Chapter One Captain’s log, stardate 52038.1: The Lambda Paz is at Starbase G-6, site of a series of diplomatic meetings with the Bajoran government. Starfleet is seeking an exchange of personnel with the Bajoran militia, now that Bajor has withdrawn from its non-aggression treaty with the Dominion. Rebecca Sullivan walked through engineering having received a summons. Being called to engineering was not unusual for a starship’s flight controllers. However, she did not see either a tall middle aged human man nor a blue-skinned Andorian woman, the two officers designated chief engineers, per the practice of having multiple chief engineers during a new class of starship’s first year of operation. The page was marked urgent, so who was calling her down? Rebecca did see her former Maquis colleague Erhlich Tarlazzi near the warp core handing a technician a stack of padds. “I was told to come here,” she told the gray-haired Rigellian. “Where are Commander Logan and Lieutenant sh’Aqba?” “Off duty, obviously,” Tarlazzi blithely replied. “I’ve got the night shift.” “So Logan trusts you not to break his engines?” “I’m now a chief,” Tarlazzi explained pointing to the two solid gold pips on his collar, signifying his new rank of full lieutenant. “You’re looking at the new dilithium maintenance specialist.” “I’ll be sure to get my affairs in order.” “No need to worry just yet,” Tarlazzi replied with a grin. “What were talking about? Oh, one of the torque buffers is out of alignment.” He handed Sullivan a padd on a side console. “I’ll look into it,” Rebecca replied. Tarlazzi’s attention was now on the console with a screen blinking the words “Incoming transmission” in front of a Republic of Bajor logo. “If you will excuse me,” he said, pushing a key to accept the transmission. A middle-aged Bajoran man appeared on the screen. He was gesturing emphatically while addressing the sudden collapse of the Bajoran wormhole. Many on Bajor had taken this as a sign that the Prophets had abandoned them. The religion that had kept the Bajoran people united for ten millennia was becoming more factionalized. “So our Celestial Temple, poof, goes away,” he stated, “and then our alien Emissary takes off. That can’t possibly be a coincidence." Sullivan’s eyebrows twitched upward when she heard mention of the Emissary. Benjamin Sisko, commander of Deep Space 9 and Emissary to the Prophets in Bajoran theology, had taken an indefinite leave of absence feeling that he had failed in both duties. This Bajoran was in process of suggesting that Sisko was somehow involved in the disappearance of the Wormhole and that he left Bajor in anarchy. “Who is this clown?” she asked of the red-haired man with streaks of gray across his temples. “Bek Gillen,” Tarlazzi replied. “He got this gig last year after the war broke out.” “And you believe this garbage?” “Of course not. He has a unique view of Bajoran politics though.” Bek walked over to a chalkboard filled with a list of words. As he read the words aloud, he circled the first letter of each word or grouping of words. “Today, we’re going to be talking about ‘Soulless Minions,’ ‘Entropy,’ the ‘Cardassian occupation,’ ‘Ulterior motives,’ ‘Lessons of the past,’ ‘Armies of Darkness,’ and ‘Revolution.’” He then wrote the letters he had just circled on the chalkboard to spell out the word secular. “S-E-C-U-L-A-R. This latest incident may be the first step towards becoming a godless, secular society. I don’t know if we are turning into a secular society or not, but you need ask yourself one question. Why? And unless you ask why, we’re going to transform into something.” Captain Limis Vircona was also watching this editorial program in her quarters. Rather than her Starfleet uniform, she was dressed in a loose fitting navy blue shirt and form-fitting black trousers. She moved a lock of her black hair aside while picking up a padd off the coffee table with her right hand and a mug of raktajino in the other. The doorbell chimed as she was taking a sip. “Computer, pause playback,” she said, setting the mug down. “Come in.” She was expecting one of the senior staff, but she froze when she saw a stocky, balding Bajoran man, dressed in an orange command division Bajoran militia uniform step through the door. “Colonel Lenaris,” she gasped, setting the padd down on the coffee table. She smiled and walked over to her former Bajoran Resistance colleague. They both came together in a friendly embrace. “So how long has it been?” Limis asked her old friend. “Fourteen years, seven months, fourteen days,” Lenaris replied, “give or take a few weeks. I heard what happened with Arnit last year.” “He was a good man, even if our marriage went bust. Would you care for some coffee or tea?” “No thank you.” “So what brings you here?” Limis inquired offering Lenaris a seat. The colonel sat down in a chair across from the sofa. “Your chief of security thought I should surprise you,” he began. “And I’m being considered for a command in the Seventh Fleet.” “Is that so?” “With the Alliance on the offensive, Bajor is better protected. We may not have strong enough ships to contribute to the war effort, but we have plenty of soldiers willing to stand against a superior enemy.” They both exchanged grins, remembering their victories as members of the Ornathia Resistance. “So how bad is it on Bajor?” Limis asked. “Not that I ever believed in those superstitions.” “It’s chaotic,” Lenaris stated bluntly. “Kai Winn is doing everything she can to reassure the people, but she’s no Opaka. The disappearance of the Celestial Temple has given credibility to the Cult of the Pah-Wraiths and their belief that the Prophets were never our gods to begin with.” “I learned in the Maquis there can be more than two sides to any argument. Some were just interested in hurting Cardassians while others were merely concerned for the welfare of Federation colonists in the DMZ.” “If only everyone was as enlightened as you,” Lenaris retorted, while walked over to replicator for a refill. “I understand this conference was relocated to a ‘starbase near the Briar Patch’,” Lenaris continued, “after someone believing ‘the Starfleets were coming to take our guns away’ killed and wounded several diplomats at the last session on Bajor.” Limis remembered a News Service report about Bek Gillen making that claim. She took a quick glance at the wall monitor behind the desk, relieved to see that it was still blank. She would be too embarrassed to admit to watching Bek’s program even if she did so for the purpose of gathering information for a news media watchdog group. Limis turned back to the replicator and entered a command into the computer terminal to refill her coffee mug. Brown liquid began bubbling, overflowing over the rim. The mug then dematerialized leaving spilled coffee on the replicator tray and dripping down the wall. “Not another replicator malfunction,” she groaned. With replicators as a low priority repair need during the war, any malfunction was a major inconvenience. Limis tapped her combadge hoping to get someone on it during the layover. “Limis to engineering: my replicator’s acting up again.” Instead of someone in engineering, Limis got a lot of overlapping comm chatter. Then the comm shorted out entirely. “Looks like you have more than a replicator malfunction,” Lenaris observed aloud. “I’ll head to engineering myself. Make yourself at home Colonel. And call Lieutenant Ra Hoth if you want to have a look around.” Limis headed straight to engineering thinking that Logan’s reservations about granting her Maquis cohort greater responsibilities were legitimate. Tarlazzi had a natural talent for crashing Cardassian computer systems, which came in handy in guerilla warfare against a superior enemy. But giving him seniority on a Federation starship was a whole different matter. Even his Maquis colleagues found his exuberance annoying. A dark-haired Bajoran man dressed in a gold technician’s jumpsuit stood on the catwalk, observing Limis approaching Tarlazzi down on the first level. He divided his attention back and forth between the first level and the padd in his right hand. “Please tell me you didn’t break my ship one day into your promotion,” she huffed upon reaching the dilithium chamber. “I had to use the crawlspaces to get here.” “I’m just as surprised as you, Captain,” Tarlazzi answered, handing off a padd to an Efrosian female technician. “One system after another has been going on and off-line. It’s like the ship has a mind of its own.” “Maybe we should run these Luna-class ships through a few more drawing boards,” a young man chimed in. Limis swung around to see a baby-faced young man with bleached blonde hair. She began to think that Starfleet was suffering a severe personnel shortage with this kid on her ship. After all, she was younger he looked when she was recruited into the Bajoran Resistance. “I don’t believe we’ve met, young man,” she said. “Petty officer Willem Margose, sir,” the young man replied. “I came aboard during the last crew rotation.” “Well then, petty officer Margose, have you found anything to explain these malfunctions?” “Since we’re dealing with two unrelated systems,” the young Betazoid nervously replied, “this could be a hardware problem in both systems. We’re doing a complete circuit overhaul.” “I know replicators are not a top priority,” said Limis, “but I could use a few decent cups of coffee before we head back to the front.” The Bajoran technician on the second level had since come down to the main level and began working the console in front of the warp core. He removed the tricorder from his holster and entered information off the console’s readout into the device. An alarm chirped on the main console. Tarlazzi took a seat to find out what was happening now. A computer chime then sounded with the main computer’s nasal feminine voice issuing an ominous warning. “Danger: antimatter containment failure imminent. Estimate release of antimatter in five minutes, seven seconds, six seconds… five seconds…” Limis tapped her comm badge to hail the bridge. With various senior officers either transferred or temporarily reassigned, Ensign Willis Huckaby had the bridge during the night watch. She was reminded of that fact when he answered rather than the older Lieutenant Selek who was one of those officers recently transferred off. “We’ve got a possible anti-matter containment failure down here,” Limis called. “Be ready to evacuate the ship and alert the starbase.” “Understood,” Huckaby calmly replied, ascending from the command chair. “Sullivan, move us to a safe distance, but slowly so we don’t get out of transporter range.” “Aye, sir,” Sullivan answered. “Moving off at five thousand kph.” Tarlazzi, meanwhile, was feverishly working the controls to remedy the problem. “Damn it,” he growled. “Those emergency controls are off-line. Margose, get down to the antimatter pods to eject them manually.” “Got it,” Margose replied, bolting for the crawl-space entrance. “Captain, while you’re here,” Tarlazzi added, “would you mind evacuating this section? We may need to jettison the warp core.” “Aye, aye, Lieutenant,” Limis sarcastically replied. To the technicians in engineering, she shouted, “You heard him, let’s move out.” “Danger,” the computer warned. “Antimatter containment failure in three minutes.” “Can’t we shut that thing up?” Limis complained. “It reminds me how little time we have,” Tarlazzi argued. A low-pitched hum began to increase in volume and pitch. The bars on a horizontal bar graph on a readout screen suddenly began to lengthen. “What the hell?” Tarlazzi mumbled. “What happened?” Limis asked. “Now all systems normal?” Limis tapped her comm badge. “Bridge, false alarm. How did the system repair itself?” “I have no fragging clue,” a bewildered Tarlazzi replied.