Aurellan Markalis was once again tied to a chair in her quarters. She twitched her wrists hoping to loosen the ropes that bound her arms together on the back of the chair. She was still not having much luck and was now conceding that Darcen would carry out his attack on Ventani Two. She was also resigned to the fact that she would eventually cease to be a useful hostage and would be killed in a matter of days. Her only regrets were having embarked on this fool’s errand and never being able to tell her captain how sorry she was for going against her orders.
The doors slid open and Darcen entered with Limis. Markalis’s eyes widened in disbelief at the sight of her commanding officer. That Limis had her legs bound and her hands tied behind her back was in no way a good sign. Limis, herself, had been captured trying to rescue Markalis. “Captain,” she gasped. “How did you get here?”
“Does it matter now?” Limis replied.
Another augment stepped inside and set down a chair for Limis to sit upon. She was shoved down on the silver chair and tied down at the waste. Darcen then leaned on the right arm of the chair so their eyes met. “Now, Captain,” he said curtly. “How many other Starfleet officers are aboard my ship?”
“Dozens,” Limis lied. “You’re gonna have a bitch of a time finding them all.”
Rhys growled in annoyance at the obvious lie. He paced over to Aurellan’s chair and placed a knife on the right side of her neck. “Where’s your ship?” he demanded. “What is Starfleet doing to stop us?”
“My ship is on the way,” Limis confidently proclaimed. “And they’ll blow yours to atoms.”
“Not with the two of you on board.”
“We’re both expendable.”
Markalis looked at Darcen then at Limis. For a brief moment she got her hopes up. Now one of her colleagues was also condemned to death. She wanted to beg for her life, but knew it was futile. Both she and her captain were as good as dead. It was just a matter of when.
Darcen slammed the knife into floor. “Too bad,” he quipped. “You will not see our great triumph. That is why ‘normal’ humans and similarly handicapped races are afraid of us. You are not willing to see that we
are the future of humanity. Even Section 31, sworn to protect the Federation by any and all means necessary, tossed us aside.”
“Section 31,” Limis repeated. Now it all made sense. Agent Cole claimed his agency wanted to stop this bio-weapon because of potential astropolitical fallout. The real reason, Limis realized, was that Rhys was proceeding with a plan that Section 31 was unwilling to implement, despite having originally created this virus.
Darcen ignored her continuing his schpiel while squeezing Aurellan’s chin. “You are virtually one of us, my dear,” he said. “You should understand the need to make these hard choices during hard times. We are next of kin to gods.”
“Still with human frailties,” Markalis meekly replied after Darcen let go of her chin. “And devoid of compassion. Of all things, a god needs compassion.”
Limis couldn’t always say she agreed with that statement, but she was now intrigued by Darcen’s statement that Markalis was “one of us.” The only reason Julian Bashir was allowed to continue serving in Starfleet was some closed-door plea bargain. Then again, Limis was once in the Maquis, so Starfleet could conceivably waive the ban against human augments during the Dominion War.
The Lambda Paz
was at high warp on course for the Ventani Two. With time quickly running out, the ship no longer had the luxury of dodging Jem’Hadar and Cardassian patrols. In fact, it was on a course that would take it outside of the short-range sensor radius of a Jem’Hadar patrol.
Morrison monitored a set of blips on his tactical monitor while Kozar looked over his shoulder, ready to sound battle stations. Logan strode down the port side of the bridge, monitoring various auxiliary stations. He completed his circuit around the bridge by providing a few last power allocation adjustments to Huckaby at operations.
A Starfleet on the center of Morrison’s monitor symbolized the Lambda Paz
. Twelve Dominion logos spread out across both side of the screen indicated squadrons of Jem’Hadar attack ships and fighters moving closer and closer. “In sensor in forty-five seconds,” he whispered to Kozar. “Forty seconds… Thirty seconds.”
“Red alert,” Kozar called. Junior officers on the bridge began scrambling to auxiliary stations on both the port and starboard sides.
Logan sauntered over to the command chairs while tapping his comm-badge. “Bridge to engineering,” he said. “Mister Tarlazzi, prepare to reconfigure our engine emissions.”
” Tarlazzi answered over the comm. “We’ll look like a Dominion heavy cruiser once it’s done.
Kozar nodded a few more instructions to Morrison while heading for the center seat. “Bridge to sickbay,” he called. “Doctor, are you ready to implement your masquerade?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be to rouse the dead,
” the EMH retorted.
“Carson,” Kozar said to the alpha shift flight controller, “slow us to full impulse at increments of a hundred million kilometers per second per second.”
“They’re hailing us,” said Morrison.
“Put it on speakers,” Kozar replied.
A soft-spoken, yet confident, sounding voice piped through the ship-to-ship speakers. “We detected a Starfleet warp signature at your position. Now it is no longer registering.
“We noticed the same thing,” Kozar answered. “It was just a sensor ghost, trying to throw us off guard.”
” the Vorta said with a minor hint of skepticism. “Our scans also indicate your subspace field emitters are out of alignment. You risk being mistaken for a Federation ship.
Kozar was beginning to worry. He looked over at Morrison, who shook his head indicating the patrol was maintaining position. Mandel also knew to prepare for a firefight even knowing one ship could not stand against twelve squadrons of enemy vessels.
“Slow to quarter impulse and prepare for inspection,
” the Vorta continued.
“You wouldn’t want to risk harming a Founder, would you?” Kozar asked, uncertain that bluff would work.
A long pause followed. As each second passed, Kozar and Morrison were hoping they were running scans to verify the commander’s bluff. “My apologies,
” the Vorta said. “We did not realize you had a god walking amongst you.”
“They’re getting closer,” Morrison ominously whispered. “Almost in visual range.”
“Close the channel,” Kozar hissed. “Make it look like static. Warp speed, helm. Get us the hell out of here.”
“Aye, sir,” Carson replied, as her fingers danced across the controls to re-engage the warp drive.
“Any sign of pursuit?” Kozar asked, feeling he would not like the answer.
“No, sir. Probably beating their brains out wondering why that Dominion warp signature suddenly vanished.”
Kozar let out a relieved sigh. He sat down in the command chair almost certain they would not be so lucky next time.
“I’ll ask again,” Darcen hissed in Limis’s left ear. As she was being interrogated, she continued to twitch her wrists to loosen the ropes. “How many other ships are on the way to intercept us?”
Rhys had asked that question several times before, but Limis repeatedly feigned ignorance, despite having discussed plans with the commanders of the Seventh and Ninth Fleets. Markalis just watched from across the room wondering how long her captain could keep this up before Darcen snapped. He was feeling light-headed at times and becoming increasingly short-tempered. Maybe she could exploit this weakness like she did with Snežana. The question of how was difficult here with Grimaud potentially reading her thoughts while looking over her shoulder.
“If you really must know,” Limis said, “the whole damn Ninth Fleet will be waiting for you at Ventani.”
Darcen chortled while grabbing Limis on the neck. “Whom do you think you’re talking to?” he grumbled. “They wouldn’t leave Deep Space 9 and the Chin’toka sector unprotected even to stop us.”
“That’s my best guess. I’m not included in very many fleet briefings.”
Darcen socked Limis in the right eye and stood upright. “Stop playing games with me, Bajoran,” he huffed. “You should appreciate what I’m about to do to your people’s greatest enemies.”
Before Limis could reply, the comm chimed. “Excellency,
” Faroun’s voice called. “We’ve reached the Ventani System.
“Time to make history,” Darcen cheerfully proclaimed. “Faroun, drop us to impulse. I’m on my way.”
Limis lunged towards Darcen, slipping the ropes that had previously bound her wrists around his neck. Having been taken by surprise, he fell backwards as she pulled him down. He was also experiencing sharp pains in his forehead, which made sending him to the deck easier. During that exchange, Limis also fell backwards, allowing her to slip through the rope that had bound her to a sitting position.
Markalis could only watch nervously as her captain flung her chair at Darcen’s head. What was surprising to Aurellan was that Grimaud had not warned Rhys ahead of time to prevent such an altercation. All she did know about Grimaud’s telepathic abilities was how erratic they were. Aurellan then had to remind herself that the reason for Grimaud’s inaction was not important at this moment.
Both Limis and Darcen forced themselves upright at the same time, and they stood face to face. Before Limis could deliver a right hook at her opponent, Darcen lunged towards her, pinning her to the wall. “You got lucky that time,” he gloated. “I still have five
times your strength and reflexes twice as fast.” He arched his head around to glare at Grimaud while holding his right forearm to Limis’s clavicle. “You were supposed to warn me!” he snarled.
Grimaud was already put out by Rhys’s anger shortly before that outburst. His shoulders drooped, as he turned around dismayed to focus again on the prisoner he was supposed to be guarding. His eyes widened in surprise when he saw Ileana step through the door brandishing a phaser pistol. His response quickly alerted Rhys. He loosened his grip on Limis to confront his lover.
“Let these people go,” she implored, as they inched closer to each other. “Snežana’s right. Revenge is wasteful.”
“You, too?” Darcen replied. “Why?”
“Ever since you killed Diego, I see now that you have become just as much of a liability. What will killing these two accomplish? It’s more about your legacy, your ego, than about ending this war.”
“I don’t think you have it in you to kill me,” Rhys taunted. He grabbed the phaser from Ileana’s hand and hurled it across the room. He then gave an evil grin.
Ileana pulled a knife from her belt and lunged at Rhys. He grabbed both her wrists. Their equal strengths held their bodies in place. Deadlock. The only deciding factor now was if one of them winced in pain. Limis quietly watched these events unfold and considered this distraction the right moment to grab Darcen’s holstered phaser.
But she could not move. The nerve impulses did not fire. Not even a stray thought was in her mind, as if her brain was in stasis. All she could do was stand frozen while blinking her eyes. Time appeared to stand still. The room was eerily quiet. Not even the sound of breathing and hearts beating could be heard. Markalis looked around the room and saw Rhys and Ileana held motionless. She was still trying to loosen the restraints on her wrists. Maybe Grimaud figured that even if she did escape, she couldn’t fight off three augments herself. Maybe he lacked the strength to hold four people motionless. Or maybe something in his subconscious was holding him back.
“Grimaud,” Aurellan said in a partial whisper. “Let them go.”
Grimaud shook his head while staring at the floor as if embarrassed. His facial muscles tensed, suggesting he was terrified of the consequences of defying Darcen.
“You didn’t warn Rhys of Limis’s escape attempt,” Aurellan persisted. “I think that’s because you know that this whole venture is wrong
. If this attack goes forward, thousands of civilians will die. And the Dominion will certainly retaliate. It’ll be just the excuse the Founders need to use biological weapons against us.”
Grimaud looked straight ahead in the direction of Rhys and Ileana. In a split second, Darcen lowered the knife in Ileana’s hand and jammed it into her chest.
“Noooo!” Grimaud cried out to the surprise of everyone else in the room.
Darcen did not have much of a chance to gloat as he watched Ileana collapse to the floor, blood trickling down her torso and abdomen. He felt his phaser pistol being removed from his holster. He turned around to see Limis fire a lethal burst at his shoulder.
He fell to the floor with a look of embarrassment on his face. After all he had hoped to accomplish, he would die by his own weapon. “You can kill me,” he muttered, “but Faroun will still deploy the weapon.”
In a silent rage, Limis shot the dying man three more times in the chest.
Markalis had just been untied when she noticed what was taking place. “Limis, stop it,” she said, grabbing the captain’s right wrist. “He’s dead already.”
“You’d show him compassion,” Limis deadpanned, “after all the times he threatened to kill you.”
Markalis nodded silently.
“We still have to stop the weapon,” Limis said. Indicating Grimaud, she asked, “Can we trust him?”
Aurellan smiled at Grimaud, and he smiled back. “He just gave us reason to,” she replied.
“You head to the torpedo launch bay,” Limis instructed while retrieving the phaser Rhys had thrown aside and handing it to Markalis. ‘I’ll go to the bridge. Two of us against who knows how many augments. Doesn’t look good, but we have to try.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Markalis softly answered.
As the women left, Grimaud just stared at the dead bodies of his colleagues. As eccentric and misguided as Rhys and Ileana were, they were two of his closest friends. A single tear fell down his right cheek in silent mourning of their deaths and of Snežana eventual demise.
Ventani Two was an Earth-sized planet with a copper surface much like Cardassia Prime. It had no noticeable bodies of water leaving a layperson to wonder how it could possibly support humanoid life. The Phillip Green
closed in on the planet. None of the orbital patrols gave the small patrol vessel much thought. Right behind it, the Lambda Paz
dropped out of warp with phasers firing at its aft thrusters. The Green
returned fire with aft torpedoes.
The bridge rocked lightly from that hit. Kozar stood in front of the tactical station as Morrison closely monitored the tactical situation. “Is there a big enough hole in their shields to get a transporter beam through?” the commander inquired.
“Yes, sir,” Morrison answered. “Aft shields at forty percent effectiveness.”
“Assemble your away teams, then.”
Morrison called to a male Benzite ensign at the port mission operations console and motioned him to take over tactical before sprinting to the starboard turbolift.
Morrison and Neeley lead a five person team which also consisted of a human male, a native Rigelian male, and an Andorian zhen
from left to right. They skulked through a lower deck corridor dressed in vests designed to absorb most lethal phaser settings and armed energy projectile compression phaser rifles. The three MACO’s bringing up the rear turned around when two male augments began shooting at them from behind. Morrison turned around and pinned himself against a wall in response to the exchange of fire and motioned Neeley to duck against the opposite wall. Those two officers began to lay down cover fire while the other three were crouched down. The exchange of weapon fire went on for about a minute with no one going down. That was until the Rigelian in center took an energy projectile straight in the abdomen, sending him to the deck. The Andorian and human soldiers were clipped by phaser fire in the shoulders. The Andorian quickly gathered herself and fired, stunning the man on the right. The human soldier got his man, so he and the Andorian continued forward.
Down the corridor, two more augments—one male, one female—sprinted towards the team behind Morrison and Neeley. They began firing before the augments could. The female augment took another shot that clipped Morrison in the shoulder. Seeing that the male had a shot at Neeley, Morrison dove across the hall and shoved her to the deck. He shot the man while taking a point-blank shot in the chest. Neeley rolled her eyes as she shot the female augment, not sure whether her male colleague’s action was a display of heroism or just a foolish one of male chivalry.
Faroun silently watched the viewscreen as the ship inched closer to the planet. He was becoming increasingly anxious and impatient as the man at tactical to report. “In range?” he demanded.
“Not enough for the maximum dispersal,” said Aymar, whose dark brown skin and short black hair suggested East Indian ancestry.
“Come on. Come on
!” Faroun growled. He was beginning to buckle under his fear that Darcen was dead after he had not yet reported back to the bridge after his announcement that the ship had entered the system. “Prepare a manual lock.”
“Manual?” Aymar repeated to make sure he heard the order correctly.
“Starfleet sensors will detect a weapons lock. With luck, they’ll need more time to extrapolate the torpedo’s trajectory.”
“Anything yet?” Kozar asked, waiting to see what the Phillip Green
would do next on the viewscreen.
“No, sir,” the Benzite relief tactical officer replied. After a quick chirp, he looked down at a sensor readout. “Wait, torpedo has been launched at the planet.”
Keeping his calm, Kozar bolted for the helm. “Nothing personal, Carson,” he said, “but should take the helm here.”
“No problem,” Carson deadpanned, relinquishing her seat.
Each second that passed seemed like an eternity. The Lambda Paz
arched upward above the Phillip Green and made a hard starboard turn towards the planet. As the torpedo carrying the deadly biological agent crept closer and closer to the planet’s outer atmosphere, the Lambda Paz
veered towards it. Three quantum torpedoes erupted from the dorsal sensor pod and closed in on the first torpedo, scattering it to pieces harmlessly over the planet.
Kozar saw this take place on the viewscreen and stared at it as the rest of the bridge fell silent. “Report,” he said, as the minute of silence made him more and more nervous.
“No sign of viral contamination, sir,” Huckaby answered from the Ops console.
Kozar let out a sigh of relief falling backwards into his chair. He and Carson grinned triumphantly at each other and they locked hands in a congratulatory hand shake. True, the lives they saved were Cardassian. But they may have saved many more lives by preventing the Dominion from being provoked into using biological warfare.