While on an errand of mercy on Betazed after it's liberation from Dominion occupation, Doctor Aurellan Markalis learns a devastating secret about one of her colleagues. While USS Lambda Paz is under repair, Shinar sh'Aqba dreads the possible consequences of breaking Andorian mating taboos while also having dishonored Klingon marital tradition and Mandel Morrison is uncertain what to make of Sara Carson's new romantic partnership while struggling to define his relationship with Lisa Neeley. Historian’s Note: The main events of this story take place one month after the events of “Especially the Lies” and one week after “Reinventing the Wheel”. Prologue Personal log, Doctor Aurellan Markalis, stardate 52497.4: This is the third week that the USS Semmelweis has been in orbit of Betazed providing medical assistance since the planet was liberated from Dominion occupation. These last two weeks have been more like a working vacation devoted mostly to cleaning up the mess left behind by the Dominion. At least we’re not under heavy fire. We can leave the last remaining stragglers to the warships…knock on wood. It was a busy day in Triage Center Four aboard the USS Semmelweis. The center was far more spacious than the primary intensive care units in a starship’s sickbay. The area devoted to the more critical cases was almost a separate room from the area where patients just entering the care ward. Aurellan Markalis scanned a human male patient who had a massive burn on his chest and most of his abdomen. She had already administered painkillers and topical antibiotics and was now employing a tricorder and various other instruments to assure that this plasma burn did not damage any internal organs. “I’m conscious, ain’t I?” he jokingly asked. His personnel file identified him as Starfleet Marine Sergeant Jack Gibbs, a man of early middle age. His head was fully shaved, with stubble indicating he had gone bald some years ago. “If any of my organs were damaged, I’d probably be sprawled on the deck gasping for air.” “We can never be too careful,” Aurellan calmly retorted. Gibbs began coughing profusely, prompting her add, “That just made my point.” “Major Parker warned us of the risks,” Jack remarked. “But it was well worth the risk considering we incinerated five columns of Jemmies when we ignited that fusion core. And while I may not share their belief in any kind of gods, I have to think there is one and you’re one of his angels.” Aurellan just gave a light grin before quickly diverting her gaze from the patient as she sorted through a few different devices on the instrument tray. She was very often a target of casual flirting from various male patients. Even knowing to maintain a certain professional distance from even those patients, such compliments were highly uncomfortable for her. She applied a hypospray to counter the damage to his lungs while trying to avoid making eye contact with him. She almost welcomed seeing Commander Ziminske Aris and Lieutenant Commander Chi’lek entering the ward with two more seriously injured patients with two additional doctors right behind them with a patient on a gurney. It was all she could hope for in order to get away from who was, despite his recent injuries, one of the most attractive men she had ever seen. “Apply a dermal regenerator to those burns,” Aurellan instructed a young female Vulcan nurse. In a hushed tone, she added, “And don’t worry if there’s still scarring on his pecs.” The Vulcan woman raised an eyebrow in confusion, but quickly attended to the patient once she was given the needed medical instrument. “Markalis,” Ziminske shouted, “We need a crash cart, stat! Betazoid male with severe subdural hematoma. Hunt, Wilson, we need a burn unit on these two.” The blonde Bajoran woman then gestured to two Starfleet doctors attending to less serious patients lend a hand with her patient and Chi’lek’s. Ziminske had a human male’s right arm draped around her shoulders. His lower right leg was completely limp while he collapsed under the weight of his good left leg. Chi’lek, a middle-aged Vulcan male, was coaxing an Andorian male who had burns on his face onto a biobed. “Geiger, Lockhart,” Ziminske barked to the doctors, a human male and a human female, attending to the patient on the gurney. “Needless to say, keep the hemorrhaging under control. Markalis, you what to do, monitor his neural readouts while keeping the blood pressure at a manageable level.” Aurellan said nothing. She just nodded and continued setting up the portable EKG monitor and fumbling around with a blood-gas infuser. Geiger snatched the device before it fell to the floor. “You don’t have to do all of it yourself,” he assured her, knowing of her tendency to assume unrealistically singular responsibilities. *** During a break in treating wounded soldiers, Ziminske entered her office for some quiet time. It would probably only be five minutes, but she needed it to be time well spent for the second-in-command and medical team leader of the USS Semmelweis. She walked over to the replicator-- seemingly oblivious to the usually transparent barrier separating the office from the main triage center covered by retractable screens or that the back of her desk chair was facing the door-- and ordered a glass of tonic water. She was also unfazed by the shadow that was cast on the wall in front of her at the same moment her chair swiveled in her direction. “Cole,” she said without having to see the statuesque blond-haired man sitting in her chair. She sipped her beverage and turned around to face her Section 31 handler. “I was wondering when you’d get here.” “Good to see you, too, Miss Huberstock,” Cole acerbically replied. Seeing her maintain her professional demeanor, Cole smirked and decided to get right to the point. “How are you progressing on a cure for the virus?” “It’s very slow going,” Ziminske replied with a frustrated shake of her head. “It’s a very tricky virus you guys engineered. Even with the resources available on this ship, developing a cure is not something I can do myself. I need to bring in others.” Cole sighed. “Can you promise that your staff will be none the wiser?” he impatiently asked. “Especially Markalis. We don’t want to risk bringing her into this, even if she is our pupil.” “You have my complete assurances, sir.” “Good. I don’t want to have to bail you out again.” He set a padd that he had been cradling in the chair onto the desk. “Do what you have to do,” he added, “short of letting your staff in on what you’re really up to.” He swung the chair around until the back was once again turned in Ziminske’s direction. She slowly paced over to the desk to look at the padd that he left. She lifted it with both hands, but her concentration was thrown by the now unoccupied. Cole was gone even though she had neither seen him walk out nor heard him beam out. The heading on the padd read, “Operation: Biological Warfare Counter.” Below that was a subheading that read, “Proceed with caution in devising and administering counteragent to Changeling morphogenic virus.” End note: The opening scene uses the surnames of characters on various medical dramas: Geiger ("Chicago Hope"), Lockhart ("ER"), Wilson ("House"), and Hunt ("Grey's Anatomy"). The name Jack Gibbs is a blending Mark Harmon's characters on "Chicago Hope" and "NCIS".