Moral Dilemma by Enterprise1981
Summary:

Season 1, Episode 2:

As the Dominion War is becoming a losing effort, Captain Limis Vircona contemplates whether her use of extreme interrogation methods was justified and will ultimately result in helping Starfleet achieve even a minor victory.


Categories: Deep Space Nine, Expanded Universes Characters: Ensemble Cast - USS Lambda Paz, Kozar, Ronnie, Markalis, Aurellan, Morrison, Mandel, Sullivan, Rebecca, Vircona, Limis
Genre: Action/Adventure
Warnings: Adult Situations, Violence
Challenges: None
Series: Star Trek: Lambda Paz
Chapters: 6 Completed: Yes Word count: 12233 Read: 8186 Published: 15 Sep 2009 Updated: 01 Dec 2011
Story Notes:

Historians Note: The first chapter and epilogue take place one day prior to the opening scenes of "A Time to Stand". The main events of this story take place two weeks before the events of that same episode.

1. Chapter 1 by Enterprise1981

2. Chapter 2 by Enterprise1981

3. Chapter 3 by Enterprise1981

4. Chapter 4 by Enterprise1981

5. Chapter 5 by Enterprise1981

6. Chapter 6 by Enterprise1981

Chapter 1 by Enterprise1981

Chapter One

Under Heavy Fire

The Seventh Fleet was heavily outnumbered and under heavy fire from a large armada of Jem’Hadar battleships and smaller support vessels. The smaller fighters were taking out small Starfleet and Klingon support fighters as if they were easy target practice. A combination of Akira and Steamrunner-class destroyers countered with a flurry of quantum torpedoes, destroying a few of the enemy fighters.

Larger Federation and Klingon ships faced off against the larger Jem’Hadar battleships. The USS Lambda Paz took a flurry of plasma torpedoes from a cruiser inflicting damage to the unprotected forward saucer section. The Lambda Paz fired forward phasers at point blank range causing some moderate damage. The battleship fired another spread of torpedoes at the port side of the primary hull.

The bridge rocked. Tactical officer Mandel Morrison kept entering commands to fire phasers at the Jem’Hadar attack ship as it was moving towards other targets. His tactical display then indicated another attack ship, flanked by two smaller fighters off their bow. “Three more Jem’Hadar ships off the port bow,” he reported to Captain Limis Vircona and first officer Ronnie Kozar.

The captain sat in the command chair viewing her side console to watch a backup tactical display. “Forward phasers at the flanking fighters,” she ordered. “Full spread of quantum torpedoes on the attack ship.”

A simultaneous spread of phasers and quantum torpedoes erupted from the ship. The phasers knocked out the forward shields of the fighters while the shields of the attack ship absorbed the torpedoes. The enemy ships moved off, but the Lambda Paz arched upward and around towards the three ships. Two separate phaser bursts incinerated the two fighters. The attack ship fired aft torpedoes at the ventral of the saucer section. Two fighters moved in from below and fired disruptors at the lower secondary hull.

Sparks flew from various auxiliary stations on the bridge while a gas leak erupted from the aft situation monitor. “We’ve lost number three and number four shields,” Ensign Willis Huckaby reported from Ops. “Fire suppression system is offline.”

“Return fire with whatever you can muster,” Kozar shouted to Morrison. “Helm, evasive pattern Pike-delta.”

The Lambda Paz arched downward exposing the still protected half of the ship. A battleship swooped in from behind and launched a pair of plasma torpedoes tearing a hole in the forward saucer section.

“Hull breach in the forward saucer,” Huckaby reported. “Emergency force fields off-line.”

“Primary phaser array has failed,” Morrison added. “We’re down to six quantum torpedoes.”

“Notify the rest of the fleet,” Limis commanded. “We’re getting the hell out of here.”

The Lambda Paz laid down suppression fire with the secondary phaser arrays still available as it moved upward and then streaked into warp. Thirteen other vessels followed. The fleet initially consisted of one hundred twelve ships. With the Dominion moving closer to Klingon territory, Starfleet dispatched a large number of Federation and Klingon ships to make a stand in the Tyra System. Instead of slowing the Dominion’s advance, The Federation and the Klingon Empire suffered a devastating defeat.

“How many other ships managed to escape?” Limis asked, rising from her chair.

“Thirteen, sir,” Morrison answered.

“Fourteen ships?” Kozar repeated. “Out of a hundred twelve?! My God!”

Kozar stood up and looked over at Ops. “What’s our status?” he asked Huckaby.

“Main power and internal sensors are offline,” Huckaby replied.

“Do a deck-by-deck survey,” Limis said, dejectedly. “I want a full damage report. I’ll be in my ready room.”

***

Limis stepped into the dark and messy ready room, breathing slowly. She wanted to explode in a fit of rage. For three months, the Federation and its allies endured one painful defeat after another. Somehow reminding herself of the defeats she had dealt with throughout her entire adult life was of no consolation to her at this time. The future of the entire quadrant depended on the outcome of this war. If the Dominion was allowed to prevail, Limis dreaded the thought that not only would she be failing her cohorts, living or dead, but the entire Alpha Quadrant.

She grabbed a piece of debris and flung it against the wall before walking over to her desk. That was enough to calm her down for now. “Begin captain’s personal log,” she said, sitting down behind the desk.

“Stardate 51196.3,” Limis began after the computer chime. “We’ve suffered another major defeat at the hands of the Dominion. They outnumber us two to one at nearly every turn. I can’t help wondering now if my actions two weeks ago were warranted. They information we received may help the Federation achieve even a minor victory.

“In the meantime, have I become the enemy I seek to destroy?”

Chapter 2 by Enterprise1981
Author's Notes:
Voice over narrations from Limis are in italics.

Chapter Two

Stardate 51189: Two weeks earlier

For nearly a month, the Seventh Fleet was engaged in small-scale hit-and-run engagements with the Jem’Hadar in the Tyra System. They were hoping to soften and maybe even divide our forces in preparation for a larger engagement. Our fleet used this opportunity to try to slow them down.

The Lambda Paz was playing cat-and-mouse with a pair of Jem’Hadar fighters in the atmosphere of a gas giant, the Tyra System’s seventh planet. The ship was in gray mode to avoid attracting too much attention from the enemy. The major drawback of this maneuver, of course, was the ship had minimal sensors, so they wouldn’t know an enemy vessel was approaching until it was right on top of them. At least the Jem’Hadar were at a similar disadvantage.

Lieutenant Shinar sh’Aqba sat at the auxiliary mission operations station behind tactical monitoring what little sensor capability the ship had. Captain Limis assisted in conducting echolocation sensor scans. Kozar and Morrison, meanwhile, kept an eye on the tactical display. The displays on both station’s screens were blank, yet everyone knew that could change at any minute, except for the Starfleet delta representing their own ship.

Almost in the blink of an eye, a second blip appeared on the mission ops display. A Jem’Hadar fighter emerged from the atmospheric eddy current firing its disruptors at the Lambda Paz’s aft. The Starfleet ship fired back with its secondary, then primary port phasers.

“Direct hit to the ventral fusion core,” Morrison reported.

“We’ve ignited a pocket of toh-maire gas,” sh’Aqba added. “Initiating evasive maneuvers.” Helm control had been temporarily transferred to sh’Aqba’s station in order to change course at a moment’s notice to avoid unpredictable pockets of incendiary gases and to keep from giving away the ship’s position through echolocation scans.

The gas grazed the starboard nacelles of both the Lambda Paz and the Jem’Hadar fighter. The bridge of the Lambda Paz rocked with enough force to send everyone flying had they not been grasping their stations. “So much for evasive maneuvers,” Morrison retorted, rolling his eyes. “The Jem’Hadar is coming around for another pass.”

“We could use these pockets to our advantage,” Limis mused. “Sh’Aqba, come to within five hundred kilometers of him. Morrison, on my mark, fire main phasers straight at the nose of the ship.”

“That’s going to be cutting it rather close,” Kozar contended.

“Risk is part of the game if you want to sit in that chair, Mister Kozar,” the captain quipped in reference to Kozar having been passed up for command of the Lambda Paz.

Kozar knew immediately that was a jab at him. He took plenty of risks as a frigate post-captain, but they were usually within the bounds of Starfleet protocol. Of course, this was not the time to offer a response.

The two vessels came nose-to-nose with one another with the Jem’Hadar continuing to fire disruptors. The Lambda Paz fired phasers point-blank, and then arched upward. The gas ignited, enveloping the enemy fighter in a fireball.

The Lambda Paz took a hit to the ventral of the hull. The bridge rocked hard again. “Let’s not do that again,” sh’Aqba muttered once she was standing upright.

“We may not have another opportunity,” Morrison replied. “The phaser burst at such close range sent a feedback pulse shorting out the emitters.”

“Make repairing them a top priority then,” Limis pointedly responded. “Any luck with the other guy?”

“No, sir,” sh’Aqba answered. “He’s probably waiting us out like we were waiting out the ship that just went up in smoke.”

“What would be the point in locating the fighter?” Kozar asked the captain. “Just being in this atmosphere is taking a huge chance with a ship not designed for sub-orbital flight.”

“I haven’t forgotten your objections,” Limis stated. “If that ship gets out intact, he’ll send word to his superiors we were too afraid to finish what we started. It’s him or us.”

“Put it that way, it may as well be him,” Morrison retorted. “We don’t have phasers and we don’t dare try torpedoes with these gases screwing up their guidance systems.”

“Then we try something else,” Limis offered, “whether that meets with safety protocols or not.”

Limis sauntered over to the command chair and tapped the comm panel on its left. “Bridge to Commander Logan. Any ideas on how to use the engines to ignite the toh-maire gas when we come face-to-face with that other fighter.”

“What you are proposing could destroy us as well as the Jem’Hadar,” Logan replied from the main engineering section. “Of course, we could collect some of that gas with the bussard collectors and ram it down their throats, although we run the risk of severely damaging the nacelles.”

Second Lieutenant Erhlich Tarlazzi was an assistant engineer in training. He was overseeing the matter-antimatter conversion rates while overhearing the discussion over the comm. “Captain, if I may make a suggestion,” he said. “Do you remember how we outran those Cardassian frigates in the McAllister Nebula?”

“Of course,” the captain replied. She knew exactly what her Maquis colleague was suggesting, but she felt Tarlazzi’s suggestion would not be such a good idea in this particular situation. “What are you proposing?”

“We calibrate a disproportionate matter-antimatter mix,” Tarlazzi replied. “When the emergency dump kicks in, we make sure we’re over a pocket of toh-maire gas.”

Kozar winced at the Rigellian engineer’s suggestion. He knew that Logan had final approval regarding pitching suggestions to the CO as the engineering department head, and immediately asked for the chief’s input. “What do you make of this, Mister Logan?”

“If I remember correctly,” Logan grudgingly replied, “the McAllister Nebula is composed of chromium that jams sensors. It’s less volatile than toh-maire. The eruption could encompass us.”

“Not if we time it properly,” Tarlazzi interjected.

“’Not if we time it properly’,” Logan sarcastically repeated. “Why didn’t I think of that?”

“The calibrations should be completed in about two minutes,” Tarlazzi continued over the comm channel.

Kozar looked over at Limis to make a suggestion. “We should evacuate the lower most decks.”

Limis nodded and spoke over the comm. “Keep us posted,” she said, before closing the channel.

***

Logan then approached Tarlazzi to discuss a matter of Starfleet protocol while the engineering assistant was preparing the calibrations. “In the future,” he said calmly and quietly, “you should bring any suggestions you have to me first.”

Tarlazzi rolled his eyes at Logan splitting hairs yet again. “Is this another silly Starfleet protocol?” he wittingly asked.

“There’s nothing silly about it, Lieutenant. In Starfleet, we follow the chain of command.”

“Sounds rather inefficient if you ask me,” Tarlazzi replied with a sigh. “The captain trusts my judgment.”

 “That is beside the point. I bring all the alternatives to the captain’s attention, and that way she has less people to interact with regarding every aspect of the operation of this ship. Am I making sense, Mister Tarlazzi?”

“Yes, sir,” Tarlazzi relented, placing his hand against the top of his forehead, and then giving an old Earth military salute. “Consider me on report.”

Once the calculations were completed, Tarlazzi then hailed the bridge despite the chief engineer’s explanation of the benefits of the chain of command. “Engineering to bridge, we’re ready to put this plan in motion.”

***

Limis kept the comm channel open while standing up out of her chair and pacing toward the tactical station. “Any sign of that Jem’Hadar fighter?” she asked Morrison and sh’Aqba.

Morrison saw nothing of interest on the tactical display. He then shot a glance of sh’Aqba. “I’m getting something on sensors,” she said. “It could be the Jem’Hadar.”

“Keep a sensor lock on it,” Limis ordered. “Locate the nearest pocket of toh-maire and set a course at one-quarter impulse.”

The remaining Jem’Hadar fighter streaked through a cloud and was right on top of the Lambda Paz. The fighter fired disruptors at point blank range. Sparks flew throughout the bridge. The operations console and two of the auxiliary control stations behind it exploded, sending Ensign Huckaby and two other officers to the deck. Kozar leapt from his seat to take over at Ops. “Medics to the bridge,” he called.

Limis grabbed the front of the tactical console to keep from falling. “Conn, take evasive action,” she shouted to the flight controller, second Lieutenant Sara Carson. “Get us on top of that toh-maire pocket.”

Sh’Aqba and Carson did their best to comply as the ship continued to take enemy weapons fire. Limis sighed in frustration at not being able to return fire. Of course, if this plan did not work, no one on board would be alive to worry about conventional weapons not being available. “Calibrate the mix on my mark, Engineering,” she said over the comm.

Tarlazzi acknowledged the command and kept a firm hand on the console overlooking the warp core. From where he was standing, he could only wait for Vircona make the mark. The comm channel remained open to stay in constant communication with the bridge. He still could not help thinking that life or death in the next few minutes was completely out of his control.

“Mark,” the captain called.

Tarlazzi’s hand danced over the console to implement this risky maneuver. The hum of the warp core became louder and louder. On the ventral of the ship, a compartment opened to release the excess antimatter. As expected, a gaseous eruption resulted. The eruption shattered the enemy fighter, but it also sheered into the Lambda Paz.

Bridge personnel were sent to the deck from the eruption. Limis grasped the carpeting on the floor to keep from being thrown hard into a bulkhead. “Warp Four,” she called. “Any heading.”

The Lambda Paz’s nacelles lit up and sent the ship streaking into warp to escape further damage. Everyone on the bridge was back on his or her feet. Medical technicians entered the bridge from the port emergency access hatch off the port turbolift to attend to Huckaby and other wounded officers. A human female officer entered the bridge from the port turbolift to take over Ops. “What’s our damage?” the captain asked.

“Main phaser array is burned out,” Morrison answered. “Secondary phasers have limited effectiveness. Shields are at forty-two percent effectiveness.”

Limis looked over at the relief Ops officer, but then remembered that officer just arrived and would not have anything to report. “Engineering?” she asked over the comm.

Logan stood at the main situation monitor in engineering displaying a schematic of the ship. “We have hull breaches on decks nineteen and twenty,” he reported. “Hopefully no one was down there when the emergency bulkheads closed.”

“Send the reports to my ready room as they’re updated,” Limis said before closing the comm channel. “The bridge is yours, Mister Kozar.”

###

Captain Limis sat in her ready room sipping raktajino and looking at personnel files of her crew. This was the most arduous part of her on the job training, as her ship was sent out on an important mission almost the second she got this command. Kozar could vouch for a lot of them, taking some the pressure off her to get to know her crew.

The file on her chief medical officer intrigued Limis the most. Doctor Aurellan Markalis had graduated at the top of her class in medical school. She had received numerous commendations for her work as a trauma surgeon during her brief, but illustrious career. Her file also noted her difficulties getting along with fellow officers, and that she often kept to herself, impeding opportunities for advancement.

The part that Limis found puzzling was a security notation in red capital letters stating: MEDICAL FILES RESTRICTED TO PERSONNEL AT STARFLEET MEDICAL HEADQUARTERS AND MEDICAL PERSONNEL AT ASSIGNED STARSHIP OR STARBASE. Those files may have contained information that might be of the interest to Markalis’s commanding officer, as she was what Terrans called an “oddball.”

The sound of the door chime diverted Limis’s attention from the monitor. “Yes, come in,” she said eagerly.

Kozar stepped into the ready room carrying a padd. After two months in command, Limis had gotten accustomed to the first officer being the bearer of bad news. This visit was likely to be no exception. “The damage report, Captain,” he said, holding up the padd and setting it on the desk.

“I’ll look it over in a minute,” the captain replied. “I have a question regarding one of the crew if you don’t mind.”

Kozar raised an eyebrow and sat down in one of the guest chairs. This was not the first time the captain had a question about a crewmember. Limis turned the desk monitor around to show Doctor Markalis’s file. “How do you explain this?” she asked, pointing to the notation that piqued her interest.

“I don’t understand,” Kozar replied.

“Why would an officer’s medical files be off limits to his or her CO? What if the information in those files would be of interest?”

“I wouldn’t want you knowing about illnesses or ailments as long as it does not impair my ability to perform my duties.”

Limis chuckled. The Terran concept of privacy seemed rather contradictory. “I’d probably see it that way. But for enlightened races, a lot of the Federation members have broad definitions of privacy. Even the logical, unemotional Vulcans are reluctant to discuss their mating practices with off-worlders.”

The comm chimed and Morrison signaled from the bridge. “Bridge to the ready room. We’re receiving a distress call from a vessel approximately three light years away.”

“Lay in an intercept course at maximum warp,” the captain replied. “We’re on our way.”

###

After three and a half hours at high warp, the Lambda Paz slowed to impulse. The gamma-shift had already come on duty by this time. Ensign Rebecca Sullivan sat at the conn ready to change course at a moment’s notice. Limis, Kozar, and Morrison remained on duty given the urgent nature of this situation.

“Try hailing them,” the captain commanded.

“Channel open,” Morrison replied.

“This is Captain Limis Vircona of the Federation starship Lambda Paz. We’ve answered your distress call. What kind of assistance do you require?”

The hail was followed by several seconds of silence. “Do they hear us?” Kozar asked.

“They’re transceiver is in full working order,” Morrison replied.

Looking at the viewscreen, Sullivan saw the freighter move off. “Captain,” she called. “They’re moving off.”

Limis looked up at the viewscreen to see what Sullivan saw. “What the hell are they doing?” she wondered aloud.

“They’re moving below our secondary hull,” Sullivan answered.

An indicator flashed on Morrison’s console. “An escape pod is moving toward the hull breach,” he reported.

“Do we have shields around that section?” Limis asked.

“No, sir,” said Morrison. “Those generators are still offline.”

“Then send security teams down there and sound the intruder alert”

***

The bridge rocked from the impact of the escape pod. Down on deck twenty, meanwhile, a group of Nausicaan, Breen, and Ferengi mercenaries sprawled out of the pod. Two Cardassians were also among that group. Down a corridor, three Breen were confronted by a pair of Starfleet security officers. Phaser fire pinned them down, but they were quickly able to incapacitate them.

A pair of Ferengi broke into a storage room and placed miniature locator devices on two of the antimatter pods. The two pods then dematerialized.

***

Down in engineering, sh’Aqba and Tarlazzi were both working double shifts when the intruder alert sounded. They armed themselves with Type-2 hand phasers in the event the mercenaries stormed the deck. They took cover behind consoles on opposite sides of the section.

Four Nausicaans squeezed out of an access hatch one at a time. Each one who entered began laying down suppression fire with their phaser rifles. Two armed engineers were incapacitated by phaser fire. At the same time, a group of Ferengi materialized on the catwalk in the warp core chamber. They laid down suppression fire. Sh’Aqba and Tarlazzi futilely fired their phasers at the intruders.

Two of the Ferengi continued firing as they climbed down the ladder. Tarlazzi lunged at the two of them from behind. He wrestled one to the ground, but the other fired, stunning the Rigellian. Sh’Aqba fired her phaser at the Ferengi getting back on his feet. The second Ferengi fired back, but sh’Aqba took cover under a console.

The Nausicaans in engineering continued laying down cover fire while the Ferengi opened an access hatch containing one of the upgraded bio-neural gel-packs. They placed a locator tag on the gel-pack and beamed it away.

“Stop right there,” a voice called out. Limis and Morrison led a team that also included three other security officers, all of them armed with phaser rifles. The two Ferengi fired their rifles, knocking out one of the junior security guards. The officers still standing took cover against the walls on both sides. The intruders continued firing while backing into the core chamber. One of the Nausicans grabbed a communication device from underneath his right sleeve and they all dematerialized.

Limis’s security team moved outward towards the core chamber. Morrison kneeled down to attend to Tarlazzi. Limis and the other guards noticed sh’Aqba come out of from under a console. The Andorian then noticed an open access hatch and moved to investigate it. “They stole one of the gel-packs,” she said. “How’s Tarlazzi?”

“Alive,” Morrison answered. “We’d better get him to sickbay.”

Limis then tapped her comm badge to hail one of the other security teams. “Limis to Kozar. What’s your status?”

***

Kozar led a team of four MACO’s on Deck Nineteen. He tapped his comm badge in reply. “We’re moving towards Cargo Bay Four,” he called. “A group of Breen just beamed in there.”

Four Breen in the cargo bay were quickly opening containers and knocking them over when they did not have what they were looking for. The security party entered with phaser rifles firing. The Breen fired back with their rifles knocking out two of the MACO’s. The Breen then tagged a cargo container and dematerialized with it.

***

On the bridge, Sullivan sat in the first officer’s chair monitoring the freighter. A blip on the readout screen indicating the ship was moving away. “Bridge to the captain,” she said over the comm. “They’re moving off.”

Chapter 3 by Enterprise1981

Chapter Three

Doctor Aurellan Markalis had more patients than biobeds in sickbay. The least critical cases lay on cots throughout the primary ICU. Two medical technicians, a human male and a Vulcan female attended to the patients on the secondary biobeds. Markalis, meanwhile, was attending to the most critical case on the main biobed.

Limis entered the sickbay, still armed with her phaser rifle, and walked over to Tarlazzi. “How are you?” she sternly asked.

“I’ve had worse phaser burns,” Tarlazzi responded. “I’ll live.”

“Just don’t make a habit of taking those kinds of chances with your life.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Tarlazzi replied, once again giving the military salute.

Markalis placed a sheet completely over the body of the patient on the main biobed, just as Limis sauntered over. “What about the others?” the captain asked.

“Most of them have minor to moderate phaser wounds,” the doctor replied. “Crewman Jones didn’t make it.”

Logan walked into the sickbay to deliver a padd to the captain. Limis walked towards the door to get out of the doctor’s way. “I’m afraid the news isn’t good,” the engineer reported.

Limis grabbed the padd to read the list of stolen items for herself. “Ninety percent of our antimatter tanks,” she read aloud. “Eighteen bio-neural gel packs.” The list went on, but she saw no sense to reading the other stolen items aloud after seeing which of the most crucial of supplies were stolen. “That’s just great,” she sighed.

“We’re mostly down to the antimatter we have in the reactor,” Logan added. “Once it runs out, we’re dead in the water.”

Morrison then walked in, so Limis was expecting even more bad news. “We captured one of the raiders,” he reported. “He’s a Cardassian. And he’s in our brig now.”

“Why would a Cardassian be part of this raiding team?” Limis rhetorically asked.

Markalis passed between Limis and Morrison carrying a set of empty hyposprays. “Would you all mind taking this meeting somewhere else?” she asked. “I have patients to tend to.”

Limis nodded to direct the men out of sickbay, suddenly wondering why starship captains often conducted meetings in the room they happened to be in.

###

A petite middle-aged Cardassian stood in the cell of the brig. He tried to make idle conversation with the female security guard on duty. She showed very little interest in socializing with the prisoner. Limis paced into the brig area and stood in front of the cell. “You must be the captain,” the prisoner deduced. “I didn’t know Starfleet had any Bajoran captains.”

“I’m sure there’s a lot we don’t know about the Cardassian military,” Limis retorted. “So, who are you working for?”

“You’ve probably gone through this drill many times before,” the Cardassian cheerfully stated, taking a seat on the bench in the back of the cell. “Mirren, service number four two three seven violet. I serve the Founders in all things.”

“No, you don’t. The Founders send the Jem’Hadar to do their dirty work. Not Nausicans, Breen, or Ferengi. And certainly not a Cardassian civilian.”

“You wound me,” Mirren responded. Like most Cardassians, he tried to keep a sense of humor despite his incarceration. “If I am not a servant of the Founders, exactly who do I work for.”

“You’re probably with one of those criminal syndicates that goes around raiding passing starships.”

Mirren stood up and clapped three times. “Very good, Bajoran,” he smugly quipped. “You’re very well informed. Is this Starfleet’s usual interrogation technique? Ask me questions you already know the answers to in order to gauge how cooperative I will be, and to see how good of a liar I am.”

“You know, my dear,” Mirren continued, walking closer to the forcefield. “If I was on Bajor, I’d be afraid for my life. I know of plenty of Bajorans still wanting retribution for Cardassian war crimes.”

“You admit to being a war criminal?” Limis asked.

“No,” Mirren sneered, rolling his eyes. “My point is, Bajorans learned a lot from my people during our occupation of your world. That uniform wouldn’t let you get away with it. Starfleet prides itself as too civilized to torture prisoners.”

He had a point there. Starfleet does not torture its prisoners. But I wasn’t concerned with almighty Starfleet regulations. I was tempted that whole time to smash his arrogant little face in. I didn’t want to show all my cards at that point yet.

###

A group of senior officers convened in the observation lounge to discuss what action to take next. Tarlazzi, Carson, and Huckaby were also present comparing sensor data accumulated during the raid with Morrison and sh’Aqba. The biggest challenge was how to find the mercenary ship since the thieves had masked their ion trail. Tarlazzi provided information on how the Maquis masked their ion trails from the Cardassians, hoping that would provide some inspiration.

Limis sat at the head of the table, barely able to stay awake while moderating discussions of the strengths and weaknesses of possible plans. Kozar and Logan stood at the monitor screen on the opposite side of the room. Kozar handed a padd to Logan, who then stepped out through the door behind the monitor, before walking to the captain’s side.

“Logan is working on a way to conserve what’s left of our antimatter, and he should have some of the damaged systems up and running by morning,” the commander reported. “If you don’t mind my asking, sir, what is the point of going after these mercenaries? We’re hardly in a position to give chase.”

“Starfleet does not have the luxury of sending any other ships after mercenaries,” Limis explained. “Add to supply shortages, we have to be the ones to go after them. We have to send a message to these kinds of thieves that they won’t have free reign throughout Federation just because we are at war.”

“Understood,” Kozar answered with a nod. “But I would suggest you get some rest. We won’t come up with a solution overnight.”

“I’ll take your suggestion under advisement,” Limis replied, turning to face the rest of the officers in the room. Kozar walked away, but Tarlazzi’s attention was on the conversation between the captain and first officer.

“The first officer is actually right,” he told his friend. “You’re carrying the weight of the Alpha Quadrant on your shoulders.”

“That’s one of the short definitions of captain,” Limis quipped. She then stood to address the rest of the group. “Hopefully you can continue this without me. I’ll be in my quarters.” She then left the observation lounge through the entrance from the bridge.

###

Sara Carson later took her work to the mess hall. She was the only one there this late at night. She stared at a padd containing the navigational data Rebecca had gathered during the raid. The caffeine from the coffee she drank had her staring at the padd, but unable to make sense of what was on it.  She looked up from the padd to see Morrison enter the mess hall and order a raktajino from the replicator

Sara then looked back at the padd hoping that Mandel would not notice her looking in his direction. They had communicated the misunderstanding they had after her near death experience. He was not interested in any kind of committed relationship, so they agreed to slow things down a bit. That he brought something like this up after they had sex, though, created a sense of awkwardness in their off-duty encounters.

“Lieutenant Commander,” Sara muttered as he walked by.

“Are we calling each other by our ranks now, Lieutenant?” Mandel asked. “You don’t look very busy.” He sat down next to her to look at the padd.

“I thought we could use the navigational deflector to detect the mercenary’s ion trail,” she said. “The caffeine is keeping me awake, but it’s not helping me think up a workable plan.”

“I remember detecting a subspace displacement field to throw off sensors originating from the ship,” said Morrison. “We might be able to discern a pattern in the saturation of those waves. But I would suggest you get some sleep so you can think more clearly.”

Carson then smiled wryly. “Would you care to join me?” she subtlety inquired.

“I like the way you think,” Morrison replied, smiling just as wryly. They grasped each other’s hands and kissed. The two stood up to move to a more private venue. Carson reached out her right hand to snare the padd as they headed for the exit.

###

Some hours later, Carson stepped off the bridge’s port turbolift while in the process of putting on her black and gray uniform tunic. Kozar immediately noticed two protocol violations on her part, also being late for her shift. She had the padd she was reviewing in tow. “You’re out of uniform, Lieutenant,” the first officer said sternly as he stood up from his chair. “You’re also five minutes late.”

“Nevertheless,” Carson replied, showing Kozar the padd, “I was able to extrapolate the mercenary’s course by way of residual electrons left by their subspace displacement field.”

Kozar turned his head to see Morrison exit the starboard turbolift. He was then able to deduce why the alpha shift flight controller was late. Morrison was the master of mixing business with pleasure since he and Kozar were roommates at the Academy. Sara Carson was just another one of Mandel’s conquests. “We’ll skip the court martial,” Kozar joked, looking back at Carson  “And set a course that follows that trail.”

Carson assumed her station to program in the new course. Kozar then paced over to the tactical station to have a word with Morrison. “I’m not one to discourage fraternization with subordinates,” he whispered. “But make sure they are not late to their duty shifts.”

Who knows how many precious hours could have been saved if Carson had presented these findings sooner? Other than being five minutes late that morning, she did her duty to the letter, which is fly this ship for eight hours a day. Better late than never, many of us say. Though Logan warned about the strain put on our engines, I felt we had to take a chance on going nine hours at high warp. We continued to follow the trail of the mercenary ship until it just stopped in the middle of nowhere.

***

Limis and Kozar assisted Carson in monitoring the ship’s course. Limis stood next to Carson at the conn to see that the ship’s course continued to match the trail the ship was following. Kozar and Ensign Huckaby conferred at an auxiliary mission operations station to compare the course with Federation star charts. Kozar zoomed the section on display outward to see the ship was getting closer to the Romulan Star Empire. While the Romulans remained neutral in the war, Federation captains were still strongly advised to steer clear of the Neutral Zone.

“Captain,” Kozar called. “I should warn you that we’re now within a parsec of the Romulan Neutral Zone.”

“Then let’s hope our chase doesn’t lead us into Romulan space,” Limis replied. “We can’t afford to be fighting a war on two fronts.”

“This is strange,” Huckaby remarked from the primary operations station. “I’m reading a gap in the trail.”

“Any sign of the mercenaries?” Limis asked.

“No, sir,” the ensign replied.

“The trail resumes after two hundred million kilometers,” Carson added. “I can’t explain it.”

“Put the display on the viewscreen,” Limis requested so that all on the bridge could see what the two officers were monitoring.

“Maybe stellar winds dispersed the particles,” Morrison suggested.

“There would still be some kind of particle traces,” Carson added. “I’m not picking up anything on my sensors.”

“Here’s something even more curious,” Huckaby reported. “The particle decay rate indicates these electrons were left here sixteen hours ago.” A circular representation of the particle residue on the viewscreen flashed in red. The display then advanced to the next graphic indicator. “And this one was left nine hours ago.”

“Take us out of warp near the end of the first trail,” Limis ordered.

The Lambda Paz slowed. The surrounding stars, which appeared as streaks of straight lines began to look more like single flashes of light. The ship drew closer to a large circular area of blackness with no stars. From one second to the next, a star field that surrounded the ship was replaced by a dark void.

The bridge rocked as it was being sucked into the void. The red alert klaxons began sounding automatically. “We’re losing inertial dampers,” Carson reported as the bridge continued shaking.

“See what you can muster from auxiliary power, Huckaby,” Kozar ordered the dark skinned ensign.

“Shields are failing,” Morrison added. “Micro-fractures are forming on the hull.”

The Lambda Paz began to clear the void. The total darkness was then replaced by blinding light. Somehow, the ship had gone from entering a void completely dark to the surface of a star.

Chapter 4 by Enterprise1981

Chapter Four

Many of the bridge crew had to shield their eyes from what appeared. Huckaby turned down the brightness on the viewscreen, so that everyone could regain focus on their tasks at hand. “What did we just pass through?” Limis demanded, pacing over to the Ops station.

“You got me,” Carson sighed, trying to make sense of the endless stream of sensor data with which her display was being inundated.” She was just as anxious as the captain to get some answers and looked over at Huckaby.

“I’ll have to sort out all these readings later,” Huckaby answered. “But if I had to guess, I would think we just entered a Dyson Sphere.”

“Dyson Sphere?” Limis repeated.

“Named after Freeman Dyson,” Kozar explained. “In theory, such a structure could draw energy from a star, providing an almost endless source of power.”

“The sheer amount of raw material needed to build one of those things makes the idea highly impractical,” Huckaby added.

“I remember hearing about Dyson Spheres in a theoretical astrophysics course at the Academy,” Carson chimed in.

Limis nodded as if what her officers were saying now made sense. “I think I heard the Enterprise rescued Scotty from transporter suspension seventy-five years after his transport crashed on a Dyson sphere. Is this one cloaked?”

“Unlikely,” Morrison responded keeping his focus on the sensor readings on his display. “I didn’t pick up any tachyon spikes while we were passing through… whatever that was.”

“No matter, that’s not important now,” Limis said. “Any sign of where the mercenaries may have gone?” she then asked Carson.

“I have fragments of their trail on my navigation sensors,” Carson answered. “Solar flares are making it difficult to completely detect.”

“Another good reason to hide here,” Kozar retorted, sauntering over to the tactical station. “Mandel, did the shipyard crews get around to installing metaphasic shielding?”

Morrison entered a few commands into his console. A file on metaphasic shielding then appeared on the display screen. “Lucky us,” he answered. “Activating now.”

“That should protect us for a while,” Kozar explained to the captain. “Hopefully, it’ll hold for as long as we need to be here.”

“I have something on sensors that may be of help,” Huckaby reported.

Limis and Kozar walked over to operations station to hear what the ensign had to say. “This sphere is constructed of a poly-duranium alloy,” he told them. “I’m reading a monotanium hull alloy just like the mercenary ship at bearing nine-five mark two-zero-five.”

“Conn, set a course,” Limis commanded.

The Lambda Paz arched upwards towards the interior hull of the Dyson Sphere. It soon came across a craft the size of an escape pod docked along the interior of the hull. “Sounds like a good starting point,” Limis suggested. “Prepare an away team, Kozar.”

“Aye, sir,” Kozar replied. “Morrison, assemble a security team. Kozar to sh’Aqba, report to the transporter bay with an engineering team.” He and Morrison then stepped onto the starboard turbolift.

###

Kozar, Morrison, sh’Aqba, and Tarlazzi materialized, knees slightly bent inside the small pod that did not leave much standing room. Two human male security officers were behind them. Sh’Aqba opened her tricorder and then entered a few commands into the single seat piloting station to transmit information into tricorder translated into Federation standard. “This appears to be a cargo pod,” she reported. “The cargo holds are below here. Whatever cargo was in them was transported out roughly fifteen hours ago.”

“Any idea what was transported?” Kozar inquired.

“The transport logs were wiped afterwards,” the Andorian answered.

“We should probably take our chances in the habitat this thing is docked at,” Tarlazzi suggested.

“Agreed,” said Morrison, grabbing his Type-2 hand phaser. He then looked over at the two security guards. “Set phasers to cut through the hatch.”

The two other security officers compliantly pulled out their phasers and began firing at the ceiling hatch. Within two minutes, the six-person team was inside an artificial habitat of the Dyson Sphere.

The team made its way through a circular hatch in the floor one at a time. The Starfleet officers then tiptoed quietly through a dark corridor. The metal walls showed signs of age from the large rust patches. Live wires protruded from the walls, the ceiling, and the deck. The away team had to walk slowly in order to avoid accidental contact with those wires.

Kozar, Morrison, and sh’Aqba had tricorders out to scan for the locator beacon on most Starfleet property. If the alien thieves had known of such technology, they could have easily removed the devices in order to assure the pilfered equipment could not be found. That was all they had to go on, though, as the crew was not afforded the time of formulating a rough schematic of the sphere and its artificial habitats. “It’s like a haunted house,” Morrison commented.

“Haunted house?” sh’Aqba asked, not familiar with the antiquated Earth term.

“Old Earth mythology,” Kozar explained. “An old abandoned house is often believed to be haunted by demonic spirits.”

“Something modern science has disproved,” Tarlazzi chimed in.

“Nevertheless, this place gives me the creeps,” Morrison replied.

“This almost seems too easy,” Kozar mused.

The tricorder scans led the team into a large storage room. It looked to have to been ransacked with containers knocked on their sides. A set of upright containers filled the center of the cargo hold. Kozar raised a hand signaling the rest of the team to stay, and then nodded to Morrison to accompany him to the cargo containers. Kozar opened one of the containers to reveal Starfleet ration packs. “This looks like our stuff,” he said.

A particle burst struck the wall behind Morrison just below the ceiling. Morrison quickly jerked his head to the right. “Ambush!” he called out.

The rest of the team took cover behind the cargo containers. A Romulan peered out through a doorway on the opposite end of the cargo hold, firing his phaser again. He wore a light gray jumpsuit rather than a military uniform. Two other Romulan civilians entered the hold firing projectile phaser rifles. Morrison was then able to notice the brow ridges that distinguished Romulans from most other Vulcanoid races. “Romulans?” he wondered aloud.

“We’ll worry about their involvement in this later,” Kozar replied, firing his phaser at their assailants.

Two of the Romulans continued to lay down cover fire while the one on the right made his way around the set of containers. Tarlazzi turned to his right and fell down on his back to fire his fire his phaser stunning the Romulan. The one Romulan who was armed with a small pistol climbed onto the top of the containers to lunge at the officers. He jumped Morrison, knocking his phaser out of his hand. The Romulan pointed his pistol at Morrison’s head, but the two junior guards stunned him with their phaser rifles.

The third Romulan who was still standing darted towards the Starfleet team. A dagger he was holding as he charged towards them grazed sh’Aqba in her left shoulder. She quickly fell over and Kozar lunged at the attacker. The Romulan quickly broke free. The dagger sliced through Kozar’s left wrist. Morrison then fired his phaser, stunning the last attacker.

Tarlazzi and the guards helped sh’Aqba to sit back up while Morrison walked over to Kozar. “The knife just grazed me,” sh’Aqba lied.

“You should still have Doctor Markalis look at it,” Tarlazzi replied.

Morrison ripped part of the left cuff of his gold inner tunic to apply a tourniquet to Kozar’s wound. “It looks superficial,” the commander insisted.

“We shouldn’t take any chances with it though,” Morrison replied.

“Tarlazzi,” Kozar called to the Rigellian. “Set up the transport enhancers.”

Tarlazzi slid rods from the case he had been carrying and handed them off to the two guards. The three rods were placed around the cargo containers. “Let’s get the hell out of here,” said Kozar, tapping his combadge. “Kozar to Lambda Paz. Energize.”

The away team and the cargo containers then dematerialized.

***

Over the next several hours, other away teams consisting of engineering and security personnel transported to the sphere habitat to locate more of the missing equipment. These teams encountered similar resistance from trios of Romulans. Kozar’s team, meanwhile, reported to Captain Limis in the observation lounge for debriefing after routine medical exams in sickbay. While en route from sickbay to the briefing room, Kozar again questioned the captain’s decision to engage in such a risky endeavor. He had the same concerns about going off on a wild goose chase to retrieve stolen equipment, especially now that Romulans were involved.

“I’ve mentioned how Starfleet is dealing with supply and manpower shortages,” Limis reiterated, as they stepped into a turbolift heading for the bridge. “Deck one,” she ordered the lift’s computer.

“Besides,” the captain continued, “in the Maquis, we put ourselves in greater danger nabbing technology that did not belong to us.”

###

Lieutenant Commander Morrison and Lieutenant sh’Aqba were already in the observation lounge when the captain and first officer arrived. The two subordinate officers were comparing notes regarding personnel from their respective departments available for away mission duty. Limis and Kozar sauntered in and stood at the head of the table. “What’s our status?” the captain asked.

“We have security and engineering teams aboard the sphere to find the rest of our equipment,” sh’Aqba responded. “Commander Logan is staying aboard to supervise repairs. He should have warp drive online in thirty minutes.”

Limis nodded approvingly, and then looked to Morrison. “Major Davis is leading the MACO’s in case the teams encounter further resistance,” the second officer stated. “The question is what the Romulans have to gain from all this.”

“They’re probably not affiliated with the Dominion,” Kozar offered. “The Romulan Empire signed a non-aggression pact with the Dominion. They’re neutral.”

“Admiral Ross relayed a message to me from Starfleet Intelligence,” Limis added. “Various criminal syndicates have been raiding starships for the latest technological innovations. With the Maquis mostly out of the picture, these mercenaries have to turn to organized crime groups. The Romulans’ stake in this is probably to feel out both sides of the war to see who is a greater threat to their interests.”

“The teams did find equipment that was clearly beyond Romulan technological capabilities,” said sh’Aqba. “The science labs are analyzing it now.”

“Anything else about the Dyson Sphere?” the captain asked the engineer. “This is an interesting archeological find, worthy of extensive study if we weren’t in the middle of a war.”

“According to Ensign Makassa,” Kozar replied, in reference to the gamma-shift operations officer, “the quantum scans indicate this thing is almost two hundred thousand years old.”

“How did they conceal it if isn’t using cloaking technology?” Limis asked.

“From what we can gather from all the sensor data,” Morrison replied, “whoever built it took a pocket of subspace and folded over the sphere.”

“Too bad we can’t stay here and study it further,” the captain lamented. “Keep me posted on your progress, people. Dismissed.”

The other officers left leaving Limis to mull over the implications of stumbling across such ancient, but advanced technology. In the wrong hands, this Dyson Sphere could cause disaster, especially if the Dominion learned of it.

As much as my first officer second-guessed my decision to go after the thieves and go to such risky lengths to take back our pilfered equipment, I knew I made the right choice. After that debriefing, I learned of a breakthrough that would be of major importance. I’m an agnostic, but I would still say that the Prophets were pointing me in the right direction.

***

Markalis called Limis into the main science lab. She had been analyzing one of the mystery devices the away teams brought aboard. The science officers on duty worked tirelessly to get some idea on what purpose it served. The doctor had quickly discovered something that she thought the captain would consider important.

“From what we can tell, this device is designed to analyze and identify various types of microorganisms,” Markalis explained to the captain upon the older woman’s arrival. “It is unlike any medical technology Starfleet has. It can also break down those microorganisms into their base elements.” Markalis handed Limis a padd containing a set of complicated chemical formulas.

“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Limis replied. “You’ll have to give me the short version.”

“Tri-nucleic fungi can be broken down into yridium bicantizine,” the doctor answered. “It’s an active ingredient in ketracel-white.”

“Why didn’t you just say that to begin with?” Limis asked with a grin.

“I’ve observed that Starfleet officers feel a need to impress their captains with their excellent reasoning skills,” Markalis explained. For the first time that Limis could remember since coming aboard the Lambda Paz, Markalis smiled.

A light went on in Limis’s mind. This was superior Dominion technology, meaning the mercenaries who raided her ship also stole Dominion technology. If that were the case, then the Cardassian in the brig would have some idea as to the location of a ketracel-white manufacturing plant. Having once been a resistance fighter, Limis engaged in other lines of work as a cover profession. Perhaps Mirren’s cover profession was working in a ketracel-white manufacturing plant.

###

Limis then headed straight for the brig and dismissed the guard on duty. Mirren was taking a light nap, so he immediately sat up on the bench upon the captain’s arrival. “You got your stuff back without my help,” he said with that wry smirk Limis had become familiar with during their last exchange. “Here to let me go?”

“Your group stole equipment from a ketracel-white manufacturing plant. Where is it?”

Mirren shook his head, attempting to feign ignorance of what the Bajoran was talking about. “I don’t know of any ketracel-white plant,” he confidently insisted.

“You’re lying!” Limis sneered. She entered a few commands into the wall panel to the left of the cell shutting off the forcefield. She then removed her phaser and pointed it at the prisoner. “Get up!” she insisted.

When Mirren did not comply, Limis grabbed him by the collar to force the Cardassian upright. She then dragged him out of the cell and out into the corridor. The human male guard assigned to the detention cell overnight had been waiting outside the brig, and he gazed in wonder at what the captain was planning. Further down the corridor, a passing human female officer passed by and stopped in her tracks staring in awe. “As you were, Ensign,” Limis said.

“Where are you taking me?” Mirren rhetorically asked. “Your torture chamber?”

“I’m going to get that information out of you any way I can,” Limis cryptically replied.

“Like I said before, Starfleet is too civilized to torture.”

They arrived at an airlock where Limis opened the door and shoved the prisoner inside. After closing the door again, she peered through the small transparent aluminum window. “This airlock can decompress in forty seconds,” she said. “Tell me what I want to know.”

Mirren chuckled, thinking Limis was making a cruel joke. Limis then pressed a button to the right of the door, cutting off the oxygen. “The ketracel-white plant,” she demanded, gritting her teeth.

Morrison and two security guards arrived on the scene while the captain and the prisoner stared each other down. “Captain,” he said.

“Everything is under control, Morrison,” Limis replied.

Morrison could not believe his eyes when he saw the readout on the airlock control panel. “The airlock is decompressing,” he said. “He’ll die.”

“Not for another twenty seconds he won’t,” Limis responded without looking away from Mirren. “Where is the ketracel-white manufacturing plant?”

Mirren began gasping for breath. “Say again,” Limis taunted.

With five seconds left before the airlock completely decompressed, Limis recompressed it and opened the door. Mirren sprawled out, falling to the deck while gasping for air. “Sector…” he gasped. “Sector four-nine-seven.” Mirren suddenly began choking.

The two kneeled down to attend to the Cardassian as he was lapsing into unconsciousness. Limis tapped her combadge to signal the transporter room. “Transporter room,” she said, “lock onto our Cardassian prisoner and beam him to sickbay.” Mirren then dematerialized.

Chapter 5 by Enterprise1981

Chapter Five

Mirren’s lifeless body lay on the main biobed in sickbay. The Vulcan nurse placed a cardio-stimulator on the patient’s chest hoping to revive him. Doctor Markalis entered commands into the biobed’s surgical scanner to administer electrical pulses from the stimulator. The scan indicating Mirren’s vital signs indicated a flat line even after each pulse. “Again,” the doctor ordered after each pulse.

No change registered on the EKG readout. After five pulses at the highest intensity, the doctor gave up. “I’m sorry,” she said, lowering her head dejectedly. “I did everything to try to save him. Everything I could. But he’s dead. I’m very sorry.”

“I know you did everything,” Limis replied. “It’s my fault. How did it happen?”

Markalis looked straight ahead and walked over to Limis. “Cardassian physiology is adapted to a thinner atmosphere on their home planet,” she said in a dispassionate monotone voice. “The air pressure calibrations on Starfleet ships bombarded his respiratory system. Like frostbite, you have to warm the affected area slowly. Otherwise, the sudden flow of blood could lead to potentially fatal damage.”

In my youth, I would have said that Mirren was just a Cardassian. When I was recruited into the Resistance. I hated all Cardassians and wanted them all dead. As I got older, I was able to temper that hatred and think in more pragmatic terms. Each death that I caused made a little of me die.

There are rules even in war. And I condemned a sentient being, not to mention a noncombatant to his death. I was ready to face the music.

###

Limis sat in her ready room the next morning reading daily status reports when Kozar and Morrison paid her a visit. The first officer had given her a hard time about minor violations of protocol since her first day on the job. Limis immediately sensed that Kozar would throw the proverbial book at her on even more serious violations of regulations.

“Mister Morrison told me what happened last night,” Kozar matter-of-factly stated.

Limis looked up to see the chief of security was also present. “Why do I get the feeling you’re going to gang up on me?” she inquired.

“Before we left space dock,” Kozar stated, “Admiral Jellico contacted me.”

Limis felt that Kozar saw her as an obstacle to the starship captaincy he had been seeking since his tour on the Horatio Nelson. She stood up assuming he wouldn’t hesitate to use this latest situation to push her out of the way. “What are you saying?” she asked, standing up.

“Captain Limis,” Kozar proclaimed, “I hereby relieve you of your command under Starfleet Regulation 104, Section C.”

“That regulation only applies to a CO judged physically and mentally unfit. Can Doctor Markalis certify that with a full medical examination?”

“Admiral Jellico told me she doesn’t need to. He granted me expanded autonomy which I am now using.”

Kozar then turned to Morrison. “Mister Morrison,” he said. “Please escort the captain to her quarters and confine her there.”

Morrison walked around the desk to carry out that command. “I’m sorry, Captain,” he said apologetically. “If you’ll come with me.”

“She’s all yours, Captain,” Limis sneered at Kozar on her way out of the ready room.

For sure, my short Starfleet career was over. While the Cardies may argue that the ends justify the means, Starfleet and the Federation have very little tolerance for mistreating prisoners. Despite the intense guilt I felt over Mirren’s death, I felt in the back of my mind such actions would help turn the tide in this war. The JAG office wouldn’t have seen it that way, which I was prepared to accept. But certain things happened over the next week that changed all that.

###

Kozar paced back and forth in the ready room, somehow not feeling the emotional high of getting the command he felt he was entitled to. His worries at the moment were not for he had just done, but for what he would do in the near future. He was mulling over what to do with the information Limis had obtained through the use of torture. Taking out one of the Dominion’s ketracel-white manufacturing facilities would be a huge blow with the enemy’s supply lines to the Gamma Quadrant cut off. Surely, there were other ketracel-white manufacturing plants on the Alpha Quadrant side of the Wormhole, but considering how the war was going for the Federation and the Klingon Empire, any victory of this magnitude would be a big one. While he felt that he had to take some kind of punitive action against his captain, Kozar could not pretend he knew nothing about this ketracel-white manufacturing plant.

He was taking slow paces towards the desk when the doorbell chimed. That roused him from his metacognitive trance. “Come,” he said, turning to face the door.

Morrison entered to see Kozar standing at attention. “You wish to see me, sir?” he asked in a professional tone.

“At ease, Mandel,” Ronnie said in a friendly, but still professional cadence to his voice. “I’ve been thinking about how to act on this new information we obtained.”

“What’s there to think about?” Mandel wondered aloud. “Captain Limis obtained that information through illegal means. If we were to follow up on this lead, the rest of the crew would be just as guilty…”

“Fine,” Ronnie interrupted. “In a criminal investigation, if one of us tortured a confession out of a suspect, that confession would not be admissible in court. But this is a matter of winning or losing a major interstellar war rather than closing a criminal investigation. We may have obtained crucial information that could potentially deal the Dominion a crippling blow.”

Morrison’s eyebrow twitched, uncertain as to the reason for the commander’s skepticism. “’May have’?” he repeated.

“Torture is far from the most reliable means of obtaining information,” Kozar repeated. “I can quote you dozens of case studies where a person who was subjected to physical torture later admitted to deliberately disclosing inaccurate information. At the very least, we have to follow up that lead Mirren gave us just before he died; verify those coordinates are accurate.”

“Then you may as well not have relieved Limis of command,” Morrison offered.

Kozar raised hand before Morrison could say more. “No, that still had to be done,” he assured his friend. “She has to be accountable for having knowingly causing the death of a non-combatant. Let the war crimes tribunal sort that out. But I doubt they’ll go after us for acting on this information we obtained. But on the slim chance they do, I will take full responsibility for this endeavor. And Admiral Ross has signed off on it. So I need to know, Mandel. Are you in or out?”

“I’m in,” Morrison replied with no hesitation in his voice.

While the two men exchanged nods, the doorbell chimed once. This time, the chime came from the side door leading a corridor behind the bridge. “Come,” Kozar said.

Doctor Markalis entered the office, carrying herself rather rigidly and her face in no way betraying her non-emotive state. She greeted both Kozar and Morrison with light nods, and then looked at Kozar with a coldly attentive stare to indicate the commander had her undivided attention. “Lieutenant Aurellan Markalis reporting as ordered, sir,” she said.

Kozar grinned, remembering his earlier conversation with Limis about Markalis and her socially awkward mannerisms. “You don’t need to that every time you’re summoned here,” he blithely assured her.

Markalis gave a half-embarrassed smirk while still quietly congratulating herself for still following the applicable social protocols to the letter.

“You were the first to identify one of the alien devices we brought as being involved in manufacturing ketracel-white,” Kozar pointedly continued. “I need you to work with the sensor technicians to help us detect similar devices at the coordinates we’re headed for.”

“I’m not an engineer, sir,” Markalis hesitantly protested.

“Not an engineer, a consultant,” Kozar replied. “I know of your fascination with how all the devices you regularly use are put together. This device may have unique characteristics. And you may have some way of allowing the sensors to better detect tri-nucleic fungi and yridium bicantizine. This is an opportunity to put some of that encyclopedic knowledge to good use. Let the technicians worry about the more technical aspects.”

“No problem, sir,” Markalis replied with an enthusiastic smile. “I’ll get right on it.”

“You’re dismissed then,” Kozar said with a nod. Markalis sauntered out of the room in her usual rigid posture. Kozar then turned his attention to Morrison, saying, “Commander, set a course for the coordinates at maximum warp.”

“Aye, sir,” Morrison said with a nod before heading for the bridge.

Kozar then took a seat in the one of the guest chairs at the desk and activated the desk monitor. Despite his new status as acting captain, he did not feel for some reason that he deserved to sit behind the desk.

###

I couldn’t believe it. After I was dropped off at Starbase 375. Though I had been relieved of command, Kozar was still following up this potentially big lead. I must say, for a power-hungry son of a bitch, he sure had his priorities in order.

After a week of traveling at maximum warp, the Lambda Paz eventually reached the border of Dominion-controlled space. It was a region some distance from one of the major patrol routes. Kozar still had the ship at yellow alert in case of any surprises.

The officers on the alpha-shift were at their usual stations— Morrison at tactical, Carson at conn, and Huckaby at ops. Though Morrison was next in line after Kozar, Kozar had not appointed an officer to serve exclusively as first officer. That was not much of a priority considering the urgency of this mission; so much of the first officer’s responsibilities still fell to Kozar. He completed his circuit of the main and auxiliary bridge stations at ops where Ensign Huckaby was monitoring communication channels.

“We’re ready to drop the relay beacons,” Huckaby explained to Kozar. “Each is transmitting on alternating bandwidths with rotating transponder frequencies.”

“Get on it,” Kozar instructed. He headed for the tactical station expecting a status report from Morrison.

Akira and Saber wings two, three, and six are in position,” Morrison reported. “Ready to move in once we give the go ahead.”

“Very good,” said Kozar, heading for the bridge’s two center seats. “Helm, lay in a new parabolic course for our target at maximum warp.”

“Course laid in, sir,” Carson replied with a few carefully entered commands.

***

Six hours later, the Lambda Paz fell out of warp near a lone asteroid guarded by a single squad of Jem’Hadar fighters. The ship slowed to half impulse at the edge of sensor range to avoid attracting the attention of any installment that might be housed on the asteroid. Kozar kept his eyes focused on the viewscreen as the asteroid moved closer into view while the rest of the bridge crew focused on their stations. Markalis entered the bridge from the port turbolift and took a seat the mission ops station.

“Keep us in an elliptical orbit at the edge of their sensor range,” Kozar ordered Carson. “We need to collect as much sensor data as we can without giving those fighters cause for alarm.” He looked to his right, asking both Huckaby and Markalis, “Anything yet?”

“No, sir,” Huckaby and Markalis simultaneously answered. Markalis then rolled her eyes, annoyed that the ensign might have drowned out her voice.

All of the bridge crew was in a nervous silence waiting on someone to report any major findings. The silence lasted for several minutes until the tactical station chirped. “Picking up an object emerging from one of the chasms,” Morrison reported.

“Put it up,” Kozar replied anxiously.

“Give me a second here,” Morrison nervously said, trying to quickly recalibrate his sensors.

The viewscreen magnified the image of the asteroid to focus in on the chasm in question. A small sensor probe ascended from the asteroid. Kozar’s eyes widened in apprehension, almost certain the ship had been spotted. “Parallel course towards the asteroid, helm,” Kozar snapped, pacing towards the helm. “Morrison, ready phasers. Take out that probe.”

“Sir?” Morrison asked, almost certain carrying out such orders would blow their cover.

“Do it,” Kozar demanded.

“Aye, sir,” Morrison relented, targeting the phasers on the probe. A phaser beam erupted from the saucer’s ventral, effortlessly vaporizing the probe.

The Lambda Paz moved in hard on the asteroid as if it would eventually crash into it. Then at the last second, it arched to port and swung around to the other side of the asteroid.

“Three fighters on an intercept course,” Morrison called out.

“All weapons at the ready,” Kozar responded, sauntering towards the port auxiliary stations. “Huckaby, talk to me. Any other artificial structures besides where that probe came from?”

“I have it,” Huckaby said after a few sensor recalibrations. “A shuttle emerging from the far side. Tracking its origin.”

A metallic structure on the surface of the asteroid appeared on the viewscreen. Two shuttles were departing it while a third was headed for a landing bay.

“Tell me you have something too, Markalis,” Kozar barked.

“I have something, too,” Markalis quipped. “Heavy concentrations of tri-nucleic fungi. Seventy parts per million…”

“That’s sufficient, Doctor,” Kozar snapped, heading back to the helm. “Escape course, Carson. Full impulse. Mister Huckaby, transmit our findings to our reinforcements,” he added. “Don’t tell me how difficult it will be.”

“Jem’Hadar on attack course,” Morrison called at the same moment Huckaby acknowledged the commander’s order.

Three Jem’Hadar fighter swooped in on the Lambda Paz in a single-file formation. Each ship took turns firing disruptors at the Lambda Paz’s starboard side, moved off, and swung around for a second pass. The Starfleet ship fired phasers from its starboard dorsal emitter, clipping all three the fighters. “Carson, move us within a thousand meters of the center ship’s nose,” Kozar ordered. “Morrison, throw everything you have at all three of those ships.

The Lambda Paz inched closer and closer to the center ship while the shields continued to absorb weapons fire. Upon getting within a thousand meters of that fighter, phasers and quantum torpedoes tore through all three of the fighters. With most the weapons fire concentrated on the center ship, that fighter erupted in a fireball.

The bridge rocked hard and sparks crackled from various stations as the ship took weapons fire from the two remaining ships. “The other four squadrons are headed for us,” Morrison reported ominously, “in attack formation.”

Kozar instinctively took a seat in the first officer’s chair to the right of the captain’s chair as the ship continued to be clipped by enemy fire. “Kozar to engineering,” he said, tapping the comm on the panel to his left. “Mister Logan, divert as much power you can muster into the warp drive and I don’t want to hear any excuses!”

Chapter 6 by Enterprise1981
Author's Notes:
To quote Spock in response to how he and McCoy escaped Oxmyx's henchmen in "A Piece of the Action": "Irrelevant, since we are here."

Chapter Six

Vice Admiral William Ross sat at his desk reviewing the latest casualty reports from the Tyra System. The hardest part about reading these reports was looking over the names of those who were unaccounted for. So many ships were lost in these battles, so the families of those missing people were left in limbo on whether they were dead or alive. He welcomed any kind of distraction from this difficult duty, which came in the form of his office door chiming. “Yes,” he called.

Rear Admiral Edward Jellico entered holding up a padd. “What’s the meaning of this, Bill?” he asked, raising it.

“I beg your pardon?” Ross innocently answered.

Jellico entered a command on the padd to call up the relevant information. “”On the recommendation of Vice-Admiral William Ross’,” he said, reading the padd’s contents, “’no disciplinary action will be taken against Captain Limis Vircona at this time.’ Why the hell not?”

“She was able to acquire vital information that could give us even a minor victory,” Ross stated, rising from his chair, “which our troops could certainly use right about now.”

“She tortured a man, and he died soon afterward,” Jellico snapped back.

Ross took a few deep breaths to keep this discussion from becoming a knockdown-drag out shouting match. He then circled around the desk and sat in one of the guest chairs. “I didn’t expect this kind of reaction from you, Ed,” he said, calmly. “Your style of command is one that demands results. You’ve had plenty of dealings with the Cardassians during your career.

“This is war, Ed. We can’t be distracted with penalizing someone for a petty violation of protocol.”

“’Petty violation of protocol’?” Jellico repeated, sitting in the other guest chair. “That’s what you call torturing a man? By letting this slide, you’re basically giving all Starfleet CO’s unlimited freedom to use whatever methods they may deem necessary. And to blazes with the Seldonis Four Convention.”

Ross was at a loss for words. Jellico then stormed out of the office without another word, leaving the more senior admiral with a lot to consider. By reinstating Limis, he put an officer willing to make the hard choices back in command of USS Lambda Paz despite his earlier insistence that none of the surviving Maquis be given starship command. If that set a precedent for more atrocious acts, he would have to cross that proverbial bridge upon arriving there.

 

Stardate 51196.32

Limis Vircona sat behind the desk of the ready room sipping whiskey from a shot glass. As a result of Ross’s recommendation, her command was reinstated. The downside was Limis witnessed the Battle of the Tyra System, where nearly a hundred ships were lost to the Jem’Hadar. While awaiting full damage reports, Limis retired to her ready room to reflect on the events that led to the death of that Cardassian. The cataclysmic confrontation had just brought her back to that incident. Would the information obtained through such extreme measures culminate in a reversal of a demoralizing trend?

“I was off the hook,” Limis stated in her personal log. “I’ll bet Jellico was furious. Kozar was not too happy either. He said the JAG office was setting a ‘dangerous precedent.’ As much as I wanted to gloat, he was right. At some point, we have to be willing to stand on principle. Even if we do defeat the Dominion, they’ll still achieve a philosophical victory if we started to behave too much like them.

“Even so, I have done things I am not proud of. I sold sexual favors to high-ranking Cardassian military operatives. I killed more Cardassians than I would care to count, including civilians either to achieve mission objectives or in acts of petty revenge. People die in war, and Mirren is just one more casualty of war. I may hate myself for some of the horrible things I have done. But I can learn to live with that guilt.”

Limis stood up from her desk, paced over to the replicator, and ordered another shot of whiskey. After downing it in one gulp, she returned to the desk. “Computer,” she said stoically, “erase that entire personal log.”

###

“Sacrifice” by tAtU

Two weeks after the Battle of Tyra, Admiral Ross sent Captain Benjamin Sisko and the senior officers of the USS Defiant on a daring mission into the heart of Dominion territory using the information Limis had obtained by way of torturing and inadvertently killing Mirren. Using a captured Jem’Hadar fighter, Sisko and his crew were able to destroy the ketracel-white manufacturing plant, putting the enemy in a difficult conundrum for months with its supply line to the Gamma Quadrant cut off.

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