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Thoris Age 21

"Prepare for shock-drop!" Master Chief Downes barked. Thoris gestured to his squad, and the twelve soldiers moved into position on the transporter pads. "This is it -- the shields around Betazed will drop in less than five minutes! We're retaking the capitol." The hologram of Chief Downes disappeared; no doubt he was briefing one of the other squads.

Moore and Braga grinned and bumped their hands together while the Master Chief was "elsewhere." Moore hefted his phaser and chuckled, "Who ya gonna call?"

"Belay that, you two," Mahirn said, his lips twitching.

"You see that?" Braga quipped. "He almost smiled." Moore's smile broadened. Silva rolled her eyes.

Before they could continue, though, Downes reappeared. The two human men straightened. "Chief Mahirn, you and your squad will take and hold Block 42. Check your maps."

"Yes sir," Thoris replied evenly, nodding to his squad. They all followed his lead, three-dimensional images of the small sub-district of Rixx appearing from their wrists. "Coordinates locked."

"You are authorized to use whatever force you deem necessary to take the block and protect the civilians. Good hunting, Thoris," Downes said, his tone softening for a moment.

Thoris nodded. "Yes sir." The hologram vanished. "Enough, you two," he added to Moore and Braga, albeit without heat. "Stay even."

With a chuckle of her own, Barteg, their Coridian comm specialist, gave Thoris the human "thumbs up" and nodded. "No worries, sir. We'll vaporize them." She winked at Braga. "'We ain't afraid of no ghosts,' right?"

"Hoo-ah," Braga replied quietly.

Thoris sighed and shook his head. "I said enough." He paused. "We have our orders. Phasers to maximum. Itrinan'hrisu. We take them out." The rest of the squad stared for a moment, and Silva almost gaped, but they quickly nodded and adjusted their rifles. He looked them over. Only half of them had been part of their squad when they'd been formed. The image of their former chief being vaporized by the Jem'Hadar flickered in and out of Thoris' memory. Their newest member, Caitian V'Zemim, clutched her rifle tightly enough that there would be claw marks on it tomorrow. [Stop it, Mahirn,] he admonished himself. [Starfleet needs you. Your family needs you. Your squad needs you.]

Memories rose to squeeze his throat -- the reports from the Second Battle of Chin'toka when his birth-father received his posthumous commendation; his quad-family, standing quietly around Lan's memory-flame; Thara's eyes filled with tears, telling him she could not take a dead man for a mate, and that she'd embraced the advances of a sculptor; his last leave, with little Leth clinging to him tearfully, promising she would join Starfleet the day she turned 18. Images of the Terran Chief Williams' wry grin and Deltan Officer Idda's placid calm restored his resolve. "In a few minutes," he began, and the beginnings of cross-chatter died instantly, "we're going to be fighting on one of the Federation's home worlds. Betazed is home to a noble people, empaths and telepaths, devoted to peace, beauty and healing. Hundreds of light-years from here, a massive fleet is headed for Cardassia Prime. Thousands of ships are about to engage in the most important battle of our lifetimes. We're twelve soldiers, assigned to a take and hold a city block."

For a moment, his team looked uncomfortable. "For that, we should be grateful, but not because our duty is a small one. It's not." He turned and looked at his squad. "Today we rescue hundreds of Betazoids from tyranny. We are from seven species and nine worlds, but only one uniform. We did not choose this war, because we are Starfleet. We do not flinch from our duty, because we are Starfleet. We will free the people of Betazed from dominion, because we are Starfleet." His eyes hardened. "And we will show every ruthless conqueror in the galaxy that the Federation's love of peace does not mean it is weak, because it has people who remember that one value is greater than peace: freedom. We call those people Starfleet, and today we will carve that memory into the Jem'Hadar forever!"

"HOO-AH!" his crew exulted, pumping fists or stamping feet as their varied traditions called for.

"Dominion screens are collapsing!" Downes roared over the intercom. "Shields drop in thirty seconds! On your pads, weapons ready!"

Thoris turned back and held his rifle up. "You heard the man!" The squad matched him, moving to ready positions almost instantly. "Check your targets and stay in cover, everyone moves two-by-two, Zone Pattern Beta." There was that brief eternity of waiting for the transporters to hum. In spite of their enthusiastic response to his "pep talk," the squad were still nervous, tense, shifting in place and eyes flickering. For a moment, Thoris had no idea what else to do, when a horrifying thought struck him. [When was the last time I told a joke?] Braga's comment about him smiling struck him again. He glanced at Moore. [If I die today, I'm not dying a machine.] Thoris smiled. It felt a bit alien, but at least it was honest. "'Bustin' makes me feel good,'" he said quietly. Moore gaped, then the tension broke and they all laughed quietly. When the sound faded, Thoris almost whispered, "Today, whatever else happens, we are ishurni. Today, we are blood."

"Squads ready!" the intercom burst, and they all tensed again. "Shields drop in five...four...three..." The transporter pads hummed to life. Familiar cylinders of multicolored light surrounded them. The memories returned, unbidden, to the Andorian soldier...

"Damn it, Thoris, don't do this!" Thoris' Academy counselor Tregthar grimaced. "In less than a year, you'll be a Starfleet officer!

Thoris shook his head. "In less than a year," he whispered, bowing his head, "there may not be a Starfleet. I'm sorry, sir." He straightened again, determination restored and redoubled. Thoris had great admiration for the old Tellarite, but his uncertainty was gone. "The Federation needs soldiers now. Not in a year, not in six months."

Tregthar's scowl deepened, and he looked away for a moment. "When you're done saving the galaxy," he said finally, only a hint of bitterness remaining, "I want you back in this office the day the damn foot soldiers let you go."

"The speed of my return," Thoris replied with a grin, "will disrupt Terran weather for miles."

The transporter beams faded. Rixx took form around them. Even under the Dominion, it was beautiful, with lush plant life and disc-topped spires only marred by black banners hanging from several towers...and Jem'Hadar patroling the streets. "Ishinan!" Thoris commanded, and astonished Jem'Hadar died, literally by the dozen, as twelve phaser beams lanced out in well-prepared sweeping patterns. In moments, the streets were clear of the invaders. Fearful Betazoids peered from homes and buildings.

TBC