Edge of Heaven – 2. The Fire

In preparation for the mission that had been assigned to her earlier in the day, Dani sat in her quarters, on her sofa, thinking about what she would be facing in only a few days.  She’d started preparing for it almost from the moment her mother had briefed her and rest of the team.  The mission instructions had assigned each team member a specific role in the mission:  Chakotay would be the mission pilot; Dr. Bashir would be there to essentially begin studying samples of the virus and to oversee the destruction of the remaining virus samples;  both would remain on the runabout for the duration of the mission.  Sisko, Dani, and Will would comprise the team on the ground.  Tuvok, who had been the strategic force behind the mission, would not join the team on the actual away mission.

Dani had been devouring everything she could find concerning the Suliban.  Her readings led her to the first mission of the U.S.S Enterprise NX-01.  That mission had initially been just a transport to Kronos but had evolved into something much more complicated.  During this mission, Captain Jonathan Archer, Enterprise’s CO, made the first documented contact with the Suliban race in what could easily be termed a hostile encounter.  Using their amazing stealth abilities, Suliban agents had sneaked onboard Archer’s ship to retrieve a Klingon the Enterprise was transporting to Kronos.

Dani was about to start reading about the outcome of that mission when her door chimed.  “Come in,” she called, reluctantly looking up from the PADD in her hands.  The door slid open, and Will Riker entered.  “Hi,” Dani greeted.

“Hey,” Will said, approaching the coffee table.  He would’ve sat down beside Dani on the sofa, but the space was currently being occupied by about a dozen PADDs.  Instead, he opted for the chair next to the sofa.  “I just came to see how you were feeling,” he said.

“Oh, I’m fine,” Dani said.  “I’m just doing a little research on our friends, the Suliban.”  She handed Will one of the PADDs that had been occupying what would have been his seat.

He skimmed it briefly and then studied Dani.  “Are you nervous?” he asked.

“Yes, but this has to be done,” Dani replied.  “Our whole existence probably depends on it.  And for reasons I still don’t fully understand, Admiral Nechayev feels that I am the best candidate for this mission.”

“You won’t be alone, you know.”

“I know.  Do you think I’d be sane right now if I didn’t know you were coming with me?”

“Everything’s going to work out for the best,” Will said. “You’ll see.”

Dani wanted to believe Will, but in her mind, she didn’t exactly have the best track record when it came to missions of this nature.  There were so many things that could go wrong, but that was true of all missions.  The difference this time was the gravity of the consequences if they failed.

Will sensed that his words of encouragement made little difference for her, and he understood why, considering her history.  “I know that going on another mission like this is one of the last things in the universe that you want to do, but this is a completely different situation than last time.  It’s a whole new mission.  You’ve got to keep that in mind.”

“I know,” Dani said.  “It’s kind of silly that I’m still not completely over that.  It’s been over a year.”

“There’s no time limit on how long it takes people to get over something like that,” Will said. “It was a traumatic experience for you.  If you think this new mission will be too much for you, I don’t think anyone would object if you decided you want to sit this one out.”

“That’s taking the easy way out,” Dani said. “I won’t do that.  I’ve got to prove that I can do this.”

“Dani, you don’t have to prove anything to anyone.”

“Yes, I do.  To myself, if not to anyone else.”

“I think you may be putting a little too much pressure on yourself.”

“It’s possible, but I don’t want people to treat me with kid gloves for the rest of my career.  That’s not why I went to the Academy.  Can you understand that?”

Will nodded.  “Yeah,” he said. “I can.”  He understood why she felt the way that she did, but he still didn’t think it was the best attitude for her to have, especially at this stage in her life, coming off of an exceedingly difficult experience.  True, it had been a year since Dani had returned from Cardassia, but Will wasn’t convinced that she’d completely recovered from it, not enough to embark on another difficult covert mission.

xxx

The team was a day into its mission and still a day away from its destination.  Thus far, Dani had been successful at keeping her nerves calm.  She didn’t know if she would still feel that way in 24 hours.  Sitting alone at the table in the runabout’s living quarters, she’d tried to do it by keeping her mind occupied with the mission logs of the Enterprise NX-01.  But her mind kept wandering. Despite having had one file open for at least an hour, Dani hadn’t scrolled past the first two paragraphs.  She was preoccupied not with the catastrophic what-ifs of her current mission but with the memories of one night and two lifetimes:  the night that Q2 had surprised her by showing up in her bedroom at her parents’ house in Indiana.

Will ventured to the runabout’s living quarters and found Dani alone, staring blankly at the table.  “Dani?” he said.

“Hey, Will,” Dani said, looking up at him from the spot on the table.

“I just came to check on you, see how you’re doing,” he said.  “You’ve been back here by yourself for nearly the entire trip.”

“I’ve had a lot on my mind.”

“About the mission?”

“Some,” Dani said.  “But I’ve mostly been thinking about something that happened after I came back from Cardassia.”

Will joined Dani at the table, taking the seat to her right.  “Was it something serious?”

“Yes,” Dani said.  A small nervous laugh escaped her lips.  “Um, Q showed up at my parents’ house in Indiana while I was staying there.”  When Dani saw Will roll his eyes, she quickly added, “It was Q’s son, and it wasn’t what you think.  He didn’t cause any trouble while he was there.  He actually helped me out – a lot.”

“Q?” Will asked skeptically.

“Yeah.  I haven’t told this to anyone, except Counselor Troi, but after Cardassia, I was considering leaving Starfleet.”

“You’re serious?”

“It seemed like my career was getting off to an unusually bumpy start, and I was doubting whether this whole thing was for me.  I thought that maybe some of the decisions I’d made were wrong, that I was supposed to go right instead of left at some points.  Q showed me how wrong I was.”

“You’re talking about us?”

“Partially,” Dani said with a shrug.

“You said he showed you.  How?”

“He gave me a chance to experience what life would have been like for me if things had been different for us, if we’d stayed together.”

“What was the result?”

“Not good.  Painful, actually, on several levels.”

“I get the feeling it’s not something I want to hear about.”

“Trust me, it isn’t.  Just believe me when I say that I don’t think it was meant to be between us.”

Will nodded.  Then, a thought occurred to him.  “How do you know Q was showing you the truth, and not just some warped version of reality?  He could have been showing you what you he wanted you to see.”

“I thought about that possibility, but I can’t figure out a good explanation for why he would want to do that.  What would be the point?  I like to think that he was sincere in what he was showing me…He also showed me what my life would have been like if Dukat had lived.”

“Was it any better than what happened with us?”

Dani shook her head. “No.”

“So, he allows you to experience two different scenarios, both devastating.  How does that convince you to remain in Starfleet?”

“By showing me that even though things don’t always work out like we want, they happen because they’re supposed to, and any other way wouldn’t be right.  That doesn’t mean that you’re doing anything wrong, necessarily.  It’s just the way things are supposed to be.  He also told me that I can’t leave yet because I’m going to be part of something important that will have a bearing on the survival of the Federation.  Of course, he couldn’t tell me what that something was, but the prospect was intriguing.  And the way he said it – there was something about it that I can’t explain.  He was dead serious, and I knew I couldn’t leave, that I had to stay.”

Dani sighed.  “I’m tired of talking about me, though,” she said. “How’s the wedding planning coming along?”

“Well, I have to say this is one time I’m glad that Lwaxana is the kind of person who loves to take charge of things,” Will said.  “It’s been a lot less stressful than when you and I were planning our wedding.  I think she’s practicing for her next wedding.”

xxx

Traveling at warp 4, it had taken the team a total of two days to reach Tandar Prime.  Landing on the surface would be too risky, so the runabout was to remain in orbit, hidden behind one of the planet’s two satellite moons.

“I know I don’t have to tell you to be careful down there,” Chakotay said, “but I will anyway.  And watch your back.”

“You know I will,” Dani said.

Chakotay turned to Will and said, “Good luck.”  There was more behind those words than what had been spoken.  Of course the surface meaning was genuine, but Will knew that he had just been charged with ensuring that Chakotay’s daughter made it back from this mission.

Will responded with a quick nod before turning and stepping onto the transporter pad.  Dani and her father shared a final look before she turned and joined Will.  Sisko stepped onto the pad with them, rounding out the group.

“Energize,” Sisko said.  The trio dematerialized on the Rio Grande’s transporter pad and rematerialized inside the basement of the Suliban facility, just as planned.  They’d beamed in prepared for an immediate fight, so they were surprised to find that there was no one else in sight.

The room was dim.  Each of the away team members had done their homework on the Suliban.  They were well aware of the race’s advanced stealth abilities and were wary that the Suliban might have been expecting a visit from Starfleet and were waiting in the shadows for the team.  They didn’t have time to dwell too much on it, though.  There was a mission to complete.  The three of them took out their modified tricorders and started scanning.  The clock had begun.

Almost immediately, Will’s tricorder began beeping wildly.  “I think I’ve found it,” he said.

“Where?” Sisko asked.

“It’s directly above us,” Will said.

“Above?” Dani asked. “I thought it was supposed to be in the basement?”

“Either our intel was wrong, or they’ve moved it,” Will said. “Either way, up is where we need to go.”

The three of them drew their phasers, as they prepared to leave the facility’s basement via a narrow staircase.  Everyone’s head was turning, and their phasers were drawn, as they emerged from the staircase and stepped into a corridor on the main floor of the building.  Dani, leading the way, was constantly scanning for Suliban biosignatures.  Of course, if they were cloaked, scanning would do no good.  This part of the mission was starting off on the wrong note, in her opinion.  Maybe the incorrect location really was a simple case of bad intel.  But what if it was more than that?  It could be that the Suliban knew of the plan to infiltrate the facility, and the away team was walking right into a trap.

Once they cleared the top stair in the flight and approached the first of many intersections in the corridor, Dani’s tricorder indicated that they would need to turn right at the second intersection to get to the lab where the samples were housed.

“It’s this way,” Dani said, her eyes on the schematic displayed on her tricorder.  “To the right.”

Dani stopped short of rounding the corner.  “What is it?” Will asked.

“Two Suliban,” Dani whispered.  “About 20 meters down this corridor.”

“Where are we in relation to the samples?” Sisko asked.

“According to this, it’s at the end of this corridor, in a room just past our two Suliban friends here,” Dani replied.

“I’m willing to bet they have all kinds of sensors in this place.  We risk alerting everyone else here to our presence the moment we fire our first shot,” Will said.

“They’re going to know we’re here anyway the moment we try to leave with those samples,” Sisko countered.  He crouched and peered around the corner, then took careful aim at one of the Suliban on the other end of the corridor.

“Hold on,” Dani said quickly.  Sisko held his fire but didn’t take his eyes off his targets.  “There’s another way in,” she said.

xxx

Crawling through a ventilation conduit hadn’t been part of the plans, but when an opportunity presented itself as a solution to an immediate problem, you had to be prepared to take advantage. A scan had revealed that there was no one in the lab.  This fact, coupled with being able to access the room via an underground ventilation system, meant that they were extraordinarily lucky.  Or they were walking into a trap.  There was no way to tell which applied to their situation, and they didn’t have any option but to take the opportunities as they came, but that didn’t mean that Dani felt any more at ease with all of it.

Will pushed up against a vent in the floor of the lab and poked his head through, quickly looking around the room.  Just as the tricorders had indicated, the lab was seemingly devoid of humanoid life.  He quickly pulled himself out of the environmental conduit he and the others had used to gain access to the laboratory.  Kneeling, he helped Dani pull herself out next.  Finally, Sisko emerged.

Immediately, Dani started scanning for the samples.  She fought to focus, constantly blocking out thoughts of whether they were being watched by surveillance cameras, or whether they’d tripped a silent alarm, or whether there were cloaked Suliban in the room with them right now.

“Here it is,” she said, eyes on her tricorder.  A flashing indicator on the device represented its proximity to the samples.  That indicator was no longer blinking but was now a continuous light, which meant the tricorder was within ten feet of the samples.  Dani looked up from her tricorder. “It’s in this cabinet.”

That cabinet was a freezer, and when Will walked over and tried to open it, he quickly found that it was locked.  He took a few steps back, leveled his phaser at the door of the freezer, and fired a quick burst.  The door flew open.

Sisko, Will, and Dani stared at the open freezer and their mouths hung open.

“I thought there were only supposed to be a few vials?” Will asked.

“The intel must have been wrong, again,” Sisko said, scowling.

In front of the away team was a freezer full of vials, each containing an identical amount of the same blue liquid.

“There must be hundreds of vials in there,” Dani said.  She stepped up to the open freezer and passed her tricorder back and forth past the vials.  The signal never wavered.  According to the tricorder, all the vials contained a sample of the disease.  They wouldn’t be able to take all of them.  They hadn’t come prepared to take this many.  Even if they took as many as they could, the Suliban would still have plenty of samples that could be used to synthesize more of the disease.  Dani reached out and took one vial from each row in the freezer.  She wasn’t going to walk away from this mission empty-handed.  They might not be able to destroy the disease, but they could at least get some samples back to Starfleet so that they could analyze it.

A phaser blast landed on the wall immediately beside Riker’s head.  Riker whipped around and returned fire, while Sisko and Dani ran across the room and took cover behind a counter.  Will took refuge behind a counter on the opposite side of the room.

“Away team to Rio Grande!” Sisko shouted.  “We’re under fire!  Get us out of here!”

Dani unholstered her phaser and began to shoot at the two Suliban who’d attacked.  Now that she was in a position of relative safety, she recognized them as the two Suliban they’d seen outside the lab earlier.

“Standby, away team,” Chakotay said through the comm. “I’m bringing you up now.”

The next thing Dani should have felt was the tingling sensation of the transporter.  Instead, she felt the heat of a phaser blast as it zipped past her head.

“Rio Grande, what’s going on up there?” Sisko asked, understandably impatient.

“There’s shielding around the room you’re in,” Chakotay responded.  “If you can’t disable the field, you’ll need to get clear before I can bring you up.”

Sisko fired across the room at the Suliban before answering.  “Understood,” he said. “Riker, did you hear that?”

“Loud and clear,” Will said, holding his own in the firefight with the Suliban.

The Suliban guards were blocking the only two exits that the away team was already aware of, the door and the floor vent.  Dani sunk down behind the counter and pulled out her tricorder.  She pulled up the schematic of the facility, hoping to find another way out of the room.  According to the map she was looking at there should be a corridor behind the wall on the right side of her and Sisko.  She looked at it but didn’t see any sign of a door.  She set her phaser to the maximum setting, pointed it at the section of the wall where the tricorder indicated a door should be, and fired.  The wall shimmered before dissolving upon contact with the phaser beam.  The holographic wall had completely dematerialized, revealing the previously concealed access point.

“Janeway to Riker,” Dani said.

“Riker here.”

“Did you see that?” Dani asked.

“I sure did,” Riker said.  “Looks like we’ve found our way out.”

“We’ll cover you,” Sisko told him.

Sisko and Dani looked across the room at Will, who nodded his assent.  Dani and Sisko concentrated their fire on the guards, drawing their attention from Will.  Will sprinted across the room and slipped through the doors as they slid open for him.  The doors closed behind him momentarily before sliding open again.  Will stuck his hand out and started firing his phaser at the Suliban.  This gave Dani her opportunity to join Will in the corridor they’d just discovered.  Once she was outside, both she and Will continued firing at the Suliban as Sisko made it over to the door and temporary safety.  Sisko fired a few final shots at the Suliban before retreating with Dani and Will into the darkness of the corridor.  The door slid shut behind Sisko, and he promptly fired his phaser at the control panel, hopefully disabling it, even if only temporarily.

Sisko tapped his comm badge.  “Sisko to Rio Grande.”

The door that Sisko had just closed slid open following the muffled sound of a small explosion.  Three Suliban ran into the corridor, sending the away team on the run again.  Where they were running to, they had no idea.  For the moment, they only knew that they needed to get away from the Suliban chasing them.  They ran straight ahead, through a set of double doors and into a new room.  As soon as they’d entered, they’d expected to find the Suliban right on their heels.

But they weren’t.  And there weren’t any waiting for them inside the room, either.

xxx

The Suliban stopped short of following the intruders into the room.  Only those with the highest level of clearance were allowed to enter that particular room.  It was off-limits to everyone else.  That it had even been unlocked in the first place came as a shock to them.  The three looked at each other, knowing that they should go after the intruders.  They also knew that if one valued his life, he didn’t dare enter without clearance.

xxx

Sisko refused to believe that the away team had escaped the Suliban that easily.

“It couldn’t have been that easy,” Will said aloud, putting into words what everyone was feeling. “The door wasn’t even locked.”

Sisko moved his hand to tap his comm badge.  “Sisko to Rio Grande,” he said.  When there was no response, he tried to raise them again.  “Sisko to Rio Grande,” he said. “Rio Grande come in.”

Still, there was no response.  “There must be a field around this room, too,” Dani said. “Why didn’t they come in after us?”

“I don’t know,” Will said. “But I’m sure as hell not complaining.  Right now, we’ve got to find a way to get you and that biomatter out of here.”  He looked around the room.  There were no windows or doors other than the one they’d used to get in.  There weren’t even any vents.

The only thing in the room was some kind of giant archway in the center of the floor.  Dani opened her tricorder and began to scan the device, slowly circling it.  As she stepped closer to it, the indicators and panels on it lit up.  Dani froze, looking up from her tricorder at the device.

“What happened?” Sisko asked.

Dani referred to her tricorder.  “Whatever this is just powered up,” she responded.

“Must be motion activated,” Will surmised.

Cautiously, Dani stepped closer to the device to get a closer look at the control panels.  Will and Sisko, equally cautious, followed suit.

“I can’t make out the language on any of these panels,” Will said.

Dani studied her tricorder, attempting to analyze the language.  Under the circumstances, she surmised that it was a Suliban language, but it appeared to be a variety that the tricorder couldn’t translate.  “The tricorder can’t make heads or tails of it, either,” she said.  “But I am picking up strong temporal signals from the device.”

“Temporal,” Will repeated.  He and the others knew that the Suliban Cabal had been using time-travel for at least a century.  The fact that the Suliban had the ability to travel through time wasn’t a surprise, but actually finding the device they used to accomplish it certainly was.  He looked at Sisko and Dani, and he knew that they’d each reached the same conclusion he had.

“This is how they travel through time,” Sisko said.

*Thump, thump, thump, thump*  Someone was running down the hall towards the room to join their Suliban comrades out in the corridor.

Sisko looked at Dani.  “Get in,” he said.

Dani looked at Sisko as if he were crazy.  “Sir?”

“That’s an order, Commander,” Sisko said.

Dani looked to Will, but he didn’t appear to disagree with the order that Sisko had given.

“You have to get away with those samples,” Will said.  “If you don’t, this mission was a wasted cause.  If you get away with the samples, we can get them to back to Starfleet so that they can analyze them.  Getting in and going somewhere else is the only option right now.”

“How will I get back?  We don’t even know where – or when – it’s set to.”

A low-yield phaser blast hit Dani squarely in the chest, and she collapsed to the ground.  Will whipped around to see Sisko pointing a hand phaser directly at Dani.  “In a matter of seconds, who knows how many Suliban are going to come through that door, Commander,” he explained.  “We don’t have time for arguments.  Now, help me get her inside.”

Will and Sisko picked up Dani and gently placed her on the floor of the chamber.  Will looked at the controls and, using what little he knew about Suliban control panel layouts, took his best guess.  He pressed a short sequence of buttons on the panel and watched Dani shimmer out of existence in a red haze.  As soon as the haze had completely disappeared, Sisko raised his rifle and aimed at the time travel device.

“What the hell are you doing?” Will asked.

Sisko didn’t bother providing an answer.  He trained the rifle at the control panel on the time portal and fired.  The instrument panel sparked and smoked until it exploded into bits just as a team of Suliban stormed into the room, weapons drawn.

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