Rebecca entered the briefing room, where Katel was seated at the head of the meeting table and sorting through several different padds. “Come in, Miss Sullivan,” she said, glancing up from a padd in her hand. To the male security guard stationed next to the door, she said. “You may wait outside.”
On Katel’s direction, Rebecca sat down to her right. “You look familiar,” Rebecca remarked with an eerie sense of having met this woman before. “Have we met before?”
Katel twitched her lips and shook her head without much thought to the inquiry. “Can’t say that we have.”
Rebecca was not sure if she believed Katel, not that it really mattered at this moment. If she had once infiltrated the Maquis, she wouldn’t say it straight right there.
“Nevertheless,” Katel added. “I am honored to meet the widow of one of Starfleet’s favorite traitors.”
Rebecca rolled her eyes. She resented anyone who suggested her late husband Michael Eddington was a traitor when he was as deeply committed to the cause of the Maquis as anyone. Realizing Katel was looking to provoke her, though, Rebecca had to remind herself to carefully consider her responses. “Michael may have betrayed Starfleet,” she somberly replied, “but he was one of the most committed leaders in the Maquis.”
Katel smiled cheerfully. “Of course I’d expect you to say something like that.
Again, Rebecca reminded herself to remain calm.
“Two years later,” Katel went on, “do you feel any sense of accomplishment now that you have survived the war?”
Rebecca gave a light, affirming nod. “Certainly. I feel a sense of satisfaction now that the Dominion has been defeated. That I played a role allows me to say that the Maquis who were slaughtered didn’t die for nothing.”
“You consider their deaths to have been avenged,” agreed Katel. “It still seems like a rather hollow cliché considering they didn’t willingly sacrifice themselves. Your husband is still dead. And so are many other husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, children and parents…”
“I can still appreciate the valiant struggle of those who died on Athos Four, including and especially Michael. Is there a point to any of this banter?”
Katel smirked and perched her clasped hands on the table. “Just hoping that you don’t see me as the enemy. I am simply trying to give an impartial assessment of your fitness for continuing to serve in Starfleet. I bear no malice towards you or any of your crewmates.”
Rebecca winced skeptically, yet kept a firm gaze on her interrogator. “Good to know.
Director Wozniak, meanwhile, conducted interviews with various crewmembers in the ready room. At first, he engaged in friendly banter with Sara Carson that was similar to Katel’s with Sullivan. He asked about Carson’s sense of accomplishment from having survived the last two years, on which she declined to comment. The more difficult line of questioning then came.
“What is your assessment of Captain Limis?”
Carson took a few seconds to consider the response. “I would say she is capable leader who knows how to quickly improvise solutions to any crisis,” she plainly replied.
Wozniak nodded as if being given one of the usual courtesy responses, which he noted on a padd. “Would you suggest she has a tendency to jump the gun at times--make rash choices whether they’re in line with protocol or not?”
“Perhaps, but those choices have proven worthwhile.”
Wozniak folded hands together and gave a tense grin. “You may be completely honest with me, Miss Carson. I know it is not your place to question your captain’s orders. But have you ever privately disagreed with some of her decisions…” He briefly consulted the padd on the desk to call up the pertinent data. “… such as the incident on stardate 52895.3?”
“I don’t follow.”
Wozniak read aloud an excerpt from one of Limis’s reports. “‘A wing from the Seventh Fleet was dodging hit-and-run strikes in the Daxura asteroid belt.’”
The Federation Alliance was at a critical juncture in the Dominion War. With a new countermeasure to the Breen’s energy dampening weapons in place, Federation and allied forces were back on the offensive. The
Lambda Paz was able to hold her own during a twenty-day standoff in the Daxura System. On the fourteenth day, however, the Dominion and Breen were able to turn the tide by overcoming Klingon and Romulan cloaking technology. Limis ordered a strategic withdraw while executing a bold plan to turn the battle back in the Alliance’s favor.
Prometheus wings, move out,” the captain ordered. “Lay down cover fire for any nearby disabled ships. But tell the Epimetheus to hold position, Mister Huckaby.
The latter order caught both Commander Kozar and Lieutenant Willis Huckaby by surprise.
Ignoring the confusion on their faces, Limis continued issuing orders. “Helm, take us deeper into the asteroid field.”
“Captain?” Carson gasped as if unable to comprehend the logic of that order.
“Do it,” Limis confirmed. “Come to course two-one mark three-five-five. Full impulse.”
Kozar took several steps closer to the captain’s chair to punctuate his pending question. “Captain, what are you doing?” he demanded.
Limis ignored Kozar’s inquiry and arched her head towards Morrison. “How many tactical nukes do we have in our arsenal?” she asked him.
“Fourteen,” Morrison answered, trying to hide his skepticism. “Attach six radiogenic warheads to the quantum torpedoes,”
Limis continued. “Get down to the torpedo bay and lend a hand.
Epimetheus, follow us in so you can cover us.”
The serene voice of Commander Selek piped in through the ship-to-ship comm chatter. “Captain, if I may ask the logic behind this course of action…”
“No, you may not,” Limis unflinchingly replied with a collectedness that belied the stereotypical Vulcan calmness. “Put us on course.”
Carson quickly entered the new course, and then rose from her chair to address the captain. “Captain,” she said, “the starboard impulse engine is a little sluggish and could give out at any time. I should probably help out with repairs down there.”
“Go ahead,” Limis answered with an approving nod. “Kozar, take the helm, Huckaby, tactical.”
“I wasn’t on the bridge at the time that plan was executed,” Carson reminded Wozniak.
“But you did carry out the order bring the ship deeper in the asteroid belt even as the rest of your wing was in retreat,” replied Wozniak. “And surely you heard the computer’s radiation warnings.”
Six different explosions originated from the three asteroids as the Lambda Paz was speeding away. The blast encompassed a very large area, vaporizing an entire squad of Jem’Hadar and Breen fighters within ten thousand kilometers. The explosive shockwave still clipped the
Lambda Paz and
Kozar kept a heavy grip on the helm to hold the ship steady as the bridge rattled. “Impulse engines are out. I’m trying to reset the inertial dampers.” With a few quick commands entered on the console, the shaking stopped.
Limis gathered herself, brushed off her uniform, and sat back in the command chair. “Epimetheus, what’s your status?” she inquired with hope they were in better shape.
“Warp and impulse engines off-line,” Selek replied calmly, but ominously.
“Shields are failing, and we cannot reattach the three modules.”
“Not to mention,” Huckaby chimed in with a grim tone, “getting out of this part of the asteroid field before the shields fail completely. Radiation levels at ninety millirads per minute and rising. At this rate, we’re looking at lethal exposure in about thirty-seven minutes.”
“We still got out of there in one piece,” Huckaby insisted during his interview.
“Seems like blind luck to me,” Katel curtly replied.
“Warning,” the computer ominously intoned, as Limis was about to speak.
“Radiation levels at one hundred fifty millirads per minute and rising. Lethal exposure in twenty-seven minutes.”
Limis sighed and rolled her eyes, mulling whether to silence additional audio warnings. “Status of your tractor beam?” she asked Selek.
“All three modules’ primary tractor emitters are nonfunctional,” the Vulcan commander ambivalently replied.
“Why did I get the feeling you were going to say that?” Limis wondered with a frustrated scoff.
“I am uncertain.”
Kozar signed off on a repair order and handed a padd back to a Trill male crewman. He had also been listening to Limis’s conversation with Selek. “All of our tractor beam emitters are in full working order,” he offered while slowly sauntering up to the captain. “We could transport components over to Epimetheus. “Of course, the radiation will limit its effectiveness.”
“How long will it take to remove them and integrate into their systems?” Limis asked, eager for any bit of promising news.
Huckaby was entering probability calculations at ops upon hearing this suggestion. “That’s the problem,” he chimed in. “Forty minutes.”
Limis shook her head feeling a mix of dread and amusement. “At least the ship will still be intact. But I’m still pushing for a stay of execution. Huckaby, lend a hand. One extra pair of hands won’t hurt.”
Kozar took over ops once Huckaby made a quick beeline for the port turbolift. “Radiation protocol is in place,” he said. “Hopefully with hyronaline being pumped into the air supply and sh’Aqba working to feed any power that’s available to the shields, that’ll buy us some extra time.”
“It’ll have to,” Limis retorted. “The only other thing we can do is hope to hell we won’t have to deal with any more Jem’Hadar or Breen ships.” She then sat in the command chair and stared straight at the viewscreen.
“An enemy patrol could’ve blasted you to ash during the time you were improvising an escape plan,” Katel contended.
“We were counting on them avoiding the rising radiation levels,” Huckaby offered. “And thankfully, keeping an eye on the shields and implementing standard radiation protocols bought us extra time.”
Katel made some notes on her padd while nodding skeptically. “Yet, she unilaterally chose to put all your lives at risk.”
Huckaby rolled his eyes in annoyance at his interviewer’s last remark. “That’s the risk we all take. But we do what a superior tells us; even knowing we may not survive because more often than not they know better than us.”
“Even so,” Katel persisted, “you probably still feel that was a reckless choice; one that could have cost all your lives.”
“Only because we spent the last two years fighting for a cause that was far more important than any one life, even my own. Sometimes, that required making reckless choices.”
“You are aware that when a commanding officer issues an illegal order,” Katel reminded Lieutenant Neeley, “a subordinate is ethically obligated not to follow that order.”
“What are you getting at?” Neeley demanded with an accusatory stare.
“We’re going to need Mister Galloway’s help if we’re to get off this planet,” Limis informed her away team that was stranded on a dank jungle planet.
Neeley rolled her eyes and scoffed to express her annoyance at the very suggestion of asking for a barely conscious man’s assistance. But Limis had made up her mind since Galloway would be dead sooner or later.
“Wake him,” Limis instructed.
Sergeant Samaritan Bowers reluctantly complied, injecting Les Galloway with a stimulant. Limis looked over to the Marine soldier, whose breathing was slow and labored. “We need that comm-unit fixed,” the captain stated. “You up for talking Ensign Sullivan through the repairs?”
“Sure,” Galloway wheezed. “I may still die in this muck, but I can still strive to leave here alive.
“The three of you made a conscious choice to hasten a man’s death,” Katel argued. “That is something no reputable medical practitioner would ever do, even if that patient were beyond saving.”
“The idea that anyone would take such action is appalling,” Doctor Markalis remarked. “Thankfully, Captain Limis has never put me in such a position.”
“Do you trust your captain?” Katel inquired.
“And in return, she trusts you. That is very flattering. And so sooner or later, she’ll ask you to do something you find morally reprehensible—something that goes against your solemn oath to do no harm.”
Markalis scoffed. “You think I haven’t already done so in the line of duty?”
“I have four different strains of the virus,” Markalis informed a group of Augments she had volunteered to infiltrate as part of an undercover operation for Section 31. “Human and Betazoid augments could be immune to one or all of them. I don’t have enough antibody samples to run further tests.”
“Of course you do,” Rhys Darcen answered sharply. “The four of us.”
Markalis was at a loss for words. Was he actually suggesting that she infect him and his followers with the virus? “You don’t mean…” she began with hesitation.
“Yes,” Darcen snapped. “I want you to infect each of us with the virus.” Seeing the look of worry on his lover’s face that one of them would die, he added, “Some ideals are worth dying for, Ileana.”
“Yes, my love,” Ileana Roshanak replied, as they kissed.
Markalis prepared vials of the four different virus strains and injected Grimaud, then Ileana, and then Snežana Ilochko. When she stepped over to Rhys, she had a morbid feeling just from his cold demeanor. “Come on,” he snapped. Aurellan placed the last vial into the hypospray injected him with the virus.
“Now that that’s over with,” he said with a slight grin. “Our destination is Ventani Two.”
Darcen saw Markalis’s eyebrows twitch at that planet’s mention. “I trust you know of it, Aurellan,” he continued.
“It was the home of Tret Akleen,” Markalis replied. “He’s considered the father of the modern day Cardassian Union.”
“Correct. It is not one of the most strategically significant sectors of Dominion space. But it would be a demoralizing blow to the Cardassians.”
“It would send a message that the same fate would befall other planets in the Cardassian Union,” Ileana added.
“Even their home planet,” Snežana chimed in.
“A situation she placed you in out of an obsession with bringing down a so-called rogue branch of Starfleet,” Katel offered.
“I’ve had plenty of dealings with the supposedly non-existent Section 31,” Aurellan demurely replied.
Commander Ziminske Aris, the Bajoran alias of the medical ship USS
Semmelweis’s first officer, pulled up a chair out from under a nearby table and seated herself across from Aurellan. Markalis had just confronted Commander Ziminske with a discovery that a weaponized virus manufactured by the Dominion was actually a disease meant to kill the shapeshifting Founders of the Dominion.
“Section 31 did, in fact, synthesize this virus,” Ziminske calmly explained. “But that was when it was under different leadership. They didn’t bother to devise a cure since humanoids face no danger of accidental exposure. After a recent changing of the guard, our doctors have worked exhaustively on a cure. And what we couldn’t develop in three years, you devised in a day. Congratulations.”
Aurellan rolled her eyes, such praise feeling hollow knowing what she knew. “But you’re still covering it up,” she said, unable to contain her unadulterated shock that members of the morally superior Starfleet had conspired to commit genocide.
“Of course we are,” Ziminske snapped. She stood up and towered over Aurellan. “Because, as far as the Founders are concerned, all non-shapeshifting races are a threat to them. And for something like this to become public knowledge would only validate that perception. So you are not to breathe a word of this to anyone. And that is an order.”
Aurellan had followed such orders to the letter, but discreetly reported the Section 31 agent’s criminal activities to
Lambda Paz security. Ziminske had since been incarcerated and Limis had her moved to Starbase G-6’s infirmary to have her fake Bajoran nose ridges removed. Aurellan later paid Ziminske a visit while she was recuperating under heavy guard.
“We wouldn’t want the general public to know that a rogue Federation organization is the reason the Founders are dying,” Aurellan sarcastically remarked. “And the Federation’s image as a benevolent multi-planetary alliance would be tainted. And we don’t want that, do we?”
“I’m glad you see it that way,” Ziminske answered with a wry grin.
Aurellan gritted her teeth. “The choice was clear,” she confidently stated. “You reminded me that we can’t save every patient no matter how much we might want to. We can’t fix every problem.
“When I first heard about Section 31, it was like finding out a childhood hero was anything but a hero. I was shaken to learn that a branch of Starfleet was okay with using biological and chemical weapons. But what could
I do about that? Here, I saw a chance to do right and I took it.”
“So you’re saying she decided that the lives of two senior officers were more important than that of a noncom in your Marine contingent.”
Wozniak was making notes on a padd while conducting his interview sh’Aqba in engineering. Sh’Aqba had to oversee a maintenance session at the time of her interview was scheduled, and Wozniak was more than happy to accommodate. They had been discussing a confrontation with the Dominion during Lambda Paz
’s maiden voyage when the pilots of a shuttle were forced to crash land on a planet behind enemy lines. Sh’Aqba had been left in command of the ship while Limis chose to lead an away mission to rescue the missing crewmembers. And she still vividly remembered Kozar’s annoyance with the captain’s absence upon his return from a reconnaissance survey of the planet.
“Of course not, sir,” sh’Aqba snapped while overseeing an ensign’s work at one of consoles just outside the warp core chamber. She tapped a few keys on the console and focused her full attention on Wozniak. “She’s an experienced soldier who knows not to leave her colleagues behind.”
“Yet, in the process,” Wozniak persisted, “one Marine was killed; three others were wounded, including your medical officer. And she chose to abandon one of the officers she was seeking to rescue.”
“It’s an age-old Earth aphorism,” sh’Aqba shot back as she paced briskly towards a nearby line of control consoles, “not a hard-and-fast protocol. She was prepared to give those two officers the best chance of survival, but not at the expense of an entire six person rescue team.”
Wozniak was easily able to keep pace. “So it ultimately still came down to a numbers game, did it not?” he offered, upon catching up to her.
“I wouldn’t go that far. And I hardly envy such choices, even when I’ve had to make them.”
“I’ve read your report regarding the actions you had taken to save the ship while it was in the Daxura asteroid belt,” Wozniak remarked, in reference to when sh’Aqba manually sealed an emergency bulkhead at the risk of her and her unborn child dying from radiation poisoning or a dwindling air supply. “I’m not sure I’d be willing put myself at risk like that. Nevertheless, I’d still classify every decision Captain Limis during this particular incident as based on serious lapses in judgment.”
Wozniak continued making on his padds while Sh’Aqba rolled her eyes and walked away, muttering an Andorian swear.
On the bridge, Wozniak conducted his interview with Ensign Goris misch Rev, a Tellarite who served as operations manager during the swing shift. He was also an expert physicist and a well-trained pilot, so he held a versatile array of responsibilities on the Lambda Paz
the last two years. As a former member of the Maquis, he had his share of experiences fighting in the trenches, prompting Limis to recruit him for a mission that culminated in the destruction of Sentok Nor, the liberation of Betazed, and the rescue of Limis’s son. It was a still a mission that had its fair share of obstacles.
“In effect, she threw you to the wolves,” Wozniak inferred.
“Of course not!” M’Rev snapped while dividing his attention between his interviewer and the port mission operations console.
Wozniak circled around M’Rev so that he was face-to-face with him. “Let’s review the chain of events here,” he said while making notes on his padd. “Captain Limis recruits you for a mission behind enemy lines. Your part in this is to pilot a runabout to a secret location where an informant, who is a former colleague of yours in the Maquis, arranges to have your party transported to Sentok Nor in the hope of sabotaging the station orbiting Betazed. But once you’re aboard the station, the ‘insider’ who lured your team to the station double-crosses you and has you captured and tortured for information.”
“Gul Lemec oversaw the interrogation,” M’Rev recalled, resisting the urge to utter a Tellarite swear. “Thalek had been providing important tactical data on the war effort for months before that mission. And he ultimately sacrificed his life to assure our escape.”
“It remains to be seen whether that information divulged to the Federation was genuine or not. But did it not occur to your captain that Chief of Security Thalek might end up betraying you?”
M’Rev sighed, not sure if Wozniak was trying to goad him into saying something negative about Limis. “I’m not at liberty to say. Most of us got out of there alive along with her son. She may have had a Plan B lined up.”
“Did she inform you of any Plan B?”
M’Rev hesitated momentarily. “Well, no, but…”
“I’d say then,” Wozniak interrupted, “that she was caught completely off guard while preoccupied with a personal errand of mercy.”
And he so noted that on his padd.
Of all the crewmembers being interviewed, only Chief Petty Officer Willem Margose was willing to speak ill of Limis. He had requested a transfer off Lambda Paz
a year earlier during a layover at Starbase G-6. The ship had experienced numerous malfunctions which appeared to be the workings of a Changeling when Limis discovered the remains of a dead Changeling in her ready room.
Though further investigation revealed the true culprits as the parasites who once infiltrated Starfleet Headquarters, a blood test falsely implicated Margose as a shapeshifter, and he was briefly incarcerated. While he was in the brig, Limis accused him of “hiding behind” the rights of Federation citizens as an intimidation tactic. That did not sit well with Margose, who promptly transferred off. Recent circumstances, such as the destruction of the USS Vigilant
would soon lead back to the Lambda Paz
’s engineering department.
“She and the doc faked that test,” he paraphrased. “I’m sure of it. It was probably to cover up the fact that one of them was the real shapeshifter. Or maybe it’s because she has absolutely no regard for the Federation Constitution or any of the basic principles the Federation was founded on.”
Wozniak grinned wryly, as if he had hit on a veritable gold mine of incriminating information on the Lambda Paz
Sh’Aqba removed a beverage from a replicator tray and headed for a nearby table in one corner of the crew lounge. Lieutenants Carson and Huckaby were already seated across from each other at that table. Sh’Aqba smiled to greet them and sat in between them. She felt a little envious that they got to drink alcohol and she didn’t because of her pregnancy. It was one of the costs of carrying an unborn child, she kept reminding herself.
With the war over and the ship on layover, the crew had more normal duty shifts. Some of the department heads and lower ranking bridge officers had developed a tradition of getting together for drinks every evening. This trio shared a few anecdotes about their days when M’Rev sat down with them.
“I just got out of my interview,” he said with a sigh. “I thought the whole point of these interviews was to judge whether everyone was fit to continue serving in Starfleet. But Wozniak just asked a bunch of questions about the captain.”
Carson’s eyes widened with confusion and skepticism. “He just asked me about the about a battle in the war,” she remarked. “When we seeded asteroids with nuclear explosives.”
“Katel asked me about that, too,” Huckaby added. He and Carson shot quick glances at sh’Aqba.
“Wozniak had a few questions about our first mission,” she informed them.
“The reconnaissance survey in the Tong-Beak Nebula?” Carson asked.
Sh’Aqba nodded. Each of them exchanged quick glances, suddenly having an eerie sense that the purpose of these interviews was truly to portray their captain as unfit for command. But what could any of them do?