Braul Lon urgently flicked his fingers across the control panels of his shuttle craft. He was in a hurry to put as much space between him and Celestus 4 as possible. The Orion Syndicate had him and his companions marked for death and were at this very moment hunting them down. He didn't know how far behind them they were but suspected it was scant few steps.
Next to him sat Lohan Togota, fidgeting and wringing his hands. He was a fellow Trill but aside from that the two men had nothing in common. Where Braul was an honest, hard working security officer in service of the Trill government, Lohan had spent his life committing crimes against the Trill. Cutting a deal to turn on his Syndicate associates in return for protection and a new life may well have been the first honest thing he had done in decades even if his motives were self serving.
Lohan's son, Zokalaroo, was seated behind both the men in silent terror. He well understood the danger they were facing. Having spent all of his 12 years of life rubbing elbows with Syndicate mobsters he couldn't help but know the consequences should they be captured. Aware of this, Braul was impressed at the bravery and composure the boy was showing given their circumstances.
"How you holding up back there," Braul called over his shoulder.
"I'm fine," the boy answered in a thin, tight voice.
"The kid's good. You just concentrate on getting us out of here!" growled Lohan showing far less composure than his son.
Ignoring him Braul continued, "That's quite a name you've got. In tribute to the general I assume?"
"Yes. My mother told me he was my great-great-great-grandfather."
"I think you need a few more 'greats' tacked on. General Zokalaroo's time was a couple of thousand years ago. How can she be sure you are related?"
"The general was joined. His full name was Zokalaroo Goth. The Goth symbiont was tracked until it was killed in the Jotha War while joined to a man named Tyle. That was some 800 years after the era of Zokalaroo.
Tyle was survived by his wife and daughter and that daughter is my mother's link to the general."
"Sounds like your mother went to a lot of trouble to keep track of her genealogy. I'd love to hear more of it when we get back to Deep Space Nine."
Lohan let out a derisive sneer. "Stupid woman was always on about it."
"It was her dream that I'd be joined some day," added the boy ignoring his father's slighting of his mother.
Lohan let go another sneer.
"Don't like joined Trills?" Braul asked.
"Don't really care one way or another. I do think we Trills make way too much out of it. There's more to life that playing hostel for some worm."
"You do know I'm joined?" asked Braul.
A red light began to flash and a warning klaxon started to sound.
"Well I hope one of your past lives was as a combat pilot because we have about a dozen close range fighters looking to blast us to bits."
"Where did the Orion Syndicate get hardware like that?" barked Braul as he pulled the rear sensors online to get a look at his pursuers. The screen gave its readout and subsequently he gave a disgusted look at Lohan. "Those are Trill ships."
"You knew I wasn't a saint when you took this assignment," spat Lohan. "If I were I'd be of no interest to the ministry! As it is, they want to know who it was on the inside what gave me those ships. Not that it is going to matter in about twenty minutes because that's all we got left to our lives unless you get us out of here!"
"Hold on!" Braul yelled as he threw the small ship into a hard banking maneuver. Just off the starboard side a sudden flash lit the cabin and a shockwave jolted them all.
"That was a phase shifting quantum torpedo! Damn it! Computer! Drop shields. Divert all power to the engines!"
"Drop shields?" screamed Lohan it terror. "Are you insane?"
"Those torpedoes are designed to phase shift so that they penetrate any shielding," Braul snapped back. "Keeping our shields up is both useless and a waste of power. Now! Are there any other surprises I need know about?"
"No," answered Lohan dryly. Braul didn't believe him but didn't have the luxury of time to find out.
"Snatch Team to Defiant: We can't make the rendezvous. Need you to come to us!"
A static laden reply hissed through the shuttles speakers, "We picked up your pursuers on our sensors and are in route. We can not, repeat; can not get to you before you are overtaken. You will have to hold them off as best you can until we arrive."
"Damn it!" Braul swore again.
He flicked the screen controls in front of him and frantically searched the local systems for any sort of refuge. Finding the nearest hospitable site, a jungle moon orbiting Celestus 8, he set in a course at maximum speed.
"That course is taking us away from our rescue! What are you playing at?" bellowed Lohan again.
"You heard them. We won't link up in time. However, if we can get to that moon not only can we keep them from surrounding us totally but, if it goes badly, we will at least have the slim chance of going down on a life supportable surface."
"You are insane. You're going to get us all killed," yelled Lohan but Braul was paying him no heed.
"Zokalaroo, remember where I showed you the emergency supplies were kept? I need you to dump the stuff you took from your home and cram as much of those supplies as you can into our duffle bags."
"You intend on landing flat out. By the gods, you've lost your mind!"
"Lohan," snapped Braul, "I have had a belly full of your whining! You will either follow my orders or I'll beam you over to the nearest Orion ship as a bribe to let us go."
"They'll never go for that!" scoffed the criminal, knowing his former comrades all too well.
"Probably not, but it might just buy us a few minutes and in the peace and quiet of your absence maybe I will be able to come up with a better plan."
Something in his tone told Lohan that Braul meant every word he had just spoken and, defeated, went to help his son stuff their small packs with supplies.
Suddenly the ship lurched and the cabin was a spectacle of sparks and smoke.
"We've been hit. Lost all primary control functions. Secondary thrusters still online."
"Will they be enough to land us safely?" croaked Zokalaroo.
"We are about to find out. Sit down and hold on!"
The next few moments were chaos. Braul struggled to remain at the controls as long as possible while Zokalaroo slammed and bounced off the cabin walls and surfaces like a rubber ball. Lohan was screaming in terror one moment then became unnervingly silent.
Forcing himself off the floor of the shuttle craft Braul clutched his side and wheezed an ineffectual breath. Inside his head one of his past hosts who had been a physician informed him he had broken ribs and a pierced lung. His time in this life was coming to an end. He had to find another host immediately!
Looking to his left he saw that Lohan's life had already left him. The only remaining chance the symbiont had was the boy. Staggering through the wreckage of the cabin Braul found him unconscious and bleeding from the nose and mouth. A quick inspection, as thorough as his dying body would permit, showed that aside from some heavy bruises and minor cuts, the boy was well enough.
Dragging himself to the packs Zokalaroo had prepped he retrieved water and a medi-kit. Dousing the boy's face to revive him drained what little strength he had left and he sunk back against the wall. Either the boy would wake in time or he wouldn't.
The passing seconds before the boy's eyelids fluttered seemed to the dying Trill to be hours. He was relieved to see that once conscious the child was alert and despite being beaten and bruised, was still in control of his faculties.
"Good boy!" wheezed Braul.
"My father?" the boy asked.
"Dead," answered Braul flatly not having time to soften the blow but somehow doubting it was all that severe to begin with.
"Listen, Zokalaroo. I'm dying too."
"Zoka. Everyone just calls me Zoka," the boy interrupted with tears welling in his eyes.
"I'd forgotten. Ok. Zoka. There is nothing that can be done to help me now. What is important is that my symbiont survives. You are the only Trill left. Will you accept it?"
"I didn't think kids could stand the stress of being joined."
"Nonsense," scoffed Braul attempting to keep the boys spirits up. "Long ago in our history, orphan children were the preferred hosts. The symbionts chose their next host then became the parent to the child, raising them to be exactly who the symbiont wanted or needed them to be. It is a practice long, and I think happily, forgotten by our people."
"What do I have to do?" Zoka stammered unsure of himself.
"Well, I'm not going to lie to you. It takes a lot of courage and is painful. See, today we transfer the symbiont in a surgical sort of way. Back then, well, the old host and the new one slit their own stomachs open and then the new host lay on top of the old allowing the symbiont to leave one body and crawl into another."
"You are joking!" cried the child horrified.
"Zoka, I wish I were. Yes, the joining is traumatic. After, however, I can promise you a life you can't even dream of. And, there is a fantastic surprise waiting for you after you are joined I think you will especially like."
"All my life my mother taught me that a host's life is meaningless compared to that of a symbiont," Zoka said while dreamily swaying to and fro.
"Hey! Stay with me kid. You can't be slipping in and out of shock here. You've got to keep your wits or we are both dead. The Orion Syndicate will soon find where we went down and send a hit squad. If we are to do this it has to be now!"
"Let's do it then," Zoka said his voice now rock steady.
"You are one brave little soldier! First, take off your shirt and help me with mine. Now, open the medi-kit and find the laser scalpel. I'll slit my belly so you can see how it is done."
Zoka handed the surgical tool to Braul who without hesitation set it to a frighteningly deep incision depth and made a horizontal slice running from side to side at the base of his rib cage. Blood spurted violently out of the gash initially then oozed with each beat of the dying mans heart.
Braul hooked his thumb under the skin he had just separated and with a grimace pulled it down just enough to expose a dingy white and bloody thing that was wiggling it's way out of the newly made hole in the man's flesh.
"OK Zoka. It is now or never. The symbiont has detached itself from me and now we are both dying."
Zoka looked at the ugly white bug inching its way out of Braul's blood soaked belly. He wanted to run out of the shuttle and get away. He felt himself gag as the impulse to vomit struck him hard. Overriding his instincts to flee was the knowledge that this was a symbiont. His entire culture revolved around their preservation. This worm may have been alive for hundreds of years. Was it to die now simply because he didn't have the courage to cut the hole in his flesh that would save it?
He trembled as he took the glowing scalpel out of Braul's hand. Tears in anticipation of the pain were flowing out of his eyes as he brought the laser blade close to his soft skin. With a deep breath and using too much force, though needed to prevent his fear from staying his hand, Zokalaroo drove the searing blade into his flesh. Cutting across his stomach his lips opened and his teeth clenched in a silent grimace of anguish until he dropped the tool unable to continue.
"That's good enough. You did great, Zoka!" soothed Braul. "Now, lay across my chest and pull the wound open to let it in like you saw me do to let it out. Zoka? It is going to hurt a lot when the symbiont enters and attaches. After that you will be dazed but listen, you have got to pay attention to the others that will be in your head. They will keep you alive.
"All right, pull it open and lay down so it can crawl in. That's it. Good boy."
Braul's voice was fading into a whisper. Zoka knew the man was dying but the agony he was feeling as the symbiont entered his belly made that and all else meaningless. It was pain such as he had never dreamed could be inflicted on a body. Suddenly the pain was not so much gone but distorted by the roar of thousands thunderously cheering inside his head.
*It is finished, Zoka,* Braul's voice spoke into the boy's mind above the others.
"Braul?" yelled the boy, "I thought you were dead."
*My body is dead. My memories live on in you.*
*We don't have time for this,* snarled another voice. *Grab a dermal regenerator, a weapon or two, and get out of here!*
"A der…dermal what?" Zoka wearily asked aloud again.
*In the medi-kit, lad* a third voice, much kinder and soothing, explained. *And a wee stimulant too, I think.*
Zoka opened the kit again and instinctively drew out the right tools.
*That's right!* affirmed the gentle voice after the stimulant was administered. *You can repair the damage later. Just keep your arm tight over that flap in your belly so we don't plop out.*
A hundred voices laughed in Zoka's mind.
*Silence!* roared yet another voice. This one was full of power and authority.
The other voices died down instantly. In more patient tones yet just as commanding the voice continued, *All right little soldier, you need to get moving. We are going to talk you through setting the phaser rifles to overload in cascade. Then you will take a pack and hand phasers and run into the jungle as fast as you can.*
*Why not take the rifles?* objected several voices. *They are more powerful!*
*The boy is too small and is injured. It's not practical. He can't leave the supplies to lighten the load because that open gash is bound to get infected on this mud hole of a moon,* answered the cool commanding voice. No other objection was made.
Without understanding what he was doing Zoka rigged the booby trap and ran out of the shuttle and into the dense jungle. He had just dodged behind a mossy tree when an orange flash of light whizzed by his ear and exploded just where he would have been had he not abruptly changed direction, though he didn't know what made him do so.
"Put that away," growled a deep raspy voice behind him.
Zoka turned to look around the massive tree trunk and saw a Nausican squaring off against a human. "The Orion Syndicate doesn't murder children. Either this hellish moon will conquer the boy or the boy will conquer the moon. Neither outcome is of any concern to the Syndicate. We just need to make sure that the traitor and the lawman are both dead."
Zoka turned his face back to the tangled jungle ahead of him and pushed ahead. He had scarcely taken a dozen steps when the shuttle exploded with a force that shook the earth and rattled the trees. Birds and arboreal animals burst into retreat from the sound and somewhere to his right a large cat like creature crashed through the underbrush abandoning its plan to have Zoka for its supper.
*That should buy us plenty of time,* the gentle voice in his head said.
*Agreed!* answered the voice of power. *Zoka, listen to Braxsim. He'll tell you how to heal that hole in your gut.*
"Who are you?" Zoka asked aloud obviously addressing the authoritative voice.
Gentle laughter rumbled through the boys mind but the voice rose above it jovially, *Me? Unless I am mistaken, I'm the great surprise Braul promised you, little soldier. I am General Zokalaroo Goth, your famous grand sire."
"What do you make of it, Doctor?" Commander Kira Naris asked, "And if all you tell me is,'There was an explosion,' I just may blow up!"
"Well," drawled Dr. Bahsier, "There was an explosion." He eyes twinkled with mischief as he paused just long enough for Commander Naris' blood to begin to boil.
"And," he continued in his aristocratic drawl, "there is too much Trill bio-debris for one life form so I am going to say there were two. Furthermore, there are bits of Nausican over there and some human DNA over here."
"You said two Trills. We were expecting three: two men and a small boy. Any way to determine more about the dead Trills?"
"I can't tell you much more without a detailed analysis of the debris. Based solely on quantity of biomaterial it really depends on how big the men were and how small the boy was. All three could be scattered around here. There just no way of knowing at this point."
"I find it unusual that the shuttle would simply explode so violently on impact like this," Kira said to herself more than to any particular member of the away team.
"Oh! She didn't go off because of the impact." Chief Miles O'Brien interjected rising from where he had been squatting amongst the charred ruins of the ship.
"Explain," commanded Kira.
"These Trill shuttles are built a lot like our Federation Runabouts. They are designed specifically not to explode in crash scenarios."
"But it could happen?"
"Not likely, and not like this. See, the epicenter of the explosion is away from all likely candidates for causing such a catastrophe. It didn't start in the core or engines. This explosion started in the weapons locker. Those weapons are stored disabled.
"The only possible explanation is somebody rigged the phaser rifles to overload. Judging from the force it had to be the rifles and not hand phasers and I'd swear they had been linked together somehow to maximize the effect."
"Let's try to piece this together," Kira said. "We know three Trills were on the shuttle. It's a pretty safe bet the Nausican and the human were Syndicate. Somebody had to rig the trap for them so at least one Trill was still alive but killed himself just to take out the Syndicate thugs?"
"It's what I'd do. From my experience with the Orion Syndicate, I know I'd rather die than be taken alive if they had a grudge against me," O'Brien offered.
"There may have been another explanation besides avoiding capture," Dr. Bashier called from the edge of the jungle surrounding them.
"You found something?" Kira asked.
"Trill blood going away from the crash site. Looks like someone survived. The booby trap bought time to escape and this time, Commander, I can tell you it was the boy."
"How do you know?"
"If it were either of the men, there would be higher concentrations of Trill testosterone in the blood samples. As the testosterone levels in this blood are minute…"
"Our survivor is a prepubescent boy," Kira summed up.
"Exactly!" beamed the doctor.
"Kira to Defiant!"
"Defiant here! Go ahead Commander."
"Dax, begin a full sensor sweep starting from the crash site and radiating out. We are looking for a badly wounded 12 year old boy in a savage jungle. I want him found before nightfall."
"We're on it," confirmed Ezri Dax.
Turning to the security detail Kira continued to give orders, "You two track that blood trail to its source. Be careful! There may be more Orion Syndicate agents out there. Doctor, you go with them. If that boy is out there and loosing blood, he'll need you.
"Chief, you're with me. I want to find those Orion Syndicate ships."
The two parties walked off in opposite directions. It was only a matter of moments before Kira and O'Brien discovered one of the stolen Trill fighter craft.
"They didn't bother to hide it did they?" scoffed Kira.
"No, Commander. I guess they didn't feel they needed to or that they'd be here very long."
Pausing to look around he asked, "I wonder, where's the other ship gone?"
"Other ship?" asked major Kira.
"These ships are light fighters; single occupant craft?" O'Brien explained as he moved to inspect the remaining ship. "There was a Nausican and a human at the crash site. We are missing one ship."
"You're right," confirmed Kira, squatting amongst the tall grasses, "I can see the imprint of a second ship here. You think the boy managed to fly it out of here?"
"Anything's possible, Commander, but that would be a fine bit of piloting for a kid to accomplish. These single fighter craft are tricky to fly. It takes a well trained pilot."
"Kira to Bashir. Any luck locating that boy?" the Major called into her communications badge.
"No luck at all," called a nearby voice out of the jungle not bothering with a com badge. Moments later Dr. Bashir and the security team strode into the makeshift landing zone.
"Report," Kira commanded.
"We followed the blood trail. There was a lot of it and it wasn't hard to track. Then the blood trail pooled under a tree. We can only assume the boy stopped there."
"Assume? Why assume?"
"Because," drawled the doctor, "that's where the blood trail ended. There was no sign of struggle, no indication that an animal drug him off. There were only these," and he held up two medical devices.
"Well the one is obviously a hypo..."
"With residue of a common stimulant," embellished Bashir.
"And the other?"
"It is the Trill version of a dermal regenerator. My guess is whoever stopped, repaired the boy's wound then discarded these and pressed on."
"Wait. Doctor! You are talking like there was more than one person walking away from that crash site."
"That is the only logical explanation I can think of. That much blood would only come from a pretty serious wound. Its treatment would be a bit more complex than simply following instructions from a field medicine guide. It would require a practiced and educated hand. An adult hand."
"So, we are back up to two people! But there were only three on board the shuttle to begin with, two of whom were blasted to bits. And, only one single-seat ship missing." Kira reviewed frustrated.
"I suppose it's like Julian said earlier," offered O'Brien. "It would depend on the size of the boy. It is possible he could have squeezed onto the lap of an adult in one of these fighters. Tight fit, but not impossible. Maybe there was a fourth passenger on that shuttle."
"Kira to Dax," she impatiently called into her com badge again.
"Go ahead, Commander," Ezri responded.
"We've got a tangled mystery down here. Any luck with the scan?"
"We've gone out 50 miles in a tight band sweep. No other life forms have shown up, aside from those you'd expect in a jungle."
"OK. What about a ship leaving the surface?"
"Not since we've been in orbit."
"I didn't think so. We've done all we can down here. Beam us back up then tow the fighter with a tractor beam.
"O'Brien, I want you to go over the sensor logs for the past few hours and see if you can find that other blasted ship.