PROLOGUE

The planet was bleak, barren.

It had been that way for countless centuries.

Grey dust scattered and blew as a wind made a low and ominous howl. Very few people ever came here. The soil was bereft of mineral nutrients. The landscape devoid of all vegetation. In fact, there was little to attract anyone here at all.

Except for one thing.

An ancient object. Which according to an early report made years ago by a certain Federation constitution Class Starship was known as the Guardian of Forever.

Recently the Guardian had attracted many visitors to the barren, rocky surface, three of whom were standing before it. By all outward appearances, two of the three looked like typical human beings. Except for their garments, the two dark haired men would have been able to walk freely among any of the many planets colonized by the Federation.

The third member of the party was different though.

She was a stunningly beautiful woman with long, flowing, almost reddish locks of hair cascading around her shoulders. Her clothing was made of some type of reflective silver material embossed with a kind of crisscross patterning. She paced before the other two who stood rigidly at attention. Her steely grey eyes inspected the men thoroughly as she spoke.

"Very well, are your instructions clear?"

The men nodded in agreement.

The woman stopped in her tracks and glared bard at them both. She glanced from one man's face to the other, obviously in anticipation of a verbal response. Finally the man on the left spoke.

"We are to step through the portal," said the man, nervously indicating the huge, nearly circular maw of the Guardian behind him. "And into the established period in Earth's past."

"Where we will carry out our search and destroy instructions." Added the second man.

A cold Smile wormed its way across the woman's otherwise stony face. "Excellent," she slowly replied. "When your mission is completed you will terminate yourselves to prevent discovery. Is that clear?"

The two men acknowledged that the order was indeed quite clear.

The woman smiled to herself once again. All was ready. If the mission were successful, their names would become a glorified part of history. And the Federation would cease to exist. The woman felt a warmth of contentment course through her slender body as the wind whipped around her face. She brushed her long hair from in front of her face with her right band, carefully securing it behind her point-tipped ear.


CHAPTER ONE

Captain's Log. Starship USS Galloway. Stardate 4217&.3, Captain Tanara commanding. The Galloway is on route to Starbase 345 where the ship's crew will enjoy a well-deserved few days of shore leave. On board our vessel is Starfleet Commodore Sterling cross whom we are transporting to Starbase 345 where he will assume command of the station. Our present course will bring us within range of the planetoid known as "Gateway." Per Starfleet orders, we will assume orbit above the planet and our medical team will administer annual physicals to the research team assigned to the planet.

I have also granted permission to several of our ship's historians to use the allotted time for the physicals to conduct historical research on the planet via its unique artifact known as the Guardian of Forever.


Starfleet Commodore Sterling cross proudly strolled down one of the Galloway's lengthy corridor. Ever since the days of the Galaxy class starships, interiors had become much more luxurious. Dark maroon carpeting was everywhere, even on the floors of the miles of corridors which cut the ship's interior into a spider web-like maze.

And now Starfleet engineers had gone and done one better with their new design: The Universal Class.

A variation of the original Galaxy class design but with yet another level rising from the rear of the main saucer section and sweeping back until it connected with the improved warp nacelles, the Galloway was the first of its kind, Sterling Cross bad always felt that the Universal class ship looked as though a Romulan Warbird had landed atop a Galaxy class Federation vessel. In fact, he wasn't far off from the truth.

Ever since a truce between the Federation and the Romulan Stellar Empire had been achieved, waves and waves of Romulan natives bad migrated to Federation worlds. The two most popular were Vulcan and Earth. It bad been a Romulan engineer named Toehrl who had originally come up with the design for the Universal class vessel. Starfleet had quickly commissioned the design, no doubt to demonstrate an openness to new Romulan ideals. The Galloway was the prototype, with hopes of more to follow in her wake. Once she was even commanded by a Romulan.

Sterling Cross, being a Starfleet veteran of some, oh what was it, thirty years now? So hard to keep track of time these days. He did not feel comfortable on a ship that was designed for comfort. In his days, starships were smaller and didn't make allowances for things like personal comfort. Of course, there were no families on board Starships in his day either. Oh well, he sighed to himself, time waits for no one.

Lost in his thoughts, Sterling Cross had almost forgotten where he was heading in the first place and to his surprise found himself in front of the last place he thought he wanted to be on the ship: sickbay. He was about to simply turn and walk away from the sickbay with a shudder when his ears picked up the sound of voices from inside. Be heard his name mentioned and out of sneer curiosity peered his head around the doorway so he could see who was discussing him.

"I said, I don't care how sound of wind and limb he is. I just can't allow a Starfleet Commodore to come along on an Away mission."

"Gwenn, take it easy. You're more jumpy than the time you refused to let the captain beam down to Altair 4." "Do you blame me? Altair 4 had an entire tribe of poison-tipped-spear-throwing savages waiting in ambush!" Cross shook his head, she was at it again.

Commander Guinevere Scott, Executive Officer aboard the ship, had been causing cross grief ever since he decided that he wanted to beam down to Gateway with the Away mission. He realized it was the duty of an XO to protect their captain from beaming down to an obviously hostile environment, but Gateway was nowhere near hostile and Cross had found her balking at his coming along unreasonable.

Now the fiery-haired woman was trying to plead her case to the ship's Vulcan chief medical officer, T'Leya. Cross liked Scott a lot. She was a fine officer and a credit to her ship but she had this maternal protective streak in her that nobody could seem to shake.

"Could you imagine what would happen," said Gwenn. "If it got back to Starfleet Command that I lost a Commodore while in command of an away mission? I'd be lucky to get command of a tug.''

"I intend only to give you the highest possible commendation in my report, Commander."

Gwenn Scott whirled around in surprise to see Commodore Cross leaning up against the frame of the entrance to sickbay, a smile curled across his lined face. It only took Gwenn a moment to recover from the shock before she approached her superior officer.

"I'm afraid I stand by me decision sir." She said with that charming Scottish lilt in her voice. ''I can't risk letting you come along with us.

"I mean no disrespect Commander," Cross began gently. "But what possible risk could there be? The only inhabitants on Gateway are the research team Starfleet posted there a year ago. And as they will be busy with Dr. T'Leya giving them their physicals, we will have the planet all ourselves."

Gwenn had not wanted to go another round with the Commodore on this subject. With a groan of frustration, she stormed out of the sickbay. Commodore cross followed closely behind her with a smile of contentment on his face.

T'Leya shook her head marveling at this humans she had chosen to serve with.


The bridge of the Galloway was bustling with activity.

Every console on the spacious horse-shoe shaped bridge was occupied by uniformed officers performing routine duties, and the image of a greyish, oblate spheroid grew larger and larger on the main viewing screen of the bridge. Seated inthe middle chair at the base of the horse-shoe was a tall, fair-haired Terrakian female. Even seated, she bad an air of authority about her that seemed to affect everyone even remotely in her presence.

Soon the image settled into a constant shape which filled the entire left side of the view screen in a dull grey crescent that nearly blended in with the black background of space. Captain Tanara heard her conn officer, Kojiro, report that a standard orbit had been achieved. She then ordered him to contact the res arch teal.

Kojiro quickly complied with his captain's order and opened a communications channel. For several seconds, he attempted to gauge a response from the research team, but his efforts proved to be surprisingly fruitless.

"There's no response Captain." Kojiro ultimately concluded.

The message perplexed Tanara perhaps even more than it did Kojiro. The research team hadn't been on the planet all that long. So why was it taking so long for them to respond!

Tanara had little time to ponder the question. For as she rose from her command chair, she heard the familiar hiss of the turbolift doors opening. Onto the bridge stepped Commander Scott, closely followed by Commodore Cross. Tanara could not help but chuckle to herself. They were at it again!

"No sir," said Scott with considerable restraint. "You cannot talk me out of it!"

"Commander, don't make me pull rank on you." Said the commodore with a devilish grin.

Tanara strode around the rear horse-shoe to the upper level of the bridge. She placed herself alongside the Commodore while Scott stood at the far end of the bridge next to Dogh, the Galloway's chief of security.

"What seems to be the problem here number one?" asked Tanara.

Gwenn Scott let out a barely audible hiss escape from her lips before she answered. "The Commodore is insisting on accompanying us on the Away mission, captain. I am simply restating my opposition to the idea."

Tanara let out another slight laugh out as she turned to face the Commodore. "Is she being a stubborn pain in the ass again, Sterling?"

"No more than you used to be under my command, as I recall."

Tanara smiled at her XO as she paced over Gwenn's way. "I wouldn't be too concerned about the Commodore, Number One."

Tanara then leaned in to Gwenn a little more closely and whispered confidentially in her ear. "He once took a poisoned dart on Colga 3, and only two days later was instructing a classical dance class on the ship's holodeck."

Tanara then leaned up from beside her first officer and spoke1ore openly. "Besides, the Commodore is quite an expert on the Guardian of Forever."

"Only an amateur." said Cross with obvious embarrassment.

Gwenn glanced up into the eyes of her Klingon friend with obvious bemusement. Cross then went on to say that his senior thesis at Starfleet Academy was on the Guardian. Tanara added that the paper was still published in the Academy's collection of scholarly journals. Cross's embarrassment was less severe at her remark, but his lined face was nonetheless pink with blush.

"I had no idea, sir," said Scott in a tone that surprised even her. "Very well then. Commodore Cross, would you care to join us on the Away team?"

"I would be delighted Commander," replied Cross with a smile of triumph.

Scott raised her arm in the direction of the turbolift. Cross moved toward the brownish metallic doors which opened with a hydraulic hiss when he was close enough. Scott inclined her head and stepped towards the door herself, followed by Dogh, when Captain Tanara called out to her. Scott whirled around to face her commander.

"We haven't been able to contact the research team on the surface," said Tanara.

"You mean there's no response to our hails?" asked Gwenn gravely.

"Exactly," replied Tanara. "It may be nothing. The time current interference from the planet may be affecting communications. But be on the alert, just in case."

"I always am, sir."

With that, Commander Scott turned around and joined Dogh and Cross in the turbolift.

As the doors closed obscuring the faces of the three officers, Tanara nodded to herself as if to say, "Yes you are."


Commander Guinevere Scott had always bad a generous way of choosing an Away team. Since she was friendly with nearly every officer aboard the Galloway, she always found it easy to choose companions for Away missions. She had approached several officers about coming along to the surface of Gateway.

Only one had refused.

The Galloway's new research officer. Lieutenant Commander Y'Vrn Martyn—a Yarzonian who had been raised on Earth—to Gwenn's great surprise, declined to join the Away team.

Gwenn had questioned the reasoning behind his denial to come along. After all, he was one of the reasons Captain Tanara was allowing Galloway officers to research the Guardian.

Y'vrn had said that anyone fiddling around with the Guardian was asking for trouble. He had read of two encounters the USS Enterprise had concerning the Guardian and bad not been pleased with the outcome of either. Y'Vrn told her to go if she wanted to, but she should be careful. "Time," he said, "is a very dangerous thing to be playing with."

Had it been Gwenn's imagination, or did the somewhat aloof young man, with that beautifully long hair and those exquisitely colored green eyes, seem more concerned for her personally than the Away tea1 as a whole? She decided not to ponder it. Not for now anyway.

Instead of Y'Vrn, the final slot on the Away team was filled by the Galloway's ever curious Betazoid counselor, Tara Aindrea. Aindrea bounded into the transporter room with a skip in her step almost akin to a schoolgirl bounding through the playground at recess.

Aindrea stepped onto the last available transporter pad and stood finally still. Gwenn shook her head with mock disbelief. She even thought she heard a chuckle from the Klingon, Dogh.

"Do you think we can get on with it now?" asked Commodore Cross with feigned annoyance.

Gwenn silently agreed. She then announced to Transporter Chief Matthew Kirwin that they were ready to beam down.

Kirwin performed a series of adjustments on his expansive transporter console. Finally, Gwenn noticed his right arm move straight up the far right end of the console. Here it comes, she thought to herself.

Her perception blurred as the familiar image of the transporter room faded from sight in the silvery blue aura which now surrounded her. Within seconds, Kirwin and the Galloway transporter room had faded totally from sight. And a decidedly different view began to form.


Barren. Grey.

That's how it appeared at first. Finally the image ceased to swirl and began to solidify into the surface of a planet. A planet whose topsoil was almost a fine, grey dust. There was no vegetation. No indication that there had ever been any animals either.

Gwenn Scott had heard that Gateway was like this, but always thought the reports had been exaggerated a little.

She glanced around to see the other members of her Away team standing close by reorienting their perception after the transport. Tara Aindrea shivered slightly even though the wind was not cold or hard.

Commodore Cross stepped towards Gwenn with T'Leya closely behind him. Be asked Gwenn where the research team's encampment was.

"According to the ship's records." said Gwenn. "Close to the Guardian itself."

She then suggested that they split into two teams and see who could locate the actual spot first. Dogh, T'Leya and Aindrea headed off in one direction while Gwenn and the Commodore took the opposite route.

Dogh's group had not been searching for long. Perhaps only fifteen minutes at most. He had wondered what the encampment actually looked like. Aindrea had explained that the scientists more than likely used temporary, silicon based structures as shelters. They weren't as comfortable as the quarters on the Galloway, but they did give the necessary protection from the elements. Being Klingon, Dogh understood that survival came before comfort. Be began to wonder how really alike humans and Klingons were when he came upon a rise in the ground. Feeling it would grant a better view of the surrounding area, Dogh scaled the inclined rock face.

After several seconds of strenuous climbing, a regular human would have been gasping for breath, but Dogh's respiration remained relatively stable. He shielded his eyes from the incredibly bright light of Gateway's orange sun and surveyed a valley several hundred feet below. What Dogh saw caused him to call out to T'Leya and Aindrea.

Seconds later the Vulcan doctor and Betazoid counselor joined Dogh on the crest of the cliff. He pointed to the valley below. T'Leya managed to maintain control, while Aindrea gasped at discovering the source of her shivers.

There had once been a settlement there. Solid, greyish structures which stood boldly against the barren backdrop of the planet, were now piles of smoldering rubble. Blackened craters charred the landscape while plumes of smoke from still smoldering fires clouded the valley with a sickening fog.

T'Leya shook her head in confusion. "Why would anyone have done this?" she asked aloud. "They were merely scientists. It's not logical."

"Whoever they were," Dogh said in his ominous deep voice. "They were not overly concerned with logic."

T'Leya took her tricorder from the pouch on her uniform's right hip and scanned the valley below. Aindrea mentioned to her that it wouldn't be necessary as she sensed no life whatsoever. T'Leya nevertheless continued to scan until her findings were precisely the same as the counsellor's.

Dogh touched the insignia/communicator on his uniform, opening a channel to Commander Scott. Scott's disembodied voice answered the call and asked for a report.

"The research team's encampment bas been annihilated." said Dogh. "Annihilated?" replied a surprised Gwenn.

"Totally obliterated sir."

"Do you have any idea who the attackers could have been?" asked Gwenn.

"From this distance, sir, it could have been anybody. The charring of the ground surrounding the encampment to me suggests phaser—or possibly disrupter—fire."

Dogh then expressed his desire to investigate the encampment further. Scott, however, denied his request and ordered the three to rejoin Commodore Cross and her at the Guardian itself. With a grunt of reluctance, Dogh complied.


Commander Scott and Commodore Cross had had the Guardian in sight for several minutes before Dogh called with his grim report. Now as the pair approached the ancient stony object from another high cliff face, Scott noticed that they were not alone. She quickly stooped low and suggested that Commodore Cross do the same.

Standing before the portal of the Guardian were two unfamiliar men. They seemed to be waiting for something. Gwenn noticed that inside the nearly circular maw of the Guardian was a swirling, misty light. At first Gwenn hoped that these two were scientists, but that hope quickly faded when she noticed the clothing the two were wearing.

They were out of date by modern standards. Some of the more fashion-conscious members of the Federation would have called them ancient. Gwenn wasn't really a fashion expert so she asked Commodore cross for his opinion.

"Twentieth century Earth would be my guess," replied the Commodore.

"Think maybe they know what happened to our research team, Commodore?"

"Undoubtedly."

"We're more alike than we think, sir. Alright then, let's have a little chat with our friends shall we?"

Scott slowly rose from her crouched position behind the rather large boulder. She was preparing to take them by surprise, but it was the Commodore who surprised her.

He stood up very quickly and called to the two strangers with al1ost childlike glee. "Excuse me! I wonder if we might have a word with you?"

Gwenn could hardly believe bet ears as she turned her attention to the men below them. She saw that they bad now drawn from inside their jackets double handled weapons of some kind. From some of the lessons which Dogh ba4 tutored her on alien weaponry,it didn't take Gwenn long to recocptize the design.

"Romulan disruptors." gasped Gwenn.

"Something is definitely wrong with this picture," commented Cross to no one in particular.

Suddenly a beam of deadly orange light sprang forth from the man on the right's weapon. It grazed past Commodore cross's head, singeing the hair on the back of his neck. The second man followed suit and as his disrupter fire reached the commodore and GWenn, the pair dove for cover behind the giant boulder once again.

Gwenn felt herself flinch each time another disrupter bolt flashed past her. She drew her hand phaser from her side pouch and held it at the ready. She noticed that Commodore Cross already had his phaser in band and was itching to use it.

Gwenn soon realized that she could hear the disrupter fire more than she felt it. She boldly stuck her bead above the top of the boulder and noticed that her two opponents were now firing in a different direction. Fighting another barrage from above.

Gwenn's eyes followed the lines of light flowing from the disruptors' noses and saw that the new barrage of fire was cominq from Dogh's phaser. He, Aindrea, and Dr. T'Leya were holding the enemy at bay with a phaser crossfire. Gwenn tapped her communicator, calling the Galloway for help.


Commander Guinevere Scott's voice reverberated through the bridge's overhead speakers as she made her report.

"Under heavy fire on the surface," she said. "Galloway, we need transport immediately!"

Captain Tanara listened gravely to her first officer's report. She hated having to be heartless with one of her crew. Especially with someone she liked as much as Gwenn, but at the moment she had no choice.

"I wish I could, Commander," Tanara said. "However, we're encountering some fire of our own."

"Romulan Warbirds de-cloaking, sir," Kojiro reported.

Tanara briefly turned her attention to the main view screen where she saw the image of two green giants fading into view seemingly out of nothingness. The two great warships, whose bows resembled that of a vulture, hung there in space as though they were snakes and the Galloway a helpless rodent about to be devoured.

Tanara addressed Gwenn once again. "Our shields are up, and we're at red alert, number one. We can't transport anyone up right now."

Damn! Gwenn cursed to herself. I should have known!

"Understood, sir," replied Gwenn in smooth, even tones disguising her frustration. "We'll try to hold our own."

"Good luck, Number One," Gwenn heard Tanara say. The channel then closed.


Scott tried to think calmly to herself for a moment. After only a second, she tapped her communicator again, "Scott to Dogh. I could use some tactical advice right about now."

"Romulan disruptors are deadly," came Dogh's reply. "However, their high energy output causes them to drain rapidly. If we can hold them off for a moment or two longer, their weapons would be out of energy."

And we could take them! Gwenn thought triumphantly to herself. She then ordered Dogh to maintain his fire on the enemy before closing the channel. Gwenn then turned to the Commodore. "Concentrate your fire with mine on the left Romulan. Dogh and the others will keep the one on the right busy.''

In orbit kilometers above the surface of Gateway, yet another phaser battle was raging. This one between three great starships. The Galloway held its own for some time against the Romulan ships, primarily because of the similarities in the two ships' designs. However, it was becoming evident that even though a Warbird and the Galloway were evenly matched, the Federation ship was losing due to the two-to-one ratio against them,


On the bridge, Captain Tanara stood between the helm and conn positions while Kojiro and Lieutenant Commander Travis Quinn worked feverishly at their respective stations.

Tanara defiantly stood her ground as yet another Romulan disrupter blast rocked the great Federation vessel. Like Dogh, Tanara was a warrior at heart and in battle she was known as one of the fiercest, most tenacious captains in the galaxy. But just as the disruptors were taking their toll on her ship, uncertainty was eating away at her resolve.

"Maintain fire!" barked Tanara. "Divert all power from the damaged areas of the ship to the shields and phasers."

"With the diverted power, our shield and phaser capacity will be raised to forty-eight percent." Kojiro reported.

Tanara cursed under her breath. It wasn't going to be enough.

If she didn't think of something pretty damn quick, there was no telling what might happen to her or her crew. The Galloway's former captain, a Romulan named Tyrek, had once warned Tanara that the Romulans as a rule never take prisoners. It saves them from doing too much paperwork.

Lost in her thoughts, Tanara was violently knocked to the floor of the bridge as another blast rocked the Galloway. The bridge went dark.

For several eternal seconds all was silent.

Then the dim, red emergency lighting came online. Filling the bridge with an eerie orange glow, Tanara rose from the floor, brushing off her uniform in an attempt to restore part of her damaged dignity. She called out for a report.

"Shields collapsing, sir." said Kojiro.

"Life support failures on decks twenty-three through twenty-five. Emergency evacuation procedures have been initiated." added Quinn.

Tanara came over between the two men's stations once again. She glanced quickly between their two panels, taking in as much information as she could. She turned back to Kojiro. He was staring down at the panel with a look on his face which she immediately recognized as sheer terror. She asked him to explain what was wrong.

"We've been hit in main engineering sir." Kojiro said as calmly as he could. "Damage to the matter/antimatter core reactor registered."

"Prepare to jettison the reactor." Tanara replied more quickly than she expected.

Kojiro ran his fingers frantically across the controls of his panel. For several heart-pounding seconds, he worked to carry out the captain's order, but in the end it was no use. "Ejector mechanism damaged sir," said Kojiro defeated. "We can't jettison the reactor."

Tanara's eyes widened. They were in the worst possible situation she could imagine. Not even all her time at Starfleet Academy or on any other ship could have prepared her properly for this moment. There was only one thing that they could do. "Prepare for emergency saucer-seper." said Tanara in almost a whisper.

At that moment, Quinn brought some new information into the fray. "According to all the available data sir," he said, "we would be unable to escape the blast."

Tanara's heart began to sink as Kojiro—looking her in the eye—added, "Even if we could escape the blast, the Romulans would undoubtedly destroy us."

"Damn." Tanara cursed as she could hear the serenely feminine voice of the Galloway's main computer counting down to the ship's destruction.

Suddenly, inspiration came to Captain Tanara. Maybe it was just possible. She touched her communications badge. "Engineering." she said.

"Arcturus here." came the reply.

"Is there anything you can do about the reactor?"

"I may be able to reroute power to the magnetic fields, if you can keep us stable."

"How long?"

"Ten minutes, sir."


On the surface of Gateway, the two Romulans disguised as humans seemed finally to be on the verge of defeat. Their disruptors were steadily losing power thanks to the constant combined phaser fire from the two Federation teams.

Gwenn Scott smiled contently to herself. It seemed victory was well in hand.

Suddenly, another series of disrupter blasts erupted from above. Gwenn couldn't quite pinpoint the origin of the blasts but they were giving the Romulans the break they had been in search of. As the two human-looking Romulans stood looking at each other somewhat disoriented, Gwenn heard a stern feminine voice call from above. "Forget the humans." it said. "Jump through the portal."

The two human-looking Romulans were quick to obey. Simultaneously they backed up, preparing to take a couple of quick strides before leaping through the swirling, illuminated portal. Commodore Cross quickly realized their intent and boldly stood straight up from behind the boulder. He fired his phaser and the beam struck the right Romulan in his left shoulder moments before he and his companion disappeared into the swirling portal.

Suddenly the boulder behind which Cross had been standing shattered into a thousand pieces. A disruptor blast not only destroyed the rock, but the force of the explosion sent Commodore Cross sailing backwards until he hit the dusty grey ground with a thud!

Gwenn Scott watched helplessly as the Commodore's body flew briefly through the air like a rag doll angrily discarded by a petulant child. She then noticed Dogh fire his phaser upwards from where he was standing. She heard a shriek of pain and saw the body of a female Romulan commander, dressed in the traditional uniform of the Romulan military, slump several feet down the loose, rocky hillside. Dogh let out a very Klingon cry of triumph.


On the bridge of the Galloway, Tanara paced. She had ordered as many of her officers to vacate the ship if they so desire. Host of them had chosen to stay with her. Tanara looked longingly at Kojiro, searching his handsome Oriental face for some kind of comfort that she didn't think·he could give in sufficient quantity.

The voice of the Galloway computer ticked down the final few moments. There wasn't enough time to save the ship. Even a miracle worker like Arcturus had his limitations.

Suddenly Tanara found the comfort she sought.

She didn't receive it form Kojiro, or Arcturus, nor any of the other fine officers who had served alongside her. She received it not from her pride at being a member of Starfleet or captain of one of its greatest ships.

She received her comfort from the knowledge that she was going to take those Romulan bastards with her!


T'Leya examined the wounds inflicted upon Commodore Scott from the shattering of the boulder by the Romulan disruptor. They were not severe and the Commodore would most certainly live another day. Scott marveled at this man lying on the ground. Captain Tanara was right; he did have the constitution of an elephant.

"It still hurts like hell." moaned Cross.

"It will pass," said T'Leya. "However, I would advise against dancing for a couple of days, Commodore."

Gwenn Scott laughed inwardly as the commodore let another moan escape from his lips. Scott then turned and noticed Dogh and Aindrea. While Dogh stood guard over their prisoner, Aindrea was pondering a small, black object the size of a rectangular box.

Scott came over to Aindrea and added her thoughts to the Betazoid's already occupied mind. "A Romulan tricorder?"

Aindrea looked up from the box. "That's what I thought as well. One of those other two dropped it before he entered the Guardian."

Scott nodded her agreement and turned to face Dogh. "Probably filled with all the details of their mission on this planet." said the burly Klingon.

Scott stooped down to face her Romulan prisoner. The once stunningly beautiful face was now soiled with dust and green blood streaks. Gwenn took a hard look at the Romulan's face. She hadn't really noticed how familiar it was until now.

"Well, well, well," said Gwenn. "Commander T'Arla. I thought we'd seen the last of you."

The Romulan sneered defiantly through the pain in her face. "Be very careful, Gwenn. Your overconfidence nearly cost you your life the last time we met."

"Yes, but then it's always qood to have friends around." Gwenn looked over to Dogh.

"Or pets," sneered T'Arla.

Dogh growled almost imperceptibly.

"So what about it, T'Arla? Are you going to tell us what you and your buddies were doing on this planet?" queried Gwenn.

"You must be more insane than I thought," snorted T'Arla, "if you believe that I'm going to reveal the details of my mission to you."

"We're going to find out eventually, you know," snarled Dogh. "So why not make it easier on yourself and tell us?"

"Back off, you mongrel!" spat T'Arla. "Romulans are no strangers to pain. And besides, now that my mission is completed, my existence is no longer important."

Gwenn could tell by the disgustingly satisfied smile on T'Arla's face that she was up to something. Gwenn ordered Dr. T'Leya to examine the Romulan commander.

T'Leya quickly came over to the Romulan's side and opened her medipak. She took a medical scanner from inside and ran it over the Romulan's shapely body. After several seconds of examination, T'Leya made her report. "There appears to be some kind of foreign substance in her bloodstream. However I cannot be certain what it is."

T'Arla smiled again. "This I will tell you. It's a new type of time-released poison our scientists have developed. Quite deadly, but quite painless. Sometimes you can't even tell when it's…"

Gwenn stepped back in surprise as the Romulan began to convulse. One severe convulsion was followed by several lesser ones until finally T'Arla calmed herself. She slowly began to slump on her side. As she did, she looked into Gwenn's eyes with a vindictive smile across her lips.

"...Going to take effect," were the Romulan's last words before all signs of life left her body and she fell over dead.

T'Leya confirmed Scott's suspicions. Gwenn shook her head to herself. Even though T'Arla had been a Romulan, she hated to see life wasted in such a manner. It was true that had Scott's and T'Arla's positions had been reversed, T'Arla would have felt no remorse at Gwenn's death, but perhaps, that was what made them different.

Gwenn cursed under her breath. "Damn! I was really hoping she would tell us."

"Does that really matter?" Aindrea inquired.

"Of course it does."

Gwenn turned around, surprised to see that it had been Commodore Cross who had made the last statement. He was standing now and looking remarkably stronger than he did moments before. He approached them. "Anything regarding the Guardian of Forever could have massive repercussions throughout the universe."

At that moment, Gwenn heard a familiar ringing type sound. She glanced over her left shoulder and notice a silvery-blue aura forming in front of her. Slowly the aura began to take on a humanoid shape, two humanoid shapes in fact. Someone was beaming down from the Galloway. Within a few heartbeats the images sharpened into clear definition. Though their backs were turned, Gwenn recognized the two figures as Captain Tanara and Commander Quinn.

Aindrea approached the two new arrivals smiling. "Well, we won't have time to discuss it now. Captain." Aindrea stopped dead in her tracks. The others faces froze with expressions of shock.

Tanara had turned around to face them. While she had always been a very forceful, dominant, almost Amazonian woman, there was now something distinctly different about her. A black eyepiece covered the entire left hand side of her face. Her usually shiny golden hair, was dingy and ratty from neglect. Gwenn even noticed the end of a red gash peeking out from under the bottom of Tanara's eyepiece.

Tanara's expression was not its usual forceful indifference, but purely sadistic. Quinn's expression mirrored Tanara's exactly.

Commander Scott and the others were so in shock that it took them all a moment to notice that Tanara and Quinn had two very large and mean looking laser weapons pointed right at them.