Disclaimer : You know the drill...I own nothing, only my sinister view of the world :) and some caracters, and the story, and the idea behind it...The rest, I borrowed it :) and hope they don‘t sue me...

Background : Well, this really is the continuation of another novel, so it would be advisable to read that one first. For those of you stubborn enough not to do so, here‘s a lil‘ summary :

DS9 is still under occupation. The minefield is down, but the Prophets ridded the Federation of the Dominion reinforcements. Oh, yeah, perhaps the most important thing is that Voyager has returned to the Alpha Quadrant. Paris, Tuvok, Data and Crusher are on some sort of special mission for the Federation.

Voyager and Enterprise-E have fought in the battle with the Defiant. When things were running badly indeed for the Feds, some ‚old friends‘ appeared.

And now the Continuation...

Author‘s Note : Again, I have to apologize to all the P/Tlers out there. This one, I‘m afraid, is not really a P/T story either. Perhaps towards the End, but I dunno. But I think there will be plenty of feelings in this one, in other words, perhaps it will get a bit sappy. Or perhaps not. Well, last time we left Picard, hanging out with Sela (I hope you remember her), and Paris being hung out by some Cardassian lunatic. Well, lets see what I got for you this time. :)

Feedback will be appreciated, enshrined, and carefully read! Feel free to write. You liked it? You hated it? You survived it? Tell me about it :) Everything, from praise to scorn, goes to: rollic@internet.lu

Dedicated to Gene Roddenberry, for having invented Star Trek and making us believe in a better future, as always, and to William H. Keith jr. and Micheal A. Stackpole, some of my favourite authors. Oh, yeah, and to Terry Pratchett, my actual (!) favourite author. Also I would like to thank William Shakespeare, who helped me greatly in my last effort, even if he doesn‘t know it...and to the many poets who will appear in this one...As well I would like to apologize to all those who can‘t stand poems and whom I will bother with lots of them...this time and forever and ever :)

Dedication: In 1991, in what we call the 2nd Gulf War, the SAS, a British Special Forces unit, became actively involved in the conflict. An eight men-strong combat patrol of the 22nd SAS was send out to observe the Iraqui Main Supply Road, and, if possible, to locate and destroy Iraqui SCUD launchers. Their outpost‘s security was compromised on the second day, and the unit forced to withdraw. The patrol, Bravo Two Zero, fought its way out of immediate danger, losing one man, and then got separated. The missing three men, of whom two were wounded, headed to the Syrian border. One of them swam across the frozen Euphrat and was rescued. The other two didn‘t. The remaining four of the patrol were captured and submitted to brutal and barbarian torture, before being released. In total, the eight men of Bravo Two Zero left over 200 dead or wounded Iraquis behind. This is for the three who didn‘t come back.

Note: The newly (or rather, soon-to-be) introduced character of Captain Chris Ryan is not named after me, but after Corporal Chris Ryan, SAS, the single soldier of Bravo Two Zero to make it over the Syrian border, after a 300 km march through the Iraqui desert, with only 2 packets of biscuits to eat and practically nothing to drink.

The Price of Admirality
By ChrisTR

« The role of a warrior is to be more than the highest of castes. It is to protect the weak, defend the innocent, to be more than just a mere soldier as in ages past. No, a warrior is to be more than just the genetics that have formed him or her. »
Franklin Osis

Part 9 - Sword and Fire

The day after,

Corvus System.

‚Major? Atmospheric interference in one minute,‘ Colonel Sela‘s voice cracked from the tiny headset speakers clamped over Major Jera‘s ears. ‚Drop in five.‘

Jera acknowledged the message, then the nekekami agent opened a channel to his human counterpart, Captain Christopher Ryan.

‚What is it, Jera?‘ the tall, sand-blonde human asked over the intercom. In the short time the two elite teams and their leaders had personnally known each other, the two men had become something closer to friends than any of them could have imagined before.

‚Chris, we‘re going to drop in about five minutes. Is the Fox ready?‘

‚You bet he is. And what about your kitties?‘ he mocked.

Jera shook his head, smiling. ‚Human sense of humor. Something I‘ll never understand.‘ The Romulan name of Jera‘s unit, nekekami, meant roughly translated, ‚Spirit Cat‘.

Ryan chuckled, as he checked his combat gear for the last time. He was firmly secured in it, lacking only the helmet. The Nighthawk combat gears his team used on such mission, were in design similar exo-skeletons. The protective armor was capable of deflecting any known phaser blast, up to strength five, and enhanced the wearer‘s strength, mobility and speed. It also featured a high-energy phaser, mounted on the right arm, and a small grenade launcher on the left. Integrated in it‘s helmet were sensor and communication systems, and a rather unusual display. When activated, the display showed a 360° view of the field, pressed into the 120° field of view his V-shaped visor allowed him. Due to this fact, it took extended and intensive training to control the gear.

In addition, the suits possessed a skin, made of mimetic polymer, commonly called sneak-coating. This high-tech camouflage allowed the suit to blend in, chameleon-like, with his surroundings. The suits were fitted with highly accurate sensors and electronic countermeasures, making them perfect for reconnaissance. In addition, a small but powerful jump-pack and stub wings would even allow the troopers to bound across the battlefields, like flying mantises. Beaming being too risky, due to the sensible scanners the enemy used, Major Jera, the leader of the mission, had prompted for the old fashioned way, a High Altitude Low Opening drop. The mission plan called for the insertion of the commandos over the drop zone in the middle of the night, at around 0300, local time. The darkness would provide cover for the commandos, while the timing of the drop would ensure that those who were awake on the ground would be on their lowest ebb, both physically and mentally. It was a long-used tactic, but one against their foes could not possibly find a countermeasure. DEST was to attack the camp from the south, and Rabid Fox would make their way from the north, liberating what they could of the prisoners, while the Romulan team would draw the Guard‘s attention. Several hours earlier, the DEST and Rabid Fox teams had made their way to their respective shuttle bays. No shuttles were parked there, only the powered-down Nighthawk gears.

The commandos had spent the last hours, preparing for combat and planning their operation. The ‚Chinese Parliament‘ they had introduced allowed each man and woman to utter his opinion, and the whole team worked on the battleplans, not only the leaders, independent from ranks or experience. Ryan let his mind replay the events of the last hours. When the Romulan ships had entered orbit over Corvus II, their powerful sensors had picked up their target, the White storage deposit. They had also discovered heavy air defense system, a dense pattern of gun turrets, mounted with twin Repetier Dominion Blasters; and the prison camp.

Deciding that a bombardment from orbit was the best solution, the Romulan Infantry had only been deployed after the defensive structures had been eliminated. The powerful Romulan disruptors had vaporized any defense, and blowing up the storage silos afterwards had been an easy task.

Only after then primary goal had been achieved, DEST and Rabid Fox had been released. The Fox team was not big, one squadron, parted in two teams of eight men each. DEST was slightly larger, three teams of six men each. But what they lacked in numbers, the commandos made up in quality. The hand-picked DEST teams were well worth their training, being raised to espionage, sabotage, and assassination from their earliest childhood.

A frontal assault could have led to atrocities by the Cardassian guards, so the task force had decided on DEST attacking the main gate, then withdrawing, to draw the Guards away from the prisoners. Ryan and Rabid Fox would then overrun the remaining guards, liberate the prisoners, and if necessary help DEST.

As Ryan settled his helmet over his head, a quartet of ship‘s crewmen scuttled around him, and errected his four-parted drop pod. This thick, heavy egg of ceramic and duranium would protect him and his people from the incredible heat air-friction would create when the pod entered the atmosphere. To prevent detection from enemy sensors, the pods were given two layers of Radar Absorbing Material. In theory, the outer layer of RAM would protect the pods on their fall through Corvus‘ upper atmosphere. The coat of high-tech paint would be burned away by the entry heating, along with the pod‘s ablative shell. The inner RAM layer would continue to protect them, until it slit apart deep in the planet‘s atmosphere. If things went according to plan, the teams would then be well ‚under‘ the enemy sensor net. The pods were larger than the ones the team had previously used, so the soldier inside could at least kneel in an upright position, rather then being curled up in a ball.

At various places, the ship‘s crew was likewise occupied. This was the part of an orbital drop Ryan hated most. In order to protect the occupant from the immense entry heat, the pods had to be made of thick, solid material. The major dropback there was that any communication, while in the pod, was impossible, and that the occupant was completely cut off from the outside.

As soon as the last panel of his pod was bolted into place, the egg-like container rocked heavily. Ryan knew that they were being lifted into the ship‘s drop chute. Locked inside his capsule, Ryan tried to anticipate the moment when Colonel Janika would give the command to eject the pods. He knew approximately how long it took to place the pods and seal the chutes, and watched the chronometre fitted in his suits viewscreen, counting down the seconds until... Unexpectedly the world dropped out from underneath him. His count had been off by nearly ten seconds. For a few seconds, the pod fell free. Dimly, through his shell, Ryan could hear the roar of the wind, as his pod punched through the air like a rifle bullet. Despite the heavy insulation of his pod, and the environmental protection of his suit, heat began to creep up his legs and back. His pod, and, he prayed, those of his men, was entering Corvus‘ upper atmosphere, where air-friction would heat the capsule‘s ablative cover to a hellish temperature. Ryan hoped that any enemy soldier seeing the fiery streak the team‘s drop pods were scoring across the night sky, would assume that they were shooting stars, and perhaps make a wish.

I know what I‘d wish for. Ryan snorted a bitter laugh. I‘d wish that the Cardis would stay fat, dumb and happy.

Looking at his chronometre, Ryan estimated the time left until his pod would enter the world‘s lower atmosphere. This time, he was right on mark. Just as his count reached zero, the pod split into six narrow sections and peeled away, leaving him falling through space. Arching his back as far back as his suit permitted, Ryan fought to bring himself under control. As he settled to the spread-eagle position dictated for HALO jumps, he searched the sky for the rest of his team. At first, the black-armoured troopers were invisible. Switching to his visor‘s integrated thermal scanner allowed him to pick out the falling commandos as barely lighter patches against the cool darkness of the sky. His suit held away the outer influences, cold wind, or heat. For a change, the blasted thing was working correctly.

With outstretched arms and legs, the troopers maneuvred into a rough aerial formation, placing themselves beind their leader. Following the discretes of his helmet‘s Head-Up-Display, Ryan angled off in the night sky, aiming for an unseen point on the planet below. Like a flock of silent predator birds, the sixteen men and women under his command followed his lead.

Making the drop itself wasn‘t particularly difficult. Finding the right drop-zone was. Without navigational aids or drop beacon, the team had to drop almost blindly, trusting the data ploaded into the suits on-board computer to direct them to the right place.

Ryan‘s altimeter clicked over to five hundred meters. Two seconds later, Ryan‘s drogue chute opened, slowing his fall. At two hundred meters the main nylon canopy deplyed with a muted pop. A carful look upwards assured Ryan that the air-foil parachute had opened correctly. As the ground rushed nearer, Ryan wheeled into the wind, bringing himself to a gentle, upright landing. No sooner had he touched down than he slapped the quick-release harness, freeing himself from the now limply flapping parachute. All around him, the rest of his troopers were doing the same.

Loudlessly, by means of hand-signals, his team checked in. All had made the HALO drop safely.

It was Tom Paris‘ first "seeing the sky", and he had asked Ro to come with him.

She had agreed, although her mood was extremely low. The last night, a woman in their barracks had died painfully of pneumonia. She had looked old, Tom had estimated her around fifty years old, but it turned out that she had only been thirty.

Ro hadn‘t taken her death very well. In such camps as this, one develops tight bonds to friends, and losing one is much more difficult than anywhere else. And now that Paris saw that Ro Laren was on the brink of giving up, he felt terrible himself. Ro had always been his greatest aide here; he didn‘t know what he would have done without her. They had been allowed to shower,then had used the day to get some real sleep. Now, hours later, they were sitting on a hot rock on Mount Szabo. The sky had gone into a deep violet, and the zenit showed itself in the brightest indigo. But the smell of acrid dust was still there. And there was another danger out here, a small insect, with three centimeter-long wings, who drilled itself into the soft human skin and deposed its eggs there, slowly poisoning their hosts. Somehow the parasirtes always lived longer than the victim, and the only cure was to talk a guard into burning the wound out with a phaser set on the lowest energy level.

So it was even possible to bribe the guards.

Sex seemed to be the main currency, and Tom didn‘t want to know what his shower earlier had cost someone.

But despite of the danger, Tom enjoyed the sky. Here he could see the stars, and he could see what Ro had meant with that last hope they had in the camp.

They were sitting in the dark; it was already well into the night it seemed, and Tom tried to comfort Ro over the loss of her friend. He even got a smile when he pointed at dozens of shoting stars entering the atmosphere, leaving a fiery trail, and had asked her to make a wish. They had never seen so many shoting stars at a time.

He turned to Ro.

‚You really hate the Cardassians, don‘t you?‘

‚Does it show?‘ Ro asked bitterly.

‚Shenja. Look at me.‘ He gently tilted her chin upwards with his hand and looked into her eyes.

‚We‘ll get away from here,‘ he whispered. ‚Somehow, we‘ll get off this bloody rock. I promise.‘

‚Don‘t make promises you can‘t keep...baru. Do you know why I am here?

I got captured on a mission for the Maquis. But that doesn‘t matter.

The past doesn‘t matter here. Here, we‘re all the same. We‘re all dead.

All of us.‘

Tom studied her in the dark. Even crusted with dirt, Ro Laren had somehow looked attractive. Without the dirt she certainly was pretty, the hard work hadn‘t yet destroyed her body. She was strong, certainly, but somehow also strangely feminine and soft. Now, she looked...broken. Ro‘s eagerness to survive, her determination, all had died with the poor woman last evening. She had changed.

‚We aren‘t dead,‘ Tom said aloud.

‚No? Then it is even worse. We are slaves who refuse to free themselves!‘ She looked across the life-hazardous deser! in front of her, let her gaze wander over the vulcans in the distance.

‚Do you know how many times I have thought about...just going?‘

Tom shook his head.

‚Fourteen times. Everytime I come up here, I tell myself "This time you‘ll have the courage! This time you‘ll do it!"

Tom desperately wanted to shush her into silence, to say something comforting, but he couldn‘t think of anything that would have helped the situation.

‚But I don‘t just walk away,‘ she continued. ‚I always return to my masters. In the last four months, nobody went away. They‘ve broken us, Tom. They‘ve really broken us.‘

She leaned against Tom‘s shoulder and began to cry heavily. He cradled her softly and caressed her back, wishing he could do anything to comfort her. Truly comfort her.

‚Fourteen times!‘ she sobbed, then calmed down a little. ‚Fourteen times I have come up here, determined to do it. Fifteen times if you count today. But this time, it‘s different, anyway.‘


‚Because today, there is someone whom I don‘t want to leave. And that‘s even worse.‘

‚Worse? Why worse?‘

‚Don‘t you see? We are slaves! Any of us could die, at any time. You‘re the best friend I ever had, Tom, and now you‘re here and...‘

She thrusted up and kicked some stones in her way, frustrated.

‚Can I tell you something?‘ Tom‘s voice cut through the uncomfortable silence.

She nodded, but did not turn.

‚I came here today to say Good-bye. I wanted to leave today.‘

‚You‘re lying,‘ Ro said, still looking into the other direction.

‚I‘m not. I haven‘t lived through the same horrors as you. Not even a 14th of what you have experienced, but I came here, today, to die.‘

Ro spun around when she heard this. Her face glistened with wetness.

‚You have to promise me something!‘she said.

‚Promise what?‘

‚That you‘ll live.‘

Tom looked at her, surprised.

‚I can‘t bear this place without you, shenja. If you don‘t go, I won‘t neither. Deal?‘

Ro nodded. ‚Deal.‘

‚Come here.‘

Ro walked into his outstretched arms and hugged him.

When their eyes met, neither of them spoke for a while.

‚We have a deal, ok?‘ Paris said. ‚We can always wait until a cycle is over, then come back here and decide it we want to live on. If not, we‘ll go together.‘

Ro nodded.

‚None of us will have to go alone, I promise,‘ Paris said as he cupped her face, kissed her ridged nose and looked in her eyes again. Their was nothing sexual or passionate in the look they exchanged.

What held them together at that moment was far stronger than passion.

But they were holding each other‘s hands, as they descended from Mount Szabo and returned to the camp.

A low pop sounded in Jera‘s headset, followed by a pause. A series of pops followed the first in a three, pause, two pattern. Clucking his tongue againts his teeth, Jera sent the countersignal.

Two, two, one.

In response to his signal, a handful of shadows, darker than the deep night, flitted into the small grove of scrubby thorn trees which he and his men had been sheltering. The grove, half a kilometre south of his squadrons drop zone, had been designated as the primary rendezvous point for his and the Federation commando unit. Jera was both proud and impressed by the men and women of DEST - and Rabid Fox. Before their three weeks of training together, neither of the units had even dreamed about training HALO drops, but all men had, with little to none navigational aide, reached the respective drop zones safely. By means of hand-signals, he indicated both of his subordinates, Majors Yosuke and Shannara to take off their helmet, so that they could talk without using the intercomm system.

‚I think we landed a bit more south than we intended,‘ Jera began, speaking in a low whisper. ‚It‘s hard to tell without accurate maps. That means we‘ve got to push hard to reach our objective on schedule. The hushed voice was not really necessary. It was hardly likely that there were any Cardassians in the near vicinity. But, a near mania for stealth and secrecy had become so ingrained in the commandos, that they spoke in low tones out of sheer habit.

‚Allright, we‘ll travel in a column. Shannara, you‘re on point, me next, and Yosuke, you‘ll form the rear. I don‘t expect any sentries, but it‘s possible, so keep your men alert. If you see anyone, avoid contact if any possible. Pull back, and we‘ll try to bypass them. Everyone clear?‘

The majors signaled their comprehension.

Jera tapped his communicator. It zirped.


‚Jera. My mark, zero-charlie-charlie-go. Ready...mark!‘

"Gotit. Over."

A Cardassian or Dominion sentry, unfortunate enough to overhear the sort converstation, would have heard the whispered words, and would have been puzzled at what they meant.

Risking compromising their position by normal communication, the two elite teams could only speak briefly and coded. "zero-charlie-charlie-go" in reality meant 0337 hours. Each letter of the alphabet had been assigned a number, A was one, B was two, Z was zero, etc. They had taken that measure that, even in the unlikely case their communication would be picked up by sentries, nobody would be able to decipher it.

Jera looked at his men.

‚Allright then, move it!‘

Without a word, Yosuke and Shannara returned to their teams to pass along his orders.

Jera re-joined his own team and explained what he had decided. Moments late, DEST team four led off, fading silently into the night. The other teams followed as directed by Jera, leaving almost no trace of their passage. Had anyone been present to see the hideous, black-armored shapes passing from shadow to shadow, they would have been tempted to call what they saw a legion of ghosts wandering the hill in search for some kind of supernatural vengeance.

When they returned from Mount Szabo, Tom caught a small flash of light, out of the corner of his eye. He turned, and searched the area for a trace of what could have provoked it. He found none. Ro turned her still tear-stained face and looked at him.

‚What is it?‘ she asked.

‚Nothing, just...I just thought I saw a flash of light, some hundreds of meters from where we left.‘

They turned both, but none of them could discover anything.

‚C´mon,‘ Ro said after a while. ‚We have to go, or we‘ll get into trouble.‘

‚There it is,‘ Ryan whispered in Lieutenant Ranna‘s ear.

Under normal circumstances, his team‘s journey to Mount Szabo would have lasted under two hours, but hardly anything Rabid Fox did, really was normal. Every hundred metres or so, the commandos would hunker down in a loose defensive formation, silent, watching, and listening for any sign of enemy sentries.

The going was dreadfully slow, but the trade-off of stealth and secrecy was worth it. As a result, it had taken his unit almost four and a half hours to reach Mount Szabo, where it was now lying down flat against the ground, their Nighthawk gears blending in with the grassy surroundings. Now, more or less two hundred meters away, loomed the prison camp, their target. So close to a Dominion outpost, it would be foolish to use communicators, so they had to rely on the fact that the chronometres of both his and Jera‘s team worked synchronous.


‚How do you read it, Lieutenant?‘

Ranna, the only half-Human, half-Vulcan woman he knew, clapped a pair of electronic binoculars against her unvisored, dark-brown eyes, and studied the scene before her for a long time. Sometimes, Ryan actually felt attracted to the woman, in a strange way which he could not really explain.

Though Ranna enjoyed the added protection and strength of the Nighthawk suits, she didn‘t trust them completely. Instead, she preferred to use older, more proved equipment, especially for reconnaissance, such as the old-fashioned binoculars she always carried with her.

After carefully surveing the camp and the surrounding area, Ranna passed the binoculars to her commander.

‚Take a look.‘

Pressing the eyepieces against his face, Ryan adjusted the instrument until he had a clear, sharp view of the area. The prison camp was surrounded by a probably four meter-high force-field perimeter. In essence, the camp was rectangular, perhaps five hundred meters long, and two hundred wide. There were two large, flat buildings, barracks. Slightly more to the far end, another building stood, higher and narrower than the barracks. Presumably the guard‘s quarters. A large silo stood between the two barracks.

The main entry was on the opposite side of his men‘s position, as not Ryan, but Jera had the task of attacking it. Two towers had been errected, on the left and right of the gate. They were open, just a platform with a railing. A total of four Jem H‘Adar manned them.

Another six Cardassian guards were positioned near the mining site, some hundred metres from the outermost force-fields. On a near open place, two platoons of Jem H‘Adar were training. But all targets were sheltered by the invisible energy field, exept the one on the towers. Yet, some force-fields had been errected around the mining site as well. Dozens of prisoners were scuttling around it, and probably a lot more were currently working inside it.

‚So, what do you think?‘ Ranna‘s urgent whisper brought Ryan back to the task at hand.

‚Looks impossible, doesn‘t it?‘ he said.

‚True.‘ Ranna nodded with a sly chuckle. ‚But the impossible only takes a bit longer.‘

Ryan grinned back at the woman.

He had known her for some years now, but, before entering his team, Ranna had never expressed herself like this. Now, such aphorisms were becoming a common part of her vocabulary.

Before either of them could speak again, another NightHawk gear crawled up behind them.

From the awkward movements it made, Ryan could tell that it was not one of his men.

‚Are you allright Lieutenant Torres?‘ he asked.

‚I‘ll live.‘

‚You won‘t if you don‘t stay close to me! This isn‘t just about your friend, all right? There are more lives than one on stake,‘ Ian Malenkov whispered angrily, crawling nearer their position. If Klingon glances could kill, he would have been transformed into a smoking heap of ashes in a matter of two seconds.

At that moment, Ranna formed a fist and held it down at the ground.

The sign that her sensors had picked up something. Just a few seconds later, two figures walked past them, a mere fifty meters away. Everything was quiet.

Ryan didn‘t notice that the sun caught in his helm‘s blackened visor and was reflected across the open field that lay ahead of them, and into the eye of one of the figures.

‚My men are in position and ready,‘ Ian told his CO when the two had disappeared.

Ryan nodded. He looked at his chronometer.


‚Any minute now,‘ he said.

‚There! You saw it?‘

‚I didn‘t see anything Tom; it‘s just your imagination. Come on now, or we‘ll get into real trouble!‘

Ro pushed him forwards and they hurried back to their barracks.

Major Jera and the twelve men of DEST Teams Four and Three lay on their stomachs, waiting. About a mile in front of them, Team Six was hidden in the meter-high, dry grass of Corvus‘ only jungle, and waited for their trap to snap shut.

While their combat gears isolated all radiation from their body and made them practically undetectable on scanners, one of Team Six‘ agents had placed a decoy buoy which was now emitting fake body signatures. The plan to ambush the guards was simple, yet promised success, at the lowest risk possible.

When the guards had picked up the fake emissions, they would send out a search party, to eliminate the intruders. They would detect the buoy, and at that moment Team Six would open fire and put up a short combat. The enemey would probably call for reinforcments, but on Jera‘s order Team Six they would retreat, and lead the pursuing guards to the waiting soldiers.

As they had crept across the rocky plateau, on their way to the camp, Jera had surveyed the ground, analyzed every boulder, every shrub, every clearing. Almost unbidden, his mind had formulated, assessed and discarded plans for an ambush.

Finally, half an hour ago, in a shadowy, rocky defile, Jera had given the order, and the commandos had halted. The gap, forming an east-to-west passage through a near mountain, was to wide for Jera‘s liking, and the rocky sides were too gently sloped but it would have to do. Quickly his teams had sent out their directional mines, sighting them in such a way as to cover the widest area possible. Then they had pulled away some three hundred meters, and hooked back in a position that allowed them to oversee the defile in which they had left their mines. The team spread out. Each man had searched for what he considered the best available firing position, making sure that there were at least five meters distance between each commando, then they had settled down to wait.

Then suddenly, Jera heard disruptors fire, and saw green and blue flashes burn through the air. He opened a channel to Hammer-1, the leader of Team Six.

‚Hammer-1, this is Leader. Sitrep,‘ he yelled, demanding a situation report.

‚Leader, Hammer-1. The enemy has detected us and opened fire,‘ a female voice answered.

Static crackled over his headphones, and Jera could hear the yelled orders of Hammer-1. Then the channel got clearer, and he could hear other voices.

‚Leader, they bring in Jem H‘Adar reinforcements!‘

‚Allright Hammer-1, pull back. Proceed according to plan.‘

‚Roger that, Strike-Leader. Getting out of here. Tanel, Surak, cover us!‘ Jera closed the channel by touching the controls on his left arm, and opened one to the Strike-group, the twelve men and woman that lay all around him.

‚Strikers, this is Leader. Hammer is on its way. Stand-by.‘

The commandos confirmed and double-checked their weapons.

They didn‘t have to wait long.

A sudden roar filled the air, and some fractions of a second later, Jera saw six narrow pillars of fire, rising into the air, and coming nearer. The stub-wings of their suits allowed Team six to pass the minefield safely, by simply lofting over it. When they landed again, on the safe side, they spread out and took their positions.

A slight flicker of movement caught Jera‘s attention

There. At the edge of the killing zone. A pale hand wrapped itself around an outjutting spur of granite. Slowly, cautiously, the Jem H‘Adar belonging to that hand leaned around the rock, as though some sixth sense told him that he was standing on the edge of mortal danger. For long seconds, he scanned the area, the rifle in his hand tracking back and forth across the gap.

He‘s not going for it, Kramer thought, as the warrior stubbornly refused to leave the shelter of the rock. Resting the weapon‘s handle against his shoulder, Jera brought his high-tech Gauss rifle in line with his enemy. Specially designed for DEST, the silenced N-5, or Railgun, was not as destructive as normal energy weapons, but relatively silent, and completely invisible. It used a series of powerful electromagnets to accelerate a hardened steel spike to more than twice the speed of sound. The projectile penetrated every normal body armor, and could even break through a Nighthawk, if the shot was placed in just the right spot. The Visor.

Jem H‘Adar cloth was not a problem.

The weapon interfaced smoothly with the targeting circuits built in his battle armor, bringing a bright scarlet cross hair to life in front of his eyes. Carefully, he sighted the crosshair exactly between the Jem H‘Adar‘s eyes, and began to depress the trigger. Before the weapon fired, the soldier moved. Jera, caught off-guard by this sudden movement, let off the Railgun‘s trigger. Still with infinite caution, the Jem H‘adar stepped into the defile. His weapon swung from side to side, indicating that the soldier behind it was still alertly searching the area for any possible threat. Seconds later, another Jem H‘Adar carefully stepped into the nekekami‘s killing zone. And another. And another. Soon, a full twenty-five of the fearsome Dominion warriors were creeping across the defile. If the Spirit Cats waited any longer, the leading warrior would already be out of the killing zone. Taking careful aim, Jera leveled his weapon at the third of the Jem H‘Adar. If the Dominion troopers followed their typical infantry doctrine, the first two were simple grunts. The third probably was the commander. Placing the glowing croos hair just one or two centimeters ahead of the moving target, Jera took a half breath and squeezed the trigger.

A silent crack filled the air, as the projectile of his weapon was accelerated to Mach 2, and send on its way. It penetrated the Jem H‘Adar‘s skull with an ugly breaking noise, and he fell. He was dead before he hit the ground.

Before the startled warriors could react, the defile blew up in their faces. Jera‘s single shot had been the signal to initiate the ambush. The team‘s demolitions expert had done his work well. The directional mines all fired at once, filling the shadowy trench with smoke and thousands of high-velocity flechettes. The darts ripped through the soft flesh of everything organic. But when Jera saw that half of the Jem H‘Adar were still standing, he emptied his five-shot magazine into the defile, then yanked the empty clip from his weapon‘s receiver and slammed a fresh magazine home. As he leveled his weapon again on search for new targets, Jera heard the hisses of multiple Dominion blasters being fired. One of his soldiers virtually disappeared under the brute energy of seven energy beams. The man-made meteorshower of energy moved then to the left, where Private Sina was crouching in a shallow hole. The energy beams ripped through his light armor as though it were made of a cardboard. The Private collapsed heavily and didn‘t move again. Jera peered closely at the end of the defile, and activated his grenade launcher. A series of three Photon grenades quickly closed the distance, and bathed the area in a bright, blinding light. When he dared look again, five Jem H‘Adar soldiers were dead. But from the flash of the explosion, a single soldier had survived, and had approached his position, a blaster in his left hand.

Distantly, as though he were watching a recording of the scene rather than actually living through it, Jera noticed that the soldier‘s right arm dangled lifelessly from his body, only held in place by some remains of what had once been muscle tissue. He was now close enough to the Major‘s position to attack him in a rush, and probably his wound was not serious enough to keep him from killing a Romulan. Fortunately, Jera‘s lifelong commando training held true. The gaping muzzle of the Railgun had followed his gaze. Twice he jerked the weapon‘s trigger. The warrior convulsed and died, as the iron slugs ripped through his body. But the two projectiles couldn‘t stop the momentum of his attack; the giant warrior-behemoth fell, and through the sheerest of luck, Jera had rolled to his left in time to keep the falling body from crushing him underneath it. Then the infrared image in his visor whited out.

Jera cursed, rolled over and switched to visible light as he did. And then he saw, for the first time, the effects of DEST‘s newest infantry weapon.

A savage fire burned at the western end of the defile. In the glare of the petrochemical flames, he could see the shapes of the last four Jem H‘Adar soldiers, flailing their arms across their bodies, in a vain attempt to extinguish the burning, jellied fuel that was roasting them alive.

The new weapon, ironically named Inferno was a special grenade, launched from the grenade-thrower in his suit. On impact, it split up, and released a gluing fluid, which immediately started to burn, as soon as it came in contact with oxygen. The liquid glued to everything and everyone, and was virtually impossible to extinguish. Jera couldn‘t take the cries of the dying.

He released each of them with a well aimed shot through the head. A man-sized shape staggered towards him, black against the bright glare of the ravaging fire. It was Sub-Commander Naraht, his deputy. ‚Report,‘ Jera asked.

‚A Jem H‘Adar got Nia‘s shoulder with his disruptor, but he‘ll live,‘ Naraht barked, as he he hauled Jera to his feet. ‚Hammer-1 broke her leg.‘ ‚How did that happen?‘

‚Apparently, some Dominion grunt got Talina‘s jumpset when she tried to get away so we could use the Infernos. She touched down pretty hard. But the combat armor has pumped steroids into her, and she still can fight. Nia can‘t.

Sina is dead, as is Vyiuh. And so will be if we don‘t get moving now. These Toads have some buddies, and they wouldn‘t like what we did to their friends. We detected another platoon some hundreds of meters away. But they have disappeared now.‘

‚Alright,‘ Jera answered, sadness tainting his voice as he gazed down the length of the defile where his men lay, just as they had been killed. There was no time to bury them, and neither he nor anyone of his teams could be burdened with their bodies.

‚Contact the Colonel. We better get Nia off this planet. The rest:

we better get moving! That other platoon is probably headed at the camp.‘

Speaking quietly, more to himself than to Naraht, he promised the dead that he‘d come back and take them both home. Then without another word, he turned his back on the still flickering flames and started walking.

‚Ryan‘s gonna need some help.‘

Ryan did.

When they had seen the Jem H‘Adar platoons going on search for intruders, and later when he had heard explosions, Ryan had ordered his troops to advance. Their NightHawk suits electronically blurred their outlines to a point that it seemed as if the air had suddenly come to violent life. Two sentries they had encountered had been terminated by snipers using the Thunderstroke Gauss rifles, similar in design to the Railgun. Ryan knew the cracks he heard when they were fired were actually miniature sonic booms, caused by the projectiles. Though they sounded loud against the stillness of the night, he knew that they were relatively silent, a mere ninety decibels, about the noise level of a busy street.

Some hundred meters from the shields, the Foxes took cover behind a large rock. Ian peered around a corner for two seconds, then withdrew his head again.

‚The guards at the mining site have all gathered near the entry of the mine. They seem to be fascinated by Jera‘s little fire.‘ Ryan nodded.

‚Any suggestions?‘ he asked.

‚Blow them up!‘ B‘Elanna prompted.

Ian shook his head.

‚They‘re too close to the mine. If we use the grenades, we risk blowing up the entance.‘

‚We‘re running out of time people,‘ Ryan said, consulting his chronometer. ‚Allright. Blackhearts. You stay here and take out the guars on the towers. Aim well; the first shot must kill them, or we may have problem at our hands. Ian, you take Cranston and Cox with you and blow up the guard‘s barracks. The rest is with me. We‘ll get the Cardis at the mine. Blackhearts, if you see that we have problem, fire.‘ He looked at B‘Elanna.

‚Lieutenant Torres, you‘ll stay here.‘

‚Are you out of your mind?‘

‚Keep your voice down! No offense, Lieutenant, but you‘re no Fox, and this could get quite dangerous.

B‘Elanna was about to protest, but Ryan turned away, pointed at Ian and over the rock, then he and the remaining six agents stepped away and kneeled some meters away. Ryan gave Ian the thumbs-up sign. Ian peered around the corner and held three fingers up. Then two. One.


Simultaneously, the four snipers raised their weapons, took a second‘s aim, and fired. The second four shots cracked, smoke appeared and a mighty roar started behind them. Thrusted high in the sky by their mighty jumpjets, Ryan and his team flew across the terrain and landed inside the perimeter. Five seconds later, Ian too was on his way. When he landed next to the guards‘ barracks, Ian saw that the Watch had aimed well. Four Jem H‘Adar corpses lay in the dirt. ‚Cox. Cranston. Go and man the towers.‘

The two men nodded, and were off. They would warn the rest if one of the Jem H‘Adar troops came back.

Now alone, Ian ran over to the barracks. He took doggy-bag he carried over his shoulder and placed it against one of the building‘s walls. Inside the bag were ten pounds of C-89, a deadly explosive. Those ten pounds would be enough to transform the building in a smouldering heap of ashes and debris. From the bag, he grabbed two fuses, and sticked them into the explosives. He grabbed a tricorder from the bag, got up, and ran away. When he had reached a safe distance, he opened the tricorder, and pressed the alpha button.

And in a giant explosion, the building was collapsed and was gone. ‚Contact! Contact!‘ yelled Jerry Cranston from the right tower. Then a phaser hiss, static cracked, and the channel broke up. Ian turned quickly, and was just in time to see a wave of grey uniforms rush into the camp.

‚Sir!‘ Cox cried. ‚Cranston is dead. I count twenty-five to thirty Jem H‘Adar. We have to - aaargh!‘

Ian looked up and saw the corpse of Cox falling from the tower and slam to the ground.


Putting up a fight, alone, against thirty Jem H‘Adar was suicide.

So Ian quickly withdrew into another building, and locked the door. It was dark, only the light shining from a small window illuminated the room. A large row of beds was lined up against the wall, and at the far end of the room, Ian saw the entrance to a turbolift. ‚Who are you?‘ somebody yelled.


Ian lunged to his left, rolled over,and came to his knees behind a small bed, his rifle leveled and aimed in the direction of the female voice.

On his infra-red display, he saw two figures. By blinking at the corresponding glyph on his helmet‘s display, Ian ordered the computer to identify.



Still kneeling behind the bed he asked, ‚Are you prisoners?‘

Totally unexpectedly, the woman started shrieking.

‚You‘re here to save us!‘ they both yelled in unison. Then the woman hugged the other prisoner. ‚Tom, we‘re finally getting out of here!!‘


Ian turned his head. There was a large dent in the heavy door.


Another one.

Are the bastards trying to walk through the door, or what? He pointed at the two prisoners. ‚Hide somewhere,‘ he said, then stood up and pressed himself against the wall next to the door. For what seemd an eternity, the unknown soldier continued to maul the door, until it finally broke apart.

The room was bathed in the orange-glowing light of a fire.


The soldier steeped into the room.


Ian‘s infrared display was partly blinded by the heat of the fire, but he didn‘t have time to switch to visible light. The head of the soldier appeared.

With a powerful strike, Ian slammed the stock of his rifle against the side of his enemy‘s head. He was surprised to hear a metallic sound. The blast caused the soldier to lose his balance, and the figure fell to the ground.

Finally, Ian switched his visor mode.

In the orange light from outside, he saw a NightHawk suit lying at his feet.

He took a sharp breath. ‚Oh, no!‘

Wondering what had happened, he stepped outside. The ground was covered with Cardassian and Jem H‘Adar corpses, and occasionnally a NightHawk combat gear.

He let his gaze wander across the battlefield, and soon it became obvious what had happened. DEST had turned up and together, the two units had liberated the camp. He looked at Mount Szabo, and saw Sniper and Lieutenant Torres approach the camp.

Damn, who the hell have I knocked out? he wondered.

He kneeled beside the motionless body, and began unfastening the helmet. With the hiss of escaping air and pressure, the helmet came off, and he lifted it over the commando‘s head.

‚Sweet Jesus Christ, no!‘

‚Status report,‘ Colonel Sela asked when she entered the Salatrel‘s bridge.

‚Our scanners have picked up a single Jem H‘Adar capital ship. It has entered the system 3.2 minutes ago, and is now heading in our direction,‘ Varel, her first officer reported.

‚Have they detected us?‘

‚No sir. The cloaking device is working within normal parametres.‘

‚The Federation ship is without crew. Could their cloak be defective?‘

‚Scanning. No sir,‘ Commander Varel said, looking up from her consoles.

‚I don‘t think they know we‘re here sir.‘

In front of her face, the fingertips of Sela‘s right hand connected with those of her left. ‚Allright. There could be other ships here, so it would be foolish to drop our cloak. If they beam down to the surface, or detect us, we will destroy them.‘

‚But sir, we have to...*beep beep*...They have activated their transporters!‘

‚What‘s going on over there Varel?‘

‚They have beamed two persons from the surface to their ships.‘

Sela looked at the view-screen.

‚Sir, they are...the ship has gone to warp!‘

When her CO did not react, Varel left from behind her console and kneeled beside the Colonel‘s chair.

‚What actions are we going to take sir?‘

Sela ran her tongue over her lips. ‚None.‘

‚But sir! We have to...‘

‚I said no!‘

Varel looked at her, not understanding.

She‘s a good soldier, Sela thought. But thinking is not her strong side.

‚If we pursue, or take any other drastic actions, the nekekami and 14 Int will be unprotected. It could well be a trap.‘ She shook her head.

‚No Varel. We will stay. Send a coded message to Admiral Haze on SB89.

Only two words: smient spionen.‘

Dry, dirty smoke drifted thickly across the battlefield. The destroyed buildings were still smoldering, and the smell of death and burned flesh, almost tangible hung over the hastily errected camp. B‘Elanna Torres wandered across the camp, searching for a certain Thomas Eugene Paris.

Instead, distracted by a tall, asian-looking man, apparently searching someone too, she bumped into a tall Bajoran female. She turned and started to apologize, but broke off, when she saw the Bajoran‘s face. Her eyes narrowed.

‚I‘m sorry, I...don‘t we know each other?‘

‚I don‘t think so, but...now that you mention it...you seem somehow familiar.‘

‚Yeah. Must be a weird kind of déja-vu.‘


They looked at each other for a while, but memory refused to set in.

Finally, the Bajoran offered her her hand.

‚Glad to meet you. I am Ro...‘

‚Laren,‘ another voice finished for her.

B‘Elanna started when she heard the voice, and she could feel her heart crawling up her throat.

It was him.

‚Right. And this,‘ Ro continued. ‚is...‘

‚Tom!‘ B‘Elanna shrieked, as she spun around on her heel and flung her arms around a totally surprised Tom Paris‘ neck. The momentum of her movement sent both of them to the ground.

‚Exactly,‘ a confused Ro Laren murmured.

Eventually, Tom found out who exactly was cutting of his respiration, and they were lying in the mud, hugging madly, occasionnally kissing, rarely breathing, and subspiciously eyed by Ro Laren and pretty much everyone who was near enough to actually see what was going on.

‚Look at them.‘

Talina turned her head, and saw two figures, rolling around in the mud, hugging and kissing.

While she normally would be upset about such a lack of discretion, this time she smiled.

‚They certainly look happy...together.‘

‚Yeah. I had to babysit her on our approach to the camp. Pain in the butt,‘ Ian Malenkov remarked, he too, smiling. He folded the tricorder together again, and began assorting the medical instruments in the First-Aid MedKit.

‚Well, mylady,‘ he said when he was done. ‚Your leg is healed. If you have anymore problems with it, take two units of Delzarin and contact me in the morning.‘

‚Thank you.‘

She rubbed her leg with ine hand, than used the other to take Ian‘s, and kissed it. ‚But I think, I‘ll let some medic check it when we get back.‘

Ian shook his head, disappointment on his face, but laughter in his voice.

‚No trust. Hmpf. Those youngsters.‘

‚I‘m older than you are. About twenty years at least.‘

Ian shrugged, but looked away.


He eyed her subspiciously. ‚You could have told me that you‘re a Spirit Cat.‘ She raised her eyebrows. ‚I mean, my guess was Tal Shiar, but...‘

He stopped. ‚Don‘t look at me like that.‘

‚Well, you could have told me you were a Rabid Fox too, after all.‘

A smile appeared on Malenkov‘s face.

‚Touché,‘ he said. ‚Come here.‘

Talina from the House of Imarra felt strangely content, and smiled, as she settled back into his waiting arms and snuggled up to him.

Ian Malenkov kissed her temple, and they continued to watch the other,

re-united couple in the camp, who was, unsurprisingly, still kissing and


The day after the liberation of the prison camp, two black-clad figures moved in the darkness, walking up a soft, grassy slope, and stood, under the branches and leafs of an old and mighty tree. Both of the figures were clad in black trousers and turtlenecks, and both were armed. They kissed.

When their lips parted again, B‘Elanna pulled back softly, and leant against the cold trunk of the tree ‚What is it?‘ the man asked, slowly approaching his companion. B‘Elanna bit her lower lip, a thing she hadn‘t done for a very long time, and turned her head - eyes glistening with wetness - towards her companion, Tom Paris. The look she gave him, made him wince; the emotions displayed in her eyes tore at his heart. Abruptly, she spread her arms and waved him to approach. With a quick step, he closed the physical distance, and he could feel her fling her arms around him. With a sudden, surprising, energy, Tom gripped her and pressed her body against his, as tightly as he could. He could feel her respond in the same fashion, but did not speak, not even when he felt the fingernails of her right hand which pressing his face against hers, rip across the soft flesh of his neck. He remained silent, even then, deciding to let his body, his actions speak for himself. He could feel wetness spreading on his left cheek and he was surprised, even more because he knew she was crying. He responded by tightening his hold on her, and he could even better feel her sobs against his face.

‚What is it?‘ he repeated, softly whispering in her ear.

For what seemed an eternity, B‘Elanna said nothing.

Behind his back, she opened her eyes.

‚You don‘t know how good this feels,‘ she whispered. ‚You don‘t know how afraid I was that I might never again have the chance to do this.‘ Behind his back, she traced a finger through the night sky. ‚That night, yesterday, I watched men and women die. I saw errant bolts of phaser fire burn through the air, all the while waiting for one to find me.‘

She shuddered heavily.

‚Klingons aren‘t supposed to be afraid.‘

Tom opened his mouth in protest, but couldn‘t say anything, as B‘Elanna softly put a finger over his lips.

She drew back from his embrace, and hugged her arms around herself. ‚I have been on dangerous missions before, but I have never been so terrified in my whole life. In my fear, I sought refuge in my memories of you, Tom. I recalled our kiss on Voyager, how it made me feel inside, and how safe I felt in your arms. I remembered our time together, our laughter, our sorrow and the sharing. And then I realized that I wasn‘t afraid of the mission...but of you,‘ she whispered.

‚What are you saying?‘ Tom asked confusedly.

B‘Elanna looked up at him frightfully, making Tom shiver. ‚When you were reported MIA, I felt terrible. I thought it was my fault that you were gone, that somehow you wanted to show off in front of me. Harry talked me out of that fortunately, but... I didn‘t know if you still were alive or...‘ She broke off. ‚That‘s why I insisted in joining this mission Tom, I wanted to see it for myself. I was afraid that you might be dead, but I was terrified of the idea that you were still alive, but not be able to forgive me, for all those times I turned you down, and when I treated you badly.

I care more about you than you might think, Tom, and I was terrified of the idea that I might find you here, but you could not find it in your heart to forgive me, and that I would lose you again. I...‘ She stopped, and bent her head, looking at the ground of the hill they stood on.

Tom reached a hand out toward her, then drew her close and enfolded her in his arms.

‚I wish I had been there to calm your fears.‘

He paused.

‚I nearly died in that prison, B‘Elanna. When they tortured me, I saw my whole life, passing in front of me. When I thought they were going to kill me, I looked back and I said goodbye...a goodbye I had never before been able to say. I let it all go. I only held on to one thing; the image of your sweet face. If I was going to die, that would be enough. But you gave me a reason to stay alive. How could I love that much and not forgive?‘

Tom could feel her arms tighten around him.

B‘Elanna looked up at him, eyes wide, and kissed him on the lips.

When they separated again, breathless, B‘Elanna leaned against his chest. ‚Tom, I...I have had dreams about you - us - lately, and...‘ She looked up at him uncertainly. ‚I...I think I love you,‘ she whispered, running the inside of her hands up and down his cheeks, the fear of rejection showing in her eyes.

He smiled. ‚And I, you, B‘Elanna.‘

Tom leaned his head forward to kiss her throat. He drank in the scent of her body, and felt her dark hair tickle the back of his hand, as he caressed her cheek. His hand wandered down her spine; underneath her black turtleneck, she felt warm and soft, slender and strong. Bringing his head up, he kissed the point of her chin, then looked in her eyes.

‚B‘Elanna, I can‘t. Not...,‘ he breathed in her ear, but when she looked at him seductively, it took all his willpower not to lean over again, and smother her mouth with kisses.

But the pain-implant in his chest, last remnant of his captivity, still ached, and that gave him some clarity of mind. ‚Believe me,‘ he said, ‚when I tell you that I‘ve thought the same thoughts, dreamt the same dreams. In that prison, I‘ve revived our time together, and woven it in countless fantasies. You gave me a reason to survive the Cardassians, thanks to you I am still alive. I want you more than I want anything else, but I cannot. Not here; not now.‘ He closed his eyes.

B‘Elanna rested her head against his upper chest and looked up at him.

‚Then why come here?‘ she asked, smiling faintly.

Is it just my imagination, or is she actually pouting at me?

Tom‘s blue eyes opened and sparkled.

‚New memories for new dreams.‘

B‘Elanna laughed softly, showing her perfect white teeth. ‚Yet another reason to love you, Thomas Paris,‘ she purred. ‚Some people barely dare to dream. But you, you dare to plan for your dreams.‘ ‚Plan for our dreams,‘ he corrected. ‚If this were just for me alone, I would not be so bold.‘

‚Oh, you‘re too good for me,‘ she teased. Tom held her face tightly against his.

‚Yet some new memories,‘ he whispered. ‚The press of your body against mine, feeling your breath on my neck, inhaling the scent of you. Enough for a lifetime of dreams.‘

B‘Elanna stood there, her eyes closed, enjoying the moment. She knew she would fall asleep before long, if they stayed like this, but the time being, she didn‘t care too much. For a few, wonderful, minutes, they just stood there, holding each other.

But then distant noises of a raging battle penetrated their shared silence, and they saw shadows moving quickly among the stars.


B‘Elanna knew what they were, Assault Fighters of a crack Romulan unit, clad in the impenetrable and radiation-absorbing coat of micro-diffracted carbon, black as the void between the stars.

Announcing itself with only a slight roar, one of the Romulan fighters rushed over the hill Tom and B‘Elanna stood on. The deadly machine flew over them, at less than hundred feet, and was quickly out of sight, but the speed and the height at which the pilot flew such a thing, impressed Tom. For a minute he also saw the shape of the fighters.

As far as he could see them, they were shaped slightly bird-like, their wings, angled forwards, forming the by far largest part of the fighter. They barely consisted of more then wings, engines, cockpits, and weapons continuously.

Barely 30 feet disruptors.

The fighter which had just passed them, suddenly jerked upwards, climbing to an altitude of at least 500 feet, then dove off again, firing its above the surface, the pilot intercepted his dive, and, steadying his flight, climbed again to what seemed to be his cruise altitude, approximately 300 feet.

Tom, who knew how difficult such a maneuver was, could not help it but admire the pilot‘s skills.

But when the tree next to them was struck by an errant phaser beam, and split in two, B‘Elanna and Tom decided that it would perhaps be wiser to admire the view from a more distant point. Ducking all the way, they turned and ran for the secured infantry positions.

The small counter-offensive the Dominion launched, was rapidly fought back. The alleged retreat of the commandos turned out to be a trap, and soon, most of the attackers were either dead or captured. Fierce fighting of the Romulans assured the planet‘s "pacification". The first phase of the Federation war-winning offensive was a full success, the White facility being completely destroyed, and even four of the lost six-man away team saved. Within four days after the assault began, and after destroying everything the Dominion could use later, the main part of the attack force had left the Corvus II system again.

Only a small garrison remained. When the Romulan forces had discovered

the Prisoners Camp, and liberated it, they were faced with a logistical

nightmare. The necessary transport vessels to get all of the

approximately five thousand prisoners would not arrive until five days,

which meant that the garrison and the prisoners had to wait for two

days, after the main body of the assault force had left. Only B‘Elanna

Torres, Tom Paris, Tuvok, Data, Dr. Crusher, Tom Paris and Ro Laren

were allowed to leave on the Romulan warships, the away-team because

they were part of the mission‘s objective, and Ro Laren only because

Tom had insisted on it. Within five more days, they arrived at

StarBase89, what could be called the Federation Head Quarters. To

their disappointment, they learned that their respective ships had

in the meantime been assigned to a larger campaign against the

Dominion and, as front-line units, would not be returning soon. On

his inquiry, Tom found out that his father was in charge of the

campaign, onboard his flagship, the USS Enterprise. The StarFleet

officers had been assigned temporal quarters on the StarBase, and it

seemed as though they had to spent some time there, unable to take part in the war. Ro, Data, and Dr. Crusher longed to get back to the Enterprise, to battle the Jem H‘Adar; Tuvok admitted his "wish to re-join Voyager‘s crew and captain".

As for Tom and B‘Elanna, they were prepared to leave for Voyager anytime soon, but until then, they had decided that they might as well enjoy their forced ‚shore leave‘. Especially Tom. After he had recovered, after bones had knitted, and flesh had healed, the barriers his re-convalescence had placed between him and B‘Elanna fell away. He could still vividly recall the first night she came to him, slipping into his bed in the dark. It felt as if her body were on fire, and as she pressed against him, her warmth flowed into him. He remembered stroking her body, the flesh so flawlessly smooth that he felt self-conscious about the single scar on the right side of his chest. He had refused to let the doctor heal it with a dermal regenerator. Scars are the proof of surviving one‘s own stupidity, he had said, reciting an old proverb from ancient times. With a kiss and a caress, B‘Elanna showed him that they meant nothing, that what mattered to her was the man inside the skin, and not the skin itself. Urgency had marked their lovemaking, each of them fearing something might tear them apart again. Little mistakes - the click of teeth, a misplaced elbow, or an obtrusive knee - prompted giggles and whispered apologies. The small mistakes kept the experience from being perfect, but they made it somewhat more intimate. Perfection would have been for the mating of two heads of states, for political reasons. Clumsy, playful and passionate was how love was meant to be shared between two people, in the dark, and that was what they aspired to be. Titles, or ranks, couldn‘t enhance the experience, so they were rightfully to be forgotten, like bed clothes, in the heat of the moment. After that first time, they had spent the night together whenever they could. While they thoroughly enjoyed each other‘s company, their yearning to be together grew out of more than just the desire to explore the physical dimensions of the love they shared. Simple touches, midnight kisses, whispered dreams, and even tussles for possession of the bed sheets gave them the opportunity to deepen their love, and offered them a glimpse of the people they really were - underneath both their masks, and beyond the walls that had served so long to protect them from being hurt. The time they spent together outside the bedchamber further expanded on this. More then once, Tom found himself saying something or doing something he had seen shared between his parents in semi-private moments, before his mother‘s death. It greatly surprised him how much of his father and mother lived on in him, and yet he also saw how much he had become his own person. He identified behaviors he wanted to modify and took steps to change them and himself for the better - for B‘Elanna, and for himself.

Among other things, he resolved to send his father a message onboard Enterprise.