Ramirez looked over the large-screen medical display, and then directed an impatient frown at Lieutenant Taiee. “Okay, I give up, what am I looking at here?” She was standing in one of Gibraltar’s
operating theaters, which also doubled as an isolation exam room. On the two tables behind them lay the Cardassian survivors of the Vintar
, rescued a day earlier by Klingon forces during their search of the vessel’s hulk.
The nurse practitioner stepped forward to point to several locations of the Cardassian’s scan highlighted on the display. “The other patient’s injuries appear consistent with exposure to rapid decompression and prolonged oxygen deprivation, but this one’s a different matter.” She tapped at the display’s control interface. “This is a cross section diagram of his prefrontal cortex. The spots that I’ve marked in orange are regions of synaptic degradation.”
“That a result of head trauma?”
“No, sir. Blunt force trauma would show up differently.” Taiee turned to fix a concerned expression on the XO. “If I had to guess -- and mind you the EMH agrees with me -- what we’re seeing here is the result of exposure to direct synaptic stimulation.”
“So, some kind of brain scan?” Ramirez looked bewildered.
Taiee nodded. “Yes, a very specific kind. The technical term for it is ‘invasive neuro-synaptic induction,’ more popularly known as the Klingon mind sifter.”
Ramirez’s expression darkened. “I thought use of that device was outlawed in the Khitomer Accords.”
“It was, sir.”
The exec turned to look at the Cardassian, feeling an unaccustomed swell of pity for the man. Even for a Cardassian, for an insurgent fighter, to have your intellect ripped asunder… layer by layer, memory by memory. “They’ve tortured them. They’ve tortured them, and now they want us to patch them up and send them back for more.”
“So it would seem, sir.” Taiee was no stranger to the many kinds of cruelty sentient species could visit upon one another. During the war, her mobile surgical unit had been the closest facility to a liberated Cardassian prisoner-of-war camp. The Starfleet personnel and Federation civilians that she treated had been horribly brutalized. At the time, Issara had secretly wished to see such violations inflicted upon the Cardassians in return. That she could have harbored such thoughts, however fleeting and understandable given the circumstances, shamed her now. “I won’t allow it, of course. I don’t care if the head of Starfleet Medical herself orders them released to the Klingons.”
Ramirez’s eyes narrowed. “Not going to happen.” She moved for the exit. “Do what you can for them, Lieutenant.”
M’Sharv walked along the line of kneeling prisoners, his d’k tagh
clutched tightly in his left hand. “You are now prisoners of the Klingon Empire!” he bellowed. The burly warrior paused at the end of the line just long enough to belt one of the Cardassians across the back of the head with the spike studded end of the blade’s handle. The man fell forward with a grunt, arms still secured tightly behind him.
Lar’ragos looked on, his security team arrayed behind him. The lieutenant held up a hand, stopping the team’s medic in his tracks as he had started towards the now injured Cardassian. The rest of the Starfleet contingent shifted uneasily in their armor, less from rising heat of the midmorning, he imagined, then from what they were observing.
For Lar’ragos the scene held a powerful sense of nostalgia. How many cities, towns, and villages like this one had he conquered or laid waste at the behest of his former masters? He realized with a sudden thrill of familiarity why he loathed M’Sharv so potently, despite having just met the man. Four hundred years earlier it had been Lar'ragos giving this rousing little speech, or one very much like it.
The grizzled Klingon continued, “For those of you who do not understand the concept of empire, allow me to explain. You and your fellow Cardassians are now servants to the Klingon race. You are now and for all time jeghpu’wI’
. Serve us well, and you will survive to enjoy some semblance of the lives you once knew. Disobey us… or worse, and you will be slaughtered like livestock, your bodies and those of your loved ones left for carrion birds!” He walked to a position from where the ranks of kneeling insurgents could all see him. “So there is no misunderstanding, you are less now than the Bajorans once were to you.”
One of the prisoners spat loudly towards M’Sharv, his effort falling short by meters. The man’s expression radiated a hatred so visceral that the air around him almost seemed to oscillate with it. The QaS DevwI’
drew his disruptor pistol with blinding speed, vaporizing the offending insurgent where he knelt. M’Sharv holstered his weapon slowly. “Let that be your first lesson.” The eyes of the other Cardassians lowered, none among them willing to chance M’Sharv’s wrath.
It took every ounce of control Lar'ragos possessed to stay his hand. He ached to intervene, to step up and confront M’Sharv. He seethed with the desire to humiliate the QaS DevwI’
, to break the man in front of his warriors. But Lar’ragos knew that Klingon honor would demand satisfaction for such an act. The likelihood was that after Pava and his team had been dispatched by M’Sharv’s men, Gibraltar
and his crewmates would end up paying the remainder of the tab.
Instead, he flipped his helmet faceplate shut, activating the long range comms. “Lar’ragos to Gibraltar
, I need to speak with the captain immediately.”
The door to the captain’s ready room opened to admit Ramirez. As soon as Sandhurst glanced up, he could tell she was angry. He waved her towards the chair sitting opposite his desk. “Have a seat.” She clearly would have rather remained standing, but sat anyway.
“The Klingons have been torturing those prisoners.”
“I know.“ Sandhurst met her gaze evenly.
Her eyes blazed. “And you’re just going to hand them back? Knowing what they’ll be subjected to?” The challenge in her tone was unmistakable.
The captain leaned back in his chair, content to keep his own counsel for the moment.
“This is outrageous! I can’t believe you’re going to allow the Klingons to walk all over us!” The expression on her face was a mix of disbelief and contempt.
He observed her silently for another moment, trying to decide how far he should push this. “You’re talking about the people who shot Phoenix
out from under you, Commander. Are you so sure you want to defend their rights as prisoners of war?”
Ramirez sat forward, her anger palpable. “How dare
you ask me that! Nobody’s more aware than I what these people have cost us. That doesn’t excuse our turning a blind eye to these prisoners being tortured by our honorable
allies. I swore an oath on the day I earned this uniform, the same oath you took…”
She came up short as Sandhurst began laughing spitefully.
“You really don’t understand me at all, do you Commander?” He shook his head, his disappointment evident. “I’ve no intention of allowing those Cardassians to be transferred into Klingon custody. In fact, Starfleet regulations specifically prohibit rendering prisoners to the supervision of any third party who isn’t a signatory to the Seldonis Convention governing treatment of detainees.” He moved forward suddenly to stand and brace his arms on the desk as he glared across at Ramirez. “But you just assumed that I’d knuckle under to K’Vada.” He sneered, “I’m so glad I’ve earned your confidence.”
In response to Sandhurst’s aggressive posture, Ramirez rose to her feet as well. Despite his size advantage, Ramirez was undaunted. “Maybe I’d know that, Captain
, if you’d spend any time at all talking with your first officer! Whenever you want to bounce ideas off somebody, instead of looking to me you lock yourself away in here with Lieutenant Lar’ragos.” A flicker of uncertainty shone in the captain’s eyes, and sensing vulnerability, Ramirez forged ahead. “What happened to your needing
me on this mission? You’ve asked for my input on the insurgency exactly once. The rest of the time you seem content if I stay out from under foot.”
His malicious reply evaporated on his tongue. Sandhurst’s shoulders sagged, and he pushed back from the desk, resuming his seat heavily. “Touché
Caught off guard by Sandhurst’s abrupt change of mien, Ramirez nevertheless held her ground.
Sandhurst rubbed the back of his neck absently as he muttered, “For what it’s worth, Ramirez, I’m glad you haven’t let your personal feelings about the Cardassians influence your ethics.”
She regarded him warily. “And you feel you have?”
Sandhurst fought back a defeated sigh. “I think that I’ve made far too many compromises here, while failing to do anything proactive. We came here to help these people. Now, their planet is burning down around them, and all we’ve to show for it is hundreds of civilian and Starfleet dead.”
Ramirez offered, “Our own personal Kobayashi Maru?”
“Something like that.”
“Bridge to Captain Sandhurst.”
“Sir, priority message from Lieutenant Lar’ragos on the surface.”
“Acknowledged, put it through.”
There was a brief pause before Pava’s voice announced, “Captain, we’ve got a situation developing down here. Our attack on the suspected insurgent position was a success, and we’ve netted seventeen prisoners. However, the commander of the Klingon contingent has already executed one of them, and if we don’t act soon there’s sure to be more unnecessary casualties among the POW’s.”
Sandhurst stood, rounded the desk and made for the door. “Understood, Lieutenant. Are the prisoners in an area where we could beam them all out at once?” He passed through the parting doors and onto the bridge, Ramirez on his heels.
“Negative, sir. The POW’s are all in one location, but we’ve yet to pinpoint the sensor jamming device that prevented us from scanning the village prior to our assault. It’s very doubtful you could get a transporter lock on any of us.”
Sandhurst murmured, “Of course,” under his breath as he took his place in the center seat. “Transporter room one, can you get a positive lock on anyone inside the village?”
“Stand by, sir. Scanning… No, sir, sensor interference at those coordinates is preventing us from getting an accurate lock.”
“Acknowledged.” The captain looked to Ramirez, who had assumed her seat in the well. “Thoughts, Commander?”
She pondered the question for the briefest of moments, then replied, “I’d recommend a two part strategy, sir. First, we have Lar’ragos and his team look for the sensor scrambler. Meanwhile, we talk with K’Vada, try and get him to reign in his people. If nothing else, we might stall them for a bit.”
“Good idea.” Sandhurst tapped at his armrest display. "Commander, you get in touch with Lar’ragos and relay his new orders.” He stood. “Open communications with the Kang
“Aye, Captain. Channel open.”
His guts knotting with tension, Sandhurst wondered how he might sway the imposing Klingon general. K’Vada shouldn’t give a damn what a Starfleet captain’s opinion was of his tactics, but perhaps there was some way he could make the man see reason.
General K’Vada appeared on screen, looking dour. “What do you want, Captain?”
And here we go,
Sandhurst steeled himself. “General, it appears we have a developing situation on the surface. Some of your ground forces are abusing the prisoners in our joint custody. This makes our participation somewhat problematic.”
K’Vada looked pained. “Speak plainly, Captain. I have no stomach for subtleties.”
Sandhurst pursed his lips. “Fine. I request you order your troops to stop killing the Cardassian prisoners, sir.”
“You’ve made your feelings clear on this matter, Captain. If you are uncomfortable with how we treat those we’ve conquered, I suggest you withdraw your surface team.”
Sandhurst felt a growing surge of anger. "The Cardassians aren't a conquered people, General. If you'll remember, they joined our cause and helped turn the tide against the Dominion at the last minute, paying a terrible price in the process. Our occupation of their territory is merely to help stabilize their government and economy."
"That makes them all the more dangerous, Captain," K'Vada growled. "I would have more respect for the Cardassians had they not betrayed their alliance to the Dominion. They proved beyond all doubt that they cannot be trusted, and will turn their backs on any pact if it suits their whims."
Sandhurst floundered, fighting for purchase in the face of K'Vada's indignation. "I believe we can still work together to accomplish something on Lakesh, General… salvage something worthwhile from all this chaos.”
He poured every ounce of conviction he could into the next statement. “But as long as your men continue to torture and execute helpless prisoners, I can’t offer you any further assistance.”
K’Vada sat back slightly in his throne-like command chair and inclined his head. “Your actions at Lakesh have been duly noted. Your continued presence here is not required.”
"I'm sorry?" The captain frowned uncertainly.
“You are ordered to withdraw from the Crolsa system, Captain. You may gather your civilian transports and depart.”
His face reddened, and Sandhurst countered, “I thought we had addressed this issue, sir. I’ll need confirmation from Starfleet Command before I can--”
K’Vada cut him off. “It would be a mistake to treat this as a request, Captain Sandhurst.” He gestured sharply to someone off screen.
An alert warbled at the Operations station. Ensign Browder announced, “Sir, a Klingon K’Vort
-class cruiser has just decloaked directly astern.”
The general looked entirely too satisfied as K’Vada observed Sandhurst with detached amusement. “I am certain confirmation from your admiralty will be forthcoming. In the meantime, the Grolkam
will provide an escort to the edge of the system.”
“General, we still have Starfleet personnel unaccounted for on the surface. I would ask for time enough to recover our people.” Sandhurst’s expression hardened.
“Request denied, Captain. You may be sure that if we find your missing crew, they will be well cared for and returned to you as soon as is practical.” K’Vada seemed to consider something for a moment. “Before you depart, you will beam the two prisoners aboard the Kang.
“With respect, sir, I will do no such thing.” Sandhurst’s reply was immediate, and he took pleasure in standing his ground.
For an instant it appeared as though K’Vada would press the issue. Then he smiled that same unnerving sneer that Sandhurst had seen in his ready room. “No matter. We have others now who will give us the information we need.” He waved a hand dismissively. “I bid you farewell, Captain.”
As he considered the dwindling options open to him, Sandhurst weighed taking a stand on moral grounds against starting an interstellar incident with the Klingons. It was a battle he was sure to lose. Both his crew and the survivors of Phoenix
had been through enough. This planet and this mission had already bled Captain Awokou’s original task force white.
Sandhurst refused to sacrifice anyone else on the altar of his own pride. He gradually became aware that the entire bridge crew awaited his next command with baited breath. “Commander Ramirez, recall our away team. Ops, order all relief ships into convoy formation and have them standby for departure.” He turned back to the view screen and the captain frowned at the image of K’Vada. “It appears I have little choice other than to comply with your instructions, General. For whatever good it does, be advised that I take this action under protest, and will lodge a formal complaint with Starfleet Command regarding your treatment of prisoners of war.”
“Words, Captain. Merely words. On the day the Federation comes to realize that a single decisive act is more potent than all the words ever spoken… on that day you will become worthy allies of the Empire.” The Kang
terminated the comlink, leaving Sandhurst staring at the blank viewer.
As he sat back down in his command chair, Sandhurst muttered, “I really
dislike that man.” He took measure of his bridge, and the captain saw that the assembled officers and crew were beginning to relax now that the chances of an armed confrontation with the Klingons appeared to be dwindling.