By Carol Sandford


Chapter 24


Smoke and fire filled the air, blinding everything and everyone in the melee of battle. Battered craft swirled and danced as each and everyone tried desperately to evade the crisscross of missiles, laser fire, and perished ships, all almost invisible against the rising sun that was still climbing from its bed.

Will and Tang were hot on the tail of a wounded Sindareen ship that not only still managed to avoid the hit that would send them plunging to the scorched earth below, but was still capable of shooting a Federation ship down. Knowing it was doomed, it threw missiles non-stop from it's heart as it boldly ran from from its pursuer, its last piece of action before it died the death of a hero, to its own kind.

Deftly evading a hail of gunfire that approached them from the side, Will spun the ship in a death roll, dipping low to the planet, the bullets skeetering off their belly in a shower of sparks that momentarily blinded them.

But the two men weren't concerned about something so minor. Their eyes were focused solely on the crippled ship ahead, and kicking the ship into a lower gear, Will banked down further and faster, almost scraping the ground below, manoeuvring himself beneath the enemy craft, quickly, and surely, releasing their own missile straight into the ship's hull, the crew whooping with satisfaction as they watched it jerked upwards momentarily before turning on it's ass and spiralled out of control, exploding as it crashed into the small hill.

But their moment of euphoria soon evaporated when Pilot Jameson John's urgent voice came through the comm.{You've got one on your ass, Lieutenant. When I count to 3, swing right!" Will heard him swallow noisily before the numbers quickly followed. {One, two, three!}

On the three, Will swung his ship away, the ensuing nearby explosion rocked his craft with enough force to throw the rear passengers to the floor, Tang hung onto the consul with white knuckles whilst Will valiantly tried to stop the ship from spinning out of control, his stomach churning and rolling, protesting against the brutal treatment. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when she finally righted herself and swinging away to steady not only the ship, but their nerves too before swerving back to join the melee once more.

Stabbing at the communication button before him, Will spoke, "Thanks for the heads up, Jameson. We owe you."

{Any time, Lieutenant. Now let's go and get another one.}

Both ships turned about and headed back, side by side, their sights already homed in on another two targets that were in pursuit of one of their own.

But just as he was lining up for the killing strike, Lieutenant William Riker gasped out loud as he felt something horrible ripple through his senses, knocking him off balance for a moment, making him veer away from his intended target that was hastily retreating away from his pursuing ship.

More than surprised at his leader sudden movement, Tang glanced at Will when he heard the gasp of invisible pain that left his mouth. He was more surprised at the unexpected retreat from a certain hit on the Sindareen ship ahead.

"Will?" the older man asked, puzzlement etched upon his weathered face, " What's wrong?" as he focused on the younger man's sudden pallor and the haunted gaze.

But Will was gone; lost to the torment of his mind, searching for it's source, reaching into his mind's deepest places, desperately grasping for a link to the woman he loved.

And then he found her, huddled in a pathetic heap on the ground, crying as though her heart had been ripped away from her soul as she tried to block out whatever was happening to her, or around her, her screams, high and hysterical. The pitiful sound ricocheted around Will's head, leaving him feeling helpless, hopeless.

"Deanna." He murmured, his eyes wide with shock, staring at nothing, seeing only her. Seeing her in her darkest moments.

And he wasn't there. He wasn't there to help her. Be with her. Comfort her. Hold her.

"Deanna." He moaned again, his own agonies and loss adding to his troubled thoughts.

Will blinked away the vision when the man beside him shouted. Tang was incensed, his anger sparking as quick as a flame to paper, "Damn it, Lieutenant! This is NOT the...." he barked, understandable ignorance causing him to react in a way that was rare to see.

"No! no, Tang, it's not that," he quickly reassured, struggling to keep a focus on his thoughts. On Deanna, frantically searching his mind for the lost contact. "Something's happened. Something's wrong," he fretted, fear tinging his voice. "I....I heard her scream, Tang," tapping his temple, "in here."

Tang stared at him as though he was mad, before forcibly moving his eyes away, looking out of the window to see if there was a Sindareen ship on their ass When he was briefly happy that they weren't about to be blown to pieces, he turned back to his partner. "How do you know?" he demanded. "You're not a Betazoid, Son. You're not supposed to be able to read minds."

Will glanced at him, then back at the controls, swallowing the bile that began to rise from deep in his gut, still queasy from the stunt a few moments before. He glanced back at Tang, wanting him to understand with his own eyes what he was telling him. "I can with Deanna."

After a long moment, as long as he could afford, Will watched Tang's face change, watched the comprehension finally dawn."You've become Imzadi," He stated, his voice holding a hint of envious awe. "That explains a whole heaps of things."

But that was as far as the intimate conversation got - as intimate as it could be with two men sitting behind hanging onto every word, because even as Will's revelation sank into Tang's befuddled mind, and Will's distraction as he desperately tried to focus on Deanna's plight, neither one spotted the missile that was coming their way.

Lieutenant Jameson John could only stare in horror when seconds later, he witnessed his commanding officer's ship blow up like an erupting volcano before his very eyes, and then watch it spin to the ground, and explode once more, bursting into angry flames that clawed up to the skies above, obliterating everything within its reach.

Intent on getting his ship on the ground to check for survivors, Jameson was oblivious to what was happening around him until his helmsman spoke, "Sir, abort the landing! We can't go down, they're on our ass!"

Jameson tore his eyes away from the scene below, looked behind him and gasped in terror. The remainder of the Sindareen fleet; six ships out of all that met them in battle, were now in hot pursuit. Jameson had only one choice left to him and his scared crew. He had to run. He was the last surviving Federation ship, and he was in deep, deep, trouble.

Taking one final distressed glance at the burning wreckage beneath him, searching vainly for any sign of life, hoping beyond hope that someone - anyone, made it out before it hit the ground. Jameson swung his ship away. Wracked with guilt at failing his C.O., Lieutenant John and his crew ran for their lives, without looking back.

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