Cold - Short Story


A young Vulcan science officer walked confidently
around the halls of Earth Space Doc. His steps were
shorter and slower to accommodate the pace of his
walking mate, an old Andorian man on his first, and likely
last, trip off of his icy homeworld.

The Vulcan continued “You see ‘cold’ is a reference to a
lack of heat. Since heat is the addition of energy to mass,
the opposite of it is the taking away of energy. Thus, logically,
something cannot technically get ‘more cold' or 'colder’, rather it can
only get ‘less hot’. So, ‘cold’ is not an accurate scientific
measure of anything.”

The old Andorian just smiled. “I don’t know much of what you
just said young man. But, I do know that ‘cold’ can be used to
measure certain things. For instance, one’s heart.”

(( COLD is a story involving my character Dae that is happening chronologically "now" in STO. It will take about two months to get through, again chronologically in the same timeframe. I plan to reference several things the Fleet does here and stuff that happens in this story will be ICly mentioned or reported through the forums and shout box. I only ask that anything you read here NOT be taken as IC knowledge. However, anything reported in the forums our shout box, I encourage interaction about. Anyone who feels any of their characters could partake somewhere in this story are welcome to contact me. I'll do my best to include any that want to .))
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COLD, Chapter 1
141,678,500,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 K, Planck Temperature (Absolute Hot)

Dae opened the airlock and stepped onto the large Cardassian station. Deep Space Nine, the Starfleet beacon on the edge of the wormhole to the Gamma quadrant. Its history had been through so many changes. Built by the Cardassians, taken over by Starfleet and the Bajorans. Occupied by the Dominion and then retaken by the Federation and its allies. Now, administrated by Starfleet for the Federation of which the Bajorans are full members. Although conflict is not uncommon, the station is more stable now than during the decades before.

Dae stood on the Promenade for a moment. Though his evo suit didn't really bother him, there were a few places he wished he could spend time enjoying the real sounds, the smells and texture of the air. The promenade of Deep Space Nine had always been one of those places.

A husky voice came from behind him. "And there he is!"

Dae turned around to see his old friend, Vallis Goreese barreling towards him, arms outstretched and his face a smile from ear to ear. The man was large in both height and weight. Mid-50s with a brownish-white beard and the same colored bushy hair on his head. In the five years since they had seen each other, Dae noticed there was now more grey and less brown.

The large man grabbed him in a bear hug. Dae partook in the age old custom, though he found it a bit uncomfortable. The discomfort was not in the act itself, he wasn't a socially inept prude or anything like that. Rather, his evo suit made the common greeting a great deal more clumsy.

Vallis apparently had no shared concern.

They broke the hug and Vallis's deep voiced started again. "Its good to see you, Dae. When I heard the Sutherland was going to be supporting us on the expedition... I can't tell you how pleased I was!"

The two men started walking around the promenade. Dae's vocabulator carried his words out of the suit. "Yes, when I heard they were looking for a support ship for your expedition I volunteered right away. I still have responsibilities in the Eta Eridani sector with my currently assigned Task Force, but as we are able, we'll be making our way out to the Kalandra sector.

The husky Bajoran nodded. "Honestly, I wasn't a fan to hear Starfleet wanted to send a starship. There haven't been any incidents in the Kalandra sector in over eight months. And even that was just some pirates trying to shake down traders. No one was even hurt! I think it's overkill. But as long as it's you... I'm all for it!"

Dae furrowed his brow under his helmet. "You must at least understand that they are concerned. Just this past week a Cardassian Gul assigned to liaison duties in my Task Force was possibly murdered on a Cardassian ship while docked at our station. We are not in the Sirius sector, Doctor Goreese."

Vallis frowned slightly. "Bah... Starfleet! Ever since the Borg and the Dominion they think everything is a galactic war!"Vallis laughed for a few seconds.

Dae took the chance to change the topic. "I read the initial report on your findings. It sounds very interesting. Do you really think you found a missing colony from Bajor's early warp capable years? It seems pretty far from their home."

Vallis nodded, his eyes getting as big as saucers. "It is! And that is why it's so important. A lost Bajoran colony. When did they settle here? What were they like? What ultimately happened to them? It's exciting!"

Dae smiled under his helmet. It was good to see his old friend, still excited as ever about archaeology. "It's a big claim. You're going to need very definitive evidence."

Vallis smiled as the two men stopped in front of another airlock. "I completely agree. That is why I have recently secured the assistance of the most talented Bajoran archaeologist I have ever known."

The airlock door rolled back and standing on the other side was a Bajoran female. Her long brown hair was drawn into a thick braid resting on her left shoulder. On her other shoulder was the strap of a satchel bag that was under her arm. Her mouth fell agape at the sight of the two men. Before anyone could say anything, she threw her arms around Dae, almost knocking both of them back onto the floor.

For the second time in ten minutes Dae was caught in an unexpected embrace. But whereas the first time he had been thinking of the awkward embrace itself, this time he returned the hug, his mind a whirl with only one thought:
COLD, Chapter 2
100,000,000,000 K, Approximate temperature of the universe .01 seconds after the Big Bang

The SS Gemini and SS Johallan sat docked on the upper pylons of DS9. The two privately owned science vessels were ready to start their several month long expedition to an archeological site in the Kalandra Sector. Floating in space near them, but not docked to the station, is the USS Sutherland.

Onboard the SS Gemini, Dae sat quietly in the ships large theater-style briefing room. Next to him was his Chief Science Officer LtCdr Pirin, a female Trill, the only member of his crew in attendance. Scattered around the rest of the auditorium style seating were various other beings, mostly Bajorans. They were all listening to Vallis Goreese detail his findings so far.

Dae tried to listen, he was interested in the topic. But his mind and his eye kept drifting to the figure sitting a few rows in front of him and just across the aisle.

Sellah was listening, taking notes on a PADD in fact. Dae smiled to himself as he watched her. Her beauty was the plain, quiet, and smart, yet humble, type.

Since their reunion last week, they had only had a few short conversations, mostly with dozens of other people around. Now that he was back out here for the expedition's departure, he intended to take the time to really talk to her.

It had been years since they had seen each other. Still, they obviously felt the same as they did when the parted ways, back on Ovella Prime. Certainly Dae did.

He considered himself a level-headed person. He was not one to let whimsical romantic ideals cloud his judgment. But seeing Sellah again brought back thoughts and feelings that had been long absent. Right now, he just wanted to talk to her again.

As Vallis finished his speech, the people started to get up from their chairs. Dae stood, planning to head straight for Sellah, when he was cut off by a short Bajoran who appeared from behind him.

"Hello. Commander Dae, I presume?" The man stated, his voice pitched unusually high.

Dae paused, instantly recognizing the small man as the financier of the expedition, Duke Tarhim. The eccentric Bajoran who had self imposed his own unique and un-Bajoran title of 'Duke' and who became beyond rich on his home planet over the past decades. In recent years he had since turned his interest and funds towards several philanthropic endeavors.

LtCdr Pirin, obviously recognized the him as well, quickly excused herself from the conversation and room. She was gone before Dae could pawn the rich Bajoran off on her. Dae made the mental note that she was a bit too politically smart, for a science officer.

"Duke Tarhim." Dae looked down at him. "Yes, I am Commander Dae."

The small man nodded, already knowing the answer before he asked. "When I heard that Starfleet was sending a starship to help oversee my expedition, I was naturally curious."

Dae looked over the top of him. The crowd was thinning out and Sellah had disappeared from view. He felt mild frustration at the small Bajoran for ruining his plans, but he couldn't brush him off. Duke Tarhim was well respected by the Bajorans and the men and women he financed projects for. Dae owed him that same respect. "Oh? Are there any questions that I can answer for you?"

Tarhim smiled up at Dae. "To be honest, I found myself most curious about the Sutherland's Captain. Is it true then that you are permanently confined to that suit?"

Dae sighed just lightly enough that it wouldn't activate the vocabulator. "Yes, my species requires an atmosphere with a higher concentration of argon gas than is found in Starfleet environmental systems. I wear the suit to provide that atmosphere, except for in my quarters."

Tarhim smiled as if he wanted this to be true. "Yes.... that is what I understood. I found this to be very interesting."

Dae nodded, hoping that would be the end of the conversation, taking another moment to scan the crowd for Sellah, to no avail.

But, Tarhim wasn't quite done. "I have something I want you to consider, Commander." The small Bajoran produced a PADD and held it out towards Dae. "My curiosity drove me to consider ways I could improve your plight."

Dae frowned under the mask. Plight? He didn't think of it as such. But, he only nodded, a bit confused with where the conversation was going. "Okay?" He responded as he took the PADD looking at it briefly, noticing it contained some very detailed schematics.

Tarhim sensed his confusion. "Those are plans for a special evo suit I am designing. I was able to build most of it with composite material, making it lighter and more flexible. I've also integrated certain aspects of Starfleet tactical equipment which offer a bit of protection. And then there are the mechanically assisted movement joints, which add around a 12% increase in strength. I was also able to shrink the argon generator to a fifth the size and miniaturized the breathing delivery system so that the helmet is more compact and not so...." His smile briefly turned to a frown as if he was instantly repulsed by Dae's appearance. "...bulky."

Dae's curiosity was piqued now as well. "Huh, interesting. Well, thank you for the ideas, Duke Tarhim. I shall share this with some Thalis engineers. Perhaps we could incorporate some of this into future suit designs."

Tarhim’s smile returned. "I think you misunderstand, Commander Dae. I am currently building this suit. I'm having it specifically tailored to fit you. When it is finished, I would like you to have it as both a way to test it and as a thank you for your assistance with the expedition to the lost Bajoran colony."

Dae was taken aback. A gift? This was not something he expected, but his mind was still processing this proposal and wanting to chase down Sellah, wherever she made off to. "Duke Tarhim. I don't know what to say. Thank you. I would like to look these designs over, if you don't mind?"

Tarhim shook his head. "Not at all. I know you are departing with the expedition tonight. I am set to return to Bajor in the morning. Take your time considering it. There are still several weeks of work left to do on the suit. I will be in contact with you again."

Dae nodded, though it only barely transferred to the helmet. "Of course." Dae held up the PADD. "Thank you, again, Duke. Safe travels home."

Tarhim started to step away. "May the prophets guide you, Commander."

As the small Bajoran left, Dae took a brief second to look at the PADD and consider the idea of a new and better suit. Then he tucked the PADD away and his eyes quickly scanned the almost empty conference room again. Reading the PADD could wait. His mind and heart were elsewhere.
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COLD, Chapter 3
7773.15 K, Average temperature of a medium sized, main sequence star

Dae walked slowly down the hallway of the SS Gemini, Sellah in step beside him and holding his gloved hand. They talked briefly about the archeological findings on the planet below. About the fortunate chance they had, meeting again. About the future of the project. They finally talked about the project financier, Duke Tarhim, and the unique suit he was developing for Dae.

Dae shook his head. "I still don't know. What do I need a mechanically enhanced grip for? What good is that going to do me? I'm a Starfleet ship's Captain, not a MACO Team member."

They both chuckled for a moment. Sellah leaned on his shoulder for a moment. "Ah, but I think the helmet sounds interesting. The entire argon generation system is contained within it. Imagine, you could JUST wear the helmet, if you desired."

Dae had to admit to himself that the ability to JUST wear the helmet did appeal to him. "Yeah... that does sound nice." He could finally prove that he was wearing the proper uniform under his suit.

The two stopped just in front of Sellah's cabin door. He turned toward her. "I suppose I should be getting back to the Sutherland. I have a block of time on the holodeck next hour."

Sellah gave a curious smile. "What are you doing on the holodeck?"

Dae smirked under his helmet. "Fencing practice, actually."

Sellah's eyebrows arched up. "Fencing? You still do that?"

Dae shook his head. "Apparently not very well. I was rather... embarrassed by another fencer in Argo a few weeks ago. I'm trying to get my edge back."

Sellah faked a frown and sounded sympathetic to his woes at holo-fencing. "Well, I'm sure he was a very good fencer."

Dae stifled a laugh, considering his opponent. "Yes.... yes they were."

Sellah leaned against her door for a moment, grabbing Dae's suit at the shoulders. "Or..... you could... stay here with me?"

Dae frowned under his helmet. "Thanks, but I am looking forward to taking off the suit, for a while."
Sellah just looked up at him and smiled. "Well, then it's a good thing I had the Gemini's engineering team install an argon gas generator in my quarters the other day, isn't it?"

Inside the helmet, Dae's jaw dropped open. Although most other beings could work and live with little to no impact in the argon rich gasses required by Dae and his species, provided enough oxygen was present as well, it was uncommon for anyone to go to such trouble to create it. Argon generators were not easily replicated and installed and there were so few Thalis in Starfleet that it made it uneconomical and inefficient to have them everywhere. It meant a lot for her to do such a thing.

Sellah only laughed as she hit the door control and pulled the suited man in with her. As the door closed the soft hiss of Dae's helmet detaching from the suit casing could be heard.
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COLD, Chapter 4
1811.15 K, Melting point of Iron at 100 kPa

Dae walked through the door from the turbolift to the USS Sutherland's bridge.

His First Officer stood up from the Captain's chair and moved to the side. "Sir, we are just a few seconds from arrival."

Dae nodded. The last few weeks had seen the Sutherland tested several times against Klingon incursions, tough fights that the crew and ship had proved themselves in. That being said, Dae considered himself an explorer at heart and truly relished his time assisting the Bajoran archeological team, rather than blasting Birds of Prey.

As Dae reached the Captain's chair he stopped to face the view screen.

The Helmsman spoke. "Sir, we are dropping out of warp, now."

Suddenly the entire ship rocked under a heavy impact. Dae was thrown down into the chair sideways. The bellowing alarms and flashing red lights started automatically. Dae adjusted himself to a sitting position. "Report!"

"Impact to port nacelle" was shouted from somewhere behind him.

"Shields!" yelled his Force Officer. The Sutherland shook again, but Dae knew the feeling of energy weapons hitting a ship, and this was not what they were experiencing.

Dae looked at the screen as it finally flashed to the current view in front of the Sutherland. The screen was filled with a large piece of a ship’s hull twisting in space as it sped towards the front of the Sutherland.

The ship shook again as the large piece of debris slammed into the front right of the saucer section. The impact carved a gouge out of the top decks, spraying smaller bits of twisted metal in front of it. The large piece of debris finally bounced up and away from the Sutherland dragging behind it a trail of debris, like a comet's tail.

"Hull breach! Decks five and seven!" Said LtCdr Cromwell at tactical. At least, that's who Dae assumed the voice was. It was hard to tell over deafening sounds of the panicked bridge.

As the large debris chunk drifted out of view, the true scene lay in front of the bridge crew of the Sutherland. Less than a few hundred meters in front of them was the twisting, burning hulk of the SS Johallan. Its main hull looked to have been ripped in half. The rear section, with the warp nacelles leaking plasma, seemed to be slowly drifting away from the front hull. Multiple plasma fires were burning out of holes all across the detached saucer section. The hull was missing chunks from all sides and as they watched a small explosion in the nose of the vessel exposed several decks to the vacuum of space. A debris cloud was scattered all around the dying ship.

Dae stood up. "Scan for survivors! Where's the Gemini?!?!"

The screen’s view zoomed back and off to the side of the Johallan, the Gemini was adrift in space. It appeared in better shape. It was at least in one piece. However, one nacelle was completely gone and a huge plasma fire could be seen coming from the aft shuttle bay, absent its blast door, at the rear of the hull. The saucer section of the ship appeared mostly intact, but it too had various weapons fire burns and exposed decks.

An ensign at the science console spoke, her young voice barely audible above the sirens and other personnel. "Sir, no life signs on the Johallan, but I am detecting some on the Gemini."

Dae spun around to stare at the ensign. He knew she couldn't see his face under the mask. It was probably for the best, for it betrayed his total despair.

She continued. "It looks like the Gemini's science section still has power, there are multiple life-signs coming from...."

Her meager voice was cut off as Dae shouted commands, the volume carrying through his suit's vocabulator. "Start beaming them over. Have medical standing by!"

Before Dae could continue, LtCdr Cromwell cut him off. "Sir, another ship!"

At that moment everyone on the bridge crew turned to the view screen. There, just past the Gemini, was the unmistakable rust orange hull of a Ferengi marauder vessel. For a second the bridge crew was quiet as they all stared.

Then, as if the orange vessel could sense them looking, it went to warp and disappeared. An instant passed as everyone returned to what they were frantically doing.

Dae stepped towards the turbolift again, shouting his order as he went. "Hanford, you have the bridge! Get me some info on that Ferengi vessel! Warp signature. Transponder. Markings. Anything! I'll be in sickbay."

Hanford nodded as he jumped from his chair and joined LT Cromwell at the tactical console.

Dae stepped into the turbolift. Before the door closed he looked out at the officers of his bridge, running around doing their jobs to the utmost of their ability. Any other circumstances and he would have felt nothing but pride. But at this moment, his thoughts and emotions were not of his crew. As the door shut, the Sutherland rocked again as somewhere else a piece of debris bounced off the hull.

Moments later, Dae was stepping through the door into the Sutherland's sickbay. Nurses and medical personnel were running around just as frantically as the officers on the bridge.

Doc Kriv was directing a few nurses to another patient when he saw Dae standing just inside the door. He quickly moved to him. "Captain...."

Dae just stared at the Doctor. They both knew what he wanted to know. The question need not be asked.

Doc Kriv nodded, but sadness filled his tone and expression. "She's on bed four, but..."

Dae didn't wait for the ‘but’ and blew past the Doc. He arrived at the bed to see a Saurian nurse attending to Sellah. She was conscious, but obviously in a lot of pain. Her uniform was burnt in places and her hair was a mess. Black smudges were smeared across her face.

Dae took her hand in his while his other gloved hand brushed a loose strand of hair from her face. He leaned in. "Sel, it’s me. I'm here. You're going to be okay."

Pain filled her voice. "It hurts Dae... it hurts."

Dae looked up at the nurse who administered a hypo. The effects were quick and Sellah seemed to relax a bit, the strain on her face falling away.

Dae felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Doc Kriv slowly shaking his head.

Dae stood up a bit and the Doc leaned in close to his helmet. He kept his words low. "The compartment she was in was flooded with high amounts of omicron radiation." He paused for a moment. "I'm sorry, Captain. All we can do is make her comfortable."

"Dae?" Sellah said in a strained voice.

Dae felt his heart sink. He turned back towards Sellah, leaning in close to her, touching the plate of his helmet to her forehead. "I'm here, Sel. It's okay. It's going to be okay."

"I'm sorry Dae." She said.

"No, no, no." Dae tried to keep his voice soft and calm. "This isn't your fault."

She wheezed a few times, her eyes shutting for a second.

Dae placed his other hand on the side of her cheek, gently rubbing away a black smudge. "Hey, hey.... stay with me, Sel. Stay with me."

She smiled and nodded, but he could tell she couldn't hold on much longer, no matter how much he wanted her to.

For a few moments, there was nothing but the two of them. The bustling sickbay swirled around them as if it were an old memory. Dae held her hand, gently squeezing it every few seconds. She would return the gesture, though her responses slowly tapered off. Her breathing slowed and eyes shut again.

Dae closed his eyes as well. His helmet was still resting softly against her forehead. He could only hear the soft pat of his tears on the glass, denied the chance to fall upon her face by his life-giving suit. He placed a hand behind her head and held her as close as he could, for the eternity of a few seconds more. And then, she was gone.

The distant feeling of the rest of the universe persisted as he leaned over her. His thoughts sank with sorrow. It was like he was falling. Time was slowing, his heart felt as if it was beating slower and slower.

And then it stopped.

A moment later Dae took in a long slow breath. As he breathed out, the respirator inside the helmet clicking as the airflow changed direction, he could feel the pain and desperation leaving. With each breath his sorrow became less, and a sense of anger grew.

Slowly, as one emotion replaced the other, his grip on Sellah loosened. As he finally stepped away from the table, he could no longer feel the loss that had gripped him only minutes before.

He slowly turned and walked towards the sickbay exit. He felt the glances of the medical staff upon him. Their work and the hurried atmosphere seemed alive again, part of his world, but he did not feel the same walking through it.

Some of their faces held remorse or pity. Others, a sense of compassion. But, as was always the case, they could not see his. Again, this was for the better because his expression was not of sadness they likely expected, but of quiet rage.
COLD, Chapter 5
373.13 K, Boiling point of water at 100 kPa

Dae stood alone on the quiet grassy hill. His arms were crossed in front of his chest. The Bajoran sun was high in the sky, and a steady breeze blew down the mountain behind him onto the fertile green valley. His evo suit, though, denied him from feeling either the hot sun or the gentle breeze.

Several dozen meters away, and below the grassy hilltop, the funeral procession was starting to break up. Only a few family members remained, most crying, still staring at the small elongated pile of stones on the green ground.

Dae had not joined them. This was as close as he had been to anyone associated with Sellah since arriving on Bajor. He told anyone who asked that it was because he wasn't technically family, but he knew there was another reason. He had already said ’goodbye’. His focus was elsewhere, and to revisit the emotions that were his farewell to her seemed as much impossible as an affront to her memory given his current emotional state.

From behind him he heard someone approaching. One of his bridge officers? One of Sellah's family? A grounds keeper? He didn't know, nor care.

The high pitched voice of Duke Tarhim told Dae who it was. "She was a very nice lady, and an exceptional scientist."

Dae didn't say anything, his arms still across his chest. He felt no desire to converse with the Duke about Sellah. Or the expedition. Or science. Or the special suit he was building. If the universe swallowed the little man up where he stood, Dae doubted he could care less.

Duke Tarhim stepped up next to Dae and looked down at the dwindling crowd of mourners. He spoke again. His voice was lower, less sympathetic, at a point almost sinister. "I know who did this."

This broke Dae's stoic stance. He turned to look at the short man, his arms falling to his sides. “Who?”

Duke Tarhim nodded slowly, a slight smile crossing his face as he continued to look down the hill. He had Dae's attention. "Polan Derak."

Dae waited to see if there was more. When nothing further came, he inquired again. "Who is Polan Derak?"

Duke Tarhim felt the hook set. He turned towards Dae. "Polan Derak is a Cardassian. He is a separatist who despises Bajorans."

He paused for a second before telling more of Polan Derak's story. "His parents were killed by Bajoran freedom fighters when he was a boy living on Bajor, during the occupation. After, he was raised by an uncle on Cardassia Prime and joined the Cardassian military when he came of age. He worked in the Cardassian Medical Corps for several years. Five years ago he staged a defection of hundreds of Cardassian military personnel, taking with him multiple Galor class warships. Shortly after, he founded the organization which he leads referring to himself as their 'General'. The group is called "Moset's Shroud". He's determined on destroying the Bajoran people."

"Where can I find him?" Dae asked.

Duke Tarhim felt Dae's anger in his voice. "His group is hiding somewhere in the Beta Ursae sector block, growing his power base, resources and conducting small-scale attacks on Bajoran interests. They stay well hidden but I have resources that may be able to find his trail. But we need proof. Proof that he did this."

Dae ground his teeth. If Duke Tarhim was so certain, why did he need proof? But rather than asking, his mind went to figuring out how to solve the problem. An answer quickly came to him. "I'll get it."

Duke Tarhim nodded. "Get the proof, then contact me. I'll use my resources to see where we can find them. With my help, you can avenge her!"
COLD, Chapter 6
273.15 K, Freezing point of water at 100 kPa

The Sutherland dropped out of warp less than a kilometer from the Ferengi vessel and another small freighter. It was common knowledge that, in the Beta Ursae sector block, Ferengi often did their trading ship to ship, rather than on a planet's surface or a space station. Most everyone on the Sutherland's bridge instantly suspected that was the case here, as well.

The three distinctly different ships, alone in the dark of space, with no planet or star anywhere near by, looked out of place so close together. The Ferengi ship and the civilian freighter were on the same plane, facing towards one another and just slightly canted, their noses almost touching. The Sutherland was still coasting forwards, not all of its momentum dissolved as it dropped out of warp. The small tactical escort started to turn to port slightly, as if planning to go into orbit around the two other vessels.

LtCdr Cromwell, from tactical, spoke from behind Dae. "Sir, both ships have raised their shields and are powering up their engines." Her voice, deep for a human female, was calm but laced with just a hint of disgust for the two other vessels.

Dae sat in the captain's chair, watching the two vessels on the view screen. He spoke plainly. "Open a channel to both vessels, audio only." A quick tone indicated the channel was open. "I am Commander Dae, of the USS Sutherland. You are conducting illegal business in Federation space. Unknown vessel, you are free to leave, immediately. Ferengi vessel, power down your engines immediately or I will open fire." The same tone again, indicating the comm channel was cut.

LtCdr Cromwell gave an update to the situation. "Sir, the other vessel is moving away, do you want me to track them?"

"No." Dae stated, flatly.

LtCdr Cromwell nodded. "The Ferengi vessel has powered down its engines, but its shields are still up."

Dae stood up, taking one small step forward. "Hail the Ferengi ship."

A few seconds passed before the view of a small Ferengi male appeared on the screen.

"I am Gark, Captain of the Ferengi merchant ship Jotalis. It's so nice to see a Starfleet vessel out here today. I was just telling my brother that ---"

Dae interrupted. "Were you in the Kalandra sector last week?"

The Ferengi looked confused, but a hint of surprise and possibly fear was there as well. "What... no, I don't think I was. But I do have some wonderful cases of Romulan ale on board that I would be willing to part with for... let's say half of face ---"

Dae stopped him again. "You were. Lower your shields and prepare to be boarded. We will be docking, ship to ship."

The Ferengi's hands briefly came into view on the bottom of the screen as he nervously rolled them over one another. "Uhhmmmm, well, Captain.... We're having some issues over here, I'm not sure if that such a good ---"

"Your starboard docking hatch, Captain Gark. I will see you there momentarily." Dae nodded to the comm officer and the screen went blank just as the Ferengi was about to speak.

Dae turned towards LtCdr Cromwell. "Have a security team meet us at docking hatch 4B." He then looked at his first officer, the human male LtCdr Hanford who was still sitting in the First Officer's chair. "Hanford, you have the bridge."

LtCdr Hanford slowly stood from the first officer's chair with a nod. The Lt Cdr's face showed the strain the entire crew was experiencing, but not a word was spoken. His eyes followed the Commander as he left. A small breath escaped the LtCdr's lips as the turbolift door closed and some of the tension on the bridge lifted. Turning back towards the viewscreen, he watched the nimble Sutherland maneuver into position alongside the Ferengi vessel.

A few moments later Dae was standing directly in front of the airlock, his Chief of Security to his right and the security detail in a line behind them.

The airlock opened to two Ferengi, both male, with similar enough appearances to assume they were somehow related. Before the airlock had opened completely, the lead Ferengi, the same one seen on the view screen on the bridge, started to speak. "Ahmmm, Captain, I think there has been some kind of misunderstanding? Why don't you join me for a nice glass of Saurian Brady and some gosha nibbles and I'm sure we can come to some agreement?"

The small Ferengi was practically grovelling at his feet. Dae just looked down at him, though he was speaking to his Security Chief. "Lieutenant Commander Cromwell, leave two security officers here and take the rest to the cargo hold. Tag anything from the Gemini or the Johallan." Dae ignored the grovelling Captain and looked at who, he assumed, was the ship's First Mate. He pointed a gloved hand. "You. Go with my team."

The second Ferengi complied and hurried off with the Sutherland's security detail, leaving only the two Captains and the two security guards. Dae and the guards stepped forward. The guards took positions just inside the door and Dae backed the Ferengi Captain up to the opposite bulkhead.

Dae's face was contorted in anger, though he knew no one could see it. To the cowering Ferengi, Dae was just a faceless suit and a slightly mechanical voice. "I suspect that your vessel was the one I spotted leaving the scene of two severely damaged, private science vessels after they were attacked. If I find evidence of this on your ship, today will go very badly for you.... unless you answer my questions. What did you find when you arrived at the site?"

The Ferengi fumbled his words, cowering before the evo suit in front of him. "I don't know what you are talking about. We've not been to any salvage sites in months."

Dae loomed over the scared Ferengi who remained hunched over, his back against the bulkhead. For several moments they held their places, neither talking.
A few minutes later LtCdr Cromwell and the security team returned to the airlock. She handed Dae a PADD. "Sir, there are several components and debris that are clearly from the SS Gemini. The list is on the PADD."

The other Ferengi returned with them and took a place off to the side of his cowering Captain, trying his best to stay out of the way of anyone or anything.

Dae looked at LtCdr Cromwell. "You tagged all of it?" She nodded.

Dae handed the PADD back to her and turned back towards the Ferengi, while talking to his Security Officer. "Take the security detail to the Sutherland's hold and beam all of this stuff over. Ensure it's documented with engineering. I'm going to finish my discussion with our friends."

Dae waited a moment for the security detail to leave. Finally he was alone on the Ferengi side of the airlock with just the Ferengi Captain and First Mate. He took a small step back, giving the Ferengi a chance to stand up straight.

As soon as the Ferengi was standing at full height, Dae's right hand flashed forward, gripping the Ferengi tightly around the neck and pinning him back against the bulkhead. His other hand drew his phaser pistol from his belt and pointed it at the other Ferengi, who only jumped at the sudden action.

The Ferengi Captain clawed at Dae's mask and suit with one hand, while gripping Dae's wrist in the other. He was choking and gasping for air.

Dae's helmet was pointed directly at the Captain, but he could turn his head slightly to see the First Mate down the sight of his phaser pistol. His words were obviously addressed to him. "Your Captain has made a mistake. Now I am going to give you a chance at a business opportunity."

The Ferengi First Mate nodded a few times, obviously very tense. "Uhhh... uhmmm, ok?"

Dae spoke again. "The ships you retrieved those items from. What did you find when you arrived at the site?"

Dae tightened his grip on the Captain's neck. Suddenly the idea of a mechanically assisted grip did not sound so bad. He could feel the soft tissue compressing under the pressure. The Ferengi gasps became shallower and more labored.

The First Officer hesitated for only a second. "Two, two... no three ships. Three Galor class Cardassian ships. They were surrounding the two science vessels. As soon as we arrived the Cardassian ships left. But, but... it was too late! The science vessels were too damaged!"

The First Mate stopped, hoping that was enough to appease the Starfleet Officer.

Dae slowly lowered his phaser pistol. For a second all was quiet, save for the wheezing Ferengi Captain. Then the Captain let out a shriek as the gloved hand continued to tighten its grip.

Dae looked into the eyes of the Ferengi struggling in front of him. He could feel the soft tissue continuing to compress under the pressure from his glove. "And......?

The first Mate struggled for more information. "Uhhh.. uhhhh... we did intercept one brief communication the ships transmitted before they went to warp. It just said that the mission was a success... they said.. uhhh... The Shroud! Yes! 'The Shroud has been successful.' That is what they said! Uhhh... it was sent to a 'Polan Derak'. But that's all I know. That's all, I swear. I swear!"

Polan Derak. The Shroud. This was the proof that Dae was looking for and it fueled his anger, as he had hoped it would. His grip tightened yet again.

The Ferengi's eyes bulged out, realizing the fate to come. His clawing at the evo suit helmet became frantic, both hands pulling at anything he could get a grip on.

Dae just let him crawl and scrape. He felt the last full measure of resistance under his glove. Everything had given as much as it could. Life needed oxygen supplied by blood and no more could be restricted. But more was asked. Dae squeezed harder and he felt the collapse of arteries, veins and the esophagus inside the Ferengi's neck.

Finally, the hard bone gave way, with an audible pop he felt the neck stretch in length, no longer restricted by the connections of the bone.

The Ferengi's head, eyes still wide open, fell off to the side, lifeless. His arms, outstretched and tense seconds before, fell limp by his side.

Dae held it still for a few moments, more for the First Mate to see. The Captain's lesson had been learned too late.

Releasing his grip, Dae stepped back letting the limp body fall to the metal floor. The head, now held in place only by the flexible tissue of the skin, bobbed around the floor at Dae's feet like a soccer ball attached by a tether.

Dae turned towards the live Ferengi. "Congratulations on the acquisition of your own freighter ship, Captain." He paused a moment to truly measure the absolute fear in the other being's eyes. "Never come into this sector again."

The Ferengi quickly nodded as he backed down the corridor and disappeared out of sight.

Dae holstered his phaser pistol and calmly stepped back through the airlock hatch. He tapped a control panel and the hatch slid shut behind him.

He then activated his comm. "Hanford, release the Ferengi vessel and set course for Bajor."
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COLD, Chapter 7
2.735 K, Current temperature of universe

Dae sat in the captain's chair on the bridge, his bridge officers ready, if a bit nervous. The bridge had an ominous glow from the red alert lighting, though the sirens had been muted. On the display screen was the image of Duke Tarhim, sitting comfortably in an office in Bajoran city of Ashalla.

Dae nodded. "Of course, Duke. We will be arriving at the coordinates you provided within seconds. Taking them by surprise like this will give us a considerable advantage. By the time your reinforcements arrive from Bajor, it should just be a matter of chasing down any small shuttles that run."

Duke Tarhim nodded, a small grin on his face. "Good luck Commander. The rest of my Bajoran ships will be along shortly."

Dae nodded back and the screen went blank.

"Ten seconds," the helm officer said.

"Shields up," Dae stated. "Lieutenant Commander Cromwell, as soon as we drop out of warp, focus all fire on the nearest Galor."

"Dropping out of warp... now," the helm officer stated.

The view screen displayed the scene immediately in front of them. It was a small space station attached to a floating asteroid. But where they expected two Galor class ships to be docked, there were none.

"Sir. I'm not detecting any ships at the station, it appears... Wait! Sir, three contacts coming up ---"

An explosion rocked the ship and the few standing officers were forced to brace against their consoles.

Behind the Sutherland three Galor class ships closed in. Their forward weapon arrays were firing in quick salvos.

Dae instantly realized they were in trouble. "Come about! Shields to the rear. Fire aft weapons. Target the nearest ---"

His words were cut off as more impacts shook the ship.

"Shields at 40%, port nacelle has been damaged. Hull breaches on decks three and four!" LtCdr Cromwell was able to get out all the information before more explosions shook the vessel.

The Galor class ships matched the turns and speed exactly. They were well prepared for the arrival of the Sutherland. They continued to hit the back of the vessel. Their yellow phasers were slowly picking through the Sutherland's shields and armor.

The port nacelle, trailing plasma since the first salvo, exploded. The eruption pushed the small escort into a flat spin and out of control.

The Galors started to circle the wounded Starfleet ship. From all directions they continued their assault. The aft section was no longer their sole focus. The main hull, the saucer, even the bridge was taking direct hits. Only rarely would a phaser blast escape from the Sutherland's weapons, like the frantic last nips of a dying animal.

The Sutherland's bridge was in chaos as consoles overloaded and erupted in showers of sparks. Another explosion and this time several beams from the ceiling fell free. Dae was thrown forward and fell to deck just in front of the captain's chair. Something fell on top of him. The pain in his back was forgotten when he saw the glass plate of his helmet crack.

Smoke was filling the bridge. He could hear reports of hull breaches and failed systems. "Everything to the shields!" he yelled, unsure if anyone would hear him.

Something else fell on top of him and the small crack started to crawl farther across the glass plate, branching out as it went. A slight wisp of the smoke that filled the bridge started trickling through. More explosions, a large flash, and then something fell on the back of his head. He heard the glass crack even more as his eyes shut and the sudden impact ushered him into unconsciousness.


Dae opened his eyes. He could instantly tell that he was not in an evo suit, but the air was breathable. The room was dark, but loud, and the swirl of mechanical devices and medical personnel were all around him. He could hear equipment moving and the personnel talking, but mostly it was medical talk he didn't understand and it was not directed at him.

"He's waking up!" one of them shouted.

"Not yet," came another voice.

Suddenly a small mask was placed over his mouth and the darkness consumed him again.
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Dae slowly opened his eyes. This time there were no loud noises or rushing people. Instead, he could only hear the familiar small hisses and pauses of air moving in and out of a respirator. But unlike his normal evo suit this sounded slightly different. Slower, deeper, and longer. And, the device his head was contained in felt different, tighter, more conforming.

Although his eyes were open, his field of vision was completely black. Then a quick hum and his vision was instantly filled with the view of the inside of a medical facility. He also saw small readouts and data projected on the screen in front of his eyes. The inside of the mask was functioning as a heads up display.

He turned his head and took in the view. When he looked to his right, he saw Duke Tarhim standing by the side of his bed.

As if knowing, the Duke spoke. "Give it a bit more time. The suit's subsystems are still acclimating to your body. It might feel a bit strange right now, but that will improve."

Dae felt a rush of emotion as he suddenly remembered why he was here. "The Sutherland! My crew!"

Duke Tarhim shook his head. "By the time the rest of my ships arrived the Sutherland was too far damaged. They were able to chase off the Galor class attackers, but the Sutherland is currently in tow to DS9, and then likely on to a shipyard for scrapping. It's... just too badly damaged." He paused for a moment.

"Most of your crew survived, though. There were multiple injuries but only a few dozen deaths. Given the circumstances, it could have been much worse. Once you rest, I'll get you more details."

Dae leaned back in the bed. As he moved, he suddenly realized that he wasn't just wearing a helmet, but a full suit. "Where am I?" He asked.

"Bajor," the Duke said flatly. "Most of your crew is here as well. Tomorrow they will start shuttling back to Starbase Argo."

Dae's voice was more mechanical coming through the new vocabulator. "I lost the Sutherland."

Duke Tarhim waved his hand in a dismissive manner. "The Sutherland was never meant for a commander like you. I've already talked to the Commander of Deep Space Nine. Given the circumstances, there's not even going to be an investigation into its loss. A request is being worked to request a new ship assigned to replace the Sutherland." Duke Tarhim stopped for a second and his usually high voice seemed to drop a few octaves and slow slightly. "Your situation will be taken into consideration. You will be its Captain. I assure you."

His normal pitch and tempo returned. "In the mean time, you need to stay here for a few days as the suit adjusts to you and you recover your strength. Relax Commander. I will let your crew know that they can stop by to see you."

"No," said Dae. "I will see no one."
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COLD, Chapter 8
0 K, Absolute zero

Above a nameless moon, circling a lifeless planet, orbiting a generally unremarkable star in the Beta Ursae sector, three Galor-class Cardassian vessels were docked at an orbital refueling station. From out of the darkness, a large Odyssey-class Starfleet vessel warped in, almost on top of the station. Instantly, a salvo of quantum torpedoes rocketed from the large Federation vessel and impacted the station's main structure.

The three Galors broke free from their docking pylons and attempted to scatter from the station, as internal explosions signaled its imminent demise. Two made it far enough away in time, but the third was caught in the blast as the depot exploded. The vessel, engulfed by the blaze, added to the massive fire ball spreading out into space.

The two remaining Galors moved away fast, but the Starfleet vessel closed on them, quickly. From the front of the Odyssey vessel a tractor beam gripped the trail Galor. The Cardassian ship stopped in place, but rather than attack, the large Federation starship streaked past it, instead focused on the lead Galor.

Onboard the massive bridge of the USS Atlas, Commander Dae stood alone, far forward, watching the battle out the main window. The Captain's chair was currently occupied by his new First Officer, LtCdr Alex Hadrian. Hadrian was operating the ship. Dae need only give broad guidance he expected to be followed.

This new organizational structure worked well. Hadrian was more than competent at commanding the day to day operations of the starship, which freed Dae up to focus on strategic planning and broader considerations.

Dae could hear Hadrian calmly ordering tactical commands to the other bridge officers. Passing the tractor beam control from the front to rear of the ship. Adjusting the shields. Focusing fire on the fleeing Galor. His command of the vessel was as good as any Starfleet Captain. If it were not for a few transgressions that had found him disfavor with Starfleet Command, Dae was confident he would already have command of his own vessel by now.

Through the window Dae watched the fleeing Galor take hit after hit. The Odyssey class vessels were amazing in so many ways, firepower not the least of it. Suddenly the ship buckled, its hull breaking under the continuing fire. A few more shots and it exploded in a brilliant shower of sparks and debris. The bright light filled the large viewing window.

Dae silently listened as his First Officer brought the massive ship around. If there was one thing the Odyssey ships didn't have on the smaller Sutherland, it was maneuverability.

As they came around, the other Galor ship came into view, still stuck in the tractor beam. Despite its nearly hopeless situation the vessel fired at the Atlas. The beams fell across the front of the ship briefly blocking Dae's view as the shields dissipated the energy.

Moments later the Atlas started to return fire. The tractor beam released and the two ships traded blows for a few more seconds. Finally, like its predecessor, this Galor succumbed to the might of the Starfleet vessel. It started to list to one side as the damage took its toll. It finally stopped firing. But, unlike before, this time the Atlas also ceased firing, sparing the ship from total annihilation.

For a moment the bridge was quiet. Then Dae heard the clicking of Hadrian's boots on the metal decking. Dae didn't turn.

Hadrian stopped a few steps behind his Commander. His tone was very flat and professional. "Sir, it’s disabled. Shields, weapons and engines are down."

Dae nodded slowly. In his new suit and helmet he was no longer required to exaggerate his head motions to have them translate to the helmet. "Excellent job, Lieutenant Commander. Have the Breen security team meet me in transporter room three."

Hadrian nodded and both men headed away from the window in silence.


A few moments later, Dae stepped into the transporter room. Dae stopped in the doorway at the sight of the four Breen soldiers, standing armed and ready, their weapons trained on the transporter pad. Trapped, like him, in their environmental suits, Dae could sympathize with them in a simple way that none of the rest of his crew could.

He had originally picked up the four Breen soldiers a few weeks ago, defectors from the crumbling Breen Confederacy. He had ensured that they were added to his crew, and he had already found a good use for the four, with their unique allegiances and quiet ways.

He then looked at the Transporter Chief. "Open sub-program Delta 5-1-Victor and have it ready to execute."

The Chief nodded as Dae crossed in front of him and stepped up to a wall mounted console.

Dae looked at the plain console, as he placed his hands behind his back. "Scan the ship for life signs, display it here."

The Chief pushed more buttons and then a schematic of the Galor class ship appeared on the wall console. Dae touched it a few times, zooming in on the bridge. A few yellow dots, some moving, indicated the life signs on the Galor's bridge.

Dae reached up and pointed to one yellow dot then turned towards the Cheif again. "Beam this one over. Then, you are dismissed, Chief."

Dae stepped away from the console as a view of the outside of the vessel filled the screen. He took up a position at the base of the transporter. The Breen security detail readied themselves.

The Chief touched some controls on the console and with a whirl of energy a Cardassian male appeared on the transporter pad. The Breen trained their weapons on him. The Cardassian froze, quickly recognizing what had happened.

The Chief stepped away from the console and left the room. The room was silent.

Dae held still, his hands resting on hiswaste. "Cardassian First Officer. You will deliver a message for me."

The Cardassian looked equally angry, confused, disgusted and scared. But he managed a quiet nod.

At his nod Dae stepped up so the two men were on an equal level. Dae got close to the Cardassian who, to his credit, did not back away. "Tell Polan Derak I am coming for him. That there is nowhere he can run nor hide. Tell him, I will... find him."

Dae stepped back down the platform without turning his back on the Cardassian. He reached over the transporter console and pushed one button, then turned towards the view screen and the image of the Cardassian vessel.

The transporter hum with activity. But rather than beaming someone else in, or the Cardassian First Officer out, the viewscreen, still displaying the live feed of the Galor, started filling with groups of Cardassians, beamed there from the Galor and exposed to the vacuum of space. The bodies would silently kick, flail and twist for a few seconds before going stiff as another group arrived to repeat it again. In less than a minute the transporter stopped and the view of the Galor was almost completely obstructed by the drifting bodies of the Cardassian crew members. Dae held his gaze on the screen waiting for the last victim to finally stop kicking in a vain attempt not to perish in the vacuum.

Once he saw no more movement from the grey arms and legs sticking out of the organic pile drifting in quiet space, he turned back towards the First Officer. The Cardassian's mouth was agape, staring at the screen, exactly the reaction Dae wanted. "Your Captain and crew will not be delivering the message with you. I'm afraid it's going to be a very lonely wait until another ship arrives." He paused for a moment as his mask's respirator let in a slow breath, then reversed and let one out. "Deliver my message, Cardassian."

Dae reached over the console again, and pushed another button.

He could hear the Cardassian only briefly begin to say something before the whirling light interceded, and then he was gone, back to the bridge of the now empty Cardassian vessel, adrift in space.

For a moment the Breen Security Team, and Dae, stared at the empty transporter pad. Again, a wisp of inhale, then a slow exhale as the suit allowed him to breathe. Then, without a word, Dae left the transporter room.


As Dae walked back onto the bridge he was instantly met by LtCdr Hadrian. "Sir, I will be ready to start the ops report for command momentarily. Do you want me to contact the Bajorans or DS9 for recovery operations?"

Dae stopped his march towards the forward bridge window and turned towards his First Officer. "Contact no one. Send an automated distress call on the Cardassian frequencies that The Shroud have been using. Use a Cardassian signal modulation. Then, issue a ship-wide message to the crew. Inform them that the vessels here were Cardassian extremist responsible for terrorist attacks and that a hull breach lead to the loss of life on the second vessel. Have LtCdr Cromwell erase the sensor logs for the engagement, then start for Bajor. I will be reporting to command, personally."

As Dae turned to resume his march to the front of the bridge he saw LtCdr Hadrian give a nod of understanding. As he returned to his original spot, staring quietly out the huge glass window at the front of the bridge, he could see the Galor class vessel still adrift, its engines still venting plasma and the mass of dead Cardassian bodies starting to drift apart.

Dae let a long exhale escape his helmet. "It has begun, Polan Derak. Your end has begun. It will be slow. It will be painful. And it will be... cold."

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