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Before Veles At The Gates Of Iriy

Posted on Wed Feb 2nd, 2022 @ 3:25pm by Calderon Jarsdel & Lieutenant Colonel Storr Garlake & Commander Arianna Frost & Captain Akiva ben-Avram & Lieutenant Karna Zsan

Mission: S1E5: Symphony of Horror
Location: DS9, various
Timeline: following 'I'm Your Huckleberry, Part 2'

After acquiring enough anti-rad doses for Storr, the Chief and his people, the Admirals and herself, Arianna and the small cadre set off from Sickbay in the direction of Reactor 6, trying to keep as safe and as low a profile as possible. Akiva and Cal went in nearly the opposite direction toward Station Ops which housed the communications array and controlled the subspace transmitter. With two clear objectives that required the utmost synchronization, time was of the essence.

Frost was on point along with Senior Chief Varga as he knew the layout of the place better than herself and Storr. Storr followed, flanked, and followed by Varga's two Security officers bringing up the rear.

They would have to get in close quarters down there, in order to avoid hitting the reactor and causing an even bigger mess, such as more damage to Deep Space Nine, or worse the destruction of the station and possibly the surrounding ships as well.

The reality was, it could still happen, even with the best of intentions. They had to try either way. The potential benefit, however, of said irradiation was that Soderi and whoever else was in there with her would cop it too. That created a potential advantage for the Starfleet team, given Trill sensitivities.

Still, they had to get down there first in coordination with Captain ben-Avram and Cal Jarsdel.

"We're at the first checkpoint," Ari announced as she ducked behind a wall panel.

The first checkpoint of an unknown number as they made their way into the maintenance shaft that allowed them to drop to lower levels. They needed Jarsdel and ben-Avram to reach their destination and overload the subspace transmitter in order to blow the jammers and allow reinforcements to beam aboard the station. Too early and Reactor 6 would come online before they could rescue the admirals. Too late and the remaining TLA could converge on their central location to detonate the reactor manually.

Varga signaled for the two Security nonrates to take a defensive position on either side of the maintenance shaft. "Position secured," he said to the officers.

Storr turned and took a knee facing the rear, providing his share of the 360-degree security required for any halt. Garlake took his position because between it and point, they were the two that were most likely to be engaged by TLA forces or booby traps...while he was no adrenaline junkie nor held no death wish, he also knew that you needed your most experienced there and as he didn't know the station, that left him where he was. "Hey, Frost, I can't we take the meds now or after we get slimed? It's been a hot minute since I've dealt with these."

Arianna took a visual sweep as she replied, "Doc said to take them just before we breach for maximum effect and then jab the Admirals as soon as we can." She said, forcing down a creeping feeling of impatience. They had to be patient and coordinate, otherwise...

Storr harumphed in acknowledgment and turned back to the rear of the formation. He didn't like waiting, either, nor did he enjoy the thought of purposefully irradiating himself, especially for Admiral Tau...duty, though, was non-negotiable and thankfully for Gareth, allowed him to perform despite personal feelings.

"Copy that," said Chief Varga. He took point through the maintenance shaft ahead of the officers, allowing them to follow while the two nonrates guarded their six position. "The shaft looks clear," he reported. "Ready to moving forward on your order."

Under normal circumstances, Station Ops was not difficult to reach from the Promenade. All it took was the right clearance and a short 'lift ride. But with the TLA holding siege to the primary access turbolift, Cal and Akiva needed to find an alternate route. Ultimately they needed another maintenance shaft, one that would lead them up and over Main Ops to the communication array hardware and the subspace transmitter which was the key to the whole operation.

"Have you had much occasion for crawling through shafts?" Akiva asked. He was aware of the guerilla tactics the Lethean consciousness Jumik had used when controlling Cal's body on Overwatch Station, but there was no accounting for Cal's preferences on his own. The other man might be as reluctant to enter close quarters as he would be to bite the trachea out of someone's neck.

Owwwch... The implications and memories that question evoked in the other man's brain crashed unhappily into each other and unleashed some unwanted anxiety. Cal rode that wave as covertly as possible, but the strains of that process coloured his expression clearly enough. He could almost swear he heard a softly offered chuckle deep down in there somewhere and managed to turn that echo of amusement into a slightly more confident smile.

"I've done more than my fair share of awkward journeying," Cal noted, honestly. "Not claustrophobic or anything," he added, for the record. "In case you're worried."

There was a pause while he considered how much to reveal about his methods, then realized that he had nothing to lose, and everything to gain from the truth at this point.

"I might have a lead for us, or," he waggled a palm, "an option at least. Been noting a few maintenance personnel since we got up here, lot of focus in their minds about safe exits and workarounds." He nudged an upward nod in the direction of an unmarked panel. Should be big enough to admit them both, if Akiva didn't mind the old 'drop one shoulder and twist' entry point.

"Crafty," Akiva said with a smirk. "On your lead, Mr. Jarsdel."

Progress was slow but steady as they worked their way through the network of hidden crannies intersecting the maintenance shafts. Akiva wondered if the Cardassians had built the secret passageways into the station or if they were carved out like an anthill by the Bajoran Resistance. Either way, they were definitely shaving some much-needed time off their mad dash.

"Judging by these power junctions and network relays, I'd say Main Ops is not far," Akiva said as he shouldered on next to Cal. "I think I can trace the lines to the subspace transmitter from here. On my mark, pull out..." He paused a moment to cross-reference his tricorder readings to double-check his estimations. "... that isolinear rod half-way and then reinsert after a three count."

Imagery he'd hoped had been pushed deeper into the annals of his memory seemed overtly keen to rush into the forefront of his mind as they crawled through the unfamiliar tunnels. Cal sidelined them as best he could, using them as incentive to move onward as swiftly as he dared, noise limits being vastly important. Still that spidey sense warned with a constant pang of emotion, nothing useful or pointed, simply a general sense of 'seriously? this again? are you kidding me?' from the less primal parts of his brain.

Cal noted, as Akiva called for a pause, the tiny piece of tech he was destined to upset today. "Got it," he whispered, holding steady and ready to align their timing. And... mark

Like a pressure change before a meteorological storm, Cal felt that shift as the reduction in power flow kicked in.




And right back in again went the isolinear rod, closely followed by a brief acknowledging eye contact between the two male humanoids caught somewhere they really shouldn't be.

There it was, the signal. "Cleared to proceed," Arianna said as she readjusted her rifle, ready to head out with the Chief, with the others following.

Storr stood, shaking his leg to get the circulation going again after having been kneeling for a time. Checking his chronometer, he nodded. "Ready rear," he replied with one final look over his shoulder.

"Moving forward," said Chief Varga. He inserted himself into the shaft and proceeded downward, allowing the officers to follow while his two nonrates to watch their six position. "The path forward looks clear," he called from below. "No signs of obstruction or IED."

Ari nodded, adjusting her hold on the rifle as she followed after Varga. While the primary goal was to free the Admirals, they needed to secure at least one of the terrorist for arrest and the inevitable interrogation. Preferably that spotted dimwit who fancied herself a spook, Soderi. This whole attack still made no strategic sense.

However, as things went with extremists, to one extreme or another, this encounter was just as likely to end up with deaths on both sides before it was over. Luckily, she seemed to be in the company of people who were very aware of this possibility.

Chief Varga took point ahead of the superior officers that they could give orders. Descent down the shaft toward the power plant was slow and tedious. Haste meant failure in a number of ways. Deck after deck passed them by. Each one held more warning signs about the dangerous section they were entering. None of them were engineers, so there wasn't much to do but press onward and hope for the best. Eventually, they made it to the bottom of the maintenance shaft where a lone hatch stood between them and the reactor level.

"Got any readings?" Varga asked, nodding toward the team's tricorders.

Arianna pulled out her tricorder and scanned the insides. The Aussie's features darkened slightly as the readouts came through. "Shit..." A curse followed by a sigh, "detecting two humans, five Trill...and a...mechanoid of some sort? Hard to pin down but it reads as an artificially powered presence."

A pause again, "the overload hasnot been tripped yet...if it doesn't happen soon we risk being detected."

Storr simply nodded as he looked behind the group, keeping his phaser rifle shouldered rather than inspecting his own tricorder. He trusted Arianna and the more that were ready for immediate action, the better. Turning back, he surveyed Chief and the others, pensive anticipation written across their faces. They were doing well keeping it, with only a couple manifesting their anxiousness in tapping or other nervous tics.

It seemed incredible that nobody had laid in wait between Akiva and Cal and their destination, but then again there was a slim possibility of the TLA knowing about the shortcuts that Cal had only himself gleaned. There was no preemptive warning from Cal about any intruders. Indeed, even the tricorder showed no life signs. At last, it seemed circumstances were finally going their way. Akiva muttered a quick, quiet prayer of thanksgiving to HaShem before exiting the hidden panel into the subspace transmitter control room.

"We made it," Akiva said as loudly as he dared. The room itself was rather small and cramped, designed only for a technician or two. Close quarters meant an echo chamber that could potentially alert a vigilant Trill rebel if they were too careless.

There were no control panels aside from the small interface that functioned as the readout display while in sleep mode. Currently, it displayed the signal strength as null due to the jammers.

"Give me just a moment," Akiva said as he knelt down and prepared the power surge that would overload the subspace transmitter. At this point, he would have to wait at least a few minutes before initiating, but there was no harm in staging it now. "Honestly, I'm surprised at how easily this has gone. If I didn't know better, I would say somebody left the door wide open for us."

It didn't feel right, that was for sure. Cal nodded, even as he tried to push down all those alarm signals that had been unhelpfully sounding off since the moment they'd started this crawl to hopeful victory. There wasn't much room here, and Akiva's voice was hushed in the confined space, but Cal opened his mouth to warn him not to jinx it with such words as - no, there it was - 'how easily this has gone' - well, they were truly fucked now. And, yup, instant karmic reward. Confirmation without doubt and a crescendo point to the chiming anxiety warnings suffusing his entire brain.

"That, Captain Akiva ben-Avram, is an interesting point."

The voice came seemingly from nowhere at first, though before the words faded into silence, the sheer silhouette of a humanoid form shimmered into view. A face then appeared, dominated by distinctively large and dark Betazoid eyes and a shit-eating grin. His mind both radiated and consumed like a blazing wildfire or pulsating black hole.

"You did quite well bringing Calderon Jarsdel here," said the brazen Betazoid. "Although, if I am to be brutally honest, I was expecting Jumik. No matter. I'm sure you will hear all about it when you wake up."

Akiva squinted as his memory fought to identify the familiar man who had all but danced into the middle of their operation. This was not someone he had personally met, but there was something about those eyes and that grin that...

"I know you," Akiva said, his eyes widening in realization. "You're Karna Zsan."

"The one and only," said the Betazoid with a mock bow. "Alas, your role in this production has come to an end. Good night, sweet prince, and may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

At that, he quick-drew a phaser and fired on Akiva. The Hebron barely had time to blink before he was thrown back against the control panel.

"Oh, come now," Karna said, grinning at Cal. "I only stunned him. What must pass between us is not for anyone else's eyes and ears but our own."

Quietly, Cal struggled to reconcile his own mind with that inferno of the interloper's and subtly worked to protect himself with a few more layers of mental barricades. Just checking all those doors and windows, so to speak. He stood, silent and still as their new company name-checked him, and interestingly, Jumik. Well, fuck! That was unexpected. He hadn't even considered himself as a target in all this Thetaesque missiony fun. Not even for a little bit. It raised a smile on those handsome features, despite all that was going on between the other two. Akiva, and?

Karna Zsan. Hmm.. Nope. Didn't ring a bell, not in his own dusty archives or those Jumik had filed during his hostile occupation.

The phaser fire was unexpected until a millisecond beforehand, and, denied the preemptive warning by virtue of the other man's protected mind, Cal flinched appropriately. Then he canted his head to the side and offered up a second, wry smile, blue eyes catching a glint of acceptance and expectation.

"So, when you say you were expecting Jumik?" Cal half-asked, his thoughts and emotions safely guarded as strongly as he was able. "Were you planning to murder him or recruit him?"

A glint of amusement passed over Karna's eye. "I was told as a child that I do not play well with others. Something of a lone wolf, you might say--a c'sasvaoth, if you know our mother tongue of Betazed." It was an all-but-forgotten mythical term from the Betazoid medieval era--an abomination of the mind in the flesh that preyed on the psyches of others without remorse. Exiles from society were branded as such in times past, but not for centuries. "But I do not think you give place to fables." His face canted to one side as he leered at Cal, undressing the man's inner mind and taking delight in what he saw. "Jumik would not follow me anyway. Not after I had my way with his mother..." His mouth split into a sordid grin. "...just before I killed her as an enemy of the Cardassian state."

In the upper echelons of Cal's consciousness, what remained of Jumik flashed swirling colours of emotion in reaction to Karna's words. While Cal was unaware of the myths and legends surrounding the word, he knew well enough the process and experiences of a c'sasvaoth's prey. Firsthand and for far too long. Now, what existed in the real world, beyond legends spoken to scare and impress, was a mixture of both psyches. Both personalities. Both memories.

"Playing with others has its benefits," Cal noted, with a mild amusement as he felt the rush of fury and desire for vengeance boil up to the surface of his mind. His brain felt... heated... as Jumik's 'vocal' remnants screamed words in Lethean that would definitely not be welcome at a polite gathering of any kind. Amused by the pain, Cal let his mental companion speak. "Ijui was a whore, a violent creature impressive by her unsubtle use of Rapture among the Klingon Empire, but a female who gave results. Her death at your hands was a waste of a fine resource." The words lacked the true Lethean derision, spoken from lips that were mostly human, but the underlying message was the same. Jumik was unamused, but rallying well.

Karna's sordid grin spread so wide it forced his bottomless black eyes into narrow slits. "There he is." It was a whisper no less festive for its hoarse timbre. A glint flashed from a knife produced seemingly out of nowhere. Karna flourished it in his hand, making it dance across his knuckles, though his appraising, cocked eyes never broke gaze with the man before him. "You might have fooled the rest, but the reason they kept me in action and not in an asylum before my early retirement was a little known secret about hunting monsters." After drawing his tongue across the flat of his jackal knife, Karna flicked it like a snake before saying, "It often takes one to know one."

While Karna continued to kiss his jackal knife in a bizarre seductive gesture, his free hand flicked across his waistline. A smaller Klingon Daqtagh shot like a dart from his hip toward Cal's midsection.

That shit-eating grin! Cal felt the reaction in the Jumik-remnant, and yet he remained utterly in control. As if he watched a storm present on the near horizon and held the keys to that particular meteorological vehicle. He could choose - let it rip or rein it in. Calmly, quietly, he waited and watched as Karna demonstrated his choice of weaponry and brandished said edged blade as if he were some sort of stage magician courting a crowd. Cal allowed himself a lopsided smile, but refrained from relaxing into this mood. Karna had orchestrated this meeting for a reason, doubtful that was leading to a quick hug and some friendly banter.

"I don't think I fooled anyone," Cal countered. He'd been under watchful eyes and bright, outgoing telepathic minds since his capture and restraint. "But now that you mention it, asylum's can be quite relaxing. Or so I've heard." Chance would be a fine thing that he might get some downtime to catch up on the life he'd been forced to abandon, but that was an issue for another day. He saw the knife, the overt one, and rolled his eyes. A narcissistic, theatre or... a distraction?

Too late, the realisation warned, Jumik's fury taking up a little too much of his attention. So Cal's hand gripped about Karna's own, both wrapped about the hilt of a surprise weapon just as that wayward and vicious blade broke the skin.

"Did you you seriously just fall for that?" Karna tisked his tongue in disappointment. "Perhaps I was wrong about you. I guess what they say about Letheans is true: good only for giving oral pleasure in Klingon spacedocks. Gods know Jumik's mother Ijui gave the best on this side of Risa."

Strong fingers driven by Lethean hatred wrapped about that Daqtagh and turned it upwards towards Karna's ribcage with lethal intent as the man scorned them both. Cal's gaze locked with their aggressor's as he simultaneously drove a knee in the specific direction of Karna's groin. "You do seem fixated on blowjobs," Cal noted. "Been a while?"

Pain was often such an obvious telegraph. Karna allowed Cal's momentum to slide right past him, neither fully sidestepping nor staying in place--just a simple pivot that kept contact between their bodies unbroken even as both strikes missed by a hair's breadth. The close proximity allowed Karna to retaliate by dragging his tongue across Cal's cheek. "Blowjob? Why, I've never had one." Before the words were out of his mouth, Karna had snaked his arm around Cal's neck, torqued his spine backward, kicked out his knee, and rolled the man into simultaneous guillotine chokehold and cross-leg shoulder pin. The Daqtagh clattered away in the scuffle.

"Don't be such a cloaca!" Karna taunted, referring to the Lethean-specific genitalia. "Show me who you really are!"

"If that's what you really want..." Muttered Jumik's remnant via Cal's mind. Direct to Karna, the Lethean's persona was guarded but vile, frustrated and volatile, yet contained. Cal allowed it, words' wounds were fleeting and less bloody than their mutual past and while his body lay on the ground, his mind leaped them elsewhere.

Time was ticking away, dangerously fast. It was time to make a call.

"Okay, let's jab up." Said Arianna as she reached into the belt strap and fished out a small dispenser with a vial. She turned it around in her hand and pressed against her shoulder, making a small hiss as the treatment spread out from the microneedle embedded in her skin.

She glanced over at Storr, Varga, and his men. "Last chance to back out lads. Once it goes, the only way is in."

"We didn't come all this way just to back out now. Besides, I'm not about to let a woman get all the glory," Storr quipped with a grin, taking his own anti-radiation dose while hoping that his face wasn't as green as his stomach felt. A sudden sound, however, snapped the Aafrikaner out of his sour face.

In rapid succession, Garlake made a quick cutting motion across his throat to indicate imminent danger, raised the open palm of his non-firing hand to ear level, signaling that the squad "stop, look, listen, smell" (SLLS), then waved his left arm horizontally from the shoulder repeatedly to the front and side in a sweeping motion with the palm toward the ground to disperse everyone away from the central area towards the more dimly-lit walls. While the handful of "fleeters" weren't SFMC, they thankfully knew basic small unit hand signals and quickly scattered in a mostly silent fashion. Storr was almost proud.

Two figures with lights on their rifles loudly made their way down the corridor, their voices carrying much farther than they likely anticipated.

"F'ckn Cardassian engineers, couldn't they have made this station even a little more comfortable? It's downright freezing in here, let alone you need a flashlight to help your hands find your arse."

"Shut it, mohn," a thick Jamaican accent replied, obviously tense, "dah boss-mohn sent us heah on the," his voice suddenly became lilted and mocking before returning to normal, "'unlikely event belligerents attempt to access the reactor.' Just caus weez dindu nuffi'n to justify ourz bei'n sent down herez duzzn't mean yooz gottsta beech about it. Besididez," he finished, "Ize like my head attached to muh neck, mohn."

Soldiers were soldiers everywhere, even in terrorist organizations, Storr thought at the two men rounded the corner, perfectly silhouetted by their mounted lights carelessly swaying by their hips. Ari and the others would likely have the first shot at them given the angles so he raised his rifle in anticipation of any necessary follow-up shots.

Arianna swore inwardly as Storr indicated they were about to have company and quickly and as quietly as she could she got to a cover. The Starfleet part of her screamed at her to set her rifle to stun and disable the interlopers, however, Vaera and her crew have shown their intent. It was us-or-them, and nothing in between.

The spook of many years part of Frost knew they had to adopt the same mentality. The one target of value in the enemy camp was Vaeri herself. Though it would be tough to apprehend her, if she was willing to live. At this point Arianna wasn't sure if that was true.

They needed to take them out quickly and quietly, but with the two facing their direction it was hard. Arianna hand-motioned to Varga and Storr that she would distract the two and that the two of them should take the intruders out manually, without discharging weapons. Discharged weapons would bring too much attention.

Hopefully, the two mooks wouldn't discharge theirs either. But then they were unlikely to fire on what they couldn't see. So far, surprise remained on the rescuers' side. If luck held out, it would stay that way.

Frost set her rifle aside then and executed a well-practiced stumble, paired with a 'wounded side', into the path of the two. She remained on her knees, taking deep breaths, looking down until she was sure that they stopped in their tracks.

Another deep breath, schooling her features into a mask of pain, then she looked up, "oh shit! Don't..." exaggerated gasp, "don't shoot, p...please!"

"Who is it?" shouted one of the mooks as he trained his rifle-mounted torch onto Ari, illuminating her face on approach. "Is it Starfleet?!"

"Who else woulda be, mon?" quipped his partner who pointed his weapon in the same direction, though he kept his distance. Both men had been lured into an open expanse between two maintenance panels. "Bedda call Vaera, ledda' kno' we gots coomponay."

Before they could call in the sighting, though, Varga's two noncoms rushed man from the panels on either side. Both terrorists attempted to respond, but between processing the multiple vectors of attack, their response time-lagged. Their unconscious bodies hit the deck in short form.

"That was easy," Varga said. "Hopefully the rest of the op goes that clean."

It would be the last thing Varga ever said. A seven-foot monstrosity stormed the squad and slammed Varga into the wall hard enough to leave a slight dent in the poly-alloy. Not much was left of Varga's midsection and head that wouldn't require a squeegee to collect. Jumping back from the wall, the humanoid colossus assessed the remaining four Starfleet officers and tilted his head to one side in a slight, sharp angle like a bird of prey. The two noncoms threw themselves between him/it and their superior officers, opening fire in bloody vengeance for their chief's death. At first blush, their phaser fire had no discernible effect.

So much for the element of surprise.

Things happened slowly and then all at once. Storr watched as Varga's men expertly dispatched the two goons in the hallway and gave them a silent nod of approval. As he began walking towards them to assist in moving the two unconscious bodies, however, all hell broke loose. Before he knew it, the Chief was no more, bits of bone and other bodily fluids were splattered all over the Marine, and ineffective phaser fire filled the small corridor.

Utter shock was replaced by rage as the two security officers were tossed to the side like ragdolls. While his time with them had been short, Chief Varga had more than proven his worth with the group and his seemingly random and unexpected death made Garlake's blood begin to boil. The...cyborg? Enhanced human? Exoskeleton-implant? Whatever it was, its deeply scarred and wrinkled brown face turned to the Afrikaner and smirked, licking up a mix of spittle and blood on off its cheek. Storr balled his hands into fists as he saw red, though he quickly and consciously relaxed them and shook out his fingers with two deep breaths, forcing his vision to expand from the tunnel that was concentrating on the beast. The fight/freeze/flight response was very real and Storr would need all his wits about him to win this fight. A quick glance over to Ari showed that she was in no position to challenge the intruder so Garlake tilted his head towards the access panel that continued below them and towards the reactor. He hoped she understood the message to continue without him.

Storr barely managed to flick his eyes back towards the beast and cursed under his breath.


The words barely left his lips as the bounding brown beast bore down on the barely battle-ready Boer, the pain of rapid contact shocking his body and the sound of flesh suddenly colliding filling his ears. The beast nearly wrapped his arms around the Marine but Storr took in a deep breath and expanded his chest before rapidly exhaling, allowing him to shrimp out of the creature's grasp and fall to the floor. From this advantageous position, he rapidly unsheathed his KABAR and drug the 7-inch finely-ground blade through the beast's Achilles tendon. As an immediate follow-up, Storr lowered his shoulder, grunted, and sprang outward, flexing his opponent's leg in a completely unnatural sideways motion which resulted in a loud, satisfying shatter/crack. An unearthly combination of a yell and electronic warbling sent shiver's down Garlakes spine for his effort.

Storr's movement had put his back to the beast which was necessary at the time but never a place one wants to be in a fight; the defensive strike was quick in coming and the pain equally so.


Garlake's vision spotted white as he was sent reeling towards the far wall, his left shoulder and side pounding before his right side joined them from the rapid collision with plasteel. His ears rang though he could still hear enough to know that the mechanical man was quickly closing the distance between them.

Storr waited just a moment longer than he could bear before pressing his feet against the bulkhead, sliding his body along the floor, and knocking the beast's feet out from under him. The cyborg fell to the ground with a resounding *clang* though not without trapping the Marine's leg under its substantial bulk. Garlake did his best to squeeze out but the beast reacted first, grabbing the Lieutenant Colonel's collar with a twist and violent pull. The blood choke came on faster than the Afrikaner anticipated, his vision tunneling to gray and his head pounding from the lack of sustenance. He clawed at the beast's arm/fingers for relief but they were like stone around his neck. Storr didn't fight dirty in principle but had no compunction utilizing every tool in his belt when necessary.

Raising his left arm up, he bent his fist towards his chin and drove his elbow back into the mechanical man's groin as hard as he could, wincing mentally as he did so. No man should suffer such a strike but it was him or the beast.

The cyborg grunted in searing pain as air and blood rushed back to Storr's head, his vision rapidly expanding with color returning though threatening unconsciousness again from their crashing onset. He heaved in a quick breath before shrimping away from the cyborg's already recovering form. Two yellow flexi-signs caught his eye, indicating maintenance was occurring on the floor just beneath him. Could his luck be so good? He whispered both a quick thanks to God and supplication that his attempt work before jumping into the air and again pointing his elbow towards the mechanical man.

225 pounds of (mostly) muscle collided into its target with an accompanying mechanical groan not from his opponent but the floor. It collapsed nearly instantaneously, catching them both by surprise at the rapidity of their fall, the two entangled in mid-air as they quickly crashed onto a catwalk below.

Arianna waited for a few moments as the smoke grenade filled the area below the now opened hatch before dropping down herself. Soderi still had reinforcements down there, so Frost's going in alone while Storr and the others held back the giant mechanical monster would end in a swift kaput, if she wasn't smart about things.

Her scan showed no one in the vicinity of the entrance, though three of the five Trill were close. Two were next to the Human lifesigns further away.

It was now or never.

Arianna jumped down and rolled towards the nearest cover she could see. Ducking down, she quickly took a read of the positioning again. She couldn't see much with the smoke filling the vicinity, but they couldn't see her either. Several shots went off.

Arianna ducked down further. The scan indicated a catwalk just above the trio's heads. This was going to be complicated, due to smoke and her own semi-impaired vision. Pushing up a little, Arianna leaned the tip of her rifle against the barrier in front of her and shot up, hoping she managed to hit the support struts for the catwalk.

Quickly, she moved and ducked behind the nearby cover, seeing two of the trio stand up to move away from the now half hanging catwalk. Arianna fired again, hearing a scream from one then an unceremonious thud, followed by two shots. Firing again, she heard rather than saw another drop.

Two down, three to go. Firing again, she ducked between another cover again, then took another shot at the last standing support strut. Metal tore and groaned, scraping and screaming as it gave way and fell to the deck, followed by a blood curling scream.

Another dot on the tricorder scan that blinked out of existence.

"Foolish Starfleet!" Vaera shouted. "Your Admirals are dead!"

Turning tail, Vaera ran toward the reactor where Nyel and Tau were restrained.

"I just had to go poking the hornet's nest, didn't I?" Arianna thought to herself in annoyance, as she moved to another cover, closing in on the other Trill. "Couldn't leave well enough alone, could I?"

The other Trill just then realized how close she'd gotten and moved sideways to shoot only to be met with an orange beam to the chest. He let out a groan and exhaled as he crumpled to the floor.

Frost shook her head. This was still too easy. With all the obstacles, this was too easy. Something was wrong.

"Yeah nah, mate!" Arianna finally said as she ducked back down into cover, pulling her tricorder out. "One Trill, two Humans is what I see. Your metal friend is being handled by my team. It's just you and me now, c***!"

Storr and the augmented giant fell between them in a pile of twisted metal and blood. The giant got up, though not without some difficulty due to the metal bar that had perforated his left arm. He ripped it out and twirled it in his hand like a club, seemingly oblivious to the dark hydraulic fluid seeping out of where his left bicep should have been.

"Kill them, Nigozi," Vaera ordered with sinister glee. She actually crossed her arms to smugly await their demise. "Quickly dispatch the male but make the woman suffer. She has a dirty mouth."

The android giant, for there was no telling where his organic appearance ended and his synthetic being began, lunged forward with a savage downward strike straight for Storr's head.

Arianna barely heard Vaera's words as she rolled out of the way of the metal giant and its Marine-sized equivalent. As the beast started spinning the bar, Frost fired off a few shots at it, to get its attention and allow for Storr to hopefully regain his footing, if he was even still alive, it was hard to tell in the situation as it just presented itself. With each shot, she inched towards one of the coolant tanks that was nearby.

The decision to focus on the metal man rather than going after Vaera immediately was actually due to her own words, the confidence in her metal partner. Which meant she still needed the Admirals, for whatever reason. Which meant, they had time. Two against one would work towards actually containing and apprehending Vaera rather than killing her. They needed what she knew, whatever it ended up being.

Bright, painful bursts of light washed out his vision while dust from the debris choked his lungs. Movement and voices jumbled together in ringing ears as he half-sat up, his right arm propping himself up as he performed a quick self-assessment. Amazingly, everything seemed okay though a burst of phaser fire told him that he didn't have time to dawdle. A massive *clang* of metal on metal inches from his right fingers caused the Marine to roll to his left in reaction, standing to a low-crouch to clear his eyes and lungs.

The...cyborg seemed to be an amalgamation of metal and flesh made even more grotesque after Storr's gambit to crash them both through the floor. The two's eyes met for a moment and it roared at the Lieutenant Colonel with a halting grunt and digital sonic warble. Garlake bellowed back.

Springing from his crouch, the muscled Marine lept at the android, large rips in his shirt and pants exposing flesh and rivulets of blood while his opponent was slick with an abomination of fluids. His body collided with the metal man, sending the two to the floor in a heap of blows and strikes at any target even remotely presenting themselves.

"Ari, don't let Vaera escape!" The words were barely out of his mouth before his jaw exploded in fire, the android's fist crashing against it and Storr again saw stars. His hands instinctively shot out and grabbed what hair was left on the beast's head, lacing his fingers together before pulling down with a powerful jerk. Garlake's knee simultaneously kicked up, violently meeting the android's face with all the force 25-inch thighs could generate; the move created a sickening sound as the android's face was crushed against the Marine's femur. Unfortunately, pain didn't seem to be part of its programming.


Storr uttered something that was between a grunt and groan as the android grabbed his extended leg, pulling up with inhuman strength and sending the Afrikaner heels-over-head before crashing into the ground face-first. The taste of copper filled his mouth as blood dripped from between his clenched teeth, the world spinning yet again as the cold steel of a floor held his frame.

Frost didn't need to be told twice. Trusting that the Colonel had things under control, the spook returned to the object of her hunt. The spotted nitwit. Vaera Soderi.

Jogging after Vaera and dodging random debris here and there, Frost set her rifle to heavy stun and approached the area where the Admirals were being kept.

"Come and face me, Soderi, or are you going to be a coward like your precious General?" Frost growled, attempting to unbalance the Trill further, to prompt her to make a mistake.

The response from Vaera was swift. She fired a shot at Ari but missed her head by inches. "What do you know of valor, Starfleet? You hide behind your superior numbers and your technology to support the usurpers. Imagine a subversive force had overtaken your homeworld and allied with a star empire to make their oppression absolute. What would you do, Fleeter? Would you meet your adversary head on, or would you take the smart route?" The Trill terrorist spat with disgust. "That you tried sneaking up on me and my men is all the answer I need."

"I don't know, mate. Our group is smaller than yours and we still got here." Arianna countered, tapping a few commands on her rifle before ducking behind the nearest cover.

Nigozi the Cyborg dragged Storr in front of Vaera, though his steps were staggered. "Visual sensors are damaged. I require confirmation of target termination."

Looking down at Storr, she could easily see the rise and fall of his chest. "You idiot! He is still breathing! Are you blind?" A quick look at his face showed that somehow the damned Marine had indeed damaged Nigozi's cybernetic eyes. "Oh bloody..."

The voice warbled like a frequency looking for a match, finally settling on a vaguely womanly voice. The cool floor was in stark contrast with the dull pain that emanated from the front of his face and Storr welcomed the temperate relief if only for a moment.

Arianna took the distraction to move around and get a good look at the Admirals. Thankfully, at a visual inspection they seemed to be alive, though she couldn't tell if they noticed her or not.

She advanced on Vaera, rifle trained at the Trill's back, still careful to have a cover ready.

Nigozi's hands were grasped around the Marine's ankles though was facing away from him, thankfully. Taking a quick breath, Garlake twisted with all his might to his right side, stripping his legs away from the android and springing first to his knees and then his feet. Though still unbalanced, he reached out towards Vaera and grasped for whatever he could. Storr's hands found purchase on her shirt, barely bringing her down to the floor given her immediate (but ultimately unsuccessful) attempts to break free. The shirt began to rip and expose her right shoulder and chest though the Afrikaner didn't need that leverage anymore, immediately spinning the Trill around, snaking his left arm under her neck until it rested in the crook of his elbow. His left hand grasped his own right shoulder while his right hand shot behind her hair to Vaera's own left shoulder, securing her head and making escape nearly impossible. Completing the "figure four" rear-naked choke, he squeezed gently, his 18-inch bicep pressing very uncomfortably against her carotid arteries.

"Call off your mechanical freak and free the Admirals." After a very brief struggle at his words, Storr squeezed slightly harder. "Now."

"Never!" Vaera managed to choke out before her airway completely constricted. The squeeze set on by Storr's stranglehold nearly made her eyes pop out. She tapped him in silent pleading for air. When he relented, she gasped as deeply as she could, but the Commandant had not let up. It was all she could do to even breathe. "Nigozi... Stand down..." The words came slow and deliberate on winded speech. "... and initiate... self-destruct! Autho Soderi 543--!" Her voice turned to gagging once more as Storr set the squeeze.

The synthetic organism's damaged eyes flashed red in response to the broken order. "Confirm self-destruct. Alert: self-destruct will deactivate local jamming network."

They needed to be out of there before that happened, but there was no way they would be fast enough to secure the admirals, keep Soderi in custody and survive before the metal beast blew up. "Come on guys, trip that fuckin' overload!" It was their only chance.

"You lose either way, Soderi. Call off the self-destruct and you get to live. Dying with us gets you and your cause nothing." Ari said, still training her rifle at the Trill.

With Storr still choking the life force out of her, the only response Vaera could give was a spiteful rictus grin.

"Repeat: self-destruct command must be confirmed before initiation," said Nigozi.

Life was often filled with many choices, most of them their outcomes hazy or uncertain. This was not one of them...there was going to be no repetition of the self-destruct command. Storr simply flexed his arm and pulled on his own shoulder, completing the "circuit" and cutting off all blood flow to Soderi's brain. He could have modified his grip for an air rather than blood choke but the former, while less dangerous, also took longer.

one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three...

Garlake didn't even complete his count to four before the woman in his arms slumped forward, completely unconscious. He waited another potato before releasing the pressure though his eyes were fixed on Nigozi; who knew what it would do when the command wasn't given again. The Afrikaner's stomach dropped through the floor at the thought of the damage he did to it causing the self-destruction to simply would be his luck. In a few stressful seconds, they would all know one way or the other.

Arianna followed his eyes for a moment to Nigozi, then caught his eyes, giving him one solemn nod and held her breath.

The landscape Cal, Karna and Jumik emerged into was impossible. Each stood upon a rocky asteroid, devoid of suit or breathing apparatus but surrounded by what appeared to be the harsh and unforgiving vacuum of space. Yet they breathed normally, masters of their own tiny worlds. Cal to Karna's left, standing with feet planted surely on this uneven surface, arms raised above his head, fingers outstretched and a lazy smile on his features. Jumik to Karna's right, his ghostly form half-corporeal in visualisation, yet translucent, a long crackling stave in his hands that seemed to stretch impossibly at its ends. The Lethean shot a sideways glance in Cal's direction before brandishing said lightning staff before him in readiness to fight. It seemed to pull energy from the very dark matter between the stars of this unlikely battleground.

"What do you want from us?" Cal asked, his feet moving atop the rock he called his own.

"Shush yourself," Karna said to Cal without looking away from Jumik. "The grownups are talking." The Betazoid grinned at Jumik, but somehow it projected more malice than any violent glare could. "I am so happy to finally meet you, Jumik. Would you believe that little Deltan had thought you were history? Of course you did. You gloated over it. How could you not? It was a deliciously deceptive ruse." He chuckled with glee in honor of the feat. "She might be a psychological professional, but she's not a professional psychopath." His grin turned sly as one corner of his mouth coiled back so far it pulled the other toward the center. "You couldn't fool me though. Not even from light-years away. I know what you are. What I want to know is if you have learned your lesson. Do you win the game by staying in your lane, or do you need to be removed from the board permanently?"

As distractions went, it was a decent one, Cal considered, watching the two figures interact. Karna verbally superior, Jumik radiating frustrated fury via emotional remote control. He allowed himself - the real Cal part of himself - to relax and be entertained, while using this theatre to attempt to better understand who exactly this interloper Lethean-fanboy was.

"Naivety and maternal instinct are no match for either of us," Jumik sneered. "Deltan bitch needed a victory, so I gave her one. This meat puppet," his ghostly arm waved in Cal's direction. "Can't fool anyone, much less either of us." Derision and impatience coated every word.

Cal's mind reached out to peek behind the Betazoid's mental curtain and instantly (internally) recoiled in horror. Layer upon layer, each brighter and more intense than the next laid out a path to whatever passed for Karna's inner self. A nuclear explosion of randomly incoherent pathways each more unlikely and illogical than the next. A maze on levels that shouldn't even be possible in someone capable of standing and walking around or of speaking in words that formed coherent sentences to other sentient life. Crazy barely covered the sense of the man's doormat at the entry point to his brain.

"Why do you care if this one lives or dies?" Jumik hurled the words across the space as he leapt from his own position to join Karna on his asteroid. His lightning staff blazed dual circles about him, cutting visual swathes in the space about them both, yet impotent by way of any actual physical damage. "End him," Jumik said, each word punctuating a boot landing on what appeared to be solid ground. "If you need closure."

All Karna could do was throw his head back and laugh. "If you have a death wish," he said between gasps for air, "then I can make it come true. The boy gets a chance because someone once gave one to me and I have learned that what the human half of your host calls karma is a bitch. I learned to play within the lines and keep balance. You represent imbalance." The darkness from his black eyes seeped into his grin, projecting glee. "I am good for one thing, and it's taking out the universe's garbage. If I can't confirm that you are not going to kill everyone around you, then only one of us will leave this space." At that, Karna made a fist which then created a huge, ephemeral fist of translucent energy the size of Jumik's entire form. It punched the Lethean back to his floating chunk of asteroid. "Now that we all know you have no power here, wraith, you might as well give a straight answer and leave the theatrics to me. Are you going to be a friendly ghost from now on?"

Funnily enough, a death wish was just exactly what Jumik had. Remaining an ethereal prisoner in his once quarry/minion's body was not how he had planned to live out his existence, and oblivion seemed preferable. Unless, the Lethean had fruitlessly wondered, he could regain control even a little. Perhaps by narcotic means if not by virtue of a power struggle. But regardless of his hopes and dreams, here and now he was useless, manifesting only to taunt and harrass rather than wield any true power. No, from here on, he had to play a longer game, and in order to achieve that goal, Karna needed to understand just how impotent he currently was. The laughter stung, yet Jumik took it with only his physical posturing and a torrent of imaginative into mundane cursing as he wandered through his verbal repertoire.

As he landed hard on his original asteriod grounding, Jumik fumed externally and reconciled internally. Zsan was right - he was powerless here and now, a ghost in the part-Betazoid machine - but he had come back from worse situations in the past and he would not give up all hope now. Cal was not yet a lost cause, and in certain spaces Jumik still had friends and alliances he could count on. This was not over.

"Friends?" Jumik sneered, a cruel grin on his pale features. "Not that. But the boy keeps me in line, as you can see." He took a bow for effect and threw his staff down into the starry backdrop below them. "Theatre is about all I am good for," he added. Though that was not entirely true. Any power he could exert over Cal he would, he simply needed to understand when and how to accomplise this feat.

Looking at Cal as if for the first time, Karna was no grins and all solemnity. "Hear that? The devil on your shoulder is giving you a chance. Use it well, or the devil at your back--" He cocked both thumbs back at himself and resumed his manic grin. "--will come to collect."

The astral landscape erupted in a vision-clouding starburst.

"This is a bad idea," Jaya said and not for the first time. She trailed behind Nandi and kept a weather eye on their six o'clock position. One of them had to. Nandi was full-speed ahead toward the subspace transmitter control. The moment she had detected weapons fire from the vidscreen Akiva had rigged up in the Infirmary, there was no stopping Nandi from running to help. From what she could glean, they were just laying there, possibly dead or dying. It was a moderate risk, but one that Nandi could not ignore--particularly, in Jaya's estimation, after the kiss that Cal had stolen.

"With all due respect, Lieutenant, you are free to go back to the Infirmary." Nandi pressed onward, her phaser pointed forward in a teacup grip with her support hand below her aiming hand rather than bracing it as per training. She was a science officer; when would she ever need to fire for accuracy? Modern phasers were point and shoot. But now, here she was, dashing off into potential danger in order to render aid to her commanding officer and... and... she would have to figure out exactly who and what Cal was later. Here and now, she had a job to do.

Jaya glanced down at her tricorder which had copied the readout from the Infirmary vidscreen. "We are nearly there," Jaya said in such a way as to simultaneously respond to and ignore Nandi's quip. "You can probably put that thing away now."

Either not listening or not caring, Nandi turned a corner and ran head long into a squad of armed men. She squealed aloud. When Jaya pulled her back around the corner, a confident voice called out, "Friendly! Don't shoot! Friendly!" The truth of the claim emanated from around the corner and into Jaya's mind. They were telling the truth.

"Stand down, Nandi. They're Starfleet."

Nandi nodded her acknowledgement and tossed her phaser to the deck.

"We're coming out," Jaya said. "But we need your help."

Everything hurt. That much was certain. Akiva groaned before his heavy eyelids unclosed. Conscious awareness began its reboot, starting with pain, then generic personal identity, and finally a recap of his previous session of waking consciousness. He'd taken a phaser blast to the chest! His hand idly rubbed the impact spot. Moreover, he had been on a mission. He had to reset something. But...what? Moreover, who were the people on the floor? There was blood. Both seemed to be breathing, so there was that. But Akiva's body was still largely unresponsive.

He tapped his combadge. "Ben-Avram to..."

The angry click indicated comms were down. That rang a bell. Akiva was supposed to get comms back online. No, that wasn't right. He had to blow the station's comms network. Somehow that would help restore things. Why was his memory so cloudy? And why did his limbs feel like lead weights?

"Hey!" Akiva called out to the bodies on the floor. "Hey, you! Wake up and give me a hand!"

Neither one moved at first. Then, as Akiva was about to call out once more, he heard voices on the other side of the sealed doors. Overhead he could still see the hatch through which he'd entered. That made sense. Someone was coming to get him?

"Wake up!" Akiva shouted at... Calderon. Calderon Jarsdel. That was his name. "Mr. Jarsdel! Wake up! Someone is coming!"

But it was the other man who got to his feet. A tall, dark, and creepy Betazoid brushed off his midsection before turning his dark, all-knowing eyes onto Akiva. Whatever he saw split his face into a grin that was far too wide to be sane. "Hello again, Captain. You might not remember me. I supposed I'd better ensure that before I go." Calmly, serenely, as if someone was not raising a ruckus against the sealed doors, the Betazoid walked to Akiva who was still haplessly sprawled out on the floor, back against the wall, and bent down to talk to him face to face. "I am Karna Zsan. You remembered that the last time you woke up. That's not good for me, so I have a favor to ask of you." He gripped Akiva by the back of his head and forced eye contact. When he did so, the room seemed to grow dark around Karna's face as his dark eyes grew wide. "You will forget my name, my face, and everything to do with our encounter." He paused for a moment, tempted to add something else, but simple imprints made for the strongest ones. "Farewell and adieu."

Blinking as if waking up, Akiva tried to get up but found he couldn't. There was banging all around. He took note of doors across the room. Where was he again? The There wasn't much time to remember before the sealed doors rumbled against a directed charge. The blast wave went up and down into the floor and ceiling, but the 'splash' still rattled Akiva's already addled senses.

Gold-shirt Security personnel swept into the small control room and assessed it for hostiles. "Clear!"

"Then get out of my way!" Nandi pushed past them and immediately saw Cal on the ground. Overhead was an open maintenance hatch. "Cal? Did you fall? Are you hurt?" She pressed her cheeks against his face.

Somewhere behind those closed eyes, Jumik silently sniggered. This meat puppet meal-ticket was making some influential friends and he could bide his time while those ties strengthened. He could wait until this position, this mostly-human bus-ride became more useful and better placed geographically.

Jaya finally elbowed her way through and took a more nuanced look. The situation was not how it seemed. Energies swirled around the heads of both men. It was...

"Nandi, step away."

The young ensign shook her head. "No, he's hurt! He needs help!"

"If you render first aid the way you handle a phaser, then you're better drop out now," Jaya snapped. "Step away. That's an order."

It was below the belt, but there was no way for Jaya to adequately convey the danger of the situation. She stepped forward and placed her hand on Cal's head. The turmoil there was a familiar one to her mind after their weeks of therapy. "Come back to us, Cal," she said in every way possible.

At the edge of his aural scenery there was a familiar sound. A voice. A welcome female voice. Wasn't it? Yes. Jaya. The reason for his survival and the teacher in this strange new wilderness beyond usual space and Starfleet, wrapped up in intrigue, chaos and complicated oddities - both inanimate and possessing wayward personalities. Cal groaned, but didn't open his eyes as a white hot sense of pain and fatigue flooded through his brain with a halting slowness. Ice thawing before he could focus, slow shifts in temperature and lucidity. A fight. The knife. Pain. Scene shift. Weirdness. JUMIK!

Opening his eyes, Cal winced and sat straight bolt upright, hand instantly seeking the wound at his belly even as his mind reeled. "M'okay," he mumbled, even as he found himself wondering if that was true.

Akiva let out a moan, which drew Jaya's attention back to him. There was no turmoil within his mind despite the frenetic neuroactivity she could sense by empathy alone. "Akiva? What happened?"

"I...I don't know," Akiva said truthfully. His eyes went up to the flashing light on the console he had primed.

"What is that?" Jaya asked. "Did you overload the transmitter yet?"

Eyes darting to the side fighting for recollection, Akiva gave a weak nod. "I don't think so. I got it ready. But...something happened."

Jaya nodded back. "You did well, Akiva." Turning back to Nandi, Jaya said, "Go see what's left."

Not wanting to leave Cal's side, Nandi was still smarting from Jaya's harsh rebuke. She did not want another. Nandi got up and reviewed the transmitter. "It looks like it's all set," she said. "Just needs to be initiated."

"Wait, what?" asked one of the gold-shirts. "You're not overloading anything."

"Do it," Akiva groaned.

When facing two conflicting orders, Nandi chose her commanding officer's. She pressed the button.

Down in the reactor level, the standoff between Vaera Soderi and Storr Garlake came to an abrupt end as the synthetic lifeform Nigozi fell inert. His eyes deactivated into dull, shattered crystals as his broad shoulders slumped inward. Powerful servomotors fell still and silent. In mere seconds, two full Security teams beamed into the area with phaser rifles at the ready. Each one swept their zones of fire.

"Stand down!" called out each team leader. "Stand down now and prepare to be evacuated!"

All the breath that Garlake didn't realize he had been holding was rapidly expelled from his body while simultaneously letting the Trill slump to the floor in front of him, thoroughly unconscious though still breathing. Massive red marks shone through her spotted neck where the burly Marine had pressed against her but other than a massive headache and sore neck, she would be right-as-rain in about 5 minutes. A familiar voice broke him away from admiring his handiwork.

"Colonel," Arianna said, "I need you to make an official arrest of this woman. I have no power to do that, but you do." The spook then turned to the leader of the nearest security team, "the Admirals need to be evacuated first, by now they will have been irradiated." She said, handing the man the two hypo sprays.

In her gut, she could feel the radiation trying to worm its way into her system. Luckily the anti-radiation treatment was working to prevent that. Feel queasy, sweaty and somewhat dizzy was the after effect. It sucked.

Storr almost objected but remembered that as Station Commandant, he had arrest authority that he normally would not have had as a simple Marine. Removing zip ties from his belt for just this purpose, he slipped one around each wrist and secured them both with the third. While primitive, they were simple, easily concealable, don't require energy, were nearly infinitely adjustable and made a very aesthetically pleasing sound when secured. He especially liked that last part.

"Vaera Soderi, you are bound by law to stand down..."

One of the Security teams reached the Admirals and began releasing their restraints. When Tau's mouthguard was removed, he was all orders.

"I want that terrorist seized immediately and locked inside my ship's brig! And get my Sickbay prepped for immediate patients. The station's infirmary is probably overrun and we aren't waiting."

The Security team lead nodded and tapped his comrade.

"Security Team 2 to Megaera. Twelve to beam directly to Sickbay, two VIPs, four friendlies, and one hostile."

The USS Megaera beamed everyone out well before Reactor 6 came online.



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