“So what exactly happened between you and Mariana?” Morrison inquired while he and Kozar were pacing through a corridor towards a turbolift.
“You know we ended up bearing a child,” Kozar said while they waited on the arrival of the next available elevator.
“Of course. Savannah was what—three years old when I first met her?”
Kozar grinned, recalling fond memories of his daughter as an adorable toddler while also wondering what she looked like as an adolescent. The turbolift doors opened and a human female stepped walked through. Kozar waited for that officer to pass before continuing. “Mariana insisted that because we lived in separate worlds,” he went on as he and Morrison entered the lift, “she didn’t want me having ‘too much of an influence on Savannah.’ Deck Two.”
The computer acknowledged with a chirp and the lift started moving upward. “I was in the Marines fighting in the border wars; she was a civilian law consultant with the JAG.”
“But at least she didn’t unilaterally decide not to tell the kid who her father was,” Morrison offered. “You had a more recent falling out of some kind. I was never clear what that was about.”
“You remember the civil war on Nicarus?”
Morrison held his mouth open slightly, as if trying to rack his brain. “I remember the Horatio Nelson
making supply runs there, but not the exact details of the political situation.”
“The Federation had been supplying medical and economic aide to both sides. The rebels didn’t take kindly to that and took a Starfleet team hostage. What isn’t included in any of the official reports is that the rebels’ demands for advanced weaponry were met with those same arms being provided to government forces.”
“And Mariana was involved?”
Kozar scoffed, still having a clear memory of what had taken placed eight years earlier. “She was one of the civilian mediators who concluded that a rebel victory would eliminate the Cardassians as a rival trading partner. She openly admitted to committing high treason, but also said that the secret branch of Starfleet she worked for would thoroughly cleanse their hands of this whole affair.”
“You mean the one the captain and Doctor Markalis have had dealings with the past year?”
Kozar shook his head. “I didn’t know at the time they were known as Section 31. She had been leading a double life all this time. If I had accidentally learned she was with Intelligence, I might have been more understanding. But a self-professed defender of law and order was trampling on the very thing she claimed to be upholding.”
The turbolift arrived at its destination and the doors parted. “No wonder,” said Morrison as both men stepped through the doorway and into the corridor. “It was almost as if she and your daughter never existed since then. Is that why you were suspicious of the captain when she first came aboard?”
“Considering the conflicting accounts of the incident she was involved in month after being recruited into SI,” Kozar replied, “her reputation for not always playing by the rules. The war, though, reminded us of the necessity of bending the rules from time to time in a way that goes beyond occasionally ignoring safety protocols.”
Morrison gave an agreeing nod. “That much was clear when we put that information Mirren Hadar gave us to use.”
“Or more recently, the Dyson Sphere mission.” While saying that, he saw Lisa Neeley behind them in the corner of his eye. “Speaking of awkward…” His slow saunter became a quick pace. He grinned deviously as he got further away from Morrison.
Morrison had been discussing one of the recently arrived visitors, who had once been a major part of Commander Kozar’s life. That had led to discussion of Kozar’s initial distrust of Limis. Kozar had cited an incident Limis was involved in shortly after she was recruited into Starfleet Intelligence. Limis had never shared her version of events, though Starfleet Intelligence’s official report stated she had thwarted a band of Starfleet renegades who had taken a teenage girl, possibly their crewmate Rebecca Sullivan, hostage. Starfleet Security, though, had indicated she may have been involved in supplying a group of disreputable businessmen with the ingredients for a nerve gas to be used against the Cardassians.
That conversation had come to an abrupt halt when Kozar saw someone from the corner of his eye. “Speaking of awkward,” he commented deviously before walking further away.
Morrison turned around and saw his off-and-on lover Lisa Neeley behind him. He gritted his teeth, holding in wanting to curse his friend for forcing an awkward conversation on him.
“Hello, Lieutenant,” Morrison said in a feigned professional tone.
“Commander,” replied the tall woman with long red hair tied into a ponytail. She stopped to hand Morrison a padd. “I was on my way to give this to you: the completed upgrades to the internal sensors.”
Morrison took a glance at a few of the bullet points that appeared on the report. “Sh’Aqba’s very thorough, but you know there’s still a possibility this ship won’t pass inspection.”
“And an even bigger possibility that it will
. And if it does, I’m her new deputy chief of security.”
Morrison was quickly taken aback by that last statement. For about a year and a half, Neeley was the head of the company of Starfleet Marines assigned to the Lambda Paz
. Now that the Dominion War had ended, that department would be largely inactive and a lot of its officers were returning to more conventional starship positions. “Limis approved this?” he asked with a slight stammer.
“Not yet since the addition of personnel can’t be formalized until after the inspection. But one can never make too many good impressions.”
She started to saunter away when Morrison blurted out, “If you’re thinking of continuing to string me along, forget it.”
Lisa came to an abrupt halt and shot Mandel a stern look. “I beg your pardon?”
“Things ended badly for us last time, and that got you transferred. I’m not going to keep on waiting for you to be ready for a more committed relationship. I’m done.”
“I should never underestimate the size of your ego. This has nothing to do with you. I work well with the security personnel on this ship and the Marines will need an experienced officer to help them through the post-war transition. Get over yourself, Morrison.”
Neeley trudged away in a huff, leaving Morrison staring down the corridor as she walked off, certain he had touched a nerve with her.
The engineering section was crowded with Corps of Engineers officers and technicians. Sh’Aqba was trying her hardest to maintain her composure while looking over the shoulders of various inspectors who were looking over the most trivial of computer files. She became even more annoyed when she saw inspectors poking at the warp core and looking through the dilithium maintenance records.
“There’s no need to look through every little file,” she told a human male technician at a console in front of the core. “I’ve done a thorough check of the dilithium spectrum for anomalous frequencies. So you don’t have to waste your time on that.”
“I’m only following orders,” the technician replied while slowly walking away. “I suggest you take this up with who’s in charge.”
Sh’Aqba was about to respond when she heard a familiar voice from behind her. “And that’d me,” it said. Sh’Aqba turned around to see that Commander Charles “Chaz” Logan had sidled up to her. He had served as chief engineer of the Lambda Paz
during its first year in service before he was elevated to senior engineering consultant for the Seventh Fleet. He had often been possessive of the ship. And now, sh’Aqba had felt a similar level of possessiveness with outsiders putting her reputation to the test.
She looked around to make sure no one else was listening. “Commander,” she said in a hushed tone, “you never would have tolerated people mucking around with your ship like this.”
“Even then, I was with the bureaucracy,” Logan calmly replied. “I had some leverage, as I do now. I will do everything possible to see that this ship passes inspection.”
Sh’Aqba was not entirely sure if she could take Logan at his word. He could very often be a windbag, yet his attachment to the Lambda Paz
gave him incentive to see that the ship passed inspection. “I’ll hold you to that,” she said with a skeptical wince.
He turned to walk away when sh’Aqba suddenly realized Logan’s collar was red rather than gold. “Red collar,” she observed aloud.
Logan grinned and took a look at his own collar. “First officer of the Europa
,” he explained.
“Captain Ellison probably wasn’t too happy with that,” sh’Aqba said in reference to the former first officer of the destroyed Seventh Fleet flagship who had recently earned a command.
“Not at first. But being a major stickler for protocol is something he was looking for in a new XO.”
Sh’Aqba gave a speechless nod, wondering if Logan was using self-deprecating humor. He slowly walked away from her while accepting a padd from an inspector. She could barely make out their conversation. She just stared in their direction hopeful that Logan would keep his word.
Kozar entered his office not expecting anyone to be waiting for him there. He stared at a padd in his hand while taking slow steps towards the desk. When he got to the chair, he saw Mariana already seated there. Maybe it was that infamous Section 31 parlor trick of suddenly appearing in someone’s office or residence without prior warning. “You never knew how to knock,” he remarked.
Mariana flashed a wide smile and stood up to look him straight in the eye. “Now that’s the Ronnie I remember before that first post-captaincy,” she said with a flirtatious lilt. “Now you’re too concerned with duty and respecting spirit of the law.”
Ronnie looked away from her gleaming blue eyes and circled around the desk. “Someone with two advanced degrees in interstellar law and diplomacy should respect the spirit of the law as well as the letter of the law.”
“You’re still angry with me about that?” Mariana scoffed. “So much that you would cut our daughter out of your life just to punish me? I’ve told Savannah you’ve been awfully busy these last seven years—so much so you can’t even send her a single letter. I had hoped the war would have given you a different perspective. How much soul searching did you have to do before taking this ship on a covert mission to confirm the location of a ketracel white plant deep in enemy territory? And in spite the fact you relieved your captain of command for having tortured the pertinent information from that man.”
Ronnie rolled his eyes, perturbed that his former lover had still been watching him even after he said he wanted nothing more to do with her. “You’ve been keeping tabs on me,” he rhetorically stated, futilely trying to mask his annoyance.
Mariana grinned and circled the desk. “Don’t worry. I’m not some deranged stalker. If you could learn to tolerate Captain Limis’s brash actions, surely you could forgive me.”
“At least she never committed treason in the guise of acting on Federation interests.”
“Treason?” Mariana dismissively repeated as she took slow steps towards him. “Please. The Nicaru rebels were by no means a military threat to us. We saved
the lives of seven Starfleet officers in that deal.”
Ronnie jerked his head in Mariana’s direction while she was gently stroking his arm. “What about the thousands of political dissenters being tortured to death? If you had seen the atrocities they committed, you wouldn’t have been so quick to appease them. And I thought we had moved beyond that cloak-and-dagger crap.”
“In a universe where everyone shared our sense of right and wrong, we would be past it,” she replied, placing the palm of her left hand on his right cheek. “Perhaps it’s that idealism that has kept you from getting that starship command you feel you deserve. But I can make things a lot easier for you, Ronnie, while sparing your crew the indignity of this inquisition.”
They stared into each other’s eyes for a very long moment until they were kissing each other on the lips, which Ronnie didn’t spurn initially. Despite his own resistance, her presence alone on this ship was enough to stir up old feelings in him and rekindle the passion they felt for each other nearly two decades earlier. He soon came to his senses and pulled himself away. In his youth, he would have easily succumbed to her feminine wiles.
“The price of that would be doing Section 31’s bidding,” he snapped. “No thank you.” And without another word, he marched towards the door and left the office.
Limis removed a mug of freshly brewed raktajino
from a replicator tray in the main crew lounge. She blew on the steaming hot beverage and took a careful sip while walking towards a nearby sofa. To her pleasant surprise, her longtime friend and Maquis colleague Rebecca Sullivan seated at that sofa. That particular corner of the lounge was where they very often commiserated. Though, with Rebecca still undecided on whether or not to remain to Starfleet, seeing her in uniform and on the ship was an unusual sight for Limis.
“Strange seeing you here,” Limis remarked in jest.
Rebecca flashed an amused grin as Vircona seated herself across from her. “I’m lending a hand with repairs,” she explained, stroking her half-filled mug of tea that had long since gone cold. “Beats loafing around on the starbase figuring out what I’m going to do with myself.”
“So have you decided if you’re going to remain in Starfleet?”
Rebecca momentarily glanced at a nearby viewport. “I’d like to, if it was entirely up to me. This ship has been my home for the last two years. But again, it’s not entirely up to me.”
“This ship will pass inspection. It’s just a formality, as are the interviews Director Wozniak and Miss Katel will be conducting.
Rebecca sighed and slowly placed her mug on the table. “That ought to be fun having them second-guess every decision we’ve made the last two years.”
Limis chuckled, having faced such inquiries before. “They are going to pretend that every decision you’ve made was wrong whether they got a formal stamp of approval from the powers-that-be or not. As long you avoid losing your cool and answer every question honestly, you should do all right.”
Their banter was interrupted when a comm chime sounded and a masculine voice was on the speakers. “Ensign Sullivan, please report to the briefing room.”
“I’ve been summoned,” Rebecca sarcastically remarked. She rose from her seat with a calming grin on her face as she sauntered out of the room.