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There hadn’t been much time to come up with a plan, there hadn’t been much time to do anything as the Dominion contingent had started to make a beeline for the building Michael and the others found themselves in the moment they had materialized.

“Hide,” Matthew urged in near panic after he had finally gotten back to his feet and fearfully watched the heavily armed Jem’Hadar soldiers closing in. “All of you, hide.”

Michael couldn’t think of a better option, either. With Nora and her team gone, they were seriously outmanned and outgunned, and taking on over half a dozen Jem’Hadar soldiers would have been a tough task even if the numbers had been equal.

Frobisher rushed them into a room that ran adjacent to the workshop. It had a wide grate that allowed them to spy into the workshop without being detected.

Not a moment after they had closed the door behind them, the Jem’Hadar entered the workshop.

“Countless universes in quantum reality and we seem to keep landing in one hot mess after the next,” Lif Culsten said quietly. “Why can’t we end up in a universe where everybody just gets along?”

“I’ve long since learned that the universes gravitate towards chaos,” Garla responded, keeping her voice just a low.

“You’d know.”

She just glared at him in response.

Michael watched the Jem’Hadar carefully and found that they looked practically identical to the ones they had fought for almost two years and which would forever be linked to one of the darkest periods of his life when he had lost both a close friend and colleague as well as Jana, the first woman he had ever truly loved.

Michael tried hard to compartmentalize those feelings, although this was getting more and more difficult with the person who wore the face of the man who had killed his brother cowering less than a meter next to him. He spared a brief thought at the odd cruelty of fate before he committed himself to focus his entire attention on what was happening in the workshop.

“Matthew, it is so good to see you again.”

“Kilana,” Matt said to the beaming Vorta who had followed the first Jem’Hadar. An attractive female, by human standards, she wore her long chestnut hair down and passed her shoulders but not covering her long upward sweeping ears complete with pendulous earrings. Her colorful tunic was formfitting with a plunging neckline more befitting a dinner date than a work function, which this seemed to be.

“They know each other?” Frobisher whispered in surprise and a little too loudly.

Michael hushed him. There wasn’t much separating them from the workshop and the last thing he needed was for them to draw their attention.

“What are you doing here?” Matthew said, sounding somewhat exasperated and Michael couldn’t tell if it was genuine or put on.

The Vorta woman stepped up closer to him, regarding him carefully, that smile not wavering from her face. “I have to say, Matthew, you don’t look so good. What’s the matter?”

“We had an agreement,” he said angrily. “That you would never come directly to my home.”

The Jem’Hadar, Michael counted seven of them, began to spread out across the workshop and Matthew watched them nervously. Too nervously, Michael thought.

“I’m alone,” he said as he regarded the soldiers. “There’s nobody else here.”

“Calm down, Matthew, there’s no need to get agitated,” Kilana almost purred.

Michael actually wished he’d take her advice. Matthew was getting more and more worked up which didn’t help their chances to remain undetected.

One of the Jem’Hadar had picked up an odd, roughly spherical contraption, regarding it curiously.

“Isn’t there?” Matt said angrily, stepped up to the soldier, and took the device out of his hands. “You show up here unannounced and then have your goons disturb my work, some of which is highly sensitive.” He placed the device carefully back where the soldier had picked it up from.

“You are upset, I understand,” Kilana said and gestured for the Jem’Hadar to back off. “But it is hardly my fault that you decided to keep our little arrangement from your friend.” She stepped up to the whiteboard Frobisher, Xylion, and Hopkins and drawn on earlier and that still contained references to the Ring which they had not had time to erase.

Kilana studied the board carefully and Michael prayed that she wasn’t any more familiar with complex mathematical formulae than he was.

Michael had briefly flirted with the idea of seeking assistance in dealing with the subspace aliens and the supercollider from the local Dominion forces, after all, the death of the universe--potential the entire quantum-verse--would affect them just as much as everyone else. But somehow, he doubted that there’d be enough time to convince the Vorta that they were all on the same side and the risk of being detained, tortured, or even outright killed while they did nothing to stop the impending death of the universe was simply unacceptable.

“Besides,” she said and turned back to face him, thankfully not being able to make much of what she was seeing. “You contacted me.”

“Son of a bitch,” Michael whispered angrily, coming close to breaking his own rule.

He shook his head. “But I didn’t tell you to come here.”
“Oh, please,” she said as she stepped closer to him. “Surely you are not that deluded, my dear Matthew. We both know that there is a powerful ship roaming the sector that is unlike anything we’ve ever seen in this part of the galaxy. It has been evading us so far but not much longer. So, why don’t you tell me everything that you know?”

“Just what I said in my message.”

“They’ve been to Arkaria?”

He nodded.


“I don’t know.”

“Where are they now?”

“I don’t know.”

She regarded him skeptically. “I want you to understand something about the agreement that we have. We wouldn’t want there to be any misunderstandings between us, would we?”

“No, of course not.”

She offered him a beaming smile again. “You serve at the pleasure of the Founders, as do we all. You continue to be useful to the Dominion and the comfort you currently enjoy will remain assured.” Her face took on a sterner look. “If your usefulness comes to an end, your life will change in significant ways. You understand this, don’t you?”

He swallowed and then nodded slowly.

“I always liked you, Matthew,” she said, smiling once more. She walked around him and then took in the room again. She found an object of interest and picked up the severed Borg head, regarding it carefully. “Your work has always been very useful to me. To the Dominion. I would hate for that to come to an end.”

“There is no reason that it has to.”

She turned to look at him. “I want to believe that, Matthew, I really do.” She put the head back. She gestured for one of the Jem’Hadar and he handed her a small, palm-sized device that she passed on to Matthew. “This is a subspace communicator. Far more powerful than the one you have now. This will ensure you can contact me faster and over greater distances.”

Matt looked at the device.

“There are concerning signs that the enemy is pushing into this sector and that wouldn’t be good for any of us. We cannot afford to be distracted by this mystery ship upsetting the order of things.”

“I understand.”

“I want you to contact me as soon as you learn anything further about that vessel or her crew.”

“I will.”

Kilana placed a hand on his shoulder. “I know you will, Matthew. And because you have been such a loyal friend to the Dominion, I shall give you another present.”

“That isn’t necessary.”

She grinned. “But I’m in such a giving mood,” she said and then snapped her fingers at one of the Jem’Hadar who quickly joined them. “I’ll leave Second Ruci’clan and his men here to keep you some company. You may now consider this fabulous little workshop of yours an official Dominion outpost. Congratulations.”

Matthew couldn’t hide the pained look on his face. “Please, Kilana, how will I explain this to Wes?”

“Oh, I’m sure you’ll find a way to make him see the benefits of serving the Dominion. And who knows, being open and truthful with him may feel liberating,” she said as she headed toward the doors, taking just two of the Jem’Hadar with her and leaving the other five behind. “Don’t worry, I’ll be back before they run out of White. Do me a favor and be a good host, will you?” she offered him a fleeting smile before she stepped back outside.

Moments later Michael could see the telltale sight of transporter activity as Kilana and her two guards were once again whisked away.

Inside the workshop, Matthew starred at the lead Jem’Hadar and seemingly didn’t dare to move a single muscle. The soldiers too remained rooted to the spot as if they were salt statues, keeping their eyes on the human in their midst.

Michael knew that they had to make a move. “We need to take them out,” he said quietly.

“What?” Frobisher furiously shook his head. “No. There’s no way.”

But Garla was firmly in Michael’s camp on this. “We have them outnumbered.”

“No, we don’t. Matt doesn’t know how to fight and neither do I. And, no offense, he’s not exactly a threat to a Jem’Hadar,” he said pointing at Jon Owens.

“He’s not wrong,” the admiral said.

“We have the element of surprise,” said Garla. “I’ll create a distraction.”

Michael nodded.

She glanced at Frobisher. “Back door?”

But he just shook his head again. “This is a terrible idea.”

“Back door,” she repeated in a more urgent whisper.

He reluctantly pointed at an exit to their left.

Garla nodded. “Wait on my signal,” she said just before she headed for the door, keeping low and moving without making a sound. Within moments she had slipped out.

“You’re going to get us all killed,” Frobisher said quietly.

But Michael was committed now as he checked over his phaser. He knew from the protracted war with the Dominion that the low-level stun setting would not prove effective and adjusted the settings accordingly. When he looked up again he found that Lif was adjusting his phaser as well, offering him a firm nod once he was done. His Owens Senior and Frobisher, however, had no weapons. “You two, stay back here.”

“I may be old and slow but I can still contribute,” Jon protested.

“We cannot risk you getting hurt. You’re already sick and we’ll need you before all this is over,” he said, not realizing at first how clinical he sounded about the matter.

There was a loud knock on the door to the workshop and all eyes, including those of the Jem’Hadar, turned toward it. The door opened and Garla stepped inside and Michael realized that she wasn’t armed either.

“Hi Matt, I was wondering if I could borrow some sugar. Oh, who are your friends?” she said in a tone so relaxed and casual, she had him convinced that she was Matthew’s next-door neighbor.

What gave her away was the fact that she remained just as calm when five polaron rifles caught a bead on her.

Michael and Culsten got into position by the door

Matthew seemed too startled to respond.

“Who is this woman?” Ruci’clan said as he slowly stepped closer, his rifle still pointed at her.

“I live just down the road,” she said, undaunted by the imposing soldier. “Who are you?”

Ruci’clan glanced at Matthew who nodded slowly. “Yes. She lives down the road.”

“What is her name?” Ruci’clan said, asking Matthew.

“Her name?”

Michael knew that Matthew wouldn’t have the slightest idea but then of course he could have just invented any name. Apparently, however, he was not up to the task at that moment.

His hesitation was enough to convince Ruci’clan that something was not right and he whirled back toward Garla with his rifle ready to fire.

The sentinel was faster. She already had a running start on him when he had turned back to face her. She used a workbench to launch herself into the air like a missile, used one of his thighs as a stepping stone only to smash her knee hard into his chest. She kept climbing upward, trapping his head in a leg vice, and then, using her momentum, brought him down hard onto the floor. She had found his rifle even before he was down, coming up firing and blasting a second Jem’Hadar off his feet.

Michael had no time to admire her athleticism and fighting style. He burst through the doors and opened fire, Culsten right beside him.

He clipped one Jem’Hadar but had to dive for cover behind the whiteboards before he could take aim again and just in time to avoid getting incinerated by the Jem’Hadar’s response that ripped out an entire chunk of the board containing Ring schematic.

He had zero time to catch his breath since another soldier, this one armed with a bladed polearm took a swing at him the moment he had landed on the floor.

Michael had lost his phaser in his dive and scrambled backward just in time for the blade to strike the empty floor so hard it produced sparks where he had been just a split-second earlier.

He got back on his feet as the Jem’Hadar struck again. Michael retreated quickly enough to miss the blade from cutting him open but not fast enough for it not to slice through his jacket.

He couldn’t avoid the next strike that came from the blunt end of the weapon and it was so powerful it pushed him back even as all the air was forced out of his lungs.

He hit a hard surface as he tumbled back to the floor. He didn’t know what he had struck until the severed Borg head fell into his lap, triggering in him a near primal panic. The head’s one remaining eye stared back up at him while the cortical array had come loose from the other socket.

As the Jem’Hadar bore down on him to finish the job, Michael used the only weapon he had left, grabbing hold of the head and tossing it at the soldier with all the strength he could muster.

His aim was true, connecting skull with skull, and briefly stunning the Jem’Hadar.

He spotted his discarded phaser on the floor and dove for it. His hand found the grip and he fired without delay, blasting the Jem’Hadar just as he was recovering and taking him out of the fight.

He spotted a solider in the corner of his eye but even as he turned his head and brought up his phaser to aim again, he felt his heart pounding his chest furiously, already knowing that he wasn’t going to be fast enough to take him out before he could fire his rifle.

But he didn’t fire.

There was a bright light at the base of his neck, near to where his feeding tube connected his brain to the ketracel-white drug that kept him obedient to his Vorta masters. Michael didn’t immediately understand what was happening. Then the blood came streaming out like a geyser and the surprised Jem’Hadar reached for his neck with both hands, dropping his rifle.

He sagged to his knees and then keeled over, revealing Jon Owens behind him, still holding the laser slicer which not so long ago had been hovering above his neck.

“Thanks,” Michael said.

“Any time.”

Michael scrambled back to his legs to find another target only to see Garla execute a perfect roundhouse kick that connected with the only Jem’Hadar still standing, causing him to stumble but not quite enough for him to let go of his weapon or take aim.

He didn’t get a chance when a well-placed beam from Culsten’s phaser pushed him back and against another whiteboard where he collapsed on top of it.

Garla offered Lif an appreciative nod.

Michael looked around.

The workshop looked like a war zone, littered with Jem’Hadar bodies, upturned work tables, computers, whiteboards, and various tools and devices. But more importantly, the away team, as well as Matthew were all still on their feet and unharmed.

“Are you all right?” Jon Owens asked him, glancing at his chest.

Michael looked down to see his jacket sliced wide open but his red undershirt seemed to be in one piece which meant that the blade had not cut his skin. He removed his combadge and then shed the ruined jacket. “I’m fine.”

“My God, what have you done?” Matthew said as he regarded his workshop with disbelieving eyes.

“The better question is, what have you done?” said Frobisher, emerging from the adjacent room, his anger clearly directed at his friend.

“I did what I had to,” Matt shot back.

“By working with the Dominion in secret? How long has that been going on?”

But Matthew was in no mood to be chastised. “Spare me the moral outrage. You don’t think I know that you’ve been spending more and more time obsessing with your quantum research? How do you think we could afford to live this way and buy all those resources and materials for your little projects?”

“I didn’t think you had made a deal with the devil,” Frobisher barked.

“You just closed your eyes to it.”

“Okay, that’s enough,” Michael snapped loudly, still trying to get his adrenaline levels back under control after the death-defying battle they had just barely survived. “I’m sure the two of you have plenty to work out but that will need to wait. We have to get out of here before the Vorta finds out what happened to her people. And we need to get off this planet and back to my ship.”

The two men continued to glare at each other for a moment longer before Frobisher turned away and considered Michael. “I’m not sure about getting you back to your ship but I may have an idea about how to get off Arkaria.”

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