The Emergency Medical Hologram Mark III was rather nonplussed while he held a metal cane with a circular rubber tip with rectangular plastic handle. He continued inspecting the cane from top to bottom and left to right, both showing interest in its mundane features and feigning excitement at received such a strange gift from Aurellan Markalis.
“I found it in the replicator database,” she explained with a nervous smile, hoping to fill an awkward silence. She looked up the holographic representation of a human male, who stood at a little less than a foot taller than her, and saw that his enthusiasm did not seem very genuine. “I thought this one best suited you.”
“I know how resourceful Starfleet-issue pattern replication devices are,” the hologram retorted. He walked from the entryway from Aurellan’s office to the sickbay’s to primary monitoring console. He tested out the cane as he walked, holding it with his right hand even though the limp was in his left leg. “But why would you think I needed a cane?” he asked, heading back to the office doorway. “My limp is the result of an optronic error the ship’s engineers can’t be bothered to fix, not any deficits in mobility.”
“That aside, a cane adds an air of… distinction,” Aurellan flatly attempted. “I’ve been helping you fit in better with the crew, and this is one more way I wanted to do that… And you need to hold it with your left hand to take pressure off the left leg.”
“That’s good to know,” the EMH replied, strutting towards the secondary biobeds with the cane in his left hand this time, “even though you still proceed from a false assumption that it’s needed to improve my mobility. But I accept your gift in the spirit in which it was given.”
Ronnie Kozar called over the comm-system, “report to the observation lounge. Staff briefing.”
“On my way, sir,” Markalis said with a tap of her combadge. Then to the EMH, she rhetorically asked, “You’ll hold down the fort?”
“You needn’t ask since I always do,” the EMH answered, seeing Aurellan off with an antiquated military salute.
Shinar sh'Aqba fell back hard on the floor of the living area of her quarters, naked and breathing heavily. She felt itches across her body, resulting from the fabric of the carpet rubbing against bare skin. Erhlich Tarlazzi rolled over, lying on his back next to her. He smiled deviously. Sh'Aqba, however, stared at the door. They were behind a coffee table, though that did not alleviate the anxiety of knowing that someone could walk in on them at any moment. The door was locked, but any security or medical officer could override the lock with the proper authorization.
"Well, I'm on duty," sh'Aqba announced, quickly standing up to gather up the clothes she had shed a few minutes earlier.
Tarlazzi sat up slowly. As he was gathering his clothing, he took several quick glimpses at the Andorian woman's fully nude body. It was a sight both fascinating and disturbing at the same time. While sh'Aqba had most of the physical characteristics of a humanoid woman, she was not entirely female in the anatomical sense. He always knew that the Andorian species had four sexes, but never understood what that meant until now.
Sh'Aqba had slipped on a black undergarment that went down to her upper abdomen when she heard the door chime. She ignored it and continued gathering up her uniform, and the doorbell chimed a second time. “Do not unlock that door yet,” she snapped, wagging her right forefinger at the entrance and fumbling her trousers around with the other hand.
Upon fastening her trousers, she coaxed a still shirtless Tarlazzi into the bedroom. He flailed the two articles of clothing, a light gray tank top in one hand and a gold uniform tunic in the other, in expression of confusion of where Shinar was escorting him.
“Just stay in the closet while I get rid of them,” she told him, tapping the door panel to the right of the closet door. The doors parted and Shinar firmly nudged Ehrlich into the closet. He remained tongue-tied while obliging with her request.
On her way back to the living area, Shinar hurriedly slid her arms into the sleeves of her gold tunic, zipped it halfway up, and threw on her black and gray jacket. “Come in,” she called as she made a few adjustments to her hair. But then she realized the door was still locked, and entered the lock code on a panel next to the door.
Ronnie Kozar stepped through the door with a look of confusion on his face at how disheveled Shinar still appeared. “I’m sorry,” she stuttered nervously as she adjusted the cuffs on her uniform. “I overslept a bit and I have quite a hectic day today.”
“You’ve been doing that a lot lately,” Kozar replied skeptically. “You didn’t answer my page, and the captain called a meeting of the senior staff.”
“Well, like I said,” sh’Aqba reiterated, hoping that Kozar would leave, so that she would be able sneak her visitor out of her cabin. “a hectic day ahead of me.”
“Well, I’ll let you fix yourself up a little more,” Kozar replied, as if he knew something else was going on. “But hurry it up, since the meeting starts in five minutes.”
He was about to leave when he heard a crash inside Shinar’s quarters. Ronnie poked his head inside, while Shinar just tried act as if she didn’t hear it. “Is someone else in there with you?” he asked.
Before Shinar could answer, Erhlich burst out of the closet with his uniform jacket halfway on and his gold tunic zipped just below the collar. “Pardon me, sir,” he said with an embarrassed nod in Kozar’s direction. Then to Shinar while indicating nothing in particular inside the closet, he said, “I’ll just pick that stuff up later.”
“I didn’t see anything,” Kozar assured sh’Aqba. Remembering having to referee a dispute between her and Tarlazzi a year earlier, he joked, "At least you’re accepting Tarlazzi as one of the crew. I’ll see you both in the briefing lounge."
Sh’Aqba was not amused. She sighed derisively, as she nudged Tarlazzi out of her cabin. “You go on ahead of me,” she whispered. “I’ll catch up.” She shooed both men away and quickly closed the door, relieved that the situation did not become any more embarrassing. It was bad enough that she had forsaken her marital vows to her three bondmates by having a frivolous sexual liaison with a Klingon officer. When she declared she had no intention of marrying him either, she was declared an undesirable in the Klingon Empire. Figuring then that she had nothing more to lose, she gave in to her feelings for Tarlazzi. But that was a relationship she wanted to keep secret from the rest of the crew since not everyone would feel a romance with her immediate subordinate was appropriate.
Kozar entered the briefing lounge from the bridge, shaking his head in annoyance that both sh’Aqba and Tarlazzi were still conspicuously absent. But his derisive expression quickly became an approving nod when he saw Markalis step in through the side door and on time as usual. She took a seat at the end of the side of the table opposite the bridge entrance without making eye contact with any of the other officers in the room.
Mandel Morrison was already seated on that side of the table, suspiciously eyeing Sara Carson and Lisa Neeley, who were seated next to each other on the opposite side, certain that his most recent ex-girlfriends had exchanged disparaging secrets about him. Rarely were those two ever at staff briefings to date, but to Kozar’s surprise, Commander Chaz Logan was seated across from Morrison. As chief engineer of the entire Seventh Fleet, Logan was on a different ship each week, rather than just on the Lambda Paz
where he was formerly the chief engineer. It just so happened that Logan on the Lambda Paz
when Captain Limis Vircona called this meeting.
Just as Kozar took a seat at the head of the table facing the forward the viewport, Limis stepped into the briefing room from the bridge. She was working a padd when she noticed sh’Aqba enter from the side entrance.
“Nice of you to join us, Lieutenant,” Limis half-sarcastically remarked to express her displeasure with the engineer’s tardiness. As captain, though, Limis was entitled, especially after coming out of a prolonged communiqué with Starfleet Command.
A few seconds later, Tarlazzi stepped into briefing room from the side entrance. “Same to you, Tarlazzi,” Limis said with a stern stare at both him and sh’Aqba, indicating to them that she was not at all fooled by their arrivals through different doors. She slowly sauntered over to the head of the table closest to the viewport and gently set down the padd. Everyone else in the briefing could sense at that moment that the captain had some very disturbing news.
Limis stared silently at each of the officers present. And with each passing second, Kozar got the sense that she wanted to put off delivering that disturbing news as long as possible. “There’s been an attack on Earth,” she somberly announced to the group.
With a sudden slip, Kozar's arms dislodged from the table. His mind went numb as he jumped to the worst conclusions, indeed it seemed the worst had happened. He was not the only one looking stunned, many of his fellow officers showed similar expressions, uncertain how to process this information.
“The Breen razed several major cities,” Limis continued through the morbid silence that filled the room, “including San Francisco. The First and Third Fleets were able to destroy almost all of the attacking ships only after major damage had been done. What’s left of Headquarters reports at least two million dead.”
“Are they in league with the Dominion now?” Kozar wondered, dreading the answer to that question.
“Intelligence has documented instances of the Dominion commissioning the Breen for various hit and run attacks,” Limis clarified. “The attack on the Free Haven colony on Stardate 49903, for example. But an attack of this scope is the first indication of a formal alliance.
“As a result of this attack, a large number of ships from the Seventh, Tenth, and Twelfth Fleets are being redeployed to defend core systems. We need to be prepared for our new assignment, wherever it is. Mister Morrison, I want full diagnostics on all weapons and defensive systems. Lieutenant Neeley, coordinate with Morrison conducting a complete inventory of all weapons. How many battle drills are currently scheduled?”
Neeley diverted her reluctant gaze away from Morrison, who was resisting the urge to flash a teasing grin in her direction as a reminder that they still had to work closely together during such a somber moment. “We currently run two every other day,” she said while quietly gritting her teeth in Morrison’s direction.
“As of now, those drills are now three times every day,” Limis firmly replied. She remained calm and collected while terrified that the Breen could just as easily target Bajor after she promised her son he would be safe there. “Lieutenant sh’Aqba, see that warp and impulse engines are operating at peak efficiency. Tarlazzi, do a complete recrystallization of all dilithium reserves along with diagnostics on all matter-antimatter regulators. Carson, pull all the personnel you can spare to work out the problems with the gyros stabilizers and inertial compensators. Doctor Markalis, make sure all medical stores are at full capacity.”
Each officer quietly nodded upon receiving his or her orders, still not sure of the long-term consequences of this latest development in the war. Kozar kept his head up to maintain a sense of assuredness around his subordinate officers. As he took quick glances at each of them, he considered how the attack on Earth affected each of them personally, even the non-human officers.
Sh’Aqba had an expression of dread on her face, wondering whether this attack on Earth was only the first of future attacks on that planet and other core worlds such as Andor.
Tarlazzi was just as concerned his home planet Rigel Seven was similarly vulnerable.
Morrison had attended Starfleet Academy on Earth, and while having grown up on Setlik Three, he certainly had friends residing or serving on Earth.
Carson and Neeley both had immediate family on Earth, and they exchanged worried looks regarding the welfare and safety of their relatives.
In addition to family, Logan had a number of long-time colleagues at Utopia Planitia who might have been casualties of the attack.
Markalis’s demeanor appeared as calm and fearless as it almost always did, even though the welfare of her relatives most certainly came to mind.
“And, Mister Logan,” Limis concluded with a hesitant sigh. “You’re the expert on Luna
-class starships. I specifically asked for you in this meeting to tell you to make sure every
system is in working order. I do not
surprises on the field of battle…”
A comm chime then sounded, interrupting Limis. “Bridge to the captain,”
said a male voice. “Another urgent message from Starfleet Command on a secure channel.”
“I’ll take it in the ready room,” Limis replied with an annoyed scoff. Without dismissing the other officers, she strutted out of the briefing room, leaving them to silently consider their tasks ahead.
Yelgrun entered the private chamber of Thot Jroln while still fidgeting with his breathing apparatus. In all of his previous negotiations, or rather those of his preceding three clones, the Breen representatives were the ones who dressed to accommodate themselves in alien atmospheres. This would probably be the first time one of the Vorta, or any representative of the Dominion, would see what a Breen looked like without its refrigeration suit.
Various gases billowed throughout the chamber. While deadly to almost any humanoid race, they were vital to a Breen’s survival. Yelgrun had heard conflicting second and third hand reports that the Breen Confederacy was comprised of multiple sentient species of varying biological and physiological makeups. He thought their stubborn refusal to reveal themselves was annoying. But now, he was forced to put on a breathing apparatus and a thermal jacket, both of which felt very tight fitting.
“You summoned me, Thot Jroln,” the Vorta said, trying to maintain his diplomatic calmness while beginning to wonder if anyone else was even in the room. “Wherever you are,” he muttered half-sarcastically.
A humanoid-sized insectoid figure emerged from the billowing gases. Like most insects originating from Class-M worlds, it had bulging eyes and a long mandible jutting from its mouth. It had the intimidating face of a mantis and the compound eyes of a fly. Its mandible was curved like a beetle and sharp on the inner portions like a bull ant. Its arms resembled lobster appendages, but with the flexibility of a lifeform with no skeletal structure. In addition to breathing, the chemical composition of the gases served the purpose of allowing this species of Breen to stand upright without the refrigeration suits. Other than the refrigeration suits, the Breen, or this species of Breen, did not see much practical benefit in wearing exterior drapings.
“Much apologies, Yel-Gron,”
Jroln said through a translator that could not fully keep up with its hisses and clicks. It was a disconcerting sensation for Yelgrun, but he tolerated it since it was the best means communication at the moment. “Outsiders, we regularly do not reveal ourselves. But your Do-minni-un, great promises for us and all species of Breen. Attack on hoo-mun planet, successful. Most of our ships lost, many great soldiers dead. But much damage done. Fear of more attacks on their planet great.”
“Very good,” Yelgrun replied to nod. “The Founder will be pleased to hear it. We could use some good news the way the war has been going lately. How long before the rest of your ships reach this sector?”
“Fresh ships, arrive here in ten of your hours,”
Jroln responded. “Enemy attacks in Betreka Nebula and Briar Patch repelled soon.”
“Keep me posted until those ships arrive.” Yelgrun nodded and slowly headed back towards the main entrance, hoping to remove the mask from his face before it completely cut off circulation to his brain.
“One more request,”
Jroln hissed, eliciting an impatient sigh from the Vorta. “My appearance, you will not reveal to Car-dassi-yons, Sindareen, or Son’ah.”
“Of course not,” Yelgrun huffed, wondering what exactly they were hiding. “They have no need to know as long your people get the job done.”
“Assurances, you have, Yel-Gron. Go now.”
“Thank you,” Yelgrun calmly said, as he reminded himself on the way out that the Thot’s rudeness was not intentional, but simply the result of a radically different language structure.