Chapter 10

U.S.S. Aldrin

Idran Terminus, Gamma Quadrant

14:07 Hours, February 3rd, 2380

Stardate 57092.016016

 

The battlefield lay devastated before the Aldrin and two remaining Jem’Hadar attack ships. Large, burned-out chunks of the obliterated warships floated in the space, surrounded by a spreading field of smaller bits of debris.

The bridge lay silent for several long moments before Clark quietly ordered, “Retract the armor.” A quiet rumble ensued as the nanites disassembled the ablative armor. Dim red lights continued to pulsate around the bridge overhead. Clark dropped his head, noticing that his hands were shaking slightly from the adrenaline coursing through his veins. It had been years since his last encounter with the Dominion, but never so outnumbered. Even with the Aldrin’s clearly superior firepower, it was still distressing to face so many Dominion vessels with just one ship. He wiped away the sheen of sweat on his forehead, “Stand down red alert.”

The bridge lighting brightened and the alarm ended.

R’Mor cleared her throat, “Captain, they’re hailing.”

Clark absently lifted his hand, “Put them on.”

Tir’nek’s menacing, ash-covered face appeared on the viewscreen. The Jem’Hadar was curt, “It is good to see that you are still alive.”

Clark’s right eyebrow rose, “I’ve never seen a happy Jem’Hadar.”

“I am not happy,” Tir’nek said, “I am relieved that I will not yet be terminated”

“Why would you be terminated?” The statement only further confused Clark.

“It is my mission to safely escort you through Dominion space,” the Jem’Hadar explained, “If I were to fail, I would be terminated.” A long pause followed, with Tir’nek seemingly suppressing disgust at the thought of escorting an enemy vessel into Dominion territory, “As my duty of escort, I am to accompany your vessel at all times while inside the territory of the Dominion. I have not been informed of your destination.”

Clark pushed up out of his chair, “First you’re going to tell me what the hell just happened here.”

Jensen turned up towards R’Mor and whispered, “Get Ward up here.” R’Mor nodded and left her station for the turbolift.

“There are splinter elements that wish to seize your vessel. We were attacked by them on our path to the anomaly,” Tir’nek said in reference to the wormhole.

“Don’t you think you should have told us that before we jumped halfway across the galaxy?” Clark asked.

“Our fleet was supposed to dispatch the rebels,” Tir’nek grumbled. “Clearly they have more support than the Vorta implied.”

Clark stood, “First Tir’nek, I need you to take us to Internment Camp One Twenty. We are under orders to investigate a distur–”

Tir’nek interrupted him curtly, “There is no Interment Camp One Twenty.”

“With all due respect,” Clark countered, “This is something we have to investigate. If the allegations are true th–”

“Captain, you are incorrect.” A Jem’Hadar ran behind Tir’nek. “There are no Federation prisoners of war in Dominion custody.”

“I didn’t say anything about Federation prisoners,” Clark replied slowly.

Tir’nek visibly straightened himself, “You are mistaken.” He exhaled sharply, blowing a puff of ash from under his nostrils.

Murphy leaned forward from the tactical station and whispered, “They’re powering weapons.”

Clark didn’t acknowledge Murphy. He smiled at the viewscreen, “First, I will confer with my commanders and inform you of our destination as soon as possible.” Clark signaled with a hand behind his back for R’Mor to break the communication. “Deploy the armor and ready weapons!”

Murphy shook his head, “The armor generators were damaged in the battle.”

“Then raise shields!” Clark barked. He dropped into his chair and turned to Jensen, quietly advising, “Remind me to work on my patience under pressure.”

Jensen nodded, “I’ll do that.”

The pair of attack ships split around the Aldrin and began firing, but the protective envelope of the shields flashed green upon being struck by the Dominion weapons. Clark took a deep breath and calmly ordered, “Target the port attack ship.”

Phaser beams lashed out from a gray phaser strip on the saucer and dug into the attack ship. The forward portion of the attack ship blew off in an explosion, but the damaged attack ship darted past and came back around, preparing to ram the Aldrin from behind.

“Evasive maneuvers!” Jensen yelled. The crew braced themselves as the Aldrin quickly slipped to the right, all the time firing its rear phasers at the charging attack ship. The yellow phasers effortlessly sliced through the damaged attack ship. It quietly broke apart and the shattered remains harmlessly hurtled by the Aldrin.

The second attack ship turned about and sped away from the Aldrin at warp speed. “Pursuit course,” Clark ordered. The Aldrin leapt into warp after the fleeing vessel.

“Seventy million kilometers,” Kelley reported, “Fifty five million.”

“They’re within visual range,” R’Mor’s hand hovered over her console.

Jensen nodded, “On screen.”

The dark purple attack ship appeared on the viewscreen. Even from the rear, the attack ship was a menacing sight, looking almost as if it were ready to attack.

“Five seconds to weapons range,” Murphy said. A few seconds later he reported, “They’re in range.”

“Just enough to disable them,” Clark said.

Murphy nodded, “Aye.” A single quantum torpedo flew from the weapons pod of the Aldrin. Normally it would have traversed the space between the two ships in the blink of an eye, but at warp speed it was only marginally faster than the speed of the two ships. From the viewpoint of the Aldrin, the torpedo seemed to slowly drift forward towards the attack ship.

“They’re accelerating,” Kelley said as the attack ship began to pull away, though the torpedo was close enough that it was casting light onto the aft end of the vessel.

“Detonating,” Murphy pushed his console, forcing the torpedo to explode without the impact trigger. Even though it didn’t impart its full force on the attack ship, the warp-speed explosion was enough to knock the Jem’Hadar out of warp and into a slow tumble.

The Aldrin shot past the disabled attack ship before Kelley could drop them out of warp. She piloted the ship in a sweeping arc that brought it around to face the drifting Jem’Hadar vessel. Clark called out, “Report.”

“Their life support, warp core, and weapons are all offline. Six lifesigns,” Toq’bae reported.

Jensen glared at the viewscreen, “Beam them all to the brig. Have medical teams on standby.”

R’Mor worked the controls for a few moments, “I’ve got six Jem’Hadar in the brig.”

“Let’s keep them there for now,” Clark said quietly. “Kelley, take us back to Idran. I believe we have a relay station to set up.”

Kelley’s fingers lightly danced across her console, “Aye, Captain.”

 

18:30 Hours, February 3rd, 2380

Stardate 57092.270226

 

Clark stood opposite Tir’nek, with the invisible energy screen of a brig forcefield dividing the space between them. There were two more Jem’Hadar standing against the back bulkhead of the brig cell, with the other three in the neighboring middle cell. Clark’s arms were crossed; Tir’nek, clearly tensed, stood nearly half a meter taller, and seemed ready to jump through the forcefield and rip Clark’s heart out.

“You aren’t giving me the answers I want,” Clark said.

“I do not know the answers,” Tir’nek growled back.

Clark rolled his eyes, “You say there is not an Interment Camp One Twenty.”

“There is not.”

“Yet you attacked us when I brought it up.”

Tir’nek paused and said carefully, “One Twenty is a keyword to determine compromised crews.”

“You’re a poor liar,” Clark responded.

“And you are weak!” Tir’nek nearly shouted back.

The lieutenant at the back of the brig called out, “Uh… Captain?”

Clark turned to face him and heard a pair of thumps come from the neighboring cell. He stepped back to look in, finding two of the Jem’Hadar crumpled on the deck and the third on his knees. Clark ran forward and slapped his combadge as the last one fell face first to the deck, “Medical teams to the brig!”

The lieutenant jumped forward, brandishing a tricorder, “They’re dead.”

“What?” Clark looked to the tricorder screen.

“Victory is life,” Tir’nek said proudly, choking for air. Clark moved to his cell in time to see the three remaining Jem’Hadar collapse.

Clark grabbed the tricorder and scanned the bodies, “Dead. Drop the forcefields.”

The door to the corridor opened and Cochrane, Wright, and another medic rushed in, “What’s going on?”

As the lieutenant dropped the forcefield, the medics moved into the cells. Clark turned off his tricorder, “You might be too late.”

Wright gingerly pulled a narrow needle out of Tir’nek’s exposed and heavily bruised forearm and held it up to Cochrane, “Tetrazolic acid.”

The corridor door opened again and Jensen walked in, “I heard there was a…” she trailed off upon seeing the bodies.

Cochrane put on a glove and took the needle, “That explains why they refused medical aid.”

“Tetrazolic acid dissolves blood vessel walls almost instantly on contact,” Wright explained. He looked down at the Jem’Hadar, “With the typical Jem’Hadar heartbeat it would make it to their heart in under a second, and the lungs an instant later.” Dark purple blood slowly seeped out of Tir’nek’s mouth.

Cochrane slipped the needle into a vial, which he then placed into Wright’s open medkit, “Without sedation they would have been in complete agony while waiting on the tetrazol to reach their brains. Thankfully that wouldn’t take to long.”

“Isn’t tetrazol an industrial lubricant?” Jensen asked.

“It is,” Clark confirmed. “Commanders, stay. Everybody else, out.” Wright, the medic, and the brig officer quietly and quickly exited to the corridor, the door loudly locked shut behind them. Clark looked at each of the dead Jem’Hadar, Cochrane, and then Jensen, “We’ve got a problem.”

“Well, thank you, Mr. Obvious,” Jensen quipped. She stepped over to the security console and leaned against it.

“That’s Captain Obvious to you,” Clark smiled for just a moment.

Cochrane crouched next to Tir’nek and thoughtfully gazed at the Jem’Hadar, “Why exactly would the Jem’Hadar commit suicide? ‘Victory is life’ and all that.”

“My thoughts exactly,” Clark said, “And just how did a rag-tag band of saboteurs compromise our gel packs?”

Jensen narrowed her eyes, “Something doesn’t add up.”

“A lot doesn’t add up,” Clark said. “I don’t want to throw the word conspiracy out there…”

“You just did,” Cochrane quipped, grabbing Tir’nek’s jaw and turning his head to the side.

Clark began to pace the brig, “This ship is essentially a testbed for this tech, and for our shakedown cruise we’re sent to the Gamma Quadrant to set up a relay.”

“Fairly standard assignment, minus the Gamma Quadrant part,” Jensen says.

“I’m willing to chalk it up to an open assignment,” Clark said. “But then this ship is sabotaged by escaped Dominion POWs who want to use this very ship to wage war against the Dominion. And then when we get to the Gamma Quadrant, the Dominion greets us with disruptors. Twice.”

Cochrane looked back up at the pair, “And we were allowed to actually take on this mission? A relay is one thing, but prodding the Dominion over war crimes? That’s a different level entirely.”

“To what end?” Jensen asked. “All to get their hands on the Aldrin? This seems more than a little complicated – they could have just ambushed us and skipped the whole sabotage and escorts charade.”

Clark stopped pacing, “Oh… this is too good. Vorik took a look at the sabotage code – it was good and probably would have worked. They could have taken control of the Aldrin over here and Starfleet would have never known, and we would have been unwitting accomplices in reinitiating war with the Dominion. But that plan backfired, so they had a story and sympathetic characters ready to take it the next step further. If it had just been the sabotage we would have stayed put and transferred the relay to another ship. But having the saboteurs aboard – and a relationship with our crew – it practically guaranteed that I’d push for this crew to investigate.”

“That’s awfully tidy,” Cochrane stood and removed his glove, dropping it into the medkit. “And would require knowledge not only of the Aldrin’s capabilities and mission, but of its crew.”

“The Dominion must have agents in Starfleet Command,” Jensen said. “It’s the only way for this to work.”

“But it hasn’t yet,” Cochrane countered.

“Step three!” Clark resumed pacing, the thoughts still forming as he spoke, “We’re not dealing with the entire Dominion here. Tir’nek said there are splinter groups, and I don’t think he was lying about that. Except that he’s of that splinter group.”

“The proper Dominion tried to stop them, but failed, and we were baited into attacking Dominion ships,” Jensen put her hands in the air. “It’s a trap.”

Clark held a fist up to his mouth, “We didn’t fall for it – we didn’t fire until we were fired upon. We have the sensor logs to back it up.”

“I think you’re missing something,” Cochrane said.

Clark stopped, “What?”

“You.” Cochrane paused for a moment, and when Clark didn’t make the connection, continued, “You blame the Dominion for the disappearance of the Cairo, of your fiancée.”

Jensen stared wide-eyed at Clark, “Your fiancée?”

Upon receiving Clark’s glare, Cochrane responded, “I read your files. You might be the lynchpin in this. Your personal feelings and prejudices, real or imagined, they knew they’d be able to push your buttons easily. If all else failed, you would have the motivation and the temper to use the firepower to trigger war.”

Clark dropped his hands and felt the color draining from his face, “I…”

“Starfleet’s still in no shape for another war,” Jensen said. “Neither are the Klingons. The Dominion still has massive power in this quadrant. We wouldn’t stand a chance, whether they captured the Aldrin or not. Who’s going to stop them, the Romulans?”

Clark looked down to the Jem’Hadar corpses, “Why this? What are we still missing?” After a few seconds of silence, he turned up to Jensen, “We’re under radio silence until we get this figured out. Get the array set up, report nothing more back to Command. I don’t know who we can trust.”

Jensen nodded, “Aye.”

Cochrane tapped a Jem’Hadar with his boot, “I’ll get these lovely gents down to the morgue.”

Clark held up a hand, “We need to talk to Taurik again. Make up something to get him down to sickbay.”

“Ensign Marcano picked up the Helax virus on Deep Space Nine. I’ll need to run some tests to make sure he hasn’t contracted it; Vulcans are especially susceptible,” Cochrane said matter-of-factly.

Jensen tensed, “So are Bajorans. I had it once as a child. It’s not fun.”

Cochrane cracked a sly grin, “Nobody has Helax, Commander.”

Clark nodded, “Alright, let’s get to it.”

As Cochrane headed to the corridor to retrieve his medics, Jensen placed a hand on Clark’s shoulder, “Are we still on for tonight?”

Clark playfully poked the earpiece dangling from her right ear, “Wouldn’t miss it for the entire quadrant.”

 

18:48 Hours, February 3rd, 2380

Stardate 57092.304821

 

The door between the sickbay and the corridor opened and Taurik hesitantly stepped through. Cochrane had observed that he’d calmed somewhat since the failed sabotage attempt, though it seemed that the emotional damage wrought by the ketracel-white had left him shaken and uncertain – unusual traits for a Vulcan. He wore a bandage over the hole in his neck where the now-removed white tubes had been inserted.

Taurik walked to Cochrane’s office, finding the doctor leaning back in his chair with his legs propped up on the desk, “Doctor, you requested my presence?”

Cochrane placed the PADD he was reading on the desk and got up with a groan, “Yes. Are you feeling well?”

He blinked several times, “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Are you experiencing any unexpected symptoms?” Cochrane prompted, “Nausea, fever, headache?”

Taurik rubbed the bandage on his neck, “No. Why?” His left cheek twitched slightly as he rubbed.

“One of our officers came down with Helax fever,” Cochrane said. “We’re thinking he got it on DS9.”

“I’m not familiar with Helax fever.”

Cochrane was puzzled by the muted reaction, but didn’t have the chance to dive deeper due to an interruption – Wright knocked on the open doorway to the office, “Doc, where’d you want the bodies?”

Taurik and Cochrane turned to look at the Jem’Hadar corpses on anti-grav gurneys floating behind Wright. Cochrane nodded, “Take them to the morgue.” Wright stepped back to the bodies and directed the squad of security and medical personnel towards the morgue behind Cochrane’s office.

Taurik turned back to Cochrane, “Helax fever?”

“Symptoms can take a while to manifest. Step out there so I can run a few tests,” Cochrane gestured for the door. Taurik exited into the main ward, followed closely by Cochrane, who gently guided the skittish Vulcan to a testing station set against a bulkhead just a few meters away. He grabbed a hypospray and reached up to press it against Taurik’s neck. Taurik jumped back at the movement, raising two fists and glaring at Cochrane.

He put his hands out to his side, holding the hypospray so Taurik could see it clearly, “It’s just a hypospray. I need to draw some blood to test for Helax.”

Taurik lowered his fighting stance and stepped back to Cochrane, “My apologies, doctor.” Taurik took a deep breath and closed his eyes as Cochrane pressed the hypospray against his neck.

The device hissed quietly and Cochrane pulled it away, retrieving a small vial filled with dark green blood from the base, “That wasn’t so bad.” He quickly slipped the vial into a slot in the testing station and tapped in a few commands. A second later the station screen displayed ‘test results negative’ and Cochrane forced a smile, “Congratulations, you’re healthy.”

Taurik nodded slowly, “That is good to know.” He watched as Wright guided the last Jem’Hadar body down the narrow corridor to the morgue.

“I’ve got an inoculation for this strain,” Cochrane said, walking to a tray of multi-colored medicine vials near his office, “It can trigger some fast and nasty side-effects in Vulcans, so you’ll want to stay in sickbay for at least half an hour.” He grabbed a vial and slipped it into the end of the hypospray.

“As opposed to Helax itself?” Taurik asked.

“Guaranteed long-lasting and nasty side-effects,” Cochrane said. “Trust me, you’d rather I give you this.” Taurik nodded curtly and Cochrane pressed the hypospray against his neck, releasing the medicine into Taurik’s artery with a quick hiss.

Taurik rubbed the injection site, “Thank you.”

Cochrane smiled and pointed a hand at the line of sickbay beds against the opposite wall, “Have a seat, let me know if you start to feel anything unusual.”

The sickbay doors opened again and Clark walked in. He paused on seeing Taurik, “What are you doing here?”

“Possible Helax virus outbreak,” Taurik said as he sat up on the second bed from the door.

Cochrane looked back from his office doorway, “Just taking precautions.”

Clark nodded and walked towards the office, “You wanted to see me, Doc?”

“In here,” Cochrane stepped into his office and Clark followed.

Taurik sat for several seconds on the bed, moving his hands from his side, to his lap to crossed over his chest and back down to his side, before slowly slipping off the bed. He calmly walked down to the surgical bay at the far end of sickbay and back towards the corridor door, exchanging nods with Cochrane through the glass as he passed.

He paused at the corridor leading back to the supply room and morgue. Taurik turned around and surveyed the empty sickbay, noting that Cochrane and Clark couldn’t see him from the office. The twitch in his cheek stopped and he stood straight as he quickly and quietly walked to the end of the corridor and pressed his hand against the control pad for the morgue door. It emitted a series of beeps and the door slid open, revealing a small white sterile room with the six Jem’Hadar arranged on gurneys docked to stasis bases. A quiet static hum from the stasis modules filled the room.

Taurik stepped into the morgue and the door stayed jammed open behind him. He walked up to Tir’nek’s body and studied the Jem’Hadar for a few seconds. He then thrust his hand through the stasis field, and punctured Tir’nek’s abdomen with his pointed hand. Violating the stasis field alone would have caused even a Vulcan to jump back in pain, let alone ripping through tough Jem’Hadar uniforms and hide. After a second of fishing around in the abdomen, Taurik pulled his hand out, grasping a small dark gray flattened rectangle in his liquid gold fist. Dark purple blood and entrails flowed from the hole in Tir’nek’s stomach, splattering against the deck.

Taurik turned around to the Jem’Hadar on the other side and repeated the procedure, the golden liquefaction traveling up his arm as the stasis field meant to preserve the body wreaked havoc on his shapeshifter matrix. He pulled out a slightly darker rectangle from the second Jem’Hadar and pressed it against the first, fusing the two putty-like blocks together.

He didn’t bother to reform the disrupted arm, instead his entire body collapsed into a golden puddle and slipped out of the morgue through an air vent at the base of a bulkhead, pulling the retrieved putty with him.