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Old October 20 2012, 07:28 PM   #34
Enterprise1981
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Re: Star Trek: Lambda Paz-- "To the Bitter End"

Chapter Twenty-Five

Fighting on the surface of Cardassia Prime had become hand-to-hand combat. Six members of Morrison’s team had already been killed--impaled through the chest or shot. Morrison and one Jem’Hadar were exchanging punches, with neither of them giving way. His face, though, was covered in blood and dirt and bruises while his opponent showed no signs physical trauma.

After dispatching his opponent with a kartokin, the Jem’Hadar squad leader heard a chirp on his communication device. He tapped the device on his arm and said, “Understood.”
“Withdraw!” he shouted to the rest of his unit.

To the surprise of the four people on Morrison’s team still standing, the Jem’Hadar ran off. They camouflaged themselves while laying down cover fire with their pistols. Morrison, Morales, and Nasir, and another human male officer all exchanged bewildered stares. Neither side had the upper hand in hand-to-hand fighting. But the Jem’Hadar--yes, the Jem’Hadar--had just retreated from battle. Morrison wanted to ask himself why, but that didn’t matter. His life, and the lives of three others on his team, had been spared. A strange thought had come to his mind, though seemingly too good to be true.

The Dominion had just surrendered.

###

t.A.t.U.: Gomenasai (Instrumental)

A Founder appeared on video monitors throughout the bridge of the Lambda Paz. This Changeling was in the form of a humanoid female, with the face, hair, and ears similar in shape and arrangement to that of of Deep Space Nine’s chief of security. Why the Founders chose to mimic Odo’s appearance when interacting with various humanoid races was a curiosity, considering they were better shapeshifters than he was. Maybe it was a distinctive appearance they had never considered using prior to his visit to their homeworld.

According to the intelligence reports Limis and all other starship captains had to familiarize themselves with, this particular Changeling was the leader of her race. What was most puzzling to Limis, and the rest of the bridge officers, was that this Changeling appeared to have been cured of the disease afflicting the Founders. No longer was her face parched, but molded like smooth clay.

“As you may already know,” the female Founder announced, “our ships have ceased fire. On behalf of the Dominion, I offer total surrender. We wish to formally end hostilities with the United Federation of Planets and its military allies in exchange for the cure for the disease that has brought my race to the precipice of extinction. A fellow Changeling, one who has served on one of your Starfleet installations has cured me, and he wishes to share that cure with the rest of the Great Link as a demonstration of the good will of the Alpha Quadrant Solids.”

Kozar gave a befuddled glance at Limis. Others stared in silent shock. Carson, Huckaby, sh’Aqba, and Sterns couldn’t believe what they were hearing. Dominion battle tactics throughout the war were consistent with soldiers determined to go down fighting, to fight to the last breath. Now, with nearly the entire Dominion fleet in the Alpha and Beta Quadrants fortifying Cardassia Prime, the leader of the Founders was waving the proverbial white flag.

Limis was certain this surrender was another effort on the Dominion’s part to lull an enemy into a false sense of security. During that moment of indecision--whether to stand down as the enemy had or continue to keep close watch--a more familiar face appeared on the substitute viewscreens. Deep Space Nine’s chief of security, dressed in the uniform of a Bajoran Militia constable, was now on the monitor.

“In case anyone doubts her sincerity,” said Odo, “an end to the fighting in orbit and on the surface should be the first gesture of the Founders’ intent to surrender. I have, in fact, cured her of the disease that has threatened our race. While she will surrender herself to the authorities, I intend to share that cure with the rest of the Founders in the hope that this act of compassion will mark the first step towards peace between the Dominion and the major powers of the Alpha Quadrant.”

Limis was at a loss for words. Was this the answer all along? Had Odo finally convinced his fellow Changelings that the Federation and its allies were no threat to them? He had no success in that regard in the four years since he had made contact with his people. But what was always believed to be antithetical to Dominion military policy was taking place at this very moment. Though having met this particular Changeling only once, Limis knew from the accounts of Bajorans serving on Deep Space Nine that Odo was a man of integrity who stayed true to his own ideals during the Occupation of Bajor and had continuously condemned his own people’s conduct towards the races of the Alpha Quadrant and Beta Quadrants. If not for Odo’s words, no one would have believed the female Changeling’s offer of surrender.

“Tell the ships to stand down,” Limis instructed.

“Aye, sir,” Carson responded. She was in the process of relaying that message when the communications board chirped. “Incoming message from the Pakar.”

“Put it up,” Limis replied.

“Captain Limis,” came the voice of Gul Latham on the audio speakers, “we are dispatching medical shuttles to provide assistance.”

“Thank you, Gul.” She flashed a smile, having never expected to be saying those words to a Cardassian before.

“You’ve earned a friend in the Cardassian Union today, Captain. Pakar out.”

Limis stood and stared silently at the former location of the bridge’s main viewscreen. “You have the bridge, Commander,” she told Kozar. She sauntered towards the ready room, hoping to be alone with her thoughts and to mourn the losses suffered in the final battles of the war--including the heroic sacrifice of her dear friend, Erhlich Tarlazzi.

***

Ellison entered the shuttlebay of the Starship Manchuria where he saw members of the ground assault forces disembarking two scout vessels. Medical personnel were attending to people limping out of the ships and assessing barely conscious soldiers on antigravity stretchers. One of group of doctors and nurses stationed between the two support vessels was responsible for having corpses placed in body bags.

Ellison just watched silently as the two ships were being evacuated. With each passing moment, he became more doubtful of seeing two particular officers step out of the egresses of either of the two scout vessels. His blank expression did not indicate any type of favoritism towards two of his bridge officers. He was thankful that so many of his crew dispatched to the surface of Cardassia Prime had survived, more than would have survived if not for the Founders’ surprising decision to surrender. The mission had been accomplished, but a heavy price.

His eyes widened and his lower lips dropped slightly when he saw Sarah Nave step out of a scout vessel’s port egress with her arm around the shoulder of a male soldier with a nasty burn on his left leg. A female nurse attended to the wounded man as he was placed on an antigravity stretcher.

Ellison stared at Nave for a very long moment, wondering if his second-in-command had survived as well. “Truxia?” he mouthed.

She shook her head. Her face was blank and her eyes were devoid of any emotion. She waved away a female doctor, scanning her with a medical tricorder, insisting she was okay. But then she let out a stifled sob. She fell to her knees and then curled up in a fetal position. The doctor she had dismissed just a few seconds earlier and Ellison both hurried towards her. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders. She was bawling like an infant, as all the emotions of she held in for so long poured to the surface.


Day 40

Teaching them to observe
All things whatsoever
I have commanded you:
And lo, I am with you always,
Even unto the end of the world.
Amen.
(Matthew 28:20)

On video monitors in public venues and in homes throughout the Federation, a live transmission from the Federation News Service interrupted various time-delayed broadcasts of entertainment programs and sporting events. News Service anchor Marina Gomez appeared on those monitors to deliver a breaking news bulletin.

“We interrupt regularly scheduled transmissions to bring you breaking news. The war that has darkened the Alpha Quadrant for the past two years has come to an end.”

A tavern on Tau Ceti Three erupted in raucous cheering as patrons heard that news.

“The United Federation of Planets and its allies have prevailed,” Gomez continued. “At oh-three-fifty-three Earth standard time this morning, a multi-planetary force overpowered the automated orbital defenses fortifying Cardassia Prime. And to the surprise of many of the troops in the battle, the Founders of the Dominion had agreed to stand down as fighting ensued.

“Negotiations of a peace treaty detailing the Dominion’s complete withdraw from the Alpha and Beta Quadrant are now underway. For now, though, all military conflict has come to an end.”

###

Evanescence: My Immortal

Gul Latham stepped through the rubble of what was left of his family mansion. A forensic team helped sort through the debris. In the process, they had found his wife, his father-in-law, and his second born son had died. Latham was not sure whether to be thankful or worried that other relatives were not in the house at the time it was being leveled. The whereabouts of his oldest son, his two younger sons and his two daughters were unknown. He had no way of knowing whether they were alive or dead. He could only hold out hope that they had survived.

What he was certain of now was that he could’ve chosen not to act against the Dominion, and this still could have happened. He had initially thought that he would be protecting his family by not rebelling against the Dominion. He had soon come to learn how much of a coward he had been by ignoring what was happening on his home planet. So by rising up in opposition, he might have saved many more lives. If only some members of his family still hadn’t lost their lives. Family was everything to a Cardassian.

Glinn Orlak stood to Latham’s right. They were both staring somberly at the wreckage in front of them. “I’m sorry, Arek,” Orlak said.

Latham patted his second-in-command on the back. “And for your losses as well, Printus,” he replied. It was certainly a tragedy affected his entire crew with over eight hundred million dead. He knew Orlak had family in Pogar City, while Glinn Maret’s immediate family resided in Lakarian City.

“We will certainly mourn the dead,” Latham declared. “But for so many people’s imperialistic ambitions, Cardassia has gotten what it deserved. After all the suffering our race has inflicted on the Bajorans, the Martosians, the Norsaians, and so many others, justice has now been served. Now is the time for change--to build a better Cardassia.”

###

The medical facilities aboard the Lambda Paz had taken in dead and wounded soldiers. The primary and secondary sickbay facilities and the triage center were filled beyond capacity, with injured troops resting on biobeds or cots on the floor. Dead bodies were carried to the morgue in body bags, including that of deputy chief of security, Lieutenant Tirren Ra Hoth.

Doctors and nurses from recently arrived hospital ships had been able to lend a hand. What had impressed Doctor Markalis even more than how calmly and professionally all the Starfleet and civilian medical practitioners had handled so many cases at once were the contributions of Cardassian doctors in her medical facilities, and that the Starfleet doctors welcomed their collaboration without the influence of preconceived notions about Cardassian medical ethics. Once they were enemies on the battlefield, but now Cardassian doctors were treating human patients and human doctors were treating Cardassian patients. The medical practice was one area where such distinctions were not recognized.

While she was loading a hypospray in preparation to treat a patient, she was approached by a middle-aged Cardassian dressed in black and gray medical attire. “You are the senior medical officer of this ship, correct?” he inquired with a friendly smile.

“Yes,” Aurellan said with a light smile and nod.

“I wish to express my appreciation to you for allowing me and my staff to provide assistance,” Ereb Pretac continued. “It is my hope that this recent collaboration marks the beginning of more amiable relations between our peoples.”

“Mine as well,” Aurellan sheepishly answered. She had never learned to hate a Cardassian the way many soldiers on the battlefield did, even though she had heard rumors about Cardassian doctors stepping outside the bounds of Federation medical ethics. Pretac might have been one such doctor, not that it mattered at this moment with representatives from two once mutually hostile powers united in a common cause.

###

Limis poured what was left from a bottle of spring wine into a glass. She and the senior staff, plus a few other colleagues, had gathered in the mess hall to memorialize the dead. Much of the furniture had pushed aside to one corner to accommodate a larger group of people. Kozar, Morrison, Carson, sh’Aqba, and Markalis were all present. Chaz Logan, Rebecca Sullivan, and Lisa Neeley were part of this gathering, as were Captain Lenaris, Commander Ellison, and Lieutenant Commander Selek, and they all held wine glasses filled with Bajoran spring wine.

“A toast,” Limis said, raising her glass. “To absent friends.” Her voice broke while still to fight back her own tears, still trying to be strong for her crew. Of course, they would understand in this setting that the deaths of so many friends and of so many individuals serving under her command would certainly wear on her. “To family.”

The others raised their glasses and then took quick sips.

Limis took slow glances at every other person in the room. She had lost so many loved ones in her lifetime--her parents and her surrogate family in the Maquis. Despite varying philosophical differences in the past two years with a lot of her Starfleet colleagues, these people were now her family.

“I had never met anyone who was such a free-spirit as Erhlich Tarlazzi,” Rebecca said. Her eyes were brimming with tears as she held Sara’s hand for emotional support. “He knew how to give people a reason to smile even in the darkest of times, even while what was left of the Maquis was on the run from the Dominion, the war.”

Limis grinned in agreement of Rebecca’s statement.

“He was my best friend,” Rebecca added, letting a single tear escape her right eye. Sara wrapped her arm around Rebecca’s shoulder and held her close.

“At first, I didn’t like him,” the expectant mother of Tarlazzi’s child candidly remarked. “He seemed awfully cavalier, taking unnecessary risks, pridefully disregarding safety protocols. He lived life to the fullest. I admired that in him. Laying down his life the way he did was the most...”--sh’Aqba was choking back sobs, feeling slightly hesitant to praise Erhlich’s sacrifice--“selfless things he’s ever done. And the most selfish.”

Limis directed an empathetic stare at Shinar, knowing firsthand the difficulties of single motherhood.

Kozar gently touched sh’Aqba’s right shoulder. He looked into her tear-filled eyes for a few seconds, and then looked in the general direction of the others. “Many probably knew Admiral Jellico, though technically not declared dead,” he said, “as a pompous windbag. He knew how to get results. He knew that there are times in the crunch where orders had to be obeyed without question. Things had to get done, no matter how difficult. He instilled that in a lot of his officers and crew and in his students at the Academy. He was a mentor to me and a lot of us here.”

He raised his glass, and Limis, Morrison, and sh’Aqba raised their glasses in agreement. “To Admiral Jellico, an influential teacher and a great tactical and diplomatic mind,” Kozar concluded.

“To Ben Maxwell,” said Morrison, in reference to a one-time mentor of his who laid down his life in the war earlier in the year.

“Jeth’ron,” Ellison chimed in. “Truxia. Matthew Herron. And everyone else who didn’t survive the destruction of Constantinople.”

Limis looked to Markalis, hoping the doctor would mention the Emergency Medical Hologram Mark-III, or, as Aurellan named him, Leo Houseman. Aurellan remained silent though, leaving Limis to wonder whether she was holding out hope the program could be retrieved or was trivializing her romance with a hologram to avoid feelings of grief and loss.

Every person gathered at the service held out their wine glasses and clinked them all together in tribute to their fallen friends and colleagues.

###

Mandel Morrison rummaged through fallen debris in his quarters. He didn’t keep anything of great value in his quarters, but still felt a compulsion to make sure everything in his cabin was still accounted for. He picked up a padd off the floor, dusted it off and noticed it contained recent scores from that week’s parrises squares championship tournament. He stared out of the viewports, realizing he wasn’t that concerned with the outcome of competitive sporting events when so many lives had been lost in the last two years in a bloody conflict with far more at stake.

While he was in deep thought, the doorbell rang. That came as a bit of a surprise since he was not expecting visitors and his residence was not in a condition to be receiving them. He stepped towards the door and, to his even bigger surprise, he saw Lisa Neeley in the corridor as soon as the doors parted. Since her return to Lambda Paz, she had given him the silent treatment outside of their professional interactions.

“Is there something I can do for you, Lieutenant?” he asked, maintaining a professional demeanor even while noticing marks on her cheeks that indicated she had been crying.

“I just need someone to talk to someone,” she answered, stepping into the cabin without an invitation to come in.
Mandel walked away from the door, allowing it to close, while wondering why Lisa chose to talk to him to seek comfort from him when she spurned his sympathies while watching a dear friend’s life slip away. “How are you able to handle all of it, so much death and destruction, so calmly?” she asked.

“I give myself a reason to continue to do my job,” Mandel tenderly explained, remembering the encouragement he gave his troops. “We lost a lot of good people, but it was to prevent the atrocities we saw on Cardassia from happening on any Federation planet. You reminded me of that a while back when it was all wearing on me.”

Lisa scoffed, letting tears start to flow down her cheeks again. “We’ve both learned to be personally detached from the troops we lead,” she said while shaking her head. “That’s hard to do, though, when you work with them on a daily basis. Loukas was my friend for ten years, ever since Marine training. It seems like I’ve buried so many people I tried not to call friends…”

Her voice trailed off as Mandel took slow steps towards her and brushed away her tears with the back of his forefinger. She then clasped both his shoulders and kissed him on the lips. His eyes widened with shock, but he quickly returned the gesture.

“Don’t read too much into this,” she said between two of the kisses. “I just need this one night.”

Mandel did not know how to respond initially. He reminded himself not to take advantage of her emotional vulnerability when she arrived on the Lambda Paz with other survivors of the Constantinople’s destruction. Now that she was initiating a sexual liaison, he was okay with comforting her in that manner as they so often had done before.

###

Aurellan Markalis paced back and forth while watching sh’Aqba at the main diagnostic console. With other repairs proceeding on schedule as the Lambda Paz was being towed back to Starbase 401, Shinar found the time to assess the damage to the EMH program. But with each passing minute of silence, Aurellan became increasingly worried about the pending prognosis.

“The projection matrix can be repaired,” Shinar informed her.

During a brief pause, Aurellan sensed some bad news was to come. “But…?” she impatiently asked.

“It needs a new memory core.”

Aurellan sighed, just wanting the bad news straight out. She certainly knew what replacing the program’s memory core entailed. She just didn’t want to process those facts at this moment. “Meaning what?” she asked with a feigned glimmer of hope.

“He’ll look just like every other Mark Three,” Shinar reluctantly explained. “But the man you had gotten to know and fall in love with this past year will be gone.”

“I see,” Aurellan said with forced stoicism, trying to tell herself EMH was just another piece of sickbay equipment.

“Aurellan, I’m so sorry.”

“I’m fine, really. Just do what you have to do to fix it.”

She took slow steps towards her office, fighting back tears. She had hoped to convince herself that Leo was just a hologram. Now that she was alone, she realized all too well that was not true.

She leaned her head back against glass wall, the reality of her loss sinking in. While the EMH-Mark III could be repaired and reinitialized, the man she knew as Leo was dead. She slid down the wall, held her knees up to her chest, and started crying. Tears flowed freely down her cheeks as she finally gave in to her own grief and sadness.
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