A Silent Cry

by B. Delene Carter, with Kent Kass & Tiger White


The cry came so softly that at first she didn't hear it. Until it came again.

Dariel paused and looked up from the PADD in her hands, glancing around the bridge to see who it was that mourned, turning to her senses when her eyes failed to identify the crier.

"Is something wrong, Counselor?" Robinson asked from beside her.

The cry was gone. There was nothing else she could detect or feel. There was no hint of weeping, no sign that the cry had been real. Dariel shook her head and rose.

"No," she said finally. "I just thought I heard something. Actually, Captain, if I may be dismissed, I need to return to my office. I have several appointments scheduled this afternoon."

Robinson gave a nod, and Dariel turned to leave the bridge, the PADD under her nose again and the faint cry forgotten.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The sun dipped low, bathing the horizon in brilliant golds and reds just before sinking past the mountains, turning the hot day into a cool splash of evening. The trill of birds was still vibrant in the night while the insects chirped and all the villagers retired to their homes to enjoy the tranquility.

Until the shadow appeared and took away the song, engulfing the night music and turning the comforting darkness into terror. And so became the birth of the cry...

Dariel opened her eyes, staring at the ceiling above her, trying to block out the odd dream. The images were too real, too intense, and the cry all too loud.

With a start, she realized she had heard it again, this weeping. Was it part of the dream, part of her imagination? And why would she dream of such unusual happenings? She reached beside her and picked up the comm badge, hitting the signal.

"Dariel to Doctor Mur."

There was a pause before, "Um, yes...I'm here. Go ahead."

"Doctor, can you meet me in Sickbay?"

"Sure. On my way." The comm link went dead, and Dariel rose, anxious to ease the dream away.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"What can I do for you, Counselor?" Mur asked as she watched the Deltan move through the doors to sit on a bio-bed.

"I need something to block my telepathy," she replied.

Mur raised a brow. "For what reason?"

Dariel sighed. "I just had a dream, and I think it's some kind of remembered feedback loop from someone else."

"Ah..." Mur replied, preparing a hypo. "The brain is never more active than when one is asleep. I've heard where your race is capable of picking up someone else's dream pattern, living it as if it were your own."

The Counselor gave a nod. "But I think some of my own dreams are intermixing with it, because it doesn't make sense."

Mur tilted Dariel's head and placed the hypospray to her neck. "Dreams rarely make sense. They're only good for release of pent-up feelings. However, if you are receiving some kind of telepathic signal, then it will be back in approximately six hours when the medicine wears off."

Dariel shook her head and hopped off the bio-bed. "I don't think so. I've talked with Lieutenants Auroras and Appius, and they've not felt anything."

Mur gave a quick shake of her head. "I wouldn't count on their opinions too much, Counselor," Mur stated. "Remember, both of them have acquired their abilities. You're the only true telepath on the Paragon."

Dariel gave a nod and turned to leave. "Thank you, Doctor," she replied absently, her mind pondering the advice Mur had given her.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

And true to the Doctor's words, the whisper returned. It moved through her mind softly, a long-dead wail for someone to help. She knew it was a desperate plea for anyone to come and find them.

To help them survive.

But the weeping did not come from the bridge, nor did it originate from any part of the ship. It was a hail from somewhere else, an appeal to anyone who could hear the song who might be able to save them.


Dariel jerked her head around, seeing the concerned face of Tricia Robinson stare back at her. She held up a hand, as if quieting those around her, before standing.

"I'm receiving a distress call."

Robinson creased her brow in confusion. "You are?"

Dariel made a slow rotation, staring at the familiar faces of the bridge crew and knowing they could not possibly hear the faint weeping that she heard.

"Someone is dying, Captain...or perhaps everyone. It's a soft cry of help or a roar of protest. I can sense what it means but not the specifics."

"Is this what you heard yesterday?" Robinson asked.

"Yes," Dariel replied. "Only now, I'm sure of what it is. It's gotten more persistent."

Robinson turned to tactical. "Are you receiving any messages?"

Appius checked his monitor then looked at her, knowing there was a double meaning to her question. "No, Sir. Nothing at all."

The Captain looked back at Dariel, standing to face her. "Can you locate this signal?"

Dariel headed toward the science station. "I need a star chart," she replied and waited until one was brought up for her to study.

It was long minutes later, after Dariel's eyes had studied the chart intently, that she suddenly pointed to a small solar system.

"Here," she said. "The cry comes from here."

A frown came across Lieutenant Appius' features. "How can you be so sure this is where you're hearing this...cry from?"

Counselor Dariel gave him a quiet reply. "I can't explain, but I know this is the place." She gave the star chart a long look. "We have to go there, Captain."

"Ensign Tellim," inquired Robinson. "What sector of space does that system lie in?"

Tellim went to work punching up star charts that quickly appeared and disappeared on the main viewscreen until the right enhancement showed up.

"That's not good," the Ensign sighed from behind the console.

"That's the understatement of the day," glowered Commander Garrick. On the viewscreen was a map of Symphaniis Minor, a three-planet solar system that was currently on the wrong side of the Federation/Romulan border. Tim Garrick gave a glance to see the Captain's reaction to the current news.

Upon looking around the room and then back to Dariel, Robinson inhaled deeply.

"Staff meeting," she said, "tomorrow, 0600 hours. I'll make my decision then. Commander Garrick, you have the bridge."

Robinson then walked silently into her ready room.


Counselor Dariel could not rest. She was being held in a state of semi-consciousness where reality and nonsense meshed together so finely that it was hard to discern one from the other. Images of light and dark came to her like flotsam and jetsam that went as quickly by.

Sinking deeper into the realm of other dreams, she thought perhaps that the cry wouldn't find her. If she could lose herself in the dreams of the crewmembers...

A wail arose through the gray mosaic of dreams, starting so far back that there was no beginning to it. With it came a burst of deep red, soon obliterated by total darkness. Out of the black came a figure that grasped her firmly by the shoulders. "Counselor..." it called out. It then gave her a hard shake. "Dariel!"

Dariel was paralyzed to respond to its wailing, instead struggling against its iron grip. When she could not break free of it, she did the only thing left she could do. She closed her right hand over her left fist and swung...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Robinson waited patiently for the viewscreen to clear from the United Federation of Planets seal to an actual living person. The transition seemed to take forever, but in reality it was probably only ten minutes. The seal snapped off the screen to reveal Admiral Paris.

"Captain Robinson," the Admiral greeted. "I've received a message stating you wish to enter the Symphaniis system."

Trying to recover from the shocking sight of Paris, Robinson lowered her eyes briefly to shield her pity. The Admiral had aged years, his face haggard to the point of gauntness, his eyes empty and withered. His complexion, once a healthy shade, now seemed sallow and weak. The man before her had changed from a virile, robust man to a shell of his former self.

Several years past, Robinson had helped the Admiral out of a potentially embarrassing situation on Risa. Back then, he had seemed cold and distant, almost untouchable and unapproachable. But since the death of his son, Paris had slackened on his hard control. Now it seemed as if he didn't care for the strict code he had lived by, had made those under him live by. It was as if he found no comfort in what used to comfort him the most.

Robinson took a breath and then raised her eyes. "Yes, Sir. I believe it is the key in sorting out a problem involving my Counselor."

"What type of problem?" he asked.

"She's Deltan, possessed of strong telepathic abilities, and she's hearing a cry for help there," the Captain explained. "A cry...one that I feel I cannot ignore."

Paris studied her. "Let me get this straight...you wish to cross into Romulan space because one of your officers is having a telepathic bond?"

"Counselor Dariel is not prone to delusions, Admiral," insisted Robinson. "Someone, or perhaps a lot of someone's, might die without our aid. I know there are infiltration units posted in that system to keep an eye open on Romulan movement."

Paris looked at her, his empty eyes studying her, before giving a sigh. "Starfleet has lost a lot of intelligence officers there. In fact, your father has nicknamed the system Jinxed."

"I wouldn't ask if I didn't think it was important, Admiral," Robinson pressed quietly.

Very slowly, he gave her a nod. "I technically can't grant you authorization into that system. But since I oversee the Zoetrope Belt that borders it, I can authorize you to patrol that area. What you choose to find is up to you. Is this acceptable?"

Silently, Robinson breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh, yes. Thank you, Sir."

With that said, Paris closed the communique.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lieutenant Jacquelynn Auroras had the quarters next to Counselor Dariel and had just returned from Main Engineering for the night when she heard a horrific shriek come from the Counselor's room. Auroras sprinted to the door, but it was locked.

"Counselor, are you in there?" she shouted. After getting no reply, Auroras punched her comm badge. "Auroras to Doctor Mur. Please meet me at the Counselor's quarters."

The Doctor's response was immediate. "Is Dariel in trouble?"

"I don't know, but I suspect she is not well."

"I'll be right there. Mur out."

Auroras punched in an override code on the lock and the door quickly slid aside. She looked around the darkened interior, then headed for the bedroom. Dariel lay in the center of the bed, whimpering and shaking. Auroras moved to her, grabbing her by the arms and calling out her name, then giving her a firm shake when she still did not awaken.

Doctor Mur then entered the room. Upon hearing her, Auroras looked up from Dariel to motion Mur to take her place. Dariel hit the Engineer squarely in the jaw, jumped out of bed, and ran into the Doctor's arms.

"Dariel, wake up!" Mur called out.

The Deltan woman let out a gasp of bewilderment. "Diania...what are you doing here?"

Mur looked around the Counselor. "Lieutenant Auroras, are you all right?"

The Lieutenant was bracing herself against the bulkhead of the bedroom, rubbing her jaw. "I've been in worse condition," she said through clenched teeth.

"Nonetheless, I'm taking you both to Sickbay," Mur ordered.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mur was behind her desk when the slender form of Captain Robinson appeared in the office doorway. "How are Dariel and Auroras, Doctor?"

Mur stood up and made her way to a wall-mounted screen. "Lieutenant Auroras won't be eating anything solid for a few days, but otherwise she's fine. It's Dariel I'm concerned about." The Antosian activated the screen. On it was a brain scan, on which Mur pointed out a bluish-gray area. "This is the quadrant of a Deltan's brain that controls reasoning, telepathy, and memory. It's being slowly but systematically damaged by a bond she's linked to. Someone has initiated this link, and there's no way for me to sever it."

"How badly?" Robinson asked, concerned. "Will it damage her permanently?"

Mur snapped the screen off before turning to face her. "I can reverse the damage, but not until whatever's causing it stops. And that means halting this link where it originated from."

"So to save her, we have to investigate this cry of hers," Robinson stated.

"Captain," Diania Mur said calmly. "I don't see that we have a choice."

Robinson left the Doctor's office. What she said on the way out sounded vaguely like, "Neither do I."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The time was 0600. Everyone except the Counselor had gathered in the conference room long before that, however, since the Captain, as usual, seemed to be the last to come in. Tricia Robinson took her place at the head of the table, looking at each and all of the officers before she started to speak.

"Good morning," she began. "Since it's early and everyone has a full schedule ahead of them, I'll make what I have to say brief. I have been notified by Starfleet Command not to take the Paragon into the Symphaniis system." The Captain saw the Doctor was ready to protest and held up her hand. "However, they said nothing about taking the Independence in."

"Our new runabout?" asked Ensign Howard.

"Correct. The Paragon is going to be patrolling the Zoetrope Belt, ten light years from the Symphaniis system. When we get there, Dariel, Mur, Auroras, and Appius will take the Inependence to investigate this cry. Howard, as soon as you reach the Bridge, I want you to plot a course to the Zoetrope Belt, maximum warp. Any questions?" Robinson waited a second, eyeing everyone. "Dismissed."

All the officers left the conference room except Garrick, who stayed behind studying the Captain thoughtfully before speaking. "We've played poker together quite a bit over the past few months, but I'm wondering how long you can hold up this bluff before Command demands to see your hand."

Robinson shrugged. "Admiral Paris suggested the belt. All I'll do is report we heard a distress call near the border from an ore freighter. If we don't find anybody when we get there, oh well. We'll just hang around and make sure we haven't overlooked them."

"Oh, absolutely," smirked the First Officer. "After all, those imaginary ore ships can be pretty hard to find."

The Captain cocked her head at the Commander. "Why, Tim, I didn't know you were such a pessimist."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Independence Log
Stardate 9102.5
Lieutenant Appius Reporting

We have been successful in eluding Romulan patrols as we entered the Symphaniis System. As we get closer, Counselor Dariel says the cry gets louder and more persistent, although Lieutenant Auroras and I still do not hear what she does.

Gaius Aldus Appius crossed his arms over his chest and peered over at the engineering console where Auroras sat, staring at her more intently. He began to notice that she hardly seemed to move at all.

"Is there something wrong with the metaphasic cloak?" Appius felt compelled to ask.

The Chief Engineer shook her head. "Not precisely. The cloak seems to be throwing the Romulans off our trail enough, but the power consumption rate is much higher than was reported by Starfleet."

"It's why the design isn't given to bigger ships. The more you have to cloak, the higher the energy consumption. The only ships these metaphasic cloaks will work on reasonably are runabouts. Is it going to be a problem getting back to the Paragon?" asked the Magna Roman.

Auroras swung her chair around to face him. "It's a very real possibility we won't be able to stay cloaked on the return trip if we misuse any of our power backup. We'll need that just to get the hell out of here."

"You're not a very optimistic person, are you, Auroras?" Appius remarked.

Auroras stood up, her short dark hair nearly brushing against the runabout's ceiling. "Optimism is useless when logic dictates otherwise, Mr. Appius."

"Good," he responded. "I hate optimistic people."

Counselor Dariel entered the cockpit area, silently fixated on the main viewscreen. She drew herself closer to the screen, raising a finger to the first planet from the sun. "There, head us there," she whispered, her voice sedate and near hypnotic.

Appius checked to see if he was within sensor range of the planet. As it turned out, the planet happened to barely be in the class M range. "All right...setting a course."

There was silence as they waited for the runabout to reach the planet, which took only a matter of a few more minutes. Appius prepared the runabout to set down upon the scorching planet when all of a suddden, Dariel cried out sharply and fell to her knees. Mur rushed to her and started scanning her.

"What's wrong with her?" Appius asked sharply.

Mur shook her head. "The link has just magnified ten times. Whatever is causing this better be down there!"

Dariel's voice started to chant. "All dead...all dead..."

The Independence gently shuddered when Appius set it down on firm land. Several long minutes stretched by before he asked, "Now what? She's not doing anything."

As soon as he spoke, Dariel ceased her chant and removed herself from the floor. She walked to the side hatch exit as it started to open. The remaining officers then followed her out of the hatch. Their trip didn't take long before they saw what had lead to the start of the telepathic cry.

The Paragon officers saw a small village full of houses and people, yet deathly still and disturbingly quiet. As they got closer, they realized what had started the scream. Dozens upon dozens of helpless people, trapped like ants in amber with sheer terror etched into their frozen faces. They were monstrosities of what living people used to be.

Out from behind one of the houses, a young Deltan woman staggered out. She was dressed in a tattered red Starfleet uniform. Pleading, she cried, "Help them! Please, help us all! Find a way to free us!"

Running to them, sobs started to rack her body. And before their disbelieving eyes, the woman started to freeze, turning to stone like those people behind her.

"Roshlyn!" Dariel cried, and started after her.


"Dariel, no!" Mur cried out as she reached and caught the Counselor's arm. "We don't know what caused this."

Appius looked around the village, counting several dozen Starfleet uniforms among those he assumed to be the residents. All were in different poses, different states of daily life with the frightened look of horror forever etched into their crystallized faces. Whatever this was, it hit fast and hard.

"Auroras," he said. "Are you reading any environmental changes that could be responsible?"

The Engineer studied her tricorder for a moment before shaking her head. "No...scans are normal."

"Is she dead?" Dariel whispered. "Are they all dead?"

Mur relaxed her grip and opened her medical tricorder. "I'm not showing any life signs," she replied, glancing at the stunned counselor quickly. "I'm sorry."

Dariel nodded before turning away from the grisly sight. "She was an old friend, my roommate from the Academy. We had established a telepathic bond back then, and I guess she activated it when it became apparent she wouldn't leave here alive."

"What I don't understand is what Starfleet is doing here, behind enemy lines," Auroras injected.

Dariel answered, remaining with her back turned. "The Romulans have recently been permitting humanitarian aid groups to travel to some of the harsher worlds in their empire to provide medical treatment and care. Roshlyn was part of this team."

Auroras snorted. "I suppose they realized in order to have an empire, one must have healthy subjects to boss around."

Appius caught Mur's eye. "I think it might be best if we return to the Independence. There's a crystalline resonance analyzer on board we could redirect to see what these people are in, exactly."

"Fine, but I'd like to beam one back for an autopsy," she added. "Seeing what they're in isn't the same as finding out why they're like this in the first place."

"I don't think that's a good idea," Appius said with a frown. "A quarantine field can be placed around Sickbay, but you'd have direct dealing with this stuff."

Mur raised a brow. "I'm fairly certain whatever this is I'll be protected from. My body regenerates cells a thousand times faster than your own, so that gives me an edge. Besides, I'm a doctor...I have a duty to perform for all life, even for those who no longer have it."

Reluctantly, he nodded and hit his comm badge. "Computer, beam back away team."

The macabre surroundings disappeared to the transporter pad on the Independence. Ensign Howard looked up from helm, giving Appius an apprehensive look. "What happened to them?"

The security officer just shook his head. "We don't know yet. The Doctor is going to do an autopsy, and Lieutenant Auroras is setting up the resonance analyzer. Are we still invisible to the Romulans?"

Howard nodded. "I double-checked all the power couplings, and things are running fine. We'll be ready for takeoff any time you give the order."

"Good," he replied as he made his way to his chair. "That order can't come quick enough for me."

Silently, Howard agreed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Robinson sat in her ready room, staring at her computer monitor blankly. She had long ago given up reading the daily Federation news reports. Her mind was centered on the four senior officers missing from her bridge. Two days had passed without a word, without a peep, and she was starting to question whether or not to follow after them.

The chime sounded outside her door, rousing her from her contemplative thoughts. "Come," she bid.

Commander Garrick walked in, assessing her appearance with one glance. "I believe I've found something to take your mind off the Independence," he said, handing her a PADD.

She reached for it, givng him a questioning look at the same time.

"We've found a drifting ship in the Belt...Deltan with Starfleet markings," Garrick summarized quickly.

Robinson's eyes widened as she started to read. The Zoetrope Belt was a sea of ice fragments and shimmering dust, formed by a collision between two ice comets a millennium ago. The debris was known to foul even the most sophisticated cloaking systems, making it unlikely that the Romulans would ever attempt an incursion through it. Routine patrolling from Starfleet justified the Paragon's reason for being in the area....barely. At best, Robinson figured she had another two to three days before the Romulans started questioning her.

However, finding a drifting ship that was marked with a Starfleet signature certainly justified an intensive investigation that most possibly could last...some time.

"This reports no phaser marks on the hull," Robinson commented.

Garrick nodded. "Engineering has found a faint energy residual that closely resembles a tractor beam surrounding it. I'd guess it was brought here deliberately, but for what reasons I can't imagine."

The Captain narrowed her eyes as she re-read the report. "It's a safe bet the Romulans are involved. Run the name of the ship through the databanks. Contact the Deltan government if you have to. Perhaps if we find out who was on the ship, we'd be able to reason why it's here."

With a nod, Garrick turned and left.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Appius stood outside the Sickbay doors and hit the chime. He really didn't expect a reply. In the past two days, all they had done was wait while the Doctor had performed the autopsy on Roshlyn. How long did it take to dissect someone, anyhow? he thought darkly.

Abruptly, the door swished open, causing him to take a step backward in surprise.

"What?!" Mur snapped in irritation.

For a moment, he stood silent in disbelief. Never had he heard the usually quiet and untalkative Antosian woman respond in such a manner, especially to a fellow officer.

"I was wondering what you found," he quickly replied.

She let forth a sigh and closed her eyes, gathering composure. "More questions,' she answered grimly as she stepped from the doorway into the tiny corridor. "That person was half-dead before the crystallization took hold. She was half-starved, her body wracked with malnutrition from lack of food and water."

Appius, unused to such closed-file confidentiality coming from Mur, started to organize the information into a security viewpoint. "I noticed several silos of grain and several smokehouses stocked with meat in the few ventures I've made into the village. There were also several newly dug springs to provide fresh water."

"I know," she said. "I've read your security log entries." She ran a hand through her short hair. "I found a toxin in her body, a chemical I've run through every database I have access to...but I've found nothing to identify it. From what I've been able to piece together by charting its course through Roshlyn's system...and that wasn't easy...it entered through the stomach and quickly mutated into this crystallizing poison."

"The resonance analyzer did show that this was some type of bio-generated crystalline structure," he added. "So this toxin must be in the food and Roshlyn knew about it, avoiding eating for as long as possible. It must react to organic material."

Mur shook her head. "No, not really. If it reacted to organic material, this planet would be one big crystal ball. And I can't say it reacts to oxygen. If that was the case, then it would be an airborne toxin, and I'd have found its starting point in her lungs. Not to mention...we'd be just like her."

The thought gave Appius a slight shudder. "So what are you saying?"

She stepped up to him, looking him in the eye with a strange stare that he would have labeled as fear had he not known her better.

"Whatever this toxin is," she said, "it's not natural. I'm saying...no I'm stating someone invented it to be used as a weapon in warfare, and then used these people as the proverbial guinea pigs."

"My bet would be Romulans," Appius grimly agreed. "We are, after all, in their territory. We have to get back to the ship. Starfleet has to be notified about this."

"I agree," Mur complied. "If the Romulans have developed a chemical toxin to react only to specific species, the Federation could be seriously jeopardized. An ounce of this stuff dropped into an ocean on Earth would be equivalent as starting the bubonic plague in our century."

The thought brought a hideous image to mind...all of Earth covered in the crystallized statues that littered this planet. And where would it stop? He, himself, was a human, as vulnerable as those on Earth or Delta. The realization that his body was just as fragile as the dead officer in Sickbay brought home an unpleasant feeling.

"One thing that doesn't fit in, is how this planet was able to become infected since all the food supplies were produced on a Federation planet light-years away from their space."

"True," she agreed. "But that's a mystery I can't even hypothesize with the equipment on the Independence. The Paragon has a state-of-the-art medical lab that could confirm what we've only guessed at." She half turned back toward the Sickbay. "I'll put the body in stasis for later evidence."

Appius gave a small shudder. "Considering what we're facing, I envy your ability, Doctor."

She paused and looked back at him. "My ability?"

"Yeah," he nodded. "You don't have to worry about your body being weak, accessible to any harmful property that could shut it down...permanently."

Mur cocked her head. "You, above anyone else, should understand the difficulty of being different, of having abilities that shape your life and control who you are. I may possess rejuvenation methods, but I'm not infallible."

"True," he agreed, "but you have a first line of defense. I would have nothing. Your race has developed life well."

She shook her head, almost sadly. "I didn't develop this life," she said. "It developed me."

With that, she slipped back into Sickbay, leaving him to ponder her words.


The Independence lifted off the planet's surface and slipped smoothly back into space. Appius leaned over Auroras to check out the cloaking system. "All okay?"

There was a frown on her face. "The power consumption is extremely high. I don't think we'll be able to hold on to the cloak for too much longer."

The security officer didn't like the idea of having to sneak through Romulan space without any type of cover. "Try to hold on as long as possible."

"Of course," she replied absently.

They traveled for the next thirty minutes in silence, each quietly beseeching the shuttle in some way to maintain enough power to let them glide over the Romulan border incognito. Unfortunately, longevity was not to be the case.

"I have to pull us out of the cloak, Lieutenant," Auroras announced. "In another five minutes, the system will start draining the primary warp couplings, and then it won't matter if we're cloaked or not."

Appius looked at his console. "I'm not detecting any tachyon surges in a controlled sweep of our position, so I guess it's now or never."

"How far are we from the Belt?" Dariel asked.

"About another thirty minutes," he replied and the bridge fell silent once more.

No one made any unnecessary movements. All eyes were glued to the sensor sweeps. After twenty minutes of their constant vigil, fate seemed to be on their side.

It was at that time they received an urgent cry from the Paragon.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"The derelict ship is called the Abe Varre," announced Tellim Kuvall, looking up from the Ops console to meet Robinson and Garrick's inquiring eyes.

"Abe Varre," repeated Garrick, tapping his chin, probing his memory. "I think that's a Deltan word, isn't it?"

"Yes, Sir," nodded Tellim. "It means Cherished One. She's registered with Starfleet's Humanitarian Relief Program. Three months ago, she left Delta IV with a supply of food and a medical team for a mission into Romulan space. She never reported any problems, technical or otherwise."

"I've heard about these relief missions," said Robinson. "I'm surprised the Romulans allow them. Exactly where were they headed?"

"I was hoping you'd ask, Captain," replied Tellim, turning back to his console and jabbing controls. "I've established a link with her computer and accessed their navigational logs. I think you'll find this very interesting."

The star chart which flashed across the viewscreen set Robinson's heart hammering against her ribs. Besiher, Garrick gasped. "The Symphaniis System!"

"Yes, Sir," said Tellim. "The Abe Varre reported arriving on the very same planet the Independence was headed for. But she never returned to Federation space."

"Whatever happened to the Abe Varre might be connected to Counselor Dariel's odd dreams," said Robinson. "Something tells me we don't have a lot of time to put it together."

"I'm sure that we will hear from the Romulans before this puzzle is solved. Mr. Tellim, have you stumbled on any clues as to just what happened to the Abe Varre?"

Tellim stabbed a control. The star chart vanished, returning the viewscreen to an image of the lifeless Deltan ship drifting against the murky backdrop of the Zoetrope Belt.

"I've done every scan I know of on her," said the Bajoran, shaking his head. "She has no damage, she's fully functional. But there are no life signs aboard. I don't see why her crew would willingly abandon her."

"There was evidence that she was towed here by a tractor beam," Robinson reminded them. "If they were attacked, then why abduct the crew and then leave a fully operational Starfleet vessel near our border? You would think they'd strip her down and study her for information on our technology."

"Well, I can't find any trace of tampering or booby-traps," declared Tellim. "I recommend we board her."

"Agreed," seconded Garrick. "We're not going to learn any more by sitting around here."

"Very well," Robinson complied. "Go. But be careful...this is one situation where ignorance is definitely not bliss."

Garrick nodded, and he and Tellim disappeared into the turbolift.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Two pillars of blue energy appeared on the Abe Varre's transporter, quickly resolving into Garrick and Tellim. The First Officer slapped his comm badge, reporting, "Away team to Paragon. We've arrived safely."

"Acknowledged," came Robinson's voice. "Keep us advised. Paragon out."

Tellim slowly waved his bleeping tricorder back and forth in the air. "No traces of any known airborne virus," said the Bajoran. "At least we don't need to hold our breath."

Garrick nodded as they strode out of the transporter room. The Deltan ship was only slighty more than half the size of a Klingon Bird of Prey. The corridors were narrow and the ceilings low, creating a claustrophobic feel. I don't know how anyone could spend months cooped up in this little sardine can without going crazy, Garrick thought sourly.

Beside him, Tellim constantly waved his tricorder in every direction, probing every millimeter of the silent, empty ship. Abruptly, the Lieutenant froze, studying the instrument closely.

"What is it?" queried Garrick, hoping he would not regret asking.

"I'm picking up a faint transporter trace signature," answered the Bajoran. "It's Romulan." He gave Garrick a grim stare. "They boarded this ship at some point."

"I was afraid you'd say something like that," growled the Commander. "They did have something to do with whatever happened here."

Tellim nodded. "I suggest we head for the bridge. From there, I can try to access the logs."

"After you..." agreed Garrick as he followed Tellim up a ladder. Since the Abe Varre was so small, her designers had deemed turbolifts unnecessary. If nothing else, the three-deck climb made for good exercise. When they reached the command level, Garrick drew his phaser, setting it on heavy stun. Tellim followed his lead. They quietly approached the doors leading to the bridge and paused.

"Ready?" asked Garrick, raising his phaser to a useful position. Tellim nodded.

"Now!" Garrick stated, and they burst through the doors, training their phasers in opposite directions. The sight which greeted them made their blood briefly freeze. Eight Deltans in Starfleet uniforms stood frozen in various poses, their bodies covered with some kind of shimmering crystal substance.

The frozen forms of the male Captain and a female Ensign stood in the center of the bridge, embracing. The shocked Paragon officers could make out tears on their crystalline cheeks. They must have been lovers, thought Garrick, trying to comfort each other as this...whatever it is happened. He gazed over at Tellim, who was grimly circling the bridge, scanning each of the Deltans.

"Are they...?" asked the stunned First Officer.

"Yes, Sir," replied Tellim in a low voice. "They're all dead."

Garrick nodded and tapped his comm badge. "Garrick to Paragon."

"Robinson here...go ahead."

"We found the crew," reported Garrick, and he tried to keep the horror he felt out of his voice. "They're all dead, Captain, frozen...encased in some kind of crystal substance."

"They're not just encased," corrected Tellim. "They are crystal. Every cell in their bodies has been transformed into this stuff."

There was a slight pause from the Captain. "I'm not sure I understand that statement, Commander, so I'll leave the decision of how to proceed to your discretion."

Garrick took a deep breath. "After we check out the ship's logs, I suggest we beam up one of the corpses for an autopsy."

"Very well," Robinson stated.

"By the way, Captain," Garrick went on. "We've detected a Romulan transporter trace. This ship was boarded not too long ago."

"Understood. Be careful, Tim. They might have left something nasty behind. Robinson out."

Tellim stepped over to the Ops console and manipulated its controls. The panel flashed and produced a brief symphony of electronic sounds before a readout appeared:


Garrick looked at the readout and directed, "Let's hear them."

Tellim punched the controls, causing the viewscreen to shift from an image of the Paragon to the face of the late Deltan Captain. He sounded relieved and exasperated.

Captain's Log
Stardate 2356.9

We have finally been allowed to continue on to the Symphaniis System. The Romulan inspection team insisted on inspecting our cargo unescorted. They did not allow anyone to accompany them into the hold. They even felt it necesssary to post guards to keep me and my crew out. They were in the hold for almost an hour. I can't imagine what they expected to find. After this run, I plan on requesting a reassignment. I'm fed up with arrogant Romulan customs officers!"

The log entry ended and the screen went blank.

"I wonder what they were doing in the hold by themselves?" remarked Garrick.

"Maybe the next entry will answer that," ventured Tellim, tapping the console. The Captain's face reappeared, and he seemed much more cheerful.

Captain's Log
Stardate 2378.3

Well, we're on our way home. We left a team on the first planet from the Symphaniis sun. Despite the squalor they live in, the villagers were very hospitable and kind. Before our departure, they had a small celebration and insisted we join them. Though it wasn't much, the meal they prepared for us from the food we delivered was excellent. Maybe this assignment is worth a few grouchy Romulans after all."

The log ended, and Garrick regarded the blank screen thoughtfully before turning to Tellim. "Captain Robinson would find those entries interesting. Download them into your tricorder. We'll..."

A soft crackling behind them reached their ears. The officers whirled around in time to see six shimmering green transporter beams form into six Romulans, who immediately leveled disrupters at the Human and Bajoran.

"Do not move," rasped the largest Romulan.

Garrick and Tellim exchanged helpless looks as they raised their hands, and two of the Romulans snatched their comm badges, phasers, and Tellim's tricorder.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Captain!" called Lieutenant Migell from Ops. "I'm reading a tachyon surge, bearing three-five-mark-one. It's a ship decloaking!" Even as he spoke, a Romulan warbird rippled into view, hovering between the Paragon and the Abe Varre.

"Transporter room, lock onto the away team!" cried Robinson. "Beam them back now!" Confusion whirled through her brain. How did they slip through the Belt undetected? Collecting her thoughts, she muttered, "They must have slipped through some other point along the Neutral Zone."

"I can't get a lock on them!" cried the Transporter Chief's voice over the comm system. "The Romulans are creating a scattering field."

"Open a channel!" ordered Robinson.

"Channel open," said Migell.

"Romulan warbird," called Robinson. "You are in violation of Federation space. Unless you leave immediately, there will be severe consequences."

She turned to look at Migell. "No reply," he reported. "I could try to send a quantum phase burst along our navigational deflector beam. Maybe that'll punch a hole in their scattering field."

"Do it!" commanded Robinson. She felt like kicking herself. She had never imagined that the Romulans would try anything radical this early in the game. "Transporter room, try to beam the away team back again!"

"I think I've got a lock on one of them," replied the Chief. "Energizing."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

On the Abe Varre's bridge, Garrick and Tellim had been forced by their captors to kneel on the deck, hands behind their heads.

"This is piracy!" declared Garrick, glaring at the lead Romulan. "You're asking for a war with the Federation!"

The Romulan's response was to step behind the Commander and kick him in the spine, sending him sprawling.

"Stop it!" growled Tellim. The Bajoran felt a disrupter press against his skull, and he closed his eyes, waiting for his brain to be shredded. Instead, he felt the familiar tingle of the Paragon's transporter beam. The Romulans could only stare as one of their prisoners sparkled out of sight.

"Too bad," cracked Garrick as he picked himself up. "You're out one hostage."

"Perhaps," growled the Romulan, grabbing Garrick by the collar and pressing his weapon against the Starfleet officer's chin. "But you will not escape!"

The Romulans formed a circle with Garrick inside it. He felt a transporter seize him, as well, but unfortunately it did not feel like the Paragon's.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Transporter room, do you have them?" demanded Robinson.

"I got Lieutenant Tellim," came the response. "He's on his way to the bridge."

"Commander Garrick is aboard the warbird," announced Migell. "They're raising shields and leaving on a heading of six-eight-mark-fourteen...back into Romulan space."

The enemy ship leaped into warp and zipped off the screen. "Helm, lay in a pursuit course!" ordered Robinson. "Engage."

The warbird plunged into the misty Zoetrope Belt with the Paragon in hot pursuit. Ensign Howard intently studied her console, an idea forming in her head. She looked at Robinson.

"Captain, their heading will put them on a collision course with the Independence's recorded position. Could we send them a warning?"

Robinson nodded. "By all means."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

On the warbird, guards dragged a struggling, bruised Garrick into what looked like a laboratory. They flung him down on a table and snapped metal restraints around his wrists, ankles, and waist. As the guards left, a bearded, red-haired Romulan entered the room, followed by a young, scruffy-looking boy.

The bearded Romulan studied Garrick for a moment before producing the kind of predatory smile at which Romulans were so adept.

"Hello," he said. "I am T'leckum. Welcome aboard the Imperial Warbird D'Zara. I do hope you have not been made needlessly uncomfortable."

Garrick pulled at the restraints and winced as they dug into his skin. "Romulans are well known for their hospitality. Since I'm not dead and I'm not in your brig, I assume you've got something else in mind for me."

"Very perceptive," nodded T'leckum. "A quality I am certain makes you an asset to your ship...which, as you may have guessed, is pursuing us." He turned to the boy, commanding, "Get the samples."

The boy just stood there, gazing at Garrick. Was that sympathy in his eyes?

"Get the samples!" snapped T'leckum, shoving the boy toward a door. "Now!" The boy stumbled out of the lab.

"My Captain will do whatever she has to to get me back safely," warned Garrick.

T'leckum smiled. "We're counting on that," he replied. "You will, indeed, serve a higher purpose than that of a mere hostage. You see, our finest scientists have developed the ultimate weapon, a marvelous new virus that is programmed to attack only a specific race. It transforms humanoids into a crystalline substance. Oh, but I forgot...you've already seen our virus at work."

"You're sick," Garrick whispered, appalled.

T'leckum shrugged. "Unfortunately, the process quickly breaks down living DNA, killing the subject. And, as you can guess, corpses make extremely poor slaves. Most regretable..." he murmured, shaking his head. "We had targeted a poor colony to test the virus on, and so we placed a strain of it in the cargo the Deltans were carrying. Apparently, they chose to sample that food themselves. Very poor judgement."

Garrick felt his face flush with helpless rage. Not only had the Abe Varre's crew been decimated by the insidious virus, but an entire innocent colony of people had probably been wiped out. He struggled to compose himself and conserve his strength.

The Romulan boy silently returned, carrying two vials. "It's about time you returned!" snapped T'leckum, snatching the vials and placing one of them on a counter. He removed the cap from the other vial and tapped a console, causing the table and Garrick to pivot to an upright position. As T'leckum approached him, Garrick saw the boy cover his eyes and quickly turn away. The vial contained an evil-smelling orange liquid.

"We believe we have developed a new form of the virus," T'leckum explained, "one that has an antidote. The antodote would be introduced to a targeted population once our troops have secured it. However, before we can test the antidote, we obviously must have an infected humanoid." He held the vial up to Garrick's glaring face. "Please drink this."

Garrick clenched his jaw shut with all of his strength but accomplished little. T'leckum gestured, and a guard appeared to pry open Garrick's mouth. T'leckum poured the liquid down his throat. It tasted as vile as it smelled.

"The symptoms should begin to manifest very quickly," the scientist commented.

Garrick opened his mouth, trying to curse the Romulan, but found his voice hard to work. Fiery waves of pain began to ripple through his body, as if he were being slowly dissected with a phaser. He glanced down at his hands, to make certain they were still there, and saw a shimmering speck of amber appear on one fingertip, turning the flesh to a brittle sheen.

The last thing Garrick heard before he mercifullly passed out was the sound of his own screams...


"Auroras, how are we fixed to defend ourselves?" barked Lieutenant Appius.

The Chief Engineer shot him a grim glance. "No one told me we were going to have to defend ourselves. We could probably get off four full-powered phaser shots, but that's about it. How shoddy do you believe Romulan warships are built, anyway?"

"You tell me, Lieutenant. We've got to get a game plan together within the next ten minutes. I figure if we can tag-team with the Paragon against the warbird, we can at least give the Paragon an edge over that Romulan tin can."

"Excuse me," Dariel cut in. "But what can one runabout do against a fully armed warbird?"

"We can take some of the heat..." Appius began.

"We'll be decimated in a microsecond!" Dariel broke in. "We might as well just beam ourselves onto the ship and surrender immediately!"

"That's an excellent idea," Auroras suddenly stated, earning a dark glare from the Counselor. "Believe me, I have no desire to turn the Independence into a moving target while we're still in it. But I have an idea. Lieutenant, bring us to a stop. Ten seconds before the warbird comes within sensor range of us, turn the cloak on."

"But I thought...?" Appius started.

"Let me worry about that, Lieutenant," she replied. "I'll get the power for the cloak. You two better put these on."

Auroras tossed them each a wide black band with a small control panel on the side. Emergency transporter armbands. Appius frowned at the device, then followed the Counselor's lead and obligingly wrapped the armband around his bicep.

"What do you have in mind, Auroras?" he asked slowly.

"A theory," she said simply, then hit her comm badge. "Bridge to Sickbay. Doctor, please come up here. Pretty soon the rest of the runabout is going to be uninhabitable."

Dariel caught Auroras' attention. "Do you realize I was kidding?"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"We're coming out of the Belt," announced Howard. Even as the Ensign spoke, the swirling mists of the belt parted and the screen presented a picture of stars streaking past, as well as the fleeing Romulan warbird.

Robinson absorbed the report with a nod. "Stay with them, Ensign."

She was aware that she had just violated the Treaty of Algeron in pursuing the Romulan ship across the Neutral Zone, but she was not about to sacrifice Garrick and let the bastards get away with the murder of the Abe Varre's crew.

Tellim strode out of the turbolift and quietly relieved Migell at Ops. The Bajoran checked readouts and reported, "The Romulans are maintaining a heading of seven-two-mark-three, with a cruising speed...wait! The warbird is slowing to maneuvering speed!"

"Cut warp! Lieutenant Tellim, bring weapons online. Howard, evasive maneuvers!"

The Paragon narrowly avoided a barrage of phaser fire from the D'Zara. Robinson sprinted up to the tactical station.

"Lock phasers! Target their engines and weapons array. If we can cripple them, maybe they'll be more inclined to give Garrick back." Silently she hoped she was not deluding herself. She had yet to encounter a reasonable Romulan.

The Starfleet ship glided swiftly over the top of the warbird and let loose with phaser fire. That round was hastily...and accurately...returned by the Romulans. Blaring klaxon alarms immediately sounded on the bridge of the Paragon one millisecond before the warbird's fire hit. Robinson and Tellim managed to catch the railing of the tactical station to save themselves from making complete contact with the deck floor.

"Arm photon torpedoes!" cried Robinson.

At that instant, the Paragon shook under the impact of another round of Romulan disrupter fire. The bridge exploded in the deafening roar of tearing metal and popping consoles. As Tellim helped Robinson remove herself from the deck, she happened to look toward the helm station. The Captain's eyes widened as she met Howard's unblinking, unfocused stare. Her face, chest, and arms were burned and bloody.

"Oh, no!" Robinson muttered, making her way to the lifeless body and slapping her comm badge. "Bridge to Sickbay! Medical emergency! We need a medic now!"

She did not see Tellim sadly shake his head.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A Romulan woman who appeared to be in her late thirties swung her head around to face the commander of the D'Zara. "Commander Reklor, we are being hailed...by four different Starfleet ships!"

With the bridge around him smouldering from the Paragon's accurate hits, the Romulan commander swung to face the news with absolute shock on his face.

"Impossible!" he shouted at the woman. "Mivek, come to full stop. I want sensor sweeps of the area now! I won't play into the hands of Federation foolery," Reklor growled.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"So far I'm impressed, Auroras," Appius thinly grinned.

"We at least got their attention and took it off the Paragon," the Counselor said from the communications station. "What's going to happen to this charade when they find out that our ships are just emergency communication buoys?"

Auroras shrugged. "It no longer matters what they find. Our charade, as you call it, has just fulfilled its purpose. Everyone ready?"

Appius and Mur nodded, standing still. Dariel's eyes widened.

"We're really going to board her!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Sensor scans complete," reported Mivek with a sneer. "These Federation d'Minkths thought they could bluff their way into convincing us to surrender...to communication buoys!"

The Romulan commander did not say anything, but simply glowered at the crippled Paragon on the viewscreen. "Of all the impudence," Reklor muttered under his breath. "Move in and resume firing on the..."

"Commander!" yelped another officer. "Something is right under..."

"I don't care! I said fire!"

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Four figures materialized into the shadows of dark, foreign surroundings. Just as the Paragon officers fully had their feet on the ground, they found it quickly taken away in a powerful surge.

"Well, glad to know the Paragon is putting up a fight," Appius muttered.

Counselor Dariel was the first to find her legs and stand. "What's that noise?"

"Intruder alert," supplied Auroras, helping Appius to his feet. "We'd best leave before they pinpoint our beam-in site."

Suddenly Dariel froze and gasped. The color drained from her face, and Mur quickly grasped her arms.

"What's wrong?" the Doctor asked.

"He's here," Dariel muttered.

"Who's here?" Appius demanded.

Dariel looked up at Mur, a terrified haze in her eyes. "Commander Garrick! He's on this ship...and he's dying!"

Mur looked over her head and caught Appius' grim look. If he was on this ship, that could only mean one thing. "You two go disable this ship. We'll head toward Sickbay to find him."

Appius nodded, and they turned to leave.

"Jack, you go to main engineering and sabotage whatever you can. I'll head to the auxiliary bridge. We've only got one shot at this," he stated.

Auroras nodded. She didn't really need to hear how precarious the situation really was.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Mur looked around a corner, making sure the path was clear before motioning Dariel to follow her. "Come on...Sickbay should be right down here."

The two breathed slightly easier when the door slid open and did not reveal a Romulan doctor on the inside. "I don't think we'll be alone for long," Dariel whispered and Mur silently agreed.

The Counselor noticed a door off to one side and felt Garrick's presence there strongly. She motioned for Mur, and they headed toward it. It slid open to reveal a sight straight from the recesses of hell.

"Oh, my God!" Dariel muttered sickly, turning from the sight.

Strapped to a medical bed was the half-crystallized form of Timothy Garrick. One arm was completely encased in the shimmering amber, the sleeve of his uniform ripped away as if someone wanted to study the effects taking over his body. Mur approached the bed, her eyes intent on his face.

"The process has much slowed on his form," Mur stated quietly. "The crystallizing effect hasn't even touched certain parts of his flesh here."

Dariel made a harsh sound. "Thank you very much for that very compassionate update, Doctor."

Mur looked at her but decided to refrain from comment. "Nothing is reading on the bio-circuits. Can you sense if he's dead?"

The Counselor shook her head. "No, he's not dead. But he wishes that he were."

At that moment, Garrick lifted his eyes a fraction. His mouth started to move, as if he wanted to say something, and he tried to lift his head.

"Tim!" Dariel cried as Mur leaned down to hear what he was saying.

"Rom...ulan...doc...tor," he painfully whispered.

A thud from behind them startled the two women, and they spun toward the sound, both raising their phasers. A small figure stepped from a shadowy corner of the laboratory into the light. It was a young Romulan boy, who appeared to be about twelve or thirteen. He silently studied the Starfleet oficers, not out of fright but with a sense of curiosity in his blue-green eyes. He had unruly light brown hair and a somewhat lopsided nose. He was dressed in a tattered gray vest and pants. As the youth approached them, he moved with a slight limp. Mur could see bruises on his face and arms.

"Hi, there," Dariel said, stooping over slightly to face him more evenly. "What's your name?"

The boy just stared.

"My name is Dariel, and this is Diania. We're here to help our friend. His name is Tim. We won't hurt you."

The youngster cocked his head and opened his mouth, but still did not, or could not, speak.

"Does anyone know you're here?" Mur asked him.

He looked at her solemnly before turning and tapping a console. The restraining straps on Garrick sprang open, freeing him. Without the constriction of the straps, Garrick instinctively attempted to sit up. His muscles, though, were sluggish and his crystallized arm was useless. He fell back onto his back with a groan escaping his burning throat.

"Stay put, Commander," Mur muttered, rechecking him.

"Ant...ti...dote..." he whispered.

Dariel readdressed the boy. "Can you help us? From what I've seen, you don't get treated very well. We could take you with us when we go back to our ship."

The boy stared into her eyes for a moment, then nodded. He removed a vial from the counter and uncapped it. It contained a pale purple liquid which smelled foul. He walked over to Mur and held it up to her.

Mur took the vial and studied the liquid. "Is this the antidote?"

The Romulan boy nodded. It was all Mur needed. With the thought of the Deltan missionary team as crystallized corpses, she had no desire to add her Commander to that list. She placed a hand under Garrick's neck, lifting his head. With her other hand, she held the vial up to his mouth. Garrick opened his mouth and drank, his face twisting to the taste.

After pouring the purple liquid down Garrick's throat, a sweat began to run down his face, and his limbs suddenly burst into a series of twitching, jerking spasms. Mur could only guess what was happening, but he started moaning low in his throat, and she believed a million tiny needles jabbed at him from a million places as regular blood flowed back into veins long denied. The spasms increased, becoming more violent, but the amber crystal which was consuming his left arm began to glow with a soft yellow radiance. A crack appeared, then spread. Finally, the crystal crumbled apart and in its place was unblemished, living, beautiful human flesh.

The spasms slowed, then ceased, leaving Garrick gasping for breath. This time when he attempted to sit up, he succeeded. "Thank you," he murmured, flexing the feeling back into his left arm.

Mur helped him off the table, and Dariel moved to support his other side.

"Come on," said Mur. "Let's get out of here."

The door to the room swished open and in strode T'leckum. Everyone froze. The Romulan reached for his disrupter, but before he could draw the weapon, a green-white beam zipped across the room, catching him squarely in the chest. T'leckum wore a startled expression as he vaporized.

The two Starfleet officers swung to look at the boy, who dropped his weapon and sank to the floor, sobbing. Dariel let go of Garrick long enough to kneel beside the boy.

"Hey, it's all right," she told him softly, placing a hand on the boy's bony shoulder. "You didn't have a choice. I know it hurts now, but we'll be here to hel you...okay?"

The boy sniffed, lifted his head, and nodded. Dariel helped him to his feet, took hold of Garrick again, and proceeded to exit the room. The next stop would be the Independence.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Auroras crept through one of the access tubes, smaller and more cramped than the Jeffries tubes on the Paragon. She looked out a vent and was glad to see it emptied right over the plasmonic converter. With a single blast from her phaser, she could wipe it out and disable the warbird's weapon systems.

She looked around to make sure the Romulans were occupied with other things before she stuck her phaser halfway out of the vent and angled it down. She let go a round and felt a surge of satisfaction when the console blew. She quickly scrambled down the vent and around another bend so as to keep from being caught.

Now, on to propulsion...

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"Captain!" Tellim cried. "They've stopped weapon fire, and sensors report they've completely disarmed."

Robinson gave a grin of satisfaction. "Well, looks like our little away team has been busy."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Auroras peeked around a pillar and spotted the warp core. She allowed herself a congratulatory grin before she ducked and ran to the end of it. Most of the Romulans had scooted over to the converter to repair it quickly. The others had posted guards to explore the vents and hallways.

Working quickly, Auroras removed the console's side panel and accessed the propulsion interface into the warp conduits. She removed a small device from her belt and hooked it up before silently replacing the panel.

Time to get the hell out of Dodge, she thought, moving back the way she had just came.

Now it was all up to Appius and the Paragon.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The bridge was swarming with Romulans. Of course, Appius thought sourly. He managed to make his way to a side room that rested next to the bridge. Appius figured it was the Romulan version of a ready room...which suited him just perfectly, since his main goal was to stop bridge procedures.

He sat at the Captain's desk and brought up the Sickbay commands, implanting a toxic code level one emergency into the mainframe. As he worked through the override codes, he was silently thanking his old buddies in the Intelligence Agency who provided him the information.

He settled back to study his handywork before shutting off the computer and heading out the way he came in. Time to high-tail it out of the vicinity.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Independence powered up and shot away from the warbird. Appius was smiling as he piloted away from the enemy ship toward the Paragon.

"I still don't understand how we made it through without being caught," Dariel murmured.

"Ah..." Appius grinned at her. "The beauty is they knew we were there and were looking hard."

At that moment, the Romulan ship seemed to tilt starboard and drift away. Her weapons gone, now it showed her propulsion was gone, too.

"What did you do to commandeer bridge control, Lieutenant?" Mur asked him quietly.

"I gave the ship a toxic code level one emergency," he proudly claimed.

Mur cracked a smile. "Good thinking. She's dead in the water now."

The runabout lined up with the Paragon's shuttle doors and glided in. Everyone on board breathed a little easier.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Dariel stood alone on top of the Saronga Mountain, looking at the night sky. She was thinking about Roshlyn and about Katie Howard. Two different people that met the same type of end at the hands of a maniac Romulan defector, or so the Romulan government claimed.

According to officials, the warbird D'Zara was illegally stolen, and the Empire thanked the Starfleet crew for stopping her unholy intent in sabotaging the Federation and killing innocent civilians. Of course, that's what they would say...what they had to say. Right now, with the quadrant at war with the Dominion, the Romulans couldn't exactly anger their only ally.

Dariel sighed. Still, the price was high. She gave thanks that Garrick would heal fine, but she wished the antidote could revitalize those already completely crystallized. Whatever form of the virus Garrick had been forced to drink, it seemed not as potent, not as debilitating as its mother. The Romulans had truly developed the perfect biological weapon.

She made a Deltan resting symbol with her hands, bidding farewell to her Academy friend of so long ago, and to a young Ensign who had just been starting her life.

They would be missed.

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