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Psi Phi's Star Trek Books Database



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Previous: Hollow Men
Next: Terok Nor: Day of the Vipers
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Mass-Market Paperback / April, 2006
1416507752

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Written by David Mack

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Excerpt:

That face.

Captain Kira's eyes lolled in Taran'atar's direction, glazed, unfocused, dimmed of vitality, downcast just shy of meeting the Jem'Hadar's unwavering stare. He did not know whether her failure to look into his eyes was the result of her fading strength or a silent expression of her reproach. She lay on her side, half-folded against the bulkhead, surrounded by a quickly spreading pool of her own bright-crimson blood. The ferric odor of it was sweet to Taran'atar, but he took no joy in it. His blade remained embedded in her chest, perfectly on target for her heart.

Next to her in the corridor, in front of the turbolift near his now abandoned quarters, Lieutenant Ro was sprawled on the deck. The acute angle of Ro's upper torso was a testament to the grievous nature of her injuries. Taking down the security chief first had been the wise choice. Kira was more experienced in personal combat, but trying to eliminate her first might have given the other Bajoran time to counterattack, thereby splitting Taran'atar's attention. He had chosen to remove Ro from the equation instantly, then focus solely on Kira.

He pressed the turbolift call button.

Looking down at Kira, a seething anger swelled inside him. Though it had been the Founder Odo who had dispatched Taran'atar to this miserable place, with orders to observe Alpha Quadrant species and cultures, all of Taran'atar's fury now was fixated on the Bajoran commanding officer of Deep Space 9. As much as she had done to earn his respect--especially because she had not needed to, since Odo had expressly ordered Taran'atar to obey Kira as he would obey Odo himself--she now had come to represent everything that he hated about his exile from the Dominion, from other Jem'Hadar, from the life he had been genetically designed to lead unto death.

Kira's breathing grew ragged and faltered into weak gasps.

The turbolift doors opened, and Taran'atar stepped inside. "Runabout Pad A," he said.

In her dying eyes, Kira's shock and sorrow were evident.

Tired of the oppressive weight of her gaze, Taran'atar purged his mind of unnecessary thoughts and shrouded himself. The turbolift doors closed. As the car ascended toward its destination, he withdrew to its rear left corner and coiled himself to strike, in case someone inadvertently joined him in the lift en route to the launch bay--or attempted to intercept him during his exit from the station.

The car's swift ascent slowed, and there was a faintly audible hum and clack of magnetic brakes and safety interlocks changing orientation as the turbolift switched to a horizontal track of movement. Seconds later the turbolift accelerated again, hurtling around the outer edge of the habitat ring.

In recent weeks Taran'atar had felt increasingly isolated and directionless, and the sense that he had deviated from the Jem'Hadar ideal had torn at him. A visit to the female Founder, held prisoner by the Federation at its secret Ananke Alpha detention facility, had only exacerbated Taran'atar's growing misgivings. For reasons about which he could only speculate, she had in essence denied her divinity, and also that of all the Founders. He had tried to ascribe her remarks to the strain of captivity, but that had only been the first of many, equally weak rationalizations. Could a true deity go mad?

Bereft of purpose, he now was robbed of his gods.

For the past three days, he had sequestered himself in his quarters. His agitation and confusion had fed upon and reinforced one another until at last he'd exploded in a fury. Unleashing his rage on hallucinations of the station's denizens, all of whom he had grown to loathe, he had within minutes destroyed the spare, ugly furnishings of his quarters, broken one tine off his blade by hurling it against the wall, and compromised the integrity of an interior bulkhead by hurling himself against it.

That had sounded an alarm, which had provoked Kira and Ro into hailing him. He had ignored them, prompting them to investigate.

Now he was leaving the station.

The confusion, the indecision, the lack of direction that had plagued him for weeks was gone. Clarity had returned with action. Forward motion was its own reward. Doubt had been replaced by certainty, by an absolute trust that he would know what measures to take when he arrived at his next juncture. He was beyond the vague directives of Odo, braving the uncharted waters of free will.

A deepening hum accompanied the deceleration of the turbolift. It stopped, and the doors opened with a low hiss. Taran'atar's senses detected no one in the corridor outside the turbolift. The turbolift gate opened. "Fusion core," he instructed the computer. "Grid twenty-two." Still shrouded, he slipped out of the turbolift before the gate slid shut. As the turbolift car sped away, he skulked toward the door to the maintenance hangar adjacent to Runabout Pad A.

There were muffled sounds of activity from the opposite side of the door. Taran'atar glanced through the curved pane of transparent aluminum in the rust-hued, circular portal. On the other side, a Bajoran man in a Starfleet engineer's uniform conferred with Ensign Prynn Tenmei, the senior flight controller of the U.S.S. Defiant. Parked on the elevator pad in the bay behind them was the Euphrates. The hangar's top doors retracted slowly into the hull, opening the compartment to space. Only an invisible forcefield stood between the two Starfleet personnel and a violent decompression experience. The engineer pointed out some details on a padd, gestured at the Euphrates, then handed the padd to Tenmei. She accepted it with a small nod, then the two separated and moved in different directions. The man passed through a door on the left side of the hangar, while Tenmei walked briskly toward the runabout and tapped her combadge. A moment later, the small ship's navigational thrusters began warming up with a resonant hum and whine that Taran'atar heard clearly through the door. Tenmei paused momentarily to inspect the runabout's port warp nacelle, then she perused her padd once more. She turned off the small data device and bounded up the step through the open port hatch of the Euphrates.

Taran'atar pressed the manual door-open button. The circular hatch rolled away. He stepped through quickly and tapped the door-close button on the other side as soon as he was clear of the threshold. Still shrouded, he took a whiff of the air. Fuel vapors and the odor of freshly fused duranium bonds masked most of the body scents, but only Tenmei's and the engineer's were fresh enough to be noticeable.

Confident that he was alone in the hangar, Taran'atar walked quickly toward the runabout and slipped gracefully sideways through its closing port hatch. He had expected to depart Deep Space 9 alone, but this scenario, he knew, was not without its advantages.

* * *

Prynn settled into the pilot's seat in the cockpit of the Euphrates. With her left hand she powered up the drive systems, and with her right she transmitted her flight plan to Lieutenant Dax in Ops. Though the runabout was far less complicated than the Defiant, she treated it with the same professional attention as she methodically worked through the protocol of a preflight check.

Routines and procedures had been a saving grace to her since her return from Andor. Her thoughts had remained anchored there--on Tower Hill, watching the lightning on the ocean and the wind whipping through Shar's flowing white hair--even as she herself had made the long journey back to Deep Space 9. Loneliness was not a novelty to Prynn, thanks in part to the absentee parenting style of Elias Vaughn, a career Starfleet officer who was never at a loss for urgent assignments.

Shar's absence, however, gnawed at her. She had let him go willingly; she had urged him to go, to leave her and embrace the start of a new path in his life... but now, back here, without him, she struggled not to succumb to regret. A future rich with possibilities that Shar thought he had lost had been offered to him, and Prynn hadn't been able to ask him to turn his back on his bondmates, on his family, on his people. Give up his birthright for me, she scolded her selfish side. I couldn't do that. I wouldn't.

Inhaling sharply, she turned her mind back to the task in front of her, a simple flight check of recent upgrades to the Euphrates. The ship, according to Lieutenant Nog, the station's chief of operations, had not been "a hundred percent" ever since Dr. Bashir and Lieutenant Dax had crash-landed it nearly eight months earlier on the planet Sindorin. The young Ferengi engineer's notes had also cited damage inflicted during Captain Kira's mission, weeks later, to save the human colony on Europa Nova. Although the regular duty pilots had reported that the ship had handled just fine since its return to service in June, Nog had ordered a full upgrade of the ship's warp and impulse systems. So far the work was only half-done, but Nog wanted a short test flight, to set a benchmark for the next round of improvements.

Most of the pilots had concocted excuses to avoid this four-hour solo flight. Prynn had volunteered for it. Despite her new belief that some kinds of damage might never really be reparable, she shared Nog's commitment to hands-on upkeep and respected his attention to minuscule details... but the truth was that she just wanted to have four hours of perfect solitude, at the controls of a ship in flight. That the ship had just been retooled to be faster than ever was simply a bonus.

An indicator on her dashboard blinked green twice, signaling that her flight plan had been approved. With a quick, well-rehearsed series of taps, she closed the port side hatch and opened a comm channel to the station's operations center. "Ops, this is Euphrates, requesting liftoff clearance at Runabout Pad A."

"Acknowledged, Euphrates," responded Lieutenant Dax, who was standing watch in ops this evening. "Deactivating forcefield and raising the platform to launch position. Stand by."

Through the hull Prynn heard the hum of motors and the whine of the platform's hydraulics lifting the runabout toward the stars. Then Euphrates cleared the hull, and ahead of the small ship towered the station's inward-curving upper pylons and its central command module. She felt a gentle vibration in the deck under her feet as the platform locked closed beneath the ship.

"Euphrates," Dax said over the comm, "you're clear for liftoff."

"Acknowledged," Prynn said, firing up the navigational thrusters. "See you in a few hours. Euphrates out." She guided the ship gently away from the habitat ring, pivoted toward an empty vista of stars, and engaged the impulse drive at one-quarter power. The station was left behind in a blur. In less than a minute, she had reached safe distance for free flight. She increased speed to full impulse and began to plot the test maneuvers Nog had specified.

There was a whisper-rush of sound in the cockpit behind her. She spun her chair--and found herself facing Taran'atar and the business end of a Starfleet phaser.

"Do not reach for the comm," he said. "Set a new course."

* * *

Dr. Julian Bashir materialized from the transporter beam and sprinted toward Captain Kira. Lieutenant Ro lay on the floor a few meters away. Bashir's satchel, jammed with surgical tools and loaded hyposprays, was slung loosely over his shoulder. Nurse Etana Kol and medical technician Michael Ingbar raced down the corridor from the other direction, both similarly laden with portable medical gear. Security guards Alberto Taveras and Franz Cortez--who had called in the medical alert--stood over Kira and Ro, looking stunned and horrified.

The captain's uniform jacket glistened with the wet sheen of her blood, which burbled grotesquely around the hilt of the knife that still protruded from her chest. Ro's back was arched in a disturbingly unnatural-looking pose.

"Move!" Bashir ordered. There was no time for courtesy. Bashir, Etana, and Ingbar pushed past Taveras and Cortez. At Kira's side, Etana raced to stanch the massive bleeding from Kira's chest wound. Ingbar moved to assess Ro's condition. Bashir knelt beside Kira and flipped open his medical tricorder, then reached into his satchel for a hypo of neurocine. If Kira was lucky, the drug would shield her brain from hypoxia for the critical seconds Bashir needed to assess her vital signs and beam her to surgery. He pressed the hypospray to her jugular and injected it, hoping for the best even as experience told him to prepare for the worst. The image of Kira's ruptured cardiac muscle took shape on the tricorder display. Her heart had been brutally shredded. He tapped his combadge. "Bashir to ops: Emergency medical transport! Five to infirmary, stat!"

The shimmering pull of a transporter beam enfolded the two fallen women and the three medical officers. They materialized in the central diagnostic lab as the infirmary's main doors slid open. Dr. Simon Tarses hurried in, followed by the new Bajoran surgeon, Dr. Aylam Edeen, a late-thirtyish blond woman.

"Tarses, over here," Bashir ordered. "Dr. Aylam, take Lieutenant Ro. Ingbar, you're with Aylam." The medical team snapped into action. Dr. Aylam initiated a full-body scan of Ro while Tarses and Bashir hefted Kira into the surgical suite and onto its lone biobed. The display readouts above the bed immediately lit up and flooded with metrics of Kira's condition.

"Near-total bifurcation of the cardiac muscle," Bashir said, masking his dismay at the sight of his sleeves slick with his friend's blood.

"Massive bleeding in the pericardium," Tarses said, his voice calm and clinical. "Puncture runs from the aorta to the inferior vena cava, through both atriums."

"We can't fix this," Bashir said. "Let's stop the bleeding and stabilize her for full bypass." He looked at Nurse Etana. "Pull up the captain's last physical and use it to match an artificial heart." Etana nodded and exited to the diagnostic center to start the search. Without taking his eyes off Kira's plunging vitals, Bashir called out, "Dr. Aylam, report."

"Fracture of the tenth and eleventh thoracic vertebrae," the blond woman reported from outside the surgical suite, her own attention on Ro equally intense. "Partial severing of the spinal cord between the tenth and eleventh thoracic. Rupture of the spleen, consistent with blunt-force trauma. Internal hemorrhaging."

"Stabilize her, then assist us," Bashir said.

"Yes, Doctor."

"Simon," Bashir said. "Get the surgical hood, we need to start now." Tarses nodded and bolted away to retrieve the arch-shaped component.

Bashir recognized Taran'atar's knife as he pulled it free of Kira's splintered sternum. Ruby-red blood drizzled off the blade's tines--one intact and one broken. Bashir dropped the broken weapon on a tray reserved for medical waste, then used an old-fashioned pair of surgical scissors to cut away Kira's uniform jacket and shirt, exposing her bare and bloody chest. With his foot he pressed a control on the base of Kira's biobed and activated the sterilizing forcefield over the entrance to the surgical suite.

Dr. Tarses returned, passing through the sterilizing forcefield, which crackled softly at his passage. He attached the surgical hood to Kira's biobed, covering her from neck to mid-thigh. The portable sterile environment hummed softly as it powered up. Its displays flickered on in stutters of color.

Outside the surgical suite, Dr. Aylam engaged a site-to-site transport and moved Ro off the floor, to another location. Bashir presumed that Ro was being transferred to the adjacent intensive-care ward.

During his brief moment of inattention, Kira's vital signs flatlined.

"Push thirty cc of triox," Bashir said as he reached into his satchel and pulled out a cortical stimulator. He fit it snugly over Kira's temples. "Setting autonomic bypass." Its first pulse failed to produce even a flutter in her eyelids. He increased the power and shortened its cycle. A faint twitch confirmed that it was having an effect, but Kira's EEG remained static. Tarses infused her bloodstream with the oxygenating drug, then Bashir sighed as her vital signs restabilized.

"Hook up the ventilator," Bashir said. "I'll get the rapid infuser going." He shouted toward the doorway, "Nurse! We need type and cross, twenty units of whole blood, stat!"

Another pulse of the cortical stimulator produced a small hiccup on Kira's EEG, followed several seconds later by a steady wave of low-level brain function. To Bashir's relief, there was no indication of brain damage. He reset the cortical stimulator to standby mode, in case of another flatline.

Bashir activated the surgical hood's automated laser scalpel and made a vertical incision down the center of Kira's chest. Changing to a more powerful setting, he cut decisively through her already damaged sternum, opening a path into the chest cavity. Although the surgical hood's primary tools for internal surgery combined microtransporters and forcefield generators, minor physical invasions were still necessary for a major operation such as this. A precisely targeted laser beam opened Kira's pericardium, flooding her chest cavity with hemorrhaged blood. Even shielded beneath the surgical arch, the carnal odor of it was still detectable.

A quick glance confirmed that Tarses had almost finished guiding the ventilation hardware through Kira's sinus, down into her airway. Bashir worked as quickly as his enhanced abilities made possible, threading lines from the arch's rapid infuser into the cardial sac. With the machine's assistance, he secured the connection to the ascending aorta in less than a minute. He was attaching the second of three lines, to Kira's superior vena cava, when Nurse Etana reported, "Doctor, we only have four units of Captain Kira's blood type on hand."

Too focused on his objective to ask why or lay blame, Bashir responded, "Get a list of all Bajorans on the station with Kira's blood type. Send them all a priority request for blood donors." To Dr. Tarses he added, "Push four units of plasma into the infuser to keep her pressure up." Even though there wasn't enough transfusable blood to make the procedure viable, Bashir resumed work, completing his sutures on the superior vena cava, and finding an intact section of the inferior vena cava, for the third and final infuser line.

"Let's keep going," he said to Tarses. "Start repairing the damage in the lower aorta. I'll rebuild the inferior vena cava."

With four units of blood and four units of plasma, he could keep Kira alive for another twenty minutes.

After that, his bag of medical miracles would be empty.

* * *

Aylam Edeen rushed through the door into the infirmary, behind Dr. Tarses. Her hands were shaking. She saw Captain Kira and Lieutenant Ro lying on the floor--Kira with a knife in her chest and blood pooling beneath her shoulders, Ro twisted at mid-torso like a child's cruelly abused toy.

Today was Aylam's fourth aboard Deep Space 9, and the first on which she had been summoned for an emergency call. She was no stranger to gruesome medical crises, having seen more than her share during her internship and residency at the Musilla University teaching hospital, during the last years of the Cardassian occupation of Bajor. The victims of countless skirmishes, between the Cardassian troops garrisoned near the university and the Resistance fighters striking from nearby Tamulna, had given her a quick and blood-soaked education in emergency medicine. She had expected quieter times after she had enlisted in the Bajoran Militia's medical corps, but she had quickly learned that military medical service, even during peacetime, was rarely a calm profession.

Her entire body began to tremble.

Bashir was at Kira's side, flanked by Nurse Etana and medical technician Ingbar. "Tarses, over here," Bashir said, his voice calm, professional, and confident. "Dr. Aylam, take Lieutenant Ro. Ingbar, you're with Aylam."

Bashir and Tarses together lifted Kira and carried her into the adjacent surgical suite. While they assessed the captain's vitals with practiced ease, Aylam pulled her medical tricorder from her belt and made an emergency scan of Lieutenant Ro, calibrating the device on the fly for Bajoran physiology. It swiftly rendered a gruesome, detailed report that confirmed what Aylam had suspected on first sight.

Bashir chose that moment to demand, "Dr. Aylam, report."

"Fracture of the tenth and eleventh thoracic vertebrae," Aylam said, scrutinizing the scan results to make certain she didn't mispresent even the smallest aspect of the case to her chief medical officer. "Partial severing of the spinal cord between the tenth and eleventh thoracic. Rupture of the spleen, consistent with blunt-force trauma. Internal hemorrhaging."

"Stabilize her, then assist us," Bashir said.

"Yes, Doctor," Aylam said, even though it was a taller order than Bashir had made it sound. Stanching Ro's internal bleeding was her first priority, but fitting the surgical arch over Ro while she was twisted at this unnatural angle would be difficult if not impossible. I can try doing this by hand, Aylam thought, weighing her options. But one mistake and I might paralyze Ro for life... assuming that's not already the case.

First things first, she reminded herself. She tapped her combadge. "Aylam to ops: Emergency site-to-site medical transport for Lieutenant Ro: Beam her to any available bed in the intensive care ward." Aylam stepped away from Ro, who dematerialized a moment later. Gesturing to Ingbar to follow her, Aylam moved away from the surgical suite to the intensive-care ward on the other side of the infirmary's diagnostic lab.

She remained several steps ahead of Ingbar as she moved toward Ro's biobed at the far end of the room, snagging an internal-tissue regenerator on her way. "Ingbar," she said, "help me get her internal bleeding under control." Following her tricorder's readout to Ro's spleen, Aylam activated the surgical device and began manipulating the damaged organ without being able to see it with her own eyes.

As a young girl, she had watched Bajoran physicians perform shocking field surgeries for resistance fighters, often cutting into their bodies with crude metal scalpels, reaching into bodies to repair damage with cauterizing chemicals and threads sutured with curved needles. The noninvasive surgical wonders of state-of-the-art Bajoran and Cardassian medicine had been denied her then, but she had in recent years come to find the remote nature of their use--and now, those of Starfleet--oddly disorienting. Part of her still regarded the dangerous, subtle violence of the old healing ways with reverential awe.

Minutes later, Ro's spleen had been repaired sight unseen. She had other, less critical internal injuries that still required attention, however, and sooner or later Aylam would have to address the issue of how to realign Ro's fractured and herniated thoracic vertebrae without causing additional damage to her already partly torn and bruised spinal cord.

Aylam returned to the other side of the bed, crouched in front of Ro's half-doubled-over torso, and began stemming the tide of numerous small internal hemorrhages caused by broken ribs puncturing Ro's lungs and upper intestine. The procedure went smoothly, with Ingbar quietly (and almost presciently) handing Aylam various surgical implements.

It was all but finished when Ro Laren's eyes snapped open, wide with terror. She let loose a shriek that jolted Aylam with fear. The young doctor stumbled backward, hollering in surprise at Ro's sudden outburst. The tissue regenerator slipped from Aylam's hand and clattered on the cold metal floor.

Ro's panicked, confused eyes darted around the room. "What...? Where...? The captain?"

Ingbar placed a reassuring hand on Ro's shoulder and spoke in a low, soothing tone of voice. "Relax, Lieutenant. The captain's in surgery. You're in the infirmary with her. We're patching you up. Just lie still."

Dr. Aylam got back on her feet and rejoined Ingbar at Ro's bedside. The wounded security chief closed her eyes and took a breath. When she exhaled, she opened her eyes and glared at Aylam. "Why can't I move?"

It was too early, in Aylam's opinion, to diagnose whether Ro's paralysis was temporary or permanent. Raising the subject of spinal damage, even in passing, was likely to provoke Ro into asking a number of increasingly pointed questions, and the situation would only grow more awkward as Aylam answered each one with yet another variation of "I don't know yet."

"We're still assessing your injuries, Lieutenant," Aylam said, cutting off Ingbar before he could reply to Ro's query. "We're going to give you something to help you relax and--"

"I don't want to relax," Ro said, the angry growl of her voice intimidating despite her current infirmity. "I want an answer: Why can't I move?"

Dr. Aylam was still considering her reply when, over the comm, Bashir shouted, "Dr. Aylam, report to surgery, stat!"

"On my way," she called out, then turned back to Ro. "When I finish my examination, I'll make a diagnosis," Aylam said. "Not before. So I suggest you let us make you comfortable."

Ro signaled her surrender with a disgusted roll of her eyes. Aylam nodded to Ingbar. "Ten cc of adozine." He pressed the hypospray gingerly against Ro's throat and injected the mild sedative. The drug was delivered with a soft hiss. It eased Ro into a placid, half-conscious state.

Making her way back to the surgical suite, Aylam felt a slight tinge of guilt for postponing what was almost certain to be a very difficult conversation with Ro. Telling a patient that they were going to be all right was the easiest news to deliver; telling them that their death was imminent was always traumatic, but at least it represented a sort of closure.

Telling a woman in the prime of her life that she would likely spend the rest of it as a quadriplegic... that was a task for which Aylam's many years of medical tuition had left her woefully unprepared.

* * *

Major Cenn Desca, the Bajoran Militia liaison to Deep Space 9, led Starfleet security guards Broeking and Cardok into Taran'atar's quarters. The two guards advanced cautiously, each with a phaser in one hand and a scanning tricorder in the other, separating to either side of Cenn as they entered the main room.

Surveying the scene, Cenn was taken aback by the amount of damage. All the furniture had been smashed into splinters, apparently by crushing blows or being hurled violently against the walls. One bulkhead was buckled inward at its seam, the dent just deep enough to compromise some wiring and trip some structural integrity sensors in the wall. It looked like someone had fought a long and exceptionally brutal battle to the death inside this room.

Catching Broeking's eye, Cenn said, "Ron, report."

"No sign that anyone was in here except the Jem'Hadar," Broeking said. "I'm reading his DNA on everything--furniture pieces, the bulkhead damage, the companel... If he was ambushed, I've got zilch on whoever attacked him."

Cardok looked up from his tricorder. "Sir," the Benzite said, "I'm detecting small traces of fresh Jem'Hadar blood on the carpet and on some pieces of the furniture." He turned toward the door. "And the blood trail seems to lead outside these quarters."

Cenn tapped his combadge. "Computer, locate Taran'atar."

"Taran'atar is not on the station," the feminine computer voice said. Under any other circumstances, Cenn might have been concerned for Taran'atar. Knowing, however, that Taveras and Cortez had found Captain Kira and Lieutenant Ro both gravely wounded only a few sections away, near the turbolift, made him view this evidence in a less forgiving light.

He tapped his combadge again. "Cenn to ops."

Lieutenant Dax answered. "Go ahead."

"Taran'atar's quarters are wrecked, and the computer says he's not aboard the station--which might mean he's shrouded."

"Hang on; backup's on the way." A moment later, the station's alert klaxon sounded, then Dax's voice echoed crisply over the stationwide comm: "Attention, all decks: Intruder alert. All security personnel, report in for new orders. Commander Vaughn, please report to ops."

* * *

Commander Elias Vaughn was already in a turbolift, on his way to ops, when he heard Lieutenant Dax's summons. Tapping his combadge, he responded, "On my way, Lieutenant."

He had just wrapped up after a long day, reviewing the latest reports from the three Federation starships that had, five weeks ago, embarked on extended missions of exploration in the Gamma Quadrant. On his way into the "Ferengi embassy to Bajor"--aka Quark's bar--for a dinner break, he'd seen Drs. Tarses and Aylam sprint wildly across the Promenade toward the infirmary, shoving aside passersby as they ran. Instinct, honed by more than eighty years of service in Starfleet, had compelled the centenarian command officer to follow them.

He'd stopped in midstep at the threshold of the infirmary as Captain Kira and Lieutenant Ro had materialized, one bloodied and the other broken, on the floor. In an instant, Vaughn had recognized the haft of Taran'atar's dagger in Kira's chest, and he'd known then that something disastrous had happened.

With Kira down, he was the ranking officer on Deep Space 9. He'd wasted no time, moving immediately to a turbolift and ordering it to ops, where he'd planned on relieving Lieutenant Dax, who was standing watch this evening. By the time Dax called for him, he had already begun formulating primary plans of action and a series of backup contingency protocols that he would hold in reserve until they were needed.

Bulkheads sank swiftly past the open front of the turbolift cab. A familiar deck edge appeared and dropped out of sight, revealing ops, which was buzzing intently with anxious orders and a sharply palpable sense of urgency. Vaughn stepped off the turbolift before it came to a stop and walked quickly down the stairs to join Ezri Dax, who looked like the calm center in this storm. "Report," Vaughn said.

"Captain Kira and Lieutenant Ro have been--"

"Attacked, yes, I saw. Our response?"

"Major Cenn is heading up the investigation, starting in Taran'atar's quarters, which is where Kira and Ro were going when they were attacked. I've ordered Nog to help Cenn direct the forensic engineering teams."

Vaughn nodded. "What about Taran'atar?"

"The computer says he's not on the station, but if he's shrouded..." Dax trailed off as Vaughn impatiently gestured his understanding of the limitations of Deep Space 9's scanning hardware. She handed him a padd, on which a thorough search protocol was detailed. "We've declared intruder alert and started a deck-by-deck sweep."

Vaughn frowned. "If taking out Ro and Kira was his first move against the station, he'll go for the system capacitance control in the lower core--from there he could override the fail-safes and initiate a core overload."

Nodding, Dax said, "That was my opinion, too. I sealed off the auxiliary and primary control and put twenty security personnel in an ambush deployment here, near the primary heat exchangers."

"To mask their body heat and scent profiles," Vaughn said, impressed by the recent improvement of Dax's tactical skills. "Well done. Have you deployed a search team?"

"Yes, sir. I put Bowers in charge."

"Good choice."

Vaughn turned to the situation table in the center of ops. Eyeing the schematic displayed there, he imagined all the places that a Jem'Hadar could conceal himself, and all the routes that Taran'atar might take as part of a campaign to cripple the station and kill its crew and inhabitants. Layers upon layers of conduits intersected kilometers of crawlways, and decommissioned ore chutes and conveyer channels circuited the lower decks. If Taran'atar had the discipline to remain shrouded, he could use untraveled passages such as those to evade capture almost indefinitely.

The hunt had been engaged--though at the moment, Vaughn wasn't entirely certain if he could say who was hunting whom.

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