The Cardassian, springing from behind a boulder, landed on B’Elanna’s back and toppled her to the ground. She tumbled without loosing her grip on her phaser rifle. She felt the heat of the discharge at point blank and detected the trace smell of ozone that came with it as he disintegrated.
At the same time, the other two she had just knocked down were getting back up. In her peripheral vision, a phase disruptor shot vaporized rocks and soil twenty centimeters from Chakotay’s foot. She saw him go into a roll to his left, to the cover of a massive oak-like tree trunk and heard the shot from his weapon, but didn’t see the outcome. She raised her left arm to parry the blow that was aimed at her head and punched hard and low, dropping one of her two assailants. In a swift and flowing movement, she met the other one with a mean kick to the stomach. In the rush of action, she almost didn’t hear Chakotay’s warning. She spun only to see the last standing Cardassian vanish from the top of the ravine.
She heard rapid footsteps from the wooded hill and turned around into a crouched position, prepared to face another enemy. It was only Chakotay running to her. “Are you hurt?”
She relaxed her stance. “No, I’m fine. I was lucky you saw him when you did. Thanks”
“Hey, what are friends for?”
As she brushed herself off, she heard the sound of rolling rocks from the cliff‘s side. She looked up just in time to see Chakotay’s phaser shot barely miss the Cardassian, who was probing for a handhold on the steep rock face, and shatter a small outcropping instead. They bolted off after him but he had too much headway. Although wounded in the skirmish, he climbed the incline, much more gradual at the top, easily enough and disappeared over the edge.
B’Elanna and Chakotay reached it just in time to see him take off in the shuttle that had, in all likelihood, brought him and the other spies to Alpha 441. The faint hum from below told them the other two survivors were being picked up by a transporter beam.
“Damn!” B’Elanna hit the rock with her fist and was rewarded with the pain of the impact and the metallic taste of her own blood as she brought her hand to her mouth.
“Should I get a pain-stick?” asked Chakotay.
Her first reaction was to glower at him, but his crooked smile mellowed her, as it always did.
They went back down the cliff and ran the short distance through the woods to the compound. A Bajoran assault vessel was gaining speed when they reached the guard post, and the instant they walked into the tactical room, the pilot was calling in to report the destruction of the Cardassian shuttle.
Sitting at the conference table of the Maquis ship’s small briefing room, the girl looked nervous as B’Elanna was scrutinizing her from the oposite end. Chakotay had gone off to the side of the room with Santos and the two were talking quietly, no doubt about this newcomer into the movement.
B’Elanna had mixed feelings about her. While her Bajoran origin should be a reason to trust her, the fact that she was a former -or so she said- Starfleet officer didn’t speak well for her. To top it off, she had recently been involved in a Starfleet operation to infiltrate the Maquis. B’Elanna couldn’t help but wonder if the information she was bringing was real or a ploy to gather intelligence, even though Santos, who had introduced her, seemed to believe her reversal was sincere.
Chakotay and Santos were coming back toward the table now, and sat, the first across from the Bajoran, the other next to her.
“All right,” Chakotay said. “Tell me again. How do you know about Alpha 441?”
Santos gave her an encouraging look when she turned to him. “Go ahead, Laren, tell him.”
“I saw a report on Cardassian activity before I left the Enterprise. The Central Command has been suspecting that the Maquis has a base of some kind on the planetoid, they’re just not sure what. They sent a recon team, which Santos tells me you’ve killed, but they managed to send a partial message to Gul Evek on the Vetar before you finished them off. The report said the Cardassians were planning a strike against the planetoid”
B’Elanna turned with an angry look at the view of Moriya II in the window. The plasma storm that was raging off the opposite side of the planet was like a physical manifestation of her mood.
They’d been too slow. Evek didn’t need to know what was on Alpha 441. Knowing that the Maquis had anything at all there would be a good enough reason for him to see the planetoid destroyed. The question was how and when it was going to happen.
Chakotay’s voice smoothed her temper. “B’Elanna, would you please assign Miss Ro some quarters?”
“Sure.” B’Elanna pushed off the bulkhead and unfolded her arms. “Come on,” she said, and stalked off without looking whether “Miss Ro” was following. She strode along the corridors at a rapid pace, knowing the Bajoran girl was behind her only from hearing her matching footfall. After two or three minutes of silent rush, the girl spoke up, with no trace in her voice of strain from their speed or apology for her actions.
“Look, I know what you think. ‘She’s played the part before, how do we know she really means it this time?’ Well, I do. I understand I’ll have to prove it over and over, but this is what I want.”
B’Elanna stopped dead in her tracks and turned. Momentum almost caused Ro to run into her. With a tinge of admiration for the girl’s gutsiness, she looked her in the eyes. “If it were anyone else than Santos bringing you here, you wouldn’t even have made it into the Badlands. You’d better believe you’re going to have to prove yourself. To me, anyway.”
They walked on passed three doors before B’Elanna stopped and opened the next one. “I hope you didn’t expect the kind of luxury you had on the Enterprise. It’s cramped, there’s no replicator in the cabins and what come out of the one in the rec room is terrible. We’re equipped for fighting, not tourism.”
“This’ll do. Thanks.” Ro stepped in and B’Elanna left her to settle in.
She was passing a lateral corridor when she heard a voice coming from that direction.
“Someone told me there was a new kid on board.”
She turned around and smiled. “Seska! When did you get back?”
“Just a half-hour ago,” Seska answered, falling into step with B’Elanna “I got you a new phase transition coil.”
“Thanks. Maybe we can get decent tasting food from the replicator.”
“That’s what you get for trying to adapt Pakled technology to fit on a Federation ship.”
B’Elanna chuckled. “Right.”
Seska turned serious. “So, who is she?”
B’Elanna jumped at an opportunity to have her doubts confirmed or disproved. “She’s Bajoran. Maybe you know her: her name is Ro Laren.”
Seska seemed to search her memory for a few seconds as they stopped in front of a turbolift. “No, that doesn’t sound familiar.”
“She was a Starfleet Lieutenant. She says she’s left all that behind, but I’m not sure about her.”
Seska followed her into the lift. “There are a lot of ex-Starfleet in the Maquis. You were one, so was Chakotay.”
“Deck one.” B’Elanna said for the computer. Then, facing Seska: “I spent less than two years at the Academy. Chakotay’s people were caught in the middle of a dispute between Starfleet and the Cardassians over their planet. We’ve all got good reasons to be dissatisfied with the Federation.”
“You said she’s Bajoran. I’d think that gives her a good reason too. Maybe an even better one.”
B’Elanna felt a sudden hint of shame at her attitude. The Bajorans were also Seska’s people, and she was right. Of all the victims of the Cardassian politico-military actions, the Bajorans were the most subjected to the oppression. Knowing that made it even more difficult for B’Elanna to understand Ro’s past behavior. “She was sent by Captain Picard to infiltrate Macias’s group and setup an ambush in the Demilitarized Zone. She says she changed her mind, but I don’t trust her.”
“You think she’s got a second agenda?”
“I don’t know what to think. She’s got Santos and Kalita’s support, and they say Macias trusted her. They also say she warned the Maquis about the Starfleet vessel hiding in the nebula, but what if that was part of her mission?”
Seska took a deep breath and let it out. “I think you’re making this too complicated. If Macias’ people say she’s ok, she must be.”
That was a powerful argument that B’Elanna found hard to refute.
“Where’s Chakotay?” Seska asked.
“He’s still talking to Santos, as far as I know. Ro brought back some information on Cardassian intelligence.” B’Elanna saw the concern in her friend’s face.
“What kind of information?” Seska asked as they were leaving the lift.
B’Elanna told her about the incident on Alpha 441. “We don’t know how they found out we had a base there, or how much the pilot of the shuttle managed to transmit to Evek, but she said there’s evidence they’re going to hit it.”
“Does she know when or how?”
“She didn’t say.”
They had reached the briefing room and entered. Chakotay was alone.
“Seska, welcome back!” he said. “Who did you swindle this time?”
“I missed you too.” Seska said with a short laugh as she put her arms around his neck.
B’Elanna made a little coughing sound. “Has Santos left?“
Chakotay diverted his eyes from Seska. “Yes, he says Kalita is working on a plan to attack an Orion freighter. They think it’s transporting more components for a biogenic weapon.”
B’Elanna couldn’t help but wonder where they’d gotten the idea. “I assigned Ro to crew quarters 7d. I think I’ll go get that replicator coil installed.” She didn’t wait for Chakotay to acknowledge her statement and went to the cargo bay to claim the part, leaving the two to their reunion.
After the second diagnostic program, B’Elanna’s frustration started to make its way out in her voice. “I can’t find anything wrong with the sensors. Are you positive you’re reading your display right?” Sure. As if a Vulcan could make that kind of mistake.
“The panel showed a distinct electromagnetic disturbance of unknown origin for a period of two point five oh seven seconds.” Tuvok said from the Captain’s chair.
“Maybe there’s something wrong with your console.”
“I do not believe so. I ran a diagnostic as well, and the result did not show anything amiss.”
The com cut short B’Elanna’s reply. “Kendra Valley to Metacomet, please respond.”
“Go ahead, Kendra Valley,” said Tuvok.
“We have a visual on a Cardassian vessel. Do you have it on sensor?”
“You’re the only ship we’re picking up in your immediate area,” said B’Elanna. The odd thing about it was that their position was at the same coordinates where Tuvok had said the phantom reading had appeared.
“I’m not dreaming this. It’s here, in front of us. We don’t detect any life forms on board.”
In the background, someone on the Kendra Valley ordered the launch of photon torpedoes. On the view screen there was a series of small bursts of light in the distance, and the com came alive again, this time with sounds of frenetic activity punctuated by electrical snaps and fizzles.
“Metacomet, we’ve been hit. Our photon torpedoes didn’t make a dent in this thing, but if fired back and we sustained severe damage to our engines.”
B’Elanna was looking at the tactical display. “I’m showing a core breach in progress. Eject your warp core!”
“We can’t. The relays are fused.”
“Are we in transporter range, Jonas?” Tuvok asked with an infuriating calm.
“No, not yet. It’s going to be at least ten minutes.” Jonas answered from navigation.
B’Elanna swore. “Their core is going to explode in less that eight!”
“Best speed, Jonas.” said Tuvok.
Best speed wasn’t good enough. The Kendra Valley blossomed into a fiery ball before they were close enough to evacuate the crew.
B’Elanna was torn between rage and grief. They had come back to Alpha 441 to warn them about this, and there it was, beating them to the draw. Why didn’t they detect this thing in time? They should have had it on their sensors long before it reached the first line of Maquis defense around the planetoid.
Tuvok’s voice cut in on her self-berating and jolted her into action. “B’Elanna, arm phasers and fire when ready. Jonas, shields at maximum.”
They were close enough to it now and to see it on the view screen, plain as day, as it was approaching a defense satellite and destroyed it in a single shot. Before B’Elanna had the Metacomet’s weapons fully armed, two other Maquis assault vessels came from the direction of Alpha 441. They took position on opposite sides of the Cardassian and fired their phasers in a simultaneous attack. They inflicted no visible damage to their target. The disruptor blast it returned caught one of them dead on and blew the nacelles off the other, sending it into an uncontrolled spin. B’Elanna fired from above, but the Cardassian’s shields were absorbing the energy she was pouring out like a dry sponge soaks up water, and its return shot cut through the shields and hit the phaser banks, sending a backlash through the circuitry that damaged the console. The panel irrupted in flames and acrid smoke and threw B’Elanna clear back to the bulkhead.
Dazed, she was barely conscious of Chakotay’s arrival on the bridge, followed by Ro Laren while Tuvok had vacated the captain’s seat and was helping her up. “Are you all right?”
She stood up, regained her balance and nodded. “Yes, I’m fine.” Was it from the blow to her head, did she imagine it, or did Ro look at Tuvok with an odd expression on her face? And did Tuvok stiffen when he saw her? She shook the thought off and brought her focus back on the action. Chakotay was telling Jonas to head for the damaged ship and to drop shields as soon as they were out of firing range. Guessing he intended to transport the people off it, she spoke up.
“We can use the tractor beam to stabilize them and bring them back to the surface.”
Chakotay turned his head. “When did you get them back online?”
“As soon as I got the part Seska brought back.” she said, going to the ops station.
Chakotay nodded his approval. “All right. Tuvok, do it. B’Elanna, contact them.”
She sent the message and activated the tractor beam. The small ship was on multi-axis tumble and it took some creative use of the device to achieve her goal, but she managed it.
“Thanks, Metacomet,” its captain said. “We’ll be fine for now. Try to stop that thing, whatever it is.”
“It’s a self-guided tactical missile.”
B’Elanna stared at Ro Laren at her soft-voiced remark, and soon realized all the others did too. “How do you know?”
Ro, whose eyes seemed to be glued to the view screen’s display, returned her stare. “There was a holo-image on the report I saw. It was a lousy picture, but what it showed looked like this.”
The missile was about to reach the upper atmosphere of the planetoid. Tuvok, who must have been busy at tactical, made a frightening report. “I’m reading the presence of one thousand kilos of matter and an equal amount of antimatter in close proximity on the missile. There is some kind of mechanism on the containment field generator, but the field creates too much interference for our scanners to determine its nature.”
“Can you take a guess?” B’Elanna said, hoping he would refute her own.
“There is an eighty-seven point five three nine percent chance that it is a detonator.”
“Damn your statistics!” B’Elanna retorted. “If it is a detonator, someone has to go on board to disarm it, and we can’t transport unless this thing’s shields are off.”
“Look!” Jonas was pointing to the view screen. It showed the missile approaching the atmosphere of Alpha 441 at high speed and skip at its edge in the fireworks caused by the friction between the gases and the shields. Repelled to a short distance, the missile assumed an orbit over the north pole, which would mask its presence to any unsuspecting vessel or ground surveillance, and kept it steady.
B’Elanna frowned when she glanced at the tactical panel. “It’s shutting down.”
Chakotay was next to her in a split-second. “What?”
She pointed at her readings. “Everything but the impulse drive is powering down. Weapons systems, shields, and all the rest.” She looked up at him. “This is our chance. Let me beam over and take a look.”
Chakotay hesitated, and finally agreed. “But you’re not going alone. Take Ro with you.”
“Why?” B’Elanna almost winced at the childishness of her question.
“Because she may be able to help you,” he said. “You don’t know what’s in there.”
She grudgingly agreed. Besides, she’d be able to keep an eye on the girl.
“As soon as you’ve beamed over, we’ll go tractor the assault vessel back to Alpha 441. The base is on the opposite side, so we’ll be unable to keep contact for a little while. We’ll get you back when we’ve got them to safety.”
The first thing they did when they rematerialized in the missile’s dark control room was turn on their environmental suits’ lights. B’Elanna swept her surroundings with her wide-angle beam and located the environmental controls. There had to be a modicum of life support system, even on an automated vessel, for the construction crews to be able to work more easily. She turned it on, and when the indicators showed it was safe, she took off the bulky helmet and put it on the top of a monitor.
The air was a bit stale, but that would be remedied when the system had cycled it once. Dim lighting had come on at the same time as the air cycle, and it permitted her to see her way through a short corridor into another part of the control room. Ro had put down her own helmet and followed her. They found one of the panels flickering with scrolling data.
“It’s in self-diagnostic,” she whispered.
“Yep,” said B’Elanna. “Something malfunctioned and it’s trying to figure out what.”
“What?” B’Elanna looked around, expecting to see someone else than her companion.
Ro pointed to a plaque on the bulkhead next to the monitor. “That’s the name of this thing.”
B’Elanna sneered. “How appropriate.” She read the list of diagnostics on the monitor and blinked at an item. “That’s why our sensors didn’t detect it: it generates a randomized EM field to mask its warp signature.”
“Intruder Alert!” The male voice startled the both of them. They turned in a simultaneous jump. No one was there.
“Intruder Alert! Life support system shut down initiated.” It was the computer’s voice. On the next monitor, the indicators were diminishing at a speed that told them they wouldn’t have the time to get their helmets back on before the procedure was complete.
In a sudden inspiration, B’Elanna spoke with a tone of authority. “Computer, abort shut down. There is a maintenance crew on board.”
“Unlikely. There are only two life forms detected. One is Bajoran, the other, part Human, part Klingon.”
B’Elanna’s chest was beginning to feel heavy. Her panicking mind was groping for a reasonable response. When did internal sensors get turned back on? “We’ve… been genetically altered to infiltrate the Maquis.”
There was a three-second pause before the computer’s reply. “There are no Cardassian ships in the vicinity.”
It was increasingly difficult to breathe.
“There is… it’s equipped with… an experimental cloaking device.” Ro was gasping, struggling for air.
B’Elanna held little hope the computer would take the bait. She was astonished when life support was restored. Coughing and wheezing, she clung to the edge of the console until her breath returned to normal.
Following up on her instant cover, she asked: “Have you determined the cause of the malfunction?”
Bad enough she had to listen to an insufferable, arrogant Cardassian voice. The thing was going to make her beg for the information. By the look on Ro’s face, B’Elanna could tell she was thinking along the same line.
“What is it?” she said with a gesture of impatience.
“A failure in the kinetic detonator.”
“I assume you can’t repair it.” B’Elanna was in fact hoping, given the antiquated design of that type of detonator, that the computer was unable to fix the problem.
“Assumption correct.”
Ro had an expression of relief on her face. “Are there any other malfunctions?”
“Negative. All other systems are fully functional.”
Well, B’Elanna thought, can’t be greedy. She waved at Ro to go back to where they had left their helmets and pointedly put hers back on. When it was locked in place, she raised her right hand with three fingers up, then folded two of them, pointing at the same time to her ear with the left. She turned on her suit’s com system to channel thirty-one. “Ro, do you read me?”
The girl nodded. “Let’s hope Dreadnought doesn’t.”
B’Elanna was starting to think that maybe she was wrong about her. This girl caught on quick. She put the thought aside for the moment. “We need to contact Chakotay. He’s probably back out there by now.”
“I saw something on the schematic display that looks like a maintenance pod. Maybe one of us could take it and go back to the ship.” Ro said.
“Perfect. You stay here, poke around. I’ve got an idea how to get rid of this flying bomb. I’ll go run it by Chakotay, get some tools and come back as soon as possible.”
Ro agreed and they opened their helmets. After verifying Ro’s observation, B’Elanna addressed the computer. “Dreadnought, I’m going to run a check from the outside with the maintenance pod. Keep your current status and position.”
If Chakotay approved her plan, she was going to have to do something about that voice. Running to the pod, she got in and took off. She flew it once around the missile and then changed course to meet the Metacomet.
The ship was coming around from the southern hemisphere. Its shields went up the instant she came into its range. Using her suit’s system, she called to let them know it was her and the shields went back down, allowing her to land in the small shuttle bay.
Chakotay was there when she emerged. “What’s going on? Where is Ro Laren?”
“She’s still on board the missile.” B’Elanna made her report while they walked to engineering. She was foraging in her tools when she finished it. “So I thought if I can plant the program in the computer, we could send it to self-destruct in an empty area of the Badlands.”
“Fine. Get what you need, and do it.” Chakotay put a hand on her arm. “Be careful.”
On her return to Dreadnought, she had a fair idea how, with Ro’s help, she was going to put her plan to work. The first thing, though, was going to be changing the computer’s voice. It was really getting on her nerves.
When she got back into the control room, Ro waved at her. “Torres, look at this.”
She was at a small terminal that showed a trajectory.
“Is this what I think it is?” B’Elanna asked.
“The missile’s flight path from the construction site to this planetoid.” Ro said.
B’Elanna put her finger on a small dot a short distance from Dreadnought’s point of origin and linked to it by a curved line. “This is its only stop between there and here. A fueling station?”
“Reasonable enough.”
Another idea was making its way into B’Elanna’s mind. But first things first. She brought up a command screen and activated a minor program.
“What is the purpose of your action?” the computer demanded.
“I’m just double-checking your interactive applications.” B’Elanna said in a soft tone.
She found what she was looking for and, hoping that Ro would understand what she needed her to do, she reached into her tool kit and handed her a hyperspanner. She was relieved to see her walk toward the warp drive. She was actually starting to like her. Her courage and her determination commanded respect.
Just under a minute later, a reading on another panel changed. She waited for Ro to return and spoke up. “Dreadnought, check your readings on the plasma injector.”
The computer’s response was almost instantaneous. “The calibration is off by seven point nine five percent.”
B’Elanna didn’t wait for it to finish. She made a change small enough so that the computer wouldn’t detect it right away, but sufficient to attain her first goal.
“Imple…nting …rection.” the computer stammered. “…lfunction in voc… …outine. …empting …ect.”
To her left, Ro was busy under another console. When she came back up, the self-diagnostic display disappeared.
“Un… to pro…d. …quire …sist…”
“All right,” B’Elanna said. “I’ll take a shot at it. Shut down, then initiate a system by system restart sequence beginning with life support controls.”
The light blacked out, all the monitors went blank. A few seconds went by in total darkness, and an indicator came back on. Life support had been restarted. Next were the lights. B’Elanna and Ro went to work each on a console. B’Elanna input a command that overrode the vocal subroutine. “Computer, record my voice pattern and integrate it into your databank.”
The panel said “ready”.
“Reinitiate vocal response application, using new pattern.”
“Reinitiation complete.” she heard herself say.
“Much better,” B’Elanna muttered. She glanced over at Ro. “Find the mission file and delete it. We’re going to give Dreadnought a whole new goal in life.”
She went to the matter/antimatter reaction chamber and quickly found the detonator that had been attached to the containment field generator. Since the warp core was offline, she could safely remove the device and examine it. It didn’t take long to find the problem and fix it. When she went back to the control room, all systems had been restarted and were on standby.
“I’ve isolated the identity program and rewrote it,” Ro said. “Dreadnought thinks it’s Maquis, now.”
“Great!” B’Elanna’s new idea would be that much easier to put into action. That also meant they could openly contact Chakotay. “Torres to Metacomet.”
“Chakotay, here. How’s it going, B’Elanna?”
“Fine. We’re almost finished. Standby to beam us out of here.”
She debated telling him what she had in mind and decided against it. Chakotay wasn’t a vengeful man and she wasn’t sure he’d approve. And the more she thought about the Kendra Valley and the other ship that had been destroyed, the more she wanted to hurt the Cardassians back for sending this missile.
She took a deep breath and her heart beat quickened. A feeling came over her that was very much like the one she’d had when she told her father maybe he should just go away. She had regretted those words ever since. This, what she was about to do, she never would.
“Dreadnought,” she said. “Enter mission update.”
“Ready.” the new computer voice said.
“Your target is now Aschelan V. Set course and initiate maximum warp in thirty seconds.”
“Update entered. Course set. Warp speed in thirty seconds. Twenty-nine. Twenty-eight.”
B’Elanna had set things in motion. Things she was feeling good about. She ignored the countdown and, her sense of justice satisfied, picked up her helmet, activated the com system and smiled to the Maquis’ latest recruit.
“Metacomet, this is Torres. We’re ready to transport.”


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