• Blabberdock

WORMWOOD (novelette)

Updated: Oct 24, 2019

By Nathan Warner

Perhaps the lone survivor of his ship's destruction, Lieutenant Peter Andrel crash-lands on an uncharted planet and stumbles upon the wreckage of a lost Starfleet vessel from the final days of the Dominion War. Searching the downed ship for a way home, he discovers a horrifying secret that threatens to make it his tomb.

Lieutenant Peter Andrel caught his breath on the edge of an ocean cliff looking down over the lost wreckage of an unknown Galaxy class saucer, floating in the gentle waves. It was so surreal that it almost made the past couple days seem normal by comparison - almost.

He mentally reviewed his bizarre little nightmare, which had begun unannounced several days ago aboard his Science posting - the Nova class Starship, U.S.S. Dexter. Andrel’s commission had been winding down uneventfully to its last day before his scheduled leave. Early Tuesday morning the Dexter had nearly completed its survey of the Mumbandi System and only had a few more planets to catalogue. The ship crossed back through the comet belt inward bound, but then diverted to investigate some Tritanium fragments that popped up on the lateral scanners to Starboard. Without warning, a massive explosion rocked through the ship, lacerating the hull and shredding the Starboard engine!

The blast threw Andrel into a bulkhead and he struck his head hard on the duranium supports. It crumpled him to the deck like discarded laundry as shock bled through his concussion. His eyesight blurred. Outside a window, he thought he could make out the bodies of crew-members tossed in the sea of debris blowing out from the side of the ship. Visions from the past mingled in the horror.

"Jem'Hadar Battleship off the port bow," he heard himself screaming. Flashbacks flooded his mind of his many campaigns through the valley of death. Terror drowned him. This was it! This was the time he was going to die!

A second tremendous explosion bucked the deck and knocked Andrel completely unconscious. How long, he didn’t know, but when he woke, he found himself alone in an escape pod, adrift in space – without any idea how he had gotten there. His right temple was still tender from his collision with the bulkhead and he applied a Medkit to relieve the concussion.

Of course, Andrel now recognized that trauma had invented the Dexter's adversary - after all, the Dominion War was history - nothing more than a colossal monument. Although it still overshadowed his life, it stood four years now in the past, and there it remained, despite his nightmares persistent attempts to tear open the old wounds. Whatever had attacked them, it was an unknown hostile.

A review of the lifeboat's systems, revealed the comms were destroyed and the thrusters were damaged, but the sensors worked well enough to locate an M-class planet less than 50 million kilometers from his position. It was Andrel's best chance of surviving alone out here in uncatalogued space.

“I hope there's room at the inn,” he muttered, patting the hull of his pod fondly. Using all but the last gasp of the thrusters, he made the planet in the hour and landed hard in a deciduous forest, leaving behind a trail of broken tree limbs for 1,000 meters.

"I've landed better punches," Andrel groaned, still strapped into his broken seat that had pinned him face-first into the deck. He wrestled out of the restraints and then clawed his way out of the boat, collapsing to the wooded grounds outside the smoking wreckage.

“It'll buff out!” he smirked, wiping a smudge off the battered hull, ignoring the tall red-barked trees that seemed displeased by his arrival, bending oppressively over the destruction of their meditation upon the central star. "What, its just a joke!" he cried to the sullen rustle of the leaves in a stiff breeze. A bad habit, jesting was a symptom of how Andrel coped with the weight of anxiety during the Dominion War - making light of his circumstances brightened his outlook. It had gotten him through the War alright, so it couldn’t be all bad!

“Doesn’t look like anyone else was invited to this party,” he groaned, reading the life-less scans of the near-environment with his Tricorder. At least, no sentient life – as far as the Tricorder could tell such things, anyways.

“Well, that’s great!” he sighed. “Just when I’ve gotten used to the idea of a ‘reception to follow’, I wind up uninvited to my own shebang and marooned on this rock!” He tasted the bitter irony of his words and kicked a stone into his wrecked lifeboat.

“You heard me!” he yelled to the heavens. “I’ve somewhere to be!” This wasn’t how this week was supposed to go – it shouldn’t be happening – it couldn’t be happening!

Suddenly, the Tricorder lit up weakly, and Andrel read a faint Tritanium signature registering less than 50 kilometers east of his location. Perhaps it was another escape pod or some modern structure that lay in that direction – his best bet at getting a signal out to Starfleet or finding a transport home!

Packing some rations and a survival kit from the lifeboat, he set out through the woods to find the source. The going was hard at first through the undergrowth, but the forest gradually shifted to a sort of evergreen tree that grew tall but was clear of branches till about 3 meters up. Andrel made half the distance before night came and he set-up camp in the utter darkness, lit only by the stars. The sky was so beautiful – he’d never seen one so pristine before.

“At least it's got good vibes,” he joked, pretending he was reviewing a popular holiday destination. But it was true and the sound of unseen night birds cooing quickly lulled him asleep.

Darkness cradled him into black oblivion, but it soon gave way to a vision and he found himself standing wistfully on the Bridge of his first posting - the U.S.S. Broadway. He’d just finished scanning a nearby comet cutting across their patrol when the alarms went off. Before he could speak, the ship was shredded by the concussive force of powerful plasma weapons. The bridge sizzled with showering sparks and electrical discharges as it took a mortal blow. On screen, directly ahead, a massive Dominion Battleship punched through the comet's tail and gazed triumphantly down on them.

He was going to die - Andrel knew he was going to die. But then like a large cat loses interest in its dying prey, the enemy vessel banked away indifferently and vanished. Andrel understood.

"We're already dead!" he gasped. The smell of hot alloys and the rush of evacuating air filled his senses. He tried to get up, but he couldn’t move. A brilliant white light slowly swallowed the noise and chaos around him until he was completely engulfed by it. A few moments passed and then the light receded. Shapes moved in the white, and then he gradually made out the form of a woman passing through white curtains. It was Carol! She was wearing her wedding dress on the balcony overlooking the Arles sea on Pacifica. She was laughing and beckoning to him – her red hair flaring in an updraft from the fragrant ocean. “Come on, Peter…join me!” she called. Gorgeous waves crashed on the pure white sandy beaches below. They crashed louder…and louder!

Andrel woke with a start. It was early morning and it had only been a dream. A faint rain was drizzling around him and he scrambled to his feet, setting his jaw at the inclement weather. He looked up past the sky, his eyes trying to find home from this unknown wilderness.

“I’ll find a way,” he promised, digging out his Federation rations from his satchel and biting into a quick meal.

“I guess breakfast wasn’t included,” he called to the nearest tree, wincing his teeth over the hard, nutritional bar.

The hike was hard and long this time, but he’d almost made it to the location before night fell in again. One more night on Starfleet rations and he rose early, setting out on the final leg of the trek. As the sun broke over the horizon, Andrel stumbled out of the woods and clambered down to the edge of a cliff only to pull up in shock at what he saw – an ocean! But more than that, a massive Galaxy class saucer partially submerged in the waters just off the coast!

“How in heaven’s…name,” he gasped. The vessel looked mostly intact, but had clear signs of weathering and damage from a crash-landing. Questions flooded his mind. How had it gotten here? Where there any survivors? Was it one of the many ships still missing in action from the Dominion War?

It had been just over four years since the conclusion of that destructive conflict, but there were still many vessels unaccounted for. He’d have to see the registry to get some answers. Andrel’s mind reeled – the dangers and hopes of the unknown equally pounding his head. He had to get inside, but even if he managed to enter its shell, what would he find inside the water-logged hull? It was unlikely that the comm system still worked! Perhaps there was an operational shuttle in the shuttle bay?

“Whatever other attractions you might serve up, please, no corpses,” he pleaded, unable to get the idea out of his head. Luckily, he’d brought his respirator from the escape pod – the fusion powered device would make the journey to the ship and the search of its lower decks possible.

There was nothing for it – he was going for a swim. Hopefully, he’d find some answers, and if he was lucky, a way home as well.

It took an hour of hunting up and down the cliff to find a possible way down to the narrow strip of beach below, which was interrupted at intervals by rugged rock striking up into the sky like the jagged teeth of a Romulan eel. The cliff face was a pale sandstone-looking stone, which felt good gripped in one’s hand, and Andrel carefully scampered down it to the firm, wet beach sand. The low clouds were not abating their migration overhead.

He searched up and down the beach looking for any evidence of survivors. No signs presented themselves.

“Well, if they survived that belly-flop, maybe they stayed on the ship,” he shrugged.

Fitting his respirator carefully between his teeth, he took a few deep breaths through it, as he stared out at the massive saucer in the water. It looked to be about a kilometer out from the shore – he’d have to pace himself.

Its just 20 laps at the Academy pool, he shrugged to himself, remembering his instructor’s insistence that swimming endurance would save his life one day. He hadn’t believed it at the time – there was precious little water in space, but here he was proving the rule.

He cracked his neck a couple times, stretched, did a few squats and then jogged towards the waves.

The water was freezing! Andrel guessed it was around 14 degrees Celsius. He fought the urge to retreat back to shore, knowing he had to wait out the shock and discomfort. Besides, given a few minutes, Federation uniforms had the impressive ability of adapting to very broad temperature ranges and environments. Already, he began to feel warmer and pressed further into the water, crouching down till it was up to his collar. Within a minute the freezing water had abated – the fabric of his uniform was serving like the ancient earth wetsuit Andrel had read about in primary school. A minute more, and he felt comfortably warm.

And then he dove – his emergency satchel dragged him back on the strap around his neck, but he pulled it down after him. He could see the gravelly sand and rock below him moving past his strong strokes through the water. The bottom sank gradually away from him until it vanished suddenly off a sea cliff into sightless grey waters below. A moment of panic flooded Andrel. Seeing the bottom had been grounding, but now the infinite “fog” of the ocean disoriented him. He fought the sensation he was sinking – sinking down into the crushing blackness of a never-ending depth.

He closed his eyes and remembered the clear water he and Carol had dived on Pacifica. Now, here he was a few weeks later, diving into an unknown ocean, willing her to be with him. He almost thought he could hear her playfully telling him to “look up, puddleglum!” He did so now and gazed up four meters to the faint light reflecting off the surface waves of this alien ocean. It helped.

This water was much cloudier than the clear seas of Pacifica! Yet, he could tell he was drifting along in a slow current. He took a few good, deep breaths through the respirator, calming his nerves with the steady supply of pressurized oxygen. Pulling his Tricorder from his satchel he activated the pressure reading (for depth management) and homing directions on the wreck.

Press on, Lieutenant! He ordered himself, trying not to imagine what marine life might patrol the coast of this unknown planet. He swam forward with his Tricorder held out in front of him, registering the distance he was covering and his direction. He’d covered about 600m, when he thought he heard a sound to port, but before he could turn, something struck him hard. The blow almost knocked him unconscious and when he snapped back, he saw his Tricorder’s blinking lights sinking down into the abyssal depths.

“No!” he blew through his mask. But before he could swim after it, a massive dark object sank down in pursuit of the shimmering device. Andrel’s blood turned cold.

Whatever that “thing” was, it wasn’t worth getting to know better. With renewed energy, Andrel swam forward like his life depended on it. Now disoriented without direction, he felt like hours passed, blindly swimming into the murk.

Suddenly, a dark shape appeared ahead of him. Andrel fought down his panic, as he braced for a massive mouth of teeth to focus into view – the last thing he’d ever see. But nothing happened.

The creature seemed to be stationary. With a wave of relief, he realized the dark shape might be the Saucer! Had he reached it finally? He pressed forward cautiously, and with each stroke forward the object grew in size. It seemed to recede inward like a cave. Had he gotten turned around and now was heading back to shore? With a few more kicks, it became clearer. Suddenly, he recognized it – it was the Starboard impulse engine of a Galaxy class starship! The outlet was massive – multiple decks tall! He gripped the wall and pulled himself upright until he was “standing” on the lower inside surface of the engine.

There aren’t many who can say they’ve ever stood here! He thought. It was breathtaking! But he didn’t come to dive this wreck for fun and he considered his situation. He’d have to press on – there was no access to the ship’s interior through the fusion reactors of the impulse engine!

If the ship still had power, he could have used his Tricorder to interface and open external hatches on the dorsal face of the saucer. But he’d lost it to the depths and the ship was not likely to have any juice besides emergency battery power for primary functions.

He figured his best bet was to explore the saucer’s underbelly, as it had likely gotten damaged in the crash and might have some breaks in the hull. He pulled himself down, passed the lip of the impulse engine, and slowly made his way deeper along the underside of the saucer. The light grew darker and his respirator adjusted to the growing water pressure. He swam under the first ring of intact escape pods, barely discerning their raised edges in the growing gloom. A few meters later, he couldn’t see anything ahead anymore. Andrel pulled to a stop, pressing his hand against the cold Tritanium of the second ring of escape pods above as he considered what to do.

A light, you dunderhead! He scolded his brain. Rummaging in his satchel, he felt the small oval object he was looking for and removed it. With a gentle squeeze, a powerful lance of light shot out into the darkness from the beacon. He pointed it above and ahead, revealing twisted shapes of hull, gouged open from impact. Or were they the open wounds of battle?

Andrel was close – a dozen meters and he’d reach the nearer hole that sank into the dark interior of the ship right around the ring of windows. He swam that distance quickly and shone his light up to reveal the flooded interior that had been someone’s quarters at one time. Some of the furniture was floating up against the ceiling. No bodies, thankfully!

Around the fractured edges of the hull, Andrel noticed what looked like tendrils or vines that had grown in through the hull breaches. They were translucent. He shone his light over them, following them down through the water to where they sank away into the depths. It appeared to be some sort of massive aquatic plant, rooted on the bottom of the sea or drifting nomadically in the currents. Well, now it had gotten entangled into the ship unfortunately.

Focus! He told himself sternly, and drowned his curiosity for the time-being. Gently, he pulled himself up into the interior of the ship, careful to avoid the sharp edges of the multi-layered hull.

His movement disturbed the stagnant water inside and a fine layer of organic algae, or something like it, rose from the floor in faint clouds through the beam of his beacon. His light fell on the quarter’s disheveled ornaments of landscape paintings, PADDS, articles of clothing, a flower vase, and bed sheets – all adrift in the water. He shone the beam across the room, looking for a Tricorder. He felt so vulnerable without one, but his search was fruitless. The water was getting cloudy, now that he was disturbing all the algae which covered the floors and walls.

On the wall, a plaque commemorated a fencing tournament aboard the U.S.S. Vital. Andrel searched his memory and settled on a vague recollection of a missing Federation vessel from the last few months of the Dominion War. Presumed lost in combat, the wreckage was never found and it was still an open case with the Starfleet Investigative Division. Andrel looked around the quarters.

So this is where you ended up, he thought. But what happened to you? He shook the mystery from his mind and focused on his own problem – finding a way up to the Shuttlebay.

Further in and further up, he told himself. Cautiously, he swam to the door, which didn’t open at his approach. He let his light float beside him and fit his fingers into the groove. With all his strength, he pried at it, forcing them open. Darkness beyond. He retrieved his beacon and shined it ahead.

The light shone off something floating outside the door. He looked up and spat his respirator out in terror, flailing back into the murky water of the quarters. There before him, the lifeless body of a crewman drifted partially in through the door from the corridor outside! His grey, misty eyes staring straight into Andrel’s. The horror of it struck the Lieutenant like a body-blow. Slowly, his mind regained sanity – he found he was up against the far wall, and he suddenly realized in a panic his respirator was gone. He’d been holding his breath! He desperately swam for his light, which he’d dropped at the door, shining up at the corpse, lighting it in an ungodly way. He clutched at it and shone it over the floor, hunting for his respirator. Where was it? He frantically sifted among the discarded PADDS on the floor. He could feel the oxygen burning up in his lungs.

There! – it was hiding in the shadow of the corner of the room! He retrieved it, blowing his last remaining air through it to clear it of water. And then, glorious oxygen filled his lungs again!

After a few deep breaths had restored his nerves, he considered the ghostly corpse, still staring at him from just beyond the door. It was a Trill crewman, judging by the speckles running along his temple. Andrel set his teeth and glanced around the room for a stick or pole of some kind. On the floor by the desk, he found a Bajoran staff – probably an heirloom of whomever had lived here. Andrel grabbed it and swam back to the door. With the staff, he carefully pushed the body out of the way. Cautiously, he poked his head out of the quarters and shone his light both directions down the outside corridor. Aside from the pale floating corpse, it appeared empty save for damaged conduits and debris.

He pulled himself into the hallway. He was in! But now what?

Get out of the water! He thought. That meant higher decks. A Jeffries tube would do the trick, and there should be one a few corridors down from him to the right, if he remembered his Galaxy class blueprints from the Academy. Holding his beacon tightly in his left hand, he tried to use the staff in his right hand to push himself along the hallway, but he was weightless and it always pivoted him off ballast. More than once he found himself upside down, crashing into a bulkhead.

I’ll have to leave the staff, he thought in frustration. It had been a source of comfort in his hand in case he ran into any more floating corpses.

He was almost at the point of dropping it when something bit around his ankle from behind like an icy cold vice. Andrel screamed a cloud of bubbles through his respirator. The iron grip dragged him back so violently, his beacon and staff wrenched out of his hands and sank to the deck. Andrel clutched at his respirator to keep it from falling away from him too. The light sank to the deck and cast its beam to the ceiling. Andrel looked behind frantically, trying to see what was grappling with him, but his eyesight had been blinded by the light.

He reached down, flailing for anything to hold or grab onto. His hands found the tail end of the Bajoran staff, and he just managed to grip it before it passed out of reach. Holding it firmly with both hands, Andrel struck out into the darkness. He felt it strike something behind him. He lashed out again and again with all his strength, until suddenly, the grip relaxed and slipped away. Frantically, Andrel swam forward, reaching for his beacon. He clutched it and shone the light back down the corridor, prepared to see some ferocious marine monster preparing to charge after him. But there was nothing! Only the still-dead corpse of the Trill crewman floating down past the entrance to the quarters. That did not comfort him. He sensed someone, or something, watching him. It was a very tangible feeling, like someone breathing on the back of his neck.

Where was a Tricorder when you needed one! Andrel cautiously turned and swam, half-crawling forward, glancing over his shoulder every few moments. He made it to the Jeffries tube hatch and manually pulled it open. Through the small opening, he entered and shone his beacon up the tall column of rungs. It rose several decks to a closed hatch. So far, so good. Things were finally looking up – literally!

He pulled himself upwards along the rungs, rapidly rising to the hatch, which he manually opened to reveal water on the other side. He swam through and continued rising up through the decks, almost as quickly as a turbolift. Suddenly, his light shone off a change in the water. He was nearing the surface! In a moment, he was bobbing in the air, a few rungs down from a deck access hatch. He climbed out of the water onto the ledge, feeling the warm liquid drain from his uniform. Removing his respirator, Andrel took a few shallow breaths of the stale air until he was satisfied it wasn’t harmful.

He crawled over to the hatch, weak against gravity after the exertion of swimming so long. Squeezing the water from his jet-black hair, he used his remaining strength to pry the hatch open.

“Come on! Come on!” he groaned. It protested, but finally gave and he scrambled through to collapse onto the dry deck, panting in the stagnant air. He lay there for a few minutes, catching his breath.

“No rest for the weary,” he chided himself, knowing if he lay there any longer, he might not get up for hours. Slowly, he crawled to his feet and stood up, uncaring for the sloshy mess he was making. He turned his beacon ahead and then he froze.

Dead bodies littered the corridor. Andrel instinctively covered his mouth and stepped back, only to trip over the limp arm of an Andorian Lieutenant sprawled out behind him. He nearly fell, but collapsed into a nearby bulkhead and shook with horror. He passed his light over the entire corridor. Starfleet personnel lay haphazardly cast on the ground – twisted in unnatural poses.

What had happened to them all? He took a dreadful step nearer to the Andorian. If he had to guess, he’d say they’d all been dead for some time. All their skin was pale with some slight signs of decay, but they looked strangely mummified. Their uniforms looked old and worn, as if years had passed.

What caught his attention most, however, was that none of them appeared to have died from impact-related injuries – there were energy scorch marks, precise gashes from bladed weapons, and fractures delivered to them by someone or something – not the physics of a crash. That changed everything! Perhaps the killers were still aboard? Andrel’s breath became very still. He listened for the slightest sound, but only the moaning and groaning of the hull in the ocean below came to his ears.

He fished the emergency Phaser out of his satchel and subconsciously set it to kill.

“Better safe than sorry,” he muttered and gingerly moved down the hallway, stepping carefully over the corpses, trying his best not to disturb them.

Suddenly, he heard a rustling sound behind him. He whirled around, but not before being tackled to the ground by a dark blur. Pinned to the deck, blows pummeled him and he held his arms up to protect his face.

“Stop!...I’m…a friend!” he tried to get out between punches to his face. He couldn’t see the attacker clearly. Then he remembered the Phaser. Instinctively he wrestled it up against the assailant’s body and discharged. A beam of high energy struck them full in the chest and flung them off, collapsing to the deck at Andrel’s feet.

Shaken and recovering from the shock to his head, Andrel sat up on the floor, found his beacon and shone it over his attacker. He gasped! It was the Andorian he’d inspected earlier! But he had been dead! Smoke was still rising from the fresh scorch to his uniform. Well, he certainly was dead now.

“What the…” Andrel muttered in disbelief. “You were dead! I saw you!” A wave of remorse flooded him. Had he just killed a fellow Starfleet officer? It seemed so. The Andorian must have been unconscious somehow – maybe injured, and he came back to consciousness when Andrel tripped over him? Had he been mad or insane from the trauma of whatever had happened here and attacked who he thought was an enemy?

Perhaps. Whatever the case, there was no saving him now. Andrel suddenly felt the sense someone was watching him again.

“I really need a Tricorder!” he growled in anger at himself, scrambling back to his feet. He searched the bodies in the corridor, but here were no Starfleet devices of any kind – not even Communicators. What had happened here? He noticed a white dust on the uniforms of the dead and on his hands also. It reminded him a little of fine powdered flour. And as he shuffled around, he could see it floating in the air. Was it some sort of weapon residue?

Andrel raised his Phaser and cautiously moved ahead down the corridor. He’d make for Sickbay on his way to the Shuttlebay, and maybe find some answers there. It was slow going. Around every corner he found more corpses. Carefully, he stepped over them, desperately trying not to glance down into their faces. But no matter how hard he tried, his eyes were pulled into their sightless gazes. That walk was the grimmest chore of his life, but at long last, he found another Jeffries tube relay. He climbed it up to deck 6. The same morbid scene of carnage met his gaze here.

“Steady on!” he told himself, rubbing warmth back into his arms, as the cold, dead bodies seemed to be seeping into his soul. “Sickbay is just around the corner.”

He rallied his resolve and continued his march, hoping not to disturb the dreamless sleep of the dead. Finally, he saw the doors ahead with the familiar markings, but piled up against it were half a dozen bodies – as if someone had stacked them there to barricade the door.

“Right!” Andrel choked, setting his beacon down. He closed his eyes and willed his weak stomach to hold back the gag in his throat as he shoved the dead aside, shivering as he heard them collapse to the floor on either side of the doors like dead weight. He felt like vomiting and frantically wedged his fingers into the seam between the doors to take his mind off what he had done. Straining against their resistance, Andrel pried them a few inches apart and then with a final surge of energy, they gave way, opening wide enough for him to squeeze through. He entered Sickbay and stopped short.

A glow-lamp sat on a nearby console and food rations were stacked beside it. There were no dead in here, which seemed odd, considering the rest of the ship was strewn with them. But before he could give it much thought, his eyes settled on a Tricorder on a medical cart near the main operating table. He reached out for it, and as his hands clasped around it, he thought he saw a shimmer in the air to his left. But before he could even shed a thought, something materialized next to him. It knocked his phaser from his hand. Then, a strong, merciless grip seized him by the throat and lifted him into the air. He looked down into the face of his attacker and his blood drained from his face. A Jem’Hadar commander! His reptilian horns and scaly skin made his face glimmer like a fluorescent demon in the glow-lamp.

“I do not believe I have killed you yet,” the Jem’Hadar growled. Andrel fought to speak through the vice around his throat. He only managed some croaking words.

“The…war…is over,” he managed before he felt consciousness slipping away. A dark tunnel collapsed in on him, but before it snuffed his thoughts away, he felt the grip easing up and he crumpled to the floor gasping for air.

“You speak, Human?” the Jem’Hadar growled. Andrel gulped air, but realized he was nodding.

“Say something or I’ll kill you,” the Jem’Hadar hissed, pulling out a knife for emphasis.

“Tachyon bursts are cool,” he heard himself croak – where that came from, he had no idea! The Jem’Hadar actually smiled.

“What is your name, Human?” he asked.

“Peter,” Andrel answered, rubbing his throat and leaning up against a medical console. “Lieutenant Peter Andrel.”

“Peter,” the Jem’Hadar muttered suspiciously. “How did you come here?”

“My ship was attacked,” Andrel coughed, glancing towards the door, weighing his options. “massive explosions…ripped our engines apart and we suffered…a catastrophic hull breach. I escaped in a lifeboat and landed on this planet. Finding this crashed ship…I am looking for a shuttle.” The Jem’Hadar swayed noticeably at the words and sized him up for a long moment.

“Did you see who attacked you?” He said dangerously.

“No, it happened too fast,” Andrel muttered, clearing his throat and staring weakly at his open hands. “I was in my quarters.”

“If knowledge is any consolation, it was I who attacked your ship,” the Jem’Hadar said evenly. Andrel looked up slowly.

“How dare you,” he growled. “Do you think you’ll get away with…”

“Peace!” the Jem’Hadar bellowed, raising his knife. “My attack upon you was years and years ago.” Andrel swallowed his anger.

“What does that mean?” he asked dangerously. The Commander seemed to appreciate his bravery.

“It means, Human, that I seeded this space with subspace mines during the second year of the Founder’s Campaign,” he said slowly. “And your ship seems to have fallen prey to my snare like a Cardassian fly untimely caught in an abandoned Palukoo web.”

Andrel sank back down. It made sense. The Allies were still dealing with unexploded mines left over from the war. He rubbed his temples as the news filtered through his mind. How many of his fellow crew had died because of weapons left over from a concluded conflict? Had any made survived? What a tragedy!

“I believe your story,” the Jem’Hadar grunted at last, lowering the knife and retrieving Andrel’s phaser. “I never would have thought I’d be happy to hear a human voice, but here I am…and here you are!” He strode to the door and pulled it shut. Andrel took the few moments to choose his words carefully.

“You know the war is over,” he said uneasily, “the war between the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants?”

“I do not,” the Jem’Hadar answered evenly. He considered Andrel carefully. “I am going to trust you, Human, because I need you – but you should know if you try to cross me, I will kill you.” He pointed the knife at Andrel before holstering it at his side.

Trust him? Andrel wondered if the Jem’Hadar was toying with him, but what choice did he have but to play along?

“Very well,” he said half-heartedly. “And you are?”

“You may call me Kormet’iklan,” The Jem’Hadar answered, straightening his shoulders. Andrel tried sounding it out, but it kept getting garbled in his mouth.

“How about I call you Kormet?” he asked. The Jem’Hadar shrugged.

“You may call me a phase-inverter for all I care,” he replied, pulling out his knife. “Just don’t call me coward.” Andrel fought the childish urge to shout it out.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he heard himself say. “How did you come here?” Kormet gestured at the hull around them with his knife.

“It was our minefield that caught this vessel,” he answered matter-of-factly. “But it proved resilient to capture and in the ensuing battle, my ship and this vessel were both heavily damaged – pulled into orbit of this planet, we crashed into the sea. The Federation ship stayed afloat, but our ship took on water and began to sink. I ordered my men to swim for this vessel. We boarded it. We fought its crew. We killed them all in combat – well, some. I admit there were many executions.”