From the Gamma quadrant they came -- hordes of fierce Jem'Hadar warriors commanded by the mysterious Changelings, who will stop at nothing to achieve victory over both the United Federation of Planets and the Klingon Empire. Now that the Dominion has entered into an unholy alliance with the Cardassian military regime and seized control of Deep Space Nine, Starfleet finds itself fighting a losing war against unbeatable odds. As mighty fleets clash in the deadly battleground of space, the fate of the entire Alpha Quadrant hangs in the balance.
The Enterprise-E is patrolling the Cardassian border, bracing for the joint Dominion-Cardassian offensive that Starfleet knows will come soon, when Captain Jean-Luc Picard and his crew are reunited with a former crewmate, friend, and enemy: Ro Laren. The onetime officer, who defected from Starfleet to join the rebel Maquis, brings disturbing news. Deep behind enemy lines, the Dominion is attempting to build an artificial wormhole that will allow them to bypass the mined Bajoran wormhole and bring fresh reinforcements into the Alpha Quadrant, altering the balance of power irrevocably. If Captain Picard cannot stop the project, the new wormhole will guarantee the ultimate victory of the Dominion!
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Pocket Books/Star Trek
September 30, 1998
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Excerpt from Star Trek: The Dominion Wars: Book 1 by John Vornholt
Ro Laren looked up at the yellowing clouds, which rested uneasily upon the jagged teeth of the olivehued mountains in the distance. She didn't see the beauty of the twilit sky or the flowering land with harvesting season upon it; all she saw were the vapor trails of shuttlecraft and small transports streaking away from the planet Galion. The former Starfleet officer knew that most of those vessels were little more than junk and had no warp drive. Where did they think they were going?
Her hands paused over the lush sprawl of tomato vines and plump red fruit in her small vegetable patch. Who would have thought she could have gotten so much pleasure from coaxing food from the ground? Emotions gripped her throat like the teeth of a vole, and she wanted to lash out with her fists. This isn't just! No sooner had they found a semblance of peace than another war was engulfing them with its acrid stink. Ro knew well the stench of war. Burning rubble, bloated bodies, wretched refugee camps -- those were her childhood memories. This war was less her fight than any of those other conflicts, yet it threatened to dwarf them all.
She heard a door slam inside the corrupted shed that served as their home. Ro took a deep breath and rose from her muddy knees. Lean, hardened by manual labor, her brown hair cropped short, she was more striking than beautiful. Her nose ridges were prominent, and she wore the traditional chains and bands on her right ear, proclaiming her Bajoran heritage in this mostly human Maquis community. Ro wiped her hands on the apron that covered her frayed jumpsuit, and she listened to his footsteps creaking on the thin floor of the prefabricated shed. Derek sounded unusually tense; he was probably working up the nerve to face her.
The door banged open again, and she heard his footsteps on the black volcanic gravel that served as their soil. Only a combination of hydroponic techniques, chemical fertilization, and constant irrigation had rendered it fit for growing. Ro wasn't keen on leaving this soil just yet -- she had poured too much sweat into it.
The human walked around the corner of the shed and stopped when he saw her. She could tell everything she needed to know from the slouch of his shoulders and his tired blue eyes; even his mustache drooped wearily. He was gray-haired and many years her senior, but he had a rakish charm that kept him youthful. Today that charm could not disguise the weathered, worried lines in his face. Derek had been a freelance smuggler and weapons runner, but she had won him over to the Maquis cause. He still dealt weapons, but for his people, not profit.
She ran to him, and he wrapped his wiry arms around her slender frame. A strand of his gray hair brushed her cheek, and Derek lifted her chin and gazed at her. "They didn't take the deal," he said softly. "We have to go."
"Again?" she muttered, pulling away from him. "I've been forced to run too many times -- I'm not sure I can do it again. We stood up to the Cardassians, and the Federation; can't we stand up to them?"
He gave her a melancholy smile. "These aren't the Cardies or the Feds. This is the Dominion. We can't fight them; nobody can. The Federation, the Klingons -- they're getting crushed right and left, and the Jem'Hadar warships look like they're invincible. Plus they've rebuilt the entire Cardassian fleet, and they're eager for conquest. Believe it or not, our envoys saw two ships full of Federation prisoners come in while they were docked at Tral Kliban for the negotiations."
Ro snorted, derisively. "Some negotiations. What did you expect, trying to convince the Cardassians that we're neutral? Once an enemy of the Cardassians, always an enemy."
"Not so," answered Derek softly. "We may have failed, but the Bajorans accepted a nonaggression treaty. They are neutral."
"Bajor?" scoffed Ro. "I don't believe it."
He gave her a sad smile that insisted it was true. "I don't think Bajor had much choice, and the Dominion probably did it just to annoy the Cardassians, to let them know who's boss. Deep Space Nine fell, and it's all going to fall -- the whole Federation. Only the cloaked mines they stuck in front of the wormhole have saved them so far.
"We're small potatoes, but the Dominion will get around to us. Our spies say they want to clear out this sector, because they're building something big on the other side of the Badlands, near Sector 283."
"An artificial wormhole," answered Derek with awe in his voice. "They may be using slave labor -- Federation prisoners."
Ro stared at him, stunned by the implications. With an artificial wormhole deep in Cardassian space, Dominion forces could travel back and forth between the Alpha and Gamma quadrants without using the Bajoran wormhole. They could even destroy it, along with everything the Bajorans held dear.
"Some of our cells have already returned to the Federation," declared Ro. "We've got to swallow our pride and do the same thing. With the Federation's help, maybe we can defend this system instead of running."
Now it was Derek's turn to snort. "The Federation will be lucky if they can defend Earth. We're unimportant, forgotten. About all we can do is find some quiet place to hide until it's all over." His attempt at a smile looked more like a wince.
"So the proud Maquis just run for their lives, giving up years of struggle?" asked Ro disdainfully.
Derek kicked a black pebble. "Our envoys got one promise from the Cardassians -- they'll give us time to evacuate, as long as we don't try to enter the hostilities."
Ro stared at him in disbelief. "Evacuate to where? There's no running from a war like this. We can fight, or we can surrender and be at their mercy."
"Bajor's always an option," answered Derek, calmly ignoring her tirade as he often did. "Remember, Bajor is neutral. In fact, the committee is assembling a crew for you, and you're going to captain the Orb of Peace and take as many people as we can fit in. Traveling as Bajorans -- with you in command -- you stand a good chance of getting through Dominion space."
"I wasn't even at the meeting!" snapped Ro. "Who decided this for me?"
He gave her a weary smile and gripped her shoulders. "Laren, you're the only one who can pull off a mission like this. We've got to gain control of the evacuation so we don't just have people scattering to the four winds. We'll never find each other again. The Maquis are a community, even if we keep getting chased off our land. I'll feel better knowing you're on Bajor. I'll come as soon as possible."
Ro's nose ridges compressed like a bellows. "You're not coming with me?"
"No. Someone has got to move our weapons stores, and I'm the only one who knows where everything is. I mean, we're not total pacifists, are we?" For an instant the roguish grin was back.
She gripped him desperately, and he hugged her, his fingers digging into her flesh. When their lips met, it was a bittersweet kiss with a taste of tears. In a vegetable patch behind a corrugated shed on a little-known planet in what was formerly the Cardassian Demilitarized Zone, now the Dominion, they clung to each other. They knew it could be the last time.
"How long do we have?" she asked hoarsely.
"An hour, maybe. Your ship is en route."
"They may have to wait," said Ro, taking his arm and pulling him toward the shed.
Ro materialized in the small but elegant transporter chamber of the Orb of Peace. In her gray cap and jumpsuit, with a duffel bag slung over her shoulder, she looked like a common crew member. But she was the captain on this ship, as testified to by the importance of her welcoming committee. Crunched into the dimly lit chamber were three provisional admirals, two of the envoys who had returned empty-handed, and a cadre of dignitaries that spilled out into the corridor.
I might have known, thought Ro. I'm ferrying the brass to safety, not the common folk.
Although these men and women outranked her in the Maquis hierarchy, they looked upon her with awe. Ro was a legend to the Maquis -- a reclusive figure who had deserted Starfleet to join their hopeless cause, only to become one of their greatest heroes. Time and time again, she had distinguished herself in guerrilla attacks against both the Cardassians and the Federation. Yet when the Cardassian-Klingon War brought them relative peace, she had spurned Maquis offers of higher rank. A small cell of well-trained fighters was all she had ever commanded, until now. Ro knew she was an enigma to these people, an outsider whom they both respected and feared.
"Citizen Ro," said Shin Watanabe, one of the recently returned envoys, "we are pleased that you have undertaken this mission."
Ro stepped off the transporter platform, and the sea of people parted respectfully for her.
"You know our objective," said one admiral brusquely. "Do you think we can make it to Bajor?"
With her jaw set determinedly, Ro studied the faces confronting her. Most of what she saw was fear, uncertainty, and anger, emotions she could well understand. These people were close to falling apart, and she had to make sure they held together.
"I know you're all afraid," she began, "and so am I. But we have to get one thing straight before we start this journey. I am now Captain Ro -- by your choice -- and I am in total command of this vessel. Bajor is a considerable distance, and a lot can happen between here and there. I want your promise that nobody will overrule my orders and decisions."
Watanabe laughed nervously. "Well, naturally, we will have some input and advice -- "
Ro jumped back onto the transporter platform, then turned to face them. "Transport me back. I'd rather take my chances with the Cardassians than have you questioning my orders."
A female admiral charged forward. "Laren, we've known each other a long time. Don't start playing hierarchical mind games."
"We all know a ship can have only one captain," said Ro evenly. "We have no world, no homeland -- only this vessel flying under a false flag. When you elected me captain, you chose to put your lives into my hands. It was your decision. If I'm in charge of this ship, then we're going to be a crew, not a rabble. It's that simple -- take it or leave it."
The second admiral, a older man named Sharfer, saluted her. "Aye, Captain. You have my word on it, and I'll throw anyone into the brig who argues with you."
The others stared at him in shock; then they lowered their heads in resignation, shame, and fear. Ro hadn't meant to come down on them so harshly, but it was best to settle this matter here and now. The journey would be difficult enough without endlessly debating every decision. Besides, Ro wasn't in a very charitable mood today. The good-bye with Derek had been painful.
"Admiral Sharfer," she said, "have I been assigned a first officer?"
"Not yet. For the past year, this ship has only had a maintenance crew. We've staffed it as best we could on short notice."
"Then would you be willing to serve as first officer?" asked Ro.
He nodded solemnly, and the Bajoran jumped off the platform and knifed through the crowd. She ushered Sharfer out the door into the corridor ignoring the stares of the others. After walking past a spiral staircase that led to the lower deck, Ro got her bearings, and strode toward the bridge, with the admiral walking beside her.
"What's the ship's status?" she asked Sharfer.
"As you know, the Orb of Peace was in bad shape when we bought her on the black market. We refitted her, leaving enough original technology to show a Bajoran warp signature."
"So she's slow," said Ro, "and underarmed."
Sharfer smiled. "Well, we boosted her armaments with six photon torpedoes, and she is capable of warp three -- but she's still just a midrange transport."
"What's our complement?"
"Crew of twenty, plus eighty passengers."
Ro scowled. "They must really be crammed in."
"They are. But she was meant to carry clergy, so it didn't take much to refit her as a troop transport. There's one good thing -- she has a working food replicator."
"That makes her a rarity in the Maquis fleet," said Ro dryly. "See if the replicator can make some Bajoran uniforms for the bridge crew. Are there any other Bajorans on board?"
"Only one, a junior engineer named Shon Navo."
"He's no longer an engineer. Promote him to the bridge crew -- he's to be on duty every moment when I'm not, which won't be often. If we get hailed by Dominion ships, they must see a Bajoran in command on the bridge."
"Understood," said Sharfer.
A door slid open at their approach, and they swept onto the bridge. The small bridge of the Orb of Peace was more tasteful than practical. It was appointed in red with austere control consoles that looked like prayer booths, and the main viewscreen was framed with sayings of the Prophets. "The ways of the Prophets lead to peace" was the first word of advice to catch her eye. Ro hid her scowl, having never been as religious or aesthetic as most of her people.
The three-person crew, which included a young pilot at the conn, an operations officer, and a tactical officer, jumped to their feet. "Captain on the bridge!" piped one.
"At ease," she told them. "I'll learn your names as we go. First dim running lights by sixty percent. That'll help to hide the fact that most of us aren'tBajorans." The young crew sat stiffly in their seats, and the ops officer dimmed the lights as ordered.
There was no official captain's chair on the Bajoran craft, and Ro took a seat at an auxiliary console. "Set course for Bajor."
"Direct course?" asked the conn. "No evasion?"
"Ensign, obey my orders as I give them," said Ro testily. "We're not going to be, evasive -- we have nothing to hide. We're a Bajoran trade delegation to the Dominion, and now we're headed home. I only wish that we had time to surgically alter everyone to look Bajoran; but we don't -- so we'll have to fake it. Set course for Bajor, maximum warp."
"Yes, sir." The young blond woman worked her ornate controls. "Course laid in."
"Take us out of orbit, one-third impulse."
Admiral Sharfer moved toward the doorway. "I'll get to work on those uniforms, and I'll have Mr. Shon assigned to the bridge."
Ro nodded. The reality of their departure from Galion had left an unexpected lump in her throat, and she didn't trust herself to say much.
"We're clear of orbit," reported the conn officer. "Warp engines on-line."
Ro pointed her finger exactly as she had seen a certain Starfleet captain do it. "Engage."
Phaser blasts from two Galor-class Cardassian warships crackled across space and rocked the sleek form of the Enterprise-E. The Sovereign-class vessel shuddered before it veered into a desperate dive, with the yellow, fish-shaped warships in quick pursuit.
On the bridge, Captain Jean-Luc Picard gripped the armrests of his command chair. "Evasive maneuvers, pattern Zeta-nine-two!"
"Yes, sir," answered Will Riker at the auxiliary conn controls. The regular conn officer sat dazedly on the deck beside his burned-out console, and Dr. Beverly Crusher ministered to a wound on his forearm. Everywhere on the bridge was the acrid smell of burnt and overloaded circuits, caused by high-density electromagnetic pulses sweeping the ship.
"Shields down to forty percent," reported Data at the ops console. The android spoke in a calm, businesslike tone that belied the urgency of the situation.
"Target aft torpedoes on the lead craft," ordered Picard.
"Targeting quantum torpedoes," reported Ensign Craycroft on tactical. She was a young woman with nerves of titanium, and she reminded Picard of another young woman who had manned that station ten years ago on another vessel called the Enterprise. It seemed like a lifetime since they had grieved the loss of Tasha Yar, because now Starfleet lost a thousand Tasha Yars every day.
"They're lined up," Riker reported urgently.
"Lower shields," ordered Picard. "Fire!"
Ensign Craycroft plied her console. "Torpedoes away!"
A brace of torpedoes shot from the tail of the Enterprise, and they looked like shooting stars as they streaked across the blackness of space. The torpedoes swerved into the lead Cardassian ship like hungry piranhas, and it exploded in a blaze of gas, flames, and imploding antimatter which engulfed the second ship behind it. The second ship veered off, sparkling like a Christmas tree before it. went dark and began to drift. The Enterprise kept going, steady on course.
Riker looked back at Picard and gave him a boyish grin. "Works every time."
"It works on Cardassians in any case," said the captain cautiously. He didn't like being reduced to tricks, but when they were outnumbered by superior forces, they needed all the help they could get. The Cardassians were arrogant and eager to make a kill on big game such as the Enterprise. That made them careless, something the Jem'Hadar were not.
"Damage report," ordered Riker.
"There are energy fluctuations on the starboard nacelle, bridge, and decks fifteen through twenty-six," reported Data. "Plasma couplings and EPS conduits on deck seventeen require immediate repair. Recovery systems are compensating, and repair crews have been dispatched. Shields are holding steady at forty percent, and I am rerouting power from the main reactor. Five casualties reported, none serious."
Beverly Crusher rose wearily to her feet and brushed back a strand of blonde hair that had escaped from her hair band. Her lab coat was stained, and her face looked gaunt -- a doctor at war. "I'm on my way to sickbay," she said.
The doctor looked down at her patient and gave him a professional smile. "Ensign Charles is stabilized, but I want him to sit still for a while. I'll send somebody for him as soon as I can. Just keep him comfortable."
Picard gave her a wan smile. "Still shorthanded down there?"
"No, I just come up here in case both you and Will get knocked out, and I can finally take over. I want to be on hand when it happens."
"Good thinking," said Riker, who appreciated gallows humor more than Picard. "But we could have the computer notify you."
"I'm sure I'll know." The doctor put her head down and walked across the spacious bridge, past two empty science stations, unused since the war started. Her shoulders stiffened as she entered the turbolift, but she didn't look back.
Picard swallowed dryly. He was having a hard time adjusting to a war in which they were being overwhelmed on all fronts, in which every department was shorthanded and shell-shocked. Many of his most experienced crew members were now chief engineers, doctors, and captains on their own vessels. Only by calling in personal favors had he managed to hang on to his core staff of officers. Defeats and surrenders had taken their toll, but Starfleet could build more ships faster than they could build good crew to fly them.
"What's the fleet situation?" he asked Data.
Theoretically, they were in the middle of a major offensive against Dominion forces, but Starfleet had stopped massing their ships in close formation. The Dominion fleets simply outgunned them, and they couldn't stand toe-to-toe against them. Instead the new tactic was to spread the battle in three dimensions, so that the enemy had to break off and pursue. With good luck and a good crew, a captain might face only two or three Cardassian warships instead of one Jem'Hadar battle cruiser, and he might live to fight another hit-and-run skirmish another day.
Data shook his head. "Captain, I cannot make an accurate assessment without breaking subspace silence, although long-range scans should indicate possible hostilities." The android's fingers swiftly worked his console.
"Search for distress signals," said Picard, rubbing his eyes. "Let's go to our secondary mission -- rescue."
"Setting predetermined course for secondary mission," reported Riker. "Warp three?"
"Full impulse, until we make repairs," replied the captain. "I want to coddle this ship -- she's all we've got."
Riker nodded and tapped his comm badge. "Riker to Engineering. How are we doing, Geordi?"
"Fine," came a curt reply. "I know I owe you a repair crew -- they're on their way. Is the war over yet?"
"Not quite," said Riker with a half smile.
Captain Picard settled back into his chair. By all rights, they had destroyed one enemy ship and had crippled another, and they should be finished for the day. But somebody out there needed help -- a great many somebodies.
On the Orb of Peace, the bridge was not as spacious and as efficiently laid out as the circular bridge of the Enterprise. The dimly lit chamber reminded Ro of a small Bajoran chapel, facing the viewscreen instead of the shrine. To complete the impression, there were all those religious homilies decorating the frame around the viewscreen. However, the elegant Bajoran instrument panels lent a soothing reddish and turquoise glow to the surroundings.
Ro looked back at Shon Navo, a teenager who ought to be in school instead of fighting a war. The two of them were wearing the rust-brown uniforms of Bajor, and they were wearing their most ostentatious ear apparel. As the only Bajorans on this Bajoran ship, they had to play every part. For two hours, their journey had been totally uneventful, and they were chewing up the parsecs as fast as the transport would go. Ro felt she could take a few moments to coach the boy in his duties.
"Mr. Shon," she began, "stay close to me."
"Yes, Captain," he said eagerly, as he shuffled up to her right shoulder blade. She judged him to be slightly shorter than herself.
"If anybody hails us for any reason, you are to position yourself in a similar position, very close to me. We'll go on visual and let them know we're Bajoran."
"I will address remarks to you as if you were my first officer, and we will speak in Bajoran. They'll be able to translate it, so keep the remarks pertinent."
He cleared his throat nervously.
"I...I don't speak Bajoran. I used to know it as a kid, I think, but I've forgotten it."
He nodded. "And my new parents took me with them to the Fellowship Colony. Boy, that was nice...for a while. Then the Federation betrayed us and handed us over to the Cardassians."
"Let's keep personal opinions to a minimum," said Ro. "We're going to Bajor. Despite being officially neutral, Bajorans hold the Federation in high regard. After all, the Emissary is a human."
The boy's face hardened. "Thus far, the Cardassians have killed all four of my parents and have tried to kill me several times. Anyone who appeases them is a coward."
"I'm not telling you you can't hate," said Ro. "Just keep it to yourself."
"You might be forced to answer a hail when I'm not here. Don't delay -- it looks suspicious. Simply identify yourself as the first officer and send for me. This isn't a big ship -- I'll get here quickly. Time permitting, I'll teach you a few Bajoran words. You can start with -- "
"Captain," said the operations officer, his back stiffening, "there's a fleet of ships passing within four parsecs of us. Two of them have dropped out of warp and are breaking off. They're headed our way."
"Where are the other ones going?" asked Ro urgently. "Plot their course."
"The two Jem'Hadar ships have gone back into warp and will catch up with us in a few, minutes!" said the nervous pilot.
"We'll talk our way out of it," declared Ro. "We're lucky they're Jem'Hadar, not Cardassians. Get Admiral Sharfer to the bridge. And I want to know where the rest of that fleet is going."
"Oh, no," groaned the tactical officer. "They're...they're headed toward Galion! What are we going to do?"
Ro could tell she was a Maquis-trained officer, not Starfleet, and she tried to have patience with her. "First of all, get control of yourself."
"Yes, sir," responded the woman, straightening her shoulders. "Should I arm torpedoes?"
"No, don't make any aggressive moves without my command. By the way, we all have people back on Galion."
The woman smiled gratefully at her, then gulped. "Should we warn them?"
"If we send a message right now," said Ro, "we probably won't get to finish it."
Ro turned to gaze at Shon Navo. The fresh-faced Bajoran looked so innocent, even though his life had been steeped in tragedy and hatred. "Shon, I want you to be the first thing they see. Just identify our vessel, say we're Bajoran, and that you have sent for the captain. With any luck, they'll be in a hurry."
She paced behind her unfamiliar crew. "Lower the lights another ten percent, Put the ships on screen."
The viewscreen revealed two silvery shapes in the distance, dwarfed by the vastness of space. The Jem'Hadar attack ships looked unprepossessing -- they were smaller than the Orb of Peace -- but Ro knew they were tremendously swift, maneuverable, and destructive. She had never seen the Jem'Hadar, but she had heard reports of their single-minded ruthlessness and devotion to their masters, the Founders.
"They're at warp six and gaining on us," said the pilot.
"Steady as she goes," ordered Ro. "Don't come out of warp unless they force us to. Don't change speed."
On the viewscreen, the Dominion ships were larger now -- two puglike fighters with twin nacelles, all spit and chrome. Ro imagined that her ship was being scanned and their warp signature was being verified. Even though she was expecting it, the sudden beep of the communications panel made her pulse quicken.
"They 're hailing us," said the tactical officer with a quavering voice. "And they're demanding that we come out of warp."
"Answer the hail first." Ro motioned to Shon Navo to step in front of the viewscreen as she retreated to the shadows at the rear of the bridge.
Spine erect, trying to look like his idea of a first officer, the young Bajoran stepped into the pool of light in front of the viewscreen. He cleared his throat and nodded.
At once, the frightening aspect of a Jem'Hadar warrior appeared on the screen. His face was gnarled with prickly ridges like a cactus, and his skin was gray and lifeless. His eyes appeared to be red and vivid, yet they were darkly hooded like a lizard's eyes. A strange mechanical appendage seemed to grow out of his collarbone and hover in front of his left eye, and a tube pumped a white liquid into an orifice in the side of his neck. Behind the Jem'Hadar stood another less imposing figure. Like her, he was hovering in the shadows.
"We are the Orb of Peace, a Bajoran transport," said the young Bajoran in a confident yet respectful tone of voice.
"Come out of warp," ordered the Jem'Hadar in a gruff voice. "This is Dominion space."
"I'm only the first officer," answered Shon, his voice cracking. "The captain has been summoned."
"This is Dominion space," repeated the craggy face on the viewscreen.
"And we are friends of the Dominion," replied Ro, marching to the front of the bridge. Shon Navo fell into line behind her, nearly leaning on her back for support. She could feel him shivering.
"Captain Tilo at your service," she added.
"Come out of warp," ordered the Jem'Hadar.
Ro nodded to the conn and said loudly, "Full impulse. Maintain course for Bajor."
On the Dominion attack ship, the shadowy figure at the rear of the cockpit leaned over the shoulder of the pilot. This one was a different species than the Jem'Hadar, although he certainly wasn't Cardassian. He had huge ears, pale violet eyes, and an obsequious expression, like a professional politician. A Vorta, she thought, the midlevel managers of the Dominion.
"What is your business in this sector?" he asked pleasantly enough.
"We are a Bajoran trade delegation," she answered. "In the past, we have traded with many worlds in this sector, and we hope that we can continue to do so."
"We're in a state of war," answered the little man with the big ears, "as we aid our allies in their battle against the unscrupulous practices of the Federation. You might be wise to continue on your way home without further interruption."
"That is our intention," answered Ro. "Thanks to the benevolence of the Dominion."
The Vorta nodded in appreciation of the compliment, then he added, "We had noticed a large number of passengers on your vessel -- most of them human."
"Carrying passengers is a sideline," answered Ro evenly, "especially on our return voyage. We are headed straight home."
"Make certain of that." The Vorta nodded to the Jem'Hadar pilot, and the screen went blank as the link ended. A moment later, they watched the two Dominion vessels zoom off into warp.
Ro scowled. "What's their course?"
"The same course we traveled," replied tactical. "They're headed toward Galion and the Maquis settlements."
"Do we resume warp speed for Bajor?" asked the helmsman, his voice quavering.
Ro gazed from the expectant faces of her young crew members to the wizened face of Admiral Sharfer. None of them ventured an opinion; none of them offered to make the decision for her. This is what she had said she wanted -- total control over this vessel and the lives of a hundred people -- and she had it.
Her eyes rested on the young blond woman at the tactical station: her face was tight with fear, but she kept her tears at bay. Ro knew the fear wasn't for herself but for those left behind, unaware that an enemy fleet was streaking toward them. Her moist eyes seemed to say that only an animal flees without any concern for loved ones left behind. They couldn't beat the Dominion ships to Galion, but they could try to rescue survivors.
"Alert Galion Central," she ordered. "Tell them about the Dominion fleet. Reverse course, maximum warp."
"Aye, Captain," said the conn officer with a mixture of awe and apprehension.
The boxy little transport executed a 180-degree turn and elongated into a streak of golden light before vanishing entirely.