“This is a representative of the True-Way of the Cardassian Union to any Federation or Starfleet officials receiving this transmission.”
His face was mostly covered by a dark-red scarf. The speaker was clearly Cardassian based on the ridges around his eyes, the only exposed part of his face. His voice had an ominous low pitch, suggesting he was using a voice distorter to prevent authorities from discerning his identity.
“The puppet leaders of our world have allowed your Federation to ship relief supplies into our space. While the Starfleet vessels have not directly provided assistance to more radical elements in our political system, these radicals are more hopeful their subversive ideas will win out.”
“As a result, we have taken drastic measures. We are holding the crew of a Starfleet vessel. The Federation is to cease sending relief convoys immediately. Every six standard hours our demands go unanswered, at least one hostage will die.”
Admiral William Ross played this transmission for Kira. Ross then requested a teleconference with senior station personnel. As station CO, Kira normally sat at the head of oblong conference table in the station’s wardroom. Instead, she sat in the center of the table in front of the viewports to face the screen housed on the opposite wall of the conference area. Ezri, Ro, and Fitzpatrick were seated at Kira’s right. Commander Vaughn sat at the head of the table. Once the mysterious Cardassian finished making his demands, static filled the screen. The face of a Starfleet officer then appeared on the screen.
Limis, seated at the other end of the table immediately recognized the officer’s unkempt chestnut hair. Mandel Morrison, her tactical officer had been coerced into speaking.
“My name is Mandel Morrison,” he stated. “I am the senior officer of this group of hostages. Our captors have assured us we will not be harmed as long as Starfleet Command acquiesces to their demands. They warn us; however, they are willing and able to carry out their threats.”
Another Starfleet officer appeared on the screen. A gold disruptor beam of a Cardassian weapon hit the young male officer square in the torso. He incinerated almost instantaneously before everyone’s eyes.
The officers in the briefing could only watch in horror. Limis was thinking only about Morrison though he was not her only crewmember being held. They had been a number of one-night stands, yet they had both agreed not to have a more committed romantic relationship given the fact their ship was on the front lines of the Dominion War almost everyday.
The others watching were all too familiar with the casual brutality of the Cardassians, especially the three Bajorans present. Ro suffered deep emotional scars from being forced to watch as Cardassians tortured her father to death. Kira knew that was only part of it. Bajorans had been used for slave labor in hellish conditions. Anyone even suspected of belonging to the underground resistance was executed to make an example of others. Bashir, seated at Limis’s right, heard of the atrocities on Setlik Three from O’Brien. But they never resorted to taking hostages. That fact made them as honorable as Klingons even to those who fought against them.
At Bashir’s right, Rashid had recalled battle against the Cardassians during the Dominion War. He could also recall that his ancestors on Earth 300 years ago had resorted to these acts of terrorism, and even concealing their faces when communicating with their enemies.
The emblem of the Cardassian Union then appeared on the screen. The face of Admiral Ross then filled the screen. He had a very calm and stoic demeanor even knowing the final image that the officers witnessed. “That message was received at Starbase 375 less than two hours ago,” Ross stated.
“I’ve heard of the True Way,” said Ro. “They came about shortly after the Klingon invasion of Cardassian space and have become more prominent since the end of the war. Last week, they bombed a diplomatic conference.”
“Authorities are still looking into that,” Ross replied. “The True Way is only one of numerous terrorist groups officially or unofficially endorsed by each of the major political factions.”
“I can remember during the Occupation,” Kira calmly replied. “Granted they offered to spare Bajoran lives if those they captured agreed to turn in their compatriots in the Underground. One redeeming quality was the Cardassian didn’t use people as bargaining chips in such a manner.”
Limis turned her gaze towards Kira. She had gotten to understand the Cardassians as a people, especially political extremists. She was one during the Occupation and as a member of the Maquis. “To the spoonheads, the ends almost always justify the means,” she offered. “Some of them may think taking hostages is the best way to attain their goals.”
“Nevertheless,” Ross cut in, “we have quite a conundrum on our hands. Those supplies are urgently needed on Cardassia. The plan is to send the Defiant
“That’s going to be difficult,” Vaughn offered. “The Defiant
is not exactly designed for freight runs.”
He had seen the convoy manifests prior to the arrival of the Lambda Paz
crew. The Defiant
belonged to a class of starships originally designed to fight the Borg, following the Borg’s near conquest of Earth almost a decade earlier. The Defiant
's predecessor had been assigned supply runs into hostile territory during the Dominion War, but the ship was not designed for this type of supply run.
At the age of one hundred one, Vaughn had been involved in a number of dangerous missions. He was part of a team of special intelligence agents sent to sabotage a Romulan vessel during what became known as the Tomed Incident. The trip to Cardassia was just another mission.
“I’m working with Rashid on modifying the medical bay’s stasis fields to preserve any perishable items,” Bashir responded.
Ezri and Julian prepared for all the various contingencies. “The Cardassian provisional government has sent a list of items they absolutely need,” Ezri added. “The rest we scratch for now.”
“Good,” Vaughn answered with an approving nod. “You’ve covered everything.”
“If there’s nothing more, Commander,” Ross announced, “Godspeed to you and your crew.”
The official seal of the United Federation of Planets filled the screen. Kira then continued the meeting. “This crisis coincides with an important conference here on the station,” she announced. “Admiral Ross and his staff will be arriving tomorrow morning. Lieutenant Fitzpatrick, I’ll assign Nog to head Starfleet security in your absence. Julian, you might want to get in touch with Mister Garak.”
I’m a doctor, not a diplomat
, were the words that came to Julian’s mind. Of course, the doctor had taken a strong interest in international politics and covert operations over seven years as Elim Garak’s weekly lunch partner. As far as most Starfleet and Bajoran militia personnel were concerned, Garak stayed behind after the Occupation of Bajor as a spy for the Cardassians. He had provided the crew with half-truthful and contradictory tales about his past during his time on the station. Following the end of the war, the enigmatic Cardassian returned to his home planet, although he remained in close contact with Bashir. Garak since then became chief of staff to head of state Alon Ghemor.
Before he could acknowledge the suggestion, Bashir heard his name called on the comm. Line. “You’re needed in the Infirmary,” Doctor Zeyner Antis told him. “Medical emergency.”
“I’m on my way,” Bashir responded. He stood up and looked over at Kira.
“We’re finished here,” Kira said with an approving nod.
Vaughn, Fitzpatrick, and Ezri rolled their chairs back and were half standing when Limis spoke. “I’ll be holding a briefing on the Defiant
upon its departure she told them.”
Ezri could hear an uneasy sigh from Vaughn. The rest of the officers in the briefing heard it, too, and they all left to allow the two commanders to resolve this issue. Vaughn was not concerned with Limis’s greater rank. His experience meant that even the highest-ranking admirals rarely pulled rank on him. He learned from recent Starfleet bulletins of Limis’s reputation for recklessness. Limis stood up and walked towards the other end of the table. “I know what you are thinking, Commander,” she said. “You needn’t worry. I know the Defiant
is your ship. The mission’s top priority is the rescue of the hostages. The outcome is too important to me as their captain to stay on the sidelines. Besides, our missions have given us valuable intelligence on postwar Cardassia.”
"That’s not my concern, Captain,” Vaughn began.
Limis spoke before Vaughn could continue. “My first officer says I jump into decisions too quickly, often without his input. But he should go back to Starfleet Academy to learn about respecting the chain of command.
“His experience as a veteran Starfleet officer has been helpful. We wouldn’t have survived the war, though, without getting our hands dirty. Surely, you are aware of that.”
“I certainly am,” Vaughn replied. “Any insight you can provide will be helpful. I hope you remember who the captain is.”
Limis just nodded, turned, and left the room.
A Starfleet nurse trained a laser scanner on the charred body of one of the dead crewmembers. The Bajoran deputy chief medical officer, Doctor Zeyner,” was analyzing the readings taken from the other security guard from a medical monitor.
Bashir entered the Infirmary’s primary ICU with Kira close behind. “What do have, Doctor Zeyner?” he asked before he had entered.
Zeyner looked away from the monitor and handed Bashir a medical tricorder and micro-cellular scanner. “These crewmen were patrolling the habitat ring,” Zeyner explained. “Our readings show their central nervous systems were overloaded.”
Bashir stared pensively at his tricorder. “It looks that way,” he said. “I’ll need you and Doctor Tarses supervising the autopsies while I’m away.”
“Any idea what could have caused this?” Kira asked.
“Lieutenants Rashid and Nog were upgrading the surveillance systems in that section,” Zeyner stated. “Mister Nog thinks an overload in the EPS grid may be responsible.”
“I’ll have Ro and Nog run a few diagnostics on related systems,” Kira announced.
Limis was walking through a habitat ring corridor when Kozar caught up to her. “Captain, I understand you’re returning to the scene of the crime.”
“I wouldn’t put it that way,” she acerbically replied. “I’ll be on the Defiant
as an advisor to the senior officers.”
“Hopefully not to seek retribution for Malinson’s death,” Kozar quipped.
Limis stopped dead in her tracks and turned around to look her first officer in the eye. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Only that your disdain for the Cardassians has often led you to take brash action even though such actions damn near undermined a few missions.”
“Prophets damnit, Kozar, assuming we get another ship, I will recommend you to be transferred and
demoted to midshipman so you can familiarize yourself with Starfleet rules of conduct. Starfleet gave me
command of the Lambda Paz
. Not you. Get over yourself!”
Kozar had always resented not being given starship command when the Dominion War began. His experience fighting with and against the Cardassians earned him that right. He never let that resentment interfere with his duties. “That’s what you think this is about?” he asked with disgust.
“Let me tell you something,” he continued. “Humans have evolved beyond petty and selfish behavior. I never thought of you as a qualified Starfleet captain. Now that the cards are on the table, I would welcome that transfer.”
Spare me your Terran superiority complex
, she thought. She wanted to deck him, but she’d look like a hypocrite after the dressing down she gave him. She silently thanked the Prophets she would no longer be putting up with this guy.