Ranma stood on the aft section of the bridge and looked over the master situation display. The reflection of his blue eyes shone back at him in the plexiglass cover of the giant monitor as they moved up and down the ship. The only point on which they lingered was the nacelle, which – unlike the rest of the ship – remained red.
There were only two other areas of the ship that were colored, one in the stern of the ship. A hull breach that would have to be repaired in drydock. That section had been secured by bulkheads, but none the less it concerned Ranma as that section also contained two of the ventral lifeboats.
Ranma had all non-essential personnel moved from the surrounding sections as well, just to be on the safe side.
Another breach was near engineering. He had been assured that a full breach into engineering was unlikely, but nonetheless, he was concerned. Not just for the engineers that worked down there, but for dangers of anti-matter containment rupturing, plasma ruptures, or any of the hundreds of other things that could end up destroying the ship if they managed to mix into each other.
Ranma sighed. Spaceflight was a dangerous business. He had decided to make it even more so by joining Starfleet and putting himself in harm’s way to defend others.
“Captain,” Kaii called from operations. Ranma turned to him.
“All of the Arava engineers have departed.”
Ranma nodded once. “Good. Please send their captain our thanks for their hard work.”
Kaii nodded as Ranma took one last look at the weapons systems on the MSD. His eyes quickly shifted to tactical where Makoto and Jansen were conversing before turning back to Kaii.
“Hail the Infinity.”
Kaii again nodded and in a couple of seconds, Ukyo appeared on the main viewer.
“Time to go?” she asked.
Ranma nodded. “You ready?”
Ukyo gave Ranma a thumbs up as both Kaii's and Makoto's terminals chirped.
“I've sent over the mapping data from the fighters,” Ukyo explained. “While it will probably be best if we hit the defense platforms over Alpha Base while you keep any defense ships off of us, figured if you guys want to send in some torpedoes of your own, you might want those.”
Ranma smiled. “Sounds good.”
“See you inside,” Ukyo said before closing the channel.
Ranma turned to the helm station as he headed back towards his seat. “Ensign Ikuhara, take us back in, best possible speed.”
“Aye,” Ikuhara called back as he began entering commands into his console. “Re-entering The Badlands, full impulse.”
The Sisko spun up her impulse engines and then pushed into The Badlands, the Infinity a few thousand kilometers behind her.
“Our first target is at the fifth planetoid,” Ranma said.
Ikuhara nodded and adjusted the Sisko's course slightly.
“Can we contact Infinity?” Shampoo asked.
“At this range, it shouldn't be an issue,” Minako replied.
Ranma watched the viewscreen as the Sisko cut through the gas clouds like a knife. Without changing his expression or gaze, he spoke to his communications officer.
“Ask the Infinity to deal with the orbital facility. We'll handle the breeding facility.”
Shampoo's eyes slowly moved towards Ranma as Kaii responded.
“Redemption or retaliation?” Shampoo whispered to Ranma.
Ranma continued to stare at the viewer in silence.
Neither ship was confronted as they moved through The Badlands. As they began to approach the fifth planet, the Infinity began to launch torpedo after torpedo, firing upon a yet still unseen target.
Eventually, the Sisko came upon the remains of three orbital defense platforms. Ranma smiled, grateful that he brought the larger ship along.
“High orbit,” Shampoo reminded Ikuhara. Ikuhara did remember the minefield from before and had established a high orbit for the Sisko and nodded to Shampoo in acknowledgment.
“Scan the facility,” Ranma ordered.
Shampoo again eyed Ranma worriedly. At first, he was concerned he was abetting genocide. Now it seemed that he wanted to make sure he knew exactly how many Jem'Hadar he would be killing.
Shampoo had many concerns about Ranma, but what concerned her the most was that the Ranma that she knew; the Ranma Saotome that she loved and that most of all, the crew loved, was disappearing. The worry that the honorable, compassionate warrior that made up Ranma’s heart and soul was giving way to vengeance.
The ordeal and the near-death of the NEO and marine teams had gotten to him. He would not admit it, but Shampoo was able to read Ranma. He wore his emotions on his sleeve, sort of. The more he said that something about him or how he felt wasn’t true, the more it likely was.
She did not know how to stop this vengeance from taking him over, though. What she did know was that this was not the time to confront him. 'Time and place', she told herself. 'Time and place.'
“A little over a million bio signs,” Minako reported.
Ranma nodded. “Fire at will,” he ordered.
Jansen noticed it. Makoto noticed it. Everyone on the bridge noticed it. There was far more callousness in his voice in that order. It was not that any one of them had any issue with blowing up a million Jem'Hadar. They all knew what they were here for.
It was the change in Ranma. The tone in Ranma’s voice made it clear that this was payback for the shipyard. Shampoo frowned as she watched Ranma stare coldly at the Sisko’s torpedoes obliterating the facility.
Jansen sent a sixth volley this time to be certain that no one would survive. Ikuhara pulled the ship out of orbit and brought it alongside the Infinity. Ranma stood when he noticed one of the Infinity's nacelles offline.
Kaii did as he was instructed. Ukyo popped onto the screen, a very irritated look on her face.
“Are you okay?” Ranma asked.
“Yes,” she said. “When the facility exploded it detonated a gas cloud which hit us.”
“None, except for fail-safes,” Ukyo explained. “But for the next ten minutes, we're kind of stuck.”
Ranma nodded. “Well, we'll be right here.”
Ranma nodded and the channel closed. Ranma turned back to first tactical, then Minako. “Have you seen any Jem'Hadar ships?”
Both officers shook their heads. “No sir,” Minako said.
“They're likely all positioned to defend Alpha Base if there is indeed a founder there,” Makoto offered.
Ranma nodded. “Well, hopefully, we can draw them out once the Infinity starts hitting their defenses.”
Makoto nodded. “Yeah. We go anywhere near that place with those defenses still intact, I don't think the ships will even have time to shoot at us.”
The bridge remained silent for the next ten minutes, with only a few quiet conversations going on and the occasional panel chirping and the air ducts blowing. Eventually, Kaii looked up and smiled.
“Infinity reports ready and suggests we stay behind her, so we know where to stop.”
Ranma nodded from his seat. “Ensign, follow that ship.”
Ikuhara nodded and began to follow the Infinity as she began to pull away and barrel full speed towards the eighth and final planetoid.
The rear turbolift of the bridge opened and Rei, dressed in her combat jumpsuit and gear, walked out and came down to the CONN. She pushed a button allowing a retractable bench to slide out and sat down to the left of Ranma.
Ranma smiled at her. Rei smiled back. “I was bored.”
Ranma nodded. “We're almost there.”
Rei looked to the viewer which was nearly filled by the backside of the Infinity. She turned to each bridge station, looking at each officer who was deeply immersed in their job.
Sometimes she missed this part of the job, but then again, none of them got to do what she did, which is why she did not miss this part of the job.
“Whoa-” Ikuhara said as he slammed the Sisko to a stop, causing a few people to shift slightly, then pulled her around to the side of the Infinity. “That thing needs brake lights.”
Ranma couldn't help but smirk.
“Maybe you shouldn't be tailgating?” Kaii called out.
Ikuhara tried to stammer out a response but simply sighed. Minako grinned at her assistant before his panel began to chirp.
“Captain, the Infinity is reporting several Jem'Hadar ships between here and their firing point,” Kaii reported.
“I didn't think we were there yet,” Ranma said. “How many is 'several'?”
“Forty,” Kaii answered after waiting on a reply. “At least ten are warships.”
“Well,” Ranma said, cracking his knuckles. “We have to go that way.”
Kaii's terminal chirped, and the young lieutenant looked to Ranma. “She's hailing.”
“Plan?” Ukyo asked, a bit of concern for the small armada of Jem'Hadar blocking their path.
“The warships can't keep up with us. We can draw the fighters off, allowing you to take out the bigger ships.”
Ukyo bit her lip. “Okay.”
Ranma nodded in an attempt to assure her it would work.
“After you then,” she smiled.
It was Ranma who gave Ukyo a thumbs up before closing the channel this time. Ranma first turned to tactical, “I want fire as focused as possible. Take those bastards out as fast as you can.”
“Aye,” both Jansen and Makoto replied.
Ranma then turned to Ikuhara. “Try and draw the warships into both the Infinity's forward and aft banks fire arcs. Let her broadside them with all her phasers.”
“Aye,” he nodded.
Shampoo scurried up behind Ikuhara to keep an eye on things. Ranma turned to Rei as the ship started to move.
Rei nodded but frowned a bit when she noticed that the seat she had chosen had no armrests for her to hold on to as the Jem'Hadar armada came into view.
“They're hailing us,” Kaii said.
“What?” Ranma asked.
“Put it up.”
A male Vorta, who did in fact appear to be on one of the ships bowed slightly.
“Good day to you. I am Pallor. I serve the Founders in all things.”
“How nice for you,” Ranma said. “You are illegally occupying Federation territory. If you and your fleet scurry on back to the Gamma Quad-”
“I don't get to know your name?” Pallor asked, cutting Ranma off.
“I'm Captain Ranma Saotome of the U.S.S. Benjamin Sisko.”
Pallor blinked. “The Benjamin Sisko? Is that the same-”
“You could say that.”
Pallor smirked. “Well, you are assuming ironic for the wrong reasons, Captain. As for scurrying back to the Gamma Quadrant, I am afraid we won't be doing that. You see, the Alpha Quadrant belongs to the Dominion and the Founders as well, so we have every right to be here.”
“I take it you don't get the nightly news here in The Badlands, do you, Pallor?”
“Oh, I know of the alleged surrender,” he scoffed. “I also know it was a fabrication. Propaganda if you will. Gods don't – gods have no need to surrender, especially to the likes of you and your pathetic Federation.”
Rei rolled her eyes. “First it was under duress, now it's propaganda...” she mumbled.
“It wasn't just the Federation,” Ranma growled.
“Yes, yes. Your ever so holy alliance,” Pallor laughed. “How is that working out for you? Our fleets have returned news from the Klingon border. Already there are skirmishes between your two forces.
“And I am sure the Federation and the Romulans will be best friends till the end of the universe!” he mocked.
“If only he knew,” Shampoo mumbled.
“You can barely keep your core planets in your Federation!” Pallor gloated. “Oh, poor Vulcan. So persecuted.”
“Okay,” Ranma snarled, “do we have a point here anymore or are you just stalling for time?”
“Hm? Oh, yes well I wanted to give you a chance to surrender,” Pallor said. “I assure you that you will not be executed, despite your slaughter of hundreds of thousands of brave Jem'Hadar. You will be given a chance to rebuild what you destroyed.”
Ranma paused for a moment, before laughing. Pallor appeared to be quite irritated by this and began to stammer to find words before Ranma began to speak, keeping Pallor from doing so.
“Counteroffer,” Ranma said as he continued to laugh. “Hand over yourself and the changeling you're protecting, and we'll allow the remaining Jem'Hadar to return to the Gamma Quadrant unharmed.”
“Why-” Pallor continued to stammer. “Such insolence! The Jem'Hadar would never abandon their God for one and secondly-”
Ranma turned to Kaii and silently ordered him to close the communication. Kaii complied as Ranma returned to his seat.
“Fire at will,” Ranma ordered.
Ikuhara began to move the ship as the Sisko's weapons laid into the first Jem'Hadar fighter, cutting through it like it was made of cardboard. The Jem'Hadar ships began to give chase, resulting in a trail of Jem'Hadar debris following the Sisko around.
Ranma scratched his head in confusion.
“Not that I am complaining,” he said, “but why are they exploding so easily?”
Both Makoto and Jansen shrugged indifferently as the two women had the time of their lives picking ships off left and right.
As per their plan, the Sisko drew the warships towards the Infinity. As planned, the first warship began to pass to the side of her, firing a shot in her direction that bounced right off her shields. The Infinity fired her fore and aft phaser banks, four beams in all, and one-shotted a warship into nothingness.
“Okay,” Ranma said watching the warship explode into vapor, “now I know THAT shouldn't have happened.” He walked up to Minako who was one step ahead of her Captain. She chuckled a bit as she began to read her sensor display.
“They must have run out of,” Minako paused, “...good material building that shipyard.”
“Oh?” Ranma asked.
Minako nodded. “These ships are poorly constructed and half of them don't even have shield emitters.”
Ranma facepalmed. “Where were THESE Jem'Hadar during the war?”
“Sir,” Makoto called out. “One warship is moving back in the direction of Alpha Base.”
Ranma sighed. “Pallor.”
Minako nodded. “Likely. And his ship IS well built and has shields.”
“Why someone who can be cloned so chicken?” Shampoo asked.
“Probably no cloning facilities here,” Rei said.
Ranma chuckled a bit as he walked back to his seat. “He'll probably demand you arrest him then.”
“All gone,” Makoto high-fived Jansen.
“Already?” Ranma asked.
Makoto shrugged. “They were made out of chocolate, sir.”
“The Infinity is hailing us,” Kaii reported.
Ukyo appeared on the screen with much the same look Ranma had regarding the easy destructibility of the Jem'Hadar fleet.
“You didn't tell me they were so easy to blow up.”
Ranma sighed. “The first batch wasn't.”
Ukyo smiled. “I guess we missed the fun part then.”
Shampoo rolled her eyes as she directed Ikuhara to pull back behind the Infinity. “Yeah. Fun.”
“To Alpha Base then?” Ranma asked.
Ukyo nodded and closed the channel. The Infinity began to move forward, the Sisko right on her tail. Again, the group was confronted by another batch of Jem'Hadar ships, but again, they ended up being more of the poorly constructed, 'chocolate' ships as Makoto called them and were destroyed quickly by the two Federation ships.
Ranma watched the Infinity slow to a stop about a million kilometers from the final planetoid.
“Pull up beside her,” he ordered.
Ikuhara nodded and maneuvered the ship. Ranma looked to Makoto who nodded as she knew what Ranma was going to ask.
“I have some targets laid in,” she smiled.
“Fire away,” Ranma ordered.
Both the Infinity and the Sisko fired their forward torpedo bays. The torpedoes flew off, well past where they could see them and detonated into the orbital defense platforms over Alpha Base.
“Continue firing,” Ranma ordered.
Makoto nodded. Both the Sisko and the Infinity continued to fire on the still unseen target, launching torpedoes as fast as their launchers could load.
“The problem is that we won't know if we got them all until we go over there,” Makoto sighed.
“Captain,” Minako said. “I'm getting sensor hits.”
“Incoming?” Shampoo asked.
“I think so,” she replied.
“Stop firing,” Ranma ordered. “Get ready to defend the Infinity.”
Makoto nodded and adjusted her console for dogfighting. Ranma and the rest of the bridge crew stayed silent, waiting for whatever caused Minako's sensors to ping to show themselves.
“THERE!” Minako called out. “0-8-3 mark 1-1-3!” she cried. “Ten fighters.”
“Ikuhara,” Ranma ordered.
“On them!” the helmsman replied.
The Sisko turned and moved down towards the ten ships. Makoto and Jansen began to fire on the ships, groaning in frustration when they discovered that these were not made of chocolate, but apparently were some of the better-built ones.
“Don't let them drag us too far from the Infinity,” Ranma reminded his crew.
“Aye,” Ikuhara said, doing his best to keep on the fighters while keeping the Infinity close by.
The Sisko shook violently as she was hit, most of the bridge crew either being knocked over or out of their seats.
“STATUS!” Ranma yelled.
“Damn,” Ikuhara whimpered, realizing what just happened.
Shampoo stood and looked at Ikuhara's console. She grumbled at the ingenuity of the Jem'Hadar.
“Shields at 74 percent,” Usagi reported from the engineering station.
“The fighters,” Shampoo said. “They drag us out in front of Infinity, and we got nailed by a salvo of her torpedoes.”
Ranma rubbed his face in frustration. He had a terrible predicament here. He went too far one way he would leave the Infinity in a bad position. He went too far another way he could get drug to where the orbit defense platforms were.
And now he realized if he went in another direction, he was going to be hit by his friend's torpedoes.
“The Infinity realized what happened and has ceased fire,” Kaii reported.
“Warships inbound,” Minako added.
“Take out those fighters, please,” Ranma ordered.
Makoto nodded as she did her best to cause the Jem'Hadar ships to explode.
“Captain Saotome,” Pallor's voice piped up over the communications channel. “What you're doing is an exercise in futility. You will not access our facility and you will not succeed. Surrender your vessel.”
Three Jem'Hadar ships exploded almost simultaneously as the Infinity nailed a weakened warship, destroying it; the resulting warp core breach destroying two nearby weakened fighters.
“Pallor, do they purposely make you Vorta so annoying, or is that just a by-product of having to be around changelings all day?” Ranma asked.
“You're starting to aggravate me, Saotome,” Pallor growled.
“If I am just starting,” Ranma smirked, “then I have failed at my job.”
Kaii chuckled. “He closed the channel.”
“I bet,” Ranma smiled as the last Jem'Hadar warship exploded.
Kaii's console chirped. “The Infinity.”
Ranma nodded and Ukyo appeared.
“Ranchan, I think we should have gotten the majority of those platforms.”
Ukyo looked to something off-screen for a second, then turned back to Ranma. “We're going to push ahead and check since we could take a few salvos from any that remain without any major issues.”
“Sounds like a plan,” Ranma nodded. “We'll be right behind you.”
Ukyo nodded and closed the channel.
Rei looked to Ranma, patted him on the shoulder, and stood. “I guess I should go to the transporter room.”
“Good luck, Commander.”
Rei nodded, waved to her other friends on the bridge, and scampered off. Ranma turned to watch the Infinity roll towards Alpha Base.
The next six minutes seemed to take an hour to pass by as the crew waited to hear back from the Infinity. Shampoo, understanding that Ranma was worried for his friend on board, didn't even yell at him when she grabbed his hand to stop him from rapping his fingernails on the armrest.
“Sorry,” he smiled.
Shampoo nodded and released his hand as Kaii's terminal beeped.
“The Infinity is reporting that all the ODPs are down,” he reported.
“Take us in,” Ranma ordered to Ikuhara.
Ikuhara complied as Kaii continued. “They are also reporting there is one Jem'Hadar warship in orbit, but it did not engage them. It appears to have been abandoned.”
“Commander Kino, can you knock out its engines without destroying it?” Ranma asked.
“Yup.” Makoto smiled.
“Do it,” Ranma nodded. “I don't want them escaping; however I wouldn't be that upset if they did happen to beam into a disabled ship.”
Makoto nodded and waited for the Sisko to get into range. Once there, she carefully targeted the ship's phasers and fired a few times. After she was complete, she looked at Ranma and smiled.
“Mission accomplished,” she reported. “I also knocked out their shields and weapons.”
“Good work. Have the Marines on standby to board that ship, should it become necessary,” Ranma ordered.
Makoto nodded. Minako turned to Ranma. “I am scanning 50 or so bio-signs in the facility.”
“That all?” Shampoo asked.
“They probably didn't think we'd get this far,” Ranma said. “Overconfidence is a changeling trait.”
“The Infinity is asking if we want assistance in the facility,” Kaii said.
“Ask them to have teams on standby,” Ranma said. “Right now, though, I think Rei can handle this.”
“Thanks, Minako,” Rei said before hitting her comm badge. She turned to her group assembled in the NSO transporter room. “50 or so in the facility and we can assume one is the Vorta and one is the Founder.”
Kio looked at her gun. “Which setting on her actually kills a Founder?”
The room chuckled despite a disapproving look from Rei. “We don't want to kill it. We need to capture it.”
“I guess the better question is then, how?” Kio asked. “Do handcuffs work on shape-shifters?”
Rei was about to bark at Kio but then realized she did not know that herself.
“Good question,” she admitted. “I guess we'll try and stun it, and hope that will keep it from shifting, then beam it directly into the brig.”
“Good an idea as any,” Kio smiled. “I'm going to just shoot all the furniture, just in case as well.”
Rei smirked. “On the pads. We need to go.”
The two groups got onto the two transporter pads. Rei nodded to the Delta team officer who was manning the transporter station to energize. Within seconds the group dematerialized and was on their way down to Alpha Base.