Disclaimer: Star Trek belongs to Paramount/CBS. No copyright infringement is intended.
Summary: B'Elanna takes command of a Maquis away mission for the first time. As she later tells Harry in "Warhead", it doesn't exactly go as planned. An incident in the DMZ. Pre-Voyager.
Rating: T. Contains strong language, descriptions of violence, and discussion of war crimes.
A/N: When I started writing this, I had no real idea of how long or how many words it was going to take to tell the story that I wanted to. It turns out it would keep me occupied for over two months, and contain twice as many words as any of my previous works.
My extremely grateful thanks go to Delwin – who has chalked up quite a few hours on this herself between the research help, the beta-reading, and the many encouraging e-mails.
This ties in somewhat with a short piece I wrote last summer ("Alive"), though it's in no way essential to read that before reading this one.
I'm going to post this in instalments (there are a total of seven chapters), but it is essentially finished, so the complete piece will be up before too long.
Feedback, as always, is welcome.
"Bloody hell, Torres. Does this look like a fricking Cardassian military installation to you?"
Clearly it did not. B'Elanna didn't need Vance's commentary to know that she'd messed up big time, the sarcastic bastard. It was becoming blatantly obvious.
Chakotay had been a prize idiot to insist that she take command of this mission. She'd told him that Li Paz or Meyer would have been better choices, but it was her upgrade to the Val Jean's long-range sensors that had enabled them to pick up the Cardassian 'weapons signatures' from three systems over. So, Chakotay had said, it was only right that B'Elanna got to personally take charge of the team assembled to destroy whatever installation was at the source of the signal. B'Elanna was fine with destruction of Cardassian property. It was the 'taking charge of the team' that she had a problem with. This team wouldn't be solely comprised of engineers and technicians such as she supervised on the Maquis raider and when fixing and improvising other pieces of technology for the Maquis cause. This team included members with far more experience than she did with the hit-and-run type mission that this was. At least that it was supposed to be.
B'Elanna fumed, as much at herself as at Chakotay and Vance. Li Paz or Meyer wouldn't have had to listen to this kind of crap from Vance. Li Paz or Meyer would have realised that something was wrong before getting this far down under the mountain. Unfortunately, given the circumstances, B'Elanna could take no satisfaction in knowing that Chakotay should have listened to her protests.
"Shut up, Vance," said Ken Dalby, moving to B'Elanna's side, his headlamp joining hers in illuminating Vance's broad frame in the darkness of the tunnel in which they stood. "Like you'd have interpreted the readings differently."
"It's a sodding mine," Vance yelled, waving his large hands around wildly for emphasis. "A mine. And not even the kind that blows up in your face when you step on it. At least if we'd found one of those buggers we'd know this wasn't a completely wasted trip."
Given the result of last week's raid on Quatal Prime where Tyler and McCreary had indeed wandered into a Cardassian minefield, it took all of B'Elanna's self-restraint not to punch Vance in the face and break his nose, the insensitive petaQ.
"But an abandoned mine would be an ideal place for the Cardassians to hide a bunker," said Tabor, flanking B'Elanna on the other side from Dalby. "We've seen it elsewhere. They use caves, mines, any natural tunnel systems to camouflage their outposts and supply dumps just like we do, especially this far into the DMZ."
"You're missing the point," argued Vance. He jerked a thumb in B'Elanna's direction. "She said she found Cardassian weapons signatures. There ain't no Cardassian weapons here."
This time it took Tabor stepping forwards to obscure Vance from her line of sight to stop B'Elanna launching herself at the man. Chakotay had been wanting her to gain some experience of command for a couple of months now, and he was confident this mission would be a 'milk run' – an ideal opportunity for her to lead a small team in the field with very little risk attached. He hadn't given her a say in who would be on 'her' team though. If he had, Vance would not have been on the list. Vance might be useful in a firefight, but, in every other situation, he was just a large pain in the ass.
As well as picking up weapons signatures, the Val Jean's 'improved' sensor array had shown that there were no Cardassian biosigns on the class L planet where the weapons were thought to be sited. Furthermore, there were no ship movements in or out of the star system, which, aside from the one class L planet, was comprised only of three gas giants and a selection of class D planetoids. Not worth the effort of humanoid colonization or exploitation, the system had gone largely unnoticed, just a dot on the star charts in the ironically named Demilitarized Zone.
"We'll see if the other three found anything down the east tunnel, won't we?" Dalby said to Vance. "We can't know anything for sure until they report in."
Grateful as she was for Dalby and Tabor's support, B'Elanna was still desperate to determine exactly what had gone wrong. It was highly unlikely that the other three members of the team would report back with a positive ID on any military hardware. There were no indications that anyone had been down in the tunnels for a very long time until the Maquis had shown up. Even though the tunnels were clearly unnatural - there were ancient support braces shoring up the roof in places – there were no boot prints in the dusty ground and no traces of biological material other than some oligotrophic microbes.
B'Elanna scrolled furiously through the readings on her PADD, which were a copy of those recorded by the Val Jean's sensors. The sensors on the Yridian-built shuttle that the away team had arrived on had corroborated the initial readings from the larger ship. If the sensor readings weren't complete crap, then the rocks surrounding the tunnels contained a significant proportion of magnesite; not enough to completely disrupt sensor readings, but enough to prohibit safe transportation directly through the mountain above into the tunnels. That ruled out a hidden bunker that the Cardassians only accessed by transporter beam. The shuttle's brief but intensive survey of the locality did not detect any other entrance to the tunnel network, though a few narrow-bore shafts opened up on the surface in places. Ventilation shafts presumably. Li Paz or Meyer would no doubt have suspected that this was an ancient mining facility from the pattern of those vents. The tunnels weren't exactly airy regardless; the temperature at their present location was thirty three degrees Celsius with a relative humidity close to eighty percent. It was verging on uncomfortable even for B'Elanna.
The shuttle's sensors, which B'Elanna had also recently upgraded, indicated that the strongest weapons signatures were coming from within the mountain that they were now exploring, with several weaker signatures in the surrounding few square kilometres. But her tricorder – now at the supposed source – wasn't detecting any weapons signatures at all. "I just don't understand," she murmured, as much to herself as to the others. "These readings don't make any sense." The signatures they had detected from space matched those on file for specific models of Cardassian surface-to-orbit missiles and longer-range self-guided tactical missiles. The variance on the signals was point zero one percent out, but well within acceptable limits. She'd assumed at first that the tricorder's inability to detect the weapons on the ground was due to the fact it was an outdated Bolian model. The Maquis had to take what equipment they could get. The more advanced Starfleet-issue tricorders that B'Elanna had worked with at the Academy were difficult to come by. These Bolian models couldn't even pick up the lifesigns of the Maquis team members unless they were within a dozen metres. That shortcoming made sense in the presence of magnesite interference, but having that explanation didn't help matters. There was nothing she could do to enhance the model's capabilities.
Tabor passed her his own equally crappy tricorder when she beckoned for it. The readings on its display were identical to hers. Could both the Val Jean's and the Yridian shuttle's sensor readings really both be wrong? Or was there some other explanation?
B'Elanna looked away from the tricorder to see Tabor crouch down on the ground. He passed a fist-sized chunk of rock he'd picked off the floor between his hands then fingered its jagged surface before letting out an exclamation of surprise.
"What?" asked Vance.
"This rock. It's solonite." Tabor stood, cradling the rock in his hands. "Could you run the tricorder over this sample?" he asked B'Elanna, holding it out for her to see. "Look at the grain size."
"Solonite?" Dalby scratched his head as he peered closer. "How's that significant?"
"Solonite is the one of the primary sources of uridium ore," B'Elanna explained. Dalby and Vance crowded in as she scanned the sample and ran the analysis. Perhaps they didn't understand the implications of Tabor's discovery or else they might be tempted to hang back instead.
"Are you sure it's solonite?" B'Elanna asked as the tricorder's processor strained to complete its task, a tiny icon of an hourglass flashing on the screen as she waited.
Tabor nodded. "Fairly sure. I recognise this banding pattern." Catching B'Elanna's raised eyebrow as she glanced up – she'd had no inkling that Tabor was interested in geology – the Bajoran went on to explain: "During the Occupation, the Cardassians used slave labour to mine Bajoran uridium, which they sent up to Terok Nor for processing. When I was very young, my family worked in a solonite mine in Musilla Province. The adults worked underground and the children were used on the surface grading the ore." Tabor paused, staring at the rock in his hands before continuing more softly, "I've handled rocks like these tens of thousands of times over."
B'Elanna knew some of Tabor's history from conversations with Seska, who was always keen to discuss the motivations for herself and her fellow Bajorans joining the Maquis. In fact, Seska was quite the master at wheedling out life histories from people whether they really wanted to tell them or not. Hearing Tabor's tale from the man himself made it all the more shocking. Her own childhood troubles seemed less traumatic in comparison. But now wasn't the time to be reflecting on such issues. The problem at hand was starting to make more sense. "The Cardassians use uridium alloy in their sensor arrays and missile guidance systems," she said, regaining some confidence in her investigative abilities. "The reference signatures we have on file for their long-range missiles –"
"You're saying we're standing here surrounded by a shitload of raw uridium," Vance yelped, realisation dawning on his gormless face. "But isn't that –"
"Highly unstable," B'Elanna interrupted in turn, her mood darkening further by the nanosecond as she was knocked off her train of thought. The tricorder finally chirped, the taunting hourglass replaced by a table of data confirming Tabor's theory. B'Elanna snapped its power switch to off and handed it back to Tabor. The less they used electrical devices in here the better, especially those prone to malfunctioning. One stray spark and …
"So does this explain why both the long-range sensors and the close proximity scans flagged Cardassian weapons signatures?" Tabor said, still gazing at the chunk of solonite. "Because the signatures are related to their uridium component?"
It was an oversimplification and something still nagged at her about the whole mess, but she nodded. "I think it's a factor." Had she screwed up the calibration of the sensors when she installed the upgrades? If that were the case, both the ship's and shuttle's arrays would likely have misidentified other targets in the several weeks since they'd been altered.
Vance snorted. "So, there really ain't nothing here for us to blow up. This has been a complete waste of time."
"At least we don't have to worry about any Cardassian ships showing up to collect or deliver supplies or troops," Tabor said. "There's nothing here for them, either."
B'Elanna sighed. "Unless any passing ships pick up our shuttle's warp trail and come to investigate."
"We didn't mask our trail?" Tabor queried.
"On that piece of crap? I'm not a miracle worker," B'Elanna said sharply.
"We'll be long gone before then," Dalby chimed in. "We know there are no patrol ships in the area. Let's get the others back here and get the hell off this rock."
Tabor and Vance murmured their agreement with Dalby's suggestion. B'Elanna was too pissed off with the situation in general to care too much that it was her that was supposed to be making the command decisions. What did it matter now anyway? The mission was a bust. As she reached for her communicator to recall the others, a low rumble reverberated through the rock beneath her feet. Her ears popped, and she saw Tabor raise his hands to his own ears and snap his gaze to hers, dropping the rock from his hands. A breeze stirred his short hair. It was surreal. They were a good half a klick from the outside world. The air down here had been still the whole time they'd been inside … Turning to face back up the tunnel to the way they had entered, B'Elanna felt the rumble increase in volume and pitch more than she actually heard it. The breeze became a blast of abrasive wind that slammed her into the tunnel wall, and as she struggled to catch her breath, her ears ringing, she realised what was happening.
As if she needed this day to get any worse.
..._ _ _...
Under Sahreen's quiet direction, Nelson and Jor had finished reconnoitring the tunnels under the eastward side of the mountain. Finding nothing – to their mutual surprise not even a trace of any past Cardassian presence – Sahreen had just asked Jor to comm Torres and inform her that they'd be starting their way back, when the explosion – was it an explosion? – had occurred.
The cloud of dust that had surged towards them and past them, leaving Nelson, Jor and Sahreen caked in a layer of coarse grey granulate, had also done a proficient job of coating the insides of their mouths, noses and eyes - at least Nelson assumed the other two were in the same predicament as himself. Through his ringing ears he could make out their coughing and wheezing, but his eyes were too irritated to hold open. He'd been knocked to the ground by the blast, or whatever it was, and landed on his phaser rifle. Clutching the weapon to his chest with one powdery hand, he hauled himself onto his feet with the other, coughing so hard and so desperately to catch his breath that he vomited, his retching adding to the cacophony. When his struggle for oxygen was won, he forced his eyes wide and then blinked furiously to try and clear them. Rubbing them clean with his hand was out of the question. The light from the headtorch strapped around his forehead couldn't penetrate far in the thick, cloying air, but by bringing a hand close to his face he could discern the layer of grime on his skin. He hoped that in vomiting he hadn't covered the rifle in partially-digested Starfleet ration pack four: oatmeal and stewed prunes. The prunes tasted even worse the second time around. On a cursory inspection the rifle seemed all right, but his boots had taken some splatter.
He croaked out the names of his companions and both of them responded, affirming that they had no serious injuries, though Jor sounded pained. Fumbling for the straps of his rucksack, Nelson pulled it off his back, felt for the zip to the side pocket and pulled out his flask. The first few sips of water he rinsed around his mouth and spat out. Then, after swallowing a little and replacing the flask in its pocket, he felt his way along the damp tunnel wall a dozen metres or so in the direction of the voices until he could make out Jor's form sat on the ground. She seemed to be fiddling with her communicator. Sahreen's hacking cough got louder until he too appeared out of the gloom, groping the tunnel wall, and missing his headtorch. On closer inspection Nelson saw that the older man still, in fact, had the light strapped around his head, but the bulb had smashed.
"What the heck was that?" Nelson asked them. The relief at finding his companions alive and well had quickly been replaced with a deep sense of foreboding. Were they under attack from Cardassian forces? Maybe someone had tripped a security device. His empty stomach clenched.
"Rockfall," Sahreen stated, his eyes shining in the midst of his matt grey face. "Classic signs. Had to be. And unfortunately, it seems like it happened between our position here and our exit to the surface."
If that was Sahreen's theory, then it was probably correct. Nelson hadn't known the guy long, but it seemed like he wasn't one to waste words. If he spoke, then it was because something was worth saying – and listening to. Nelson crouched down beside Jor, enhancing the area of illumination for her to work on the communicator. Sahreen joined them on the ground, removed his broken headtorch, and pulled a palm beacon out of his rucksack as a substitute.
"What about the others? Do you think …?" Nelson's eyes wandered, first to Sahreen, then to Jor, desperately seeking reassurance, knowing that they had no certainty to give at that point. Sahreen's mouth formed a hard line. Jor gave an apologetic shrug and continued to fiddle with the communicator, which was emitting an ominous static. To make matters worse, it was the only one they had between the three of them. Poor Seska had been ever so embarrassed when she'd distributed the away team's gear and not had adequate provisions for each member of the team. Apparently, there'd been a misunderstanding with a coded message she'd sent to one of her contacts, a trader of surplus military supplies.
"It's busted," Jor said a few moments later, flicking the communicator off and settling it on her lap with resignation. "This Bolian tech just doesn't stand up to any punishment at all. It only fell from waist height. Some of the circuitry must have gotten knocked out of alignment."
Sahreen took the communicator from her and proceeded to examine it. He sighed. "Strange that they don't make the things user serviceable. If they hadn't moulded the casing shut, we could at least unscrew the back to inspect the components."
Only the previous day in the Val Jean's engine room, Nelson had overheard B'Elanna Torres speaking colourfully to Captain Chakotay about the pros and cons of Bolian technology. In the engineer's staunch opinion, there weren't many pros. At least Chakotay's cell had managed to acquire a stash of Starfleet ration packs – Meal(s) Ready to Eat – when a Federation supply ship had been intercepted on its way to Starbase 211. If the Maquis had to resort to Bolian field rations for subsistence, then the resistance movement would surely be finished off without the Cardassians having to fire another shot.
"We should continue our way back to Torres and the others," said Jor, struggling to her feet.
Nelson didn't miss the flash of discomfort that crossed her features as she rose, nor the assessing hand she ran across her middle and around to her lower back under her rucksack. "Are you hurt?" he asked her.
She offered him a weak smile without meeting his gaze. "I just landed awkwardly is all. I'll be fine."
The way she swayed as she took her first step forwards suggested otherwise. Sahreen reached out a hand to steady her. "Will you be able to walk?" he asked.
She shrugged. "I'll have to be."
"There's analgesic in the medkit," Sahreen said. "I can –"
"No," Jor interrupted, laying a hand atop of Sahreen's on her forearm. "We shouldn't break into the medical supplies until we know that the others are OK. They might have greater need of them."
"At least let me carry your stuff," Nelson offered, stretching out a ready hand.
Jor paused, and he thought she was going to be stubborn and refuse until she nodded. "Thanks."
Nelson gently pried the pack off her shoulders surprised by the weight of it, which was far greater than his own. He knew Jor was responsible for one half of the team's demolitions kit: the explosives, detonators, and associated tools. The other half was with Tabor. In contrast, Nelson's own gear was light, affording him optimal freedom of movement should they encounter any Cardassian infantry. That possibility was seeming less and less likely now. He slung Jor's bag onto his back to join his own, and, with Sahreen leading the way again, they moved on.
..._ _ _...
There was dust everywhere. B'Elanna was convinced that, if she peeled off her clothing, her entire body underneath it would be coated in a dirty grey. Were her ears clogged full of the stuff too? Or had her eardrums perforated? The last time she'd felt this disorientated had been when Chell had accidentally let off a stun grenade in the ship's cargo bay. Before that, she'd been caught in an explosion on an away mission when a detonator had malfunctioned; an operation to destroy one of the Maquis's own bunkers before the advancing Cardassians could utilize it had gone horribly wrong. Her present situation didn't feel exactly like either of those past experiences. This had been a natural phenomenon, she was sure of it. A cave in, and likely a big one, had occurred up the main tunnel between their present location and the surface. They'd have to get eyes on it to confirm though given the tricorder situation. Perhaps the Maquis team's presence had triggered a collapse from the roof of the tunnel. It seemed too coincidental to their arrival to be regular seismic activity, though not impossible. Those unstable mineral deposits had to be involved somehow. If only she'd figured out earlier that there was uridium down here. That bit of info put a whole new spin on the situation.
She turned her thoughts to the men. There was a chorus of coughing joining her own wheezing. An arm – or was it a leg – was draped over her knees as she herself lay sprawled on her side on the ground. Propping herself up on an elbow and peering forwards, she was relieved to find a body attached to the … leg it turned out to be. She glanced to the left and was even more thankful that her headlamp illuminated a face, even if that face happened to belong to Vance. His eyes were open towards her and a sneer was fixed on his mouth. At least when he spoke, his grating voice was muted to her ears.
"For fuck's sake, Torres," he griped. "It's one cock up after another on this trip."
She yanked her legs out from under his, while muttering a string of expletives in Klingon that denounced the man's ancestry, physical attributes and bad habits. Without a universal translator Vance would miss out on the literal translation of her words, but he'd get the general idea. She really wanted to behave in a professional manner towards him for Chakotay's sake, and she really had tried. But Vance wasn't going to extend her the same courtesy. He wasn't going to afford her any respect as a comrade, let alone a superior, the ignorant pig. Scrambling to her feet – a little too quickly as her inner ears complained – she took a step backwards, and her left heel pressed down into something soft.
A terse "ow" was followed by a croaked Bajoran curse.
"Sorry," she said, spinning around – again a little too quickly – to find Tabor sitting up, rubbing his stomach.
"If it means you're OK, I'll happily take ten kicks in the guts," he said, raising a hand for her to help him up. Once standing, he lifted his hands to his ears, tilted his head from side to side and groaned at whatever sensation that induced. "That wasn't an explosion," he said assuredly, "that was a cave in."
B'Elanna nodded then had to close her eyes for a brief moment as the dimly lit passageway turned fuzzy and appeared to spin. By the time she opened them again, Dalby was on his feet a few metres away taking a long drink from his flask. B'Elanna reached into her pack to do the same until Tabor caught her elbow. "Go easy on that," he warned quietly. "If we're trapped down here …"
She nodded once again, slowly this time. Supplies. Of course. She should be the one thinking of things like that. "Dalby," she called out, "don't drink too much of that water. Our exit to the shuttle may be blocked by fallen rocks. We don't know how soon we'll be able to get out of here."
Dalby stopped drinking and tipped his head in acknowledgment. Vance, still flat out on the ground, laughed mirthlessly. B'Elanna chose to ignore him, taking a small sip of water. It mixed with the dirt in her mouth to take on a metallic taste. The heat wasn't helping with her thirst.
Tabor attempted to dust himself down looking expectantly at B'Elanna all the while. Dalby came to his side. They were waiting for instructions. Her head spun with possibilities, priorities and extrapolations. She'd prepared herself mentally before the mission by running through various outcomes in her head, had even discussed numerous scenarios with Chakotay. What would she do if there were a problem with the demolitions kit? What if one of the team were injured? What if they encountered Cardassian resistance? Getting trapped underground by a rockfall hadn't been an outcome she'd considered.
Vance's delay in joining the huddle was actually quite helpful in allowing her to collect her thoughts, but there was only so long she could overlook his absence. Tabor was trying to comm Jor but couldn't open a channel. B'Elanna caught his subtle nod to her belt and tried to raise Jor with her own communicator. Nothing. Vance shifted his position on the ground with all the urgency of an Edosian slug, and her temper flared. "Are you actually hurt?" she asked him. "Or are you just trying to piss me off even more?"
Vance laughed at that too but finally deigned to get up and join them. Dalby looked ready to spit fire at him. "Your orders?" Dalby asked B'Elanna, his fingers fidgeting with the butt of his phaser rifle.
"We have to … make contact with the others," she decided. "Once we're all together we can head toward the surface and see if there's an obstruction and how bad it is."
"We should split up," Vance argued. "You go and look for the others if you like, but I'm heading straight to the surface, right now."
B'Elanna tensed further. "No. We stick together."
Vance gestured up the tunnel as he squared up to her. "For all you know, there could be a bunch of Cardies up there blowing this place to hell."
"You didn't seem all that bothered a minute ago," B'Elanna bit back at him.
"That wind and all this dust wasn't caused by an explosion, you idiot," Dalby said to Vance. "Didn't you hear? If Torres thinks it was a rockfall, then it was a rockfall."
Dalby's confidence was flattering, but baseless as Vance soon pointed out.
"Yeah, whatever," Vance said with raised eyebrows, adding sarcastically, "Torres is always right."
B'Elanna straightened, folding her arms across her chest. "Look," she said through gritted teeth, "I know I screwed up with the weapons signatures. I'm not entirely sure how yet, but … yes, I screwed up. We all know it and," she glared at Vance, "you've made your opinion on the matter perfectly clear. But Chakotay put me in command of this mission and the mission is ongoing. I make the decisions until we're back on the ship. This isn't a committee meeting; it's a briefing." She blinked, surprised at her own words and tone of authority. Maybe this was the real reason that Chakotay had included Vance on the away team: because Vance would get her so riled up that she'd be motivated into taking full ownership of the mission. Where Vance pushed at her, she'd push back two-fold. Chakotay had said Vance was there because he was both a good pilot and marksman, but from what B'Elanna had seen of the man's piloting skills, she had to disagree with the captain's assessment. Vance wouldn't have made it through the rigours of Starfleet pilot training. He was competent, but no better at flying than she was herself.
Dalby and Tabor were making noises in the affirmative, heads nodding in tandem. Vance looked as if to respond, but then his jaw clenched and, shaking his head, he backed away. They had to pass the junction to the east branch of tunnels in order to get to the surface anyway. By the time they reached the junction the situation might have changed – hopefully for the better.
Tabor checked over his equipment. He was carrying a pack full of extremely powerful explosives, but they were a top quality product sourced from a mining consortium on Betazed and thus incredibly stable until prepped for use. In any case, there'd been no damage to the canisters when he'd fallen onto them. B'Elanna tried once more to get a response from the other group via her communicator, but received only a feeble, mocking hiss. She turned it off before ordering Dalby to take point. Following on a dozen paces behind, she left Tabor the joy of bringing up the rear with Vance. The Bajoran was more tolerant of provocation than Dalby or herself. Growing up on occupied Bajor, it had been a necessity for survival. Those Bajorans who'd reacted to the insults and humiliations the Cardassians had dished out hadn't lived to repeat their mistake, and Tabor wasn't short of first-hand accounts on that subject. Not that he would just let Vance behave like an ass without passing comment. But Tabor would defend himself in a controlled and civil manner. B'Elanna quickened her stride to put more distance between herself and the rear guard. Dalby wasn't wasting any time out in front. If there was further movement inside the mountain, they'd at least reduced the likelihood of the four of them being struck down together.
As she ascended the long, winding slope in the near darkness, she settled her nerves with the thought that if Sahreen, Jor and Nelson were still where they were supposed to be, then they were fine. They would have been at an equivalent distance from the source of the incident as B'Elanna had. They'd be alive and well.
They had to be. Surely this mission couldn't go any more wrong.
..._ _ _...