Formalities first: all the characters and places belong to Paramount. Ensign Worth is my own creation as is the story. This is my first venture into fanfiction, so I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
Author's note: This story was originally written sometime during the winter of 97-98. I have rewritten parts of and fixed some major errors. It's also been reformatted for easier reading. Enjoy! ~ Seema, 10\28\99.
The ensign lifted the last of the crates into the runabout.
Dr. Julian Bashir eyed the young man rather lazily.
Good worker, Bashir conceded, but not completely Starfleet material.
According to his papers, Peter Worth had just barely made it through the Academy and his less than stellar performance had earned him a post on Deep Space Nine.
Not that Deep Space Nine was a dumping ground for the inept, Bashir hastily thought, but very few people were willing to take on the challenge of working at a station in need of constant repair not to mention the threat of a Dominion invasion.
"All set, sir," Worth said, looking at Bashir for further instructions.
Bashir nodded, "Thank you, Ensign. We should be able to leave shortly, whenever Commander Dax and Major Kira show up."
The ensign looked around the wide field where the runabout had been set down, searching for signs of the missing women. Bashir merely smiled.
He did not expect Dax and Kira to show up anytime soon - Dax was famous for being late, especially when her curiosity was piqued by some obscure scientific phenomenon.
"Do you think the mission went well, sir?"
"Hmm?" Bashir said.
"The mission, sir," the ensign repeated.
"Well, we were able to treat all reported cases of the Bourne Fever and hopefully, this planet has seen the last of the fever," Bashir said. "So, yes, I suppose it was successful."
"Very good, sir."
Bashir rolled his eyes. No backbone, no spunk, these new Starfleet cadets. He hadn't particularly wanted to bring Worth along, but Sisko had insisted, saying that it was time Ensign Worth had some experience in deep space.
"The mission to Meras IV will be perfect," Sisko had said. "A relatively safe and easy trip, a routine medical survey. Hopefully, it will be a positive learning experience."
Positive learning experience indeed, Bashir thought. Worth followed orders well, but had very little initiative - a flaw, Bashir said.
A trampling in the brush directly behind him caught Bashir's attention.
"This is the absolute last time I go anywhere with you," Kira's agitated voice rose through the air. "Tramping around in this swamp for five hours looking for some source of a reverse ion field. All I've got for my troubles are mosquito bites and a headache."
"You are a delightful traveling companion, Kira," Dax's voice flitted through the air.
Bashir turned to greet the two as they emerged from the trees.
"Hello there," he said, enjoying the sight of the two rumpled officers. Branches and leaves were caught in Dax's thick hair and wisps of hair had fallen loose from her silver barrette. She had unzipped her uniform jacket - a concession to the heat - revealing the blue shirt underneath.
Kira, her face as red as her uniform, looked just as frazzled. Nasty welts appeared on her wrists and face and her uniform was torn just above her boots.
"Hello, Julian," Dax said cheerfully.
"Apparently you did not find the source," Julian commented. He took in the expression on Kira's face and almost chuckled; the look was priceless.
"Five hours, Julian, five hours," the Bajoran fumed.
"You volunteered to come," Dax said. "You wanted to come. I didn't ask you."
"Like I was going to let you traipse all over Meras IV alone! Somebody has to keep an eye on you, Jadzia!" Kira fairly shouted the words. "If you went exploring this godforsaken world by yourself,
who knows what would have happened?"
"I would have had some peace," Dax replied, a twinkle in her blue-gray eyes.
"Let me take care of those bites," Julian interrupted. "They look nasty."
"Itch like hell too," Kira retorted. She shot a nasty look at Dax, but truth be told, Kira knew she would not be able to stay angry at Dax for long.
"I guess there's something in Trill morphology that repels those bugs," Dax said conversationally.
"Big nasty bugs too. They were this big, Julian," Dax held her fingers slightly apart. Bashir grimaced, imagining the black insects in his mind.
Kira shot her friend a withering look. She winced slightly as Bashir pressed the hypospray against her neck.
"All set," Julian told Kira. "The itching should stop shortly."
"Thank the Prophets," Kira glared at Dax and then her eyes fell on the runabout.
"Is it time to go?" she asked.
"Actually, yes. We're a little late, about forty minutes, but it's okay," Bashir said.
Dax led the way into the runabout, "Everyone accounted for?"
"Four heads," Bashir said, strapping himself into his seat as Dax took the helm and Kira took the seat next to the science officer. The ensign sat, rather stiffly, next to the doctor.
"When we're up, you can finish taking the inventory," Bashir told Worth.
"Yes, sir," the ensign replied in a stiff tone. Bashir didn't blame the ensign for his lack of enthusiasm; frankly, inventory was the last thing Bashir wanted to do and he was glad that he had the ensign around to take care of that chore.
"Readying thrusters," Dax said. In a moment, the runabout lurched off the ground and began rising. "Quarter impulse. Once we clear the atmosphere, I'll lay in a course for the station. Should be a nice, easy ride at warp two."
"I cannot wait to get back," Kira said. "After three weeks out here, I just want to soak in a giant bubble bath for an hour or more."
"Miles owes me a game of darts," the doctor said. "He beat me at the last series we played. I'm determined to get him this time."
"Well, Julian, while you were out here on Meras IV, I'm sure the chief was getting plenty of practice in," Dax offered the doctor a brief smile. "He may be difficult to beat now."
The doctor shrugged good-naturedly.
"What is the first thing you're going to do when you get home, Jadzia?" Kira asked.
"Hm? Probably analyze the data from the reverse ion field," Dax replied distractedly. "I might be able to find the source if I plot the different radiation vectors and their magnitudes."
"Sounds exciting," Bashir said, stretching his long legs out.
Actually, Dax knew her first task once aboard the station would be to make-up with Worf, who had voiced his objections to this particular mission very loudly.
"You can't keep trying to control what I do!" Dax had shouted the morning she was supposed to leave. "Julian asked me to go to Meras and I've never been, Worf. You should understand that."
He had glowered at her, "I have never objected before."
"That's because you always come. This is the first time I'm going without you. You just can't stand the fact that I don't need your protection."
"Jadzia," Worf had begun and then he fell silent. He had turned and walked away from her.
Jadzia had watched him, almost helpless in her fury. "I never object when you go without me," Jadzia shouted after him and then she remembered his trip into the Gamma Quadrant with Garak the previous year. "Well, almost never."
"I just have a bad feeling about this mission. It's not important enough for you to pilot the runabout. There are more important things here," Worf had answered.
"Are you trying to anger me?"
"Worf," she had said, in a voice so calm and rightening, "Worf, I'm leaving now. You can see me to the runabout or not. It's your choice."
He had not come and as Dax had pulled the runabout out of the station, the sense of panic and anxiety in the pit of her stomach had made her ill. Somehow, she forced gaiety in her voice and once on Meras IV, she had discovered the reverse ion field.
Tracking the source of the field had occupied all her thoughts and actions and she was able to distract herself from thinking about Worf and how angry he was.
"Detecting a Federation beacon up ahead," Kira said, her voice breaking into Dax's thoughts.
"Out here?" Dax's fingers flew across the keyboard. "Oh, it's a plasma storm warning."
"Oh, my very favorite kind of weather," Bashir said. "The medical effects are quite interesting."
"Yes, love those plasma burns," Kira said sarcastically.
"I've never seen a plasma storm up close before. It would be exciting," Bashir said. "I don't suppose we will go by it or anything?"
"Unfortunately the storm is right in the middle of our plotted course," Dax said. "I wouldn't advise flying through it."
"No, of course not," Bashir said. "But it would be fascinating." Dax turned to smile at him, agreeing silently that indeed, a plasma storm would be fascinating.
"Any way to fly over it?" Kira asked, knowing that there was no way the runabout would be able to survive an extended trip through a plasma storm.
"Doesn't seem it. I can plot an alternate course," Dax pulled up a star map on her console. "We can go through the Danae System."
"The Danae System?" Bashir asked, moving closer to Dax and Kira.
"It's a system with eight planets and one sun," Dax said, reading from the map. "It will take us an additional twenty-four hours to reach the station, but sensors indicate that the weather is clear through there."
"Any threat of the Cardassians or the Dominion?" Kira asked.
"Doesn't appear so. The Danae System is generally considered worthless, according to Starfleet," Dax said. "There used to be a Class M planet there, Velara. According to Starfleet logs, Velara was settled by humans from Earth about two hundred years ago. They were fairly quiet, not really a part of the Federation. I believe negotiations were begun for membership, but then five years ago, Velara simply disappeared, leaving no clues."
"Sounds like Roanoke," Bashir commented.
In response to the confused expressions on Dax and Kira's faces, Bashir said, "Oh, it was an early British colony in the New World which simply disappeared without a trace."
"Well, a starship was dispatched to Velara just after the disappearance but could find nothing," Dax said.
"Sounds charming, this vanishing planet of yours. You sure there isn't a better way home?" Kira asked.
"Well, we could go through the Meras system, but that would add another two days, since we have to backtrack and also it's a well-traveled route, we might run into some traffic."
"The Meras route is lousy with Ferengi," Bashir remarked. "We may end up paying through our nose just to get home."
"And besides, none of us have ever been to Danae before," Dax pointed out. "And who knows when we would get the chance again?"
"Fine," Kira said with a sigh. "As long as we aren't searching for a missing planet. As far as I'm concerned, the Velarans can just stay lost."
"Laying in the new course," Dax said. "And sending subspace message to the station, letting them know of the delay and the new course. Your bath will just have to wait a little longer, Nerys."
The major scowled, much to Dax and Bashir's amusement.
"You know," Chief Miles O'Brien said casually. "The station seems much quieter without Commander Dax and Major Kira."
Captain Benjamin Sisko looked up from his desk, "You mean the gossip isn't traveling as fast."
O'Brien shrugged, "Perhaps. But I do kind of miss them. Even Quark looks a little forlorn."
"That's because Dax is his favorite customer. No one loses more often at tongo than our science officer," Odo rumbled from his corner. "I have heard her and Worf fight about her losses quite often."
"They fight about quite a lot of things," O'Brien said. Odo laughed uneasily.
"Chief," Sisko said in a voice that clearly indicated that the personal lives of his officers were not to be discussed at this moment. "Do you have something for me?"
O'Brien handed over his PADD to the Captain.
"I've rerouted the cabling in the habitat ring," the Chief reported. "Hopefully, now those damn voles won't be able to chew through them. I tell you, if it isn't one thing with this station, it's another. Those Cardassians and their space stations."
Sisko smiled patiently at his chief engineer.
"We still need to come up with a way to get rid of those voles," Sisko said. "You can't just keep rerouting the power grids and the cable networks."
"Nothing works," O'Brien said. "Short of shooting them, of course. They are everywhere."
"Actually, if we could just contain them at Quark's, that would be fine," Odo spoke up.
Sisko smiled at his security officer. There were many a time when Sisko was sure Odo would have dispatched the Ferengi out of an airlock, but so far, the Changeling had managed to restrain himself.
"Crime has actually decreased," Odo said. "About five percent since last week."
"Probably the war scared everyone honest," Sisko said idly.
Odo frowned, "Captain…"
"I know, Odo, I know," Sisko held up his hand. "You are doing a good job and the new security measures you implemented are working."
"Thank you, sir."
The door beeped and Sisko looked up, "Come."
Worf entered, nodding acknowledgment at Odo and O'Brien.
"Captain," Worf said. "I just received a subspace transmission from the away team. They are changing their course. They will come through the Danae System."
"Danae?" Sisko asked skeptically. "Where is that?"
"Two days away. It's an inhabited system," Worf reported.
"Any threat of Dominion or Cardassian activity?" Sisko asked, knowing that if even a comet had grazed Danae space, the strategic operations officer would know it.
"None. It's a quiet system, relatively undisturbed. There used to be a planet there, Velara, which disappeared mysteriously five years ago," Worf didn't let it show, but the thought of disappearing planets sounded a little frightening to him. At least the Dominion or the Cardassians were enemies you could see and fight. Disappearing planets, on the other hand, were a little less honorable. But then again, he could guess that Dax would have pushed hard to go through Danae as an alternative route; The Meras system would be too boring for his curious and impulsive wife.
It was because she often acted without thinking first that Worf had been concerned about her piloting the mission to Meras IV. Of course he knew he could not control Jadzia anymore than she could control him. He merely wanted her to think a little before she went off exploring.
"Keep me posted," Sisko ordered.
"Very good, sir," Worf bowed his head and left the room. O'Brien looked askance at the Captain.
"Danae, sir?" O'Brien asked. "A planet that disappeared? I don't know if I like the sound of that."
Sisko reached over and picked up the baseball that occupied a special spot on his desk.
"It does disturb me a little," Sisko conceded. "But I have to trust in my officers, don't I?"
"Coming into Danae space now," Dax leaned forward in anticipation. "It looks quiet." Kira turned to face her friend, "I hope it stays that way."
In the back of the runabout, Bashir and Worth were continuing to inventory the remaining medical supplies.
"You lack adventure, Nerys," Dax said with a slight smile.
"And you have too much," Kira retorted.
Bashir moved forward into the cabin, "Really, ladies. Can't we have some peace?"
Dax turned her face up towards the doctor and flashed him a brilliant smile.
For a moment, the human almost melted under the glare of that smile.
He put his hand gently on her shoulder, recalling that time when he would have done anything to have spent time alone with her.
"How much longer?" he asked.
"Another sixteen or so hours if my calculations are correct," Dax reported.
"Sixteen hours!" Kira burst out in exasperation.
Bashir laughed, and moved over to soothe the Major.
"Don't worry, Nerys," Bashir said. "Think, you may never ever come through the Danae system again. So you might as well relax and enjoy the view."
Bashir disappeared into the back of the runabout to check on Worth.
Kira grumbled a little more, but she had to admit that she was intrigued by the thought of a disappearing planet. However, she was a little afraid that whatever had made the planet disappear might still be out there.
"Unsettling, to say the least," she said out-loud.
"What is?" Dax asked, her fingers flying expertly over the console.
"An entire planet just disappearing. There was no planetary debris or anything?"
"Actually, I find it interesting. I'm bringing long range scanners and sensors on-line now. Maybe we will discover what happened to the planet," Dax said.
His curiosity piqued, Bashir returned to the forward cabin.
"How is the ensign doing?" Kira asked in a low voice.
"A little green," Bashir said. "Somewhat eager, but could use a little more motivation and initiative."
"But he did get your inventory done, didn't he?" Dax laughed at Bashir.
"Yes, with a little prodding."
Dax leaned forward as the sensors began to beep.
"Look ahead, that's where the planet used to be," she said.
Bashir and Kira, in spite of herself, peered curiously at the viewscreen. An empty space, nothing so much as a dust fragments clouded the view.
"How strange," Dax said.
"Like a vacuum," Kira added.
"How can that be possible? I would have assumed the planet was destroyed, but there is no planetry debri," Bashir said.
The ensign, his work done, approached the front cabin with trepidation, curious to see what the others were excited about.
"I'm not picking up anything abnormal really," Dax said. "Wait! I've got something."
"What?" Kira whirled around.
"Atmosphere. Really thick atmosphere," Dax said, puzzled. "The planet itself is gone, but its atmosphere, it's still there."
The runabout shook a little and Kira scrambled back into her seat.
"What's that?" Dax shouted as the runabout shook again.
"I don't know. I'm trying to find out," Kira looked at her data screen. "Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Maybe just some turbulence of some kind."
"Maybe you and Ensign Worth should take your seats," Dax told Bashir. "There's no telling how long this is going to last. We shouldn't take any chances."
Bashir nodded, "All right."
The cabin shook again. Kira and Dax exchanged looks; this was no turbulence.
"Seems like we're caught in a tractor beam of some kind," Kira said in a low voice.
"You're right. I'm trying to move out of this patch and I can't. Let's see what happens if I move into warp."
The runabout shuddered terribly and Dax took a deep breath.
"Dropping out of warp," she said. "Shutting down the warp engines now."
"What happens if you increase impulse?" Bashir asked from his seat.
Dax complied with his request and once again, the shuttle groaned under the new demands.
"That didn't work! We're still caught!" Dax cried out.
Kira said, "Can't you do something?"
"Working to recalibrate engines now," Dax said furiously. "What's out there?"
The runabout shook again, knocking some of the medical supplies to the floor.
"Watch out!" Bashir leaped from his seat, trying to prevent some of the boxes from hitting the floor. The ensign moved out of the way, just as a box crashed down on his former seat.
"My God!" the ensign exclaimed. Bashir turned around, suddenly remembering that this was the young man's first mission.
"Keep calm," Bashir said smoothly, trying to ignore the fact that his heart was pounding furiously. "Everything will be fine. It's just a minor problem, really. It's under control."
"Do something," Kira hissed to Dax. "The shuttle will break apart if this pressure keeps up."
"I'm trying," Dax responded. She bit down on her lip as she fought furiously with the runabout's engines. But it was no use; she glanced sideways at Kira. The Bajoran was sitting very calmly, both hands gripping the arm rests.
"Kira," Dax said. "Nerys."
The major turned to look at her friend, "Yes, Jadzia?"
"We're caught in some tractor beam but I can't hone in on a location. There are no other ships, I just can't explain it," Dax looked genuinely puzzled. "But I do know if I keep pushing the engines, we may lose impulse and warp entirely. Then we will be stuck here."
"Sending out a distress signal now," Kira said. "The thought of drifting out here in the middle of nowhere really doesn't appeal to me, Jadzia."
The Trill nodded in agreement, "Good. Now let's see what's out there."
Worf paced the floor of Ops. O'Brien watched him with some trepidation. A nervous Klingon made the chief nervous.
"Worf," O'Brien said finally. "Worf, you've got to sit down now. You've been pacing for hours."
"The Rio Grande should have been back by now," Worf grumbled.
"You're right, Commander, but maybe they took a detour, some sightseeing," O'Brien said helpfully. "And they'll pull in any second. So you should just calm down."
"But they should have checked in. We haven't heard anything from them in hours."
O'Brien took a deep breath; he was growing anxious also. It was not like his colleagues to go so long without checking in.
"What does the Captain say?" O'Brien asked.
"I have not informed him yet. There is no need to alarm him," Worf replied stiffly. "We will wait a little longer."
Dax's head hurt. She looked over at her colleagues. Kira appeared calm, while Bashir seemed a little agitated.
She was most concerned about the ensign; his face had gone completely white.
"I'm going to shut down the engines," Dax announced. Kira shrugged and Bashir did not answer.
"I mean, we're not moving anyway," Dax said softly. "Maybe, we can fall out of the tractor beam if we shut down the engines."
"It sounds good," Bashir said wearily.
The engines whirred down, leaving the runabout absolutely still for a moment. Dax took a deep breath and then the shuttle lurched.
"This is not good, not good!" Kira cried out as the shuttle began to free-fall. "Dax!"
"I'm trying to get the engines back on-line," Dax replied. "Back up to quarter impulse."
"I'm still not reading anything out there," Kira reported. "By the Prophets, what is it?"
The shuttle began to rattle uncontrollably.
"This is the worst yet," Dax had to shout over the noise. "I can't stop it! I don't know what's happening -"
The lights blinked on and off.
"Trying to get power back into all essential systems," Kira shouted. "But we're losing control fast."
My God, Dax thought. Are we going to disappear? Just like the planet?
"Jadzia!" Bashir called out.
"Sit down, Julian!" Dax shouted as the lights blinked out permanently.
In darkness, the four of them huddled, almost afraid to speak.
"Deep Space Nine! Anyone copy?" Kira cried out. "This is the Rio Grande. Anyone out there? This is the Federation ship, Rio Grande…"
"I'm not getting the lights back," Dax said, her voice trembling just slightly.
Three hundred some odd years of experience could not prepare her for the fear she felt at this moment. She looked at over at Worth and saw that the ensign looked absolutely petrified.
"It's okay," Bashir said. "We've been in worse situations, Mr. Worth."
"Twenty minutes till we lose the engines," Dax reported. For a moment, she closed her eyes, trying not to imagine what it would be like to fall through space.
"Is anybody out there?" Kira said, with more than a trace of weariness in her voice. The runabout shuddered and a loud bang sounded in the back.
"What was that?" the ensign screamed.
"It looks as we just lost one of our engines," Dax said, more calmly than she felt.
"Do something," the ensign said wildly. "You have to do something."
A control panel sparked and burst into flame. Bashir jumped up and grabbed an extinguisher.
"There's no one out there," Kira said in desperation.
"Any ideas?" Dax asked softly. "I'm up for any suggestions."
"I think this would be a good time to end the tour of the Danae system," Bashir replied, trying to inject some humor into his voice.
Dax could only agree with him, as she watched the stars speed by as the runabout fell uncontrollably into nowhere.
"Sir!" the lieutenant sitting at Kira's station called out. Worf whirled around.
"What is it?"
"I'm picking up a faint distress call."
Sisko appeared on the turbo lift, just in time to hear Kira's voice.
"Deep Space Nine, this is the Rio Grande. Do you copy, Deep Space Nine?" Kira sounded agitated.
"Clarify the signal," Sisko ordered. The lieutenant complied.
"This is the Federation ship, Rio Grande, is anyone out there?" Kira's voice echoed through Ops.
Standing nearby, Odo's face tightened at the sound of the Major's voice.
Worf fisted his hands as an explosion was heard in the background and then Dax's voice came through smoothly, "It's all right. We're all right."
And then Dax again, "We have no engines and no navigational systems. I'm going to try and cut all non-essential systems to buy some time."
And then Kira again, "Is anyone out there?"
In the background, Worf could hear Dax asking for suggestions and Bashir saying he would like to end the tour now. And then there was another explosion and the recording was silent.
Sisko took a moment, "Mr. Worf, ready the Defiant. We are on our way to the Danae system. We'll find what we will find."
Dax opened her eyes, fully expecting to be dead. You can't expect to be dead, she chided herself. Her body hurt and she could not see anything. She tried to move but then she found herself held down by a heavy beam which had crashed down from the ceiling.
"Nerys?" she croaked. "Julian? Mr. Worth?"
"We're still falling," she whispered. "My God, how long have we been falling?"
She tried to push the beam off of her lap, but it was too heavy. She took a deep breath.
"You can't black out, Jadzia, you can't," she said to herself. "Nerys!Julian!"
Then suddenly the darkness of the runabout was replaced with a strange brightness and a familiar figure emerged from the fog.
"Curzon?" Dax whispered weakly. "What are you doing here? Don't you know we're falling?"
"I've come to see you, Jadzia," Curzon said quietly.
He came closer, his face almost obscured by the bright lights. "I thought maybe, you would need me now."
"Why? What's happening?"
"Don't you know?" Curzon knelt by Jadzia. His touch was extremely light, almost ghostly. "You've always been so strong, Jadzia. Always."
"Is this my fault?"
"No. No, you can't fault adventure or curiosity."
"I seem to always be leading us into these situations. I guess that's what makes Worf so angry."
"It's who you are and it's what I love about you."
"But not at the expense of Kira and Julian and for God's sake, this ensign who has never ever been out in space before."
Curzon touched Jadzia's face, "It won't be long now, Jadzia. You should calm down. It won't be long."
"It won't be long?" Jadzia tried to get the words out smoothly, but the breath caught the back of her throat. "What happened here five years ago, Curzon?"
"It was exactly as you said, a vacuum, sucking all life out of this system."
"So terrible," Jadzia said, trying to move, but her muscles failed to respond. "How come no one noticed it before?"
"I don't know," Curzon said quietly. "But you should be quiet now, Jadzia."
"Am I going to die?" she whispered. "I can't, I have so much left to do. What about Worf?"
"He is a warrior, he will understand."
"It isn't supposed to be like this," Jadzia whimpered.
Curzon stood, his wisp of a hand resting like a breeze on her shoulder, "I will stay with you, Jadzia."
Comforted, Jadzia closed her eyes.
Sisko tried to hide his growing nervousness as the Defiant approached the Danae system.
There was an odd silence pervading through the bridge and he tried not to notice the absence of three members of his senior staff. Worf, standing at his station, tried not to betray his own unease. It had been hours since anything had been heard from the Rio Grande and he could only think the worse now. His conscience tormented him, since he had neglected to see Jadzia off on this mission.
"You never did that before!" he thought furiously. "You never did let her go off without saying good-bye first!" And now, he realized that good-bye might not even be possible.
There was a groan from the seat next to her. Jadzia opened her eyes, trying to fight off the cloudiness that seemed to fill the room around her.
"Nerys?" Jadzia reached over and tried to touch her friend.
"By the Prophets, this is the headache of all headaches," Kira said.
"Nerys!" Dax cried out in relief.
"How long do we have?" Kira asked.
"I don't know. But we're still alive."
"Can you move?"
Kira tried. She stood and then nearly screamed from the pain in her head and shoulders. But she bit her lip, knowing she had been through worse in the resistance.
"I can't move," Dax said. "This beam… I think my legs may be broken. And this whole cabin, it's spinning."
Kira staggered over, trying not to trip in the darkness. She put her hand on Jadzia'S shoulder, suddenly aware of the coolness of Dax's skin and the labored breathing she had not heard before.
"It'll be all right," Kira said. "It will be."
Dax smiled weakly, still reeling from her earlier hallucination. She still had not made up her mind about Curzon - whether he had actually been here or if she had been dreaming. But if help did not come soon, it wouldn't matter whether Curzon had been real or not.
"Check on Julian and Worth. Make sure they are okay," Dax said.
Kira moved slowly, trying to breath shallowly, as not to use up too much of the precious oxygen
"Julian," she knelt on the floor and began to crawl. She located the doctor near to where he had been sitting before the runabout had been plunged into darkness. A giant box had landed on his chest and she feared his ribs had been crushed. But Kira was relieved to discover he was still breathing. She pushed at the box, trying with all her strength to topple the medical supplies over.
"Worth, Ensign Worth," Kira said breathlessly as soon as she had freed Bashir. She found the ensign lying amid the boxes; he had no pulse.
"Nerys?" Jadzia struggled to speak.
"I've found them. Julian is bad and I'm afraid Peter Worth is dead."
Kira tried not to hear the note of despair in Dax's voice.
"Jadzia," Kira said furiously. "You can't give up hope. There is a chance that someone heard us. You have to hang on. You have to."
"I know, but how long will it take them to get here?" Dax said. "We don't have time. We don't even know how much life support we have left."
"They will come," Kira replied, not knowing who she meant. She groped around the medical supplies until her hand rested on a hypospray.
"I could really use some light here, Jadzia."
"I'm trying, Nerys. Really," Dax moved her numb fingers across the control panel. Her fingers shook from the exertion.
A brief light sputtered on in a corner and then blinked out again. But Kira was able to discern the information she wanted to know.
"Forgive me, Julian," Kira whispered. "I hope I am doing this right."
With a deep breath she pressed the spray against the doctor's neck. "He shouldn't feel any pain, but I hope the dosage is right, otherwise I've killed him."
Dax tried to feel the computer console, but rapidly she was losing all sensation in her arms and legs. Her numb fingers searched out for answers on the console, but nothing happened.
"I'm never going anywhere with you again," Kira told the Trill.
"Fine by me," Dax replied. "You make lousy company anyway."
The Defiant approached the Rio Grande's last transmitted coordinates at half-impulse. On the bridge, the crew looked upon the scene anxiously.
"This is where the planet vanished," Sisko said quietly.
"Do you think they were checking it out?" O'Brien queried.
Worf said nothing. He just stood and stared at the viewscreen, his arms behind his back. It had been six hours since they had received the transmission and even at warp nine, he knew they hadn't been fast enough. He was afraid of what they would find now. He looked at Sisko and knew the Captain felt the same tension.
"Scan the area for the runabout," Sisko ordered.
"Aye," Worf moved back to his station. "I'm picking up something just ahead. It may be the Rio Grande. It's moving at constant velocity."
"Constant velocity?" Sisko twisted around.
"Yes, but I read no ion traces. It's moving of its own accord."
"Bring us in closer, helm."
"Aye sir," the helm officer replied.
For a moment, Worf stared at the helm officer, a young woman with dark brown hair pulled back into a ponytail. Then he pulled his attention back to his work.
"Scanning for life signs now," Worf said quietly.
"And?" Sisko asked. The tension on the bridge was palpable. Sisko prayed as he had never prayed before.
"Picking up three faint life signs," Worf said.
There was no relief in his voice; the Rio Grande had lost a crew member and it appeared as if the other three were barely holding on.
"Bring us in closer," Sisko said quietly. "Can we beam them in?"
"No, sir," Worf said. "The interference is too great. We would most likely lose their patterns."
"Tractor beam then."
"Aye, sir," the helm responded. The Defiant caught up the crippled runabout. The runabout shuddered at the added pressure.
"Will it break apart?" Worf asked tensely.
"Structural integrity holding," the helm replied.
Sisko brought the tips of his fingers together.
"Increase power as much as you can without damaging the runabout," Sisko ordered.
"Bringing the Rio Grande in now," the helm officer reported.
"Open a channel," Sisko ordered. "Rio Grande, this is the Defiant."
"Benjamin," Dax's faint voice came over the system. "It's about time you showed up. Isn't the view lovely out here?"
Worf's expression softened at the sound of Dax's voice. He tried to hide his relief, but it was obvious from the way his muscles relaxed that he had been fearing the worse.
"We're pulling you in, Old Man. Do you think you can hold on?" Sisko asked.
"I think so. Julian is hurt badly and I'm afraid Peter Worth is dead."
There was a moment of silence and then Sisko said, " Acknowledged."
Back on the Defiant, Dax tried to sleep, but the nightmares kept coming. She sat up in bed, drenched in sweat and trying to ignore the pain in her legs. She opened her eyes and screamed in the darkness. Out of nowhere, Worf appeared, holding a cup of raktajino.
"Jadzia," he said quietly.
She accepted the drink gratefully, curling her fingers around the hot mug.
"I was so scared," she whispered, leaning against him. He sat down on the bed and held her close, knowing how he had almost lost her.
"It was so dark and I didn't know what was happening. I couldn't stop any of it. We tried, we really did, Worf. And I'm so sorry about that ensign," she began crying again. He ran his fingers through her hair, his throat tightening. "I'm just glad you showed up when you did. I was so afraid for Julian. Nerys said he was badly hurt but I couldn't move and I couldn't feel anything. And Nerys, she was hurt too but she was so brave. And it was so dark, so dark."
"It is all right. I am here," Worf said quietly. "I just wish I had been there with you."
"And I was so upset, because of the way I left here. It was just I was angry at you and I think I was trying to prove something by going through the Danae system and I put the whole crew at risk. I shouldn't have done it, Worf. I shouldn't have."
"But there was no way you could have known," Worf said. "And it would have been unlike you not to go."
"I know, I know. But everyone could have died. I almost did. Curzon was there, Worf. He told me I was going to die."
"But you're here and you're well." For a moment Worf was disturbed by Jadzia's mention of Curzon.
She had told him about the hallucination earlier and there wasn't much that frightened the Klingon, but the thought of Dax's former host appearing to comfort Jadzia in those darkest moments unnerved Worf.
"What will I say to Ensign Worth's parents?"
"I think Captain Sisko will know how to deal with that. I know you feel responsible, but you did not know, Jadzia. You simply cannot know everything."
Jadzia leaned against his chest, listening to the sounds of his hearts beating. Somehow she was immediately comforted and she felt that same curious peace she had felt earlier when Curzon had been with her.
Worf wrapped his arms around her and kissed her forehead gently, "Now you need to sleep, Jadzia. Don't worry; I will be nearby."
The next morning, the Defiant docked at the station, dragging the remains of the Rio Grande behind it.
"All I can say is that it was a vacuum of some kind and it just dragged us in," Dax said to Sisko.
She leaned heavily on Worf's arm. Even though the sickbay had repaired her broken bones and restored circulation, she still felt a lot of pain. Worf had wanted her to take some painkillers, but she had been unwilling to risk the side effects of the medication, while she could still be of use to Sisko.
"We placed beacons at the spot," Sisko said. "And we will update the Federation's records so no other ship will suffer the same fate as yours."
"It was my idea to go that way," Dax said, troubled.
"Jadzia," Worf rumbled.
"It's all right, Worf," she smiled at him. "I know it's my fault. I shouldn't have been so headstrong. Next time, we will take the path more traveled."
"That's a good plan, Old Man," Sisko said quietly.
Dax found Kira on the replimat.
"Julian is going to be fine," Dax said. "Thanks to you. You saved his life."
"I was scared. I couldn't see and I didn't know what was happening, if it was even the right thing."
The two women sat there in silence.
"I'm on duty," Dax said quietly. "But I wanted to make sure that you were all right and to apologize. It should have been a routine mission, but it wasn't and I'm sorry."
"I know," Kira touched Dax's hand gently. "But no one could have known."
Sisko's voice crackled over the com system, "Sisko to Kira."
"Report to Ops, please, Major."
"On my way," Kira looked at Dax. "Will you be okay?"
"Yes," Dax said quietly. "I'll be fine."
Kira nodded and walked off.
Dax stared into her coffee, searching for a clue to the last few days in in the steamy brew, but she could find no answers there. Instead she felt a keen sense of loss for the young ensign she did not even know.
Her com badge chirped, "Sisko to Dax."
"Here, Benjamin," she said.
"The investigators from the Federation are here to talk to you about the at Velara," Sisko said quietly. "Will you join us please?"
Dax took a deep breath, counted to ten and then made her way to Sisko's office.
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