Twin shuttles broke through the clouds of Arkan II. Dropping to the treeline, the shuttles skimmed the tree tops of pine like trees, twisting them with turbulence. A valley opened up, and the planet’s largest village lay sprawled along the banks of a rocky fjord surrounded by tall cliffs lined with pines gnarled and twisted from the winds off the sea.
The shuttles circled ruins of the village. Most of the fires were out, and thin tendrils of smoke rose into the ash grey sky. Rain seemed inevitable, and that would help put out the last of the fires.
Only a few buildings stood, mostly unscathed from the attack. The town hall at the center of the village had been constructed of native stones and stood in defiance of the attack impervious to the flames that had swept through the town.
The shuttles set down on a grassy knoll outside of the village. The ramps lowered, and a dozen, well armed Starfleet officers exited the shuttles and assembled in a cluster facing the village.
“Keep your heads on a swivel,” Lt. Oskar Eichmann ordered in his thick German accent. “The Jem’Hadar can cloak themselves.”
Órlaith winced inwardly at her chief of security’s statement. He, of course, was correct in that statement. It was because of this that she was thankful that her contribution to the Dominion War had been in a fighter and not on the ground.
“I am reading several hundred lifesigns,” Doctor Mulder announced reading from her tricorder. Diana Mulder cut an imposing figure with her height and short blonde hair that framed her face to perfection. Standing over six feet tall, she towered over all the others, even Eichmann, at six feet. “Mostly human, some Vulcan and Tellarites. I’m also reading Jem’Hadar and a single Vorta.”
Órlaith watched the village intently. Nothing moved. Nothing stirred. It was like the place had been abandoned wholesale. “I don’t see anything, and if there are Jem’Hadar isn’t it a little too peaceful?”
The doctor shrugged, “Only telling you what the tricorder says.”
“Perhaps the Jem’Hadar are holding the town’s people as prisoners of war.”
That made sense to some degree, but you would have thought the Dominion would have had a watch and their presence already alerted. Perhaps it was, she realized uncomfortably.
“No sense in just standing here,” Órlaith finnally announced. “We aren’t going to get answers hanging around here speculating.”
The grass was knee high, and in some places, it grew to their waists. The soil beneath their boots was soft and spongy, making the trek all the more arduous. Burrs clung to their clothes poking and scratching the skin beneath.
Emerging on a dirt path that led to the village Órlaith was tired, itchy, and throughly done with the whole situation. Falling into twin columns, the Starfleet cadre entered the village, making their way to the town hall.
The destruction of homes and shops was disheartening. She had met several people who had made their livelihoods on planets on the edge of Federation space. These colonists did without the creature comforts most were used to elsewhere in the Federation. They were fiercely proud of what they built, and to have it destroyed in such a senseless manner had to be almost soul-crushing.
They climbed the granite steps to the doors of the town hall. They were double doors made of heavy wooden planks with black iron hinges and handles. Órlaith grasped the handle to the right door in her right hand. As she did Órlaith raised the phaser in her left hand prepared for a quick shot.
Muted sunlight flooded the hall that was lit by candles, lamps, and torches. The electric lights were dark, suggesting the power was out for the village. The interior was inspired by the great halls of the Viking jarls.
The vaulted ceiling held carved beams of Norse mythology. The walls were draped in tapestries, shields, and swords. In the center of the hall, a fire crackled, inviting its warmth.
At the head of the hall was a large group of villagers surrounding five Jem’Hadar soldiers and a single Vorta. “That explains the lifesigns,” Órlaith commented.
“What are they doing?” Doctor Mulder asked.
“I expect they are prisoners, but they don’t know what to do with them,” Eichmann suggested.
“Would you? Execution isn’t the Federation way, but I doubt they have a stockade to hold them,” Órlaith replied.
“Crime on these planets are rare, but not unheard of,” Eichmann added. “But I do get what you are driving at.”
A man peeled off from the group to approach them. Órlaith was somewhat disappointed that he wasn’t wearing fur, sporting an impressive braided beard and carrying an axe. Instead, he was a slight man wearing a thoroughly fashionable business suit. His black hair was slicked back, and he had a meticulously groomed mustache.
A pair of Starfleet officers peeled off as well, and with the well-groomed man they approached Órlaith. “Welcome to our village,” the man greeted. “I am Josh Franklin, the mayor of…” He paused, frowned, “The mayor of what’s left. Sadly, it is not much.”
Órlaith holstered her phaser phaser, “Captain Órlaith Murphy. This is my Chief of Security Lieutenant Oskar Eichmann and my Cheif Medical Officer Diana Mulder.” Órlaith paused, taking in the Starfleet officers for the first time. “Commander, you look familiar.”
The Commander grinned, “I should. My mom was your Commander on the Denver.”
Órlaith smiled in recognition, “Ethan Talon. It’s been a long time.”
Ethan chuckled, “Yes, it has. This is my Chief of Security Lieutenant Kat Donovan.”
Órlaith gave the woman a polite nod, “What are you doing here? I didn’t think there was a Starfleet presence on Arkan II.”
“There isn’t. The outpost I command is in need of mining supplies, and since I don’t have the first clue about how to mine a planet, I figured it would also be a good time to learn.”
“So wrong place at the right time?” Órlaith asked.
Ethan grunted, “Something like that.”
“So, what happened? Don’t say the Dominion attacked. I know that much.”
Ethan smirked at her. “At dawn, two Jem’Hadar fighters came in from the sea. The mayor was able to get off a distress signal just before they jammed coms.”
“Yeah, we got it. Sorry we were late, but it looks like you held your own well enough.”
“Better late than never, captain. We have injured, and most of the village is homeless now. I would put them up in the hall, but sadly, the room is finite and will not hold everyone,” the mayor added.
“They did. They tried sending in troops first. The villagers grabbed whatever they had. Phasers, disruptors, old-fashioned firearms, and even heavy hammers and axes.”
Órlaith gave the villagers a new look of appreciation.
“The attack was short, but ugly,” the mayor added. “We lost some very good people, but the Dominion lost more. When they realized they didn’t have the ability to seize the area, they fled setting the town ablaze.”
“They also ionized the atmosphere,” Órlaith added. “It why you probably haven’t been able to get any comm traffic out since the attack.”
“I suspected as much,” Ethan replied. “Unfortunately, our shuttle was destroyed in their attack. It was one of the first things they struck, and the colony didn’t have proper sensors to analyze the situation.”
“We shot down one of their fighters,” the mayor added triumphantly. “That’s where our ‘guests’ came from.”
“Some of the Miners drug an old mining drill out of the mines and boosted the output. They had one shot, and by God, they hit it. The fighter crashed along the cliffs heading east of here.”
“Mr. Eichmann, would you take their guests off their hands and return to the Andromeda? Send Commander Choi down with a full engineering team,” Órlaith ordered. “As for you, Commander, I’m glad you were here to help. We’ll get you a ride home.”
“I appreciate that,” Ethan said.
The group approached the prisoners. Órlaith eyed the Vorta with suspicion. They always acted meek and harmless, but she knew better. They were wolves.
“Vorta, you are going for a ride,” Órlaith announced. “You or your soldiers give my officers grief or any indication that you are trying to escape I’m authorizing my people to shoot you.”
The Vorta nodded. There was something in his expression that she felt off centering. He was going to be a prisoner of war, and he acted like he was being transferred to a day spa. Órlaith couldn’t help but wonder if something bigger was at play here and she was missing some key information.
“Before you move us Captain,” the Vorta announced. “I wish to speak with Commander Talon. Alone.”
Lieutenant Commander Lenny Choi grumbled as he fiddled with the fusion reactor. Several key components had become fused and damaged beyond repair. Thankfully, so far, the components were well within the ability of the shuttle’s replicator system to duplicate.
In frustration, he gripped the circuit board and ripped it free of the main housing with a pops and cracks of rending polymers and snapping circuits.
“I hope you don’t fix the Andromeda that way, sir.”
Lenny turned to see Lieutenant Washington standing there. “Aren’t you supposed to be on the Val? And yes. Sometimes, ripping a component out is not only satisfying but an effective use of my time. In this case, it was melted to the houseing. Brute force was the only option.”
Lenny tossed the damaged circuit board to the ground near his tools, and it clattered along the gravel walkway.
“Aww, the old brute force trick,” Washington said, grinning. “They don’t teach us that at the Academy.”
“They teach the book Lieutenant,” Choi responded as he inserted a new circuit board into the slot where the old one had been. “You need that foundation to know what parts to toss out and what parts to keep.”
Marcus chuckled, “I have found the book to be more useful than not.”
“You’re still a kid,” Choi said, running a tool over the replacement part, reconnecting severed wires and circuit pathways. “You still haven’t told me what you’re doing here.”
Marcus grinned widely, “We’ve figured out how to reestablish comms. No more shuttles.”
Choi glanced over his shoulder for a brief moment before returning his attention to the fusion reactor. “Good job, kid.” He threw a massive lever and pressed commands into the key panel on the side. “And this village now has power.”