On Stardate 50564.2 the Cardassian Union aligned itself with the Dominion, a powerful force from the Gamma Quadrant bent on galactic domination. Thus a series of events were set into motion that would eventually lead to the most devastating war the Alpha Quadrant had ever seen. After two years of bloody fighting and millions of deaths the Cardassians and their Dominion allies (which by then included the mysterious Breen) were defeated by an alliance of the Federation, Klingons and Romulans.

As part of the peace agreement the Dominion fleets retreated back to the Gamma Quadrant pledging never to return abandoning the Cardassians to an occupation by the victorious allies. Cardassian space was divided between the three powers who each took responsibility for their respective sectors. The old Cardassian military government was replaced by the Cardassian Civilian Administration who in theory worked with the allies to help govern the occupied Cardassians.

In reality however the pain of the wounds inflicted during the war still run deep even five years after the end of hostilities. For some those wounds may never heal.

The mug appeared on the brightly lit shelf of the food replicator surrounded by swirling balls of blue light which diminished as it materialized. After just a few seconds the mug of Vulcan mocha was ready. Brian Guild reached in with his right hand and lifted it to his mouth blowing on the contents to cool it. He knew he could have ordered it at a lower temperature but he preferred to savour the aroma of it before he drank it. With the cup in his hand he returned to the helm station of the Starfleet Nile-class Runabout and settled in to the comfortable full length seat. The stars darted passed the large forward facing window in long white lines as it travelled at Warp 8. Finally comfortable with the temperature of his drink he sipped it gently. The strong taste overwhelmed his senses and he smiled mildly as he appreciated the irony that such a tasteful and pleasing beverage was created by a race who suppressed all emotion.

The Runabout vibrated momentarily. Guild's heart seemed to leap into his mouth as he instinctively sprung into action. His hands reached for the helm station about to take over from the autopilot system when suddenly he paused. He saw on the display panel ahead of him that the Runabout had just passed through a pocket of ion particles denser than normal; quite common in this part of space. In a full sized starship he wouldn't have even noticed it but the Runabout was susceptible to a little bump. It was not enough to threaten the Runabout but it was enough to make the decks shake. He slumped back in his seat as he breathed a gentle sigh of relief. In his mind, for a split second, he was back in the Dominion War and had acted accordingly. He had thought these momentary cases of 'shell shock' as Captain Kira Nerys of Deep Space Nine once described it to him were behind him by now but it seemed that only a little shaking of the decks was enough to bring it surging back.

He looked down at his hands and began to wonder what he had done with his cup of Vulcan mocha. He tried to replay his movements in his head but the fate of the mocha remained a mystery. Since it was unlikely to have levitated then the logical conclusion was that it had gone downwards. Sure enough he found the mug split down the middle laying on the floor in a small puddle of brown liquid.

"Damn it," he huffed.

He leaned down to pick up the two fragments of the mug up. As he did so, the deck plates trembled briefly a second time.

Captain...

He heard the voice in his mind but at first couldn't quite place it although it seemed familiar.

Captain Reynolds...

...He's dead!

Cardassian ship is closing Commander...

...Hull breach on Deck 7. Commander...Commander Guild!


USS Centaur NCC-42403
Stardate 52312.1
Five years earlier.

"Captain!" yelled Lieutenant Commander Guild at the body of the Starfleet Captain that now lay strewn across the deck, the exploding plasma conduit that had killed him pouring light blue smoke into the air before the fire suppression systems kicked in and it fell silent. "Captain Reynolds!"

Manning the helm station, the Andorian Lieutenant D'Ranix had to only glance at the severity of the injuries Captain Charlie Reynolds had sustained to know there was nothing that could be done. "He's dead!"

"Cardassian ship is closing, Commander," barked the female Trill Ensign Siro Lanzia manning the Ops station beside the helm. "Hull breach on Deck 7, Commander."

For Guild it had all slowed to a crawl. The speed of the surprise attack by the Cardassian Galor-class cruiser coupled with the fact that with the death of Reynolds he was now Captain of the Centaur and everyone was looking to him for their orders. He was the Tactical Officer of the Centaur but had assumed the role of acting-Executive Officer for three weeks since Commander Ella Derrin was injured. Standing at the Tactical station behind the Captain's chair he found himself strangely mesmerized by the broken cup on the floor next to the Captain's body. It was the cup of tea Reynolds had been enjoying prior to the attack.

The deck shock violently as the ship was hit by enemy fire. It shook him awake. He had to act. Lives depended on it. He scanned his display and saw the Cardassian ship approaching the starboard side of the ship. Suddenly the ship trembled again as a torpedo impacted on the shields.

"Hull breach on Deck 7," reported Lanzia.

"Returning fire!" said Guild as he locked phasers on the Cardassian and hit the FIRE button. A beam of gold coloured energy surged around the Centaur's upper phaser array before it lashed out towards the Cardassian ship hitting it in the enemy vessel's wing shaped port nacelle. The phaser beam was largely absorbed by the Cardassian's shields and it quickly returned the favour with another torpedo. "Our shields are failing on the starboard side. Helm; evasive pattern Delta Four. Try and keep our starboard side away from them."

"Aye sir," replied D'Ranix whose two blue antennae were now standing upright which was a natural Andorian reaction to fear in the same way a Human's hair might stand on end.

The Centaur turned hard to port being thrown into the turn by D'Ranix all the while its upper phaser array exchanged fire with the Cardassian ship. The severity of the evasive action meant that another Cardassian torpedo sent towards the Starfleet ship narrowly missed it passing harmlessly behind the two nacelles that protruded down from the saucer shaped main hull.

"Keep bringing us around," ordered Guild. "I'm readying forward quantum torpedoes. Our phasers aren't making a dent on that bastard."

On the viewscreen the stars appeared to be passing from left to right as the Centaur came around until the Galor-class was in front of them. The Centaur was far more manoeuvrable than the Cardassian ship and D'Ranix had used that mobility to position them on the enemy vessel's starboard side. This was at the maximum arc of the Cardassian ship's field of fire making it difficult for them to get a clear shot on the Centaur. Nevertheless an orange beam burst from the Cardassian's forward weapons array and jsut managed to hit the underneath of the ship with a sound like that of a giant hammer being slammed into the hull. Locking onto the wing-like warp nacelle of the enemy ship Guild hit FIRE and barked, "Firing torpedoes!"

From the torpedo launcher mounted under the saucer section four bright blue and white coloured torpedoes fired in quick succession. With such close proximity between the two ships there was little chance of the Cardassian evading them and they struck the Cardassian warp nacelle one after the other. The power of the warheads detonating overwhelmed the shields and burned holes in the golden brown coloured hull causing the nacelle to start bleeding energy. This made the Cardassian go momentarily limp.

"Their main power is fluctuating," reported Lanzia.

"Then let's take this opportunity to exercise the better part of valour and get the hell out of here," said Guild who knew that the Cardassian's power loss would be only temporary and the Centaur was too badly damaged to keep fighting.

The Centaur surged away from the Cardassian ship which was still able to fire off a few shots at the Federation starship. The two nacelles glowed brilliant blue as they powered up and in a bright flash it had gone to warp leaving the Cardassian fighting to restore main power.


The memory of that day that had been brought to the fore by the broken cup and the rumbling deck plates began to fade and he proceeded to clean up the mess. He replicated some napkins and used them to wipe up the coffee before placing them and the broken mug fragments back in the replicator for recycling. As he watched them disappear back into the blue orbs that had created them he spied his reflection in the black surface of the control panel. The gold tactical uniform he had worn during the war was gone replaced by the distinctive red signalling a command role but perhaps the biggest change from then was the four full pips that lined his right collar. He was now Captain Brian Guild.

He had recently received his promotion to Captain although in fact he been the Captain of the Centaur during the final phase of the Dominion War since no suitable replacement for Captain Reynolds was found albeit with the rank of Commander. Now the Centaur had been decommissioned and he was given another command; the USS Erinyes NCC-65679 based at Deep Space Nine. The Erinyes was one of the so-called "Frankenstein Fleet" that appeared following the brief war with the Klingons in 2373 and the Borg incursion a few months later. Both incidents inflicted losses on Starfleet that needed replacement quickly.

The Erinyes, named after a Greek fairy of retribution, was a Yeager-class starship that incorporated the saucer section from an incomplete Intrepid-class but the engineering hull was taken from a Falconidae-class transport ship itself developed from the smaller Peregrine-class. It was a way of getting ships into service as quickly as possible in preparation for the impending war with the Dominion. The result was an adequate but somewhat ugly starship design. Both the Erinyes and the Yeager had operated out of Deep Space Nine throughout the Dominion War where they had served with distinction and afterwards.

A beeping sound emanated from the console beside the helm station. It was a distinctive two tone sound that he recognized as belonging to the communications suite telling him the Runabout was receiving a transmission. He sat back in the seat in front of the helm and activated the communications system.

"This is the Federation Runabout Odin out of Starbase 631," he stated. "Please identify yourself."

There was a loud squawking sound before a female voice responded, "-a Federation shuttlecraft. We have sustained damage to…" The squawking sound seemed to drown her out before the brief transmission ended altogether.

"Shuttlecraft this is the Odin, can you boost your power? I can barely hear you."

The squawking returned briefly until broken by the woman's voice. "-in need of assistance…is injured." The transmission ended again.

"Shuttlecraft this is Odin please acknowledge." He waited for an answer but none came. He tried hailing again but she did not reply. "Computer; can you locate the origin of the signal."

The computer beeped into life before replying in its almost monotone voice, "Source of the transmission is from inside the Cyprian Nebula bearing zero five five mark one four zero. Range; approximately two point seven light years distance."

"Computer; alter course to intercept."

"Acknowledged."

He then opened a hailing frequency back to Starbase 631. "Starbase 631 this is Runabout Odin. I have picked up a distress call from a Federation shuttlecraft inside the Cyprian Nebula. I'm altering course to intercept."

A deep male voice responded, "Understood Odin, we are dispatching the USS Exeter to assist you. ETA to the nebula is one hour twelve minutes."

"Thank you, Odin out," replied Guild before he closed the channel.

It was twenty minutes later that Guild found himself staring at the mass of pink and purple clouds that made up the Mutara-class nebula the Runabout having dropped out of warp as it arrived. Guild had tried repeatedly hailing the shuttlecraft that had sent the distress call but it proved to be an exercise in futility for he received no response each time.

"Computer," summoned Guild, "can you triangulate the source of the distress signal."

The computer beeped before the female voice replied, "Distress signal estimated to originate within a fifty thousand square kilometre area of the nebula."

The navigation display changed to a map of the nebula with a three dimensional yellow box indicating where the computer estimated the distress signal had originated. Guild leaned forward to examine it more closely. Although astronomically speaking the search area was a proverbial drop in the ocean it was still a large area to cover especially if the occupants of the shuttle were in need of urgent medical attention. The situation was worsened by the natural interference from the nebula itself which would only slow things down.

"It's a start I suppose," he said under his breath. "Computer; begin a full sensor scan of the search area. Try and locate any sign of a ship."

"Acknowledged."

Guild was an experienced Starfleet officer and he knew the difficulties even the advanced sensors on the quite new Runabout would have scanning a Mutara class nebula with all its radiation. It didn't help that they were looking for a small shuttlecraft. Several minutes passed before the computer beeped.

"Concentration of duranium and electroceramic detected."

"Computer; display location on the navigational display," instructed Guild who know those were key components in the manufacture of shuttlecraft. A small dot appeared inside the search area and he immediately plotted a course to intercept it. The gaseous clouds of the nebula quickly enveloped the Runabout making Guild feel like one of the old pilots of his planet's early period of flight. Back then pilots flying in dense cloud had only their wits and skill to keep them safe. Guild had a little more than that but the danger of flying inside one of these types of nebula was still very real and at the forefront of his mind.

Soon he was within visual range of the shuttle, its image being projected on the small screen to his left. It was an old Type-7 shuttle, a design hardly suited for flying in a Mutara class nebula. Twenty years ago they were quite a common design in Starfleet but these days they had all but been replaced with most going to civilian operators. The small white craft was floating aimlessly on the gravimetric waves being emitted from the centre of the nebula and Guild could make out damage to it its starboard nacelle.

"Computer; scan for life signs."

"Two life signs detected," replied the computer.

"Can we safely beam them over while inside the nebula?"

"Affirmative."

"Very well, lock on to their life signs and energize."

The computer beeped in confirmation and a few seconds later two people were being transported into the rear compartment behind Guild. He swivelled the chair around to look at his visitors just as the transporter cycle was finishing. One was a Bolian male, the blue skin on the right side of his face having been scorched a dark purple colour. The other was a Human woman with dark red hair who didn't appear injured although both were unconscious. Suddenly the woman coughed heavily as if her lungs weren't used to clean air. Both wore civilian clothing which went someway to explain why they were travelling in a disused shuttlecraft.

Guild reached for a First Aid kit positioned underneath the helm station and opened it to reveal among other things a medical Tricorder. He took it out and used it to begin scanning them. The woman rolled onto her back still struggling for air and as his first scans were completed he realized why. Both of them had inhaled large amounts of Therozene gas although he was puzzled as to how they had come into contact with the substance since it was not typically used aboard Type-7 shuttles nor was it a component of the nebula but that was an answer that could wait for later. She hadn't inhaled a lethal amount so for her it was simply a case of coughing out what she had in her lungs and replacing it with the clean air of the Runabout.

The Bolian on the other hand was slightly more hurt and Guild quickly put the Tricorder down and reached for a Dermal Regenerator. He carefully stepped over the woman as she began to win her fight for oxygen and knelt down beside the Bolian holding the small device a few inches from the wound. A beam of green light was projected onto the wound and began repairing it. Slowly the Bolian's natural skin colour started to return as the wounds dissipated. As he worked on healing the Bolian he looked at the woman whose eyes were now darting around the ceiling as she lay on her back.

"You're alright," he said to her gently. "You're safe. You're onboard the Runabout Odin. My name is Captain Brian Guild."

"Karen...Dr Karen Tulloch," she said spluttering, her accent having a hint of Scotland to it.

"Just try to breathe normally," he said to her.

"How is Drozan?" she asked in an increasingly fatigued voice referring to the Bolian lying beside her.

"He's ok but he needs a doctor. The USS Essex is on its way. I'll transport you both aboard as soon as it comes in to range." The Bolian's burns were now healed and so Guild returned the regenerator to the First Aid kit. He then looked at her and asked, "What were you doing in the nebula, Doctor?"

"We were," she started before spluttering into a cough. "We were analyzing samples of gases in the nebula."

"I didn't know there was Therozene in Mutara class nebulas," said Guild.

"Therozene?" she asked. "Oh yes, um, it was surprise to us as well. We only found a very small amount of it."

"Enough to give you a nasty cough," he said to her joking as he scanned the Bolian again to check on him.

"Yeah." She pulled herself upright and then reached out for his Tricorder. "May I? I am an MD."

"Of course," said Guild and he handed her the small scanning to device to her. She immediately began scanning him herself while Guild watched. Suddenly his mind seemed to ring an alarm bell and he couldn't help but ask, "Why would a medical doctor be involved in analyzing gas clouds inside a nebula?"

"I work at the Federation's Centre for Disease Control. I was conducting experiments to determine if space faring microbes could exist inside a nebula. He's got internal brain damage that needs repairing. We need to get him to a medical facility. How long until that ship arrives?"

"The Exeter will get here in under twenty minutes but if we head towards them we could halve that time," explained Guild who returned to the helm station and took control of the small ship, turning it around and heading out of the nebula at full impulse.

Just a few short minutes later the immense Galaxy-class USS Exeter dominated the view through the forward observation window. Despite the fact that it was now a twenty year old design the Galaxy-class was still impressive to behold especially when viewed from a Runabout.

"Runabout Odin this is the Exeter," said a deep male voice. "Report your status."

"This is Captain Guild; I have two persons here who need immediate transport to your sickbay."

"Acknowledged," replied the voice. "Stand by for transport."

Guild turned around and looked at Dr Tulloch who was still tending to her Bolian colleague. "Good luck."

"Thank you for everything, Captain," she replied and soon she was engulfed by the transporter stream.