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Fourteen days. It had been fourteen days since Sioll Baxx and Ev glasch Ytog had been killed in the line of duty. The Orion’s first casualties of the war, and the first time he’d had to inform families about the death of their loved ones since the loss of the Kukri. Reihyn had vowed never to let it happen again, but there had been nothing he could’ve done to prevent it. The loss had had a profound effect on all of the crew. But things had gone from bad to worse not one week after the loss of the DeVier, when every Starfleet channel and all the newsfeeds reported that Earth had been attacked by the Breen, resulting in thousands injured or dead in and around San Francisco. As traumatic as these events were for each of them, they had also bound the crew together in grief. Whilst Crewman Ytog hadn’t gone out of his way to ingratiate himself with many others outside of Security, everyone onboard had known Baxx in their own way. For him, Baxx was someone who would always speak him mind, no matter just what it was, and he’d found that honesty to be something he appreciated.

As he rounded the corner that took him directly towards the airlock, he wondered if his new CMO would share that trait. He would find out once he met them, as he knew nothing about who would be coming onboard—the sector office for Starfleet Medical had only told him an hour before they arrived at Starbase 360 that a new doctor had been appointed. The station’s personnel department were better organised, letting him know that a new security guard, Crewman Barda R’K’K, would be coming aboard as well. This would be the first time he would ever worked with an Antican, which would be interesting to say the least. He only hoped his new physician wasn’t a Selayan, or there could well be carnage waiting for him in the docking bay.

Crewman Matapang stood at the control panel and nodded as he approached. “Morning sir.”

“Morning. Have we got a seal?”

“Just secured as you came around the corner, sir.”

“Open it up.”

She tapped the control and the heavy airlock doors slid open, followed a few seconds later by those on the station. Two sets of footsteps echoed through the umbilical and Reihyn stood a little stiffer, wanting to give a proper introduction.

The two new arrivals stepped through together but couldn’t be more different. Barda had an elongated head, short muzzle baring pointed canines, with scruffy grey fur on the sides of his head and sticking out from his collar and cuffs, as beady, near-feral eyes, quickly darted around. The new Doctor however was an Arcadian, demure and serene, with porcelain white skin, her large doll-like head looking out of proportion for her slim body, her features were delicate, with a miniscule nose and small mouth, her large unblinking eyes taking in her surroundings as her long, tapered ears twitched at sounds he couldn’t hear.

He took a step closer and they both stood at attention. “At ease,” he began, never one to be overly-formal. “Welcome to the U.S.S. Orion, I am Captain Reihyn.”

“Lieutenant Yeema Ad’u,” the ship’s new physician said, her accented husky voice contrasting with her fragile appearance—a human classmate from the Academy had referred to Arcadians as ‘China Dolls’.

“Crewman Barda R’K’K, security,” he growled.

“It’s nice to meet both of you.”

Ad’u bowed her oversized head. “Thank you, Captain. I wish it was under better circumstances.”

“As do I,” he replied, trying to keep his tone level. Not wanting to dwell any longer he gestured to the on-duty guard. “Once we get you logged into the system, then Matapang will show you to your quarters, Mr Barda. Doctor, I’ll give you the tour.”

It didn’t take long to get them both registered into the ships system, which would then connect with the station computer and download all the necessary files and records for both of them. Once it was seen to they parted company, heading for either the enlisted or officer quarters.

“Captain, this really isn’t necessary, I’ll be able find my way around.”

“I’m sure you could, Doctor, however I wouldn’t feel right leaving my new CMO to stumble around lost.”

She gave him a throaty laugh, the sound so unlike anything he expected from her it was a little weird. Ad’u cast him a glance. “I see Sioll wasn’t lying about you.”

He paused and looked at her, causing her to stop and look around. “You knew Doctor Baxx?”

“I interned under him onboard the Columbia, just before he retired. We remained in contact ever since, though the war hampered the frequency, we spoke many times since his commission was reactivated. I doubt he would ever have said, but he was quite fond of you, Captain.”

A weak smile, his first in two weeks, tugged at his lips. “You’re right, he never did mention that.”

“Well, he was never one for giving out complements—especially not to those who they were about. When I learned of his passing, I submitted my request to assume his duties onboard, I felt it was a way to honour him.”

“It’s a touching sentiment, Doctor, though I can just imagine what he’d have to say about it.”

She laughed again. “All things that shouldn’t be repeated in polite company.”

“Precisely.”

They carried on, heading first to her small cabin, where she stowed her luggage, before she asked to see sickbay. As they travelled through the ship, he filled her in on the crew, her new staff, their remit and some of the previous assignments they’d been given, just to let her know what she could face. She listened intently, though some of what he told her she’d most likely heard from Baxx, asking a few questions for greater clarity.

When they arrived at the main ward, he let her enter first. Inside all was quiet. No patients, no medical checkups, no work accidents. Medtech Vaand was running routine checks on the biobeds as they entered whilst the two corpsmen on shift were nowhere in sight.

The Rhaandarite looked up. “Captain.”

“Crewman, I’d like to introduce our new CMO, Lieutenant Yeema Ad’u. Doctor, Medical Technician Second Class Vaand.”

“It is nice to meet you, Doctor,” Vaand said politely. “K3 Brown is in the medlab and Gregson is inventorying our supplies.”

Before he could show her through the intercom whistled. “Bridge to Reihyn,” announced D’Kehra.

“Go ahead, Lieutenant.”

“You’re receiving a secure communiqué from Vice Admiral P’Rau.”

He frowned. Their orders typically came through from the station's Logistics Officer, not the Admiral’s office—being just a support ship they typically didn’t warrant direct communication with the Sector Commander.

“Understood. Route it to my office, I’ll be up in a moment. Reihyn out.” He looked at Ad’u. “You’ll have to excuse me.”

“Of course, Captain. You got me safely to sickbay, I think I can manage from here,” she told him, a small smile tugging her pert lips.

* * * * *

Captain’s log, stardate: 52524.5.

Our downtime at Starbase 360 has been cut short as we’ve been given a new run. Though this one will be a little different; we are to transport a team from the Starfleet Corps of Engineers, in a runabout, to a point in the Lamemda Sector then carry on to field hospital on Dreon VII. On our return we are to retrieve the runabout at the same location and continue back to three-sixty.

No one onboard is privy to the orders of the S.C.E. team, myself included, we’re just being used as a taxi service.

End Log.


* * * * *

As the Orion was loaded up with supplies for their unscheduled cargo run, Aleksander Jachim was overseeing the arrival of the S.C.E. team onboard the U.S.S. Thames. He had watched as the Danube-Class runabout had touched down in the main hangar, which dominated the front of the saucer and could easily hold three such craft but was always left empty (used for recovering salvage or escape pods), before heading down to meet the specialists they would be carrying.

As he neared the mini-starship, the portside hatch opened and a tall human with jet-black hair stepped out. Jachim immediately took note of the lieutenant commander pips on his collar and stood at attention on the deck before him.

“Welcome to the Orion. I’m Lieutenant Aleksander Jachim, Operations Manager.”

The man stepped forward and extended his hand as the rest of his team disembarked. His grip was firm. “Lieutenant Commander James Sheppard, we appreciate the lift.”

“Happy to be of help, sir. Captain Reihyn has asked that I make sure you’re seen to quarters and provide any assistance you may need with regards to your equipment.”

“Everything we need is on the runabout and will remain there until we reach our destination. I trust you all know the plan.”

“We have the timetable and co-ordinates for the drop-off/rendezvous point, sir.”

“Excellent. How about you show us our quarters, I’ll also need to speak with yourself, the captain and your chief engineer, as soon as we’re underway.”

“I’ll make arrangements,” he assured Sheppard. The S.C.E. team comprised of five members, including their commander, two female full lieutenants, a blonde Arbazan and brunette Trill, a yellow feathered Skorr junior lieutenant, and a human Ensign. Sheppard made no attempt to introduce the rest of them to him. They all looked around as he led them deeper into the ship, the Trill and young human spoke excitedly between themselves, the Skorr watching out for anything hanging down from the ceiling and dodging them as they walked, whilst the Arbazan’s nose seemed permanently upturned as she took in their surroundings. Sheppard was more difficult to get a reading on.

As they silently stepped into a turbolift, he ordered it to deck four. It chirped and whined as it started moving.

“Is the whole ship like this?” the Arbazan asked.

“Like what?”

“Barely functional.”

Jachim looked at her levelly. “We get by,” he replied evenly. Not long after he’d come aboard, he would’ve shared her assessment of the ship, but after getting to know the Orion better he’d come to appreciate just how rugged and durable she was—even with all her creaks, groans and whines. She had proven herself to be a workhorse, which would’ve been in far worse shape had it not been for Enan Lanali.

Before she could make another snide comment, which was clearly on the tip of her tongue, the Trill stepped in. “I think she’s got character. Remember, once upon a time she was considered state of the art. I wonder if Galaxy’s will be in such good nick next century.”

The doors swished open and he led them out, glad to be on the move again. They reached the guest quarters, five of which had already been prepared for their arrival, three on his right side and two on his left. He highlighted where the mess hall, rec rooms and gym were located, pointing out that they had no replicators (to which the Arbazan scoffed), the let them get settled in as he headed for the bridge.

* * * * *

Stars stretched out behind them through the transparent aluminium viewports of the conference room, located at the back of deck two. Lanali was the last one to arrive at the meeting that’d been called, she’d been seeing to a diagnostic of the warp coils in the dorsal starboard nacelle, when Jachim had contacted her. Though she was intrigued to meet the team from the S.C.E. she did have a never-shortening list of jobs that needed to be seen too.

Stepping into the meeting she found the guests sitting along one side of the table (organised by rank, with the team leader closest to the head), their backs to the windows, whilst the Captain was in his customary place at the end of the table and Jachim sat on his left. She noted the looks she got from all but the team leader, all various degrees of surprise.

“Lieutenant,” said Reihyn as she stepped in and approached the table, “thank you for joining us at such short notice.”

“Sorry for the wait, sir,” she replied, taking the seat next to Jachim, who gave her a small half-smile which made her pointed ears tingle.

“A quick round of introductions; this is Lieutenant Enan Lanali, my Chief Engineer. Enan, this is Commander Sheppard, Lieutenants Dalzou, Rell and Krenn, and Ensign Watanabe.”

“Hello,” she said to the group, smiling politely.

Sheppard sat forward, set a small device on the tabletop and activated it. It hummed softly and she felt a prickle on the back of her neck, something she always experienced when in dense EM fields. The device must’ve been some sort of dampener, blocking out all signals in and out of the meeting room.

“Now that we’re underway, I’ve been given permission by Starfleet Intelligence to inform you of the nature of our assignment. This is need-to-know information that must be shared by no one else onboard, not even your First Officer. Understood?”

They all nodded their consent so he continued. “As you all know, eight days ago Earth was attacked by the Breen, signalling their alliance with the Dominion and full participation in this war. This came out of the blue because we don’t have sufficient coverage of the Breen border, every time we send out a surveillance satellite it disappears. Though we suspect the Breen are behind it, we can’t say with any certainty.

“Almost five years ago, the U.S.S. Equinox disappeared near the Delavi System, which Intel believes the Breen are responsible for. As it highlighted how little we know about Breen deployment, a covert recon team managed to set up a small monitoring facility on an asteroid in a field within the Rolor Nebula. It was operational for just over a year before all contact with it was lost as well. Several weeks ago a very faint transponder signal was detected, so it is still there though most likely damaged.”

“That’s where you come in,” stated Reihyn.

“Yes sir. My team and I have ninety-six hours to get the outpost operational again and begin relaying all data it collects back to Starfleet Command.”

Lanali’s eyebrows shot up. She’d had two friends at Starfleet Command at the time of the attack, one was an instructor at the Academy and had been out on a field training exercise with a group of cadets whilst the other, her former roommate Lindsay Rhodes, has been critically injured and was still in a coma. The mission was definitely a crucial one and she could understand the need to send in a small team instead of a full S.C.E. ship, but giving five specialists just four days to get the outpost working was madness. They had no way of knowing just what had happened to it, how badly damaged it was, or just what it might need to get it up and running.

“Sir,” Jachim began, leaning forward in his seat, “whilst I appreciate this is an important assignment, I’m a little confused as to why Lieutenant Lanali and I have been called into this meeting.”

She’d been wondering the same thing.

Sheppard looked at the two of them, then turned his attention to Reihyn. “Captain, I’m afraid for this mission both Lieutenants Jachim and Lanali have been seconded to my team.” He slid a PADD over to the Captain. “Authorisation from Captain Scott.”

Lanali sat up, not quite believing what she’d heard. As Reihyn frowned and picked up the tablet, she and Jachim exchanged a look then focused on the only person in the room wearing a red shirt. It took him a few minutes to read over the information, before setting it down.

“It looks like he’s right, effective immediately the two of you are on Commander Sheppard’s team and will head out with them on the Thames when we arrive at the drop-off point. You’d best get your gear ready.”

* * * * *

“I never thought I’d miss my pokey quarters on the Orion,” Jachim stated as he sat down at the table in the runabouts aft compartment.

Lanali, seated opposite him, paused mid-chew her bright blue eyes wide, startled. “This is a day for the history books.”

He chuckled softly as he set into his breakfast of bacon, tomato and scrambled eggs—once they arrived then they would be working pretty much flat out, so he needed something hearty in him. Though he’d long since come to terms with his assignment to the old Constellation-Class ship, even embracing the considerable responsibility placed upon her and using it as an opportunity to truly test himself, it was still rare he gave actual voice to his fondness for the ship—or those onboard her.

The runabout Thames was essentially three parts, the cockpit at the front, the midsection payload (containing a long cargo hold on one side packed to the gunnels with supplies, with two separate workshop and diagnostics lab modules on the other), and the aft section, which had two sets of bunkbeds, a table and chairs, and a replicator. It was a basic as basic got, so his cramped quarters back on the Orion were almost opulent by comparison.

They were alone in the rear section, the S.C.E. team were all seeing to their last minute prep before reaching the asteroid base. Since leaving the ship, they had been running radio silent, sensors in passive mode and their engine output tweaked to make the Starfleet ship look like a Kybeerian freighter. As soon as they reached the outpost they would run a full array of scans, looking to see just what the situation was like, only after which could they make concrete plans as to what needed to be done. He had never been a fan of jumping into something without knowing just what was waiting for him, but with the support of the Breen Confederacy then the Dominion were even stronger. Without better understanding of the enigmatic species then the Allied Forces stood little chance of countering effectively.

As unknown and potentially dangerous as their mission was, he had managed to find one highlight, spending more time with Enan. He smiled to himself, wondering if the young woman knew just what a reassuring and reaffirming presence she was. As they ate they chatted about all their usual topics, what work needed to be carried out on the Orion, the latest Federation News Service reports, what word they’d had from family and friends—even discussing his old friends Vincent Okonedo, who Lanali was still in contact with (fortunately no further embarrassing stories about their time as cadets had been shared with her). Everything about being in her presence was just easy and made even the bleakest situation feel like it would come out alright at the end.

Their plates clear, he was just finishing off his coffee when the intercom chirped. “Stations. We’re approaching the outpost.”

They shared a confused look as they stood. “I thought we still had an hour until we reached the asteroid field.”

“Either they increased speed or our co-ordinates were out,” she suggested as they headed through the midsection, towards the cockpit.

It didn’t take them long to reach it, finding Sheppard at the helm, Rell at ops, and Watanabe at the portside station. They moved to the freestanding console in the middle of the deck, quickly ascertaining that the co-ordinates they’d been given hadn’t been 100% accurate—not surprising in such a dense nebula like Rolor.

Dalzou and Krenn stepped in and immediately the Arbazan quickly took the vacant post, whilst the Skorr, who needed to stoop so he didn’t hit his head, moved to stand behind Watanabe. Though not unpleasant (except for Dalzou) the team were far from friendly, it had only been the Trill computer systems specialist who had made any effort to welcome them—but they weren’t there to make friends.

He quickly ran a cursory scan and noted that no ships were in the immediate area, which wasn’t surprising as most avoided the nebula. All of the team were busy with the sensors, most of them focused on the monitoring station. It didn’t take them long to determine that the base was structurally sound, not that there was really much to it—perhaps twice the size of the runabout, and four levels high, though it would be tight as most of the base was dedicated to communications, computer and sensor equipment, with little in the way of habitable space. The asteroid, one of the largest in the field, had pockmarks from numerous impacts of smaller objects, one of which had damaged the main connectors between the arrays and power core.

From the outside the work would be fairly straight forward, though would require a team in EVA to conduct the repairs, so long as all the systems remained operational inside the base then they would be finished with time to spare.

Sheppard turned from his console. “We’ll connect to the docking port, once there we will proceed with plan alpha.”

They all confirmed the instruction. Though they didn’t know exactly what they would face, they had laid out plans for any foreseeable possibility. With the base in better shape than they’d assumed, once they connected with it, they would split into three two-man teams, with Krenn remaining behind to monitor things. He would be working with Lanali, given their familiarity with one another, and would check the second and third levels, making sure there was no damage and checking support systems. Sheppard and Watanabe would head down to the lowest level and get to work on the power generator, leaving Dalzou and Rell to work from the control room and get full diagnostics underway.

Though they would all be going in armed, there was a part of Jachim that wished they’d taken a security detachment with them. Something about the reconnaissance outpost was unsettling, or perhaps it was the fact that is they ran into trouble there would be no one coming to help—if the Breen weren’t responsible for damaging the facility then Starfleet couldn’t risk alerting them to it by sending in a starship.

It took only a few minutes for the runabout to dock with the base, then the cramped ship was a flurry of activity as the three teams got into EVA suits. Though the base was intact and was capable of holding a small crew, it was designed to be unmanned so the life-support systems would be off-line, the suits would be needed until they got the environmental systems booted up—which would be one of the jobs he and Lanali would need to see too.

As they headed through the airlock, Jachim kept his hand on the grip of his phaser, just in case, whilst Lanali already had her tricorder open and started scanning. Sheppard and Watanabe were ahead of them whilst the two other lieutenants were taking up the rear, though they were going over some last-minute details with Krenn.

Stepping onto the outpost he began to feel a sense of claustrophobia, the passages were barely wide enough for a single person, the ceilings were lower than the runabout, and the bulkheads had an unfinished look to them with conduits, junction boxes and all manner of equipment jutting out. He was about to head down the passage that would take them to a ladder, when he realised that Lanali had paused at the airlock. He turned and looked at her. She stood by the entrance, scanning the bulkhead.

“Everything alright?”

“I picked up micro fractures in the airlock as we were coming through, they won’t harm the integrity whilst we’re here though. I’m also picking up a blow seal servo. It looks like this airlock has been forced open at some point,” she told him.

Immediately he drew his sidearm. “Jachim to Sheppard.”

“Go ahead.”

“Sir, it looks like we’re not the first ones here. There’s evidence the docking port may have been tampered with.”

There was a pause. “Are you sure?”

Jachim locked eyes with Lanali. He knew that she wouldn’t have brought up her findings unless she was sure about what she’d found and what it meant. “Yes sir, I am.”

“All teams proceed with extreme caution. Krenn, start scanning for life-forms other than our own, and keep a closer eye on external sensors. Whoever was here before may decide to come back. But remember we only have four days here to get this facility operational, and it may very well give us the edge we need to win the war.”

Lanali followed his lead and armed herself as they headed deeper into the covert recon outpost.

* * * * *

Twenty hours onboard had seen them inspect every cubic meter of the base, get life-support operational, run a full battery of diagnostics, and offload what supplies and equipment they would need for repairs. From everything they’d seen the only problem the facility had was the damage on the outside. Once that was fixed then the monitoring station would be back online. It would take half a day to repair and another few hours to run tests and simulations to make sure that their work was sufficient; they would also have time to fit a pair of forcefield generators to cover the connectors—giving them greater protection from other asteroid hits.

There had been no signs of any other life, but after her discovery at the docking port, Lanali was a little unsettled. Sheppard hard instructed them all to get a couple hours of sleep, though he was in what was laughingly called the ‘control room’ going over the data that had been collected since the base had stopped transmitting—since he was the only one on the team with the necessary security clearance. The outpost had two bunk rooms, so the whole team could get some rest at the same time with some on the ship and others on the base. The two Orion officers hadn’t been quick enough to claim a bed on the runabout, so they were sleeping on the station.

Not that she suspected she’d be getting much sleep. The place was creepy, like a ghost ship, even though she knew that no one had ever slept in the bunkbeds she was curled up on. No matter how tired she may have felt there was just something about the outpost that made her anxious, as though there were a great sense of foreboding that shrouded it. By its very nature, the facility was a shadowy place, designed to secretly spy on others from the dark places no one thought to look.

“Enan?” Jachim’s soft voice from above her filled the room (which was just large enough to fit the bunks and nothing else).

“Yeah?”

“I thought you were awake,” he said, she could hear the small smile in his voice.

“Sorry, I didn’t think I was making any noise.”

His head appeared from the bed above hers. “You weren’t, but I can feel how unsettled you are—you don’t hide your feelings very well I’m afraid to say.”

She blushed, though in the darkness of the room fortunately he couldn’t see. There were some things she could keep better than others, though fear wasn’t one she could easily mask—it was only when she was in her engine room and trying to keep a brave face for her people that she ever managed it, since it was for the benefit of others more than herself. One day she hoped to be like him, able to keep her emotions in check and project such confidence that it only helped to inspire and spur on others—one of the many traits she admired in him.

“Sorry,” she apologised again. “This place is spooky.”

“I know what you mean,” he admitted quietly. “It reminds me of a derelict house my older brother and his friends took me too when we were just kids, they told me it was haunted but I didn’t believe them. On a dare, I went inside and it was the most unsettling place I’d been to, and still is to this day. Of course, Marek and his friends took it upon themselves to scare the crap out of me when I was inside.”

She chuckled softly. “Is your brother in Starfleet as well?”

“No, he became an architect. He thought I was crazy for enrolling at the Academy.”

“Before this war started, my little brother, Vaen, wanted to follow in my footsteps and join Starfleet. He’s still a year away from being eligible to apply, though I doubt my parents will let him leave the house with this war on.”

“Well hopefully by the time he can submit his application then this war will be over—then both of our brothers will be needed to do their part and help rebuild. As hard as the fighting may be, what comes afterwards will be even harder. Is Vaen an engineer like you?”

Lanali had to laugh out loud at that. “Gods no! He’s more of an expert at breaking things than repairing them. Our parents only discovered how bad he was after I left for Earth; I’ve lost count of the number of times I had to fix things after he’d gotten his hands on them, without them finding out.”

“So keep him away from the Orion then,” he said with a chuckle.

“I wouldn’t let that terror darken the airlock, let alone set foot on my ship!”

A moment of easy silence filled the small room. Even when they had nothing to say, she enjoyed just being in his company, there was never any need to fill the quiet with inane chatter. She felt the familiar tingle in her ears and blushed again, she was too old to be getting schoolgirl infatuations—especially not for a fellow officer (who was also her superior).

His head disappeared from view.

“Alright?” she asked.

“Yeah, the blood is just rushing to my head in that position.”

Though it was reassuring enough just to hear his voice, she always preferred to speak with him face to face. “Well there’s plenty of room down here,” she said without thinking, immediately kicking herself.

He chuckled again. “That’s because you’re so dainty, I’ve barely got room to move here so I’d end up squishing you.” There was a brief pause, in which the mood in the room seemed to shift from their usual easiness. “Perhaps, we should try and get some sleep.”

“I’ll try not to bother you any longer.”

“You never bother me, Enan, but there’s a lot to do tomorrow and we may not get much more time for rest.”

“You’re right, Alek. Goodnight.”

“Pleasant dreams.”

Lying on her bed, eyes open, she looked up at the base of the bed he rested on, a man she’d found herself becoming increasing drawn to, who she shared so much in common with, who was a source of strength and comfort in these times of uncertainty—not to mention who’d already made an appearance or two in a few of her more intimate dreams—someone she cared more for than she was willing to admit to herself. Lanali, her mind busy with the thoughts of Aleksander Jachim as she breathed in his scent, closed her eyes and tried to get some rest.

* * * * *

In the control room, Jachim failed to stifle a yawn. After speaking with Lanali the night before he hadn’t been able to get any sleep, part of him wishing he’d taken her up on the offer and gotten out of his own bed—despite how inappropriate it may have been. He shook the thought from his head and focused once more on what he needed to.

Lanali was outside with Sheppard and Watanabe finishing up repairs to the power line, he was keeping an eye on their progress as well as monitoring the power core output and other auxiliary systems, whilst the three S.C.E. officers each saw to their own specialty. Chatter was at a minimum, limited just to the job at hand and was carried out in the sort of code only engineers knew. Another hour would see the work outside complete, then they would start all the diagnostics of the system to make sure that there were no gremlins in the works. If everything checked out they would be finished with plenty of time to spare, either in the snug runabout or the even more cramped outpost.

Krenn’s sensor station began squawking. The towering, golden Skorr looked at the assortment of monitors for a moment before his feather bristled and his slapped him combadge.

“Commander, we have a ship on approach!”

“Breen?”

“Negative. It’s too small for any of theirs. It looks like it could be Chandir cargo shuttle.”

Jachim quickly glanced at the sensor readouts and saw the same results. The Chandir, nicknamed ‘tailheads’ due to their distinctive cranial trunks that hung down from the back of their heads, were a non-aligned species who originated from the neutral sectors of space along the Federation, Cardassia and Tzenkethi borders, so were a very common sight in the region. But why would one be in the Rolor Nebula, on a direct course for them?

“Did we give away our position somehow?” Sheppard asked.

He’d already had that thought and backtracked their heading. “Negative,” he interrupted as Krenn was just starting to investigate, “there is no change in their ion trail or impulse wake, they were heading this way.”

“It looks like we found our intruders. ETA?”

“They’ll be on us in two minutes,” Krenn quickly stated.

“Damn,” he muttered through the open channel. It wasn’t enough time for the repair team to get back inside or for them to get the runabout prepped. “We’re heading for the airlock, see if you can establish a dampening field around the facility, keep them from beaming in.”

“Understood.”

Jachim knew they wouldn’t have enough time to get a dampening field established and something told him these weren’t peaceful traders—they would have no need for a base like this. That left scavengers, black marketeers, or similar unsavoury characters, all of whom would see the outpost as something to either increase their own power or line their pockets with latinum. He pulled the phaser from his belt and set it to heavy stun. It was safe to assume this was the same ship that had forced the docking port previously, which meant they would know the layout, so would know where would be most advantageous for them to beam in to.

The control room had only a single entrance, with little in the way of cover, just the four consoles on each of the bulkheads, which were all manned. Fortunately, there wasn’t enough space for the Chandir (if it was actually them onboard the cargo shuttle) to beam into the middle of the room in any great numbers, two would be all that the space would allow, so that would put them at an immediate disadvantage. Most likely they would transport into the corridor and try to take them out from there, either with directed energy weapons or a stun grenade.

“Lieutenant,” he addressed Dalzou, the team’s de facto second-in-command, “we’re sitting ducks in here. I suggest we take up defensive positions, in case we need to defend the outpost.”

The Arbazan hesitated a moment, obviously she wasn’t used to situations falling apart so quickly. “Agreed. Krenn, remain here and hold the control room. Rell, head for the runabout, they may try and take the ship. Jachim, take up position near the ladder, in case they beam into a lower level.”

The engineers quickly headed for their respective locations, a very textbook deployment, one that, in theory, would work well. However, he’d seen great plans set out by tactical experts fall apart in seconds. He could only hope that the approaching ship didn’t have too many onboard, so they could end this quickly.

“They’re entering transporter range,” Krenn reported over the comlink.

Seconds later the ground under his feet shook. His bad feeling about their situation grew worse.

“In Alar’s name!” the sensor systems specialist gasped in shock.

“Krenn report,” hissed Dalzou.

“They just blew out the docking umbilical. We have a hull breach and the runabout is adrift.”

“Rell? Rell, can you hear me? Lieutenant Rell, respond.”

The whine of a transporter filled the narrow passages. Jachim focused on the invaders, pushing his concern for Rell to the side, raising his phaser at the nearest form. As it solidified, he found himself looking at a hulking Miradorn male, carrying a Klingon disruptor. He pressed the trigger and struck the target square in the chest before he even knew where the shot had come from. Of course, where there was one Miradorn you were always likely to find another. The unconscious man’s twin raised his own disruptor, also Klingon in origin, and opened fire.

Jachim ducked back as the blast tore into the bulkhead. These people were shooting to kill. From elsewhere in the facility he heard a combination of Starfleet and alien weapons fire, pitched battles going on between the two sides, vying for control of the outpost, with no way of knowing who was winning.

He set the phaser to wide beam and leant out quickly enough to fire a single shot. The beam encompassed the entire corridor, hitting the second Miradorn no matter where he stood, dropping him next to his brother. In the seconds it had taken for him to incapacity the second target, the sound of Starfleet phasers had been swamped by those of other origin.

Returning his weapon to narrow beam once again, he left his position and head back to the control room, stepping over a female Bajoran as he did. With a quick peek inside he saw Krenn hunched beside the sensor consoles, whilst an orange-skinned Markalian was sprawled in the floor. He hurried over to the Skorr, noticing that he had taken a hit to his left shoulder and wing.

“I’m alright,” he whimpered, trying to keep his injured appendages still as blood soaked his uniform. “Where’s Dalzou?”

From outside the disruptor fire increased. “Don’t try to move, I’ll be right back.”

He rounded a corner and saw the emergency bulkhead that had sealed off the docking port, passing an unconscious Red Orion and followed the weapons fire into corridor that led to the long-range sensor array. An enormous Nausicaan filled the passage; he couldn’t even see where Dalzou was but did notice her phaser on the deck.

Jachim aimed and fired, hitting the Nausicaan between the shoulder blades. The brute lurched but remained standing, turning towards him. He fired off four more shots before the mercenary finally slumped to the deck. At the far end of the corridor, huddled in a corner was Dalzou. As soon as she saw him she cried with relief. Still wary of the Nausicaan, he beckoned for her to move closer. Shaken, she slowly rose and moved to him, falling against him for support as he led them back to the control room.

As soon as she saw Krenn, she darted over to him, eyes wide with horror as she looked at his injuries. Jachim went to the fallen Markalian and began searching the stunned alien’s portly form. The cargo shuttle was a few meters shorter than the runabout, which meant it couldn’t hold a large crew, though there was no way of knowing just how many had been aboard. The six that had beamed in could’ve been the entire crew or there could well have been another one or two left behind. With the docking bay destroyed they would have to beam back and forth, though since the outpost lacked transporters they’d have to use the ones on the ship.

He quickly found what he was looking for, a transporter beacon. Without a moment’s hesitation, he raised his weapon once again and activated the alien device. In seconds he was in the hold of the cargo shuttle, from his crouched position he swept the area with his phaser but nothing moved. He slowly rose and headed forward. From the cargo bay he passed alcoves on either side with bunks, a replicator station and unsanitary refresher, before he reached the cockpit.

Taking a deep breath of the pungent air, ripe with body odour, he tapped the control panel and pounced inside. The cockpit was empty. He ran a quick check of the ship, sensors showed no one else but himself onboard, whilst it was in a stationary position right above the facility. None of the systems had been locked out before the crew beamed down, so he had full access to the ships controls. His immediately security assured, it took only seconds for him to locate the Thames, which had drifted away from the outpost, blasted clear by the explosive decompression.

“Sheppard to Jachim.” The S.C.E. Commander sounded worried.

“Go ahead.”

“Status?”

“Their ships is secure, no one else was onboard. I’ve got the runabout on sensors, I was just about to check it out, see if we can salvage her.”

“Does that shuttle have a tractor beam?”

Jachim checked the onboard systems. “Yes sir.”

“Good, we can tow the ship back to the rendezvous point. Take her into a parking orbit, then beam back down.”

“Understood.”

* * * * *

As bad as Krenn’s injuries had looked, they had managed to stop the bleeding and patch him up. He would need to see the new doctor once they got back to the Orion, but he’d be stable enough until then. Fortunately the mercenaries attack hadn’t damaged the main functions of the base, though her docking port was a complete write-off. The group had been locked away in the airlock, which was just for EVA operations not berthing ships, and heavily sedated. Repairs had been completed and diagnostics showed that the listening post was working as it was intended too once again.

As the S.C.E. team were finishing up on the base, giving all the sensor and communication arrays a tune up, Lanali and Jachim had volunteered to check over the runabout. Using the alien transporters, they’d beamed over, starting in the cockpit; which was where they found Lieutenant Samza Rell. They could only assume she’d taken up position in the runabout for cover before the hostiles attacked, so when the umbilical had been destroyed she’d been smacked into the far bulkhead. It wasn’t clear if it was the initial explosion or the decompression that had killed her, but she’d since gotten snagged and now swayed like a piece of seaweed with the tide.

There was no way they could patch the forward section, which mean they wouldn’t be using the Thames to get home, however the rest of the runabout was intact and still airtight, it was only them moving through the ship that exposed each section to the vacuum, though they could easily seal the doors and pressurise the undamaged sections without a problem—which gave them another option for transporting the mercenaries, rather than having to keep them on the same ship.

They had decided to find a better place to put Rell, so that she could rest in peace. After taking her down, they’d moved her into the workshop module and cut the heat, so as to help preserve the body for longer. Though she’d barely known the Trill, Lanali couldn’t help but be saddened by her loss. She had been a pleasant and amiable person—just how everyone described herself, so she couldn’t help but draw a comparison.

Jachim crouched down beside them, his eyes fixed onto her. “Are you okay?”

She shook her head. “That could’ve been me. Had I been left inside instead of her.”

He reached out and gripped her shoulders. “But it wasn’t, thank whatever deities might be out there.”

“We didn’t even know her. Don’t know if her parents are still alive, or if she has a spouse, children. Or was there someone she liked but never told them.”

He looked on the verge of saying something then stopped, turning his head away from her for a moment. When he spoke again, his voice was soft. “I guess the old saying is right, we really should seize the day.” He fixed his eyes on hers again, the intensity of the look unlike any she’d seen from him. “I wish I’d taken you up on that offer the other night, Enan.”

Her cheeks flushed scarlet. “Alek, I…” she began, not knowing what she actually planned to say.

“I wouldn’t want to leave this world without telling you that I care for you, as more than just a friend.” There was a long, awkward pause between them, for the very first time.

She quickly stood and stepped out of the workshop, heading to the aft compartment, her head spinning as though she were weightless leaving her feeling just as nauseous. In the silence of the crew compartment, leaning against the narrow table, with just the sound of her own breathing, she tried to organise her thoughts but got nowhere fast.

“Sorry,” he said gently, the comlink making it seem as they he whispered into her pointed, tingling ear.

She could feel him looking at her. Turning, she saw him in the doorway.

“You don’t need to apologise, Alek, it was just a lot to take in—especially with Rell...”

“Yeah my timing has always has been terrible. But it was what you said made me realise that I had to say something, even if you don’t feel the same way.”

Part of her wanted to scream over subspace that she did, another part wanted to rip off their EVA suits then and there vacuum or no vacuum. Instead, she smiled at him. “I never said that was just a one-time offer, Alek.”

As realisation dawned, despite the situation they were in the midst of, he smiled back at her.

* * * * *

During her first week onboard, it had becoming very clear to Yeema Ad’u that the challenge she had taken upon herself would be a very tough one. For all his bolster and gruffness, Sioll Baxx had been respected by all onboard, with a good many liking him because of his manner, opinion and honesty—herself included. Though she would never be as direct and blunt as he was, she would carry on in his spirit.

Things had quietened down in sickbay again following the return of the S.C.E. team (onboard a Chandir shuttle and escorting six prisoners, which had led to all sorts of rumours flying around about their actual mission and if the really were engineers), but she kept vigil. Lieutenant j.g. Krenn’s shoulder and wing were in a bad way—though the latter was in better shape than his joint. She had done all she could with what they had, but she suspected that he could well need a bio-synthetic replacement, which would not be easy given the lightness of Skorr bones. Lieutenant Samza Rell was in the morgue, a post mortem revealing she’d been killed instantly in the explosion onboard the runabout, so hadn’t suffered the agonising death of suffocation. The rest of the team, as well as the six prisoners currently in residence in the brig, were all fine.

The doors to the ward opened and Ensign Mecell hobbled in with Lieutenant D’Kehra’s help. Both were dressed in workout attire, with the Bajoran looking profoundly sweatier than the Orion as he winced through gritted teeth whenever he put his left foot on the deck.

“What’s happened?” she asked, picking up a tricorder as she approached the pair.

“I was giving Koen a few pointers on self-defence,” the security chief began. “I was having him practice with a Vulcan technique—”

Tal-Ahn-Vos?”

D’Kehra looked surprised. “Yes. How did you know?”

“Vulcan martial arts are a hobby of mine,” she told the other woman, directing them towards the nearest biobed. “Ankle and foot injuries are fairly common for beginners. May I suggest Tal-Hai-Nah instead, given the intricacies of the Bajoran foot it may be better for the Ensign.”

“Or we could just call it quits,” suggested Mecell as he pushed himself up onto the bed.

D’Kehra fixed him with a look. “It’s taken me months to get you onto the mat; we’re not going to stop now.” She looked back at Ad’u. “I’ll try that instead, thank you. So how bad is it?”

Ad’u opened the device and removed the scanning wand. “Let’s just see, shall we.”

* * * * *

END


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