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Star Trek The Next Generation #54: Double Helix #4: Quarantine [NOOK Book]

Overview

Like intertwining filaments of human and alien DNA, a ruthless campaign of revenge has threaded its way through the galaxy, touching billions of sentient beings -- and changing forever the life of Lieutenant Thomas Riker.
Tom Riker, an identical duplicate of the Starship Enterprise's™ first officer, is serving as a Starfleet medical courier when he encounters a group of Maquis renegades, led by a former Starfleet officer named Chakotay. A planet in the Demilitarized Zone, now ...
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Star Trek The Next Generation #54: Double Helix #4: Quarantine

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Overview

Like intertwining filaments of human and alien DNA, a ruthless campaign of revenge has threaded its way through the galaxy, touching billions of sentient beings -- and changing forever the life of Lieutenant Thomas Riker.
Tom Riker, an identical duplicate of the Starship Enterprise's™ first officer, is serving as a Starfleet medical courier when he encounters a group of Maquis renegades, led by a former Starfleet officer named Chakotay. A planet in the Demilitarized Zone, now controlled by the Cardassians, has been stricken with the same deadly disease that has plagued the Alpha Quadrant for years, and only Riker can get the medical supplies the Maquis so desperately need. But the Cardassians would rather destroy all life on the planet than risk letting the epidemic spread!
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
When the plague that has been ravaging the Alpha Quadrant for years rears its ugly head, the Cardassians decide to sacrifice all life on the planet rather than risk its spread. Another mass market original.
Jim Killen
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743421348
  • Publisher: Pocket Books/Star Trek
  • Publication date: 9/22/2000
  • Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation Series , #54
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 288
  • File size: 482 KB

Read an Excerpt


Chapter One

The Peregrine-class scout ship looked much like the falcon that inspired her design, with a beaklike bow and sweeping wings that enabled her to streak through a planet's atmosphere. Her sleek lines were marred by various scorch marks and dents, which left her looking like an old raptor with many scars. Larger than a shuttlecraft yet smaller than a cruiser, she was better armed than most ships her size, with forward and rear torpedoes plus phaser emitters on her wings.

Her bridge was designed to be operated efficiently by three people, allowing her to carry a crew of only fifteen. The engine room took up all three decks of her stern, and most of the crew served there. This proud vessel was state of the art for a scout ship -- about forty years ago. Now she was practically the flagship of the Maquis fleet.

"What's the name of our ship?" asked her captain, a man named Chakotay. His black hair was cut short and severe, which suited his angular face and the prominent tattoo that stretched across half his forehead.

Tuvok, the Vulcan who served as first officer, consulted the registry on his computer screen. "She is called the Spartacus. The warp signature has already been modified."

Chakotay nodded with satisfaction. "I like that name."

On his right, an attractive woman who looked vaguely Klingon scowled at him. "Let me guess," said B'Elanna Torres. "Spartacus was some ancient human who led a revolution somewhere."

Captain Chakotay smiled. "That's right. He was a slave and a gladiator who led a revolt against Rome, the greatest power of its day. For two years, he held out against every Roman legion thrown against him."

"And how did this grand revolution end?" asked Torres.

When Chakotay didn't answer right away, Tuvok remarked, "He and all of his followers were crucified. Crucifiction is quite possibly the most barbaric form of capital punishment ever invented."

Torres snorted a laugh. "It's always good to know that my human ancestors could match my Klingon ancestors in barbarism. Considering what happened to Spartacus, let's not put him on too high a pedestal."

"It's still a good name," said Chakotay stubbornly. Like many Native Americans, he believed that names were important -- that words held power. He didn't like having to change the name and warp signature of his ship all the time, but it was important to make their enemies think that the Maquis had more ships than they actually had.

"We've reached the rendezvous point," announced the captain. "I'm bringing us out of warp." Operating the conn himself, he slowed the craft down to one-third impulse, and they cruised through a deserted solar system sprinkled with occasional fields of planetary debris.

"Captain Rowan is hailing us on a secure frequency," reported Tuvok. "Their ETA is less than one minute."

"Acknowledge," answered the captain. "But no more until they get here."

While Tuvok sent the message, B'Elanna Torres worked her console. "There are no Cardassian ships in scanner range," she reported.

"Still I don't want to be here more than a couple of minutes." Chakotay's worried gaze traveled from the small viewscreen to the even smaller window below it. There was nothing in sight but the vast starscape and a few jagged clumps of debris. This area appeared deserted, but Chakotay had learned from hard experience that it was wise to keep moving in the Demilitarized Zone.

"They're coming out of warp," said Torres.

Chakotay watched on the viewscreen as a Bajoran assault vessel appeared about a thousand kilometers off the starboard bow. The dagger-shaped spacecraft was slightly larger than the Spartacus, but she wasn't as maneuverable or as fast. Like Chakotay's ship, her blue-gray hull was pocked and pitted with the wounds of battle.

"Captain Rowan is hailing us," said Tuvok.

"On screen." Chakotay managed a smile as he greeted his counterpart on the other Maquis ship. Patricia Rowan looked every centimeter a warrior, from her scarred, gaunt face to the red eye patch that covered one eye. Her blond hair was streaked with premature gray, and it was pulled back into a tight bun. Captain Rowan had gotten a well-deserved reputation for ruthlessness, and Chakotay was cordial to her but couldn't quite bring himself to call her a friend.

"Hello, Patricia."

"Hello, Chakotay," she answered. "The Singha is reporting for duty under your command. What's our mission?"

"Do you know the planet Helena?"

"Only by reputation. Wasn't it abandoned when the Federation betrayed us?"

"No," answered Chakotay. "The Helenites opted for the same legal status as the residents of Dorvan V. Instead of being relocated, they chose to give up their Federation citizenship and remain on the planet, under Cardassian rule."

"Then to hell with them," said Rowan bluntly.

Chakotay ignored her harsh words. "The Helenites have always marched to their own drum. The planet was settled by mixed-race colonists who were trying to escape discrimination in the rest of the Federation. There are some Maquis sympathizers on Helena, and we've been getting periodic reports from them. Two weeks ago, they sent a message that Cardassian troops had arrived, then we lost all contact. There hasn't been a transmission from the planet since then. It might be a crackdown, maybe even total extermination. For all we know, the Cardassians could be testing planet-killing weapons."

"They're not Maquis," said Rowan stubbornly.

Chakotay's jaw clenched with anger. "We can't just abandon four million people. We have to find out what's happening there, and help them if we can."

"Then it's an intelligence mission," replied Captain Rowan, sounding content with that definition.

Chakotay nodded and slowly relaxed his jaw. One of the drawbacks of being in a loose-knit organization like the Maquis was that orders were not always followed immediately. Sometimes a commander had to explain the situation in order to convince his subordinates to act. Of course, fighting a guerrilla war against two vastly superior foes would make anyone cautious, and Maquis captains were used to acting on their own discretion. Sometimes the chain of command was as flimsy as a gaseous nebula.

Captain Rowan's scowl softened for an instant. "Chakotay, the people on Dorvan V are from your own culture. Wouldn't it make more sense to find out what happened to them instead of racing to help a bunch of mixed-breeds on Helena?"

Chakotay couldn't tell if Rowan was bigoted or just callous. He glanced at Torres and saw her shake her head. "Good thing there are no psychological tests to join the Maquis," she whispered.

"Did you say something?" demanded Captain Rowan.

Chakotay cleared his throat. "She said the Helenites are not really, uh, mixed-breeds -- they're hybrids, genetically bred. I've heard their whole social structure is based on genetics, the more unique your genetic heritage, the higher your social status."

"A fascinating culture," added Tuvok without looking up from his console. Rowan grimaced, but remained silent.

Chakotay went on, "As for my people on Dorvan V...yes, I'm worried about them. But that's a small village, and they've chosen to live in peace with the land, using minimal technology. They're not much of a threat, and of no strategic value, either -- the Cardassians will probably leave them alone. But Helena was a thriving Federation planet with millions of inhabitants and a dozen spaceports. When they go silent, it's suspicious."

"How do we proceed?" asked Captain Rowan.

Chakotay gave her a grim smile. "Have you ever played cowboys and Indians?"

Observing the planet on the viewscreen, Captain Chakotay was struck by how Earth-like it was, with vast aquamarine oceans and wispy cloud cover. Helena had small twin moons that orbited each other as they orbited the planet, and he could see their silhouettes against the sparkling sea. Small green continents were scattered across the great waters, but they seemed insignificant next to all that blue. The lush hues were accentuated by a giant red sun glowing in the distance.

On second glance, Chakotay decided that Helena looked more like Pacifica than Earth. Here was yet another beautiful planet stolen by the Cardassians, while the Federation looked the other way.

"One ship in orbit," reported B'Elanna Torres. "A Cardassian military freighter. They use those for troop transports, too, and they can be heavily armed."

Chakotay nodded and spread his fingers over the helm controls. "Let's keep it to one ship. Tuvok, as soon as we come out of warp, target their communications array with photon torpedoes and fire at will. I don't want them sending for help."

"Yes, sir," answered the Vulcan, who was preternaturally calm, considering they were about to attack a ship that was ten times larger than they were.

"Then hit their sensor arrays, so they have to concentrate on us."

"What about their weapons?" snapped Torres. "I hope you aren't planning to take a lot of damage."

"No more than usual." Captain Chakotay smiled confidently and pressed the comm panel. "Seska, report to the bridge for relief."

"Yes, sir," answered the Bajoran. She was only one deck below them, in the forward torpedo bay, and Chakotay heard her footsteps clanging on the ladder behind them. Now if B'Elanna had to go to engineering, they were covered.

The captain hit the comm panel, and his voice echoed throughout the ship. "All hands, Red Alert! Battlestations."

Like the falcon that inspired the Peregrine-class, the Spartacus swooped out of warp, her talons bared, spitting photon torpedoes in rapid bursts. Plumes of flame rose along the dorsal fin of the sturgeon-shaped Cardassian freighter, and dishes, deflectors, and antennas snapped like burnt matchsticks. Shields quickly compensated, and the next volley was repelled, as the lumbering, copper-colored vessel turned to defend herself.

Phasers beamed from the wing tips of the Spartacus, bathing the freighter in vibrant blue light. Although damage to the hull was minimal, the enemy's sensor arrays crackled like a lightning storm. Despite her damage, the freighter unleashed a barrage of phaser fire, and the Spartacus was rocked as she streaked past. With the larger ship on her tail, blasting away, the Maquis ship was forced into a low orbit. A desperate chase ensued, with the blue seas of Helena glmmering peacefully in the background.

"Full power to aft shields!" ordered Chakotay.

"Aye, sir," answered Torres.

They were jolted again by enemy fire, and Chakotay had to grip his chair to keep from falling out. From the corner of his eye, he saw Seska stagger onto the bridge and take a seat at an auxilary console. There was a worried look on her face.

"We can't take much more of this," said Torres.

"Making evasive maneuvers," answered Chakotay.

Zigging and zagging, the Maquis ship avoided most of the Cardassian volleys, but the larger ship bore down on them, cutting the distance with every second. Chakotay knew he would soon be in their sights, but his options were limited this close to the planet. He had a course to keep...and a rendezvous.

The two ships -- a sardine chased by a barracuda -- sped around the gently curved horizon and headed toward the blazing red sun in the distance. On the bridge, Chakotay pounded a button to dampen the light from the viewscreen, the glare was so bright. But if he couldn't see, they couldn't either. He felt the thrill of the hunt as he prepared to use one of the oldest tactics of his ancestors.

A direct hit jarred them, releasing an acrid plume of smoke from somewhere on the bridge. The ship began to vibrate as they started into the atmosphere.

"Shields weakening," reported Tuvok.

"Just a little longer," muttered Chakotay. He made another sharp turn, but quickly veered back toward the sun. The Cardassians increased their fire, as if worried that she would escape into the planet's atmosphere. Since the Spartacus wasn't returning fire, they had to to assume she was trying to land on the planet.

"They're powering up a tractor beam," said Torres urgently. "Their shields are...down!"

"Now!" barked the captain. Tuvok's hand moved from the weapons console to the comm board, while Chakotay steered his craft vertically into the horizon, trying to present a small target. The Cardassians had swallowed the bait, and now the trap snapped shut.

A Bajoran assault vessel streaked out of warp in the middle of the sun's glare. Chakotay knew the Singha was there, but he could barely see her on the viewscreen. The Cardassian vessel didn't see her at all, so intent were they upon capturing their prey.

With her shields down, the freighter's bridge took a direct hit from a brace of torpedoes, and lightning crackled along the length of her golden hull. The freighter went dark, but she lit up again as the Singha veered around and raked her hull with phasers, tearing jagged gashes in the gleaming metal. The Cardassians got off a few desperate shots, but the Singha raced past them unharmed.

"Aft torpedoes," ordered Chakotay. "Fire!"

With deadly precision, the Vulcan launched a brace of torpedoes that hit the freighter amidships and nearly broke her in two. Chakotay cringed at the explosions that ripped along her gleaming hull, and he made a silent prayer on behalf of the fallen enemy They were more arrogant than smart, but they had died bravely. Fortunately, that trick always worked on the arrogant. At a cockeyed angle, spewing smoke and flame, the massive freighter dropped into a decaying orbit.

Chakotay piloted the Spartacus into a safe orbit that trailed behind the dying ship. "Hail them."

Tuvok shook his head. "Their communications are out, and life support is failing. They have about six minutes left before they burn up in the atmosphere."

The cheerful voice of Captain Rowan broke in on the comm channel. "That was good hunting, Chakotay, and a good plan. What's next?"

"Enter standard orbit and see if you can raise anyone on the planet. We're going to take a prisoner, if we can."

He tapped the comm panel. "Bridge to transporter room. Scan the bridge of the enemy ship -- see if you can find any lifesigns."

"Yes, sir." After a moment's pause, the technician answered, "Most of them are dead. There's one weak lifesign -- "

"Lock onto it and wait for me. I'm on my way." The captain jumped to his feet "Tuvok, grab a medkit -- you're with me. B'Elanna, you have the bridge. Keep scanning the planet, and try to raise someone Seska, you have the conn. Keep us in orbit."

"Aye, sir." The attractive Bajoran slid into the vacated seat and gave him a playful smile. "This looks like a nice place for shore leave. What do you say, Captain?"

"I'll put you on the away team," promised Chakotay. He took another glance at the viewscreen and saw the smoking hulk of the freighter plummeting toward the beautiful blue horizon.

The captain led the way from the clam-shaped bridge to the central corridor which ran like a backbone down the length of the Spartacus. He jogged to the second batch and dropped onto the ladder with practiced efficiency, while Tuvok stopped at a storage panel to pick up a medkit.

Dropping off the ladder, Chakotay landed in the second largest station on the ship after engineering: the combined transporter room and cargo hold. Not that they had any cargo to speak of -- every spare centimeter was filled with weapons, explosives, and photon torpedoes, stacked like cordwood.

He drew his phaser and nodded toward the Bolian on the transporter console. The blue-skinned humanoid manipulated some old trimpot slides, and a prone figure began to materialize on the transporter platform. Chakotay heard Tuvok's footsteps as he landed on the deck, but he never took his eyes, or his phaser, off the wounded figure.

It was a male Cardassian, with singed clothes, a bruised face, and bloodied, crushed legs. With their prominent bone structure and sunken eyes, most Cardassian faces looked like skulls, but this one looked closer to death than usual.

"According to his insignia, he's the first officer," said Tuvok.

The Cardassian blinked his eyes and focused slowly on them. When be realized where he was, he wheezed with laughter. "Are you trying to save us?"

"Lie still," answered Chakotay. He motioned Tuvok forward with the medkit, but the Cardassian waved him off.

"Too late," he said with a cough. The Cardassian lifted his black sleeve to his mouth and bit off a small black button. Before anyone could react, he swallowed it. "I won't be captured...by the Maquis."

"What are you doing on this planet?" demanded Chakotay. "Why don't you leave these people alone?"

A rattle issued from the Cardassian's throat, and it was hard to tell whether he was laughing, crying, or dying. "You beat us...but all you won was a curse."

The Cardassian's bloodied head dropped onto the platform with a thud, and his previously wheezing chest was now still. Tuvok checked the medical tricorder and reported, "He has expired."

Chatokay nodded. "Beam his body back to his ship. Let him burn with his comrades."

"Yes, sir," answered the Bolian. A second later, every trace of the Cardassian officer was gone.

The captain strode over to the transporter console and tapped the comm panel. "Chakotay to bridge. Have you or the Singha raised anyone on the planet?"

"No, sir," answered Torres. "But we detected a strong power source that suddenly went dark. It could be a Cardassian installation."

"Are you picking up lifesigns on the planet?"

"Lots of them," answered Torres.

"Pick a strong concentration of lifesigns and send the coordinates to the transporter room. Tuvok and I are going down."

"Okay," answered Torres. "Did you get a prisoner?"

"For only a few seconds -- we didn't learn anything. Chakotay out." The captain reached into a tray on the transporter console and grabbed two Deltan combadges, one of which he tossed to Tuvok. The Spartacus was so small that they seldom needed combadges while on the ship; they saved them for away teams.

"I've got the coordinates," said the Bolian technician. "It appears to be the spaceport in the city of Padulla."

"Fine." Captain Chakotay jumped onto the transporter platform and took his place on the middle pad. Tuvok stepped beside him, slinging the medkit and tricorder over his shoulder.

"Energize."

A familiar tingle gripped Chakotay's spine, as the transporter room faded from view, to be replaced by a cavernous spaceport with high, vaulted ceilings covered with impressive murals. The captain expected to see a crowd of people, but he expected them to be standing on their feet -- not lying in haphazard rows stretching the length of the vast terminal. This looked like a field hospital, thrown together to house the wounded from some monstrous battle. Coughs and groans echoed in the rancid air.

His first impression was that the Cardassians had wreaked terrible destruction on the people of Helena, and he started toward the nearest patient.

"Captain!" warned Tuvok. "Keep your distance from them."

He turned to see the Vulcan intently working his medical tricorder. This caused Chakotay to look more closely at the nearest patient, who was swaddled in a soiled blanket, lying on top of a grass mat, surrounded by filth.

The man wasn't wounded -- he had oozing pustules and black bruises on his face and limbs, and his yellow hair was plastered to his sweaty forehead. Although his species was familiar to Chakotay, his skin had a deathly pallor, just like the Cardassian's had. Chakotay took a step away from him.

Another patient finally noticed the visitors. She propped herself up with some difficulty and began to crawl toward them. Others saw the away team as well, and a chorus of desperate voices rent the air. Some of their words were incoherent, but Chakotay could make out a few phrases as the people crawled forward: "Help us! Save me! Kill me!"

"What's the matter with them?" he whispered to Tuvok.

"A serious illness," answered the Vulcan with tight-lipped understatement.

Chakotay tapped his combadge. "Away team to transporter room. Beam us up, but on a ten-second delay. Get out of the transporter room before we materialize."

"Yes, sir," said the Bolian, not hiding the worry in his voice. "Is everything all right?"

"No," answered Chakotay as he stepped away from the advancing tide of disease and death. "It's not."

Copyright © 1999 by Paramount Pictures

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First Chapter

Chapter One

The Peregrine-class scout ship looked much like the falcon that inspired her design, with a beaklike bow and sweeping wings that enabled her to streak through a planet's atmosphere. Her sleek lines were marred by various scorch marks and dents, which left her looking like an old raptor with many scars. Larger than a shuttlecraft yet smaller than a cruiser, she was better armed than most ships her size, with forward and rear torpedoes plus phaser emitters on her wings.

Her bridge was designed to be operated efficiently by three people, allowing her to carry a crew of only fifteen. The engine room took up all three decks of her stern, and most of the crew served there. This proud vessel was state of the art for a scout ship -- about forty years ago. Now she was practically the flagship of the Maquis fleet.

"What's the name of our ship?" asked her captain, a man named Chakotay. His black hair was cut short and severe, which suited his angular face and the prominent tattoo that stretched across half his forehead.

Tuvok, the Vulcan who served as first officer, consulted the registry on his computer screen. "She is called the Spartacus. The warp signature has already been modified."

Chakotay nodded with satisfaction. "I like that name."

On his right, an attractive woman who looked vaguely Klingon scowled at him. "Let me guess," said B'Elanna Torres. "Spartacus was some ancient human who led a revolution somewhere."

Captain Chakotay smiled. "That's right. He was a slave and a gladiator who led a revolt against Rome, the greatest power of its day. For two years, he held out against every Roman legion thrown against him."

"And how didmilitarized Zone.

"They're coming out of warp," said Torres.

Chakotay watched on the viewscreen as a Bajoran assault vessel appeared about a thousand kilometers off the starboard bow. The dagger-shaped spacecraft was slightly larger than the Spartacus, but she wasn't as maneuverable or as fast. Like Chakotay's ship, her blue-gray hull was pocked and pitted with the wounds of battle.

"Captain Rowan is hailing us," said Tuvok.

"On screen." Chakotay managed a smile as he greeted his counterpart on the other Maquis ship. Patricia Rowan looked every centimeter a warrior, from her scarred, gaunt face to the red eye patch that covered one eye. Her blond hair was streaked with premature gray, and it was pulled back into a tight bun. Captain Rowan had gotten a well-deserved reputation for ruthlessness, and Chakotay was cordial to her but couldn't quite bring himself to call her a friend.

"Hello, Patricia."

"Hello, Chakotay," she answered. "The Singha is reporting for duty under your command. What's our mission?"

"Do you know the planet Helena?"

"Only by reputation. Wasn't it abandoned when the Federation betrayed us?"

"No," answered Chakotay. "The Helenites opted for the same legal status as the residents of Dorvan V. Instead of being relocated, they chose to give up their Federation citizenship and remain on the planet, under Cardassian rule."

"Then to hell with them," said Rowan bluntly.

Chakotay ignored her harsh words. "The Helenites have always marched to their own drum. The planet was settled by mixed-race colonists who were trying to escape discrimination in the rest of the Federation. There are some Maquis sympathizers on Helena, and we've been getting periodic rep orts from them. Two weeks ago, they sent a message that Cardassian troops had arrived, then we lost all contact. There hasn't been a transmission from the planet since then. It might be a crackdown, maybe even total extermination. For all we know, the Cardassians could be testing planet-killing weapons."

"They're not Maquis," said Rowan stubbornly.

Chakotay's jaw clenched with anger. "We can't just abandon four million people. We have to find out what's happening there, and help them if we can."

"Then it's an intelligence mission," replied Captain Rowan, sounding content with that definition.

Chakotay nodded and slowly relaxed his jaw. One of the drawbacks of being in a loose-knit organization like the Maquis was that orders were not always followed immediately. Sometimes a commander had to explain the situation in order to convince his subordinates to act. Of course, fighting a guerrilla war against two vastly superior foes would make anyone cautious, and Maquis captains were used to acting on their own discretion. Sometimes the chain of command was as flimsy as a gaseous nebula.

Captain Rowan's scowl softened for an instant. "Chakotay, the people on Dorvan V are from your own culture. Wouldn't it make more sense to find out what happened to them instead of racing to help a bunch of mixed-breeds on Helena?"

Chakotay couldn't tell if Rowan was bigoted or just callous. He glanced at Torres and saw her shake her head. "Good thing there are no psychological tests to join the Maquis," she whispered.

"Did you say something?" demanded Captain Rowan.

Chakotay cleared his throat. "She said the Helenites are not really, uh, mixed-breeds -- they're hybrids, genetically bred. I've heard their whole social structure is based on genetics, the more unique your genetic heritage, the higher your social status."

"A fascinating culture," added Tuvok without looking up from his console. Rowan grimaced, but remained silent.

Chakotay went on, "As for my people on Dorvan V...yes, I'm worried about them. But that's a small village, and they've chosen to live in peace with the land, using minimal technology. They're not much of a threat, and of no strategic value, either -- the Cardassians will probably leave them alone. But Helena was a thriving Federation planet with millions of inhabitants and a dozen spaceports. When they go silent, it's suspicious."

"How do we proceed?" asked Captain Rowan.

Chakotay gave her a grim smile. "Have you ever played cowboys and Indians?"


Observing the planet on the viewscreen, Captain Chakotay was struck by how Earth-like it was, with vast aquamarine oceans and wispy cloud cover. Helena had small twin moons that orbited each other as they orbited the planet, and he could see their silhouettes against the sparkling sea. Small green continents were scattered across the great waters, but they seemed insignificant next to all that blue. The lush hues were accentuated by a giant red sun glowing in the distance.

On second glance, Chakotay decided that Helena looked more like Pacifica than Earth. Here was yet another beautiful planet stolen by the Cardassians, while the Federation looked the other way.

"One ship in orbit," reported B'Elanna Torres. "A Cardassian military freighter. They use those for troop transports, too, and they can be heavily armed."

Chakotay nodded and spread his fingers over the helm controls. "Let's keep it to one ship. Tuvok , as soon as we come out of warp, target their communications array with photon torpedoes and fire at will. I don't want them sending for help."

"Yes, sir," answered the Vulcan, who was preternaturally calm, considering they were about to attack a ship that was ten times larger than they were.

"Then hit their sensor arrays, so they have to concentrate on us."

"What about their weapons?" snapped Torres. "I hope you aren't planning to take a lot of damage."

"No more than usual." Captain Chakotay smiled confidently and pressed the comm panel. "Seska, report to the bridge for relief."

"Yes, sir," answered the Bajoran. She was only one deck below them, in the forward torpedo bay, and Chakotay heard her footsteps clanging on the ladder behind them. Now if B'Elanna had to go to engineering, they were covered.

The captain hit the comm panel, and his voice echoed throughout the ship. "All hands, Red Alert! Battlestations."

Like the falcon that inspired the Peregrine-class, the Spartacus swooped out of warp, her talons bared, spitting photon torpedoes in rapid bursts. Plumes of flame rose along the dorsal fin of the sturgeon-shaped Cardassian freighter, and dishes, deflectors, and antennas snapped like burnt matchsticks. Shields quickly compensated, and the next volley was repelled, as the lumbering, copper-colored vessel turned to defend herself.

Phasers beamed from the wing tips of the Spartacus, bathing the freighter in vibrant blue light. Although damage to the hull was minimal, the enemy's sensor arrays crackled like a lightning storm. Despite her damage, the freighter unleashed a barrage of phaser fire, and the Spartacus was rocked as she streaked past . With the larger ship on her tail, blasting away, the Maquis ship was forced into a low orbit. A desperate chase ensued, with the blue seas of Helena glmmering peacefully in the background.

"Full power to aft shields!" ordered Chakotay.

"Aye, sir," answered Torres.

They were jolted again by enemy fire, and Chakotay had to grip his chair to keep from falling out. From the corner of his eye, he saw Seska stagger onto the bridge and take a seat at an auxilary console. There was a worried look on her face.

"We can't take much more of this," said Torres.

"Making evasive maneuvers," answered Chakotay.

Zigging and zagging, the Maquis ship avoided most of the Cardassian volleys, but the larger ship bore down on them, cutting the distance with every second. Chakotay knew he would soon be in their sights, but his options were limited this close to the planet. He had a course to keep...and a rendezvous.

The two ships -- a sardine chased by a barracuda -- sped around the gently curved horizon and headed toward the blazing red sun in the distance. On the bridge, Chakotay pounded a button to dampen the light from the viewscreen, the glare was so bright. But if he couldn't see, they couldn't either. He felt the thrill of the hunt as he prepared to use one of the oldest tactics of his ancestors.

A direct hit jarred them, releasing an acrid plume of smoke from somewhere on the bridge. The ship began to vibrate as they started into the atmosphere.

"Shields weakening," reported Tuvok.

"Just a little longer," muttered Chakotay. He made another sharp turn, but quickly veered back toward the sun. The Cardassians increased their fire, as if worried that she would escape into the planet's atmosphere. S ince the Spartacus wasn't returning fire, they had to to assume she was trying to land on the planet.

"They're powering up a tractor beam," said Torres urgently. "Their shields are...down!"

"Now!" barked the captain. Tuvok's hand moved from the weapons console to the comm board, while Chakotay steered his craft vertically into the horizon, trying to present a small target. The Cardassians had swallowed the bait, and now the trap snapped shut.

A Bajoran assault vessel streaked out of warp in the middle of the sun's glare. Chakotay knew the Singha was there, but he could barely see her on the viewscreen. The Cardassian vessel didn't see her at all, so intent were they upon capturing their prey.

With her shields down, the freighter's bridge took a direct hit from a brace of torpedoes, and lightning crackled along the length of her golden hull. The freighter went dark, but she lit up again as the Singha veered around and raked her hull with phasers, tearing jagged gashes in the gleaming metal. The Cardassians got off a few desperate shots, but the Singha raced past them unharmed.

"Aft torpedoes," ordered Chakotay. "Fire!"

With deadly precision, the Vulcan launched a brace of torpedoes that hit the freighter amidships and nearly broke her in two. Chakotay cringed at the explosions that ripped along her gleaming hull, and he made a silent prayer on behalf of the fallen enemy They were more arrogant than smart, but they had died bravely. Fortunately, that trick always worked on the arrogant. At a cockeyed angle, spewing smoke and flame, the massive freighter dropped into a decaying orbit.

Chakotay piloted the Spartacus into a safe orbit that trailed behind the dyin g ship. "Hail them."

Tuvok shook his head. "Their communications are out, and life support is failing. They have about six minutes left before they burn up in the atmosphere."

The cheerful voice of Captain Rowan broke in on the comm channel. "That was good hunting, Chakotay, and a good plan. What's next?"

"Enter standard orbit and see if you can raise anyone on the planet. We're going to take a prisoner, if we can."

He tapped the comm panel. "Bridge to transporter room. Scan the bridge of the enemy ship -- see if you can find any lifesigns."

"Yes, sir." After a moment's pause, the technician answered, "Most of them are dead. There's one weak lifesign -- "

"Lock onto it and wait for me. I'm on my way." The captain jumped to his feet "Tuvok, grab a medkit -- you're with me. B'Elanna, you have the bridge. Keep scanning the planet, and try to raise someone Seska, you have the conn. Keep us in orbit."

"Aye, sir." The attractive Bajoran slid into the vacated seat and gave him a playful smile. "This looks like a nice place for shore leave. What do you say, Captain?"

"I'll put you on the away team," promised Chakotay. He took another glance at the viewscreen and saw the smoking hulk of the freighter plummeting toward the beautiful blue horizon.

The captain led the way from the clam-shaped bridge to the central corridor which ran like a backbone down the length of the Spartacus. He jogged to the second batch and dropped onto the ladder with practiced efficiency, while Tuvok stopped at a storage panel to pick up a medkit.

Dropping off the ladder, Chakotay landed in the second largest station on the ship after engineering: the combined transporter room and cargo hold. Not that they h ad any cargo to speak of -- every spare centimeter was filled with weapons, explosives, and photon torpedoes, stacked like cordwood.

He drew his phaser and nodded toward the Bolian on the transporter console. The blue-skinned humanoid manipulated some old trimpot slides, and a prone figure began to materialize on the transporter platform. Chakotay heard Tuvok's footsteps as he landed on the deck, but he never took his eyes, or his phaser, off the wounded figure.

It was a male Cardassian, with singed clothes, a bruised face, and bloodied, crushed legs. With their prominent bone structure and sunken eyes, most Cardassian faces looked like skulls, but this one looked closer to death than usual.

"According to his insignia, he's the first officer," said Tuvok.

The Cardassian blinked his eyes and focused slowly on them. When be realized where he was, he wheezed with laughter. "Are you trying to save us?"

"Lie still," answered Chakotay. He motioned Tuvok forward with the medkit, but the Cardassian waved him off.

"Too late," he said with a cough. The Cardassian lifted his black sleeve to his mouth and bit off a small black button. Before anyone could react, he swallowed it. "I won't be captured...by the Maquis."

"What are you doing on this planet?" demanded Chakotay. "Why don't you leave these people alone?"

A rattle issued from the Cardassian's throat, and it was hard to tell whether he was laughing, crying, or dying. "You beat us...but all you won was a curse."

The Cardassian's bloodied head dropped onto the platform with a thud, and his previously wheezing chest was now still. Tuvok checked the medical tricorder and reported, "He has expired."

Chatokay nodded. "Beam his body back to h is ship. Let him burn with his comrades."

"Yes, sir," answered the Bolian. A second later, every trace of the Cardassian officer was gone.

The captain strode over to the transporter console and tapped the comm panel. "Chakotay to bridge. Have you or the Singha raised anyone on the planet?"

"No, sir," answered Torres. "But we detected a strong power source that suddenly went dark. It could be a Cardassian installation."

"Are you picking up lifesigns on the planet?"

"Lots of them," answered Torres.

"Pick a strong concentration of lifesigns and send the coordinates to the transporter room. Tuvok and I are going down."

"Okay," answered Torres. "Did you get a prisoner?"

"For only a few seconds -- we didn't learn anything. Chakotay out." The captain reached into a tray on the transporter console and grabbed two Deltan combadges, one of which he tossed to Tuvok. The Spartacus was so small that they seldom needed combadges while on the ship; they saved them for away teams.

"I've got the coordinates," said the Bolian technician. "It appears to be the spaceport in the city of Padulla."

"Fine." Captain Chakotay jumped onto the transporter platform and took his place on the middle pad. Tuvok stepped beside him, slinging the medkit and tricorder over his shoulder.

"Energize."

A familiar tingle gripped Chakotay's spine, as the transporter room faded from view, to be replaced by a cavernous spaceport with high, vaulted ceilings covered with impressive murals. The captain expected to see a crowd of people, but he expected them to be standing on their feet -- not lying in haphazard rows stretching the length of the vast terminal. This looked like a field hospital, thrown togeth er to house the wounded from some monstrous battle. Coughs and groans echoed in the rancid air.

His first impression was that the Cardassians had wreaked terrible destruction on the people of Helena, and he started toward the nearest patient.

"Captain!" warned Tuvok. "Keep your distance from them."

He turned to see the Vulcan intently working his medical tricorder. This caused Chakotay to look more closely at the nearest patient, who was swaddled in a soiled blanket, lying on top of a grass mat, surrounded by filth.

The man wasn't wounded -- he had oozing pustules and black bruises on his face and limbs, and his yellow hair was plastered to his sweaty forehead. Although his species was familiar to Chakotay, his skin had a deathly pallor, justlike the Cardassian's had. Chakotay took a step away from him.

Another patient finally noticed the visitors. She propped herself up with some difficulty and began to crawl toward them. Others saw the away team as well, and a chorus of desperate voices rent the air. Some of their words were incoherent, but Chakotay could make out a few phrases as the people crawled forward: "Help us! Save me! Kill me!"

"What's the matter with them?" he whispered to Tuvok.

"A serious illness," answered the Vulcan with tight-lipped understatement.

Chakotay tapped his combadge. "Away team to transporter room. Beam us up, but on a ten-second delay. Get out of the transporter room before we materialize."

"Yes, sir," said the Bolian, not hiding the worry in his voice. "Is everything all right?"

"No," answered Chakotay as he stepped away from the advancing tide of disease and death. "It's not."

Copyright © 1999 by Paramount Pictures

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