lit corridor. The others followed behind, two of them cradling Wallace on their shoulders as they passed through the entryway.
Sara Parker had been testing the range of the Tantalus field, using it to explore the inside of the temple. So far she had discovered that its range was a radius of around 600 meters from it’s point of origin, which unfortunately meant it didn’t quite extend as far as the rooms at the top of the base where the Jem’hadar were stationed. It did however reach as far as the room that had been converted into a makeshift holding area, where several surviving scientists and Starfleet personnel were being held prisoner.
When the alarm suddenly sounded, it took her completely by surprise. She quickly started to search for its source. A red glow in the middle of the table in the room’s centre caught her attention and she moved beside it. The glow was from a flashing red dot in the middle of a map that had appeared on the table’s surface. Sara touched the area and the wall viewscreen changed from where she had been exploring to the area where the alarm had been drawing her attention.
There was a thick cloud of dust obscuring most of the view, which was pretty dark to begin with. At first she didn’t recognise the place. What she could make out was the form of a large humanoid in the middle of the dust cloud. The figure seemed to be attempting to waft away the cloud with a flailing right arm. As the dust slowly began to clear, Sara got her first proper look at the humanoid. She let out a yelp as the face of a large Jem’hadar filled the screen. It seemed like he was looking straight into the camera, almost as if he could see her. Sara quickly realized that that couldn’t be the case. There was no camera that would even let him know she was watching. However, the way he was looking straight at her was extremely unsettling.
He turned away and walked towards the left of the screen, giving Sara her first clear look at the surrounding area. A light source to the right hand of the screen illuminated the room in a dim light. She could just make out several seated humanoids sitting around it, surrounded by a group of what she presumed were Jem’hadar standing over them.
Prisoners, thought Sara and everything started to fall into place.
Her thoughts drifted back several hours to the group of surviving archaeologists that she had been separated from shortly after she discovered the entrance to the corridors that lead brought her here. She realised that this was the group that she had left. She adjusted the controls, focusing them on the Jem’hadar whose face had earlier filled the screen. He now stood at the left side of the screen holding up one of the scientists who seemed unable to stand-up on his own. She activated the disintegration controls and targeted the Jem’hadar, but it was unable to distinguish between him and the scientist. She needed a way to separate them.
Sara adjusted the controls and targeted the next nearest Jem’hadar. Activating the field, she watched as the system hummed and he simply disappeared. The other Jem’hadars’ reaction was immediate. They alerted the Jem’Hadar soldier holding up the scientist. He seemed to be their leader. He dropped the scientist and turned to see what they were talking about.
Sara targeted the next Jem’hadar who also happened to be the one explaining what had occurred and she activated the field again. When the second Jem’hadar disappeared before the leader’s eyes, he turned back to the scientist and started to shout and approach him menacingly. Sara could now see that this scientist was Dr. Wallace. She targeted the Tantalus field on the Jem’hadar threatening him and activated it. She then did the same to the rest of the Jem’hadar.
On the screen Wallace looked up slowly and, after a while, began to move shakily towards his fellow survivors.
“I need to get them to safety,” Sara said to herself, looking over the controls. Eventually she found what she was looking for. She activated the overhead lights that would lead them to the control room.
Commander Patel’s captors lead him through the temple to the control centre. His uniform was torn and his face bloodied, evidence of the fight against the four Jem’hadar who had attempted to make him their prisoner. Of the four, two would never make it to honoured elder. Patel had known that he had been fighting a loosing battle when the first of the group to reach him had removed his commbadge and thrown it into the undergrowth. It was a manoeuvre that Patel had capitalised on, his special ops training taking over as he quickly dispatched with the attacker. The second one had been more prepared for him after that. It took longer for Patel to take him out, leaving him open for the last two. At least that was how it had seemed to them.
As they entered the control centre, Patel saw a Vorta distributing white to a group of Jem’hadar. Each of them repeated their mantra of loyalty to the founders before placing the narcotic in the receptacle affixed to their right breast. It reminded Patel of the drug-controlled soldiers from Earth’s third world war and the post-atomic horror that followed. It had always amazed him how Zephram Cochrane had uncovered one of humanities greatest discoveries against such a backdrop.
Two of the Jem’hadar who had already received their ration replaced Patel’s escorts while they too went through the process. After they had all received their dose, the Vorta turned his attention to the Patel. “Welcome, Commander Patel,” he said with a broad smile on his face aimed at defusing any hostility that the Commander might have towards him. “I am Yessic. I hope my 'friends' weren't to rough. I wouldn't want the Federation thinking we didn't treat our 'guests' well.”
“They’ve treated me no worse than I’ve treated them in return,” replied Patel, not at all falling for the Vorta’s false sincerity.
“Indeed,” replied Yessic. He indicated to one of the Jem’hadar who promptly brought over a grey case. “This should help to heal your wounds.”
The Jem’hadar placed the case on the table in front of Patel. He recognised it as a Federation med kit. He popped it open, pulled out a dermal regenerator and began it move it over his wounds. The pain began to subside almost immediately as the bruising went down and the cuts and abrasions were repaired.
“Thanks,” said Patel making the word sound like it was the worst thing he’d ever said. The med-kit was far more than just a means to heal his wounds. The Vorta wanted to send him a very clear message – You’re not the only member of Starfleet that the Jem’hadar have captured or killed and you won’t be the last. It was a message that he had witnessed first hand.
“What is the status of our patrols?” said Yessic, unfinished with sending messages to Patel.
A large Jem’hadar standing at one of the consoles turned to the Vorta. “They have surrounded the Federation base camp and are preparing to attack.”
Patel was filled with a feeling of satisfaction. This was exactly what they had expected.
“Excellent,” said Yessic, obviously taking tremendous pleasure himself in lording this over Patel, “they may proceed when ready.”
Patel watched as the Jem’hadar entered the commands into the console and then waited. After several minutes, a look of confusion crossed his face.
“Sir, the strike team is reporting that the Federation base is no longer there.”
Well done Sheridan, thought Patel, exactly as planned.
“Where are they Commander?” asked Yessic, veneer of graciousness evaporating as he turned and threatened Patel. However, his answer didn’t come from the commander but in the form of several alarms on the Jem’hadar’s consoles.
“We’re under attack!” reported the First.
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