Season 3, Episode 2: The bureaucratic mentality is the only constant in the universe with the future of the Lambda Paz and her crew hanging in the balance. Chapter One Steam was gushing out of an access hatch, catching the attention of Shinar sh’Aqba. Two engineers were training laser devices on the breached conduit in order to temporarily seal the hole. Compared to the extensive repairs that needed to be made to the warp and impulse engines and the weapons arrays before the Corps of Engineers inspection team came aboard the USS Lambda Paz, this malfunction seemed rather minor. Under different circumstances, such as the ship spending a month behind enemy lines, sh’Aqba’s crew could temporarily bandage the wound and move on. With the bureaucracy’s lackeys soon to be examining all the ship’s systems with a fine toothcomb, though, no malfunction seemed trivial. “What now?!” sh’Aqba demanded, having to raise her voice over the loud hissing. “The plasma coolant system overloaded,” replied Willem Margose, a blond-haired Betazoid male technician, while keeping his focus on the repair job. “We’re attempting to correct the problem.” “I thought we replaced that conduit,” sh’Aqba said with a frustrated sigh. She quickly realized she was still shouting even though the hissing had stopped. “We did,” a blonde female Ktarian technician answered. Her name had presently escaped sh’Aqba’s memory. “We apparently got a subpar replacement. We’ll get to work bypassing the flow.” A conspiratorial notion entered sh’Aqba’s mind while trying to remember the young Ktarian woman’s name. Perhaps, sending them that defective conduit was a deliberate attempt to make sure the ship failed inspection. Such instances of sudden and unexpected malfunctions seemed all too common to be attributed to postwar supply shortages. “Just finish that up,” she instructed, “and then get to work on the dilithium vector calibrations we needed completed yesterday.” “Sure, Lieutenant,” Margose said with an enthusiastic smile that seemed insincere. With a nervous crane of his neck, he said to his Ktarian colleague, “Let’s go, Stollerramn.” Stollerramn, sh’Aqba silently repeated to herself. She couldn’t blame them one bit for wanting to get away from the proverbial black cloud emanating from her as a result of both consternation over the coming inspection and mourning the loss of Erhlich Tarlazzi, who left her with an unborn child she could not carry to term. She felt her abdomen, which had enlarged somewhat with the pregnancy entering its third month. She basked in the sound of humming equipment while hoping no other alarms sounded. Despite her growing impatience in recent weeks, she tried to remind herself the ship would pass inspection. Her quiet surroundings concluded with the sound of a comm chime. “Lieutenant sh’Aqba,” said Doctor Aurellan Markalis. “Please report to sickbay.” Sh’Aqba tapped her combadge to acknowledge the summons. “On my way, Doctor,” she said with a barely audible sigh. Soon the fetus would be transferred to a mechanical incubation unit. The moment she had both eagerly anticipated and dreaded was getting closer. *** Upon sh’Aqba’s arrival in the medical bay, Markalis greeted her with a light smile. It was the kind of forced smile Shinar had gotten used to seeing during her frequent visits to sickbay. “Come have seat,” Aurellan blithely instructed, indicating one of the secondary biobeds. “This won’t take very long.” Shinar grinned and slowly paced towards a vacant biobed. “I just require an amniotic fluid sample to complete the modifications to the incubation unit,” the doctor added while Shinar seated herself at the foot of the bed. Shinar slowly removed her black and gray uniform jacket and gold tunic while Aurellan prepared an extraction syringe. She lifted up her light gray undershirt, allowing Aurellan to place the syringe against her skin. Once that was done, Shinar lowered her shirt and began putting her uniform layers back on. “Seems like I’m in sickbay as often as I’m in engineering,” the Andorian woman remarked, hoping to fill the awkward silence. “Maybe you should train to be a field medic,” Aurellan replied with a wry grin. For a moment, Shinar found that idea appealing, considering the rough week she was having. “Some of the concepts of starship repair and maintenance are similar to medicine,” she remarked. “Not sure Starfleet Medical would agree,” Aurellan teased. “I still have a very difficult patient to get back to.” Shinar then headed out of sickbay; grateful for the quick respite and hopeful she could put off getting back to the repairs a little bit longer. ### Captain Limis Vircona slowly sauntered down the corridor along with Commander Ronnie Kozar and Lieutenant Commander Mandel Morrison. All three of them kept stern expressions on their faces and avoided looking at one another while en route to a transporter room as if they were all anticipating a troubling situation on the horizon. “What exactly is their business here?” Morrison wondered aloud as they entered an adjoining hallway just outside the transporter room. “In addition to the Corps of Engineers’ inspection teams,” Limis tersely replied, “the Judge Advocate Generals’ office is sending a representative to conduct interviews with the crew.” “In other words,” Kozar added, “they’re conducting their own inspection.” “Well, I didn’t do it,” Morrison joked, which elicited a smirk from his superior officers. “No one’s being accused of anything,” Limis interjected, “yet.” Kozar briefly had a tempting thought, which he quickly dismissed upon entry into the transporter room. “Energize,” Limis instructed the dark-haired human male transporter operator. Two transporting columns appeared on the pad, which reconstituted into the two expected visitors. On the left was a tall human male with short light-brown hair wearing a Starfleet uniform. To the right was a human woman of average height with long dark hair. She was a civilian wearing lavender slacks and a matching jacket over a pink turtleneck. Kozar’s eyes momentarily widened as he was looking in the direction of the woman. She flashed a slight grin back at him. He then turned his gaze at the other arriving guest to avoid giving off further telltale signs of his familiarity with the woman. “Captain Limis,” the male Starfleet officer said with obviously feigned enthusiasm. “Commander Kozar. Lieutenant Commander Morrison. Thank you for receiving us. I’m Deputy Director Roger Wozniak, Starfleet JAG. This is my consultant Mariana Katel.” The woman remained silent while taking another glance at Kozar, who was now trying his best to ignore her. “Welcome aboard,” Limis said with well-rehearsed poise. “We’ve prepared quarters for you and Miss Katel.” “If you don’t mind, Captain,” Wozniak said, stepping off the transporter pad and walking past the welcoming committee towards the main entrance, “we’d like to get started right away. Is the main briefing room available?” Limis followed Wozniak as he walked through the doorway. “It’s at your complete disposal,” she answered, making no attempt to mask her overall disdain for high-level Starfleet administrators. “Succinct, isn’t he?” Morrison remarked, following behind Limis. Kozar continued standing still and staring awkwardly at Miss Katel and waiting for her to pass by him. Katel then walked past Morrison, who was standing just outside the egress, waiting on the first officer. “A little family reunion as well, I see,” Morrison added. “Shut up,” Kozar muttered as both men exited into the corridor, hoping to avoid reminders that a former inamorata and the mother of his estranged daughter was part of the pending investigation of the crew.