Chapter 24

USS Echo – Holding Station in the Beta Drani Oort Cloud

"Condition alert! Bridge to all decks, condition alert!"

Niznik Vox had just swallowed a bit of his grakish salad, a common yet delicious meal from his homeworld,Trill, when the alert siren shrilled throughout the viewing lounge/mess hall on Deck Two. The Trill officer now glared at the intercom speaker on the far wall while Carter's calm yet urgent voice spoke through it. "I repeat, all decks, condition alert. Captain Vox to the Bridge. Colonel Utron to the Bridge."

"Dammit," he whispered. It had only been about ten minutes or so since they had finished the conference he'd called between Utron, Hobson, Krilka, Dr. Grey and himself. They'd gone over the data that Krilka had collected from her long range scans with a fine toothed comb in order to plan for their surreptitious approach to the far-side of the third planet's moon. Their scans had shown the Minbari had a Tinashi frigate on station in geosynchronous orbit above their outpost, the very same outpost the Earthforce intelligence platoon had been assigned to observe. He'd wanted to avoid combat if he could. The soldiers who were stuck on that planetoid were counting on them to extract them from the hornet's nest and bring them all home.

Now Vox left his dish and raced out into the corridor. He sped to the nearest turbolift and, after the doors had swished open, stepped inside the car. Then he used his command override to direct the lift to take him to Deck One.

Moments later, he exited onto the nerve center of his ship, the Bridge. "Captain," Krilka started. Then she paused while Utron stumbled out of the lift almost on top of Vox. "Colonel. Our sensors have detected that the bio-electric life form is rapidly advancing on the position where your men are located."

"What?!" Vox snapped. "Why weren't we told about this earlier, Lieutenant?"

Her expression did not waiver in the slightest when she snapped to attention. "It seems that the officer manning my station was apparently distracted for a short period of time and only noted the life form's movements a few moments ago, sir. I sincerely regret that this error has occurred and take full responsibility for my subordinate's actions. I respectfully request that you allow me to handle his discipline. As for myself, I will accept any discipline you wish to hand out at your sole discretion, captain."

Vox regarded her with a slightly raised brow over his right eye. Krilka definitely was different from most Klingon officers his prior host, Jezri, had ever met before. Frankly, he was surprised she hadn't used her disruptor to address the wayward crewman's error. "I see. Very well, Lieutenant. I shall consider what would be appropriate and inform you of my decision after we have recovered the Earthforce platoon from the surface of the moon. As for the errant officer, how do you intend to discipline him?"

"I believe having him perform several extra duty shifts at the science console while under my intense supervision would properly…enhance his concentration on his duties in the future, sir."

Vox nodded in response while he winced inwardly on behalf of the young ensign. Poor bastard, he thought. In the meantime, he took his seat in the command chair on the raised dais in the center of the room. "That sounds...appropriate, Lieutenant. Now, situation report!"

Her stance relaxed somewhat as she stated, "The Minbari frigate remains in geosynchronous orbit above the enemy outpost on the moon. Of course, her position would interfere with the ship's direct insertion into orbit that would allow the Echo to retrieve the Colonel's men with her transporters."

Vox frowned. The Klingon woman was certainly right on target with her assessment. To avoid tipping the Minbari off that Earthforce or Starfleet had even been in the system, his perimeter action ship had been incommunicado from the rest of the fleet stationed in Alliance Earth space. Vox hadn't dared to try and send a subspace signal to Jason via the subspace communications buoys they'd dropped in the void between Sol and Beta Durani. Thus, there'd been no change of the original plan that had called for the ship to sneak into orbit on the opposite side of the planetoid and using shuttles flying close to the surface to retrieve Utron's men and their equipment right from under the Minbaris' noses.

However, if the bio-electric life form was closing in on the Earthforce platoon's position, all bets were off.

"All right then," Vox said with a sigh. Then he pressed the intercom switch located on the arm of his command chair. "Vox to M'zen."

The Caitian MACO answered immediately. "M'zen here."

"Gunny, I want you to meet Lieutenant Krilka and Colonel Utron in Transporter Room One. You are to take five members of your team and beam down to the surface of the moon along with the colonel and Krilka. Arm the entire landing party with body armor and phaser carbines with the exception of the lieutenant who will go into battle with her disruptor. Gunny, Krilka will be in command of the landing party. You all need to be ready to go in eight minutes."

"Understood, captain. We'll outfit the colonel with a carbine, too, sir. I've checked him out on one. If that's all, sir?"

"Yes, that is all."

"Thank you, sir. M'zen, out."

After the MACO had closed the circuit, Vox turned to his first officer. "We'll be in orbit come hell or high water by then."

"Understood, captain."

She then turned to the turbolift but a moment later he called out to her. "Krilka."

Now she shot a questioning look at him over her shoulder.

"Qapla!" he barked.

Slowly, a dangerous smile dawned on her aristocratic face. "Qapla!" she responded. Then she turned to the Earthforce officer and snapped, "Come!"

Once the lift's door had closed behind the Klingon and the Terran, the Trill commander turned his attention to his Vulcan helmsman. "T'pal, ahead one half impulse! When we've cleared the cloud, increase speed to warp six. Take us in on a bearing of 047 mark 12."

"Aye, sir. Going to one half impulse, bearing 047 mark 12."

Almost immediately, he sensed the ship's acceleration when the Echo sped away from in between the massive boulders where it had been hiding among the debris that was left over from the formation of the Beta Durani that separated the system from interstellar space. Although the transition from full stop to half impulse was subtle, any old hand on a starship could detect it.

Moments later, T'pal called out, "We have cleared the cloud and am initiating warp speed, captain. Warp one…two…three…four…five…we're holding at warp six, sir."

"Steady as she goes, T'pal. In five minutes, fifty-six seconds, go to full stop. That should put us about a hundred kilometers off the Minbari frigate's stern."

"Aye, sir!" T'pal answered, sounding surprisingly excited for a Vulcan.

Now he turned to Hobson at Tactical. "Lieutenant, raise the shields. Load torpedo bays but hold Bay Three in reserve. Set all torpedo triggers for a three second delay. I want our ordnance to penetrate the enemy vessel's hull before they blow. Then I want you to energize our capacitors."

"Aye, sir! Torpedoes are loaded and armed," the young man called out a few seconds later. "Phasers ready; shields are up."

Vox nodded to the man then turned to speak to his communication officer. "Lieutenant Carter, switch main viewscreen on."

"Aye, sir! Forward viewscreen activated."

"Captain!" the ensign who manned Krilka's station shouted. "Sir, one of the human life signs is fading rapidly!"

"What?!" Vox snapped. "Explain!"

"It…the bio-electric life form seemed to come into contact with one of the life signs, causing it to fluctuate wildly." Then the young man took another glimpse inside the station's hood and gasped. "Sir…the life sign…it's…gone."

In response, Vox slammed the edge of his fist down on his intercom switch. "Vox to Transporter Room One!"

"Transporter Room One to Vox. Krilka here."

"When you encounter the bio-electric life form treat as hostile. I repeat, treat as hostile. Do whatever it takes to protect the lives of those men down there."

"Understood. Krilka out."

Moments later, while the Echo's warp bubble surfed through subspace, Vox waited restively as he stared at the viewscreen in the hopes of catching an initial glimpse of the enemy vessel that would be the first obstacle they had to overcome before they could recover the Earthforce soldiers. Then he shot a look at the chronometer located between the helm and navigation consoles.

When it reached thirty seconds to go, he began his own personal count down under his breath.

When he reached zero, T'pal snapped, "Dropping out of warp, all stop!"

Tactical announced, "Minbari war frigate, bearing 046 mark 11, distance one hundred point zero one nine kilometers!"

He could have kissed T'pal if doing so wouldn't have been harassment, not to mention a complete and utter breach of decorum. "Nicely done, helm! Hobson, lock torpedoes on the signal emitted by that ship's quantum singularity!"

"Weapons locked on target, sir!"

Vox nodded solemnly, the heavy burden of command settling upon his shoulders. "Fire," he commanded.

The young man acknowledged Vox's command, "Torpedoes away," and everyone on the Bridge held their breaths when the Echo shuddered slightly right before a pair of pulsating red orbs slowly accelerated away from the bottom of the primary hull.

Seconds later, the torpedoes hurtled across the void and smashed through the Tinashi's crystalline hull. Their speed allowed the weapons to burrow deep inside the stricken vessel before their triggers tripped resulting in a cataclysmic matter/antimatter reaction. At first, the hull of the doomed ship bowed inward for a split second before an apocalyptic explosion shattered the vessel. The enemy ship was completely destroyed. In fact, only small shards of crystal and an expanding cloud of gases were all that remained of the once proud frigate.

Except for the sound of the scanners and a few other instruments, the Bridge was silent.

Vox wanted to look away from the viewscreen. What they'd just done, in his mind, was tantamount to murder. The Minbari on board that vessel had never stood a snow ball's chance in hell. Why, those poor souls were dead before they'd even known what had killed them.

Now he glanced at the faces of Carter and Hobson and witnessed how bone white they were. Forever more, their childhood had come to an abrupt end. Unfortunately, he couldn't allow them to reflect on all the lives they'd just snuffed out and he needed to get their minds back in the game because they didn't have time for any recriminations regarding the destruction of the Tinashi.

They still had a job to do.

"T'pal, take us into a standard geosynchronous orbit above the Minbari outpost, altitude, one hundred thousand kilometers. Hobson, scan for the outpost's tachyon communications array. When you find it, use the ship's phasers to take it out. However, do not destroy the Minbari installation."

"Aye, sir," Hobson answered, his focus now back on his console.

"Entering standard geosynchronous orbit; altitude, one hundred thousand kilometers, sir," T'pal announced crisply.

"Well done, everyone," Vox said before he switched on the intercom. "Vox to Transporter Room One. Beam the landing party down."

"Transporter Room One to the captain. Landing party away, sir."

"Understood. Vox out."


Surface of the moon of Beta Durani III

Outside Unknown Civilization's Ruins

When the transporter effect had completed its cycle and its noise was lost to the heavy gusts blustering across the surface of the moon, Krilka, daughter of K'Mar, ignored the rain that pelted against the dusky skin of her face while she witnessed the sight of six of the Earthforce soldiers firing wildly at what appeared to be the creature she'd scanned earlier.

She was still panting harshly, excited by the Echo's destruction of the Minbari frigate minutes ago. The landing party had watched the attack run against the hapless Tinashi on the transporter room's viewscreen right before it had beamed down. She'd never seen anything It had impressed her that Vox had not planned the assault out to the most intricate detail before he launched it. He simply had acted boldly, decisively, proving he was an absolutely dangerous adversary.

That fact did not surprise her in the least. After all, the man's last host had been both the teacher and lover of Captain Tynen, the qu' gho'Doq. Only a fool would underestimate the Trill officer. Krilka was many things but she was no fool.

Now, though, she dauntlessly faced death as the creature towered over them, standing inside a ball of lightning. It howled its defiance, like a terrifying apparition from the bowels of Gre'thor.

In response to the thing's challenge, Krilka was beyond excitement. Indeed, her entire body hummed in ecstasy.

Her gaze lingered where bolts of electricity forked when they struck both the hulking thing and the ground itself. The very water in the air appeared to sizzle from intense bursts of energy when the beast's bio-electric field shrugged off the human's PPG fire as easily as an Earth ursine would a hive of bees while the animal feasted on their comb to gorge itself on the honey produced by the insects.

The creature the humans now faced was tall, at least five Federation meters high. Even though the wind itself scratched at her sight as if it was seeking to make a meal of her very eyes themselves, she brushed the elements aside and continued to observe the creature. Although she couldn't be absolutely certain her vision wasn't playing tricks on her, she thought she could just make out the beast's feral face, its ridged features and its mouth filled to the brim with jagged, sharp teeth.

She gazed upon the life form for a full ten seconds then sighed wistfully to herself. It is magnificent, she mused. Why, if Fek'lhr, the Guardian of Gre'thor's Pit of Despair where the souls of the dishonored dwell, truly existed, she imagined that the great demon's countenance would most likely match that of this amazing creature!

Oh, if she could only have more time to observe it, study it further and that the Lady Mara could be by her side to bear witness to its very existence!

Alas, it was not to be.

How sad.

Besides, her captain had commanded her to end the creature's life. She was not going to fail him again.

"Colonel, identify yourself to your men and command them to fallback," she instructed. Then she called out to her men. "Warriors! Turn your weapons to their disruptor-b settings. Based on my previous scans, those settings should be more than enough to kill it."

Moments later, the colonel shouted, "Earthforce platoon! I am Colonel Utron of the Earthforce Marine Corps. Fallback, men! I say, fallback! We'll take it from here. You men, get clear!"

When the six frightened men broke and ran from the beast like bats out of hell, Krilka frowned. Despite the animosity her people had had with Starfleet before the war with the Minbari, no Klingon had ever said the Federation warriors had ever fled from glorious combat like terrified sheep. It seemed the humans from her side of the galaxy were different after all. Once the Earthforce people had cleared the range, she snapped, " fire!" to her team.

While she regretfully aimed her disruptor and sent amber pulses of hadrons and ions downrange into the creature's torso, the MACOs and Utron streamed blue-white pulses of phased energy designed to shatter the bonds of energy or matter at the subatomic level into the monster.

Now the creature writhed in agony as its screams filled the gloom of the dark and stormy night for several seconds while the edges of its bio-electric field expanded then distorted in the seconds before its form completely shattered into nothingness.

"Cease fire," she commanded moments later and their guns fell silent.

For several seconds, no one said a word. Now the life form was dead, strangely enough, Krilka's thoughts drifted to her new captain. After succeeding in rescuing most of the Earthforce men without losing any of her own, would he lessen the punishment he owed her for the ensign's failure earlier on the Bridge? She truly didn't know how things would turn out because she still did not understand the process of discipline in Starfleet. If she'd been on the K'tanco, she would have used her qlgh'pej, her agonizer, on the young man for ten minutes or so to train him to be more focused on his duties in the future. However, she'd left the device on the K'tanco when Lady Mara had advised her that the Federation would frown on her bringing it aboard the Echo. Even though she followed the Lady's counsel, she still failed to understand why Starfleet wouldn't approve of its use. After all, centuries ago, even one of the humans' most popular behaviorists, a man named Robbins, had understood the universal maxim that using pain to motivate individuals to excel by training them it is best to do as expected to avoid further application of more pain is the most effective way to motivate individuals on a consistent basis.

Smiling now, she shook her head to clear her woolgathering from her mind and said, "Gunnery Sergeant M'zen—fellow warriors, well done." Then she turned to the Earthforce officer and drawled, "Colonel, if your men want to live, I suggest they gather their comrades and the rest of their equipment as expeditiously as possible so we can leave this place."

While the colonel blinked at her, the woman simply ignored him, drew her communicator from her belt and contacted the ship to report their status to her captain.


qu' = great

gho'Doq = assassin's blade

I apologize profusely to you all for the long delay in updating this story. I am determined to get it back on track. Thank you for sticking with it. - Norjc