It is written,
Man shall not live by bread alone,
But by every word that proceedeth,
Out of the mouth God.
Cemetery of Dead Ships
The Lambda Paz
had been on search and rescue patrol for the last two days while it and other ships in the Seventh Fleet were on course for the Minakus system. A dozen hospital ships were part of the battle group, standing by to receive a massive number of casualties.
Captain Limis had grown more and more anxious with each passing moment. Six days had passed, and not so much as a single escape pod. That didn’t necessarily mean that no one survived the battle, though it was a strong possibility considering how thorough the Jem’Hadar were in eliminating a target. And if no one survived, the loss of life would be far greater than at the disastrous Battle of Tyra. We’re bound to suffer much greater losses of life before we reach Cardassia Prime,
As much she believed Admiral Jellico to be a pompous windbag, Limis had also thought of him as a father figure. She barely knew her real parents, but even at forty years of age, she still looked to older individuals to advise her and protect her from herself. As much as she disdained Jellico’s rigid nature, she had learned from him the appropriate moments to reach out to her crew and when to lay down the law on the most insolent of subordinates. News of his death would be like losing a parent all over again. Then again, he was only one man among the thirty thousand men and women currently unaccounted for.
“Approaching the coordinates,” Carson called, which brought Limis back to reality.
Limis was about to respond, but couldn’t find the right words. Kozar took a quick glance in her direction, and then towards the conn. “Slow to half impulse,” he commanded.
“Reading a large number of vessels ahead,” Morrison reported.
“Surviving ships?” Limis asked, trying not to get her hopes up.
“Maybe,” Morrison said with slight hesitation. He worked the controls of his station, shaking his head in frustration. “It’s tough to make out with the EM interference. Mister Huckaby, can you compensate?”
“Trying,” Lieutenant Huckaby said with a similar look of confusion, “but so far, no active subspace fields… negligible power readings.”
“In visual range,” Carson said.
Now we might know something,
the captain thought, as she stood up and sauntered closer to the viewscreen. “On screen,” she ordered aloud.
The field of distant stars on the viewscreen was replaced with a far more gruesome sight. Ahead of the Lambda Paz
was a graveyard of broken and battered hulls. Pieces of debris of varying sizes—the remains of an Excelsior
class vessel’s saucer section, broken warp nacelles of an Akira
-class destroyer, weapon ports of a Klingon Bird-of-Prey
—floated through the endless depths of space. The remains of a navigational deflector lit up the dark expanse, creating a sense of morbidity throughout the bridge. From the concentration of the debris that seemed to spread across millions of kilometers, one could deduce that all 150 ships in Constantinople
’s battle group had been mercilessly torn apart.
“Is that all of it?” Kozar grimly inquired as he slowly rose from his chair.
“From what I can tell,” Morrison somberly inquired, “that’s everything within a radius 0.64 AU’s.”
“Anything to indicate even one surviving ship within the debris?” Limis persisted while almost certain no one survived this massacre. She was not about to give up that easily, especially knowing of the sense of loss Kozar and Morrison felt, as they had served under Jellico in some capacity over the last decade.
“Afraid not,” Morrison responded, trying not to look at the viewscreen.
“We may know more as we keep trying to cut through all the inference,” Huckaby said with hollow reassurance. “But it doesn’t look good. From what we can tell, all 150 ships in this area have been destroyed.”
A long moment of silence followed, with the death toll being anywhere between fifteen and twenty thousand—perhaps thirty thousand, assuming no one survived. Again, the graveyard of ships up ahead was a harrowing reminder of how ruthless and efficient Jem’Hadar and Breen soldiers were.
Huckaby’s voice once again filled the silence. “Hold on,” he said, with a slight hint of cautious optimism. “Sensors are picking up several dozen escape pod distress beacons, along with a few runabouts and type-nine shuttlecraft.”
“Conn, triangulate the locations of those distress beacons and set a course,” Limis ordered with renewed hope. “Ops, alert sickbay to prepare all triage wards for survivors and signal all hospital ships to follow us in.”
Doctor Markalis led a group of medical personnel through her office and into the primary intensive care unit, where the EMH-Mark Three and T’Pren were among the doctors assembled in front of the two main biobeds. Engineering and medical technicians slipped into the sickbay through a back entrance, wheeling in additional instrument trays and scanning devices, as well as foldout cots in preparation for having more patients than the standard arrangement of six biobeds.
Markalis was about to address her staff when a male technician entered, carrying a crate full of empty intravenous fluid packs. She gestured for him to set the crate down on the floor in front of one of the main biobeds.
“As you all know,” she told the assembled doctors and nurses, “we’re about to take on large numbers of wounded. The most critical cases are being taken to triage wards one and two. Doctor T’Pren, you and the EMH will see to those patients.” She was quietly amused that her lover didn’t have a name other than simply Emergency Medical Hologram-Mark Three. It may have been impersonal, but his means of identification was one of the farthest things from Aurellan’s mind. He was simply her kindred spirit. With little time to spare, she quickly put those thoughts aside, adding, “The primary sickbay facilities will also be taking in the most critically injured.”
Medical personnel began moving around in every direction, heading for their assigned areas. The EMH and T’Pren were calling the names of the doctors and nurses to accompany them to the triage wards. As Markalis supervised a technician who was filling an intravenous fluid pack, she overheard two male interns whose names hadn’t been called wondering where they were going. Just a quick glance at the two youthful men—one a blond, the other a brunette—she instantly recognized them as Doctors Chambers and Erickson.
“I’ll take ward one if you take two,” the blond-haired man said. “I get dibs on the coronary revascularization.”
Markalis snorted in disgust, remembering her internship year and how she wasn’t as callous as her peers who regarded patients and surgeries as commodities to be bargained for.
“How ‘bout we rock-padd-laser drill for it,” Erickson, the brunette, answered.
“No, no,” said Chambers. “Rock-padd-laser drill-starjelly-Captain Proton…”
“How ‘bout you boys go where I tell you?” Markalis snapped at them as they put their fists out in preparation for the parlor game. “Erickson, you have ward one. Chambers, there’s a rectal exam with your name on it in ward four.” Of course, she hadn’t seen all the patient diagnoses, but assigning Chambers one of the most embarrassing and invasive medical procedures seemed the best way to keep the obnoxious young man in line.
The corridors were crowded with medical personnel bringing in patients on anti-gravity stretchers. Commander Ellison was by Gregor Kopolev’s side while also directing traffic. The engineer had third degree plasma burns on his hands, face, and chest—possibly incurred when he was overseeing the evacuation of Constantinople
’s secondary hull.
Ellison had plenty of time to ruminate on how he would continue to be a source of inspiration for his crew. Now that they had been rescued, he felt even more determined to stay the course and try to instill that determination on those men and women who had served under him for two years or longer.
“You’re going to pull through,” he assured the engineer, as they entered sickbay with a Ktarian female nurse monitoring Kopolev’s condition. “You’ve recovered from a lot worse…”
“Let me be the judge of that,” said a youthful-looking blonde woman.
Ellison guessed that this young woman was Lambda Paz
’s chief medical officer, Aurellan Markalis. Though not putting much stock in them, he had heard rumors she was a socially awkward individual. That didn’t matter, though, as long as she was still a highly competent medical practitioner.
Markalis scanned the newest patient with a medical tricorder. “Multiple dermal abrasions, bone bruises,” she said, “and lacerated spleen. We need to get that under control.” Addressing a human male nurse, she added, “Prepare an IV drip of meraphazine.” To the Ktarian nurse, she said, “In the meantime, get him five cc’s of anetrizine.
“Yes, Doctor,” both nurses answered, one after the other in response to their instructions.
Ellison continued directing traffic as more injured were brought in through the main entrance and the door outside the CMO’s office. He turned his attention back to Doctor Markalis and wondered if she were capable of this heavy workload. Her voice sounded both confident and manic, as if she would snap at any moment.
Also in the commander’s field of vision was the door in the back of the primary ICU as it slid open. Chaz Logan was the first to walk through, followed by an injured crewman on an anti-gravity stretcher and a human female medic in a black Marine jumpsuit. They both silently stared at each other from across the spacious room. Ellison tried his best not to look visibly annoyed that Logan had survived the destruction of the USS Agamemnon
. They stared at each for a moment that seemed to go on forever, as Ellison came to terms with having to put aside one of the hardest personality clashes of his Starfleet career for a while longer.
Mandel Morrison entered the main triage ward, directing traffic through both an entrance from a main corridor and an entrance on the other side of the room that connected the facility to the primary medical bay.
As he watched one of the wounded officers being gently lifted onto a biobed, a familiar face diverted his attention. He hadn’t seen Lisa Neeley in at least two months, ever since they had parted under less than amiable circumstances and she was transferred off Lambda Paz
. She was no less beautiful to him even with her tattered red hair and dirt and grime covering her face and muscular arms. For a moment, he had expected that she would come running into his arms as if they were two star-crossed lovers who had been separated for an extended period. He was then reminded of how uncomfortable he was with maintaining a nonromantic sexual partnership with her while she continued to seek carnal liaisons with other men when she rolled her eyes and looked away from him.
Mandel strode closer to a biobed, where Lisa conversing with a dark-haired human woman about a patient on the biobed. He recognized the unconscious olive-skinned man as Loukas Pherrelius, a long-time friend of Lisa’s. Despite her claims that Loukas was like a brother to her, Mandel had a lingering feeling that this man was another one of her lovers.
“I’m afraid his condition will only continue to worsen,” nurse practitioner Donna Chang grimly informed Neeley. “It’s only a matter of time.”
“I’m very sorry, Lieutenant,” Morrison somberly stated.
Neeley had avoided looking at Morrison up until he offered his condolences. “I don’t need your insincere sympathies, Commander,” she fired back with a derisive snort.
Morrison held his mouth open to respond, but stayed silent. He had no thoughts of using her emotional state to his advantage. He simply wanted to be supportive of a close colleague and friend. Since she wasn’t accepting of his support, he thought better than to try to force any type of reconciliation.
Limis stepped into the ready room through the side entrance after briefing the survivors deemed fit for duty on the upcoming battle. Commanders Kozar and Ellison were right behind her. She took slow paces towards the desk and tapped the top of one of the guest chairs before circling around the desk. Ellison chose to stand, crossing his arms across his chest. Limis gave Ellison a long and sympathetic stare, but quickly backed off, sensing his desire to continue the work ahead.
“Our condolences to you on the officers and crew who didn’t survive,” Kozar offered. “Hopefully they didn’t perish in vain.”
“That’s a very hollow sentiment, Commander,” Ellison replied coldly, “considering many more lives will be lost before all this is all over. But I appreciate it. Personally, Captain, I think we’re being led to slaughter taking on the entire Dominion fleet like this. Still, what’s left of my crew is just as ready and willing to end this war here and now given what is at stake for us and future generations. As am I.”
“Good,” Limis said with an approving nod. “We need that kind of determination on the battlefield. Right now, we need to concentrate on augmenting the crews of surviving ships.”
“Of course,” Ellison agreed. “And with Jellico out of the picture, I am now fleet commander.”
Kozar’s eyebrows twitched at hearing Ellison make a rather grandiose claim.
Limis was even more taken aback by that assertion. As a fleet liaison officer, he was certainly more than qualified. Given what he had endured over the last week, however, he might not have been fit for commanding a fleet of hundreds of ships. What Ellison was saying was that he did not trust Limis because of her affiliation with the Maquis and rumored involvement with a rogue branch of Starfleet. She had experienced that many times in her dealings with more established veterans of the service, but now—in the midst of a war that would not be won cleanly—was not a good time for such a lack of trust.
“How do you figure?” Limis demanded. She stood up and looked Ellison straight in the face. “I outrank you.”
“That may be the case,” Ellison replied. He leaned on the desk, his arms propping up the rest of his body, and came eye-to-eye with Limis. “But I've served under Jellico for years. He trusts me. And I'm fairly certain the brass will grant me a promotion to that effect.”
“I’m willing to guess that the brass isn’t concerned about such minutiae,” Limis retorted, leaning closer to Ellison. “And I don’t have the authority to promote you to the rank of captain. We’re all in this together. We all need to put aside career aspirations and any other personal feelings. So as long as I outrank you, I am placing you in command of the Thunderchild
Ellison lifted his arms off the table and stood straight. “Fine,” he said with a repentant nod. “I wasn’t looking forward to that much responsibility anyway.”
“Considering what you and what’s left of your crew have been through,” Kozar chimed in, “I don’t blame you. We may not have enough admirals or experienced captains to lead this fight. We do have momentum on our side and an opportunity like no other to put an end to this war.”
Limis grinned, pleasantly surprised to be supported by someone who wanted to hang her eleven days earlier after the entire crew nearly perished from radiation poisoning. “Thank you, Kozar,” she said. “You’re in command of the Kaneda
. Work with Ellison on assigning surviving officers to augment the crews of those and other ships.”
Addressing Ellison and Kozar, Limis echoed the words of Admiral Jellico. “Let’s get it done, gentlemen.”
The two men nodded and headed out of the ready room. Limis stared at the bridge entrance, quietly mulling over whether or not victory really was possible. All she could do was let the many officers and crew under her command believe victory was possible and try her best to let it happen.