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The screaming, the panic, the smell of blood -- those he could handle. The roar of the shuttlecraft, the rioting mob, the fires burning throughout the city, the rage of his men as they fired disruptors at the populace -- those he could understand. But the tingle on his brawny neck all the way to his forehead ridges -- that terrified him. As he looked over his shoulder at the smoke blackening the skies, he could sense that something monstrous was rushing this way, searing across the heavens, destroying all in its path.
The ambassador didn't even recall what planet he was standing on with his troop of so-called peacekeepers. There had been so many doomed worlds, and every evacuation was more difficult as word spread across the quadrant of the Genesis Wave. It truly bothered him that fewer would get off this planet than should have, thanks to their unruly behavior, but he could accept their panic. What he could not accept was dying in a stupid, mindless disaster like this. It was such a waste! And trying to save the last few stragglers of a doomed race wasn't a warrior's death either. Their rescue fleet had saved over a hundred thousand on this planet alone -- and a hundred million in total -- but what was that, when billions stood to die?
They looked so much like humans, too. Unarmored, they died swiftly under the fiery disintegration of the disruptors.
Worried voices barked from the com medallion on his shoulder, warning him that their time was running out. Less than six minutes remained before the destruction would overtake them. From his command post on the park's sledding hill, the ambassador surveyed a city recreation area that was swollen with frightened citizens, all just realizing they were about to die. It was clear to him that the maddened and ever-growing mob would not let any more Klingon shuttlecraft land. Their transporters were working over capacity, snapping people from the crowd at random. Another two hundred or so could be saved if they let the shuttlecraft land, but at this point who could select two hundred worthy citizens from this berserk rabble? The planet's own authority and civilization had broken down, or else this mob wouldn't have swamped their position.
A rock landed at his feet, and he realized that he and his security force were under increased attack. "Take me with you!" and "Take my child!," he heard them yell, even while they threw debris at him. It was a good thing this was a peace-loving world with few weapons. Why his superiors thought a former Starfleet officer would have better luck dealing with distraught people than a captain or an admiral, he didn't know. In the end, nothing of his experience aboard the Enterprise had prepared him for this grim work. Now the deadly wave had actually caught up with them, meaning that this ignominious retreat was the last chance they had to save lives. With bitterness in his heart, Ambassador Worf concluded that it was time to cut their losses and flee.
"batlh Daqawhu'taH!" he bellowed to those who were about to die. To the officers under his command, he shouted, "Squadron, regroup for transporter operations! Form ranks!"
Worf waved them to the top of the hill, and his troopersscurried to retreat, even while they fired into the crowd to keep them at bay. Worf worried that once they saw his men transporting, they would charge into the beams and disrupt the retreat. Why not? They had nothing to lose. He could see many of the doomed people screaming to the blackened sky, begging the random transporters to take them.
He tapped his com medallion and said, "Worf to Mission Command."
"Command here," answered a female officer. "Ambassador, do you know we only have five minutes before -- "
"Yes," he answered testily. "Lock on to the signal of myself and the security detail. We all need to go at once, because our position will be overrun. Acknowledge."
"Acknowledged. Then we must suspend rescue operations."
"Yes," answered Worf, ducking from an errant bottle thrown his way. "Recall the shuttlecraft."
No sooner had the words escaped from his lips than one of the shuttlecraft swooped close into the crowd, attempting to land. That should have sent the mob scurrying, but instead one of them in a uniform knelt down and shot what looked like a phaser beam into the underbelly of the shuttlecraft. It exploded in a rupture of power packs and fuel that blew out the impulse engines and sent the craft plunging into the shrieking crowd. The vessel wasn't more than five meters off the ground before it dove, so no one in the path had time to get away. From the spot of the crash, a wave of shock spread among the rabble like ripples in a pool, as they tried to flee. But there was nowhere to run, because no place on the planet was safe with the Genesis Wave bearing down on them.
"Hold that transport order!" shouted Worf into his com device. "One of the shuttlecraft has crashed into the crowd -- brought down by hostile fire."
Several of his officers were already shooting vengefully into the mob, trying to drive them back from the flaming wreck. It would never fly again, but the passenger cabin was built to withstand impact, fire, and planetary reentry. Despite its singed appearance, it wasn't badly damaged. There was a good chance that the two-member crew had survived the crash, but they wouldn't survive that rabid crowd for long.
"Command, lock on to the crew of the downed shuttlecraft," ordered Worf.
"Unable to, my lord," she answered. "There's a neutrino radiation leak, probably from the cryo reactants in the coil assembly. Scanner readings are unreliable, and we'd have to get them out of there fast. Of course, we have less than five minutes, anyway. Let us proceed with your transportation at once."
The locals were leaping into the flames of the wreck, and some scrambled to the top of the shuttlecraft and began to pull at latches and hatches. When his men picked them off with shots that were dangerously close to the craft, Worf yelled, "Squadron, hold your fire! Follow me to the shuttlecraft and surround it. SuH tugh!"
Worf waved his arm and led the charge down the hill into the crazed masses, already driven more frantic by the crash. The weight of impending doom hung over all of them, and he wondered when they would cease this denial. They had to stop rioting and prepare themselves to meet death with dignity. Then again, he thought, maybe Klingons would have behaved the same way, because it was natural to want to fight such a cruel fate. With steely reserve, he joined his men in shooting defenseless, unarmed citizens who were crowding in against them, as he fought his way toward the fallen shuttlecraft. His troops were spread out behind him, some of them too far back.
"Don't let them take your weapons!" he ordered. "Don't let them touch you -- keep them back!" But the huge crowd had figured out what the Klingons were doing, and it pressed forward like an octopus wrapping its tentacles around a small fish. Despite the mayhem the Klingons unleashed upon them, this doomed populace had no reason to resist mob rule and every reason to discount death. He heard a mangled shout in Klingon and turned to see an officer at the end of the column get swamped by half a dozen rioters. His fellows tried to blast the attackers, but they couldn't fire with abandon for fear of hitting their comrade.
While Worf's attention was distracted, one man jumped him, while another grabbed his legs. He smashed the first attacker with the butt of his disruptor rifle and kicked fiercely at the second, while he sent an arcing disruptor beam through the crowd. Only turning into a berserk madman allowed him to fight his way through them, but he was determined enough to reach the smoldering wreck of the shuttlecraft. He slammed against the singed gray hull, glad that no one could reach him from behind, and pawed his com medallion.
"Worf to Mission Command!" he barked. "Evacuate as many of the away team as you can, immediately."
"Yes sir," she replied. "We cannot get a lock on you or anyone near the shuttlecraft, because of the interference."
With relief, Worf saw the closest three of his men disappear in a sparkling mosaic of transporter molecules, and he shot a beam into the crowd to keep them at bay. Most looked confused and stunned, or contrite, and only a few were enraged to the point of insanity, but these few were enough to cause considerable trouble. He looked back at the shuttlecraft and thought he heard someone banging from inside. Then again, it could have been the mob shaking the craft from the other side.
"MajQa'," he told Mission Command. "Evacuate our men but keep one transporter room open for me and the survivors. Give me a countdown when we near our drop-dead departure time."
"With all due respect, Ambassador, our drop-dead countdown ended thirty seconds ago. Only the flagship remains in orbit." Her voice grew steely. "We want you back now."
"Keep taking the away team!" answered Worf, shooting a rabid citizen who rushed him with a shovel in his hands. "Give me a chance to free them -- beam us up when we get away from the wreck. If you're not present then, I will understand."
"Pulling back to maximum transporter range, with best trajectory for emergency warp escape," reported Command icily, as if she were talking to a dead man. "We will remember you with honor. End contact."
Worf was glad he had fired his disruptor very little until now, because he needed to constantly rake the crowd with the deadly beam in order to keep them away. Those in front often didn't want to come closer but were pushed by the mob from behind -- everyone wanted to see the bungling Klingons who had failed to save them. More than a few wanted to tear him apart. They blamed the Federation, because this awful weapon had originated with them, even if no one knew who wielded it now. Then Starfleet had promised more help than they could deliver, even when aided by both the Klingons and Romulans. Worf didn't know who in the Federation had done all the promising to the doomed Genesis worlds, but he would look them up when this was over.
He heard a bang above his head and was alerted a second before someone slid over the top of the shuttlecraft and onto his back. The attacker tried to get his weapon, and Worf gave him the butt of it in his midsection. In fighting this close, he'd rather have a bat'leth than this useless rifle. Still, Worf managed to batter the attacker away, mow down a few more in the wailing crowd, and jump up on a strut. From there he scrambled to the top of the boxy craft, which was meant to carry sixteen passengers, or fourteen fully equipped warriors. Now standing atop the shuttle, Worf was bombarded by rocks and other thrown debris. He crouched down and lowered his bone-plated forehead to take most of the lumps, while his hands worked on opening the side hatch, which faced upward. It took only a few seconds to realize it was jammed shut. Brute strength wouldn't open it, and time was running out.
He banged on the hatch with his rifle and shouted, "Are you alive?"
"Yes! Yes!" He heard a faint voice, which was enough to keep him working, despite the abuse he was absorbing. There was no rear door on this vessel, and the other door was under the dirt. So he pulled a small explosive device, a jorwI', from his sash, set it for five seconds, and placed it inside the recessed latch compartment. An egg suddenly hit him on the left side of his face and dribbled down his chin, but he ignored it while he drew another jorwI' from his sash. This charge he placed where the impact had formed a crack in the hatch's seal.
"Get back!" he bellowed to the survivors inside. "Explosive charge!"
With that, Worf armed both devices at the same instant, not seeing the crazed citizen reach the top of the craft. As Worf stood up, the local charged him and grabbed his waist, knocking the disruptor rifle out of his hands. Worf wanted to jump off before the explosion; instead he had to battle the deranged man while the seconds ticked away on the charges. Not only that, but somebody had grabbed his fallen disruptor rifle, and blasted a wild beam that went streaking over his head.
Worf whirled his attacker around just as the beam sliced into the man's back, shielding Worf from the deadly disruptor. His scream turned into a gurgle as the blast hit his body in a blazing yellow burst. Worf jumped off the opposite side of the shuttlecraft, just as another errant beam crackled through the air. The twin explosions went off, hurling Worf another few feet into the crowd. He rolled in a somersault, reached for his mek'leth, and came up slashing anyone who tried to mob him.
He fought his way back to the crushed hull of the shuttlecraft, just in time to see a pilot clamber out the smoking hatch on top. A disruptor beam sheared the hull, shooting sparks, but the pilot was armed and fired back. He continued to fire at the crowd, while his comrade crawled out -- she was holding her arm and had blood on her vest, clearly wounded. Still the crowd was enraged at the sight of these two would-be rescuers, who could still escape the horrible fate that awaited their whole planet. The screaming throng surged like an ocean in a storm, threatening to engulf the shuttlecraft, and Worf wasn't sure they could get far enough away from it to be rescued.
"Look at the sky!" shouted someone. Then everyone cried the same words.
Attention was diverted from the three Klingons and their wrecked vessel to the northern sky, where the gray clouds had just turned a vivid green. A flaming curtain swept over the distant mountains, throbbing and mutating as if distorted by heat. Distant majestic peaks erupted in fury, disappearing into rolling clouds of ash and steam.
"tugh!" shouted Worf, waving for his comrades to follow him as he ran from the shuttle. The two pilots leaped into the crowd, many of whom had fallen to their knees in awe and supplication, and they reached Worf just as the tingle of the transporter beam gripped his spine. He felt the ground trembling and saw the buildings and monorails writhe like snakes on fire. Then mercifully their molecules disappeared from the planet just as the monstrous wall of neon fire blasted every animal, rock, and blade of grass into a churning mass of grotesque tissue.
Worf and the two shuttle pilots collapsed onto a transporter pad in a dimly lit Klingon vessel. "Qapla'!" exclaimed the transporter operator, as another crew member slapped him on the back. "Transporter room six to bridge," he barked. "Ambassador Worf and two crew members have been recovered. Request medical attention."
"Acknowledged," came the answer from the first officer. "Ambassador, emergency departure was successful, and we are now at warp eight, moving quickest route out of the path of the Genesis Wave. We have refugees to deliver at Starbase 309. After that, do you have any orders?"
Worf rose to his feet and shook the dirt and garbage off his uniform, while an underling handed him fresh ambassadorial robes. He wiped the drying egg off his face, too, and it reminded him of a Terran colloquialism. Having egg on his face was fitting, because this effort had been anything but a success. Their combined response to this terrible disaster bordered on failure, and he was supposed to be the Klingons' liaison to the Federation. They couldn't begin to move fast enough, and Starfleet had so far failed to find the source of the wave. It was too late for billions of souls --
"I want to visit one of these wrecked planets to see the aftermath," answered Worf with grim determination. "I've seen it coming straight toward me, and now I want to see what it has left behind. There will be a time of reckoning."
"As you say, my lord," agreed the first officer. "Setting course for Starbase 309."
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