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But where they seek to go is defined by the journeys they have made before, and ghosts populate these uncharted waters -- the spectres of lost leaders, fallen friends, forsaken lovers, vanquished enemies, and earlier selves. Some of these shades drive the travelers on, others are drawn inexorably into their wake; but all make their presence felt, and in feeling, the men and women of DS9 and the Defiant must somehow navigate the perilous rapids of their pasts in order to find the future.
Originally published as Twilight and This Gray Spirit -- the first two novels in the critically acclaimed Mission: Gamma series -- These Haunted Seas is the next chapter of the epic saga begun in Twist of Faith, continuing the chronicles of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine® beyond the small screen, propelling its heroes to realms they could never have imagined, and truths they cannot escape.
He watched her die, and in that terrible instant, he relived the moment of their separation, felt the weight of the years since, and regretted everything.
Prynn's body landed in a heap beside the captain's chair, the foul smell of singed flesh already rising from her. Elias Vaughn looked down at her as he leaped from the chair, and saw the midsection of her uniform burned away. Past the seared edges of the fabric that remained, her skin was charred black. Blood seeped from her mangled body and pooled in her wounds like crimson floodwaters across a ruined landscape.
Vaughn pulled his gaze away and, with an emotional effort, moved past the remains of his daughter, toward the console she had a moment ago been operating. He suppressed the ache growing within him and focused on reaching the conn, on keeping Defiant intact and headed away from its attackers. Prynn was dead, but the rest of the crew were not.
With each step, Vaughn felt the labored vibrations of the impulse drive translating through the deck plates. Dark gray eddies of smoke swirled about the bridge, carrying with them the electric scent of overheated circuitry. Flashes of scarlet, the visual call to battle stations, shined here and there through the haze. He reached the conn and bent to assay the readouts, waving away the smoke with an open hand. The low moan of the straining engines deepened as Vaughn eyed the display, and he was not surprised to find the ship no longer holding course. He reached down to work the controls, but flames surged up from beneath the console. Vaughn threw an arm up in front of his face as he staggered back a step, the intense heat blistering his arm even through his uniform sleeve. The air pressure decreased a moment, the hungry fire gathering fuel for itself. The flames sounded like a banner whipping in the wind, loud enough for Vaughn to hear over the inconsistent thrum of the overburdened drive and the many alarms screaming for the crew's attention.
A voice called out above the din — "Weapons power to the shields?" — only to be followed by another shouting that Defiant's weapons were offline. Lieutenant Bowers at tactical, Lieutenant Nog at engineering, Vaughn thought, startled for a moment to realize that he was not alone. Even as his instincts to save the crew had driven him to action, their presence had vanished from his mind; for long seconds, his entire universe had been smoke and flame, vibration and sound, and the image of his daughter's mutilated corpse.
Ensign ch'Thane worked the sciences station, Vaughn thought, forcing himself wholly back into the moment. And somewhere behind him, Lieutenant Dax and Dr. Bashir filled out the roster of bridge personnel. If any of them were saying anything, he could not hear them.
Vaughn looked past his upraised arm and squinted at the fire engulfing the conn. Streaks of brilliant indigo snaked up through the otherwise orange-yellow flames. Chromium, Vaughn thought, even as he began to move again, the recollection or misrecollection of which elements burned which colors incongruously percolating up from memory. He moved around the console and dropped to his knees. From this vantage, he could see the jagged margin of a hole in the decking beneath the conn, the flames erupting from it in great sheets. The explosion that had claimed Prynn had obviously occurred just below.
Defiant rocked suddenly and violently, inertial dampers failing for a second. Another Jarada disruptor bolt, Vaughn guessed as he felt the ship pitch forward. Too close to his goal to give it up, and knowing time was running out for the crew, he grabbed for the console support as he was thrown off balance. Somehow, his fingers found their mark and took hold. Pain flared through his right hand, his flesh binding itself to the hot metal in a horrible embrace. But he held on, pulling himself back to his knees and closer to the underside of the console.
A disembodied voice yelled something Vaughn could not make out, the fire bellowing in his ears like the roar of some mammoth molten beast. He listened for other words, but heard only the flames. A murky cloud seemed to pass through his mind, like the smoke churning through the bridge. He realized he was on the verge of losing consciousness.
With a bellow of his own, Vaughn thrust his free hand up under the conn and felt for the fire-suppression canister. His uniform sleeve caught fire, and beneath it, so too did his skin. His fingertips brushed the canister, amazingly still cool to the touch. Vaughn quickly pulled the cylinder free with one hand, then pulled his other hand from the console support, the pain of his skin tearing away an afterthought in the wake of his determination. He aimed and activated the canister, and a fog of chemical retardant spouted out in a billowy white cone, extinguishing his flaming sleeve. Parts of his arm felt the cold of the chemicals, but where his flesh had been scorched, it burned as though still afire.
Vaughn tilted the canister away from himself and attacked the flames where they emerged from the hole in the decking. The fire retreated briefly, then resumed, and Vaughn feared it might win his battle with it. He pushed himself forward beneath the conn and thrust the canister directly over the hole. The sound of the flames drowned beneath the onslaught of the pressurized chemicals, and finally, so did the fire.
Vaughn continued spraying, emptying the canister into the hole. With the fire extinguished, the force of the explosion that had caused it became clear — as though Prynn's maimed body were not proof enough. The roughly circular hole beneath the conn stretched nearly a meter in diameter, Vaughn saw. The deck plating twisted upward and outward, the metal blackened and bent as though it had offered the blast only minimal resistance.
"Aft shields failing," somebody shouted, the identity of the voice swallowed up by the discordant and increasingly loud pulse of the impulse engines, the speaker hidden by the veil of smoke. Probably Bowers, Vaughn thought as he rose to his feet. He dropped the canister to one side, but did not hear it strike the deck above the cacophony permeating the bridge. Warning signals punctuated the clamor, and though he could not make out their words, Vaughn heard other officers barking out information.
Vaughn bent over the conn, now between it and the forward viewer. He wanted to find the helm controls and bring Defiant back on course. If they were far enough away from Torona IV, then he could engage the warp drive — provided it was still intact — and possibly outrun the Jarada before they had time to mount a larger attack force.
The console was dark. The glassy surface of the display reflected the diffused overhead lighting, but no controls and no readouts shined within. A jolt shook Vaughn as though he had been stunned with a phaser. If they couldn't regain control of the ship, they had no chance of escaping the Jarada.
Vaughn looked up at the rest of the bridge, trying to see the crew through the haze. The ship shuddered again beneath another assault, but it must have been a glancing blow, effectively dissipated by the ablative armor, because nothing exploded and Vaughn was able to keep his feet. He waved at the smoke swimming around him, the gray miasma thinning now that the fire was out and the ventilation system could catch up.
He strained to see through the cloudy atmosphere. As the smoke swirled, he caught a glimpse of one of the crew in profile at the rear of the bridge. Distinctive dark markings spilled from a temple down the side of a fair face and neck, making the Trill unmistakable. "Dax," he called, "reroute flight control."
He watched her operate an aft console, and then she yelled, "I've got it."
Vaughn started toward the lieutenant, but stopped when he saw movement at the center of the bridge. On the floor beside the command chair, Bashir leaned over Prynn's unmoving body. The doctor held a tricorder in one hand and an instrument Vaughn did not recognize in the other.
Vaughn looked at the inert face of his daughter. Her porcelain features, normally tense and expressive despite their delicacy, were now slack, even peaceful, contradicting the awful mass of injuries her body had sustained. For a moment, he saw Prynn's mother, her own mien passive — at peace somehow, despite her obvious understanding of what was soon to come — in that instant he last saw her. He felt the familiar rage and anguish building within him, the enormous guilt not far behind, and he wondered how this could have happened again.
You have a mission, he told himself, and allowed the simple statement — his old mantra — to carry him away from his private darkness. He raced past Nog and Bowers, both intent on their consoles.
When he arrived beside Dax, her fingers were sprinting back and forth across the display — "Resequencing the reactors," she said, raising her voice amid the tumult — and after a few seconds, the vibrations of the impulse drive steadied. Several alarms quieted too, lessening the commotion considerably; now only a couple of staccato tones persisted in their warnings. Vaughn could have ordered them silenced, but they were a source of information, and in any dangerous situation, he sought information. "Taking evasive action," Dax continued. Better than the sound of the stabilized engines and fewer alarms was no sound at all: the absence of Jarada weaponry landing on Defiant as the lieutenant maneuvered the ship.
"How far from the planet?" Vaughn wanted to know. Dax told him. They were still too close to go to warp safely.
"Two more Jarada heavies emerging from the far side of the second moon," Bowers called from his station. Those were in addition to the pair of battleships Vaughn knew were already pursuing Defiant.
"If we can stay at full impulse," Dax reported, checking her readouts, "they won't be able to catch us. We only have to worry about the ones already firing on us."
If only we could stand our ground and defend ourselves, Vaughn thought. This was not a fair fight, though, and would not be even if Defiant's weapons could be brought back online. Not because the bantam starship could not best a top-of-the-line Jarada vessel — or even bear up against several of them — but because this was a battle Defiant's crew could not join. The Jarada were a strange and reclusive species, punctilious in the extreme, and often very difficult to deal with; they had once terminated contact with the Federation for two decades after a UFP representative had mispronounced a single one of their words during an introduction ceremony. But while temperamental in many regards, the Jarada were also in some ways predictable: they employed well-defined rules of engagement, and it was that fact about them that constrained Vaughn's actions right now.
"Sir," Nog yelled, a second after another alarm began bleating. "The impulse engines are losing power." Vaughn looked to Dax, wanting the information to prove false, but the alarm and her expression told him otherwise. And he had known better anyway: in his experience, only good news ever turned out to be suspect.
As if to underscore his thought, the tone of the impulse drive changed once more, flattening and slowing, and then Defiant rattled again beneath the force of a disruptor bolt slamming into the ship. Sparks flew from a port-side console, but despite the failure of the aft shields, the hull armor again withstood the attack. Bowers confirmed this a moment later, but the continued existence of Defiant had already told Vaughn what he needed to know. Effective as the ablative armor was at dissipating the effects of the Jarada weaponry, though, it would not hold up indefinitely; each attack thinned the hull plating, Vaughn knew, its layers vaporizing at the point of impact and dispersing the destructive energy out into space.
He stepped up to the tactical station, beside Bowers. Vaughn had actually anticipated the possibility of something like this turn of events during the past couple of days, but there had been no apparent solution other than for the crew to speed their way through it. And as bad as the situation now was, it would deteriorate even further if Vaughn gave in to temptation and defended Defiant by means other than retreat.
Less than three days ago, the Jarada had grudgingly helped the Federation save the lives of a half-million people in the evacuation of the human civilization from Europa Nova. During an extended incident in which previously unknown Iconian gateways — essentially, open doorways linking noncontiguous and often distant locations — had suddenly become operational, masses of lethally irradiated material had spilled out of an orbital gateway and threatened the population of the planet. A convoy led by the Bajoran Militia had managed to evacuate almost all of the Europani to safety, but five hundred thousand had been forced to flee through a second gateway, this one on the surface of their world and linking to Torona IV, one of the home planets of the Jarada.
"Status," Vaughn said to Bowers.
"Aft shields are gone. Aft armor down to sixty-seven percent." That measure would not need to diminish to zero, Vaughn knew, before the hull ruptured beneath a disruptor hit. And when that happened, explosive decompression would be just the beginning of a chain of rapid and catas-trophic failures that would leave only debris and a bright energy signature where Defiant had been.
"What happened to those evasive maneuvers?" Vaughn called back to Dax, though the answer was clear: as quickly and as well as the lieutenant had taken to the demands of command, she was a good pilot, but not the career pilot that Prynn was.
That Prynn had been.
An unsettling mixture of pride and sorrow rose within Vaughn, quickly threatening to overwhelm him. Pressure built behind his eyes, and it struck him that, for the first time in years, it would be an easy thing to allow himself to break down, to give in to his pain and abdicate his responsibilities. But that was not really an option. He willed himself — as he had so many times before — to disconnect from his emotions. You have a mission, he told himself again. If he survived this encounter with the Jarada, there would be time later to mourn.
Dax announced an automated evasion sequence, and the impulse drive whined as it struggled to support the new instructions. Vaughn felt a shift in the pit of his stomach, the gravity generators and inertial dampers adjusting as Defiant sheared from its course. Tremors rumbled through the ship's superstructure, but at least for the moment, no weapons landed.
Vaughn peered at the main viewer. In his mind, he saw what was not visible on the screen: the near pair of Jarada ships dancing in lethal patterns about Defiant, the far pair charging toward the scene. He searched his vast experience for similar predicaments and recalled several, but none in which his actions had been so tightly restricted.
Vaughn had secured safe harbor on Torona IV for the evacuees by providing technical data about the gateways to the Jarada. In the few days since, Europa Nova had been completely evacuated, and Vaughn and his crew had then led a convoy to the Torona system. There, they had overseen the relocation of the half-million Europani to Bajor, where the rest of their population awaited eventual return to their world once it had been decontaminated. The last group of transports had broken orbit less than an hour ago, and in that time, the Jarada had apparently discovered that the gateways had been shut down, possibly for good, and certainly for the foreseeable future. Considering their xenophobic nature, the Jarada might have welcomed this, but instead, with the technical information they had been given now valueless to them, they had chosen to believe themselves duped by Vaughn.
"The near ships are splitting up," Bowers said. Vaughn turned from the main viewer — the starfield swooped and dashed, seemingly at random, he saw, as Dax tried to evade their attackers — and looked at the tactical officer. The alert lighting tinted the young man's dark skin on and off with a rich, rosy glow. "They're moving to flank us," the lieutenant said, his tone a blend of resignation and anger, Vaughn thought. "The far ships are closing the gap. They'll be in weapons range soon."
The initial attack on Defiant had come as the crew had prepared to leave orbit about Torona IV and begin the return journey to DS9. Vaughn had been speaking via subspace with a representative of the planetary regime, thanking him for the forbearance of his people in allowing the Europani on their soil. The official had responded with accusations of duplicity, the harsh, insectile clattering of his voice breaking into the smooth speech of the universal translator when his words could not adequately be interpreted. Before Vaughn could explain or apologize or offer some sort of recompense, the Jarada vessel assigned to escort Defiant within the Torona system had attacked. An instant later, planetary defenses had launched their own massive barrage, and a second Jarada vessel had charged into battle.
Defiant had withstood the initial assaults, the substantially fortified ship among the toughest in Starfleet, but it had also suffered significant damage. Vaughn had taken the only action he could: he had ordered retreat. If Defiant defended itself by employing any of its weaponry, he knew, the military protocols of the Jarada would send them in pursuit of the convoy. Almost the entire evacuation force consisted of freighters and personnel transports, civilian vessels incapable of outrunning Jarada warships, and with virtually no weapons or defense systems. The convoy carried a hundred thousand Europani, not to mention thousands of crew; the loss of life would be enormous.
"How long?" Vaughn asked Bowers, wanting to know how much time they had before they were besieged by all four Jarada ships.
Vaughn raised his hand to his forehead and wiped it clear of sweat. The air on the bridge, though steadily clearing of smoke, was stifling.
"Do we have warp drive?" Vaughn asked.
"The warp engines are intact," Nog told him, "but there's a microfracture in the port nacelle."
"Bad enough: we wouldn't be able to maintain warp for more than a few seconds." Nog peered over his shoulder, and Vaughn noticed a gloss of perspiration coating the lieutenant's face, his huge, ribbed ears, and his large, bald head.
"How many?" Vaughn asked. He peered over at the main viewer again. He saw only stars, but pictured the two trailing Jarada warships descending toward Defiant, ready to join with their sister ships to put an explosive end to this one-sided battle.
"How many what?" Nog sounded confused, as though Vaughn had asked the question in another language.
"How many seconds would we be able to maintain warp?"
Nog's eyes narrowed, the fleshy ridge that ran from the top of each ear and across his brow descending in perplexity. Still, he turned to consult his console. "Forty seconds at most," he said at last. "But maybe no more than twenty-five."
"Lieutenant," Vaughn said to Dax. "How much time before we're at a safe distance to go to warp?"
"Seven minutes on a linear course," Dax answered immediately. "Almost a minute and a half after the third and fourth Jarada ships get here."
Vaughn turned in place, surveying the bridge, his mind working over the facts of the situation. They had to remain out of weapons range of the second pair of Jarada vessels; once those two ships entered the battle, it would end quickly. Vaughn could risk going to warp as close as Defiant was to Torona IV, and the ship would likely be safe. Employing warp drive this deep in a planetary gravity well carried a risk, to be sure, but incidents rarely occurred. The real problem would be that the Jarada would view such an action as depraved disregard for their world and their people, which would drive them to pursue the convoy.
Vaughn's gaze fell to the center of the bridge, to the captain's chair. To his surprise, Prynn's corpse no longer lay beside it, nor was Dr. Bashir still there. With all the commotion, Vaughn had not even heard the sound of the transporter.
Fury swam up from the depths of Vaughn's submerged emotions. His body involuntarily tensed, his wrath driving him toward physical action. His jaw set, his teeth clenched, his hands drew into fists. The Jarada had attacked Defiant and killed his only child — were still attacking, attempting to kill all the crew — and for what? Because they had been asked to assist in the rescue of a half-million people, and the price they had been paid had not satisfied them? Vaughn's lips pressed together, his eyes slammed shut, and in his intensity he wanted to return fire, wanted to vent the destructive power of this ship that had been designed to repel a Borg incursion. He visualized the remnants of the Jarada ships scattered harmlessly across the expanse of space.
The orders he knew he would not give floated through his mind. Lock pulse phaser cannons. Arm quantum torpedoes. Fire at will. Vaughn craved to avenge his daughter, and to guarantee the safety of the crew, but he understood well the repercussions of launching any assault against the Jarada under these circumstances. He thought briefly of the only other military vessel besides Defiant to accompany the convoy. The Cardassian cruiser Trager had remained well outside the Torona system during the evacuation, so that its presence would not incite the Jarada. But even if Trager were not still damaged from its many battles during the Dominion War, it would not be able to defend dozens of civilian vessels against an attack by a squadron of Jarada warships — an attack that would surely come should Defiant open fire.
Vaughn opened his eyes, again settling his emotions through a conscious effort. He slowed his breathing and tried to let go the tension in his body. His fingers unfurled, and he realized that his right hand hurt badly, the enveloping throb of his heartbeat a clockwork agony pressing in on his wounds.
Vaughn dismissed the pain as best he could, then turned toward Bowers. "Status of the cloaking device?" he asked, still searching for the tactics that would see the crew safely back to DS9.
"Operational," Bowers said.
"I thought we were not supposed — " started Ensign ch'Thane, but then he abruptly stopped speaking. Vaughn looked toward the sciences console, over on the port side of the bridge. Even though ch'Thane had already returned his attention to his readouts, Vaughn still perceived embarrassment in the science officer's tense back and hunched shoulders, the slightly curled posture of his antennae. Amid the turmoil, Vaughn unexpectedly felt one side of his mouth curl upward in a half-smile. He did not find the questioning of his prospective orders amusing, but the ensign's discomfiture was curious. From what Charivretha had related to him, young Shar stood well accustomed to challenging authority.
"What about the shields?" Vaughn asked Bowers. The air on the bridge, he noticed, was almost entirely clear of smoke now, though the ashen taste of the fire's residue still remained.
"Aft shields are gone," Bowers said. "Remaining shields down to thirty-seven percent port, fifty-one percent fore and starboard." He pressed a couple of touchpads and consulted a readout before continuing. "Ablative armor buckled on the port impulse casing. We've got a small hull rupture."
"We're leaking deuterium there," Nog added. "That's the source of the power drain."
"Does the leak affect all the impulse engines?" Vaughn asked.
"No," Nog said. "Just the port engine."
"Can we shut it down and reroute power to the other two?" Vaughn suggested. "And flush the deuterium so we're not leaving a trail for our friends?" He gestured vaguely in the direction of Defiant's stern.
Nog operated his console. "We can stop the leak by shutting down the port engine," he confirmed. "But we've got nowhere to take power from for the other two. Weapons systems are down, shields are failing — "
"Get ready to do it," Vaughn ordered, cutting the engineer off. To Dax, he said, "Prepare to give me a linear course."
Vaughn paced over to the engineering station and leaned in over Nog's shoulder to peer at the displays. "On my mark, take the port engine offline and vent the deuterium. Then reroute all available power to the other impulse engines, everything but for gravity, the cloaking device, and whatever you need for the warp drive."
Nog's eyes remained focused on his console, his hands working to set up the reconfiguration of the ship's systems, even as he sought clarification of Vaughn's orders. "Everything?"
"Everything," Vaughn said. Then, to be sure there was no mistake, he added, "Shields, any reserves left in the weapons, transporters, communications, sensors, life support." To the crew, Vaughn supposed, the orders must have sounded desperate, but he did not have time to explain why this course would provide them the best chance for survival. The Jarada were nothing if not intensely territorial; if they couldn't destroy Defiant, they'd be satisfied to drive her out of their domain, and the incident would end here. Escape meant the hundred thousand Europani still in transit to Bajor would be safe.
"Ensign ch'Thane," Vaughn said, stepping away from the engineering console. "Apprise the medical bay." If any casualties were being treated, the medical staff would need to know about the interruption of power.
"Sir," Nog said. "If we're at warp and the fracture in the nacelle widens, we could go up in a fireball."
"And if we stay here and allow four Jarada battleships to attack us in tandem, we will go up in a fireball." Vaughn made sure his tone left no doubt that his orders would stand. He had planned enough operations in his career, developed enough strategies, solved enough problems, that hesitation had long ago been banished from his decision-making process. "Time until the trailing ships are in weapons range?" Vaughn asked.
"Three minutes, twenty seconds," Dax said.
"That's how much time we've got to get far enough away from Torona IV to go to warp. Can we do it?"
"Depending on how much power we draw," Nog began, "how much power there is...." His voice trailed off.
"You don't know?"
"I'd have to run an analysis, and that'd take a couple of minutes."
"No time," Vaughn agreed. "Lieutenant," he said to Dax, "shortest route, now." Then, touching the fingers of his right hand to Nog's shoulder, he said, "Go."
Nog responded by working his console, his hands moving with expert precision across the controls. His demeanor seemed to change slightly, Vaughn noticed, almost as though the engineer found relief in having something specific to do. In the short time Vaughn had been aboard Deep Space 9 — not much more than a month — he had been impressed by Nog, and even seen the station's recently promoted operations officer grow in confidence. There was still something innocent and even wide-eyed about him, perhaps a healthy fear of the unknown and of death, but there was, Vaughn thought, a great deal of potential in the young man. And Nog's engineering skills only slightly overshadowed his remarkable ability to improvise.
As Nog discharged his orders, Defiant transformed. The atonal groan of the port impulse engine disappeared, leaving the smoother, softer hum of the pair that remained online. The shuddering of the deck also smoothed out.
"Port engine is offline," Nog said. "Deuterium conduits are clear. I'm rerouting power."
"Sensors and shields last," Bowers said.
The insistent, blaring alarms cut off abruptly. Even with the sound of the impulse drive, the bridge suddenly seemed almost quiet to Vaughn. He looked around in time to see most of the stations go dark: environmental control, transporter operations, communications. When the sciences console lost power, Ensign ch'Thane rotated his chair around to face the rest of the bridge. His antennae no longer bent downward, Vaughn saw, but seemed tense, as did the expression on his face. He's trying to control his fear, Vaughn thought, and then, recalling the Andorian response to danger, corrected himself: Not fear; anger. Something flickered off to the right, and Vaughn looked to see that the main viewer had gone blank.
"Power levels are coming up," Nog reported as he continued to redirect the ship's systems to funnel into the impulse engines.
The lights went next, plunging the bridge into momentary darkness before the emergency lighting came on. The few wisps of smoke still hovering about looked to Vaughn like phantoms haunting the scene. He found the pall menacing, and it occurred to him that he had spent a great deal of his career — a great deal of his life — bathed in the gloomy twilight of impending danger.
And then the emergency lighting went out. A claustrophobic blackness surrounded Vaughn. Only the engineering and tactical stations, and Dax's rerouted flight-control display, remained operational, their lonely glow like beacons in the night. The bulkheads felt closer now, and Vaughn was acutely aware of the smallness of Defiant about him, and of his own insignificance in the vastness of space.
The resonant drone of the impulse engines grew louder again, but remained steady this time. "We're approaching ninety percent of full impulse," Dax said, her face barely visible in the reflected light of her console.
"The near ships are closing in again," Bowers said, his words coming quickly and loudly.
"They don't — " Vaughn started, but then a thunderous jolt pounded Defiant, and another. Vaughn reached for the back of Nog's chair, but missed, and he went sprawling backward onto the deck. No alarms sounded, but something hissed loudly in the darkness. Vaughn rolled to his feet and looked toward tactical, where Bowers's shadowy figure hovered over his station.
"Starboard shields are down," Bowers called out. "Aft armor down to — " The tactical officer stopped speaking as his own console went dark. Vaughn could no longer see even a dim outline of the man. "Aft armor down to twenty-three percent," Bowers continued, obviously reporting the last reading he had seen.
"Sensors and shields rerouted," Nog reported, finding the last bits of power for the impulse engines.
"They weren't prepared for that burst of impulse power," Dax said. "We may have time before they can swing around for another pass." Another pass, another disruptor strike like the last one, Vaughn knew, and Defiant's armor might not hold.
"Time," Vaughn said. The hissing stopped, but again the sound of the impulse drive wavered.
"Estimating ninety seconds before the third and fourth ships get here," Dax said. "Eighty seconds before we can go to warp. If the impulse engines hold up."
Good, Vaughn thought. They had made up time. He hoped it would be enough. Moving through the darkened bridge from memory, he found the center seat and settled into it.
"One minute until we can go to warp." Dax said. "With sensors offline, I can't tell where the Jarada ships are." Vaughn thought he heard the confidence present in the lieutenant's voice up to this point begin to drain away.
Another blast rocked the ship, though not as violently as the previous strikes. Had it, Vaughn realized, Defiant would likely not still be here. He stopped himself from asking Bowers for a status update; with the tactical station down, there was no way to know how much more the aft armor had degraded. But Vaughn did not need that data to know that Defiant would not survive another assault.
"Fifty seconds," Dax said. Then: "We're not going to make it."
Vaughn turned in his chair toward Dax. She was staring intently at her console, her face shining orange in its light. He could not make out the spots on the side of her face, but he could see her inexperience in her expression.
So young, he thought, and then about Shar and Nog, and even about Bowers and Bashir: They're all so young. Still, Dax's eyes never left her display. She was good, this one, and strong; command had been the right choice for her. Vaughn had no idea how good a counselor she might have become had she continued in that profession, but he was confident that, given the chance, she would make a fine commander, and sooner rather than later. And so he chose to trust her instincts now.
"Evasive maneuvers, Lieutenant," he said, "but give me no more than another seven seconds on our course."
Dax's hands moved in swift response to the order even before her acknowledgment passed her lips. She anticipated me, Vaughn realized, and wondered just how far a career in command might take her.
Vaughn faced forward in his chair, staring through the darkness toward the main viewer, which he could not see, and which was offline anyway. His right hand was a knot of pain, but it paled beside the ache in his heart. Just ahead of him, the indistinct shape of the conn rose from the deck, a mute marker of his daughter's violent death. He looked down to the side of the captain's chair, to where Prynn had been thrown by the explosion that had taken her away from him for good. In his mind's eye, he saw her lying there, the spark of life gone from her visage. He remembered that spark, that flash in her eyes, from the moment they had succeeded in evacuating the last of the Europani from their poisoned world, when she had smiled at him for the first time in years. And he remembered it from her childhood, and even before, from the time she had been an infant. Her dark, almond eyes had always seemed amazingly vivid to him, as though they contained the passion of her will. They were Ruriko's eyes.
"Forty seconds," Dax said. "Back on a linear course."
A chill gripped Vaughn as he sat in the darkness. The air on the bridge was still oppressively warm — the environmental systems had not been offline that long yet — but he envisioned the absolute cold of space bleeding away the kernel of heat generated on Defiant to sustain the crew. The image recalled the dreadful tableau Vaughn and an Enterprise away team had found not long ago aboard Kamal, a derelict Cardassian freighter adrift in the Badlands. Bodies everywhere, Bajorans and Cardassians frozen in death.
That had been a part of the incident that had driven Vaughn to Deep Space 9, away from the career he had worked — the life he had lived — for the past eighty years. Decisions of life and death, killing some so that others might live, battling alongside evil in order to conquer even greater evils. He had seen and experienced as much of that — more, much more, he amended — than he had ever wanted to. And so he had made the decision to live a life not laced with sorrow and regret, and to seek not ugliness and horror to be vanquished, but beauty and wonder to be explored. Yet here he was again, faced with risking Defiant's crew of forty to save a hundred thousand.
Vaughn braced himself, waiting for the final salvo that would boil away and penetrate the only protection Defiant had astern. Seconds ticked away in agonizing slowness.
When Dax reached ten, Vaughn told Nog to bring all systems back online. One step at a time, the ship limped back to life: lights rescued the bridge from darkness, consoles blinked back on, alarms cried out once more.
"At zero," Vaughn said, raising his voice to be heard above the alerts, "shut down the impulse drive."
"Aye, sir," Nog said.
Dax counted out the last five seconds with an expectant tone, and Vaughn thought he heard the return of her determination with each word. After "One," Dax said, "We're clear for warp."
At once, the thrum of the impulse engines faded, the tone deepening as the volume decreased. Vaughn said nothing, instead counting out another three seconds to himself.
"Sir?" It was Bowers, an edge clearly audible in his voice. He had expected the order to go to warp as soon as they were able, Vaughn surmised. But with all those civilian lives dependent upon what they did here, Vaughn could not afford to act without a margin of error.
Ignoring Bowers, he told Dax, "Go to maximum warp for ten seconds, then throttle down to warp three-point-seven and take evasive action." The lieutenant did not bother to acknowledge the orders as she set about implementing them. Vaughn imagined he could feel Defiant leap to warp.
"Monitor the fracture," Vaughn said to Nog.
"The Jarada have gone to warp," Bowers said. "All four ships. They're in pursuit."
"Engage cloak," Vaughn said.
Bowers's fingers played across the control surfaces of the tactical station, but he hesitated before completing the command. "Sir, the Jarada will be able to read us cloaking." The lieutenant's hand hovered a few centimeters above his console.
"Do it," Vaughn ordered. Bowers complied, immediately bringing his hand down on a blinking touchpad. The bridge lighting dimmed in the telltale way that signaled the ship's stealth mode to the crew.
Come on, Vaughn thought, exhorting the Jarada to keep up their pursuit. He expected them to read Defiant cloaking, just as he expected that they had already read the microfracture in the warp nacelle. It never paid, Vaughn knew, to underestimate the enemy.
"Warp three-point-seven," Dax said. "Starting evasive maneuvers."
"Status of the fracture?" Vaughn asked.
"Stressed," Nog said. "But stable."
Vaughn ticked off another ten seconds in his head, then told Dax to bring the ship out of warp. "Take us to station-keeping."
"Dropping out of warp," Dax responded. Then, a few seconds later, she added, "Engines answering full stop."
"The Jarada are approaching the area," Bowers said.
"Of course they are," Vaughn offered. They had read Defiant's course and velocity once it had gone to warp, seen where it had cloaked, and if they had detected the fracture on the nacelle, they would have calculated just how far the Starfleet ship could possibly travel before having to drop back to sublight speed. Now, if they utilized all of that information to determine a starting point and locus for a search —
"They're passing our position," Bowers said, and Vaughn could hear the smile on the tactical officer's face even without looking.
"No celebrations yet, Lieutenant," Vaughn said, though he tried to inject a sense of lightness into his tone. "Keep your eyes on them."
Seconds passed, then minutes, Bowers intermittently describing the movements of the four battleships. The Jarada vessels stopped not far beyond the most distant point to which Defiant could have traveled at maximum warp, given the damaged nacelle. Then they retreated, split up, regrouped.
"They're moving again," Bowers said finally. "Heading off on different vectors at warp one...describing helical trajectories — " Bowers suddenly looked up from his console. "They've set up a search grid." He did not need to add what they all already knew: the Jarada were looking for Defiant far from its current location.
"Excellent," Vaughn said. After they hunted fruitlessly for a while, he thought, the Jarada would guess that Defiant had taken evasive action and modified its speed after it had cloaked. Vaughn thought they would likely change their search strategy, call in reinforcements to assist. But space was big and Defiant small — and essentially invisible — and they already had an advantage over their pursuers; Vaughn had chosen the odd velocity — warp three-point-seven, not warp one or three or five — to hide their position that much more. This game of hide-and-seek was one Vaughn knew he would win.
"Lieutenant Nog," he said, "I believe you have a fractured warp nacelle to repair."
"Aye, sir," Nog said, bounding out of his chair and heading for the starboard exit. "Right away."
"Lieutenant," Vaughn called as the door opened before the engineer. "Everyone," he continued, still having to raise his voice above the alarms. He gazed around to include all of the bridge crew. "Well done." Nog smiled widely, his small, sharp teeth showing prominently. He nodded, then turned and left.
Vaughn sat back in the captain's chair. Exhaustion washed over him like a warm wave, trying to coax him into the deeper water of sleep — or perhaps unconsciousness. But there was much yet to do. There were still Jarada ships to avoid, and light-years to travel before Defiant arrived safely back at Deep Space 9. He would have to check to see if any other of the crew had been injured. His own left arm had been burned in the fire at the conn, his right hand even more so, and he would have to have Dr. Bashir patch him up.
And he would have to say goodbye to Prynn.
But not right now.
"Normal lighting," Vaughn said. "And get rid of those alarms." Around him, the bridge brightened and quieted, Bowers making the necessary adjustments. Vaughn looked up and said, "Ensign Roness, Ensign Senkowski, report to the bridge." Relief at the conn and engineering stations for Dax and Nog.
After the acknowledgments came back, Vaughn rested his elbow on the arm of the chair and let his head fall into his uninjured hand. He wanted very much not to think about anything, not to feel anything.
Vaughn closed his eyes. For now — for right now — he was content to pretend that he was at peace, in a life that continued to know no such thing.
Mission Gamma Book One: Twilight TM, ® and © 2002 by CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved. Mission Gamma Book Two: This Gray Spirit TM, ® and © 2002 by CBS Studios Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Posted December 28, 2012
Posted December 26, 2014
Don't buy this edition--the books themselves are good adventures, but buying the individual ebooks is significantly cheaper.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
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