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Staggering Stories Commentary #202: Babylon 5 – Phoenix Rising
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 15 Oct 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins and Keith Dunn sit down, roasted, in front of the Season 5 Babylon 5 episode ‘Phoenix Rising’, and spout our usual nonsense! Byron is losing control of more than his flowing locks, Garibaldi has a word with Bester and the rogue telepaths are burning bright. But enough of their […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #273: Captain Ace and a Bout of ST:D
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 08 Oct 2017 08:50

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller review Big Finish’s Doctor Who: Earth Aid audio play, discuss the first two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 02:01 — Welcome! 02:53 – […]


Staggering Stories Commentary #201: Doctor Who – Extremis
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 01 Oct 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins and Keith Dunn sit down, simulated, in front of the 2017 Doctor Who S10 episode, ‘Extremis’, and spout our usual nonsense! The Doctor is doing his Daredevil impersonation, Bill has an unreal feeling and the Monks are definitely meddling. But enough of their problems, please sit down with us […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #272: Doctor Who and those Effing Nanites
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 24 Sep 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins, Fake Keith, Jean Riddler, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller compare TV’s Doctor Who: Dalek and Big Finish’s Doctor Who: Jubilee, play a game, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:10 — Welcome! 02:38 – News: 02:48 […]


Staggering Stories Commentary #200: Babylon 5 – In the Kingdom of the Blind
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 17 Sep 2017 12:24

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Andy Simpkins and Keith Dunn sit down, blackmailed, in front of the Season 5 Babylon 5 episode ‘In the Kingdom of the Blind’, and spout our usual nonsense! Byron and his flowing locks are attempting some dirty blackmail, the Centauri Regent has taken to drink and Londo Mollari needs to watch […]


Staggering Stories Podcast #271: That Derby Aroma
by Staggering Stories Podcast
Sun, 10 Sep 2017 09:00

Summary: Adam J Purcell, Fake Keith, the Real Keith Dunn and Scott Fuller recount their time at the recent Whooverville 9 Doctor Who convention, talk about media we’ve been consuming, find some general news, and a variety of other stuff, specifically: 00:00 – Intro and theme tune. 01:30 — Welcome! 03:26 – News: 03:34 — […]

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Deep Space Nine

Deep Space Nine: Reflections, Chapter Twelve

Written by Karen Dunn


Hern, it seemed, disliked being locked up. Disliked it with a passionate intensity which belied his pompous appearance. Jill Andrews had been watching him pace the length of the holding cell for almost two hours now,; his temper growing shorter and shorter with each passing moment.

His companion had long since given up trying to calm him, his ears still ringing from a shouted, "Silence!" as he had offered the Merchant a seat on the one and only bunk in the cell.

Andrews listened patiently as Hern once more offered her riches and lands if she would only let him go. He was a powerful man he told her for the tenth time. She would do well to stay on his good side, he threatened again. Jill simply raised an eyebrow and turned her attention back to the crime reports she had been working on.

When Sisko entered, she barely noticed.

Hern's exclamation, "Captain! Captain, we need to talk!" snapped her head up and she jumped to her feet and told him that all was well.

Without acknowledging the two prisoners, Sisko nodded to his Security Chief, "How have they been?"

"Noisy, but no trouble."

Hern called frantically, "You see, Captain, we're no trouble. No trouble at all. Is this incarceration really necessary?"

The Captain approached the forcefield and glared in at the two men, "Until I have my officers back, yes, it's necessary."

"But I haven't seen your officers…" The glare deepened and Hern had the good sense to back away, "..all right, all right. They may be alive, they may not. Our technology may be nothing compared to yours, but we are not primitives. We do know when a ship enters our space."

"So you did see the Amazon?"

The Merchant's head fell, "Yes. But I swear to you, I saw nothing of your officers."

The Captains dark eyes were on fire with suppressed fury and he turned to leave. Hern's voice was a squeak as he called to his captor, "Captain…please..!"

Sisko face him again.

"I've told you all I know. That must be worth something…I have to get out of here…"

Sisko crossed back to the Merchant and sneered at him with disdain, "So you expect me to simply let you go?"

Hern held out his hands, pleading, "Please, Captain, I'm a businessman, not a criminal. Can't we come to some kind of agreement?"

"I'm listening."

The Merchant thought frantically, "I'll tell you how to open a breach. I'll tell you how to get to your friends."

Sisko shook his head even as his mind raced. He had to play this correctly if he was to keep the upper hand. Hern's apparent claustrophobia had been a bonus and, though he disliked using what amounted to little more than a Cardassian torture technique, he knew that if he kept the man locked up for long enough he would soon tell him everything he needed to know. He made to turn away again, wondering how far he could push things. The Merchant thrust out a hand to stop him leaving and yelped in pain as the forcefield crackled around his fingers. He snatched his singed hand back and looked at the man before him, "Our ship. In exchange for a ride home and our freedom we'll tell you how to open the breach and give you our ship."

Sisko looked at him, long and hard, his eyes burning through him.

"It must be of some use to you…"

Sisko continued to stare at him.

"We'll throw in the shuttle, too…"

Sisko smiled softly to himself. They had offered him everything they had. There was nothing left to bargain for. He knew that Dax would do her level best to decipher the workings of the shuttle's computer, but he had no right to expect miracles from her. If she delivered, all the better, but it would be good to have something to offer her in the way of help. He paced the floor between the cell and the outer door, more for show than any real need to think, then stopped in front of the prisoners once more, "Very well. If we find our crew alive and well, you go free. If not…I bring you back here and you spend the rest of your lives being transferred from a Bajoran prison to a Federation prison. And if you step out of line in the slightest I will send you to a Dominion prison. And nobody gets transferred from there."

Hern swallowed nervously, "Agreed."

With a nod, the Captain turned to Andrews, "Let him out, Ensign."

"Yes, sir." Jill rose and keyed the control pad. With a flicker, the force field dropped and her stepped out with as much of his shredded dignity in tact as he could muster. Andrews raised the field again before his associate could join them and smiled at the younger man's frustrated scowl, "I don't think it takes two to work a computer, do you?"

Without a word he flopped back down on the bunk and stared at the ceiling.

Andrews and Sisko escorted Hern out of the cell block and into her office. With a little push, Sisko made the Merchant sit at the desk as Jill locked out all critical systems on the off chance that this man had more knowledge than he was letting on, and ordered the computer to begin recording.

With a nervous glance at the two grim looking people before him, Hern swallowed and began to speak.

An hour later he sat back in the chair with an exhausted sigh, his lips dry, his throat sore, "That's everything, I swear it."

The Captain looked closely at him then gave a short nod, "Fine. Return him to his cell, Ensign."

He only let the smile play along his lips when the two were out of sight, then tapped his comm. badge, "Sisko to Dax."

"Dax here." She sounded exhausted and he knew that she had probably all but taken the shuttle apart in her bid for answers, "You'll have to give me more time, Benjamin…"

"No need. Patch into the computer in Security and hold on to your hat. I think you're going to love this…"

***

Hours later, Jadzia Dax straightened up with a groan and clamped her hands to the small of her back, attempting to ease the cramped muscles. She had been bending over the Merchant computer for far too long and would pay for it in the morning.

The price was more than worth it, though.

After hours of painstaking work with a system she barely understood she had been ready to give up. Then Benjamin had called and she had spent more precious time downloading data from Andrews' computer, reading it with widening eyes and a growing smile. After that it had not taken long to made a breakthrough. She finally had something to take to Benjamin which would, she hoped, return the smile to his face for good - once she had explained to him exactly what she had found.

And that was the part she was looking forward to.

She began to gather up her equipment, packing it carefully away, checking each padd in turn, allowing a contented hum of a half remembered tune to leave her lips even as a gravelly voice stroked her mind, "Let's not get carried away again, Jadzia. You've still got to find them," chided Curzon.

Jadzia waved an impatient hand, "We'll find them - and we'll find them alive. I know it." She grinned as she sensed her past host's discomfort, "Relax. A few hours ago we had no idea how to get to them. Now…? Luck's on our side, Curzon. We're going to win this one."

She slung her equipment bag over her shoulder. There were just a few more things to check before she left the ship and headed for Ops.

***

By the time Dax tumbled off the turbolift the others were already there, seated round the Ops table; Baskell and Andrews looking extremely nervous with Captain Sisko seated between them. Jadzia flashed the young officers a beaming smile before taking her seat and dropping a padd onto the table. She let her gaze travel in an exaggerated circuit of Ops, "Is the Colonel not joining us?"

Sisko shook his head, his jaw set, "The Colonel is in his quarters waiting on the next shuttle back to Bajor."

Jadzia grinned and it was all Dax, "Couldn't hack it?"

The Captain didn't smile - it would be unprofessional, "He objected to his verbal humiliation at the hands of a junior officer."

Andrews blushed as Dax turned the grin on her, "Shame on you!"

"I," Sisko raised his voice ever so slightly, "will no doubt receive an official complaint from the First Minister," he tapped the padd, "who will hopefully then withdraw said complaint when we get Kira back."

He allowed his crew to grin at one another for a moment before locking his eyes on Dax, "Well?"

She picked up the padd and scanned her copious notes, "I studied everything Hern told us and compared it with what I had already learned. You realise, that in a Merchant ship, this is little more than a suicide mission."

Sisko looked at her, "How so?"

Dax keyed a code into the Ops console and a three dimensional hologram sprang up before them. Sisko eyed the complex jumble of molecules and equations playing out their own personal scenarios before him and raised an eyebrow, "Let's pretend I don't understand what we're looking at in the slightest, Old Man."

She smiled fondly, "If you insist, Benjamin. This diagram shows the expected effect of opening a breach on the warp and impulse drives of a ship."

Three blank faces looked at her and waited. She sighed, "Well, using one of our ships, the very act of opening a breach would involve introducing one of these crystals…" she fished one of Andrews' confiscated crystals out of her equipment bag and held it up for all to see, "…into the matter/antimatter containment field."

Baskell raised a cautious hand, "Sorry, Commander, but into the containment field?" She nodded and he frowned, "But isn't that slightly dangerous?"

Dax grinned openly, "Just ever so. The Merchant ship is capable of Warp 3 - 4 at a push, but as far as I can tell, they have no antimatter and no dilithium in the system."

Sisko held up his hands, "If they have no antimatter, how do you know we would have to introduce the crystal into the containment field?"

She had been waiting for one of them to ask; had been almost bouncing in her seat with contained excitement, "Because as far as I can tell, this is crystallised antimatter."

They opened their mouths as one, all ready to speak. Then, as one, they closed them again, realising they didn't know what to say and Dax chuckled softly at the collective goldfish impression. Sisko broke the silence, watching her carefully, "I beg your pardon?"

She raised an eyebrow, "Don't look at me that way, Benjamin. I'm not making this up. This crystal is naturally controlled and contained antimatter."

"So how do the Merchants harness it?"

"They don't. According to their computer, they burn the crystals through the engine core and channel the explosion back out through a second crystal which is tuned to resonate at a certain frequency. The reaction literally rips a hole in space."

He looked at her, "And exactly how safe is that?"

"In a Merchant vessel?" she shrugged, "It's a lottery. Hern didn't say how many ships they've lost using this method of exploration, but I doubt many have completed a successful journey. They're flying on luck."

Baskell frowned, "That explains why the scouts are unmanned."

Sisko nodded thoughtfully, "Obviously using Hern's ship to open the breach is out of the question. We need a stronger ship to get us through."

Andrews mentally ran through the ships at their disposal and offered cautiously, "We could requisition the Hercules. She's the toughest ship we have in dock."

Sisko looked pointedly at the young Security Chief, "Do you want to be the one who explains to Starfleet how we pulled the strongest ship in the fleet away from her assignment and blew her to pieces in a rescue effort based on the word of two strangers who have done nothing but lie to us since the moment we met?"

A hand touched his arm, "You need to breathe now, you've gone blue."

He glared, "Thank you, Dax."

The Trill wasn't phased, "She's right, though, Benjamin, we could make this work. Our shielding is so far in advance of theirs it's laughable. With a few modifications, I'm sure we could even send a runabout through. The Hercules has metaphasic shielding - she shouldn't get a scratch on her."

He sat back and waited, "Explain it to me."

"If we boosted the containment field through the warp buffer and channelled the crystal energy out through the deflector array and into the shields, we'd be protected from any feed back from the reaction that might…well…blow us up…"

"…right…"

"And the whole reaction would leave a boosted ion trail for us to follow home. Like a trail of bread crumbs."

Dammit, he had no idea what she was talking about! But he knew her well and she would not lie and past experience had warned her off of making boastful claims for personal gain. If she said it was possible, he believed her, "And you could adapt the Hercules to do this?"

"Yes. Easily."

"Easily?"

She shrugged, "Quite easily."

"You've been thinking about this for a while, haven't you?"

"I've made a few notes, yes."

With a sharp clap of his hands, Sisko pushed himself off his stool and stood up, "She's due to disembark in an hour. If we're going to take her, I'll have to talk to her Captain now."

"Captain Porter?"

"Right."

Dax stifled a grin, "If I remember correctly, she doesn't exactly like you."

He stopped, "Right."

"We're going to have one hell of a job getting her to agree to this."

Sisko gave her a boyish smile and almost swaggered as he headed for the turbolift, "Oh, I don't know. Marion Porter is a handsome woman. I'll use charm, charisma, bribery…threats…"

The comm. channel chirruped and a familiar gruff voice called across Ops, "Worf to Deep Space Nine."

Dax grinned openly, "Or you could use the Defiant."

"Yes…I suppose I could do that instead."

***

Worf listened quietly as Sisko outlined the plan to him, a scowl deepening on the big Klingon's face as he learned of the runabout's possible plight. When the Captain had finished speaking, he turned slate black eyes on him and growled, "These Merchants are without honour. They have lied already - how do we know we can trust them?"

Sisko watched the Klingon carefully, knowing that the man would dearly love a moment or two alone with their prisoners to ascertain for himself whether or not they were telling the truth, "They're a long way from home, Mr Worf and don't cope well with incarceration. Besides, they'll be going with you. If they have lied about the workings of the breach, they'll be just as dead as everyone else."

Worf wasn't convinced, "It may be a ruse. A Klingon warrior would willingly die if it meant taking his enemy with him."

The Captain smiled, "Believe me, Commander, these are not Klingon warriors."

Worf's scowl deepened as he considered his options, "Very well, Captain. The Defiant will be ready to leave within the hour. I suggest a minimal crew compliment - just in case."

"Agreed. I'll leave that to you. As long as you include Dax, Andrews and Baskell on your list."

"Sir?"

Sisko grinned, "They've been right about this affair all along, Mr Worf. We may as well let them finish what they started."

***

The Defiant pulled away from Deep Space Nine ten minutes ahead of schedule and Sisko watched her go from the upper walkway of the Promenade. With most of senior staff gone the bustling station felt unusually quiet.

He watched the ship execute a tricky manoeuvre round one of the upper pylons, tumbling into a graceful roll as she headed out into space and knew that Dax was at the helm. One last little memory to add to the others - just in case.

He felt a presence at his shoulder and turned to see Quark gazing out of the window at the departing ship, "No consideration for others, that's her trouble."

"I beg your pardon?"

Quark gestured at the upper pylon, "Could have taken the whole thing off doing that. A move like that could frighten off my customers."

An explosion of light dazzled them both and they watched as the wormhole flowered open.

The Defiant seemed to pause at the lip of the rift and then there was a second eruption of light as the crystals were pumped into the matter/antimatter stream and space was torn open to form a breach

Sisko held his breath as the little ship juddered, her shields sparking as ejected energy poured through them. She remained silhouetted against the dual brightness for an agonising second before disappearing into the breach.

The wormhole closed a second later and all was still.

Quark sniffed and started to walk off, "I'll stop her credit. That's what I'll do. I'll stop her credit. Teach her to scare away my customers."

Sisko let his gaze travel back to where the Defiant had been. And waited.

***

Martin Baskell sat at tactical and gripped onto his console for dear life as the Defiant bucked and jumped and threatened to shake herself to pieces.

If the plan had failed, he hoped someone would tell him soon. There were last words to plan and regrets to voice and he would rather not do it screaming silently in the void of space as the remains of the ship floated away around him.

He looked around at his crew mates.

Worf was in the Captain's seat, his large knuckles whitening as his grip on the leather armrests deepened. His face was set and he never once moved his gaze from the swirling maelstrom of colour that invaded the viewscreen.

Andrews was manning the sensors, her arms all but hugging the console, her teeth gritted as she tried to run some kind of scan and stay in her seat at the same time.

And Dax was wrestling with the helm, the smug grin she had worn since her little manoeuvre round the upper pylon long gone. In its place was a look of intense concentration as she entered command after command into the shrieking machinery, never knowing whether any of them were heeded.

An interminable length of time passed and Baskell heard Andrews cal out, her voice shaking with each lurch of the ship, "Sir…hull integrity… falling…"

Worf's voice was almost steady, "More power to the shields. Increase power to emergency external forcefields."

Andrews stabbed at her console, her skin taking on a slightly green hue as the Defiant rolled of her own accord, "Aye, sir!"

The Defiant continued to shudder and Worf finally tore his gaze away from the screen and shouted at the back of Dax's head, "How much longer?"

Dax's voice was almost lost in the cacophony of noise, "One more minute then deactivate the matter/antimatter converter."

It was the longest minute of Baskell's life and he was glad to see he wasn't the only one looking a little queasy when the ship finally broke through the breach and into normal space. He ran a quick systems check and muttered, "Going through the wormhole was never this bad."

Worf straightened in his seat and looked across at Andrews, "Begin scans, Ensign."

Jill blinked through tears of nausea and peered at her console, "Aye, sir."

"Mr Baskell!" Martin looked at the big Klingon, "Go to the brig and check on the prisoners. Bring them to the bridge."

Baskell nodded and headed below.

As he left the bridge Andrews called out, "There's a class M planet on short range sensors, sir."

Dax's hands were flying over her console, "Course laid in."

Worf nodded, "Are there any signs of other ships?"

Andrews shook her head, "Not that I can tell although…just a minute.." she frowned down at her console then looked up with a grin, "I'm reading a faint ion trail leading down into the atmosphere. The runabout came this way."

Worf settled back in his chair with a small smile, "Dax, take us in."

***

The was larger than it looked and Kira, Odo, O'Brien and Jhemor had taken one too many wrong turns for comfort. They had done nothing to hide their flight, screaming and yelling to everyone they met that they had to evacuate the building - that there was going to be an explosion.

Some-one, somewhere was quick to catch on to the panic and hit an alarm, the klaxon blaring through the halls in anachronistic counterpoint to the almost primitive setting. It was for that reason that the foursome found themselves being carried along on a tide of running bodies to the main exit.

They burst through the doors together and didn't stop. The forest looked awfully appealing when set against the alternative. Pushing through the sea of bodies around them, they ran.

***

Marius leapt down the front steps in one bound and watched the little group as they headed for the cover of the forest.

He had heard the klaxon and, like them, found himself carried along in the rush to escape. Once outside, he let his gaze dart from face to face in the milling crowd, looking for the High Lord. If Taren was there he was hiding well. Which more than likely meant…

With a growl of anger he turned and forced his way back up the steps, pushing and shoving people out of his way, occasionally grabbing the front of a shirt and demanding to know where the High Lord was. If anyone knew, they weren't telling.

He found himself back in the halls just as a flustered Garus hurtled round a corner and almost knocked him off his feet, "Marius! What in the name of profit is going on?"

Marius pushed him aside, "I have no idea. Where's Taren?"

Garus shook his head as he carried on running, "I thought he was with you." And he was gone.

For just a second, duty and honour fought for dominance in the mind of the overseer. It was not a sensation he cared for. Every instinct was telling him to run, whilst duty told him to find his Lord and get him to safety.

Marius had survived on instinct for a long time. He didn't intend to stop now.

With a final glance down the now deserted hallway, he turned and ran back outside. He may not be able to save Taren from whatever was about to happen, but he could tie up one final piece of unfinished business.

With pleasure.

***

Lars watched quietly as Marius passed him, just as he had watched Odo and his friends pass moments before. Without a word, he snatched up a fallen disruptor abandoned in panic by one of the palace guards and set off after the overseer.

***

Far above the planet, the Defiant slid smoothly into orbit.

"Orbit achieved," announced Dax just as Baskell reappeared on the bridge with two security guards, Hern and his associate herded before them.

The smaller man caught his breath at the view on the screen, "… we're home…"

Hern silenced him with a glare and turned to Worf, his eyes widening. Having only met the Klingon once whilst being transferred to the Defiant's brig, he still had trouble equating the deviant before him with a man, "Well, devi.. Mr Worf… I believe we have fulfilled our side of the bargain. I will thank you to let us go."

Worf turned his best stare on the man, satisfied when he shrank back a step, "You have fulfilled nothing - we have yet to fond our colleagues. You will tell us where the runabout landed."

"I…"

Worf let the stare intensify, "And you will tell us now."

Hern tried his hardest to return the glare and failed miserably, "The northern hemisphere, smallest continent. Use your sensors. You'll find only one major power source. That's the palace - it's a good place to start."

The Klingon glanced across at Andrews who nodded, "He's right, sir. I've transferred the co-ordinates to the transporter room."

Worf stood, tugging briefly at his uniform top in an unconscious effort to straighten it, "Very well," he raised his head slightly, tapping his comm. badge, "Relief crew to the bridge. Dax, Andrews, Baskell, you will join me on the away team. Security - return the prisoners to the brig."

***

Down on the planet's surface, no-one noticed when, minutes later, four iridescent columns of light solidified into the forms of the four Starfleet officers.

While Worf and Dax were immediately on the alert for danger, Andrews and Baskell activated their tricorders and began to scan the surrounding countryside.

If the situation were different, Dax would have commented on the beauty of their surroundings; the rolling hills edged by the beginnings of a forest. As it was, she knew that somewhere out there were her friends and she swore under her breath to find them. She turned to Worf, "We should split up. The less time we have to be here the better."

He nodded, "I agree. You and Andrews go east, Baskell and I will go west. You are to check in every fifteen minutes."

"Understood."

With Andrews in tow, she jogged off towards the nearest trees, intent on following the path through the forest.

 

Worf and Baskell walked in silence for a few minutes, cresting the first of the hills as the tricorder began to beep.

Martin studied the readout and looked up at the Klingon, "I'm picking up a signal from the Amazon…it's fluctuating…it's…" he gazed at the instrument with a puzzled frown, realisation dawning, "Sir, it's set to self destruct!"

Worf looked at him in alarm, his hand automatically reaching for his phaser, "Where?"

Baskell tapped the screen in frustration as the readings fluctuated and reset, "I'm not sure…I think it's coming from…" An almighty explosion rumbled across the countryside sending birds screeching to the sky along with a huge mushroom of smoke and debris. Baskell pointed, "There."

***

They had almost reached the forest's edge when the explosion hit. The runabout countdown hit zero and the little ship blew itself to pieces in a spectacular fire display which demolished half of the palace.

The concussion wave swept through the crowd outside the building, knocking them as one to the ground. Far too many didn't get up again as debris rained down on them.

As she watched Odo, O'Brien and Jhemor disappear past the first tree, Kira felt the heat of the blast hit her and the next thing she knew, she was face down in the dirt with a few other souls, nursing yet another headache.

She lifted her head and tried to call out to her friends, but they were already gone, unaware that she had fallen. Pushing herself to her feet she tried to remember exactly where they had been heading and set off after them at a slow jog.

A little way behind her, Marius grinned as he brushed himself down. He had seen the others disappear into the trees, he had seen the deviant fall. And he had seen her set off along the wrong forest path, her sense of direction knocked sideways by the blast.

This was going to be a lot easier than he had imagined.

Ignoring the calls of the wounded, frightened Merchants as they tried to come to terms with the devastation that was their world, he gave the burning remains of the palace a final, snarling look then ran off after Kira.

***

Dax and Andrews had instinctively taken cover at the sound of the explosion, unsure what would happen next. Andrews' tricorder readings had echoed those of Baskell and they knew that the blast could only have been the death throes of the Amazon.

They just had to hope that there had been no-one aboard when she finally blew.

Once they were sure that no other blasts would follow, the two women continued their slow walk along the forest path, Andrews taking constant readings and calling out the results to her commander.

It was her whispered cry of, "Company!" that had them both diving off the track and into the cover of the undergrowth as three figures left the forest and jogged past.

Dax allowed her head to peek up as she spied a very familiar set of simulated Bajoran boots. Her voice almost breaking she stumbled from her hiding place and called, "Odo! Chief!"

The threesome ground to a halt and turned to face her and she grinned through the tears as the ruddy face of Miles O'Brien gaped in shock as he walked slowly towards her, "Dax?! Dax, is that you?"

Then she was caught up in an all too welcome bear hug, unable to draw breath as she gasped, "It's me! Oh, it's so good to see you."

He released her and she wiped a hand across her streaming eyes before looking him up and down with a broad smile, "I like the dress - very fetching."

He tried to glower at her, but didn't quite pull it off. The relief was too intense to be broken.

"How did you find us?" asked Odo as he shook the Trill's hand with his usual reserve.

Dax sniffed, "It's a long story. We saw the explosion and…" she glanced back along the road, "…isn't Kira with you?"

O'Brien and Odo looked at each other and the engineers face was grim, "We got split up back at the palace. She has to be round here somewhere."

A frantic groan from behind the Changeling drew Dax's attention to the third member of the party as a young boy hopped from foot to foot with impatience,. He tapped the Chief on the shoulder and pursed his lips, "We've got to go, Mr 'Brien, yes we have. She won't be on the road where all the people can see her. She's not stupid, no she's not."

Dax watched in fascination as O'Brien placed a fatherly arm around the scrawny shoulders and said, "It's all right, Jhemor…"

A loud disruptor blast cut off his words as it echoed through the trees behind them. Without a word, he and Odo took off through the trees, Jhemor close behind them. Andrews and Dax drew their phasers and tried to keep up.

***

Kira hadn't gone far before she realised she was heading in the wrong direction. The few people who had followed her were gone - familiar with the terrain and off in search of bolt holes - and she was alone. She stopped running and dropped to her knees by a fallen tree, her breath coming in heaving gulps as she tried to get her bearings.

She knew the others would come and look for her once they realised she was missing. Perhaps it would be best to stay where she was and wait for them rather than wander around in circles for hours on end.

A twig snapped behind her and she span round to face Marius. He was glaring at her with a fury which plunged new depths and she got slowly to her feet and clenched her fists at her side.

He stepped towards her, "If I were you, Deviant, I would start running."

Kira shook her head, "I won't play your game. I'm not afraid of you."

The tremor in her voice betrayed her and he laughed in her face, "Fine. Then we end this here."

With a flick of the wrist there was a knife in his hand. Kira stared at the well honed blade, took one look at the hate in his eyes and bolted. With a snarl, Marius charged after her, hunting her through the trees.

 

Kira ran like she had never ran before. She could hear Marius crashing through the undergrowth behind her and didn't look back.

Flashback to fifteen years ago - running scared through Tahna's Canyon with six Cardassian soldiers on her trail. A different kind of fear, though - she knew that Shakaar was waiting on the ridge with twenty of her friends; that as soon as she cleared the valley the Cardassians would be dead.

This time there was no-one waiting to open fire. Her friends were gone, the runabout destroyed. There was no way home and she mustn't slow down.

This was not Bajor, though, and she was running through unfamiliar territory. She had no idea where she was going whilst Marius had been born here. It didn't take long for him to work his way in front of her.

She burst through a patch of brambles, the barbs tearing at her legs and snagging the hem of her tunic. She tugged it free with a curse and turned to run again.

The next thing she knew, she was flat on her back in the dirt having charged headlong onto the overseer's fist as he stepped out of hiding in front of her. With a gasp of pain, she scrambled backwards, desperate to get away from him.

A day ago he would have mocked her; played with her like a cat cornering a mouse. A day ago he was confident of his place in the world and knew that he was free to bully her and sure to win.

Now everything had changed and some-one had to pay. He tightened his grip on the dagger and stalked towards her.

Her head spinning, Kira scuttered back even faster, her hands scrabbling along the forest floor, unable to regain her footing before he was on her again. He bore down like a maniac and raised the knife for the killing blow. Her fingers closed round a fallen branch and she swung her arms up and clubbed him on the side of the head with all her strength. He fell back with a roar of fury and Kira was up and running again.

Marius shook his head sharply as if to dislodge the pain and glared at her retreating back. Weighing his aim carefully, he flung the dagger.

Kira was almost in the dense safety of the trees when the blade hit, tearing across the back of her leg in a line of fire before lodging itself in the ground. She tried to carry on running, knowing that if she fell she was dead, but her legs were like jelly and gave way beneath her.

She cried out, half in pain, half in fury as she hit the forest floor, despising herself for giving him such an easy target. She knew his abilities; knew he would deliver a killing blow to the back if the opportunity arose. She knew that he had no honour and yet she had turned her back on him when the advantage had been hers.

Never again.

She despised Marius with an almost equal fervour to which her hatred for the Cardassians coursed through her veins. She had done nothing to deserve the treatment he had heaped on her. She had given him no reason to despise her and yet he had taken it upon himself to brutalise her, to try and break her spirit. Until now, she didn't realise how close he had come to succeeding.

Watching herself running from a man she could have tackled easily back on the station; watching herself cower from him as he lived out his sick fantasies through her, she felt the white heat of rage engulf her like a flame. She had fought through pain before, she would do it again.

And if it meant killing this obnoxious brute of a man with her bare hands, then so be it.

She heard Marius come up behind her and pluck the dagger from the ground. She felt him lean over her, and grasp a handful of hair, ready to tug her head back and place the blade at her throat. Gathering her strength, she made her move.

With a grunt of effort she flipped her body over, taking advantage of his precarious balance and slammed a foot into his gut, knocking him to the ground. Favouring her uninjured leg, she scrambled to her feet and plucked the dagger from his hand before he had time to think.

She was on him in a second as he rolled over and tried to get up. Mimicking his cruelty, she grasped a large clump of his hair in her fist and snapped his head back. He gasped as she pressed the blade to his throat, "…Creator…"

His eyes were wide - terrified wide as he tried to prize her fingers from the knife with no success.

Kira glared down at him with contempt as a whimper of fear escaped his lips. All the things he had done - all the acts of brutality he had spearheaded and he couldn't meet his own death with dignity.

She despised him so deeply she could taste it.

She had killed before - too many times before - both in self defence and in anger and a little part of her had been lost with every death. She had thought those times long behind her. She had thought that her days of hating and vengeance were gone.

Now she stood with a knife to the throat of an unarmed man as he prayed to his god and she saw those days pouring back into her. And it was frightening.

She felt her grip tighten on his hair as he tried to pull away; felt the dagger strong in her hand as she raised it for the killer strike, knowing how good it would feel to beat him this once and final time.

Knowing how disappointed Sisko would be if he were here watching.

In her mind, she could see the expression in his dark eyes as he slowly shook his head, willing her to do the right thing and the fury left her as quickly as it had arrived. She relaxed her grip on his hair, the blade hanging loose in her hand.

Marius didn't need to be offered a second chance. Ramming his elbow back into Kira's stomach, he turned and twisted the knife from her unresisting grasp as she fell back with a gasp.

In a second he was kneeling over her, his hand gripping the back of her head, pulling her towards him in a cruel parody of a lover's embrace, the dagger descending on her once more, "Should have killed me when you had the chance, deviant. I never figured you for the squeamish type."

As the blade pressed against her throat, Kira made peace with the Prophets and closed her eyes.

There was a rustle in the undergrowth and Marius spun round, his fingers winding painfully through her hair, "Who's there?"

Lars stepped into the open, the disruptor nestled in the crook of his arm. He smiled, "It's only me."

Kira moaned as Marius scowled briefly at the farmer before turning his full attention back to her and she waited for death.

It never came. Instead Lars' steady voice echoed through her aching head and she opened her eyes to see him aiming the disruptor at Marius' head from close range, "Drop the knife."

Marius growled, "What do you think you're doing, farmer."

Lars' aim didn't waver, "Conscience is a strange thing, Overseer, it bothers you at the most inconvenient times," he gave a small smile, "I don't suppose you've ever had that problem. Now drop the knife and step away from her."

Marius released his grip on Kira's hair and she fell back with a hiss of pain. He pointed the knife at her as he appealed with Lars, "You've seen what she's done. You've seen what she's responsible for. Life was good before she came along…"

"Life was good for some of us."

"For the people who matter, yes."

The farmer let out a long breath and shook his head, "Well, that's the problem. Everyone matters, Marius, and whatever you think she's done, you've more than punished her for."

He snarled and glared down at the Bajoran as she turned and tried to crawl away, "I've barely started."

In a flash, he had her hair in his hand again and tugged her up onto her knees, holding the dagger in front of her eyes, smiling as she moaned in pain and fear.

Taking another step forward, Lars primed the disruptor, "Don't make me do this."

Marius curled his lip in an arrogant sneer, "What are you going to do, little man?" and raised the dagger.

Lars shot him in the chest.

With a startled, disbelieving laugh as his ribs blossomed open like an obscene flower, Marius fell to the ground, his dead eyes gazing at nothing as his final breath rattled in his throat.

For a moment there was silence.

She didn't know for how long he stood there in silence, going over what he had done, but eventually Lars lowered the disruptor and walked towards a somewhat groggy Kira, kneeling next to her, "It's all right, deviant, he's dead."

She tried to take in what he was saying, her eyes never leaving the dead body of the overseer. He was going to get up. If she looked away he was going to get up and kill them both.

There was a crashing of undergrowth and O'Brien burst through followed by Odo and Jhemor…and Dax! Thank the Prophets. If Dax was here, then maybe everything was going to be all right. Unless this was an hallucination. Unless Marius had hit her harder than she thought and she was concussed.

She watched as the please-don't-be-an-illusion Trill and a young security officer aimed their phasers at Lars and told him to move away.

Lars nodded slowly and got to his feet. Would he do that for an hallucination? Would he drop the disruptor and raise his hands for an hallucination?

She heard herself call to them and tell them it was okay. She saw Lars lower his hands and saw Dax run across the clearing towards her. And she was real. She blinked up at the Trill and tried to get to her feet, but Dax pushed her down with one gentle hand and scanned her with a medical tricorder, "Can't leave you alone for a minute, can we?" And she smiled a laser beam smile.

Kira did the only thing she could think of; she wrapped her arms round her friend's waist and hugged her as tightly as she could, "It's good to see you too, Dax."

A hypospray hissed against her neck as the Trill pulled carefully away, "This should make you feel better until we can get you home."

Home.

She looked across at O'Brien as he stood with one hand on Jhemor's shoulder and their eyes met in a moment of understanding. Although they had never said it out loud, they had both accepted that they would never see home again - whether home be Earth or Bajor or an old Cardassian mining station - and now Dax was here talking about it as if it were just round the corner.

Home.

There would be no more hunger, no more pain, no more fighting to stay alive. She gazed across at Marius' corpse, "Is he dead?"

O'Brien nodded, "Very."

"I don't believe it…I don't believe it…"

She got slowly to her feet, waving away Dax's offer of help and walked across the clearing. Setting her jaw, she stood over the mutilated body and glared at the dead eyes, fury building, burning inside her soul and on her face, her fists clenched tight. O'Brien touched her gently on the shoulder, "Leave it, Major. It's over."

"Yeah…" She stepped back from the body and turned away, realising that everyone was watching her, "yeah, it's over." But she didn't believe the words.

Odo watched as Kira struggled to control her feelings, to exorcise demons which had been her constant companion these last few days. He knew how close they had come to losing her and was all at once eternally grateful to the man he had taken his friendship from and banished from his life. He watched Lars watching the scene before them and said, "Why?"

The farmer turned to face him and raised an eyebrow.

Odo looked at him, "Why did you help her? Why did you kill Marius? You could have murdered her and gone on with your life. No-one would ever have known."

Lars lowered his eyes and shook his head sadly, "I would have known. Is that all you think of me?" When Odo didn't answer he looked up again, "It was too big a debt to ever repay, my friend. I can't stand the thought of my boy looking up to people like him." He glanced with distaste at Marius, then returned his gaze to his one time friend, "Until now, though, I didn't realise there were people like you around."

He stooped down and retrieved the disruptor, handing it to the Changeling, "I'm sorry, Odo. I'm sorry for what I did. Whatever you decide to do about it…I won't fight you…"

Odo took the disruptor and passed it quickly to Andrews, "The law on this world is nothing to do with me." He looked closely at the man before him and let his gruff voice soften, "Though, for what it's worth, I shall speak up for you should the need arise."

With a sigh of relief, Lars smiled at him and for a moment Odo saw the decent man who had won his friendship so easily. He hoped he was not being deceived again.

A familiar and much missed chirrup cut through his chain of thought as Dax's comm. badge beeped and a gravily Klingon voice said, "Worf to Dax."

She smiled as Jhemor jumped at the unnatural sound, "Go ahead."

"Ensign Baskell and I are at the site of the explosion. There are many people here but we have yet to find…"

She cut him off with a grin, "It's okay, Worf, we've found them."

She could almost see him frowning, "You have?"

"We have. We'll join you in a few minutes. Dax out."

She turned to speak to the others but was interrupted by a small hand tugging at her sleeve as Jhemor peered up at her, "'Scuse me."

She smiled, "Yes?"

"Why'd you talk to your chest?"

Dax glared at O'Brien as he laughed out loud and she stooped lower to whisper into the boy's ear, "Because it's the only way I'm guaranteed intelligent conversation."

Jhemor frowned as he followed his friends through the forest and back towards the palace, "Oh…oh…okay…"

O'Brien's hearty laugh echoed through the trees as if daring fate to throw any more challenges at them.

***

Chapter Thirteen - The Final Chapter!