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Old December 13 2012, 10:10 PM   #31
Enterprise1981
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Re: Star Trek: War Aftermath Episode 2 (updated version)

Chapter Twenty-Four

USS Cerebrus; Tezwa Invasion Fleet Flagship

Admiral William Ross sat in the command chair on the bridge of the Prometheus-class USS Cerebrus. He was studying a padd containing shorthand versions of the latest communiqués from the fleet’s starship commanders. He prioritized answering those messages by rearranging each message capsule on the padd’s screen.

For some reason, he had come to find the hum of the engines rather distracting. Maybe knowing that he was embarking on a mission that was based on questionable intelligence had made the rest of his mind go blank. All Ross knew was that the Defiant had prevented an Omega detonation just outside the Tezwan system after the crew confiscated an explosive device from a renegade Klingon vessel. That was hardly conclusive evidence that Ku-Vok-leth terrorists were delivering Omega explosives to Tezwa.

Regardless of how outlandish the mission was, however, Ross was not in a position to disobey the orders of the Starfleet commander-in-chief. He could not prove that his upcoming was illegal simply because Tezwan weapons were two hundred years less advanced than those of Starfleet. All he could do was hope was some other reason to delay or even calling off the mission entirely.

“Estimated time of arrival at the Tezwan system?” the admiral inquired while staring down at the padd in his lap.

“Fourteen hours, twenty minutes,” answered Ensign Wallace, a dark-haired human woman at conn.

Ross set the padd aside next to the right armrest of his chair and took a glance at the starboard engineering station. “Commander Burkhart, a petite blonde human woman. “Engine status?” he inquired.

“Warp and impulse engines functioning at full efficiency,” Burkhart answered. “Maneuvering thrusters at optimum power.”

Ross then turned to Lieutenant Commander Reynolds, a tall and trim human male at the port tactical station. “Status of weapons and shields?” he asked the ship’s executive and tactical officer.

“Shields functioning at full effectiveness,” Reynolds replied, “as are primary dorsal and ventral phaser arrays. We should have secondary arrays up to specs in four hours.”

“Is the installation of the upgraded torpedo guidance system proceeding on schedule?” Ross asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“No complications that could possibly delay the mission?”

“None that I’m aware of on this ship or any other ships,” Reynolds answered, looking a bit confused.

“Very good,” Ross said plainly. He stood up and made a beeline for the ready room door, situated on the forward starboard portion of the bridge. “You have the bridge, Mister Reynolds.”

He saw a few of the bridge officers exchange perturbed glances. That was understandable considering he posed a few routine inquiries at the most random of moments. At least he had fourteen hours to think of a reason to call off this mission.

***

“I hope you’re not having second thoughts.”

Upon entering the ready room, Ross saw a Vulcan woman seated behind the desk. She was dressed in a black leather jumpsuit. Her black hair was in a long coiffure. Ross turned his head back towards the doorway to make sure no one was looking inside the office as the doors were sliding closed.

“Of course not,” Ross lied as he took quick paces towards the desk. “A CO can never be too careful. I’m sure you know that.”

“But posing a few mundane questions to your crew fourteen hours before the fleet reaches its destination?” L’Haan coldly responded. She stood up and circled around the desk until she stood face-to-face with Ross. If he didn’t know any better, he’d think she was taunting him.

“You’re officers and crew are all well versed in Starfleet protocols,” she continued. “They understand that this ship would not be course for Tezwa if certain precautions had not been observed. And the wording of one of your inquiries seemed to indicate you are considering some pretext to back out of this endeavor. ‘No complications that would delay the mission’? That could easily be construed as someone searching for a means of sabotaging this mission.”

“A mission ordered on the basis of flawed logic,” Ross sternly shot back. “We have no conclusive proof that Klingon terrorists are supplying Omega explosives to Tezwa. And more to the point, we’re technologically superior to the Tezwans by two centuries. They are no threat to us.”

“You seem so vehemently opposed to this operation,” L’Haan retorted, maintaining a calm demeanor in the face of Ross’s festering anger. “Instead of choosing to back out and file a formal protest, you are an active participant. And why? Because your past collusions with us would be revealed. And that wouldn’t just tarnish your distinguished reputation. Others at the highest levels of Starfleet and the Federation would be exposed in a black propaganda conspiracy. The population would lose confidence in its leaders. The history of your world is sufficient reminder of how dangerous that can be.”

“You would let others take the fall while you get off Scot free?”

“You knew that going in. It is how Section 31 has managed to survive for the last two-hundred years. The Federation’s image is protected while the actions of Matthew Dougherty, Erik Pressman and Lance Cartwright are viewed as those taken by a few misguided officers. For the good of the Federation, however, you need to make sure that William Ross is not one more disgraced admiral.”

L’Haan then blithely sauntered towards the secondary entrance to the ready room, which opened onto a corridor behind the bridge. She stepped out once the doors parted as if she belonged there and didn’t look back. The doors then closed, leaving Ross to contemplate the possible consequences. He could either go down in history as the man who forever tarnished the Federation’s image or as one more corrupt Starfleet admiral. And all because he aided Section 31’s extralegal activities in the name of acting on the best interest of the Federation.

###

Sisko and Bashir walked through a corridor in the station’s central core. They were both scanning the area with tricorders hoping to get closer to the origin of the transmission that triggered Cole’s suicide implant. It was certainly a long shot when considering that whoever sent the signal could’ve already left the station. And even if he or she were still on the station, this operative was highly skilled at moving about stealthily in an enemy stronghold. Finding out what this operative knew was still of great importance in order to learn what secrets Section 31 and President Zife were protecting on Tezwa in order to prevent an unprovoked invasion.

Sisko was now wishing he had not volunteered for a possibly foolhardy operation. Then he remembered what he told Kasidy: that he missed making a difference in galactic affairs. This particular mission, he realized, was more than that. It was a chance to prevent an act that was antithetical to Federation principles. There was no turning back now as he and Bashir neared the signal origin.

“Sisko to security,” Sisko said with a tap of his combadge. “Confirm this section as the general location of the transmissions.”

“Confirmed,” Escobar responded. “Central core, level thirty-six, section twenty-nine.”

“Thank you, Lieutenant, We’re now going dark. Doctor?” Both Sisko and Bashir tapped their combadges to shut off the badges’ transceiver signal in the hope of taking their target by surprise.

Bashir looked up from his tricorder when chirping from the scanner became a long and sustained high-pitched whine. “The emissions are getting stronger,” he reported. “Looks like our operative is not that far away.”

“Curious that he’s just waiting around for us to apprehend him,” Sisko remarked.

“Down this corridor,” Bashir said, indicating the corridor to their left. Both men drew their phasers and began walking in slow paces.

“What do you hope to accomplish with this little expedition?” Sisko casually inquired.

“Sir?” Bashir asked with slightly feigned ignorance.

“You’re hoping to accumulate information on Section 31,” Sisko persisted, “in order to bring them down. Has it occurred to you that they have ways of flushing out infiltrators? You are playing a dangerous game, Julian.”

“Someone still has to try,” Bashir insisted, diverting his gaze away from Sisko. “That an organization exists within the Federation is appalling enough. I thought humanity had overcome the need for this kind of cloak and dagger maneuvering. And then to find out they tried to wipe out an entire race…”

“And that was my point back in the Infirmary. Section 31 is your obsession. Consider how may lives were saved by using a bargaining chip to encourage the Founders to surrender.”

Bashir froze and flashed a cold stare at Sisko. “You’re defending such an abomination?” he asked.

“Absolutely not!” Sisko spat. In that moment, he was reminded of some of his own less than reputable actions during the Dominion War. If Bashir knew about Sisko’s role in bringing the Romulans into the conflict, he’d get even more of an earful. Bashir was almost lecturing Admiral Ross, he knew, after he was outsmarted by Section 31. “It was just one example of how many of us had to bend the rules during the war--myself included.”

“Yes,” Bashir mildly agreed, “going along with Keevan’s plan to have his own men slaughtered.”

“That was a matter of our survival. That wasn’t the only regrettable decision I had to make. I try to live with it knowing that we could’ve lost the war if not for those hard choices.”

Bashir stared long and hard into Sisko’s eyes, hoping to glean something from his former captain. Sisko simply stared just as long and intently while wondering if Bashir had learned anything from four genetically enhanced misfits, who had an uncanny ability to come to conclusions about another person by reading micro-expressions.

“You put me up to infiltrating Section 31. But you knew about them before my first encounter with Sloan…”

Sisko swung his head away from Bashir and back down the corridor. As they both approached a wide double-door. “Do not presume to interrogate me, Doctor,” he huffed. “You may be genetically enhanced and have a more idealistic sense of right and wrong in the universe. But that does not mean you know better than the rest of us.”

Bashir took a moment to absorb what he was just told while taking a glance at his tricorder. “Behind this door,” he said.

To their surprise, the doors quickly parted when Sisko pressed the button to open it. Inside was a vacant storage bay. The only item inside it was an automated transmitter in the center of the room. They both holstered their tricorders and double-checked the settings on their phasers.

They both took slow steps towards the compact cylindrical device with a blinking red light at the top. They made a quick visual survey of the device to find some central control mechanism. At the same time, Sisko and Bashir looked around the room to see if anyone was trying to sneak up on them.

Sisko looked up the ceiling vent to see if anyone was hiding there. He saw no one. In a split second, the blinking light flashed brightly and sent both him and Bashir to deck, unconscious.

The ceiling vent popped open and a humanoid figure fell through the opening. A youthful looking Romulan landed on his feet. He pushed a control on the back of the transmitter, and the blinking stopped. Afterward, he took the combadges off of Sisko’s and Bashir’s uniforms. He then removed a communication device from his belt. He beamed away with the two Starfleet officers and the transmitter.

***

An alarm chirped on the main Ops console, catching Lieutenant Dax’s attention. She keyed a command sequence on a panel to acknowledge the alarm and signal a departing runabout. “Ops to runabout Montana,” she said. “What’s your status?”

“We’ve completed prelaunch,” answered Lieutenant Tenmei, “and are ready for departure on your signal.”

“You’re cleared for departure then,” Dax answered. “Just make sure to stay within a range of fifty-thousand kilometers to avoid detection.”

“We’ve established locks on to both their sub-dermal transponders,” Ro added. “That shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Good luck then.” Dax then closed the communication channel and quietly intoned, “Come home safely, guys.” In that moment, she was uncertain as to whether she was worried more for Benjamin or Julian, or for both of them equally. After quickly contemplating that question, Dax noticed the padd she was planning on delivering to the captain. Now was as a good a time as any.

***

Ezri sprinted up the stairs towards the captain’s office and rang the doorbell.

Kira was seated behind the desk, and she pushed a button to admit Ezri. Ezri took slow paces towards the desk and placed the padd on the desk. She felt the words on the tip of her tongue, but she could not say them. The insecure young woman she was right after the joining was seemingly burrowing to the surface, which seemed strange considering she did feel nearly as apprehensive when she took over the Defiant‘s bridge when its captain was killed two years earlier.

“What’s this?” Kira curiously wondered, taking a quick glance at the padd.

Ezri was briefly relieved that Kira hadn’t caught any of the text on the padd’s screen. “It’s my request to be considered for the first officer position,” she said plainly without putting much thought into what she was saying.

Kira was staring at the padd, but then set it gently on the desk when Ezri gave the shorthand version of its contents. She looked at Ezri with a confused expression. “Ezri,” she said, “Julian says that Elias will pull through.”

Kira’s tone almost sounded morbid to Ezri, possibly because she was requesting to fill the position held by a man who was presently comatose. “I know,” Ezri said with slight hesitation. “It’s just…” She suddenly could not find the words to explain her reason for believing that position would soon become vacant. Kira was becoming more confused; leading Ezri to believe Kira was not aware that Vaughn was considering requesting a transfer. “You mean he didn’t tell you yet?”
Kira stood up and let out a bewildered chuckle. “Tell me what?” she asked with a slightly amused grin.

“I had assumed he already told you that he was thinking about putting in for a transfer,” Ezri calmly explained. “He mentioned it in passing a few times, but I wasn’t sure how serious he was about it.”

“I’ll just keep this on file,” Kira replied awkwardly sliding the padd to the desk. “I won’t tell him if you don’t.”

“Of course,” Ezri said with an embarrassed grin.

She stepped out of the office and headed back for the main Ops console, continuing to feel embarrassed she brought up something that was supposed to be a well-kept secret until there was a level of certainty. At the same time, Ezri was relieved that she managed to save face for all people involved.

Maybe she was becoming too obsessed with career advancement, as Nerys and Worf had suggested she was. Serving as Deep Space Nine’s second-in-command would certainly be a major accomplishment at such a young age. Perhaps what had just taken place in the office was a reminder that her life shouldn’t have to revolve around her work.

###

The morgue adjacent to the Infirmary was dark.

A humanoid figure quietly skulked across the room towards one of the cubicles. He placed the scanning device in his gloved hand over the keypad to override the lockout restricting access to authorized personnel. The door to the cubicle slanted into a horizontal position and a slab slid outward. The dead body of Cole was on it.

The humanoid figure rolled the corpse over so that it would be lying face down and placed a tiny circular disk shaped device on the back of the neck. He then placed an uplink device at the end of his scanner and placed the tip on the relay device drawing implanted data from the brainstem.

After a few minutes, the figure dismantled the data extraction device and placed the components in his belt. He then rolled the corpse back on its back and closed the cubicle. He was about to signal for transport out of the morgue when the cubicle to his left opened.

“Computer, erect a level ten dampening field around the morgue.”

Jonas Escobar was lying in wait inside the cubicle. He sat up and shined a flashlight on the human Section 31 operative. The cubicle to the right of the one housing Cole then opened. Nog was inside. He walked towards the operative and removed the components of his data extraction device from the man’s belt.
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