Chapter 9

Ops Module, Deep Space 9

Denorios Belt, Bajor System

19:24 Hours, February 2nd, 2380

Stardate 57089.852280

 

Clark and Kira walked out through the wide doors of the Deep Space 9 commander’s office, stepping down the short flight of steps, giggling uncontrollably. They reached the bottom and Clark clapped a hand on Kira’s shoulder, “And then the Vulcan said, ‘Commander, your antennae are twitching’!”

Kira doubled over, laughing so hard her face turned noticeably red. Clark couldn’t help but join in the laughter, chuckling as Kira grabbed onto a nearby dark brown console to steady herself. She stood upright and grabbed both of Clark’s shoulders, “David, it’s been too long! Do you have time for a drink down at Quark’s?”

Clark glanced at a chronometer on a nearby console, “Uh, yeah, plenty of time.”

They walked up to the open-air turbolift and stepped in, with Kira ordering, “Promenade.” The lift descended with a steady mechanical drone.

“So,” Clark leaned against the turbolift rail, “Are the runabout bays still working out for you?”

“They’re great. And those runabouts are a lot more durable then they look.”

“Really? They look like crap.” Clark said flatly, “Speaking of runabouts, are you going to be getting any of the Tigris-class runabouts?”

Kira shook her head, “No. We practically had to beg Starfleet just to keep the Danubes we have now.”

Clark’s voice cracked, “What?”

“They wanted to recall our six runabouts for redeployment at Grangia Station,” Kira sighed, “The treaty with the Tholians set a border far enough out that Grangia’s considered to be in a safe zone. So Starfleet wanted to redeploy ours out to that sector, but without replacing ours. I mean, we have the Defiant and all, but this station needs smaller transports.”

The turbolift slowed to a stop at the lower level of Deep Space 9’s promenade level. The two-level ring-shaped commercial center was bustling with hundreds of people, a healthy mix of Starfleet and Bajoran personnel and Ferengi and Klingon civilians. The promenade served as a home for several station establishments, from the security office, infirmary, and grade school, to a Bajoran religious temple, restaurants, and shops. Almost directly ahead of Clark and Kira’s turbolift was Quark’s Bar, unquestionably the most active business on the station, thanks in part to its several holosuites and dabo tables.

Clark and Kira stepped down off the turbolift and headed for the bar. The notorious Ferengi working behind the bar by the entrance quickly sighted the colonel and made his way out of sight. Clark stopped in the middle of the Promenade, letting the crowd flow around him. Kira stopped and turned to face him, “What?”

He looked around the Promenade, “Are you sure you want to go to Quark’s? I hear the Klingon deli is very nice.”

Kira glanced at the Klingon establishment, which was barely visible from her position. A heavy-set Klingon man that looked as if he hadn’t trimmed his graying beard in several years was bellowing out a Klingon opera while playing a very Klingon-looking clawed accordion. Kira looked back to Clark, “I’m not sure ‘nice’ is quite the right word.”

The mostly Klingon patrons of the deli suddenly burst out in a roaring chorus, “ ’Ej ghaH Sop ghaH yln! ’Ej ghaH ylt Daq Daj nach! ’Ej ghaH ghobe’ yln Daq ylt ghobe’ latlh!”

Stunned, Clark blinked several times, “You know, I’ve never really given Klingon food a fair shot.”

Kira prodded Clark in the chest, “You think Quark is still upset over the noodle incident, don’t you?”

Clark feigned confidence, “Oh, no no no. Not even a thought about… nobody can prove I did that!”

The colonel rolled her eyes, “Right, then you don’t mind?”

“I’d really like to have some of that Kling-” He stopped protesting as Kira grabbed his arm and dragged him towards Quark’s. Clark soon found himself seated across from Kira at a small round table next to the railing that separated the bar area from the dabo tables. Quark was soon at Clark’s side, smiling with a set of pointed yellow teeth.

The Ferengi acknowledged the pair; his voice weak from physical labor, but still just as grating and annoying as Clark remembered, “Colonel, Lieutenant. Can I get you anything?”

“Quark!” Clark exclaimed, slapping his hands on the brown table, “How long has it been? Six, seven?”

“It’s been seven years, Lieutenant,” Quark said, a smirk slowly crossing his face.

Clark viciously grabbed Quark’s massive right ear and pulled him down to the table. Quark yelped in pain, but was lost in a loud bellowing cheer from a bald Lurian at a dabo table. “Quark,” Clark whispered in the Ferengi’s ear, “Look at the collar.”

Quark squirmed under Clark’s firm grip, “What collar?”

“My collar, you idiot,” Clark growled.

“David…” Kira cautioned.

Quark crossed his eyes to focus on Clark’s collar, “One, two, three, four,” he said, counting the gold rank pips, “Captain?”

Clark released Quark’s ear, “That’s right.”

The Ferengi stood and tenderly rubbed his over-sized ear, “Can I get you anything, Captain?”

“Sure,” Clark smiled, “Jovian custard. Colonel?”

Kira looked up at Quark, “Raktajino.”

“Is that all?” Quark asked. Clark and Kira nodded their heads and the Ferengi lingered for a moment before quickly departing.

Kira turned back to Clark. “David!” she scolded, “Was that really necessary?”

“No, but I’ve always wanted to do that,” Clark shrugged.

Kira’s eyebrows rose, “I guess I can’t blame you. So, what brings you out to these parts?”

“The Gamma Quadrant.”

“Really?” Kira questioned, “It’s been a while since the last Starfleet expedition over there. I was beginning to wonder if we were going to move the station back to Bajor.”

“We get to go where no one has been before,” Clark said, paraphrasing the Starfleet motto.

Kira laughed lightly, “You can’t imagine how many times I’ve heard that before.”

“So sue me, I’m a little excited. My over-active imagination has been doing double duty since I got this assignment.”

“That imagination of yours is something not to be trifled with,” Kira rolled her eyes, “How else could you have come up with something like the runabout bays?” Her eyes drifted to the dabo tables, where the Lurian had lifted a scantily-clad green Orion dabo girl off the deck and was spinning around in circles and shouting in celebration. Quark quickly deposited a laden tray on an empty table and went to go calm him and separate him from the terrified woman.

With the commotion dying down, Kira turned back to Clark, “I’ve heard that your first officer is a Bajoran.”

“She is,” Clark nodded politely at the server who set a small bowl of blue custard in front of him, “She managed to get off Bajor back in ‘64.” He looked up at the upper deck holosuites, “I’m not sure if she’s been back since.”

Kira’s sighed, “What’s she like?”

Clark’s combadge beeped, preventing him from offering a description, “Stevens to Clark.”

Clark tapped the badge, answering the hail from the Aldrin, “Clark here.”

“Sir, I’m detecting an increase in neutrino emissions. And Dominion signatures.”

Kira’s surprise betrayed her usually stern facade, “The Dominion?” The Promenade suddenly glowed in a soft light. Kira and Clark jumped from their seats and ran out of Quark’s. Through the large portals on the upper level they could see the Bajoran Wormhole’s blue-green maw opened in a wide swirl. A group of three Jem’Hadar attack ship shot from the glowing aperture.

The colonel turned to Clark, “Five years…” She went to tap her combadge and Clark knew she was going to bring the station to high alert: shields on full and weapons armed. Her rather painful experience on Deep Space 9 during the war had left her wary of any Dominion presence.

Clark placed a hand on her shoulder, “Hold on.”

“What?” The wormhole snapped shut in a flash of light.

“We’re on a mission to investigate a possible Dominion internment camp holding Allied prisoners,” Clark said lowly. “If Diplomatic Corps was able to get in contact with the Dominion, this might be our escort.”

Kira turned to Clark, “Escort?”

Her combadge interrupted, “Colonel, we’re being hailed. They want you and Captain Clark.”

“On our way,” Kira slapped her combadge, “I believe we’re needed.” She started back to the turbolift.

“What about Quark?” Clark asked, looking over his shoulder at the table where their half-consumed meal still sat.

“It’s on my tab,” she said while stepping onto the turbolift. Clark ran after her, leaping onto the lift just as it started to rise.

After a few seconds, they both looked up as the shaft cover slid above away and the lift came to a stop in Ops. Immediately the Jem’Hadar on the elliptical viewscreen caught their attention. “Why is the Federation vessel still docked at your station?” the Jem’Hadar demanded. A thick ridge ran over the middle of his gray head, with two more ridges to the side, topped with small, bony spikes, giving his head a blockish shape. A White-filled tube ran out of his thick neck and into the chest of his utilitarian combat uniform. A large scar gleamed across his head and above his left eye, giving some credence to his menacing manner.

Nog, a young Ferengi lieutenant, tried in vain to calm the Jem’Hadar, “Sir, you must realize that your presence here is unexpected, we were not pre-” He was cut off by Clark.

“Thank you, Lieutenant,” Clark said, gently pushing Nog away. He turned his attention to the viewscreen, “To whom I am speaking?”

The Jem’Hadar tensed slightly and tersely demanded, “Are you the commander of the Federation vessel?”

“The Aldrin?” Clark asked, “Yes. I am Captain Clark. And you are?” He turned his head slightly.

“First Tir’nek. I am to be your,” the Jem’Hadar, paused, seemingly hating the word, “Escort.”

“First Tir’nek, it is a pleasure to meet you,” Clark said, “Might I ask why you’re–”

Tir’nek quickly barked, “When are you departing?”

Clark glanced at his watch, “About eighteen hours from now.” Clark had expected his escort to at least be courteous, but dealing directly with Jem’Hadar rarely was. Though there was something to be said for the Jem’Hadar’s straight-to-the-point manner as opposed to a double-talking Vorta.

Tir’nek’s glare narrowed to where his yellow eyes were barely visible, “I will be waiting.” The screen switched to a view of the three attack ships, now waiting several kilometers out.

Kira looked to Clark, her voice and face etched with concern, “I don’t like this.”

 

Upper Pylon Two

13:45 Hours, February 3rd, 2380

Stardate 57091.908684

 

Clark patiently waited at the Cardassian docking port for his crew, greeting each as they reached the upper end of the docking pylon. Behind him was a cylindrical corridor that led to the Aldrin’s airlock. He was leaning against the bulkhead by the airlock and held a sheet of blank music staff paper, scribbling with a primitive graphite pencil a series of chords and melodic lines. R’Mor came out of a newly arrived lift. Clark looked up from the manuscript, “Is that everybody?”

R’Mor walked up to the docking port, “Station security reports that everybody else is off.”

“Good, let’s go,” Clark tapped the airlock door control and the massive round door rolled away like a toothed gear. The two stepped over the threshold into the airlock and the door rolled shut behind them. A few seconds later another round door ahead rolled open, letting Clark and R’Mor into another, identical airlock. The door behind rolled shut and the third, and last, door rolled away, revealing a set of gray double doors, the Aldrin’s airlock. Clark keyed a code into a small panel next to the seam between the doors and they slid apart.

A few minutes later Clark and R’Mor walked onto the bridge. R’Mor assumed her position at the ops station, replacing a young Human male ensign.

Clark settled into his command chair and ordered, “Commence undocking.”

A rumble reverberated throughout the ship as the Aldrin disengaged itself from the station. “Moorings disengaged,” R’Mor reported.

Kelley fired the Aldrin’s thrusters, lifting the ship up from the arching docking pylons of Deep Space 9 and pivoting towards the currently invisible gateway into the Bajoran Wormhole. The three Jem’Hadar attack ships sat between the Starfleet vessel and its destination, a situation that just five years earlier would have quickly degenerated into a brutal firefight.

Jensen glowered at the viewscreen, “This reeks of not good.”

“Yeah,” Clark said. “Take us out, Kelley.”

As the Aldrin eased forward from the station, the Jem’Hadar assumed a triangular formation around the ship, with two leading and one behind. The Aldrin moved forward towards the invisible opening of the wormhole, with the Dominion trio holding their positions around the vessel.

Toq’bae looked up from his console, “Neutrino levels are rising.” A second later the wormhole flung itself open, filling the wide display of the viewscreen.

Clark looked over at Jensen, seeing her mouth slightly open, “First time you’ve seen this?”

“It never opened when I was on Bajor,” she said breathlessly.

The Aldrin accelerated into the bright opening, slipping into the subspace tunnel and hurtling across the galaxy. The blues and purples of subspace surrounded the quartet of ships, with several undulating turquoise bands of energy and bright white rings framing the boundaries of the wormhole.

The deck and bulkheads of the Aldrin began to tremor, prompting Toq’bae to advise, “Compensating. There’s some resonance coming from the armor generators.”

“Captain,” R’Mor’s voice called with alarm, “I think I’m picking up multiple Dominion transmissions. Weak, but getting stronger.”

“From our escorts?” Clark asked. The tremors subsided.

“No.”

Toq’bae spun to face the back of the science station, pulling in data from the communications array, “It’s coming in over the silithium filament. The relay’s not up, so they have to be pretty close to the terminus to be transmitted.”

Clark turned and looked up at R’Mor, “Are they clear enough to make out?”

“They would be if they weren’t encrypted,” she replied. A strong tremor briefly shook the ship again. Her brow furrowed, “Wait a… there are two different encryptions.”

The three attack ships pulled away from the Aldrin. “They’re accelerating,” Kelley said cautiously from the helm.

Murphy quickly followed, “I’m detecting weapons fire, I think over the filament. Lots of it.”

“Idran terminus in fifteen seconds,” Kelley reported.

“Red alert,” Clark ordered. The bridge lighting immediately dimmed, with a low pulsating klaxon and warning lights indicating the state of battle stations.

“Shields are up,” Murphy reported, “Phasers and quantum torpedoes at standby.”

“Five seconds.” The escort ships exited the Gamma Quadrant end of the wormhole and disappeared from sight.

Clark anxiously gripped the armrests of his chair as the bright light at the end of the tunnel grew to fill the viewscreen. An instant later the Aldrin was flung into the Gamma Quadrant, five light-years from the nearest system – Idran – seventy thousand light-years from Bajor, and directly into the middle of a swarm of Dominion warships, attack ships, and crisscrossing blue polaron beams. The wormhole snapped shut behind them in a flash of light.

“Evasive action!” Jensen shouted.

Clark yelled simultaneously, “Deploy the armor!”

The Aldrin immediately banked hard to the left, dodging a salvo of polaron beams. Murphy cautioned, “The armor takes energy from the shields to deploy.”

Clark called out, “Kelley, keep them off our tail. Murphy, deploy the armor.”

The helmsman leaned in her seat with the motion of the ship, “Doing my best, Captain.”

“Diverting power from shields,” Murphy reported, “Deploying armor.” The armor generating strips around the ship lit up in aquamarine and deployed teams of trillions of nanites that quickly replicated panels of ablative tritanium armor, the sound pulsating through the ship as reassuring thuds. Within a few seconds the Aldrin was wrapped in almost medieval-looking dark gray metallic armor from bow to stern.

As Kelley piloted the ship up and away from the fight, Clark called out, “Somebody tell me what’s going on out there.”

R’Mor answered, “Forty Dominion vessels, and they seem to be attacking each – four attack ships on our rear!”

“Any of them our escorts?” Jensen asked as polaron beams streaked by from behind.

“Two are,” R’Mor said. “And they’re attacking the other two. This is bizarre.”

“Tell me about it,” Clark grumbled, “Aft quantum torpedoes, take them out.”

Murphy looked up from his station, “Take out who?”

“Star with the ones that aren’t shooting at us,” Jensen said.

“Firing one,” Murphy reported, “And two. Both ships disabled.”

“Friendlies are breaking off,” R’Mor said.

Clark ordered, “Bring us about.” The Aldrin spun about, pointing towards the raging battle. Jensen squinted at the screen, “What has this quadrant come to?”

Both Murphy’s and R’Mor’s consoles emitted shrill alarms. They looked to each other and R’Mor reported, “Two warships incoming.” Her console beeped again, “Make that four!”

“We’re being targeted,” Murphy announced.

Clark ordered, “Evasive maneuvers.”

Jensen quickly followed, “Arm quantum torpedoes.” Kelley piloted the Aldrin forward and over the advancing warships – each about double the size of the Akira-class Aldrin in every dimension – right as they unleashed the power of their polaron disruptors.

Two landed hits on the armor-covered underside of the Aldrin’s saucer, lightly jostling the ship and prompting Murphy to report, “Ventral armor at 99%.”

Jensen nodded, “Tough stuff.” The ship rumbled again as the turning battleships raked the Aldrin with weapons fire.

“Take out the weapons array of the closest ship,” Clark ordered.

“Bringing us about,” Kelley said, turning the ship up into a twisting loop to bring it face-to-face with the battleships again.

Murphy tapped his console, “Firing.” The four rapid-fire launchers in the weapons pod at the top rear of the ship activated, firing off twenty bright aqua quantum torpedoes in under a second. The pack of torpedoes impacted the lead Dominion warship’s shields in muted explosions, but proved enough to overwhelm the energy screens enough to let several through to impact the jagged gray and purple hull with more forceful explosions. The other three warships continued to fire polaron beams at the Aldrin, which continued to dodge and weave, only letting the massive ships land a few glancing blows.

Clark grabbed the computer panel to his right and looked over the sensor readout, “I don’t know what’s going on out there and I don’t want to take sides until I do.”

“Can you tell the sides apart?” Jensen quipped. The Aldrin ducked under the warships, narrowly avoiding the listing of the damaged vessel.

He shook his head, “Not really. Kelley, keep us away from that mess. Whoever shoots at us is going to get more quantum torpedoes than they can handle.”

“Warships still in pursuit,” R’Mor reported. “And more breaking off from the others.”

Toq’bae rolled his eyes, “Or the mess can follow us.” He grabbed the edge of his console to steady himself as the warships hit the rear of the Aldrin several times.

“Aft armor at 96%,” Murphy reported.

Clark’s brow furrowed, “Ready three transphasic torpedoes; forward launchers. Kelley, attack pattern bravo eight.”

She and Murphy echoed, “Aye.” Kelley pushed the Aldrin forward at maximum impulse and then executed a series of quick sharp turns that brought them back to facing the attacking Dominion ships. A dozen attack ships came up behind the warships, notably no longer under attack themselves.

“Fire!” Clark ordered. With a press of Murphy’s finger, three brilliant white torpedoes exited the launchers, each aimed at a different warship. A smaller attack ship intercepted the first and was instantly obliterated in a ball of fire, the other two punched through their target warship’s shields a moment later. In the blink of an eye the ships went dark and then were ripped apart by massive explosions as the transphasic torpedoes advanced multi-dimensional matrix literally sucked the energy from the warships’ power systems and unleashed it all at once. The massive chunks of rapidly spinning debris demolished a handful of attack ships unfortunate to be too close.

Toq’bae slumped back in his seat, “Damn.”

“Targeting the other warship,” Murphy said.

“Hold!” Clark ordered. He watched the viewscreen as the advancing Dominion ships slowed and ceased their attack, “They’re not sure what to do with us. Load a full spread of transphasics.”

With a few taps Murphy reported back, “Loaded and ready.”

“They’re breaking off,” Kelley announced as the vessels turned and retreated. Two heavily scarred attack ships – what was left of the escort – came through the departing fleet, positioning themselves alongside the Aldrin.

Jensen looked to Clark and pointed at the view screen, “What in pahnawas that about?”