“It was you all along.”
Worf stormed into General Grelik’s private chamber without even ringing the bell. Accompanying him was the first officer, Major Tarkan, wielding a bat’leth. Grelik chuckled wryly as he threw down a padd he was working. He had a joke about Worf having returned alive on the tip of his tongue, but he chose in the end to say nothing. He just silently expressed amusement that Worf was foolish enough to walk into an ambush. That is, unless Worf had purposely allowed to Grelik to eavesdrop on his communiqués with Klag and the Federation Embassy. In that case, then the joke was on him. He stood up and slowly strode around the desk to face Worf. “Was it really that hard?” he deadpanned.
“I was able to access the comm-logs of one of the assassins’ communicators,” Worf explained, showing a communications device usually placed on the upper left arm of a Defense Force soldier. “You had communicated instructions to them on an hourly basis. The last of these messages was immediately after I transported to the surface.”
“Would I not have tried to cover my tracks a little better?” Grelik curiously asked. “That seems rather careless to leave behind such an obvious trail.”
“You did become careless after your conversation with a member of the High Council. I suspected when you insisted upon distancing me from the shipboard investigation. In order to be certain, I contacted a Starfleet Intelligence informant at the Embassy. You spoke to Councilor Ru’qel, Martok’s most vocal political opponent in the High Council.”
Grelik opened his mouth to speak, but again held his tongue. His expression still said enough to Worf. Just communicating with Ru’qel was not proof that he was the mole any more than Ru’qel’s opposition to Martok proof that he was a Ku-Vok-leth sympathizer. He should not have been surprised if such communiqués were not highly incriminating. After all, breaking into the most secure of personal databases came with the territory of being an intelligence operative.
“You arranged the ambush shortly after our departure from Deep Space Nine,” Worf finished.
“So once again, you use your position as a Federation diplomat to effect change in Klingon politics,” Grelik taunted. “But are you Klingon enough to execute me for my treachery?”
“That is not for me to decide. That is Major Tarkan’s decision.”
Worf stepped aside and allowed the major to face his captain. “You are an accessory to a dishonorable assassination attempt against the leader of the Klingon Empire,” Tarkan proclaimed. “That makes you unfit to serve as commander of the chancellor’s flagship.”
“There can only be one answer to that,” Grelik replied, walking over to his bat’leth hanging on the wall.
Tarkan stood ready, forearms out, his sword ready to deflect the first blow from the opponent’s bat’leth. Worf retreated into one corner of the room to allow the fight to stay between the two combatants. He had been tempted to kill Grelik where he stood upon his return from the planet’s surface. But to punish him for his dishonor in such a way would, itself, be dishonorable. Throughout the history of many planets, including Qo’Nos and Earth, various individuals had taken it upon themselves to exact their own brand of justice outside the boundaries of what was considered legal. But societies that allowed the practice of vigilante justice would ultimately descend into chaos and cycles of violence that dragged on for centuries. Among warrior races such as Klingons, ironically, revenge killings, long-standing blood feuds, and assassinating ones way up the ranks had been made more civilized under a strict legal code. This was Tarkan’s fight now. He would seize command of the vessel or die trying. And Worf was just a spectator.
The two swords continuously clanged together, fending off one potential blow after another. Grelik held his bat’leth high above his head with one hand and swung towards Tarkan’s forehead. Tarkan deflected the sword with his own horizontally in front of his face. Grelik pushed his sword, and Tarkan pushed back. Neither would give way. Grelik then delivered a kick to Tarkan’s abdomen, which nudged him away. He then swung the bat’leth at Tarkan’s shoulder, impaling his opponent and bringing him to his knees.
Grelik prepared to deliver the killing blow, raising his bat’leth. Tarkan then slipped his bat’leth from his right hand to his left and slipped a d’k’tag from its holster. He lunged towards the general and jammed the dagger into his chest. He let go of the knife and delivered one more blow with the bat’leth.
Gagging, Grelik fell backwards to the deck. He tried to speak, but before any words could come out, he was dead.
With Grelik’s body now a lifeless shell, the corpse was jettisoned into the vacuum of space. After floating through space for a very long minute, the dead body was suddenly enveloped by a Starfleet transporter field. It fully dematerialized and was transported to who knew where.
Kira rose from the command chair upon receiving Vaughn’s page. The cargo shuttle his runabout had been pursuing was only a diversion to give the ship ferrying a single Omega molecule extra time to get away. It could be light years away by now. She paced over to the science station hoping Donaldson had some good news. “Tell me you have something, Ensign,” she said calmly.
“I have the ship we’re looking for on long range sensors,” Donaldson replied. “Approximately half a light year. I will attempt to extrapolate its course.”
“Prynn, set a course,” Kira barked. “Relay the coordinates to the Sword of Kahless and the Gorkon. We may need…”
“Tachyon surge,” Bowers interrupted from the tactical station. “Ships decloaking. Klingon Birds-of-Prey.”
“Shields up,” Kira commanded. “We should have no problem shaking them off.”
Two vessels uncloaked in front of the Defiant, as it was breaking orbit and fired its disruptors grazing its forward hull. The Defiant then returned fire with its multi-targeting phasers. To the surprise of some of the bridge crew, both attacking ships sustained minimal damage.
“Someone has been upgrading their defensive systems,” Nog observed, as the ship took more hits from enemy fire.
“Helm, project the fastest route out of the system that will allow us to pursue our target,” Kira said. “Prepare to go to warp inside this system if it’s necessary.”
“Already on it,” Prynn answered, dodging an electrical surge on the left side of her console.
“Mister Bowers,” Kira added, “ready a spread of quantum torpedoes on both vessel’s engines. That might slow them down.”
“Done,” Bowers said, programming the torpedoes to the appropriate specifications. “Firing.”
The port and starboard aft torpedo tubes fired two projectiles each hitting the ventral of both Birds, doing damage to the warp drives of both vessels.
The Sword of Kahless and the Gorkon emerged from the far side of the planet to lend some assistance as the Defiant continued its route out of the system. The two allied Klingon heavy cruisers fired disruptors and torpedoes at the smaller ships. From behind the heavy cruisers, two rippling effects were moving closer. From the shape of those ripples, they appeared to be partially cloaked Birds-of-Prey. Those two ships crashed into the ventral of the two heavy cruisers inflicting considerable damage to the two vessels.
The two Klingon vessels that had attacked the Defiant swung back around towards the Starfleet warship as if about to ram her as had happened with the Klingon heavy cruisers.
“That looks like a reason to go to warp right now,” Kira observed upon hearing from Bowers that the warp drives of the Sword of Kahless and Gorkon were disabled.
“Yes, sir,” Prynn replied, engaging the warp drive.
The Defiant then streaked to warp before the two Birds-of-Prey could get anywhere near it.
The Defiant was at warp in hot pursuit of the ship carrying the resonance chamber. The Klingon Bird-of-Prey belonged to an older model, so it was traveling at a slower warp speed to wherever it was going. That allowed the Delphi to catch up to the Defiant in order to provide some support should a long battle ensue. From what the crews of both Starfleet ships had observed, these older D-12 type ships’ weapons and shields had updated to more recent specifications, possibly Romulan in origin.
Kira was in communication with Vaughn and Ro on a monitor in the bridge’s aft situation area. A translucent screen was lowered in front of the master situation console to provide some degree of privacy while still allowing easy access to the rest of the bridge. “Once we catch up to this Bird-of-Prey,” Kira told the two runabout pilots, “we should expect them to put up more of a fight. Ideally, we’d be more than a match for a D-12 class.”
“Not what we’ve seen so far,” Vaughn replied. “They’re even willing to lay down their lives to take out a superior ship.”
“Speaking of which,” Kira added, “how badly were the two heavy cruisers on our side hit?”
“Their warp engines are shot,” Ro said, taking a quick look at a readout on her console. “They’ve taken heavy casualties. Captain Klag and Major Tarkan were adamant that they could handle repairs on their own without our assistance.”
“Klingons can be incredibly stubborn,” Vaughn remarked. “But what more could the two of us do? How long before you catch up to our target.”
“Another hour, two at the most,” Kira answered. “I’ve asked Ezri to compile a list of the most likely destinations based on the ship’s current course… and her clearance level.”
“Yes, sir,” Vaughn said with a nod, knowing what Kira meant by the reference to the lieutenant’s clearance level. “Of course, these are not ideal circumstances. Normally, a team of Starfleet experts would be tasked to handle this. If these guys plan to use this thing as a weapon, we may not have that luxury.”
“You guys wouldn’t care to let me in on what exactly you’re talking about?” Ro quipped.
“No,” Kira and Vaughn both said. “In the meantime,” Kira added, “I’ll contact Starfleet Headquarters and apprise them of our situation. Kira out.”
As the Defiant remained in pursuit of the Bird-of-Prey, Kira had gathered much of the senior bridge crew in the mess hall, while setting up a teleconference with Dax back on Deep Space 9 and with Vaughn and Ro on the Delphi on a Code 47 frequency. After a brief conversation with a high-ranking admiral at Starfleet Headquarters, Kira had been officially authorized to brief her higher-ranking officers on the Omega molecule. In addition to informing Dax, Ro, Nog, Bashir, and Bowers of the ability of one unstable Omega molecule to destroy subspace throughout an entire solar system, Kira added that warp travel in the Narendra system had already been rendered impossible by an Omega detonation. Vaughn, of course, was already in the know as a former member of Starfleet Special Ops.
“Based on this additional information,” Dax said from the station commander’s office, “they could target any number of star systems near or along the Federation-Klingon border of major strategic importance.”
Kira took a long look at the holographic display being transmitted from the station, which included eight Starfleet deltas as markings, while taking a sip of iced raktajino. “And not a lot of time to guess which one they might be hitting. Each one of those systems is either on a major trade route or houses a strategic listening post.”
“I noticed Tezwa is one of the marked systems,” Vaughn offered. “It could be a prime time target.”
“Why Tezwa?” Kira asked, her eyes widening. “The Tezwan are neutral.”
“They’ve also become an important trading partner since the end of the Dominion War,” Vaughn added. “It could set back dilithium production considerably if our access to that system is cut off.”
Kira took another long look at the cartography display while considering Vaughn’s suggestion. Her mind went to the strategies the Dominion used. As the war dragged on longer than Dominion strategists had expected, both sides realized that supplies and materiel would be more of a deciding factor. For that reason, the Dominion had targeted shipbuilding and energy production facilities and freight convoys, sometimes more so, than strategic outposts and other military targets. The Federation had suffered a number of supply shortages in the outlying systems since the war’s end. In all likelihood, the Ku-Vok-leth might have the same goals in mind. “Then Tezwa it is,” she said. “Bowers, Nog, how are those graviton torpedoes coming?”
“The explosive yield is strong enough to eliminate Omega without damaging subspace,” Nog responded.
“We should be able to put the finishing touches within the hour,” Bowers added.
“Doctor,” Kira said, addressing Bashir, “prepare to administer arithrazine to the entire crew.”
“I’ve already initiated radiation protocol,” Bashir said, “I’ll start filling hypos right away.”
“I can’t emphasize enough the importance of stopping the Omega molecule,” Kira announced the whole gathering. “You all have your orders. Dismissed.”
“Bridge to the captain,” Tenmei called over the comm speakers. “The ship we’re pursuing has altered course headed closer to the Klingon border.”
“On our way,” Kira said. “We’ll soon confirm your hunch, Elias.”
The officers in the briefing quickly entered the bridge and assumed their stations. Donaldson was at the science station, monitoring the sensor readings the Bird-of-Prey was emitting, while Tenmei kept a firm hand on the helm. Donaldson inputted new data into his console based on the change in course, seeing Kira in the corner of his eye striding towards his right. “Captain,” he said, “the ship is now on a bearing of two-eight-six mark two-four. Towards any one of three star systems Lieutenant Dax has conjectured.”
“Helm, set a course for the Tezwan system,” Kira ordered. “Increase speed to warp nine. Stand by to drop to quarter impulse within five million kilometers of the system’s Oort cloud.” Then hailing the runabout, she added, “Commander Vaughn, ready where you are?”
“Just say the word and we’ll be ready, Captain,” Vaughn replied over an audio channel.
The Bird-of-Prey the Defiant was pursuing fell out of warp near the Oort cloud of the Tezwan system. As it neared the outer periphery, the Defiant uncloaked and fired phasers at the vessel’s aft impulse engine, momentarily slowing it down. The Defiant then sped up and moved deeper into the Oort cloud. Taking the bait, the Bird-of-Prey gave chase once emergency propulsion systems kicked in while firing disruptors.
“Shields at eighty-six percent,” Bowers reported.
“Keep firing, limiting targets to engines and shields,” Kira ordered. Hailing the runabout from the command chair, she said, “Defiant to Delphi. Are you ready to proceed?”
“Ready as we’ll ever be, Captain,” Vaughn eagerly responded.
The Delphi emerged from a patch of dense gases firing phasers at the Bird-of-Prey. The small and maneuverable craft fired continuous precision shots while retreating into gaseous patches. It was almost as effective as a cloak-and-run maneuver with the Bird-of-Prey unable to get an exact target lock. It fired its disruptors in the hope of hitting something, but kept coming up empty.
“Hunter probe is ready for transport,” Ro reported, energizing the transporter. Anticipating that transporter scramblers were in place around the resonance chamber, the runabout’s pilots intended to transport aboard a modified pattern enhancer often used by Starfleet Special Ops to get a better transporter lock.
“Now we wait,” Vaughn said in hushed tone.
Almost immediately, the console beeped indicating the hunter probe’s target had been located. “Ready for transport,” Ro said. “Energizing.”
The magnetic chamber keeping a single Omega molecule stable materialized on the miniature transporter pad just outside the cockpit. The cockpit then rocked from enemy weapons fire, causing Vaughn and Ro to lurch forward in their seats. “Looks like they’re not being as generous as we were,” Ro commented. “A plasma flow regulator has ruptured.”
“Feed whatever power you can into the warp engines,” Vaughn said.
“We’ve cleared the gases. I’m going to warp.”
The runabout then streaked into warp as the Bird-of-Prey tried to get off another shot. The Defiant swooped in towards it and fired phasers knocking out the warp drive. The Starfleet warship veered clear of the Oort cloud and went into warp.
With the runabout at warp and no signs of pursuit from enemy vessels, Vaughn and Ro headed for the transporter pad and scanned the item they had just pilfered with tricorders. From reports Vaughn had read, this device was a magnetic resonance chamber similar to one designed by the USS Voyager’s ex-Borg crewmember Seven of Nine. It was designed to keep Omega molecules stable for a potentially indefinite period of time. Just a few such molecules had the energy output of a single warp core. Given Omega’s unpredictable nature, Captain Kathryn Janeway still went ahead with the original mission after her ship had made contact with an alien race attempting to harness the power of Omega in late 2374. The tricorder scans had revealed this resonance chamber served the same purpose as any explosive device.
“Incredible,” Ro commented seeing how much energy the contents of the chamber were putting out. “If the Maquis or the Bajorans had something like this…”
“The same was said of nuclear energy on Earth four hundred years ago,” Vaughn countered. Quoting one of Janeway’s logs from that mission of four years earlier, he added, “‘The final frontier has boundaries that should never be crossed. This is one of them.’”
Ro nodded, hoping to avoid a lecture about the dangers of terrorists using such powerful weapons. She was a terrorist once, after all. “It’s designed to destabilize Omega on remote command,” she said of the device, “but only at a very close range.”
“If I could just locate the transceiver,” Vaughn said, fiddling through the circuitry, “and disconnect it.” He found what he was looking for and quickly disconnected it. “We’ve eliminated that problem.”
“Have we?” Ro asked having half-expected the bomb to go off if it was tampered with.
“We’re still here, aren’t we?”
Ro looked away from her superior and rolled her eyes when the ship-to-ship comm system chimed. “Defiant to Commander Vaughn,” Kira said. “Come in.”
Vaughn quickly paced over the primary pilot seat to answer to page. “This is Vaughn,” he said. “We have the magnetic resonance chamber, Captain. It’s designed to explode on command, but I’ve disabled the communications transceiver.”
“Keep your eyes open, Commander,” Kira added, “We may not be out of the woods just yet.”
“No need to remind us, sir,” Ro said. “We’re ready to eject this thing into space once you’re ready to blow it to high…”
“Three vessels approaching,” the computer interrupted. “Klingon D-12 class Birds-of-Prey have locked weapons.”
“That was fast,” Vaughn remarked of the Bird the runabout had engaged just a few minutes earlier approaching from the port stern.
“He’s hailing us,” Ro said.
“Let’s find out if he’s all bark and no bite. On my monitor.”
A Klingon officer with an ominous scowl appeared on the monitor. “You have a weapon on your vessel that is the property of the Klingon Empire. You will return it immediately.”
“The same Klingon Empire that signed a treaty banning the use of such weapons?” Vaughn retorted. “Add to that, you’re commanding a vessel not authorized to be in Federation space. That’s two strikes against you.”
“The disruptors pointed at your puny vessel are all the authorization I need,” the enemy commander growled. “Return our property or be destroyed.”
“And risk losing that precious weapon of yours?” Vaughn taunted. “Your Empire wouldn’t like that.”
The Klingon commander hissed and cut the transmission.
The two Birds-of-Prey that had approached the Delphi from ahead, veered away and headed for the Defiant, while the one behind targeted the runabout. This time, the antiquated ships were inflicting some significant damage to both Starfleet ships using an arsenal that consisted of Romulan plasma torpedoes. On the Defiant’s bridge, Bashir leaped up from his seat to attend to injured crewpersons. “Looks like they’re showing all their cards now,” Kira said. “Have all weapons on full, Mister Nog. We’re shooting to kill this time.”
“Aye, sir,” Nog replied, who had taken on both tactical and engineering responsibilities with Bowers now below to finish the torpedoes designed to destroy the Omega device.
“Kira to Bowers,” the captain added. “Status of the graviton torpedoes?”
“Loaded and ready to launch on Commander Vaughn’s signal,” Bowers replied.
The Defiant fired both phasers and quantum torpedoes at the attacking vessels causing equally significant damage to both of them. The Delphi, meanwhile, was engaged with the third ship, firing phasers and photon torpedoes. “Prepare to transport the resonance chamber forty thousand kilometers off the Defiant’s port bow,” Vaughn ordered while the runabout took another hit that sent sparks flying through the aft of the cockpit.
“One ship’s number two shield has failed,” Donaldson reported from the science station.
“Let’s even the playing field,” Kira said. “Take him out, Nog.”
“No problem, sir,” Nog said with a wry grin.
A quick swarm of phasers grazed the vessel’s hull. That was followed by a swarm of quantum torpedoes that tore one of the two attacking ships to pieces.
“Delphi to Defiant,” Vaughn signaled on an audio channel. “We’ve jettisoned the chamber, Mister Bowers. It’s all yours. And whatever happens, Prynn, I love you. Don’t ever doubt that.”
Prynn took in slow deep breaths. How many times had she gotten those goodbyes only to see her father again? He wasn’t dead yet and she had a job to do. She was emotionally prepared, yet hoping these were not his last words. “Good luck, father,” she mouthed inaudibly.
The Defiant swooped in on the resonance chamber, shaking off Klingon disruptor fire with its phasers. With two specially modified torpedoes, the Defiant then destroyed the resonance chamber, creating an explosion doing no harm to subspace.
One Bird-of-Prey fired two plasma torpedoes towards a hole in the Delphi’s shields, knocking out its starboard nacelle.
“Inertial dampeners are off-line!” Ro shouted over the myriad explosions heard throughout the vessel.
“Warning,” the computer added, “Antimatter containment failure imminent. Warp core breach in one minute.”
“Oh, shit!!!” Vaughn exclaimed, expecting the runabout to spiral into oblivion. Another hit threw him out of his seat, his head slamming to the deck.
The Defiant fired its phasers destroying the Bird-of-Prey on its tail before swooping in on the runabout.
Ro scanned the unconscious Vaughn with a medical tricorder while hoping to be beamed to safety. The two of them were encompassed in a Starfleet transporter beam as their vessel erupted in flames. The Defiant then went into warp, while absorbing some of the explosive shockwave.