Heather F.

Star Trek Universe


Chris watched as Jackson pressed a hypo to Standish's neck. The gambler had pushed the blankets off in short irritable movements all the while muttering , 'hot'. A few garbled, nonsensical words were mingled within the repeated string but the gambler made his point clear.

Jackson simply covered the man again. He left the extra blanket at the foot of the bed.

"Jist give it a second to kick in," Nathan said straightening up.

The haphazard movements on the bed stopped. The gambler seemed to be settling down.

"Nathan I need him awake..." Chris remarked. He understood that Jackson did not agree with this at all. The doctor must have understood the necessity that drove the Captain.

"Easy Chris," Josiah intoned from the other side of the bed, "you know how difficult it is to wake Ezra on a good day."

Larabee fell silent accepting the subtle chastisement. His attention was pulled back to the bed when Standish moaned and opened his eyes.

"Ezra?" Chris leaned down and stared at the blood shot green eyes. They were sunken and red rimmed with dark circles hanging below them. "Ezra? we need your help. Can you tell us who the targets are?"

"Who're you?" The petulance in the tone carried clearer than the actual words.

Larabee gazed up at Nathan seeking some kind of help. Jackson merely shrugged not surprised. The fever would not give up its grip so easily.

"That's not important right now," Chris started again, "but you need to tell us who the target is."

"Go da 'ell," was the mumbled reply.

Larabee felt his anger rising. "Gawd damnit Ezra..."

"Easy Brother," Sanchez spoke again. His deep voice floated heavily across the bed. "Try this...see if he can read this."

Chris took the data pad gave it a frustrated look and then showed the Security Chief.

"Ezra can you read this?"

Standish blinked a few times. His eyes burned and the closing of the lids seemed to capture the heat. Larabee watched as Ezra focused on the readout.


"What's it say?" Chris was within inches of strangulating the man. It was like dealing with young Billy or Adam on a bad day.

Standish sighed and began reading. Jackson stepped back out of the way and Josiah actually chuckled. The gambler read the words out loud in the tongue that they were written.

"Damn it Ezra," Chris nearly shouted.

The Security Chief raised an eyebrow and stopped.

" I need to know what it says."

Standish once again began reading in the foreign language.

"Nathan?!" Larabee hissed over his shoulder nailing the Chief Medical officer with a frustrated glare.

"Chris he hasn't got any idea what's going on around him...he's just doin' what you asked and for Ezra that is an accomplishment."

"Will you two keep quiet," Josiah hissed as he leaned over the gambler. Sanchez strained to hear the softly mumbled words that quickly tapered to an end. The Fever had taken hold again.

"Josiah this was a waste of time," Larabee shot out. He was not angry with Standish. Hell the man probably did not even know his own name right now.

"I don't believe it...." Sanchez muttered straightening back up. He stared at the other two officers. " I had never seen it as a written language....only learned it as conversation, I'll be damned." He shook his head, "never even knew it had a written form."

"What? You know what he was saying?" Jackson asked incredulously.

"I believe I do," Josiah beamed with pride.

"Well then translate this," Chris demanded.

Josiah looked deflated and simply stated, "I can't....never learned to read it...just speak it."

Chris shook his head and closed his eyes. "Well try." The captain handed the data pad back to the counselor and left Med Lab.

Nathan and Josiah shared a shrug. Sanchez frowned staring down at the restlessly slumbering man. What an enigma.

+ + + + + + +

Tanner paced angrily in the small area. JD ignored the building tension, too intent on twisting the computer into another series of knots. The young ensign ignored proper protocol....found 'backdoors'....used passage ways that at one time had been encoded. The on ship computer was an amazing universe all by itself. Dunne manipulated, moved, badgered and 'tricked' the computer into pathways its designers had not even imagined.

Like a sight hound...JD followed the tracks Tanner had taught him to read. Occasionally he would hit a dead trail and need the Vulcan's experience.

"Vin..." Dunne called out quietly. Once again he hit a snag.

Tanner leaned over the young man's shoulder. The Vulcan squinted his eyes and grew accustom to the 'environment' he was reading.

Damn the hell did you get in here? This is off limits to everyone....except Larabee. Shit....

Tanner stared down at JD in quiet amazement. The kid was gifted.

"Whadda ya think Vin....I screw up and followed a dead trail?" Dunne slouched down in his seat.

All this time wasted. Shit...The Captain should have asked someone else to do this...someone older and smarter....

"No JD..this is perfect." Vin pulled a second chair over with his foot. He sat without taking his eyes from the screen. "Bingo." Damn JD remind me never to try and hide something from you.

JD furrowed his brow...Who or What the heck is Bingo?

"What is it?" JD sat up a little straighter under the quiet praise of the tracker. Vin never said much and gave out praise even less. It was not that the Vulcan was mean or unapproachable...Vin just didn't have much to say to most people. He kept his opinions to himself and seemed to like being by himself than with most others. Dunne could not help but smile a little under the unexpected praise.

Vin noticed the grin that twitched on JD's face. The kid needed to hear a little more encouragement from the others...not just Buck. He had heard Ezra occasionally offer a congratulations...and Josiah and Nathan...but few came from the Captain. Should Chris ever offer a slight praise to the young Ensign in public...JD would probably fall over dead.

"Its the connection we've been looking for...." Vin stood up quickly, "JD make a copy of this and then erase any tracks you might've left..." Tanner leaned against the wall his mind racing, "we're gonna have to talk to Ezra.....and then The Captain."

Dunne merely nodded as he worked furiously at the console.

+ + + + + + +

Thomas Murray gazed up from the computer, "Someone just slid into the encrypted files....they know about us."

"Shit...Who?" Gainan quickly crossed the room to stand behind his partner.

"Damn...." Murray's fingers flew across the console. "Shit...shit...shit..." the harsh subdued whisper of his voice grated across the room, "Damn whoever it was is good....very good."

The weapons master stared over his shoulder at his oldest friend and mentor, "They erased their tracks...I don't know who it was."

Gainan's complexion darkened. His grey eyes hardened over, "That damn navigator..." His whisper tolled like a death sentence.

+ + + + + + +

Buck nearly tapped his com. badge and asked for Inez. Things were getting out of control. He had security break up another 'disruption' down on deck 32. What the ambassadors were doing down there was anybody's guess.

Mary seemed to be holding her own...she was distracted enough at least not to notice two security officers tailing her. Or if she did she was beginning to realize the necessity of the scrutiny.

Damn Ezra had to be part circus master.

Wilmington sighed as he stormed down the corridor. He paused....slowed his walk....and stopped. Something was wrong. He looked to his left and right and then peered over his shoulder trying to pinpoint a direction of a feeling. Buck checked in with his security major disasters had occurred.

Admiral Travis was not due in for another hour. Wilmington already had Ezra's people in place.

The feeling of dread hung heavily on his shoulders. The ship had not changed course. Funny but he could sense when that happened so could most Captains and Executive officers.

He was only a few doors down from Med lab. Buck figured he would stop by and check in on Ezra.

+ + + + + + +

Nathan watched from the doorway. JD and Vin had entered a few minutes ago needing to talk to the Commander. Jackson had warned them Standish was still lost in the throws of a fever. The doctor was not surprised when Vin and JD had wanted to visit anyway. Jackson stood leaning against the archway as the two young officers stared at their third.

"'Ey Ez." JD smiled when Standish's eyes blinked open. "Howya feelin'?" JD squatted down beside the diagnostic bed.

Vin stood slightly back. He didn't like Sickbay...not even a little. The whole place gave him an unsettling feeling. The Vulcan watched as JD tried to talk to Ezra. The Security Chief looked terrible. His cheeks were flush, he lay curled under a few blankets with his arms tucked protectively against his chest with his hands fisted under his chin. The eyes were the most stunning. The friendly, easy, expression had disappeared. Instead a cagey, almost aggressive or angry look took its place. Warning others doubt.....fighting to keep everything from getting too close....when one survived alone one had to depend sorely on their own resourcefulness to get through difficult times. Being sick was a hindrance that orphans...and...apparently gamblers....seemingly suffered through with an air of aggression. Keep everyone away...and enemies could not easily take advantage of you when you were down.

"JD." Vin stepped forward in an attempt to pull the young ensign away. Ezra's unease was increasing. The diagnostic readouts were a clear, silent, indication. "We're not helping' im any."

Dunne slowly stood up and shuffled back from the angry threatening expression on Ezra's face.

"But we're his friends." JD stood beside Vin. Standish followed his movements with a predatory glare.

"He don't know that right now," Tanner answered quietly. The navigator directed the ensign out of the room.

"JD." Nathan pushed himself off the wall, "he's not really aware of's the fever. It'll break by tomorrow...come back then." Jackson guided the two young men across the floor out of Sick bay.

The two officers exited Med lab and ran into Buck.

"How's he doin'?" Buck frowned at JD's troubled expression. Dunne wiggled his shoulder blades. A shot of cold fear bolted through him. Kid's got good instincts.

The ensign frowned surprised at how unsettled Standish's illness made him feel.

"Sick." Vin checked down the hall in both directions. The hackles on his neck suddenly stood up.

"He don't even know us." Dunne's despondency pulled Buck's sudden attention from the Vulcan. Vin feels it too.

"Don't worry kid...ole Ez will be back to irritating the Captain in no time." Wilmington pushed JD down the corridor. "Let's go find the Captain...I've got a bad feeling..."

Vin nodded falling in step with the others.


Larabee paced furiously in his ready room. He knotted and twisted his clasped hands behind his back. The very notion that an assassin would be on his ship galled him. It burned the Captain to think that he was unable to protect those under him or those entrusted to his care.

He had a ship full of Ambassadors. Worse yet, those dignitaries brought with them their own cadre of supporters. Amongst that milling, heaving, disruptive horde swam a shark.

Or Sharks...what if there was more than one assassin?

Was Admiral Travis really a target or just a Red Herring?

Who or what the hell was Laddis? The computer offered unlikely answers.

Damn you Standish, you pain in the ass....why not confide in someone? Why do you have to shield things?

Larabee struggled to control the urge to kick a chair. His gaze narrowed and brow furrowed. What next? What was he to do next? Warn the Admiral? Tell him not to come on board? Admit he might be unable to protect his crew and passengers from a killer?

A bolt of fiery anger and murderous frustration flashed through him. Larabee paused. He stopped moving. With his eyes fixed on the far wall and his hands stilled...he listened...maybe even tested the air...He froze in concentration. Cold dread settled across his shoulders.

It was starting.

The Captain turned crisply on his heels and headed for the Ready Room doors.

They slid open with a pneumatic whoosh before he set off the sensors.

Buck, Vin and JD poured through the door with the same intensity Larabee desired to exit.

"Buck...get down to the docking" The captain's authority quietly seared the room.

"Take JD....and I want you both armed."

Wilmington merely nodded. The frost in Larabee's eyes brooked no argument. Buck was not inclined to offer one. A battle was a thunderhead building up steam. An explosion was imminent.

"Vin, your with me." Larabee simply strode past the three officers and out the door. He expected no comments, no discussions. At this point in time, he would not heed them.

For twenty-four standard hours he had followed proper procedure; he had stood back and let things build. Though things had not been at a standstill events were occurring without his decree on his ship. For a captain, that was inexcusable.

A threat wove itself aboard his ship...amongst his crew and their families. A killer mingled amidst children and innocents. Chris's blood boiled at the thought of it.

+ + + + + + +

Buck led the way to the hanger bay. The shuttle was due in just a few minutes. The Executive Officer cast a sideways glance at the young ensign. Dunne was still a bright eyed 'kid' who viewed the universe with innocent awe. Under that unmarred view however, lurked a stead fast loyal friend who was good in a fight. How the 'boy' balanced the two Buck could not be sure. Yet time and again JD had proven to the senior crew that not only did the motivations and cruelties of the universe surprise and shock him... he could stand amongst his older friends and wage battle beside them. And in the end... 'The Kid's' amazement at the given situation, or conclusion could be clearly read.

Alot of things grabbed JD by surprise....very, very, few things kept him from approaching the battle line with his crew.

It was this novel mixture of innocence and grit that kept the young man tightly enveloped within the six Senior officers. They wanted to protect him and shield him as much as Dunne wanted to prove himself.

The footing between the seven constantly shifted and adjusted. The budding throws of friendship was sometimes violent and fraught with hesitancy. Amongst those seven fearsome men stood a 'boy'. He wavered and swayed but never fell. Chris held the string that attached them all. Vin stood tight at his side. Standish wavered outside the ring tethered to the others by a strand more powerful than his innate distrust. JD worked his magic amongst the ties, weaving in and out forging a web, binding the others by not one but multiple tethers. Though the strands of a spider web are easily broken there is no stronger tensile strength than that of a web.

First Officer Buck Wilmington had no doubts of JD's ability. The young ensign was smart and quick. He could and would hold his own in a fight. Despite that knowledge, Buck could not help but wish Chris had confined Ensign Dunne to his quarters for his own safety.

Wilmington wanted to shield and protect JD. If meant locking the ensign in the brig to ensure his safety then so be it. However, emotions needed to acknowledge rational. In shielding Dunne from harm Buck ran the dire risk of hurting the 'boy' even more. Their brother like relationship would wither and die.

Out of respect for the young man, Buck walked proudly beside the ensign. Besides...Josiah was meeting them at the hanger bay too. The giant counselor would allow no mishap to befall JD.

+ + + + + + +

Chris and Vin strode side by side. Foot falls were muffled by the carpet that lined the corridors. The two moved with a symmetrical grace. Passengers and crew stepped aside when the two approached. It was not the phasers attached at their hips that caught attention. It was the stone expressions of action. They greeted no one. Matching stride for stride. Captain and Vulcan gracefully traversed the decks.

Gainan Chaplain according to ships computer was reported in the observation lounge. A security detail had proven it to be false. Thomas Murray had disappeared as well.

The Admiral was do to dock in under 2 minutes.

Larabee wasted no time in entering the suite of rooms designated to Condor IV delegates.

No one was present.

Larabee hit his com badge to warn Wilmington.

Static and phaser fire filled the small communication device. Josiah's deep voice hollered a warning followed by a crash of objects. Frantic shouts for people to keep down sprang forth under a barrage of phaser fire and small explosions.

The Captain and Tanner ran from the quarters.

+ + + + + + +

Josiah huddled pinned behind a stack of supplies meant for the Colonist of Thordore 5. The counselor swept the area searching for Dunne. Sanchez chuckled and shook his head in resignation.

Ensign Dunne was scrambling up another stack of 'crates' in hope to gain advantage over their shootists and give Buck some cover.

Wilmington had sprinted across the floor and tackled the Admiral and his advisor in one spectacular dive. Travis had been knocked back into the shuttle. The Advisor had been shoved half under the transport ramp while Buck scampered inside with Travis.

Josiah could tell by the way the first officer moved that Wilmington had injured his shoulder or neck. His right arm hung uselessly at his side. A telltale burn mark blackened the side of the uniform mid abdomen. Buck had been grazed.

The sniper fire had taken them all by surprise. In fact, if Travis had not tripped and fallen into his advisor both would have been dead.

Instead Fate intervened. The clumsy act saved both men. With the first aggressive volley of shots more followed. Two security men toppled and fell from the 'cat walk' surrounding the bay.

JD had watched wide eyed but never deviated his attention from the shooters and returned fire like a veteran.

Wilmington was already firing, hell bent on saving the Admiral. Josiah and Dunne quickly and efficiently laid down cover fire. It was then Josiah realized there were two shooters.

Chaplain had an accomplice.

Josiah ducked behind a crate when a the ground to his right exploded with light. The floor melted under a shimmering field of heat.

Dunne reached the top of the supply pile. He nestled himself behind a canister, collected his breath and turned his phaser power setting up a notch. These guys were playing for keeps.

JD took a breath let a little out and rolled onto his belly firing at the spot one of the attackers had once hidden. The beam of energy shot across the bay onto the catwalk. Crates and safety railings melted and smoked in its path.

"Nice try kid," a voice whispered in his ear while the cold muzzle of a weapon rested against side of his neck, "but you lose." The voice was soft and held no anger or excitement. Just a job needed doing.

A roar rent the area. Larabee.

One moment JD felt his life was one breath from death and the next he was tumbling within a herd of arms and legs down the supply pile. The young ensign bounced and tumbled from crate to crate. Ribs bent and cracked while others snapped like dry kindling. Somewhere in there an elbow was hyper-extended and then forced past midpoint. With a scream of agony JD hit the fortified flooring of Hanger Bay 4. His neck muscles unable to prevent the accelerated descent of the cranium allowed it to slap not once but twice off the ground.

 A small,dark, pool of blood began to form.

Chris became a man driven. In those few dark moments, an insane mind commanded the Maverick.

Larabee recovered from the fall first. Thomas Murray never stood a chance. Though he was a weapon's master and a man who made his trade by taking lives...he met a force much darker and more driven than anything he had ever encountered.

Chris Larabee forgot he was a captain, it never entered his mind that what he intended on doing might have bordered the realm of madness. In the black memories of rage, Chris viciously attacked the man that might have killed JD.

The others in the room stopped their own little battle. A malignant force raged in the center of the bay.

The blonde captain lacked the assassins height and weight. It might even be said he lacked Murray's skill. In the end, when skill fails, when physical advantages make no difference...It is drive and spirit that wins a battle. It is these things that allowed the Alamo's defenders to survive so is the heart of the warrior that conquers a superior opponent; the grit of an amateur boxer to outlast a veteran fighter. It's the will of parent to withstand massive odds to protect their young.

Within a dark cesspool of murderous intent, Chris Larabee soundly and efficiently concentrated his efforts on destroying the target before him.

Gainan knew Murray was lost. The second he watched the Ensign's head bounce off the floor the assassin knew his partner was dead. The killer gave no thought to his life long partner...and continued to forge his way toward the target.

Larabee would kill to defend what he believed was his. The captain would tolerate diplomacy and protocol for only so long. It was for this very reason that Chaplain had at first refused this job. It had been with great reluctance and substantial monetary gain that he agreed to take on this hit. Chris Larabee would not stop until avenged any wrong on his ship.

While the others were distracted Chaplain made his way toward the shuttle. He had a job to do.

Buck had shoved the Admiral behind him. Travis would hear none of this and immediately sidled his way to the opposite side of the door.

Wilmington had let out a strangled cry when Ensign Dunne hit the floor with the other two on top of him. Buck had nearly leaped from the shuttle. The Admiral grabbed the dangling arm of the First Officer and brought him up short.

At first Travis had thought that the simple painful maneuver might not work. Wilmington seemed intent on chewing off his own arm if it would get him to Dunne's side quicker.

Wilmington had whirled around and leveled the phaser at Travis. Blind fear and dread haunted the blue eyes.

The Admiral had made his rank on brains and guts alone. The older man held fast, daring the young officer to shoot him. For a long hesitant moment, Admiral Travis feared he might die at the hands of a friend.

Instead Buck nodded in quiet acquiescence. Wilmington promised if Chris did not kill that marauding son of a bitch out there...then he would.

Travis read the transparent thought and nodded his consent. Sometimes old, fashion, frontier justice had its place.

Gainan Chaplain ignored the two officers in the shuttle. Their attention was diverted back on themselves. An internal dispute of some sort....most likely arguing over whether or not to help or stop their captain from throwing away his career. Chaplain chuckled mirthlessly to himself. Murray's death might be helpful after all.

The assassin reached the side of the shuttle craft and crept toward the ramp.

Josiah saw the movement out of the corner of his eye. Sanchez fired once singeing the side of the shuttle.

Travis and Wilmington both turned in shock. The counselor waved frantically pointing toward the ramp.

"Shit the Emperor," Travis exclaimed.

"Emperor?" Wilmington nearly shouted back, "What emperor?" His head swam and splashes of lights seared across his vision. The phaser hit slowly ate its way through the adrenaline rush.

"Darcine, the Emperor Darcine." Travis did not have time for explanations now. The ruling head of a whole planetary cluster was huddling under a shuttle ramp. The Head of 'State' was arguably one of the most powerful dignitaries in the whole quadrant. Very few knew of his travels and hence he traveled under a constant revolution of code names. This particular trip he was simply Laddis.

"Shit," Wilmington muttered. One would have to be dead not to have heard of this particular ruler. He was reputed to be fair but tough. The trade meetings that were being held on the Maverick involved the cluster of planets this being ruled. No one suspected he would come to such discussions. The Darcinites were a secluded race. They welcomed no visitors and rarely ventured far from their home worlds. They were reputed to have incredible technological advances yet their fierce need for seclusion kept others from approaching.

Buck peered around the door of the shuttle door and came face to face with Gainan Chaplain.

Without preamble, Buck rushed the killer.

Like ocean waves crashing into one another Wilmington and Chaplain exploded with heightened energy.

It was a massive tangle of limbs and growls. Neither gave nor lost ground but instead tumbled to the side of the shuttle.


For a moment it appeared as if Wilmington held the high ground. The lanky First Officer landed blow after blow driving the killer back from the shuttle. Occasionally his opponent traded physical insult sliding a quick hand through seemingly impenetrable defenses.

Yet in a fight...the energy expended in landing a blow nearly matches the energy wasted in absorbing a strike.

Buck fatigued. With only one arm or shoulder working 100%, his side burned and cauterized by a lancing phaser hit the First Officer's reserves were already tapped.

Gainan merely exuded patience. With a feral smile and death in his eyes, he suddenly became the aggressor.

Where Buck slowly forced the killer back one step at a time....Chaplain suddenly unleashed his drive and attacked in a skilled merciless manner.

Blow upon blow battered Buck's body. Hits battered his injured side and shoulder. His head constantly snapped back under the brutal barrage of fists, feet and elbows.

Wilmington began to fear for his life.

In the back of his mind the Ladies Man wondered if Jackson would be able to reconstruct the facial bones. Would his animal magnetism work even if his face lost it's gentlemanly good looks?

Gainan could have stepped around the First Officer. He could have circumvented the man 'dead' on his feet but the killer was enraged. He would prove to Larabee and all others that no one stood between himself and a target. The assassin continued to physically beat the man to death.

Vin Tanner had never understood what type of passions drove Romulans. He never understood what Vulcan's were so afraid of when it came to emotions and controlling them. It was not until he saw JD crumpled in a broken bloody heap.... then he began to grow a better understanding. His green blood felt as if it began to boil.

Larabee still lay waste to the man before him. The Captain's uniform was soaked with sweat and splattered with blood and still the Captain pressed on....his victim no longer offering blows or any type of defense. Chris showed no intent on stopping.

Josiah knelt over the Ensign...somewhere through the deafening roar of Vin's raging pulse the Vulcan had heard the counselor call for Nathan.

The Vulcan's seething anger had no outlet. The urge to destroy became unquenchable.

Vin's attention fell to Buck. The First Officer's smiling features were nearly unrecognizable. He wavered and gave ground on rubbery legs with his arms uselessly at his sides. Buck refused to go down. The First Officer fought to remain an obstacle for the assassin to circumvent. He would offer the others protection even if it meant a brutal death.

With a primal scream Vin charged the human killing his friend. The Vulcan tossed his phaser away. The elegantly, simple, weapon would be to easy.

Gainan was growing tired with the sport. The big human should have succumbed by now. Larabee surrounded himself with tough people. Chaplain made a move to crush the trachea of the battered First Officer.

Gainan was struck from behind with enough force to snap his head back to his shoulders. He was knocked away from the teetering Wilmington.

Gainan was disoriented at first. The strength and force of his new attacker threw him off balance. The flurry of blows and eerie silence of his new enemy unnerved him.

With a panicked clarity..the mind's eye recognized the Com officer. Tanner.

Gainan tried to answer the blows....the Executive Officer forgotten.

Vin was everywhere and nowhere at once. The speed of Tanner dumbfounded the killer until he glimpsed a pointed ear. A Vulcan....a damn Vulcan.

Chaplain smirked to himself. He had not had the privilege of killing a Vulcan in hand to hand combat in sometime.

Maybe it was time.

Admiral Travis dragged his 'Attaché' into the shuttle craft. Travis's stomach dropped when Wilmington simply folded in on himself in a bloody heap. The Admiral fought the urge to drag the Exec. closer to himself, his protection. Travis remained rooted. His first duty lay in protecting the Emperor.

When Tanner had entered the fight Travis could not suppress the smile that crept across his features. Vin Tanner had become a Vulcan possessed. Though the Admiral had always feared something like this happening...he had never thought he would be grateful. Travis had silent reservations when Larabee took the 'untrained' Vulcan under his command. Vulcan's lived under certain strict guidelines for very good reasons. Their passions when released were nearly as equal to their strength.

Watching the blind brutality of a Vulcan's anger was unnerving if not a little frightening. The two predators fought in the center of the hangar.

Larabee had apparently exhausted himself. Murray lay flung out his face merely pulp. Josiah and Nathan knelt by the ensign. Security people stood in the distance afraid to intervene...not sure if they really wished to interfere with the ongoing fight.

The soft thud of fists striking flesh...the short explosive breathes marking a blow landed filled the eerily quiet area.

Vin Tanner moved, danced and struck like a hell spawned cat. His finesse and speed nearly matched his strength. He absorbed blows as if the very energy released from the strike was added to his strength. The Vulcan circled parrying and returning blows. Travis watched in mute fascination as the two fought.

Gainan Chaplain was beginning to resemble the Buck Wilmington now crumpled on the deck.

The assassin had never known what it was like to lose as professional. He had always succeeded.

This time would be no different.

Cheat to Win was a motto he lived by when things became unclear.

Chaplain sunk the titanium blade, that had been hidden up his sleeve, deep into the solid belly of the Vulcan.

Gainan smiled when Tanner's eyes grew wide. He chuckled when he felt the warmth of green blood spill over his hand.

Chaplain wrenched the knife, giving it a sickening twist, bringing the Vulcan to his toes and hunching him forward thus driving the blade deeper.

He would never lose.

Travis could not see what happened...but the sudden bug eyed, shocked expression on Tanner did not bode well. Travis saw the horrified expression on the large Counselor.

Josiah suddenly gained his feet leaving Jackson to aid the young ensign. Larabee moved away from Murray and stared stunned at the two standing still in the middle of the floor.

Then Travis noticed it.....the green blood quickly pooling at the feet of the battling men.

The killer removed the knife quickly allowing his victim to fold but not collapse.

Gainan side stepped the area dragging the sagging Vulcan with him. The assassin swung Tanner around holding the young navigator like a shield. The green, stained, blade was held tightly to Vin's neck.

"Get out here now," Chaplain hissed. Travis remained ensconced in the shuttle preventing the Emperor from attempting to free the young Vulcan. Gainan's grey eyes swung left and right arching across the room keeping all the key players in sight. His target still cowered within the transport.

"He'll die." Gainan pressed the blade into the extended neck drawing a fine line of blood. Vin merely gurgled a groan. Green foam frothed at the corners of his mouth.

"He's dead anyhow." Josiah took a step toward his failing friend, the knife wound if not treated promptly would prove fatal.

Gainan backed away dragging the Vulcan with him, drawing more blood from the neck. Sanchez understood the warning and stopped.

"I have to agree." The southern tones rasped across the room turning heads. Standish's expression held no sympathy or pain for the rapidly failing Com. officer. A marked expression of confusion held the Commander. A grey haze of murky loss blanketed the gambler. Watching Vin fade within the arms of Chaplain pulled him in too many directions. His sails seemed locked in irons. He floated in a sea of turmoil but could not quite fathom which way to turn. White noise and a pounding pulse seemingly deafened him.

Ezra knew Josiah and Chris stood some distance to his left...If he could just see them...If Chris could just give him some direction...anything. Instead his muddled instincts settled on the Gainan Chaplain.

"Ahh Ezra... surely you can talk sense to your colleagues." Chaplain re-adjusted his grip on the slumping Vulcan. "Explain to them The Way of the Warrior."

Sanchez watched with sickening dread as Standish cocked his head as if lulled by the voice. It came as no surprise really. The ties between the two were old, forged when a young mind was impressionable. When the Security Chief answered Josiah knew it to be an automatic response....a conditioned response. A bond existed between Standish and Chaplain.

"The Way of the Warrior is Death." The drawl was considerably thicker the expression thoughtful. A direction at last...a compass point. The familiar voice cut through the raging noise that only he seemingly heard. Flashes of images long buried burned across his mind. Being frightened, dark isolation and solitude...but the same voice had reached him then and had dragged him into a cold embrace. not that...there existed no sense of comfort within those strong hands or cutting voice....but there was attention paid...and a promise of protection. A direction at least.

Larabee quickly glanced at Sanchez looking for an explanation. The counselor scrutinized the 'players'.

Gainan if he just insured his hand, "I will always lead you from the front lines....never from behind the lines." The assassin smiled when Standish merely nodded. Neither broke eye contact, as if reaffirming an old relation. "Thomas always claimed you were too would never learn." Chaplain chuckled...Murray apparently was wrong.

"Ezra?" Josiah called out softly. He did not feel encouraged by the way the Security Officer stared at the Killer. It was akin to a student meeting with an old mentor. A natural submissiveness that garnered something akin to surrender. It was as if Gainan had offered a life line...offered some sense of security to a befuddled mind.

The school connection finally made sense to the counselor. The best athletes, the best tacticians, the best pilots...the best of the best were all started at young ages. The young were groomed for their roles. It was joked Standish was weaned right into a deck of cards. Security was something he was adept at...a skill which dipped liberally into his area of expertise of conning and grifting. Josiah knew Ezra not to be the stone killer that Gainan was...but Chaplain at some time in the young gambler's life had been given an opportunity and position to influence the young gambler's path. If that were true then Standish's loyalties would be mixed....greyed.

People like Gainan Chaplain took their pupils from depravation and gave them basics. For some like Vin it would have been shelter and food. Someone like Standish....a sense of belonging and protection. It was an old interrogator trick; have the left hand starve and deprive the target for a time and then allow the right hand to feed and protect the target. It was absurdly simple to gain loyal and dependent followers...or information. Whatever you wanted from your target you would receive willingly.

Sanchez shifted his gaze to the was beginning to fall into place. Josiah's concerned expression did little to mollify Larabee.

"Mr. Sanchez," Standish began speaking, "You see, Mr. Chaplain is not paid for his methods....but merely the results...therefore he will kill by any means available. He will remove any obstacle in his way ." Standish jutted his chin slightly, indicating to the fading form of Vin as if the Vulcan were merely a prop in a bizarre theatrical performance. Ezra's eyes narrowed slightly in confusion, "He will use any...tool...that makes itself available." The voice lulled for a moment almost as if lost in a thought. Standish brow furrowed slightly and the dark green eyes fell to the Assassin.

Sanchez held some hope. Did Ezra realize that Chaplain held no loyalty toward him...that Ezra was merely a tool to achieve a means? Josiah watched trying to discern what thoughts stampeded through the younger man's mind.

The gambler worked his bottom lip with the point of his tongue. A dimple creased his cheek momentarily as a sly smile twitched almost convulsively.

Standish suddenly found his voice, "Of course he will follow and age old moniker of K.I.S.S."

The others stared, from the barefoot man, clad only in med lab issue pants, to the monster hiding behind the semi-conscious Vulcan.

"Keep it Simple Stupid," Gainan explained. The teacher in him could not help but be proud. The lessons of over twenty years ago stuck.

"It is also dictated that one must prevail by any means necessary." There was a pause and a soft chuckle which faded away, "Cheat to win if necessary."

It was the cold resignation in Standish's voice that sent bolts of icy fear down Sanchez's spine. The counselor made to step forward. He attempted to knock the phaser from the Security man's hand.

Larabee grabbed Josiah's arm instead. The Captain had witnessed the look in Standish's eye and recognized had mirrored his and Vin's only a few moments ago.

A wide spread phaser discharge sprang forth.

Gainan tried to bring the blade across Tanner's throat in his last act of freedom. The bolt of energy slammed into him before he could begin the move.

Both Tanner and Chaplain were tossed backward a few feet and then tumbled to the ground in a tangle of limbs. Green blood smeared the floor.

Chris rushed forward.

Josiah cautiously approached Standish. The large man rested a heavy callused hand over the steadfast, outstretched arm that clutched the phaser. The skin still radiated the intense heat of a fever. "I take it you know him?" The lightness in Sanchez's voice did not readily mask his concern.

Standish merely shrugged and stated, "History professor." Josiah kept a hold of the phaser and watched Ezra shuffle toward door.

Nathan gave last minute orders to the doctors tending JD and directed more toward Buck. Jackson then bolted to Vin.

Larabee pressed both hands over the green percolating wound. The Captain tossed an infuriated gaze at the disappearing back of his Security Chief. This was not over. All that bastard had to do was confide in someone. Standish could have simply stepped forward and spoke either to Buck or himself or even Josiah. The cagey son of a bitch kept the information to himself and now three friends lay near death. This was not over, not by a long shot.

"Chris let me slide in here an' take a look." Jackson's confident unruffled voice brought a sense of comfort.

"They're just stunned Chris," Nathan remarked. He ran his diagnostics over Tanner. The panic and fear that Jackson had felt quickly disappeared under the duress of action. The time for his own personal emotions would have to wait. When time was not critical and clear thinking not needed then he would allow himself a chance to react to the injuries. Until then he had a job to do and such luxuries were of no benefit to his patients or himself.

Larabee merely nodded. He focused on Tanner. The background noise, the movement of others were lost on him. Only when Vin was loaded onto a stretcher did Chris move or deviate his attention. And then it was only to ensure that the rest of his injured crew under care.


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