The U.S.S. Lambda Paz
was the lead ship in a fleet of Federation warships escorting relief aid convoys to Cardassia. These were normally routine relief missions. Never knowing, though, when pirates or the more violent political extremists would strike, Starfleet Command wanted to err on the side of caution. The Lambda Paz
was one of the first of the Luna
-class destroyers thought to be decommissioned after the war, but instead they were assigned to these types of peacekeeping missions.
Captain Limis Vircona, a Bajoran national, had a distinguished war record as one of the former Maquis rebels granted a Starfleet commission at the outbreak of the war. She was given command of the Lambda Paz
during the Dominion War for her courageous leadership along the front lines.
“Helm, how much longer to the Cardassian system?” Limis asked while glancing away from a PADD she was reading while in the center seat on the bridge.
Second Lieutenant Sara Carson reported from her piloting station near the front viewscreen. “One hour, thirty six minutes, Captain.”
First officer Ronnie Kozar seated at the captain’s left suddenly had a look of concern on his face. He had been assigned the position after his years commanding the Starfleet frigate Horatio Nelson
, first during the border conflicts with the Cardassians, and then after the Klingon Empire invaded the Cardassian Union. He knew when a captain was feeling uncertain since he had once been one. “Something’s on your mind, Captain,” he said.
Limis maintained a stoic demeanor while staring at the vast expanse of space seen on the viewscreen. She had almost come to expect an attack, especially after hearing about the bombing of a diplomatic conference on Cardassia Prime. “Something is not quite right,” she mused. “No welcoming committee, no random and unprovoked attacks from the usual hostiles. The region hasn’t been this quiet even after the war ended.”
Captain’s intuition, members of the bridge crew thought. Limis quietly considered the situation before looking over at the tactical station on her right. “Anything on tactical, Mister Morrison?”
“No ships on short or long-range sensor, sir, “Lieutenant Commander Mandel Morrison responded.
An alarm sounded from the control readout he had begun to divert his gaze from. “Hold on; there’s a perimeter alert: seven ships traveling at warp six point two on an intercept course at bearing 2-3-6, Mark 4-0.”
“Time to intercept?” Commander Kozar asked Lieutenant Carson.
“Eight minutes, thirty-six seconds,” Carson responded.
“That could be the welcoming committee,” Limis suggested. “But have weapons and shields ready just in case, Morrison. And take us to yellow alert.”
Morrison acknowledged the order with a nod. Various crewmembers began vacating the bridge in response to the alert. Other crewmembers stepped off the port and starboard turbolifts to assume vacant secondary stations throughout the bridge.
Kozar sauntered towards the Mission Operations station situated behind the primary Ops console on the port side. Seven blips indicating the approaching ships were displayed on a readout screen. An identification of those ships appeared below the representative blips: CARDASSIAN, HIDEKI CLASS
Class, “Kozar reported. “They’re a transport convoy—the equivalent of Starfleet runabouts.”
Some of the bridge crew was relieved. Short-range survey and transport ships wouldn’t dare challenge a supply convoy protected by Luna
-class destroyers. But something did not sit well with higher-ranking officers, especially Morrison. “No Galor
-class escort vessels to match our armaments?” he inquired.
Kozar looked over to Ensign Willis Huckaby manning the Ops console standing next to him. “No, sir,” the young ensign timidly replied.
Limis contemplated the situation. Starfleet vessels would not attack a lesser-armed group of ships without provocation. But the instability in the region demanded that these convoys have warships as escorts for the same reason ships such as the Lambda Paz
were protecting Federation convoys. “Raise shields,” she commanded. “Red alert.”
Kozar was puzzled. Despite Morrison’s suspicions, even he found the decision hasty. “Is a red alert necessary at this time, sir?” he asked.
Kozar walked over to the centers seats to confront the captain. “They haven’t entered weapons range,” he snapped, while hovering over Limis. “Even if their intent was hostile, they wouldn’t be any match for even one of our destroyers.”
This was not the first time the first officer had shown this level of irritation with his captain on the bridge. To quickly put out the flames, Limis stood up and looked her second-in-command straight in the eye. “In the Maquis, we survived by knowing guerilla tactics when we saw them,” she proclaimed. “These ships of theirs would not go it alone if they had no chance against us. They have something up their sleeves. We have to be prepared for it.”
“Fair enough,” Kozar responded. “But as first officer, I would have preferred begin allowed to offer my suggestions before such action had been taken. Raising shields could be, in itself, construed as hostile.”
“Agreed. We can ask the convoy to send us their clearance code while we gradually increase our speed. Satisfied?”
Kozar could detect sarcasm in the tone of Limis’s voice when he asked if he was satisfied. But he soon calmed himself to avoid continuing to make a scene. He then turned to the viewscreen to order the course change. “Lieutenant Carson, increase our speed to warp six point five, but slowly.”
Carson and others on the bridge crew had turned away from their stations to see how this latest disagreement between captain and first officer would play out. Carson returned her attention to the helm to carry out Kozar’s order. “Aye, sir.”
Morrison’s tactical display showed Starfleet insignias indicating the Starfleet destroyers moving faster. An arrangement of smaller triangular blips represented the supply ships, which the Starfleet ships surrounded. Those ships matched the course change. The moving blips representing the Cardassian ships started moving faster.
Morrison walked over to the mission operations station behind his tactical station and then reported. “No response from the convoy. And they have increased speed to warp seven.”
“Tactical display on-screen,” Limis requested. “Keep hailing them, Huckaby.”
“No response,” Huckaby reported in response to the captain’s last line of orders.
“They’re closing,” Morrison reported. “Now at warp eight.”
Clearly, these vessels’ intent was not friendly. The next course of action was up to Limis. “Protecting that convoy is our top priority,” she told her first officer. “Agreed?”
“Agreed, Captain,” Kozar calmly responded.
Limis looked over at Ensign Huckaby. “Contact Europa
. We’re breaking formation to go after those ships.”
The two Luna-class destroyers, the Lambda Paz
and the Europa
, approached the seven Cardassian scout ships at high warp. When the two sets of vessels came face to face, they all dropped out of warp. Most of the bridge crew was calm as they were not expecting a fight. But Limis was still suspicious.
The tension level went down even more when the tactical station chimed. “We’re being hailed,” Morrison reported.
“Now they want to talk?” Limis responded. “Open a channel.”
As soon as Morrison opened the channel, the lights went out. Consoles were flickering on and off. Crewmembers scrambled to remedy the situation. “What the hell?!” Limis exclaimed as she and Kozar rose from their seats.
“By opening the channel, we must have picked up a virus that crashed our comm system,” Huckaby explained. ”It immediately jumped to all adjoining systems.”
"Weapons and shield are gone, “Morrison reported. “We’ll need at least another minute for them to reset.”
'Get down to phaser control to fire the phasers manually!” Limis shouted over all the commotion on the bridge. “And see if they can expedite matters.”
"Warp and impulse engines are off-line,” Carson added. “I’m switching to manual override, so we at least have thrusters.”
“Once that’s done, back us off,” the captain responded.
Before the order could be carried out, the bridge rocked. The Cardassian scout vessels fired a volley of torpedoes at the two defenseless Starfleet ships. But these small ships’ arsenals were not equipped with conventional photon torpedoes. Rather, the torpedoes were plasma-based weapons that Jem’Hadar ships were equipped with.
By this time, any good news was considered positive. “Phaser control reports that phasers can be fired manually,” Kozar, who was now manning tactical in Morrison’s absence, “but targeting scanners are still down.”
"Tell them to keep firing until they hit something,” Limis ordered.
Such an approach was a shot in the dark, but the only possible option at the moment. Both the Lambda Paz
and the Europa
fired quick phaser bursts in half-second intervals. The smaller, more maneuverable scout ships were able to evade any phaser fire. The enemy ships continued to evade any phaser fire. The enemy ships continued to fire volleys of plasma torpedoes.
The more hits the Lambda Paz
took, the more in shambles the decks of the ship were. Metal girders and electronic wire fell from the ceiling. A fire erupted in front of the schematic display on the aft of the bridge. Two crewmen trained fire extinguishers on the blaze, putting out the fire. “We just lost the fire suppression system,” Huckaby coincidentally reported when the bridge rocked once more.
Kozar had even more bad news. “Hull breaches on decks four, nine, and twelve. Primary and secondary life support has failed."
With the hull of the ship falling apart and the inside losing atmosphere, the move was obvious. “Abandon ship,” Limis announced. “All hands to the shuttles and escape pods.”
One by one, escaped pods were jettisoned from the collapsing ships. The Cardassians fired two more volleys of torpedoes destroying the two Starfleet ships. Two pods were engulfed in the fireball. Another escape pod was destroyed by enemy fire.
Aboard one of the Cardassian scout vessels, the captain gave an order to cease fire. His control panel readout indicated the other six ships had carried out the order. The tactical officer on his ship, however, continued firing indiscriminately. The captain jumped from his command chair and shoved the subordinate crewman away from his station. “I said cease fire!” he growled.
The weapons officer appeared dumfounded. He thought their plan was to defeat the Starfleet vessels and prevent their crews from returning home safely. His captain said nothing of leaving escape pods intact. “Sorry, sir,” he said only half apologetically. “Your orders were …”
The captain cut him off before his weapons officer could continue. “Remember your place, gunner. You are expected to follow my explicit orders, not to interpret the meaning of those orders outside their precise wording.”
The weapons officer offered no further defiance. Like an obedient Cardassian citizen, he deferred to his captain’s judgment. Yet, he could still be curious about what his superior officer’s wishes were. “My apologies for attempting to circumvent your orders. What exactly are your plans, if you do not mind my asking?”
The captain faced away from his subordinate and walked slowly towards the center seat. “If we were to destroy the escape pods, then the Federation would send more ships after their missing colleagues.” The captain then turned back around to face the two officers occupying the bridge’s forward consoles.
"We must make it clear to Federation and Starfleet that we have no desire to become their next subject race. For that we need bargaining chips. They value the lives of all their citizens on an equal basis. Saving the lives of hostages will be more important to them. Knowing the enemy and its weaknesses is the key. All of us, on the other hand, are expendable in the interests of our cause… of the True Way.”
Speaking those words made the captain of the rogue Cardassian ship remember a meeting with Starfleet representatives four years earlier. As adjutant to Legate Skrain Dukat, then chief military adviser to the Detapa Council, he met with members of Starfleet Tactical’s strategic division following the Klingon Empire’s aborted conquest of Cardassia. While Dukat was open to suggestions on defeating an occupying army, Gul Revok found the idea of mimicking Bajoran guerilla tactics detestable, if not insulting.