Limis retired to the ready room after receiving that cryptic message. The probe self-destructed almost immediately after the message played. She was now reminded of the incident seven months earlier when she placed a Cardassian the crew had captured inside an airlock and decompressed it. She had hoped to extract information that would help the Federation achieve any type victory at a time when the war seemed like a losing effort. The Cardassian died shortly after divulging the needed information. She had long forgotten that incident now that recent events caused renewed optimism.
Now another Cardassian claiming to be this man’s brother appeared on her bridge wanting to exact revenge. Targeting family made sense when trying to coerce members of the Bajoran resistance or the Maquis into capitulating. But she was no longer affiliated with either group. Maybe it was empty threat to set a trap for her. Either way, she would not allow harm to come to her child, assuming he was still alive.
Limis called up the files on the survivors of the massacre at Tevlik’s moon base. It was used as a safe house for families of Maquis operatives. She had asked the computer to search the passenger manifests of refugee ships for the name Hasin Yanith. In the event that he was traveling under an alias, Limis requested information on any Bajoran males in their early twenties. She had no luck on either search when her door chime sounded.
“Yes, come in,” she snapped.
Usually, Kozar visited to deliver a report. This time, he was empty-handed. “I am sensing this is not a formal visit,” Limis remarked.
“You caught me,” Kozar quipped. “I’m guessing you’re gonna want to go looking for you son. The last time you tried to undertake such a dangerous mission yourself, you nearly became a sleeper agent for religious fanatic.”
“Ensign Sullivan will be joining me to meet with a friend of her late husband’s.”
“All I am saying,” Kozar replied, taking a seat in the guest chair, “is you should let us help you.”
Limis looked up from her monitor. Since taking this assignment, Kozar seemed to go out of his way to second-guess her. In fact, Kozar had once relieved her of command after torturing the Cardassian. “Has my first officer been replaced by a Changeling?” she asked.
“I can submit a blood sample,” Kozar retorted. “Not that the test isn’t foolproof. I can tell you, as a parent, I can tell you that I’d be willing to risk my career if my daughter’s life was in danger.”
“I didn’t know you had a daughter.”
“I haven’t seen her in five years, though.”
“This ship has responsibilities. I can’t ask every member of this crew to drop everything for one person. I wanted to go looking for my son the second I learned of the attack on Tevlik’s moon base. I’ve spent the last year not knowing if he was dead or alive. But Gul Hadar’s quarrel is with me, not him.”
The runabout Potomac
departed the Lambda Paz
’s main shuttlebay. Limis and her former Maquis colleague Rebecca Sullivan had planned to travel to Farius Prime to meet with a Lissepian merchant, who provided information to Rebecca’s late husband Michael Eddington and other cell leaders. The Lissepian would then contact the refugee center to track down any Bajorans fitting Yanith’s description.
Since the trip would take twelve days by runabout alone, they had arranged to rendezvous with a Kobheerian freighter that could get them to Farius in one day. The two women sat in an awkward silence after their runabout departed. One looked at the other planning to say something, but quickly became tongue-tied.
“It’s me he’s after, not Yanith,” Limis blurted out ten minutes into the trip.
“Who?” Rebecca asked.
“Gul Hadar. I killed his brother. Eventually, I would have to answer for it.”
“A terrorist with a conscience?” Sullivan quipped. “That’s a new one.”
“If we had won, we’d be revolutionaries. On Bajor, it was about hurting Cardassians. The Maquis was about correcting a grave injustice.”
“So justice is why you now want to go look for your son a year after his disappearance?”
“Where would I have looked without Starfleet’s resources at my disposal? It may be wishful thinking, but my maternal instincts tell me he is alive. Now, Hadar’s threat has created a new sense of urgency. Nothing else matters until I know Yanith is safe.”
Twelve hours after departing the mother ship, the Potomac
came within communications range of the Kobheerian freighter. Limis had just replicated a mug of raktajino
when Sullivan reported the freighter’s arrival.
“We’re in hailing range of the freighter,” the ensign reported.
“They’re early,” Limis observed. “Open hailing frequency.”
“Open,” Sullivan replied.
“This is the Federation ship Potomac
, requesting permission to transport aboard.”
“Permission granted,” a baritone voice replied. “Prepare to beam aboard when in range.”
As the runabout inched closer to the freighter, the freighter’s hull appeared to be disintegrating. In its place appeared a smaller shuttle. The shuttle then fired a blue pulse at the front of the runabout. Both Limis and Sullivan were rendered unconscious and transported away.
Some hours later, Limis and Sullivan came to in the cargo hold of the alien shuttle. Two Sindareen walked towards them armed with phaser rifles. “Get up!” one of them demanded.
The two Starfleet officers complied. The guards escorted them down the corridor of the Sindareen mother ship. Limis and Sullivan were then taken to the meeting chamber of the ship’s captain.
Tor Vot stood up from his chair behind his desk, grinning smugly. “I see I have a pair of gifts,” he remarked. “I am Tor Vot of the Sindareen Confederacy.”
“I’m getting that there was no Kobheerian freighter,” Limis suggested. “And that Gul Hadar sent you to capture me.”
“You are correct on the second statement,” Tor Vot shot back, walking around his desk towards Limis. “And we intercepted your communiqué with the Kobheerians, so we beat them to the rendezvous.”
“What about my son?”
“He’s not here. I don’t know if my employer has him nor do I care. I admire a mother’s willingness to die for her child.”
“Since your… employer is after me, you can let my colleague go.”
Tor Vot laughed maniacally. “On the contrary,” he answered, “as a former Maquis, she is wanted for crimes against the Cardassian Union. And since the Cardassians could never capture Starfleet’s favorite traitor, I know of many who would pay plenty for his widow.”
The Sindareen reached out a hand and squeezed Rebecca’s cheeks. “That or I could sell you to the Orion Syndicate,” he hissed, “… after I tried the merchandise for myself.”
Rebecca shoved the hulking alien away. “Pig,” she sneered.
Mandel Morrison took out his emotional baggage he had been carrying for six months on a punching bag in the gymnasium. He imagined he was beating a Jem’Hadar to death. If only he could do that to the soldier who came out of nowhere and tackled Davis, preventing his retreat to safer location.
Kozar passed behind Morrison, also dressed in a sweat suit. “At least you’re taking it out on the bag,” he remarked to his friend.
Morrison continued hitting the punching bag mercilessly without reacting to Kozar. Ronnie paced closer to Mandel and circled around him. “Doctor Markalis is close to learning a way of detecting shrouded Jem’Hadar,” he continued.
“Whoop-dee-freaking-do,” Morrison replied. “Will that bring Davis back?”
Kozar squeezed Morrison’s fist before he could hit the bag again. “Of course not,” Kozar answered. “But he would not want you doing this to yourself."
“During my first command, one my troops was killed by friendly fire. My
friendly fire. I thought I had no business leading troops in battle. I had to learn to accept that I was ordering men and women to their deaths on a regular basis.”
Morrison pulled his fist back free of Kozar’s grip. “You’ve told me that many times,” he huffed.
“It’s one of the harsh realities of war, Mandel,” Kozar replied. “We try our best to assure minimal fatalities in battle. Inevitably, people still die. At least you and I are not completely desensitized to it. That’s what separates us from the animals.”
Morrison smiled, as if Kozar had accomplished in six seconds what the counselors could not in six months. The moment of silence was interrupted by the communications chime.
“Bridge to Commander Kozar,” Lieutenant Ra Hoth called.
“Message from the Kobheerian freighter. The say the runabout never arrived at the rendezvous point.”
Fifteen minutes later, after a quick shower, Kozar changed back into uniform. He then used the desktop monitor to contact Admiral Edward Jellico, commander of the Seventh Fleet.
“I am quite busy, Ronnie,” Jellico stated. “This hail better be worthy of the ‘urgent’ label.”
“Sir, Captain Limis gone missing,” Kozar replied. “I request permission to break off from the fleet to conduct a search.”
“I’m curious as to why your captain is AWOL in the first place. Is she on another one of her vigilante missions?”
“That mission to Bajor was on orders from Starfleet Intelligence.”
“I’m sure it was,” Jellico murmured, looking away from his screen. He then turned another stern look at Kozar. “My answer is no. You are one ship, but what if every ship in the fleet made your request? And you would only be enabling your captain’s reckless behavior.”
After a short pause, Kozar remembered another point he wanted to bring up with Jellico. “I’m sorry to hear about Leslie Wong.”
“Me too. She was one of the best officers to serve under me. I knew I was leaving the Cairo
in good hands when I was promoted to Admiral. Part of me had trouble believing that she might be gone since she hasn’t been confirmed dead. But we’re going to lose far more people before the war is over. I have a responsibility to a great many people. Just remember, the person is expendable. The position of CO is not.”
Kozar later paid a visit to engineering where Lieutenant Shinar sh’Aqba was working the late shift to prepare the ship for the coming battle. Her antennae perked up at the sight of the first officer’s presence.
“This isn’t a surprise inspection, Lieutenant,” Kozar assured her. “I need to discuss something with you off the record.”
Sh’Aqba removed her combadge and threw it on the diagnostic console. Kozar did the same. “I want you to create a warp coil malfunction,” Kozar whispered.
“What for?” sh’Aqba curiously inquired.
“The captain has gone missing, and Admiral Jellico denied me permission to plan a search for her.”
“Since when do you disobey orders for the captain?”
“Since I suggested to you that you try to accept Tarlazzi as a member of this crew. I felt I should start to practice what I preach. If this a problem for you, let me know.”
“One defective warp coil coming up.”
“Send a printout message to the ready room when that’s done.”
After six hours, the Lambda Paz
arrived at the scheduled rendezvous for the Potomac
and the Kobheerian freighter. No other ships were present, nor was any debris. Kozar sat in the command chair, tightly grasping the arms. He glanced nervously at Morrison, who was manning the tactical station and then shot a glance at Ensign Tor Makassa, a Kobliad at Ops.
“Anything of not on sensors?” the commander asked.
“No other ships within five million kilometers,” Morrison replied.
“Any debris?” Kozar asked Makassa.
“No, sir,” Makassa answered. “Nor am I detecting any residual ions from the runabout or any other ships that many have been here in the last twenty-four hours.”
“Have you calibrated the sensors to detect electron residue left by subspace backwash?”
“Forward and lateral sensors are still scanning.”
Morrison’s tactical display began flashing. “Captain, two Sindareen battle cruisers entering sensor range,” he reported. “They’ll intercept us in one minute.”
“Hail them,” Kozar ordered Makassa.
“No response,” Makassa replied.
Two rectangular shaped ships with spires jutting out from all sides closed in on the Lambda Paz
. Both were about the length of the Starfleet ship’s saucer. “They’re charging weapons,” Morrison reported.
“Shields,” Kozar called.
The Sindareen ships began firing large silver energy projectiles that resembled Jem’Hadar plasma torpedoes.