“Did you hear that?” Claussen asked the rest of the small team. She heard slight vocal affirmations of her question.
“Phase pistol fire.” Riker said quietly.
They continued to move together cautiously and silently through the thick and heavy plant-life. Riker, still taking up the rear of the group, turned frequently to make sure they were not being approached from behind.
There was a slight rustling noise from their left and Claussen stopped cold in her tracks and lowered herself, followed closely by the others. They waited a few moments to listen, but heard nothing further. Claussen slowly rose and began to walk once more and slowly came to a clearing inhabited by large tree-like plants with blades for leaves. Before she entered the clearing she stopped, turned and whispered to Data. “I don’t like the looks of this Data.”
Data agreed. “Indeed Commander. Walking through that area would provide us no cover.”
Egel moved forward silently and began to sniff the air. He shook his head with dissatisfaction. “They have been captured here.” He said softly. “I can smell the adrenaline response.”
Data looked to the Xindi with a curious tilt of his head but chose not to risk an open question.
“Can you smell anything else?” Claussen asked, “Anything…Cardassian?”
Egel shook his head. “They are descended from reptilians Commander. They are an impeccably clean species. They do not sweat or give off much odor besides their breath.”
Claussen nodded. “Recommendations?”
“Can we go around?” asked Riker, his eyes still constantly on alert.
Egel surveyed the area. “The foliage thins here for a great distance,” he whispered, “It does not appear that we can avoid it.”
Ismat shifted slightly. “We should disperse ourselves out if we are to enter the area. It will give us our only advantage.”
Egel nodded. “I agree Lieutenant.”
“Fine.” Noyes nodded then moved his arms to direct everyone to move forward, but just as they did, Data stood sharply and held Claussen back harshly.
“Commander.” He warned. “Do not move. There is a trip wire directly ahead of you.”
Claussen’s eyes shot down and came to rest on a thin, metallic wire that extended out in front of her.
Data pulled out his tricorder and scanned across the area once more. “We are surrounded Admiral.”
No sooner had Data finished his sentence than a barrage of disrupter fire lit up the forest. A beam of yellow-hot light struck Claussen at her shoulder and she fell to the ground in the heap. Ismat was struck in the back and Egel took a hit on his hand then his leg, sending his phase pistol sailing into the brush. A shot narrowly missed Noyes’s left shoulder as he dropped to the ground. Riker and Data fired back but within second had nothing to aim at. Noyes shot forward to the injured. Egel groaned in pain and anger. “Sharpshooters Admiral!”
Noyes nodded and Data moved in with his tricorder once more. “They will all require immediate medical care Admiral. We must get them back to the Enterprise.”
“They didn’t even aim at me.” Riker whispered as they moved in. “I can’t even tell how many there are. I saw four, maybe six origination points.”
“Perfectly executed.” Noyes grunted. They missed me, but only because my shoe slipped. Get these people back Commander.” He ordered Data.
Data shook his head. “May I suggest Commander Riker Admiral? He is the better pilot.”
Noyes looked to both of them quickly. “Fine, just get them moving.”
Riker shook his head, “I can’t carry more than one Data. You’ll have to pilot them back. I’ll stay here with the Admiral and try to find Thomas.”
“I can walk. I can stay.” Claussen hissed quietly, holding her burned shoulder.
“You cannot.” Data replied. “The wound will only increase in size and debilitate you. I will need you to navigate while you can.”
Claussen conceded and Data lifted the unconscious Vulcan easily into one arm then bent down to assist Egel into his other. Claussen lifted her phase pistol with her only good arm. “Good luck Admiral.” She offered.
“You get them back Data. Send for support.” Riker ordered.
"I will Commander.”
The wounded troupe moved quickly back through the forest towards the shuttle landing point. Riker turned to look at Noyes, phaser at the ready. Noyes held his forward. “They’re coming for us Commander.”
Riker nodded. “We can’t go forward, we have to go around.”
“There.” Noyes pointed toward a rocky outcropping to their east.
For what seemed like hours, the two men walked carefully and tediously through the remaining bush and to the outer edge of the entrance to what appeared to be a large, encapsulated grotto. A small water stream meandered by them. The grotto was surrounded by tall trees and granite walls. Riker stopped and leaned against a rock. “That smells like a trap Admiral.”
Noyes stopped alongside Riker. “I agree Commander.” He sighed. “You don’t suppose we have the time to wait for our back-up,” he said sarcastically.
Riker shook his head. “If Thomas is in there, he might be dead already.”
“I was afraid you’d say something like that.” Noyes stood once more but as he turned he came face-to-face with the business end of a Cardassian disrupter pistol.
Riker closed his eyes with defeat as his phase pistol was summarily yanked from his own hand by another armed guard. “This way…and no speaking,” said the tallest Cardassian.
The two men were escorted inside the grotto.
Hunter loved his new ship. It had the maneuverability of a Defiant-class but the heft of a Steamrunner. They were lucky not to have been hit by a wave, and the pursuing battle cruiser was taking a beating behind them. It only pushed him to take heavier risks with the Jaguar.
“New course, heading 78 mark 2.” He ordered the helm and the Ensign responded quickly.
“They’ve taken another blow Captain!” said the lieutenant at the tactical station. “And they’re powering their forward weapons array!”
Hunter shook his head. “Idiots! They’ll only kill themselves!” He screamed. “Power to the aft shields! Evasive maneuvers!”
The ensign at the helm rolled the Jaguar hard to port as the cruiser fired off a desperate spread of torpedoes, only to have them engulfed by an incoming distortion wave. The explosion decimated the cruiser and the compression wave that followed hit the Jaguar hard sending it careening out of control.
“Can you regain the helm?!” Hunter roared.
“Yes sir!” replied the ensign with a broken and frightened voice.
“Incoming shear!” cried the Bolian male at Ops.
“Brace for impact!” Hunter screamed.
The Jaguar stopped rolling just in time to take a full-force hit from a boiling gravimetric wave. The ship spun with it sending half the bridge crew flying. Troi cried out from her seat behind the tactical station when she was hit by someone’s arm.
“Come on girl!” Hunter yelled, “Keep it together!” The ship broke out of the back of the wave and rolled into clearer space. The ensign never lost focus on the helm and was able to steady the vessel and move her away from the next oncoming wave. “Well done!” Hunter praised.
“The Cardassian ship has been destroyed,” confirmed the tactical officer.
The Bolian Ops officer turned quickly in his chair. “I suggest we don’t take any more hits like that Captain. Ablative armor or not, we can’t survive another strike like that.”
Hunter nodded and swallowed hard. “Agreed.” He looked around him. “Damage report.”
“Half of the external sensors are offline! Moderate damage to secondary hull, starboard side. Injury reports coming in from decks two, three and five. No deaths reported.”
“We were lucky.” Hunter quipped. “Now, back to where we were heading.”
The Bolian man huffed loudly. “Wish we could sir, but that wave pushed us clear from the warp signature we were tracking from the Xerxes…we’ll never pick it back up now. It was wiped clean sir.”
Hunter grimaced in frustration. “Great, now how are we supposed to find them?”
The tactical officer cleared his throat as he looked down at his panel. “Captain, we’re being hailed. It’s the Sun Tzu!”
Hunter grinned. “Onscreen.”
“Sorry sir, visual is still offline…I’m working on it!”
“Fine, audio then!”
“USS Jaguar, this is the Sun Tzu requesting immediate medical assistance.” Data’s voice rang through.
“We’ll be with you as soon as we can Commander. We’ve just taken a hell of a blow.”
“We witnessed it Captain. We left Admiral Noyes and Commander Riker on the surface of the planet Nisiam. They will need our presence forthwith.”
“We’ll be operational in seconds Commander. What about Captain Steele?”
There was a slight pause, “Captain Steele sir?” Data asked, “We have not seen her.”
Hunter’s mood fell precipitously. “She was on the Panther shuttle Xerxes. She was last seen heading in this direction. We understood she may not have been fit to pilot the shuttle.”
“I am sorry Captain. We were never in contact with her.”
Hunter frowned. “She may have been killed by the shear.”
“Visual contact restored. External sensors are back online,” said the Bolian proudly. “Another incoming wave Captain.”
Hunter returned his focus and ordered the helm to avoid the shear and they moved towards the advancing shuttle.
“Scan for debris of the Xerxes Lieutenant.” Hunter ordered then turned to the tactical officer once more. “Prepare for shuttle arrival and get a medical team to meet them. The moment they’re on board lay in a course for that planet Ensign and engage at maximum safe speed.”