Sisko and Bashir were both drifting in and out of consciousness. Their arms and legs were chained to a wall. Bashir’s superior mental capacities were better able to resist the sedatives in his bloodstream.
Sisko appeared delirious while mumbling incoherently. Julian felt an instinctive need to attend to his former commanding officer, but was powerless to better appraise his condition. In his barely lucid state, he was also berating himself for letting his obsession with Section 31 get the best of him yet again. And now he and Benjamin were in the custody of a Romulan agent. Even knowing that Ro and Tenmei were tailing them was no guarantee that either of them would get out alive. He could not know with any certainty if he would see Ezri again or if Benjamin would get to be with his family again.
He heard voices on the other side of the door even through a metal alloy that was known for being soundproof. Bashir could not make out what the voices were saying. Even as he was falling out of consciousness once again, he could only make out two distinct voices.
“I managed to escape the space station, as well as apprehend two Starfleet operatives in the process.”
Rennek hovered over a desk monitor reporting his status to Commander Suran. Even though he kept his prisoners sedated, he repeatedly peered back at the door to the holding room hoping that they could not overhear anything. “I had hoped that by giving away my position,” he continued. “I could lure in a few Intelligence agents and glean from them how much they know of our plans to relay incriminating information to the Klingon High Council.”
“It was a risky move on your part that could have resulted in your capture,”
Suran quietly reminded him. “Nonetheless, you need to know how much they know about what you’ve learned from your recon in the Tezwan system. And that end was worth that calculated risk. Use any means at your disposal to find out how much these operatives know of our plans and what they plan to do to stop us.”
“Of course, sir,” Rennek said with another nervous peek at the door. He quickly cut the transmission without a look at the screen and took quick paces towards the holding room entrance.
Rennek stepped into the holding room and used a hypospray to rouse the two human prisoners. He was pleasantly surprised that they quickly awoke, based on what he had heard about humans’ low tolerance for sedatives used by Tal Shiar operatives. The doctor, he knew, had undergone genetic enhancements that made him better able to handle such potent medications. The human captain, on the other hand, should not have regained consciousness so quickly.
“I had expected a team of Starfleet security officers to close in on my location,” he gleefully proclaimed. “But what would they know of any clandestine operations meant to catch us in the act of supplying classified technology to Klingon separatists and then do damage control once the Tal Shiar had double-crossed your Section 31?”
Bashir shook his head coyly. “I am just as in the dark about this as you are.”
“Do not play dumb with me, Doctor,” Rennek persisted. “I am rather pleased, though, that Cole was able to persuade his rather reluctant recruit.”
Bashir continued looking dumfounded, but Rennek was unconvinced of his feigned ignorance. “I know who you are, Julian Subatoi Bashir. I looked up your intelligence file after the curious chain of events that led to the late Chairman Koval’s elevation to the Continuing Committee. Despite your claims to despise Section 31’s mandate, you have a certain fascination with playing the role of spy.”
“I am flattered I am so well known in the Romulan intelligence community,” Bashir flatly quipped.
“We make it our business to know all there is to know about high profile Starfleet personnel.”
The Romulan took a few paces across the room and back towards his prisoners. This time he was face-to-face with Sisko. “Especially you: Captain Benjamin Lafayette Sisko,” he went on, pointing at Sisko’s collar to demonstrate his knowledge of Starfleet rank insignia, “one of Starfleet’s greatest tactical minds during the war with the Dominion and living proof that the Federation is not as naďve as many in the Tal Shiar believe it to be.”
“I’m equally flattered,” Sisko begrudgingly replied. “But I’m also certain you didn’t capture us just to express your admiration of us.”
Rennek grinned, having been reminded of how humans tended to use humor in these kinds of tense situations. He knew it was only an act, and that these two humans would break sooner or later. He was still certain receiving the information he sought was only a matter of time. “Someone of your rank and reputation isn’t foolish enough to fall for the trap I had laid so easily. That means someone is following me.”
“I wouldn’t know about that,” Sisko effortlessly lied.
Rennek leaned in towards Sisko and squeezed his chin. “You would save yourself a lot of trouble, Captain,” he sneered, “if you just tell me exactly
how my pursuers can see my ship through the cloak”--he shoved Sisko’s head against the wall and turned his cold stare towards Bashir--“as well as what Cole had told you, Doctor, before his unfortunate
“Then we can’t really help you,” Bashir fearlessly insisted.
Rennek scoffed, and then paced back and forth in front of his prisoners. “You say that now,” he said with a glance at Sisko. Then looking back at Bashir, he added, “Do not assume you are immune to our mental probes because of your genetic enhancements, Doctor. We’ve made a few improvements.”
Admiral Ross could feel the tension level on the bridge rising slowly. The ship was at yellow alert. The klaxons flashed brightly, and all the bridge officers were eerily quiet as they attended to their stations.
An alert chirped at the conn, catching the attention of Ensign Wallace and drawing everyone else’s attention to the viewscreen. “Entering the Tezwan system, sir,” she announced.
Ross quietly stood up from the command chair. He hesitated to give the standard order when a starship entered a solar system knowing there was no turning back once he did. The unmanned sensor platforms along the outer reaches of the system already detected the fleet. Within a few seconds, the Tezwan perimeter sensors would alert military command of the fleet’s approach towards the planet. One way or another, they would soon go on the defensive by dispatching one of their interceptors.
“Slow to half impulse,” Ross reluctantly ordered. “Put us on a heading of three-three-six mark one-one-eight. Alert all ships to set their assigned attack vector.”
“Aye, sir,” replied a Deltan female communications officer.
Lieutenant Commander Reynolds from a flashing indicator on his tactical display. “Picking up two…no, three ships on approach,” he reported.
“Have they locked weapons on us?” Ross inquired, showing no indications of uncertainty about the orders he would soon issue.
“No, sir,” the tactical officer tersely answered. “Should we raise shields and charge weapons?”
“Not yet. Move to intercept, helm.”
“They’re hailing us,” the communications officer called.
“On audio,” said Ross.
A masculine voice piped through the speakers. “Starfleet vessel: what is your business in this system?”
“Maintain radio silence and stay on our current course,” Ross calmly ordered.
“Repeat, state your business here. If you do not respond, we will assume you are a hostile vessel and open fire.”
“They’re locking weapons,” Reynolds grimly announced.
“Raise shields,” Ross answered. “Load all phaser banks and stand by on quantum torpedoes.”
“Starfleet vessel: this is your final warning,” the Tezwan captain persisted. “Come to a complete stop or we will open fire.”
Ross gave a gesture to direct the communications officer to cut the transmission, and then turned his attention back to Reynolds. “Any subspace explosives on board any of the three ships?”
“None, sir,” Reynolds said with a shake of his head. “That doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t have any.”
Ross gave a disapproving scoff. Everything about this whole he had embarked upon seemed wrong from the beginning. Being blackmailed by Section 31 into participating was bad enough. And for all he knew, Reynolds could be one of their informants. Surely they had to have at least informant on board, but Reynolds remarks served as a reminder that he could have a mutiny on his hands should he decide to call off this fraudulent mission.
“Save any speculation for later, Commander,” Ross snapped. “Stay on our course, helm. What’s the standard weapons arsenal of a Tezwan interceptor?”
“Four phase cannons,” Reynolds plainly stated, “two merculite rocket launchers, class-one defensive shielding. We could take each of them out in one shot.” And as if on cue, the bridge rocked back forth as the ship was taking weapons fire. “They’ve opened fire on us,” he needlessly proclaimed. “Locking all weapons.”
“Hold for my order.”
“They’re targeting us with another volley, sir. Do I return fire?”
The bridge rocked once again, but not hard enough to send anyone crashing to the deck. Ross did momentarily lose his balance and fall gently into the command chair. “Shield status?” he inquired while calling up a status display on the panel on the chair’s right armrest.
“Minimal damage to forward shields,” Reynolds replied. “They just absorbed the explosive force.”
Ross stood back up and took quick paces towards the forward conn and ops consoles. “Helm, bring us about,” he ordered.
“Sir?” Reynolds gasped. He ascended from his chair and slowly approached the admiral.
“Do it,” Ross reiterated to Wallace. Then to Reynolds, he added, “I’m not going to inflict damage on ships in no position to defend themselves against us. Alert all ships, we’re aborting the mission. Repeat, we’re aborting the mission.”
“Aye, sir,” the Deltan communications officer quickly responded.
“What’s going on, sir?” Reynolds demanded. “We were told the Tezwan were in possession of subspace weapons in violation of the Khitomer Accords. Why, then, are we aborting?”
Maybe he’s just as in the dark as the rest of crew or maybe that’s just an act. Ross then gave Reynolds a firm stare. “Because they don’t have any such weapons,” the admiral adamantly proclaimed. “If they did, they most likely would have used them in this confrontation.”
Ross then walked along the port side of the bridge in order to address the entire bridge crew when making a stunning a revelation. “The President had a sought pretext to invade Tezwa to protect certain secrets that I am not inclined to specify at this time,” he continued. “I waited until the last possible second to call off this invasion so that all of you could see firsthand that the Tezwan do not pose any
military threat to us whatsoever. Had we continued, we would be carrying out illegal orders.”
Ross stood in front of the viewscreen and watched as a few of his officers exchanged befuddled stares waiting, as if certain, for Commander Reynolds to countermand his order.
He didn’t. And no one else did.
“Lay in a reciprocal course for Starbase 157. Alert all ships to do the same.”
Giving that order felt very easy. The biggest challenge would be how to respond to Section 31 carrying its threat to reveal his past involvement in their activities.
Office of the Federation Council President
“You assured me that Ross would be willing to carry out this mission with very few questions.”
President Min Zife angrily pounded on his desk upon hearing what had taken place at Tezwa from his chief of staff.
Koll Azernal maintained a cool demeanor in spite of Zife’s rage. “I see now that may have been an error in judgment,” he replied with a rueful nod.
Zife scoffed, lurched out of his chair, and stared out the window at the Paris skyline. “Now that’s an understatement,” he sneered. “Recall the ships. It was my hope we would have the element of surprise on my side. If we continue with the invasion now, it will only attract too much unwanted attention.”
Azernal took slow steps closer to the desk “Is that a good idea, sir?” he asked while taking slow steps closer to the desk. “Prime Minister Kinchawn will be demanding answers.”
Zife rolled his eyes as he heard a statement of the obvious. “Yes, he will,” he calmly agreed. “So I want you to draft a formal response immediately. Inform him that those ships were conducting unauthorized reconnaissance of the system while acting on inaccurate intelligence reports. It was all just an unfortunate misunderstanding.”
“I will get on it immediately, sir,” Azernal obligingly responded.
“If there’s nothing else, you’re dismissed, Koll.”
Zife watched Azernal, through a reflection in the window, saunter out of the office. He continued staring out at the cityscape contemplating where it all went wrong. This problem certainly arose when he had placed advanced weapons on the home planet of a newly space-faring race. It seemed like a shrewd move hiding nadion pulse cannon on one of the last planets the Dominion would suspect in the event the war took a turn for the worse. The biggest problems arose when his efforts to remove the weapons proved futile, hence necessitating this complex operation. Now that it was taking shape, almost anything that could conceivably go wrong was going wrong.
He took a quick glance at the meeting area and saw a humanoid figure occupying one of the chairs. He quickly paced towards the chair, situated perpendicular to two sofas and facing a coffee table. He stepped closer and saw her--the Vulcan woman who often visited Azernal.
“I knew you didn’t have it in you to maintain this façade,” she remarked with a calm veneer.
“You gave me your assurances as well, L’Haan,” Zife said with subdued irritation in his voice. “You told me that Admiral Ross was the perfect choice to lead this mission.”
“And we had assumed he would be properly motivated by the possibility of his extralegal activities becoming public knowledge,” L’Haan attempted to explain, unfazed by Zife’s emotional state, “from circumstances that led to Chairman Koval’s elevation to the Continuing Committee to endorsing the use of fraudulent evidence that brought the Romulans to our side in the Dominion War.”
Zife gave an annoyed grunt, not wanting to be reminded of why Section 31 had recommended Ross for this mission. “A grave miscalculation on your part,” he barked, wagging his forefinger in L’Haan’s direction.
“I’d suggest watching your tone, Mister President
,” L’Haan coldly warned.
Zife thought that the Vulcan Section 31 agent’s emphasis on that particular moniker was meant as a taunt, as if she could remove him from office without any impediments. He couldn’t blame her if she exercised whatever means she had at her disposal considering what had gone wrong. Her compatriots were just as accountable, but L’Haan was too arrogant to admit that.
“We can just as easily disclose your
role in this as well,” L’Haan continued. “Of course, you were right to recall the ships. Continuing a preemptive invasion after Ross chose to subvert your orders would raise too many questions. Publicly, Kinchawn will accept your explanation, but privately, he’ll want your head and those of the officers conducting ‘unauthorized reconnaissance.’ And that means we can no longer afford any more of this administration’s failures. Reducing the fallout is now exclusively Section 31’s responsibility. We can no longer afford any more of this administration’s failures.”
“You wouldn’t…” Zife started to say. He looked away from her for a brief moment, but he looked back in her direction, she was gone. He sighed in disgust as his festering anger burrowed to the surface. He lifted a lamp off its stand and threw it across the office.
Luther Sloan approached a holographic imaging chamber, from which L’Haan exited. She was allowing an isomorphic projection of herself to appear in the Palais
. Sloan was almost certain her meeting with the President even though she almost always had the same expression on her face. One of her eyebrows, however, twitched when she saw Sloan approach her as she exited the imaging chamber.
“I’ve just gotten a message from the acting director of Division Three,” Sloan informed his fellow director. “The sentry dispatched to extract sensitive data from Director Cole’s cortical implants has failed to report back. Either he was also captured, in which case his suicide implant was also triggered, or…”
“Or Doctor Bashir has learned of a way to neutralize that advantage,” L’Haan finished. “In that case, he is being held for questioning.”
The tone of her voice seemed to indicate that she was gloating over his failed attempts to recruit Bashir into the Bureau. He put that thought aside and continued to address the issue presently at hand. “Sentries don’t break that easily,” he assured her. “He won’t reveal any pertinent information.”
“That is a rather bold assumption considering the possible alternative scenario I had just presented. We have to make absolutely certain he does not break. Recent events at Tezwa are damaging enough. If the crew of Deep Space Nine were to learn the real reason this whole affair was staged, there are no guarantees regarding what they will do with that information. It would send ripples throughout the Alpha and Beta Quadrants and completely derail all that we have sought to accomplish.”
“Most likely, everything has been derailed already,” Sloan offered with a vague sense of what her next move was. “What are you suggesting?”
“Going through more official channels,” L’Haan plainly replied, “while your division continues to monitor the situation on Earth and take the necessary steps in the event that everything already has been derailed.”