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Old October 16 2012, 09:04 PM   #30
Enterprise1981
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Re: Star Trek: Lambda Paz-- "To the Bitter End"

Chapter Twenty-Three

Day 38

And the angel answered
And said unto the women,
Fear not ye:
For I know that ye seek Jesus,
Which was crucified.
(Matthew 28:5)


A Final Stand

Captain's log, Stardate 52927.4. We're preparing to enter Dominion-held space for what we hope will be one of the final battles of the war. The Lambda Paz has taken a quite a pounding, but the crew remains resilient. After nearly two years, they are ready and willing to put an end to the most destructive war in galactic history. No matter what it takes, no matter what the cost…

###

Erhlich Tarlazzi entered the Lambda Paz’s main engineering section. He weaved through crowds of engineering officers and technicians hauling heavy equipment with anti-gravity harnesses. He had to pin himself against a wall when two officers were dragging a heavy container by, nearly causing him to drop the padd in his hand. After slipping by those two officers, he spotted Shinar sh’Aqba standing in front of the warp core and watching two lower-ranking officers inspect the dilithium articulation frame.

“Get ready to add new theta matrix compositors,” she instructed them as she saw Tarlazzi standing to her right. “Shouldn’t you be on the Kaneda?” she asked with a quick glance.

“We’re a little low on a few supplies,” he explained. Once again noticing all the traffic in and out of the compartment, he added, “which you guys seem to have plenty of.”

“What do you need?” she asked with her attention focused on the tricorder in her hand. “I’ll see if I can spare it.”

Erhlich keyed a sequence on the padd to access the main display. “Let’s see. A dozen power transfer circuits, thirty-four EPS stabilizers, twenty-three auxiliary command processors…oh, and seventy kilos of quaratum.”

Shinar slipped the padd out of his hands and quickly made a few calculations in her head. “This looks like an awful lot, but we can manage. Ensign Sullivan, will you give Tarlazzi a hand? Most of these are in cargo bays two and five.”

Rebecca quickly passed him, but then slowed down expecting Erhlich to follow. “Can you give us a few minutes, Rebecca?”

Rebecca nodded in agreement while Erhlich touched Shinar’s shoulder to coax his lover towards a secluded corner.

They walked to a load bearing column, both of them leaning against it. After being satisfied that no one was watching, they looked back at each other. Erhlich took a quick look at Shinar’s abdomen, having momentarily forgotten her pregnancy was not yet conspicuous, so at least those rumors would not be catching on for a while. “How are you holding up?” he asked, trying not to look too sympathetic.

Shinar still gave an annoyed sigh. “Honestly, I’m fine,” she defensively insisted.

“I didn’t mean to suggest you weren’t,” Erhlich countered with a disarming grin. “We just haven’t seen much of each other since my reassignment. I just wanted to make sure you’re not buckling under the stress. We’re headed into a major inferno where just about anything can happen.”

Shinar leaned back against the wall, smiled, and stroked his cheek. “Hey, I survived the last Federation-Cardassian war.”

“And I survived the eradication of the Maquis, so I can survive anything. Things don’t always go as planned, though.”

Shinar puckered her lips and sighed ruefully. Erhlich gave a light grin, also thinking back to all the turmoil in her life in the last five months. “I didn’t plan on getting pregnant,” she recalled. “I didn’t plan on skipping out on my marital obligations. I still plan to survive the end of this war.”

“Did I say I don’t plan on surviving?” Erhlich retorted, while clasping both her shoulders. “I absolutely plan on surviving. I just wish we could have five minutes to ourselves.”

“Once the war’s over,” Shinar assured him, her cheeks blushing, “I’ll give you five weeks on Casperia Prime.”

“That’s one more thing to look forward to.”

“That gives you one more reason to survive. Good luck.”

“Same to you,” Erhlich agreed, leaning over to kiss her. But they both quickly came to their senses, and backed away from each other upon realizing that they were still in public view of others.

***

Gregor Kopolev was briefing some of his staff in the Thunderchild's engineering section when Chaz Logan entered.

He took a quick glance at Logan and turned his attention back to his subordinates. Logan had been circulating from one ship to the other, conducting full inspections of starships to see if they were battle ready. Gregor was glad that the commander wasn’t looking over his shoulder all the time. He also felt sorry for the chief engineer of the ship Logan was inspecting, especially Shinar sh’Aqba on the Lambda Paz. Rumors had sparked that she was pregnant. While he didn’t get too caught up in all the gossip, he did know that too much stress was not good for the pregnancy.

“Looks like most of the phaser arrays are up to specs,” he told his crew while consulting a padd. “I’d still be more comfortable replacing the emitter crystals in secondary ventral arrays one and three. Dyson, coordinate with tactical to make sure all the quantum torpedoes are in working order. Connor, concentrate on reinforcing the protective field around the warp core. We have a lot to do in very little time, but don’t feel like you have to rush yourselves. Dismissed.”

The group dispersed throughout the room, while Logan slowly sauntered up to Kopolev. “You really know how to encourage your staff,” he remarked.

Wow, a complement, Gregor wanted to say. “Is the replicator in your quarters getting your breakfast order wrong again?” he asked while heading for the central console.

“No, I just finished my inspection tour,” Chaz explained with a smirk. “I just wanted to say, whatever you or Commander Ellison or the Lambda Paz engineering department may think of me, it’s only because I care about how my ships perform.

“‘Your ships’?” Kopolev skeptically repeated.

“I oversaw the construction of most of these classes of starship. I hadn’t planned on overseeing the construction of warships. I still tend to be overprotective, but not because I sometimes come off indifferent about the outcome of the war, nor because I doubt your abilities or anyone else’s. I have great respect for you and many others who serve as chief engineers of the ships I built. I’m sure you mourn the loss of the Constantinople in your own way, just as much as you would mourn the loss of a friend or loved one.”

Kopolev grinned in agreement of that last statement. He had formed an emotional bond with the USS Constantinople during his two years as that ship’s chief engineer. “You are right about that, sir,” he affirmed. “The Constantinople was a good ship. There will never another one like her. Your…‘children’ performed very well even if all of them didn’t survive. It is truly a tribute your work. You should be proud.”

“As any father would be. Here’s hoping you survive the final battle.” Logan then put out a hand towards Kopolev.

“And you as well.” They shook hands quickly. Other than that, they just stared blankly at each other. Their hands separated, and Logan stepped out of the engineering section with a light nod.

***

Sh’Aqba entered sickbay with two crewmen carrying toolkits. Markalis was loading new vials on a medicine cart when the engineers entered, but she immediately assumed that Shinar was there for her weekly prenatal exam. After all, Shinar had been to sickbay recently as a patient. Whenever equipment in sickbay needed repair or maintenance, sh’Aqba would send one of her specialists.

“I’m sorry I had to cancel this week’s prenatal exam,” she nervously explained.

“That’s not what I’m here for,” sh’Aqba replied while motioning the two crewmen to the two main biobeds. “You sent in a repair request for the imagers a few days ago. And we’re working on adding extra processors to the holographic emitters. We don’t want him to be shorting out while he’s treating wounded.”

Aurellan briefly glanced over at Doctor Houseman treating a patient for a minor wound. “No, we certainly don’t,” she agreed, looking back at Shinar. Aurellan flashed an uncharacteristic smile and her cheeks blushed. Her face was glowing in a way none of her shipmates had ever seen.

“How are things going with him?” Shinar wondered aloud.

Aurellan rolled her eyes and looks away. As far as she was concerned, Shinar was only interested in spreading some juicy bit of gossip around. Unbeknownst to her, the vibe she was giving off indicated that Aurellan and Leo had made love for the very first time the night before.

“Aurellan Markalis, you lucky girl,” Shinar teased.

Aurellan looked around, suddenly feeling embarrassed. “Keep your voice down,” she said with an angry whisper, once she was satisfied that no one was actively eavesdropping.

“I’m sorry,” Shinar quietly replied. “I know you want to keep that to yourself, but I’ve been here often enough to notice. I have to ask, are you sure he’s not just doing what you want, imitating your behavior, following a set of behavioral algorithms?”

Aurellan gave a dismissive scoff. “I would know by now. That time I was injured, I had this bizarre hallucination as a side effect of pain meds interacting with the sedatives I had been taking extra doses of. He could have sent a nurse to my quarters to monitor me more closely. He kept an eye on me himself, though. He helped me through my addiction, and even neglected his duties for me in a way most doctors aren’t expected to. I don’t think there’s a behavioral algorithm for that.”

Shinar nodded lightly, but Aurellan got a niggling sense that the Andorian woman wasn’t entirely convinced. “You’ve done so much for me,” Shinar began. “I owe you this bit of advice. Don’t become too emotionally invested. I’m guessing he’s even more inexperienced than you are. You may find out later on down the line he’s simply practicing with you just as you are with him.”

“I’ll keep that in mind. I should let you get back to work.”

Shinar then walked away, leaving Aurellan with something to consider. So far, the holographic doctor had demonstrated a certain devotion towards her that transcended those of colleagues. She hadn’t planned on falling in love with him, but she had, as her relationship with Leo was becoming no different than with a real live flesh-and-blood human being who became someone with whom she could relate. On the other hand, he didn’t always express emotions in the most socially conventional manner. Aurellan never thought that meant he didn’t truly reciprocate her feelings, but her discussion with Shinar still left a seed of doubt in her mind.

***

“Leo, I need to talk to you for a minute.”

Aurellan took quick paces towards the biobed where Leo examined a human patient with a nasty plasma burn on his left leg. “Sure,” Leo replied. “I just need to finish treating this patient.”

“Looks superficial,” she shot back. “The nurse can handle it. Right? And we’ll just be in the office, so give a yell if you need his help.”

“Just make sure to apply feremene to the wound,” Leo instructed a female nurse as he was following Aurellan into the office, “and a temporary derma-plastic graft.”

“Tell me something that’s from the heart,” she requested of him, once they were inside the office.

“I beg your pardon,” Leo said with a confused stare.

“How do you really feel about me professionally and personally? And don’t take too long thinking about it. Just say whatever comes to mind.”

“You’re a very competent and brilliant medical practitioner,” he unflinchingly began. “You show great empathy and compassion for your patients even if they don’t recognize it.”

“What about me as a person?”

“I greatly enjoy the time we spend together, both on and off duty. You’ve shown me all the complexities of humanoid behavior. You’ve helped me understand that friendship and love are not just emotional responses.

“Of all the people I associate with, you have become the most important one to me, Aurellan. While I was designed as nothing more than a supplement to this ship’s medical personnel, I have an additional purpose in life, and that’s to make you happy.”

Aurellan was almost moved to tears by his words. If he had recited some classic poem, then Shinar’s suspicions might have been confirmed. But Leo said those poetic words all on his own without any advanced preparation. “That was beautiful. Thank you.” She gave him a quick peck on the cheek as a gesture of her appreciation. “I should let you get back to your patient.”

She looked through the window as he left the office to return to his patient. She suddenly realized that people could see the rather personal conversation she was having with one of her colleagues. She prided herself on making mostly rational choices her whole life. She understood at this moment, though, how being in love could drive a person to act irrationally.

What the hell does sh’Aqba know? she asked herself. Don’t we all mimic the behavior of others—of people who came before us? After that little heart-to-heart with Leo, any doubts she had that he genuinely reciprocated her feelings were quickly assuaged.

###

The Fray: How to Save a Life

With the Battle of Cardassia less than a day away, Limis, Kozar, and Latham assembled in the briefing room of the Lambda Paz. They had hoped to exchange as much useful data as they could, even if it was of little consequence to all parties fighting alongside the Federation fleets. Latham provided as much information that was of use regarding the unmanned orbital weapon platforms first seen at Chin’toka. They provided extra defenses to an otherwise poorly defended star system until a few glaring weaknesses were discovered.

“Needless to say,” he said as he turned off the schematic on the monitor, “we have made a few improvements to our automated weapon platforms ever since the prototypes at Chin’toka were outwitted. It was a rather embarrassing defeat considering we Cardassians often boast the most adaptive artificial intelligence devices in the quadrant.”

Limis wanted to roll her eyes while once again hearing a Cardassian boast of one of his race’s technological advantages. It had become an instinctive reaction over the years, yet she knew an eye roll would not be appropriate in this context.

“You may be able to take out the central control system,” Latham went on, “but each has its own independent operating system. You’ll have about a thirty-second window to knock out those platforms before the new programming kicks in.”

“It’s a very limited window,” Limis mused, “so we’ll have to make every shot count.”

“Of course, being able to locate that central control system might not be as easy,” Kozar chimed in, looking up from a padd he was using to make a few calculations. “Meanwhile, computer technicians on the Kaneda are working on ways to weaken the forcefields in small increments.”

“Keep at it,” Limis replied. “I’m sure those guys or the crews of the recon wings will find a clever solution.”

“You’re crew is most efficient, Captain,” Latham remarked. “I am certain they will perform superbly in the battle to liberate my homeland.”

“Yours as well, Gul Latham,” Limis said with an agreeing nod. She stood up to look straight at Latham while resting her hands on the edge of the table. She never thought she would see something like this. On an intellectual level, she knew that not all Cardassians supported their government’s imperialistic policies. Those in uniform were still just targets to be destroyed while she was fighting for her homeland, whether it was Bajor or a Federation colony in the Demilitarized Zone. At this moment, that seemed like a lifetime ago, now that Limis Vircona was fighting alongside a Cardassian for the future of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. “When this is over,” she added, “we owe you a drink.”

Kanar, Captain,” Latham replied. “As you might say, good luck. While I may not believe in luck, we could all use it in the coming battle.”

“Best of luck to you as well.”

***

Sarah Nave and Truxia were among security and Marine officers gathered in the Thunderchild’s main shuttle bay.

In addition to carrying among the most advanced weapons arsenals in Starfleet, Akira-class heavy cruisers were devoted to launching squads of single-pilot scout vessels and small fighter shuttles. These smaller vessels served as both reconnaissance ships and troop convoys. Security and Marine soldiers were boarding the two scout vessels housed in the shuttlebay while Truxia and Nave conferred over their respective flight paths. While they were both going over their plans to get deep into the atmosphere of Cardassia Prime before beaming down the troops, Ellison entered the bay to see them off.

“We’re just about ready to go, sir,” the Denobulan woman informed her captain.

“I only wish I had the two of you on the bridge,” Ellison lamented, as he was certain this would be the last time he saw two of his best officers alive. “I also understand the need for having our most experienced pilots on these ships when they land the first ground forces. And you two are among the best.”

Nave grinned, indicating her upcoming response was self-deprecating humor rather than self-doubt. “You’d really take a twenty-year old first year ensign over most other officers, sir?” she inquired.

Ellison smirked momentarily before his expression became more serious. “When you put it that way, it is ironic that I believe in you probably more than the older pilots we’re sending out there. Knowing you knocked the tops off the percentiles in your Academy flight training, though, it’s not that unrealistic. You’ve persevered better than I thought you would. You’ve become an exceptional officer who has done great honor to that uniform.”

“Thank you, sir. I am also honored to serve under you.”

Ellison smiled and walked away. Truxia, having listened in on the conversation, saw off the last soldier boarding one of the scout vessels. “Your fighter’s ready for departure. And just in case one or both of us doesn’t survive, I want you to know I have greatly admired your emotional fortitude. Any CO would be grateful for someone as composed as you are at such a young age. If we both survive, I’ll be your shoulder to cry on.”

Nave sighed, but still showed no visible signs of any of the emotional turmoil building up inside her after she had already seen so much death. There was still a job to do. She couldn’t worry about whether or not another friend would die before this upcoming battle was resolved. “Thank you, Truxia,” she said with a heavy heart. “I’ve never said this before, but you’ve been a great mentor and a friend.”

The two women shook hands and headed in opposite directions towards the ships they were piloting. Just a second later, though, they stopped and hugged. It was a quick hug, both of them not wanting to stir up too much emotion before they headed for the ships they were piloting.

***

Morrison and Neeley, along with twelve security officers and Marine soldiers were gathered in the Lambda Paz’s main armory. All of them wore thick vests that were designed to absorb most lethal weapon discharges.

Tirren Ra Hoth, a three-armed and three-legged Edosian, was standing in from of the armory’s command post to the right of Morrison. He had served as Lambda Paz’ deputy chief of security over the last two years. Personnel shortages had forced him to double as head of the ship’s Marine unit after Neeley had been transferred to the late Constantinople a few months earlier. Neeley was on Morrison’s left as they studied schematics of the base camps their units were about to storm.

“We’ll be landing troops at these three base camps as part of a preliminary foray,” Morrison announced to the rest of the group.

“Each of them will be protected by at least four garrisons of Jem’Hadar,” Neeley added. “Each squad will dispatch a fire team to confront one of those garrisons in the hope that will divert the other three. The rest of the squad will try to break through their lines. Once you get through, things will get a lot messier. They’ll be using kartokins, as well as plasma rifles. So keep your equipment tightly secured.”

“Keep your fire teams in close contact at all times,” said Ra Hoth. “They’re going to try to divide our forces. Do not, under any circumstances, let that happen.”

“Any questions?” Morrison asked.

A long silence followed.

“Then let’s end this war,” Morrison proclaimed, which elicited a raucous cheer from the crowd.

The fourteen troops marched single-file down the corridor to the airlock where their fighter was moored when a comm chime sounded. “Lieutenant Neeley,” said a female bridge officer, “you have a message from Starbase 401.”

Neeley acknowledged with a tap of her combadge. She looked at Morrison, who gave an approving nod. “Go ahead,” he added. “The pilot will need a few minutes to go over pre-launch.”

They had arrived at the airlock, where Morrison made sure all the troops boarded. He couldn’t help glancing in Neeley’s direction as she read a written message to her on a computer panel. He began to worry for her emotional well being when she dropped her head. He knew Lisa was a professional, but sooner or later having to deal with so much death would wear on her.

“Was it Pherrelius?” Mandel asked as Lisa walked by him.

She just ignored him. As when he offered his sympathies to her when Loukas was on his deathbed, he wanted to persist in providing emotional support. Again, she was not swayed by his attempts to lend a sympathetic ear. He assumed the worst, considering her expression had gone from wide-eyed optimism to a sense of personal defeat.

Mandel just watched Lisa step through the airlock and then followed right behind her, reminding himself that she was fully capable of focusing on the task ahead.
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