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Posted on Sat Aug 24th, 2019 @ 4:39pm by Captain Mrazak & Lieutenant Karna Zsan & Lieutenant JG Ryland Dedeker & Lieutenant JG Jaya Maera Garlake & Lieutenant Colonel Storr Garlake & Lieutenant Commander BaoJun Qiao & Lieutenant Sophie Xiong & Gunnery Sergeant Roderik Kos & Ferrofax & Lieutenant Commander Kazyah Linn & Lieutenant Isaiah Zelaney & Lieutenant Arkady Sjet & Master Warrant Officer Alexei Sokolov & XiaoLi Zhan
Edited on on Wed Nov 20th, 2019 @ 10:29pm

Mission: S1E3: Barbarians at the Gates
Location: USS Phantom, Soukara orbit| Tsepouda Kreth ("Fourth Dominion" base), Soukara
Timeline: MD 3

Bridge | USS Phantom

"We've dropped out of warp, engaging impulse," Ryland reported from the conn.

Mrazak grinned. It was showtime. "Excellent. Wait for confirmation that the MARS deflection system is fully online and then take us to full stop in high orbit." Looking to Storr, he said, "Ensure the ground team is standing by."

The Commandant simply ensured that it was so and nodded to the Vulcan.

"We really should have tested the MARS system's integration first," Isaiah protested from the Ops console.

"We already did," Mrazak said, "at least back when the ship went through its shakedown run. This will be our first live test, and I can think of no better opportunity. Just make sure the electronic countermeasures and simulated tactical network go according to plan. We need that diversion."

Isaiah rolled his eyes but did as he was ordered. "Zelaney to Engineering. How goes Operation... the operation?"

"Say it," Mrazak ordered.

"Operation Deadfall," Isaiah corrected with a reluctant sigh.

Computer Core | USS Phantom

"Zelaney to Engineering. How goes Operation... the operation? Operation Deadfall?"

"Sokolov here. Power grid at one hundred percent," the big Russian replied

"I would like to point out that the MARS system will be utilising our main defector array almost exclusively. We will not be able to jump to warp or remain at full impulse for a prolonged period of time whilst it is in operation. Least we run into a grain of sand that has the kinetic energy to rip the ship in two," Ferrofax reported. "Also, whilst the odds of a catastrophic cascade failure in the main power system is unlikely, I am putting my core architecture on emergency battery power and disconnecting from the main power supply. Just in case Comrade Doctor The First missed a decimal point."

"Acknowledged," Isaiah's voice said through the comm. A series of clicks led to a sudden interruption.

"Ya'll just worry about your ghost machine and leave the flying to me, yeah?" came the unmistakable brogue of Ryland Dedeker the helmsman.

Sophie rolled her eyes, wondering vaguely if she could accidentally beam Dedeker into the void. She could deal with the narcissistic computer, but Dedeker grated on her nerves. With a shake of her head, she put it from her mind and went back to monitoring MARS with the others; it wouldn't do to have anything go wrong, would it?

"Don't worry Ferrofax, if I wanted you out of the ship, it would've happened a long time ago." Alexei joked. He was scanning the internal temperatures of the emitters, quietly wondering if the coolant systems would be enough.

"And had you made the attempt, you would have found the pit traps of code I've left scattered throughout the ship and station in the event of my 'accidental erasure'. But aside from that, you can survive a good deal of time without power whereas I cannot for an instant," Ferrofax sniffed. "Deflector is on line, power settings have moved to Mode B. MARS system is online and operating within its parameters...and the pitter-patter you hear on the hull shouldn't make anyone question the validity of the apparatus."

"You bite so easily," Alexei mused in amusement. "Generator output rising to keep up with demand. We're still well within safety margins."

Dominion base exterior | Soukara

Energy beams shot through the atmosphere, dodging the interference of heavy comms and transporter traffic, and deposited Bao, Fenia, Rodi, and a handful of Marines on the perimeter of the base. Natural flora had been removed by Cardassian vehicles and workers buzzing away in a flurry of activity. Even many of the guards had their weapons holstered or slung over their shoulder in order to expedite the process. The evacuation was well underway.

Five marines, each clad in their light combat armor spread out in a small circle around their two charges. Each had a Type 3a4 rifle, one in the heavy repeating variant, one marksman, and three in standard bullpup.

"Homeplate, this is Chalk One. We are planetside and moving. Out." Rodi tapped his badge and gestured towards an open patch away fro the entry gate, and the four armed Cardassians overlooking the road. Rodi took the lead, followed by his second Gunnery Sergeant Kel with his marksman rifle. Then came Corporal Thorsen with leading the two officers as their guard. The rear was taken by Lance Corporal O'Bannon with his heavy repeater and at the tail Lance Corporal Allen. Rodi glanced back at the officers. "Remember, you don't shoot unless I tell you to."

Fenia winked at Rodi. "I know the drill, Kos is god."

Bao gripped the half meter cylinder of metal he was carrying, a collapsible qiang that he hoped he wouldn't need. "You've seen me at a phaser range. If I need to shoot, we are, as you say, fucked. I reserve the right to stab or slice any Cardassian that gets that close though. Dismemberment may also happen. I may have a few issues to work through today." He scanned the area, mentally mapping the network layout.

"Don't care about your issues. Act without my instruction and you'll be doing the rest of this operation empty-handed," Rodi replied in a calm tone before listening to the comm channel.

"Sensors have detected residual energy from a theta flux distortion in the sub-level, northwest section, separated from a large open area by a short corridor," Mrazak said over the comm. "That is your primary target. Exploit any unsecured terminals or data ports you encounter along the way. Initiating decoys now, so I'm ordering comm silence. Phantom out."

A curt gesture signaled the movement. Five Marines and their two wards moved towards the walls of the compound. Rodi kept his eyes on the guards moving along it. They seemed more preoccupied with what was happening inside than outside.

Their quick dart across the field changed to a controlled walk against the wall. O'Bannon and Kel had their rifles pointing up the wall, while the rest kept them on the ground level. The supply dock and its gate were closed. Rodi climbed up and used his tricorder to confirm there was only one guard.

"Commander Qiao, there's a terminal here. Can you use it to open the gate?"

Bao had started work even before asked. A cursory look and even without help he was able to identify the Cardassian system and the Dominion hardware. That mix of crude and sophisticated was like the Bynars, in reverse. Whereas the Bynars built complicated systems on arcane hardware, the base was running top-end hardware and software that was effective but crude. However, unlike Bynaus, here the two had never been intended to meet. After just a few short moments fiddling with the panel, the screen froze up as the system crashed even as the locking mechanisms disengaged. With a look at the marines, he wrenched the door open manually. "One systems failure, on-demand," he said blandly. "Added benefit of cutting surveillance in the immediate area and shutting off the alarm."

"Until someone notices surveillance and alarms are off," Fenia added as the rest of them approached. "We should not be here when they do."

"Personally, I care more about the guard noticing us first," Bao replied calmly. "Lead on sergeant."

"Guards can be neutralized before they report in. Sensors can't," Rodi said as he followed his team into the room, and eventually down the corridor.

Brig | USS Phantom

"Why did you deceive us?" Jaya posed her question to the Betazoid sociopath on the other side of the force field.

Kazyah stood nearby, arms crossed over his chest and his face set to a scowl. The only reason he was permitting this was to save face with the Field Team that had lost confidence in him thanks to Mrazak's foolish summary of events. Karna Zsan was an ill man who should not be out free on assignment. It was a good call to bring him in. Not everybody could stare into the void and not blink. If the Deltan wanted to see that up close and personal, then Kaz would give her that chance. Maybe she would help the others see the distinction between himself and this creature.

"Oh, Counselor, I never deceived a soul in my life," Karna said, words dripping with saccharine sweetness. "It is 'Counselor,' isn't it? You seem like Starfleet's brand of shrink."

"You've seen a lot of mental health professionals, then." Jaya crossed her legs and set her annotation PADD on one knee. "I was a counselor. Now I'm an investigative specialist in the fields of psionics and psychology."

Karna leaned toward the force field. "We can't change who we are. Can we?" His dark eyes glimmered with the provocative question. "You have no clear perception of your role in this little shadowy slice of Starfleet Utopia, so you fall back into a role so familiar that you could play it in your sleep."

He was trying to get to her. Jaya knew that. As an empath herself, she felt reasonably sure that she could withstand his telepathic wiles. That meant he was stabbing at her with speculation in attempts to throw her off. Denying the observation he made would only make him more confident.

"True enough," she conceded, "but tell me about your role. What are you doing out here, Karna?"

"Well, isn't it obvious?" Karna swiveled his head in mocking incredulity. "I am a garbage man. Taking out the galaxy's trash is what I know, the one thing I am good at, and so it's the one thing I return to when I'm feeling lost or confused." His demeanor could have been describing a favorite food.

"Were you sanctioned?" Kaz interrupted.

Karna's head snapped to look at Kaz. "My goodness, but you really are blind, aren't you?" He cackled at his double entendre. "You know a good assassin never tells."

"We're nothing alike," Kaz spat.

"True. I'm better." Karna's sinister grin held a gloating veneer. "I can kill from a distance. It's all in how you think about it." He tapped the side of his temple and cackled again.

Jaya didn't want to indulge the man's mind games, but she knew the truth when she sensed it. "What are you talking about?"

"Nothing," Kazyah said. "Don't listen to his bullshit."

"I beg to differ," Karna said. "You haven't heard from the Bajoran doctor for a while, yes? He failed to appear at the briefing." Karna put a thoughtful finger to his mouth. "Now I wonder why that is..."

Jaya tapped her combadge. "Jaya to Doctor Kiril, respond." It chirped its failure to establish a link. "Jaya to Doctor Kiril, please respond!"

"Where oh where has our little doc gone," Karna began to sing. "Where oh where can he be?"

"Shut up!" Kaz shouted.

Jaya stood up and turned around to look Kaz in the face. "Someone should go check on him." The unspoken suggestion was that it should be him.

At first Kaz made to argue, but he realized Karna had successfully gotten under his skin. A short reprieve from him might go a long way. It was only two decks away anyhow. "Fine. But my previous order stands."

"Yes, yes, of course," Jaya said. "Now go."

Kaz suppressed the hot, angry snort he longed to send Karna's way and instead rushed to the Infirmary where Nevin could always be found.

Li had listened to the exchange from her own cell, seated in a lotus position as she waited. She spoke without looking up. "Amateur. Congratulations, Lt. Zsan, you truly are better than he. You played him like an erhu that has been in the family for generations." She spared a thought for Jaya. "The psychologist as well. SunZi teaches that it is the supreme art of war to subdue your enemy without fighting. Why don't you enlighten the poor specialist? Is Lt. Kiril merely incapacitated, or is he dead? I would ask how you did it, but I suspect I have all the pieces to that puzzle, as well."

"Please don't talk to the... prisoner," Jaya said. She had almost said "patient," but Karna was not her ward.

"That's right," the brig officer shouted from his box. "No talking."

Karna cackled in sadistic delight at the reprimand. "But how are we supposed to answer your questions if we don't talk?"

The annoying man made Jaya's jaw want to clench, but she resisted the reflex. Of course the brig officer's order was for no talking between detainees, but Karna would've known that. Clarifying the point would only descend into his game. Instead, Jaya chose to indulge the Lagashi's questions toward Karna on her own terms. "Answer the woman. Do you maintain that you've taken the life of a fellow Starfleet officer?"

"Now, now, that would be telling," Karna chided. "What should be of more interest is the hidden traitor you have on board. Such a black heart to be eyes and ears for your enemies. And you have not a clue, busy as you are with myself." He tisked his dissatisfaction toward Jaya with a wagging finger. "Worry not, my dear psych specialist, for the truth will be revealed in due time."

Li smiled slightly to herself. The Deltan was definitely an amateur at this. Zsan, on the other hand, she was beginning to like, just a little. "Dead then," she said more for Jaya than anyone else. "Of course," she added, clarity hitting her. She felt a flash of anger, even as she realized she could do nothing at the current time. For the moment, he was the best bet at keeping the people careless. Shooting on sight was definitely an appropriate future reaction, but for now, she simply clapped a few times before settling back in. Reading the lines, she suspected Zsan had an escape plan and would be implementing it sooner rather than later. "Since I may not speak to my fellow prisoners, I shall return to making sure he stays out of my head," she said, hoping the Betazoid took the hint that for once she wanted him to do the precise opposite.

The shared look between Li and Karna made Jaya's skin crawl. Something was definitely awry here. She double-checked to ensure that the brig officer was still alert and took comfort knowing she was not physically alone with these people, yet she couldn't help but wish Storr was with her.

Her attention settled to the burly Russian. Arkady Sjet. Evidently, he was taking the opportunity to get some sleep, which wasn't a bad idea given the minor wounds he'd received in an altercation with Karna. The uncomfortable silence made his slight snoring stand out, harmless enough to almost make her forget the redactions in his personnel profile. Part of her wished she had gone to check on the doctor instead of Kaz.

Bridge | USS Phantom

"What's the status of our ruse?" Mrazak asked Isaiah.

The computer specialist pinged the long-range probes scattered throughout the system. "So far the probes have simulated a tactical network similar to that of a Federation Starfleet battle group. The six probes have engaged their warp drives, which should provide the necessary warp signatures to complete the deception."

Mrazak nodded. "Good. Inform me the moment any Cardassian vessels move to intercept."

Of course, Ferrofax was doing the bulk of the work. Isaiah was just there to monitor the process as well as the shipwide systems that Ferrofax had on the backburner while focusing on fooling the Cardassians with the illusory battle group. "Will do, sir." Isaiah kept alternating between the various digital displays on his console.

"Linn to Mrazak." The interruption was as unwanted as the man who was interrupting. "I need you in the Infirmary."

"Not now, Linn." Mrazak sniffed in derision. "We're quite busy at the moment."

"It's Doctor Kiril," Kaz continue undeterred. "He's dead."

"What?!" Mrazak's eyes bulged. "I'll... I'll be right there." He slapped his combadge and looked to Storr. "The bridge is yours, Colonel. Don't... don't screw it up."

A facetious retort would have been forthcoming if it were not for the circumstance causing Mrazak to leave the bridge. Garlake again simply nodded and remained at his station rather than moving to the Captain's position; a quick prayer for the Doctor silently passed his lips as he monitored the ground party, quickly adding them to his heavenly communication as he observed them moving into the building. While he had the utmost confidence in his Marines and their Gunny, Storr knew that looking above was a force multiplier.

Dominion base interior| Soukara

Compared to the flurry of evacuating personnel outside, the base felt like a ghost town. The walls, rooms, and corridors were bare. Evidently, they had taken anything not welded down. That the residual quantum resonance of a synthetic theta flux distortion continued to guide them said a lot about the sorts of activities the Cardassians had been conducting.

Walking through the complex, Bao kept an eye on the tricorder readings. He, personally, understood next to nothing about the science of summoning extra-dimensional killing machines, but the rest of science department had been able to at least data dump enough at him that his muse was able to parse the readings against previous values and educated extrapolations. With that in mind, the results it was feeding him were becoming steadily more alarming. "Sergeant," he said, albeit with a noticeable hesitation where he'd almost said the man's name instead. "The readings are beginning to fluctuate, in a way that suggests we may soon have company, and I do not mean the neighborly kind."

"If they're evacuating, why would they be opening a portal?" Fenia mused. "Unless its to scuttle the base. Or that's the real reason they're evacuating. Loss of control?"

Rodi thumbed up the setting of his rifle to the highest setting. "Or to leave guards."

"We should consider the option that neither is true and that 8472 was able to determine a method to attack this facility of their own accord."

The team approached the cavernous area Mrazak had mentioned before comms silence. Perhaps a dorm. Perhaps storage. From the narrow vantage point, it seemed conspicuously vacant of any clues as to its designed use. The sound of skittering talons against hard metal echoed from the large open room.

In the center of the formation, Bao tensed and stopped moving. That sounded as if they had company, and not of the pleasant kind. He gripped his own weapon tightly, eyeing vantage points to move away from the confines of the narrow corridor. He eyed Kos and the Marines around him. They had to go forward.

Rodi and Kel moved out into the open area. Rodi's rifle swung left, Kel's rifle swung right. Thorsen came third, his swinging up to the ceiling. The skittering sounds stopped as the boosteps of the marines echoed. Behind Thorsen came the two officers. As soon as Thorsen stepped into the light he disappeared under the massive body of a member of Species 8472. Rodi and Kel swung around immediately. Rodi's eyes darted to the crumpled form. Cold steel sunk into Rodi's heart as he looked up at the alien's face.

Two bright orange beams erupted from Kel and Rodi's rifles, right at the head. "Fall back!" Rodi ordered to the rest of his team. The member of Species 8472 took a half step back from the pain. Both rifles were set to their maximum settings, powerful enough to blast straight through a Jem'Hadar chest.

Bao cursed as he flicked his hand, extending his weapon to its full 3 meter length, the leaf shaped head glinting softly in the glow. He edged away from the marines, towards a more open space as he spun the spear to a guard position.

Allen and O'Bannon pushed past the two officers, bringing their own rifles to bear. The four powerful phaser rifles finally subdued the alien. It slumped to the ground, it's head having two burned-out holes.

"Behind you!" O'Bannon shouted in his deep basso voice. Rodi and Kel turned around just in time to see the right arm coming at them. It hit Kel straight in the chest, sending him into Rodi. In a heap, both were thrown almost three feet away, against the cavern wall. For Rodi, the light went out as his head hit the wall.

The second member of Species 8472 took another step towards the other two marines. With its left arm, it swept Allen into the empty space of the cave. His landing was punctuated with a sickening crack, and silence. O'Bannon's heavy rifle had started its discharge into the chest of the thing that had attacked them. But it seemed futile as the alien wrapped its long tallon-like fingers around O'Bannon's head and lifted him up. It brought the marine on eye level as it squeezed. O'Bannon cried out in anger, pain, and fear but kept firing.

"Commander Garai, run!" Bao shouted as he moved foward, aiming a sweeping slash across the tall alien's forward leg, quickly followed an upward thrust to the creature's joint, somewhat surprisingly causing the creature to react in pain as it tossed the marine aside to refocus on the Lagashi. Apparently high resistance to phaser fire did not necessarily correlate to the ability to resist nanofilament cutting surfaces. Peachy. The Lagashi spun the spear around again as he danced backwards away from the alien, the long spear a, for the moment, more efficient weapon than the alien's shorter arms. "Kos, Kel, Thorsen, Allen, O'Bannon! Anyone present? I'd appreciate the help. Cutty stabby may piss it off, but it is not an effective method of killing it!" Well, unless it wanted to politely hold still enough for him to decapitate it. The neck, or rather three neck like things, did appear potentially fragile.

In the resulting scuffle and shimmy of bodies and fires, as they got surrounded, Fenia did not immediately notice that her side was not quite feeling right. High on adrenaline and the fight or flight mood, she listened to Bao's cry to run. However, in the first few steps she took, pain shot up through her right side - through her kidney and edge of gall bladder.

So, her retreat effectively stooped. She'd not make it far on her own. Fenia did need to help Bao however, eventhough the pain was quickly overriding the high. So she quickly adjusted her phaser and tossed it under the creature in a lock with the Lagashi scientist, "fire in the hole!" she yelled.

The others had seconds to move away and so did she. So, she tried.


Infirmary | USS Phantom

Mrazak stopped at the open threshold to the Infirmary. It was the smell that first signaled something was wrong. There was a bit of clutter, but no obvious disarray. Nothing stirred. Nobody announced themselves or reacted to Mrazak's entry. Only a stationary foot that was sticking out of from behind a biobed. Though the body attached to it remained out of sight, the rancid smell of charred flesh permeated the room.

It was too much. Mrazak put a hand over his mouth to keep himself from retching. His eyes immediately saw the foot and walked further in to see his Doctor Kiril Nevin lying on the floor.

Nevin didn't move or respond. He simply lay face down on the floor covered in a puddle of his own making. The languor in the room hung heavy.

"It was self-inflicted," Kazyah said, leaning against the corner of the room with his arms folded and one foot crossed over the other. "Phaser wound, maximum setting."

Though he had other matters at hand, Mrazak couldn't look away from the dead Bajoran. He so hated violence, or, at least, the sight, sound, and smell of it. "I appreciate the update, Commander Linn, but I could have waited for the report." His voice rose to a higher register as he talked through a pinched nose.

"Karna took credit for it," Kazyah said. "I called you here in the event that he was telling the truth. That Cardassian agent's death clearly hit the doctor hard. Karna might've somehow pushed him over the edge. Nevin might not be the only one."

Mrazak scoffed. "Oh please. We are in the middle of a tactical operation on the bridge, and you call me down here--"

"I checked his file," Kaz interjected. "Karna is a sociopath because his telepathic prowess is off the charts. The records of his parent's death on Betazed were sealed because they killed themselves on his first birthday. He was bounced from one lab study to another ever since, until... I don't know, they thought they could control him. Little good that did." Though his eyes were blind, Kaz could still interpret the world around him with practiced acuity. It made his stare all the more penetrating. "We both know the secrets that the Federation keeps buried, and the measures we take to keep them that way. Karna comes from the same underworld, but he is a loose cannon. Earlier this decade, he was captured and went native with a defunct cell group of the Obsidian Order for several years before he turned himself in to SFI, back when I was on the Vindex. They held him for a year, and he passed every psychological battery they could throw at him. It's over a year now that he's made himself useful doing SFI's wetwork, but he's clearly gone off the edge. That's what the other SFI agents were doing there, Mrazak! Karna is not sanctioned and SFI wants him brought back in." The whole situation made him uncharacteristically hot under the collar. "If I ever find the psychiatric doctor who signed off on his chart, I'll kill them myself."

"Fine," Mrazak said with an impatient sigh. This conversation would have bored him were he not so personally uncomfortable being alone with Kaz. "Point made. What do you want me to do about it?"

Kazyah relaxed a little when he saw Mrazak was starting to listen. "We both need to be on the lookout for unusual activity among anyone who's had contact with Karna. I don't think he can outright compel anyone to act against their own will, but..." He looked at Nevin on the floor. "That might not be necessary."

"Very well," Mrazak said. "We'll watch for a fifth column on board. Is there anything else?"

"One more thing," Kazyah said. "Before you pull any of your typical crazy stunts, remember I will be duty-bound to shoot you to the ground if I have cause to believe you're under the influence of a psychopathic Betazoid."

Mrazak shuddered but conceded the point with a nod. "Right. And... I you."

The very suggestion made Kazyah laugh in his face. "Okay?" Both men knew in that event Mrazak would never see Kaz coming, nor would he be likely to do anything but piss and moan about it. "I'll be returning to the brig to monitor the situation."

"The brig!" Mrazak exclaimed in sudden realization. "Couldn't they be at risk?"

Kazyah shook his head. "No. The Deltan counselor is the point officer in the interrogation and brig officers are trained in resisting subversive tactics. That brig is probably the safest place on this vessel from the likes of Karna Zsan."

"Safest place, you say?" Mrazak scratched his short chin beard while briefly considering the notion of overseeing the operation from the brig. "No, that would never do," he said to himself. "Thank you for making me aware of the situation, Commander. If you need me, I'll be on the bridge."

Bridge | USS Phantom

"Report!" Mrazak barked as he stepped off the turbolift.

Isaiah was distracted at the Operations console, so Ryland offered a quip. "We're parked real quiet-like," he said, feet up on the conn. "I take it the doc really ain't doing so good."

If Mrazak were a man of violence, he would've slammed Ryland's face against his own helm. "I can confirm he is deceased," he said at length. Kazyah's warning echoed in his ears. "Any word from the ground team?"

The shake of Storr's head gave Mrazak a pit in his stomach. "I would just love to know what's going on down there!"

"Hey, no news is good news, amirite?" Ryland shot a knowing smirk in Storr's direction.

Storr flicked his eyes over to the helmsman then back to Mrazak. "The two most powerful warriors are patience and time...neither of which you have much experience with."

Mrazak only harrumphed.

Brig | USS Phantom

"I'm sorry, Counselor."

Jaya startled at Karna's unsolicited apology, as it broke the silence that dominated the brig for the past several moments. Anxiety began to well up within her that required the full strength of her Deltan equanimity to suppress. Such was the feeling of sitting on a powder keg about to blow. Against her better judgment, Jaya asked, "Sorry for what?"

Rather than reply, Karna held up his hand. One by one, his fingers folded into his fist. At the end of the countdown, a loud whirring filled the room. Jaya looked back to the brig officer, who began pounding on the exit door of his office. It wouldn't budge, at least not for him. The explosive overload of his terminal did the trick, though, tossing him against the wall hard enough to splatter his cheekbone. She had never even learned his name...

There wasn't much time for regret, however. The forcefields were down and Karna was upon her. "I did say I was sorry," he said, close enough for his breath to pass over her bald head and down her neck.

"You don't know the meaning of the word," Jaya retorted, fearless in the face of living death.

Karna had a pithy counter, but it was cut short. In the space of that instant, Kazyah had darted into the brig, sidestepped Jaya, vaulted one foot off the side of the wall, and planted the heel of the other firmly between Karna's ribs. While the Betazoid was flung sideways, his gasping groan filling the air, Kazyah stuck a graceful landing. He fluidly descended into a low stance.

It was a moment that might have elicited a catchphrase or slogan, but Kazyah said nothing. He was one professional killer facing off against another, a standoff that could be ended by the slightest miscalculation or distraction. Karna was already on his feet, sparing no sign of pain but clearly favoring the impacted side. The two black-ops assassins looked upon each other not as warriors on the field of battle, but tools for a job, that either might find a dull edge or weakness to exploit.

Jaya tapped her combadge and said, "Security to the brig!" But it was clear the communications were down.

Like two coiled snakes, Kaz and Karna struck their hands out, timing their strikes, tactically assessing and predicting the other's movements. First, it was only handplay, yet soon their footing moved back and forth and to the side. Karna grinned all the while, seemingly savoring the challenge. Kazyah got the upper hand, though, and drove Karna to his knees in a triple joint lock. His free hand sprung back, preparing for a killing stroke.

And then the blaring klaxons of red alert sounded off.

"Stand down, Kazyah!" Jaya shouted.

Kazyah felt disoriented, then looked to the man he was about to kill. His face was wrong. Rather than a lanky Betazoid with eyes like the void, it was a bald, burly human who appeared to be just as confused as Kaz. Arkady Sjet.

"While you two were fighting each other, Karna and the other ran off." Jaya scolded them, yet her eyes still held some understanding. Had they not been men of violence, the telepathic subversion wouldn't have been effective. As Jaya reflected on Karna's little sermon, nobody can deny who they are.

While Arkady groaned under the second beating he'd had that day, Kazyah swept the room with his combination of telepathic sonar and eidetic hearing for any sign of XaoLi. She was gone as well.

Engineering | USS Phantom

As red alert sounded, the Engineering console that controlled the primary deflector array which in turn controlled the MARS quasi-cloak system overloaded. The main impulse and warp engines soon followed. Understandably so, Mrazak's voice rang out through the wall-mounted communicator. "What is going on down there?!"

"I don't know!" Alexei shouted as he checked on the enlisted man that had lost his face and life. The big Russian stepped the master systems display. It showed a variety of systems either black or dead. "We're losing system after system!"

Bridge | USS Phantom

It was very rude to interrupt a status report from Engineering, at least to Mrazak's mind, yet that is precisely what the Cardassians did. At first, it was a warning shot across the bow, but the next one was a direct broadside hit.

"We won't be taking too much more of those," Ryland reported from the helm. "Somebody get me goddamn power to the impulse thrusters!"

Isaiah groaned from the Operations console. "I'm trying! So far, I'm having to do everything manually, as Ferrofax is busy blocking several thousand network intrusions at once."

The familiar sound of Ferrofax's serpentine voice was cut off in a grinding garble. Only two words were decipherable. "Access denied."

"You mean we can't even activate the self-destruct protocol?" The blood chilled in Mrazak's veins. He was not afraid to die, but failing? That was unconscionable, as was allowing his precious secret data to fall into unauthorized hands.

The doors swished open. "Allow me." Karna stepped inside, calm, cool, and collected as if he had not just escaped from the brig.

"What are you doing here?" Mrazak shouted. He thrust a hand at Karna. "Colonel, seize that man and remove him from my bridge immediately!"

Unfortunately, Storr's back had been to the turbolift and by the time he had turned, the black-ops agent had already made his move.

Karna commandeered the Ops console with his Romulan jackal knife held to Isaiah's throat. "Not so fast, my friends. Contrary to what your eyes may tell you, I am here to help." The edge of the knife bit the surface layer of Isaiah's skin, sending a light trickle down his neck. "Everybody stays put, and everybody goes home." With his free hand, Karna input a command through the communications interface adjacent to the Ops console. Red alert was silenced.

"This is Iruhe calling out to friendly Obsidian Order vessels, care of Tydeus Amarak and Gul Kretok." As he waited for a response, Karna looked to the rest of the bridge crew and gave a mischievous grin.

The communications console beeped.

"Well, I'll be damned if they aren't replyin'!" Ryland said.

Karna took the liberty of putting the transmission on the main viewer. A craggy-faced Cardassian gul leered at them all, as the image did not extend far below his neck.

"Iruhe. I didn't believe it, but here you are." The Cardassian still looked skeptical, but at least they had ceased fire.

"Gul Kretok, I presume?" Karna took a bow. "It is indeed a great honor to finally meet you. May I present for your pleasure the USS Phantom, though most of its primary systems are temporarily disabled and its crew... not quite subdued." He gave Mrazak a wink.

Mrazak balked at the revelation. "Karna, you bastard! I'll have Garlake kill you for this!"

For once, Storr agreed with the Vulcan's command intent. Unfortunately, the Betazoid held all the cards and the Marine wasn't able to act. Yet.

"In that case, I supposed I had better beam you aboard," Kretok said over the viewer. He nodded off-screen. "Stand by to energize."

The viewer powered down, leaving nothing but a holographic view of Soukara.

"Seize him!" Mrazak shouted.

Bladddie Hell! Lieutenant Colonel Garlake thought as he sprang forward, the muscles in his calves and thighs releasing like coiled snakes to propel the South African towards the sociopathic kidnapper in a near-blur. It wasn't the right time or place to try and neutralize Karna but speed and violence-of-action were two hallmark methods necessary to (at least attempt to) secure the initiative in a compromised situation. He hoped that it would be enough.

Karna smiled. "Oh, please. I bested your blind assassin and left him fighting the wrong man. Don't make me do the same to you." His body trembled with the tingle of a Cardassian transporter lock. "Looks like my time is done. I have but one last gift to bestow."

Without further gilding the lily, the knife held at Isaiah's neck tore flesh, ripped through the larynx, and twisted around for another pass. The gruesome outflow of crimson soaked Isaiah's uniform, though he soon fell out of his chair and out of sight in a gurgling swan song. Karna was beamed away before he hit the ground.

In his place, three armed Cardassians beamed onto the small bridge, performing a sweeping motion to clear the present crew.

In one instant, the Betazoid held Zelaney, the next the black computer specialist was falling to the floor in a crimson wave and the sociopath was replaced with three surly Cardassian shock troopers. While the Marine credited them with attempting to use speed and violence-of-action themselves, they already had a growling Afrikaner launching at their position. Sometimes you win, other times you get bowled to the ground like so many pins.

The four bodies tumbled to the ground in a jumble, arms and legs flailing at the (mostly) unexpected impact sending three disruptor rifles skittering across the floor. While Defiant-class vessels had much to boast about, a large bridge to conduct a proper melee was not one of them. Storr managed to pin two of the Cardassians against and underneath the Ops station but the third shimmied out from the mass and began reaching for his weapon. Just as bony tan fingers threaded through the trigger guard, they were crushed in a sickening *crack* as a boot pressed down on the disruptor from above. The Cardassian looked up to see a cocksure smile and shrieked in pain as Ryland pivoted his foot, shattering the finger bones further and pressing the ulna to nearly breaking.

"Naughty, naughty. No playing with scary toys on my bridge," Dedeker chided the invader as he waggled his finger. "Want this one alive?" the helmsman asked the Commandant as he moved his boot from the rifle with a kick to bring his other smashing into the Cardassian's temple. The alien's neck whipped back as his eyes rolled to whites.

"A little...busy here," Storr replied curtly in a somewhat muffled manner as he shot his legs out as far apart as they could go to try and keep the two marauders from passing his guard and getting the better position on him. Unfortunately, the two were able to scramble to each side and mostly escape his grasp. Fortunately for them, it gave them maneuvering room. Unfortunately for them, it freed up Garlake's right hand.

Reaching to his side, the Marine cleared leather and rotated his wrist towards the nearest Cardassian, using his natural point of aim to fire his (definitely not just ceremonial) phaser pistol. The smell of seared flesh and the sound of fat popping from the precise yet deadly energy burn filled the room. Rolling to his side he went to aim for the second invader when its form bodyslammed Garlake, sending the pistol towards the turbolift and making the world spin with a thousand white pricks of light illuminating the artificial darkness. Bearhugging the attacker, Storr jammed his elbow into the crook under the Ops station and using the leverage was able to get his feet under him before squatting straight up, lifting the man slightly off the ground though still soundly attached to him. The Cardassian began putting the Marine in a chokehold and both began squeezing in hopes of subduing the other first. Garlake was strong...very strong, but to crush an attacker's ribs in body armor was just slightly beyond his ability. Unfortunately, Storr was in the inferior position and his breath began leaving him in heaves, the darkness and white spots returning with a vengeance. In a moment of inspiration, Garlake bent down and squatted straight up again, this time in a forward jump.

He had always wondered why those annoying railings were in the bridge and he hoped, just this once, he could put it to good use.

The two men flew through the air and landed on the railing. A sickening crack of bone and metal pierced the air as what remaining air was forcefully vacated from Garlake. The world tumbled again but this time he was now free of the chokehold and colors he didn't realize he was missing returned to their normal hues. Looking over the Cardassian, the Afrikaner's gambit had worked as the railing (with help from his husky frame and the inflexible armor) broke the alien's back on brutal impact. Blood trickled from the tear ducts of the now-lifeless invader and Storr turned away from the scene to recover his pistol.

"Looking for this?" Ryland said coyly, tossing the sidearm and catching it in his hand. "I was ready to help you out, just so you know...looks like you've almost lost a step or two, though, old man."

Storr grunted, swiped the weapon from the helmsman and holstered it. "Little less talk, little more flying, LT. Stick to things you know something about." Before the man could retort, the Commandant turned to Mrazak.

"Happy to serve."

Nobody had to tell Ryland twice about getting back on the stick. He had barely settled into the seat before he started punching the conn with both fists. "I am completely locked out."

"What if Engineering gets power back to the engines?" Mrazak asked, fishing for hope.

"You're not hearing me," Ryland yelled back with a shake of his head. "I'm talking FUBAR conditions here!"

Mrazak punched his combadge. "Mrazak to Engineering."

Engineering | USS Phantom

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. There had been red alert and system failure. Then they stood down from red alert. Then Cardassians appeared and held them at disruptor point.

=/\="Mrazak to Engineering. Activate the device. Connect it to the warp core, or throw it inside. Just send these Cardassian interlopers to oblivion!"=/\=

Whether or not the Cardassians understood Mrazak's order, their disposition turned violent. They tightened their grips on their disruptors and raised them to take aim. The summary execution never happened. A knife flew through the air, catching one of them in the chest. The other two Cardassians swiveled their weapons toward the doorway, searching for the threat. Instead, it came from above. The air duct was just big enough for Kazyah Linn to launch down upon the nearest Cardassian, sending him crumpling to the floor. He retrieved his knife from the chest of the first Cardassian, slashed the third Cardassian, and then plunged it into the chest of the one beneath him. Leaving the knife where it was inserted, he turned the wounded third Cardassian's disruptor against him and fired, sending him flailing against the bulkhead.

"You heard the Commander," Kaz said to the crew in Engineering. "From this life to the next."

"I- we don't even know what it does!" protested Sophie even as she ran to retrieve the artifact that was still in the duffel bag. She didn't have a lot of time to figure out how to activate it, so she flipped the only switch in evidence. Immediately, it started gurgling at her. "What the hell does that mean?" she muttered. And now what to do with it.

As if on cue, a Cardassian presented himself, holding a disruptor on him. Without thinking, she tossed the duffel bag at him and held her breath, wide-eyed. The Cardassian fired on the innocent-looking bag, having no idea of the powerful genie within that proverbial bottle.

Stuck in high orbit, the Phantom drifted listlessly while surrounded by hostile Cardassian vessels of the resurgent Obsidian Order. From its nacelles flashed a streak of lightning that was less of a bolt and more of a worldwide sheet of ultraviolet energy. It bypassed the axes of space and rent them in twain. What had been a Cardassian armada in orbit over the world of Soukara soon became a dark, shimmering sheen of cosmic energy that rippled like liquid. Not only were several ships engulfed by its maw -- Phantom, Keldons, Hidekis, and any others too close to the event horizon -- but also several million square kilometers of Soukara's surface. The once round world now looked like an apple with a chunk bitten out of one side.

The energies manipulated by theta flux distortions were not entirely understood by Federation scientists. It was known that such distortions could shear starships into pieces, but it had never been theorized what effect it would have on a planet. For Soukara, its spheroid shape was now rendered into a crescent as the landmass which housed the Dominion base had been pulled into fluidic space along with the ships in orbit.


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