Shinar sh’Aqba sat upwards on a sickbay biobed while anxiously watching Doctor Markalis looking studiously at the main diagnostic console. She stared at the incubation unit her unborn child would be transported to with amazement at how much the interior resembled her womb on the numerous medical scans she had undergone. While feeling a greater sense of hope that her child would survive a normal Andorian gestation period, she also wondered if she would feel a sense of loss once this developing life was removed from her body.
“I’ve locked onto the fetus,” Markalis announced. “Initiating transport…now.”
The incubation unit flashed as the fetus gradually materialized within it. Shinar gasped and stared in awe at her partially developed offspring. She stared straight into its eyes even knowing it was not remotely aware of its mother on the other side of the transparency. She gently perched the tips of her fingers against the transparency hoping to establish the mental bond with it that was broken just a moment ago. “It’s so small,” she observed, recalling the slightly greater size of newborn Andorian babies she had seen. “Do you know the sex yet?”
Aurellan stepped away from the diagnostic and stared at the partially developed fetus’s beady eyes. “If it were fully Andorian,” she said, “I’d say it was a shen
. But I couldn’t say right now since it’s an Andorian-Rigelian hybrid.”
Shinar lowered her head, being reminded of her lover’s death. During this latest visit to sickbay, she hadn’t put much thought into her child being half Rigelian until Aurellan had called attention to that fact.
“Sorry,” Aurellan blurted apologetically.
“It’s okay,” Shinar replied, clasping Aurellan’s shoulder. “I’m feeling so many mixed emotions. I’m constantly reminded that Erhlich is gone and he left me with an illegitimate child, while this small life is all that’s left of him. I tried to think of this baby as a burden that I could absolve myself of by ignoring it. Seeing it now makes me cherish it more than what it was inside of me.”
Aurellan took a quick look at Shinar and smiled. “I bet you can’t wait till it’s born.”
“These next three months will certainly feel like an eternity,” Shinar declared as she allowed a joyful tear escape her eye.
Limis Vircona was seated behind the ready room desk when Director Wozniak entered. As she stood up, she stared blankly at him. She had been practicing that poker face in the mirror ever since Wozniak and Katel arranged to come aboard her ship. She slowly circled the desk and offered Wozniak her chair. “Saving the best for last, I see,” she acerbically remarked.
“That’s kind of the idea since this interview looks to be the longest,” Wozniak replied. He nonchalantly headed for the chair he was just offered and sat right down as if the desk was his--activating the desk monitor and making notes on a padd that he was copying from the screen.
Limis let out a stifled chuckle and sat down in one of the guest chairs. “I figured that as well.”
Wozniak clasped his hands on his desk and smirked, which Limis knew to be an insincere affectation. “Let’s get started, shall we? Going all the way back to this ship’s maiden voyage. I’ve heard what everybody has had to say regarding your decision to lead a rescue party into a potential combat zone. Now I’d like to hear it in your own words.
“Who else’s words would it be?”
Unfazed by that quip, Wozniak looked at the monitor as if he had to refer to the captain’s logs to think of a question. “Starting with your decision to lead a team after the shuttle piloted by Commander Logan and Lieutenant Carson crash-landed on the planet.”
He then looked straight at Limis with a scolding glower on his face. Limis was more amused than intimidated. After all, from her perspective, this Starfleet bureaucrat was nowhere near as scary as a Cardassian or Jem’Hadar determined to kill her. She kept a bland expression, though, so as not to come across as arrogant or complacent now that the questioning had begun.
“Under Starfleet Code, Section 12, Paragraph 4,” Wozniak continued, “the second most senior officer should have been the leader of that away team--in this particular case, Lieutenant Commander Morrison.”
“If that was set in stone, would not Jean-Luc Picard have been court-martialed a dozen times over?”
“Of course not,” Wozniak responded while leaning back against his chair, “because of Paragraph 5 giving a starship commander broad discretion in those matters. In this case, however, Morrison certainly was capable of leading such a team as someone who fought in the trenches during the Cardassian wars.”
“True, but he and the Marines still had limited experience going against the Jem’Hadar,” Limis offered. “I provided that experience that they lacked.”
Wozniak nodded as if he agreed but wouldn’t let that stand in the way of his ultimate goal, whatever that was. “I see. What of your decision to put more lives in jeopardy in search of two officers who may or may not have survived the crash?”
“I don’t follow,” Limis said with feigned ignorance.
“The worst-case scenario was that neither of the missing officers survived the crash and you and every member of your team was killed in an enemy ambush.”
Limis leaned forward, placing herself eye-to-eye with her interrogator. “That is a risk that is taken in every
mission with the potential for combat. And the worst-case scenario is that whole ships are lost with all hands. Starfleet officers are trained in trying to minimize such tragic losses. But no amount of training can prepare even the most experienced officer for the unknown. I did what I felt gave them the best chance at survival while at the same time minimizing loss of life.”
“Which is why, according to your log, you chose to abandon the rescue while your team was under heavy fire. And had Morrison followed that order to the letter, two lives still would have been lost.”
Limis sighed, resisting the urge to suggest Wozniak was hard of hearing. “That’s the risk we take. We do not abandon our people just as Michael Eddington didn’t abandon us even though he was in jail awaiting sentencing. True, he was killed and so were many others when we landed on Athos Four. Many of us still survived and brought to Starfleet an unwavering determination to achieve victory by any means necessary in the war with the Dominion.”
“So you’re okay with sacrificing a few lives for a greater good?”
Limis scoffed in annoyance at his suggestion that she trivialized all those deaths that happened on her watch. “I wouldn’t put it so callously,” she insisted while leaning back in her chair. She then jabbed her forefinger on the desk to emphasize her point. “Not a day goes by where I don’t mourn those who lost their lives. The basic goal of any combat mission is to achieve victory and come home alive. That’s far from a realistic goal, but I still strive to achieve it in every such mission I lead.”
Unfettered, Wozniak kept going. “Ironically, though, you chose to trivialize the life of a Cardassian even though he was a noncombatant.”
“He had information that could have gone a long way towards winning the war,” Limis matter-of-factly answered, even though she did berate herself constantly that the interrogation resulted in Mirren Hadar’s death. For the last two years, she asked herself if she could handle the situation differently even if all that soul-searching yielded the same conclusion. She couldn’t have done things differently and wouldn’t if a similar situation arose.
Wozniak perched his chin on his clasped hands. “All evidence seems to point to Mirren Hadar clandestinely seeking a means of undermining the Dominion’s efforts. Your pursuit of the thieves led your ship to a location where Dominion and Federation technical secrets were being passed off to the Romulan Empire.”
Limis shook her head and leaned back in her chair. “I don’t pretend to understand the politics of the situation, but he knew the location of a ketracel-white plant. His death was tragic; but if I had to do it over again, I would, even knowing now that taking out that facility didn’t decisively win or lose the war. It was still a damn good start.”
Wozniak leaned forward and took a quick at the padd. That move didn’t fool Limis as he probably memorized every one of her controversial decisions. “Even when your aim is to minimize loss of life, some of your actions have seemed reckless, starting with your one-person mission to rescue your medical officer.”
“I felt responsible for putting an officer with no experience with Intelligence fieldwork in a dangerous situation,” Limis candidly recalled. “The responsibility fell on me alone to come to her rescue.”
“Even so,” Wozniak offered, “a commanding officer putting such great responsibilities squarely on her own shoulders can be a liability, can it not?”
“I still try to set realistic goals for myself.”
“Such as your reported experiences in an alternate universe when you undermined a mission that would have brought a quick end to the Dominion War--a war the Federation of that universe was on the precipice of losing.”
Limis snuck a peek at Wozniak’s padd, which not surprisingly was blank. “What you are leaving out is the nature of that mission. It was one to have Cardassia Prime and many other worlds in enemy territory sucked into quantum singularities.”
“In other words,” Wozniak replied, raising his right forefinger in Limis’s direction, “you do draw a line when it comes to bending the rules. But in doing so, you ignored the Prime Directive, specifically sub-order fourteen regarding interference in the affairs of parallel universes.”
“A convenient copout from doing what I felt was unequivocally the morally right thing to do.”
“So you believe all Starfleet regulations are just a list of suggestions?”
“No,” Limis snapped, needing an extra effort to keep her calm. “There are times and places where those regulations apply. A good officer knows when not to blindly follow them so rigidly.”
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Wozniak said, noting that on his padd. “You feel you are acting for a greater good that the rest of us aren’t smart enough to notice. That seemed to be the case during the mission to disable the Dyson Sphere when you supposedly learned its function. In effect, it violated a wartime agreement with the Romulans.”
“My logs indicate, based on unusual astronomical phenomenon at the time, the veracity of those claims made by a time-traveler from the future,” Limis persisted.
“The veracity of those claims is still under review.”
Limis rolled her eyes in frustration. “If you expect me to recant any of these actions, Director,” she said with a candid shake of her head, “you’re wasting your time. I made decisions that I felt would have the most positive impact. I do regret the loss of life that resulted. As for the decisions themselves, truthfully, I do not regret them for one second.”
“It is for that reason,” Wozniak proclaimed, “that I will be recommending that you be kept on strict supervisory duty in whatever capacity you end up serving.” He stood up, circled around the desk, and sat down in the empty guest chair. “Meanwhile, those former Maquis crewmembers who have not yet resigned will be granted honorable discharges.”
Now that all the cards were being shown, Limis snorted derisively while staring at Wozniak with disgust. Her only regret now was that she didn’t toss Wozniak and his civilian law consultant out the nearest airlock when she had the chance. Then again, that wouldn’t have changed her immediate fate. She stood up and stormed out of the ready room. It was all she could do to keep her from smashing that man’s arrogant face, as well as ignore the unfair reality of her current situation. After two years of dodging Jem’Hadar strikes, the rigid bureaucracy was going to be keeping her on an even tighter leash than before.
Limis sat in the empty lounge staring through the viewport at the stars ahead, wondering in what capacity she might end up serving. She nursed a mug of raktajino
that had long since gone cold. Yet she saw little sense in replicating another warm cup of coffee. The caffeine might have lifted out of the mental rut the last few days left her in, but would not alter the reality of her future. She was about to be placed on strict supervisory duty, possibly in a more administrative position on a starbase. It was still no way to treat a war hero whose off-book actions had more positive than negative outcomes.
She was completely oblivious to the door on her left swooshing open and Rebecca Sullivan stepping in. In fact, Limis was not aware of Rebecca’s approach until she sauntered up to her and seated herself in a chair to her right. “Can I assume something terrible is about to happen?” Rebecca inquired with a somewhat disingenuous frown.
Limis smirked, knowing that Rebecca’s look of feigned sympathy was her way of coaxing friends into talking about their trouble. “How did your interview go?”
“I devoutly followed your advice,” Rebecca candidly replied, taking a sip of tea. “I answered every question honestly and I kept calm even as that shrill wench tried to twist my words to make you look bad.”
“I didn’t mean to imply anything, Becca,” Limis needlessly assured her friend. “It looks as though they had already made their decision.”
“And that is?”
Limis sighed with reluctance at revealing that answer. Of course, she knew Rebecca and the other Maquis crewmembers would find out eventually. “They still consider me something of a valuable asset. As flattering as that sounds, it still feels like a punch in the gut that the rest of the Maquis crewmembers will be granted honorable discharges.”
Rebecca shook her head in disbelief. “I was really hoping they could still use someone with my ‘unique talents’. Guess it won’t work out that way.”
“You’re sure taking it well,” Limis remarked, thinking back to Rebecca being hospitalized on Betazed a few weeks back because of a drug overdose. Rebecca was facing something of an identity crisis now that the Dominion War had ended, but that wasn’t showing right now. “From my perspective,” Limis added, “they’re just removing my support mechanism; weeding out those who are the most likely to come to my defense.”
Rebecca leaned forward and clasped Limis’s right wrist. “So you’ll just take it lying down?”
“There’s not much I can do to change Wozniak’s mind,” Limis insisted. “He’ll make his recommendation to Starfleet Command, which they’ll probably follow. And this time, Admiral Ross’s arm-twisting may not be enough.”
Rebecca set her cup of tea down on the table and held Limis’s right hand with both her hands. “You’re still not the giving up type. You and I could have just accepted those horribly one-sided treaties the Feds signed with the Cardassians and moved on. It was beyond the control of us ordinary citizens eking out a living on the Cardassian frontier. But when my parents were killed after one of those treaties was signed, we both agreed to do what Starfleet was unwilling to do.”
Limis leaned forward, staring straight at the window and set her coffee mug down on the table as if being struck by an epiphany. “In a nutshell,” she said, “change the rules of the game.”