That evening, Katie and Phil stumbled into his quarters. Both immediately unzipped their uniforms and threw their jackets onto the back of the couch. They collapsed in a heap and she immediately rested her exhausted head on his shoulder.
"Twelve hours of recalibrating guidance systems…" Phil muttered.
"Guidance systems?" Katie said rolling her eyes. "How about twelve hours of crawling through jefferies tubes checking phaser EPS relays? My back's got so many knots in it you could use it as a climbing wall."
"At least we're ready to look at the business end of a D'Deridex and have a fighting chance." He glanced over at the replicator. "What are you thinking for dinner?"
"Whatever doesn't require me to get off this couch."
"That is so helpful," he replied climbing to his feet.
"That's the benefit of being a woman, Slick," she said collapsing onto her back and staring up at the ceiling. "I've can make you do stuff I don't want to do."
Phil started mindlessly perusing the replicator menu on the other side of the room.
"How about spaghetti and meatballs?"
"No, I don't feel like slurping noodles."
"Plomeek soup and Vulcan lavash?"
"I'm not a rabbit, Phil. If I wanted to keep vegan, I would have stayed in Cali."
"Alright, how about pot roast and potatoes?"
"What?" she said leaning over the coach and looking at him innocently.
"Could you at least give me a hint? Otherwise I'm gonna replicate the first random thing I find and drop it in your lap," Phil said shrugging his shoulders.
"Jeez, someone is having their time of the month…" she said sarcastically.
Phil rolled his eyes again.
"How about tacos?" he said desperately
"We had tacos three nights ago."
"Yeah," he replied, "but you love tacos."
"When you right, you right," she said sitting upright. "Tacos it is."
He materialized two Mexican platters and a couple beers and brought them over to the coffee table.
"I can tell you one thing," she said taking a bite out of her shell. "Annabeth is not going to be having her time of the month for about nine months…"
Phil gagged and put his taco back down on his plate.
"What are you talking about?" he said taking a sip of beer to clear that image from his mind.
"X-O is pregnant," Katie said plainly.
"WHAT?" Phil said shocked. "How do you know that?"
"Because I'm not an idiot, Lexington," she said shaking her head. "C'mon, think like a detective and use a little deductive reasoning."
"Ok, Ms. Holmes," he said skeptically. "Explain."
"Really?" she replied. "She's been exhausted lately…"
"We've all been exhausted lately…"
"Her mood goes back and forth like a tennis ball at Wimbledon. You saw it today."
"She's first officer on a starship that just got told it was going back into harm's way…"
"And," Katie said holding up a finger, "she upchucked like Old Faithful during the sync meeting this morning."
"Alex said she had eaten something that didn't agree with her…"
"We eat from replicators and stasis pods, Genius!" Katie said shoving a taco in his face. "When was the last time someone got food poisoning from a replicator?"
"Ok," Phil said with a laugh as he pushed her food out of his face. "Say, you're right and Annabeth is pregnant, which I'm not agreeing with yet. Just how exactly does a woman, married to another woman, get pregnant?"
Katie dropped her chin and gave him an, "Are you serious?" expression.
"The exact same way every other woman does, Bro. Did your Mommy and Daddy never have, 'The Talk' with you?"
"You know what I mean!" he said playfully pushing her away as she chomped another bite of fried tortilla.
"Well," Katie replied holding the ground beef filling in her mouth as she spoke. "We were on Earth a couple weeks back. You think the Wonder Twins visited a donor clinic when we weren't paying attention?"
"I guess it's possible," Phil said carefully considering her theory. "But you think that's enough time for her to be showing symptoms?"
"Dammit Phil, I'm a tactical officer, not a doctor," she said holding up her hands. Suddenly, her eyes grew wide.
"What if it's somebody on this ship?" she said in shock.
"Really?" Phil said with a chuckle. "The idea she's pregnant is ridiculous enough, but the thought of Annabeth Geist letting any man on this ship put a bun in her oven is just impossible."
"Yeah," Katie said leaning back on the couch. "I mean, I wouldn't let any man on this ship put a bun in my oven either…"
Phil's jaw dropped as he contemplated whether she was serious or not.
"That look on your face should be the cover of our wedding invitation," she said with a smirk.
"But you want kids, right?" he replied, his voice dripping with genuine concern.
"Of course I want kids!" she said laughing out loud, "just not for a while. We've got a lot more life to live with just the two of us before we add another Lexington to the band…" She leaned forward and kissed him. "Mmmm, taco flavored…"
"I have to say, Katie Stone, life with you is never boring," he said pulling her into his chest.
"I can promise you that much at least," she said with a sly grin. They gazed out the large window at the stars rushing by at warp speed. Both of them silently promised to enjoy the next few hours of calm before the Pershing took them face to face with their next adventure.
"Approaching the border, Sir," Phil said adjusting the ship's helm.
"All stop. Thrusters to station keeping," Tigranian replied before taking a long sip of raktajino. He was not going to face the Cardassian State un-caffeinated this morning. "Maintain a distance of 2000 kilometers to the demarcation line. Let's give them a berth, but not too wide."
"Aye, Sir," Phil answered.
"Laria?" Tigranian asked looking over his shoulder.
"Oh, they are out there, Sir," she said. "Twenty-two Galor class battlecruisers within sensor range: distance 8 million kilometers, bearing 010 Mark 016."
"Dead ahead," Annabeth said from the first officer's chair. "Any sign of our friends from Romulus?"
"No, Ma'am," Laria replied. "But if they're cloaked…"
"Which they are…" Katie added. "Romulans don't go anywhere still in the visible spectrum. Shields up, Captain?"
"Not yet, Katie," Tigranian replied staring at the viewscreen. "I don't want them to see us sweat quite yet, but load the quantum torpedo tubes and charge phasers. Let's let them know we're not here as old friends."
No sooner had Katie brought the armament online, her console chirped.
"The lead Cardassian State ship is hailing, Sir."
"Glad to see they're paying attention," Annabeth said raising an eyebrow.
"Put them onscreen, Katie," Tigranian said adjusting his uniform.
The face of an angry Cardassian Legate appeared at the front of the bridge.
"Federation Starship, I am Legate Varak of the CSS Korban in command of the First People's Fleet. You have no business in this sector. Leave Immediately."
"Legate Varak," Tigranian said climbing to his feet. "I am Captain Daniel Tigranian of the Federation Starship, Pershing. Last time I checked, we were on the Republic side of the border. Therefore, the Cardassian State Navy has no say in what we choose to do."
"We know who you are, Tigranian. You're a recognized war criminal who has no respect for interstellar law or the rights of free peoples. If you did, you would leave the Cardassian public in peace. What possible activity could you have at this particular location except to conduct espionage on behalf of your imperialist masters?"
Tigranian glanced down at Annabeth who merely rubbed her temple in bemusement.
"Glad that my reputation precedes me, Legate. Not that it's any of your business," Tigranian said sternly, "but we've been assigned this sector as part of our regular patrol schedule. Now, if you just stay on your side of the border, I'll stay on mine, and we'll both have a nice day."
The Cardassian scoffed and shook his head.
"Do not move any closer than 1000 kilometers to the demarcation line or attempt to conduct any active sensor scans of our fleet. We would construe any such as actions as a hostile act and move to engage you. This transmission ends now."
The screen switched back to a neutral starscape.
"I don't think they like you very much, Sir," Katie said from Tactical.
"Feeling's mutual," Tigranian said sitting back in his chair. "Phil, don't budge a centimeter from this position. Katie, shields to standby mode. I want them up in less than three seconds if there's any hint of trouble. Laria, I'm counting on that wonderful sensor suite of yours to allow us to keep tabs on them without active scanning."
"Aye Sir," Laria said dialing in the range. "I've already got a passive visual feed."
"Onscreen," Tigranian said with a grin.
A drone ship was moving left to right across the field of vision dropping objects from its ventral hull. The Galor cruisers remained in tight formation a few hundred thousand kilometers distant. They were divided into waves of seven with the Korban observing from a distance.
"What are those?" Phil asked staring at the spheres the drone ship deployed one at a time.
"Target beacons," Katie said looking at her instruments. "Each one is putting out a fake Federation or Klingon warp signature."
"They're doing more than that," Laria said checking her feeds as well. "I'm reading active maneuvering systems on each one. I think they're programmed to change course and speed like they're actual ships. One of them even matches a Pershing class battlestarship."
"Talk about realistic target practice…" Annabeth said looking at the tactical display on the arm of her chair. "Do you think they have an accurate picture of our capabilities?"
"Capabilities, maybe," Tigranian taking another sip of raktajino. "But they continue to underestimate their crews…"
Annabeth smiled back as the turbolift doors opened to reveal Alex.
"Welcome to the bridge, Doc," Tigranian said. "Here to watch the fireworks?"
"Sick bay's pretty quiet right now. I figured I could add a medical perspective to whatever we're observing."
"Hopefully, there won't need to be a medical perspective," Tigranian replied. "But you're always welcome topside, CMO."
"Sir," Laria said with excitement. "The first wave of Cardassian ships is moving into attack positions."
The rest of the bridge crew watched as a wave of seven Galor class ships moved in unison at the target beacons. Their massive main phaser banks opened fire in bright yellow beams. The beacons counter-maneuvered to avoid being hit, but several blasts found their marks. One exploded immediately, but four more stayed intact.
"I think the Romulans have been tinkering with those ships, Sir," Katie said nervously. "I'm reading a twelve percent increase above the normal Galor class discharge."
"Interesting…" Tigranian said steepling his fingers.
"That comes at a price, Sir," Laria added. "When those beams fire, I'm detecting a fifty millisievert increase in radiation in the forward half of their primary hulls."
"Translation for the scientifically challenged?" Phil said glancing over his shoulder.
"They're nuking themselves for extra power, Mr. Lexington," Alex said leaning forward on the bridge rail. She shook her head. "Fifty millisieverts by itself isn't that dangerous, but over time with cumulative exposure…"
Laria jumped in.
"Blindness, gastro-intestinal problems, leukemia, anemia…"
"I think we get the idea, L," Annabeth said clandestinely placing her hands over her abdomen. "We're not at risk are we?"
"No, with our deflectors, we're well out of range of any danger, Ma'am," Laria said reassuringly.
"Cardassians are slightly more resistant than most humanoids, but why knowingly irradiate themselves for a marginal increase in weapons strength?" Alex said shaking her head.
"Because they don't care about the welfare of individuals, Doc," Tigranian said looking straight ahead. "Merely what one can do for the state…"
"The Romulan State for that matter," Annabeth added.
"Sir, the next wave is attacking," Katie interjected. Seven more cruisers approached at full speed and sprayed another wave of phaser blasts into the targets. "The beacons' simulated shields are significantly degraded. Their computers are rerouting power from their ventral, lateral, and dorsal shields to their forward emitters to compensate."
"Exactly what the rule book says a Federation ship should do that situation…" Annabeth noted.
The alarms on Laria and Katie's consoles screamed to life.
"Sir!" Laria shouted. "Four Romulan warbirds just decloaked less a thousand kilometers from the target beacons."
"They're making an attack run across the lateral axis at full impulse," Katie added. "Each is firing a full spread of plasma torpedoes."
The four warbirds streaked in and let loose a massive spread of green spheres. Seconds later, they impacted the weakened side shields of the targets. Most exploded in brilliant flashes of light. Under the cover of the blasts, the massive ships disappeared again.
Without any delay, the final wave of Cardassian ships engaged. The target beacons were overwhelmed by the strikes from multiple directions. A final barrage of phaser fire turned the last of them into glowing debris.
"Distract them with a bunch of jabs to the face, and then sucker punch them in their blind spot…" Phil said clenching his jaw.
"It's an intelligent technique," Annabeth said, "but not very honorable…" she added muttering in Tigranian's direction.
The captain sighed.
"noHghoblu'DI' yayquv law' HochquvpuS, Annabeth," he replied.
"And what the hell does that mean, Sir?" Katie asked.
"In war, there is nothing more honorable than victory," Laria translated.
"If none of your enemies survive to complain, you have nothing to worry about," Tigranian said clarifying his comment.
"In case you're wondering, Sir," Katie said from behind him. "The Pershing class simulator was the last to go, but it didn't have enough structural integrity left after the torpedo barrage to withstand the last phaser hit. It was destroyed in 89 seconds."
"Their cheap-ass Cardy computer lasted 89 seconds," the captain replied. "This ship shoots back, and as far as I can remember, you haven't missed yet, Ms. Stone."
The drone ship returned and began laying beacons for a second exercise.
Suddenly, one of the targets began moving in erratic, violent bursts.
"Captain," Laria exclaimed, "one of the beacons has been activated. It's locked on to our impulse signature!"
"What?" Tigranian replied.
The beacon accelerated to its maximum speed, and turned right at them.
"It's charging at us, Sir," Katie said. "Collision course!"
"Red Alert! Shields up!" Annabeth commanded.
"Lock phasers, prepare for evasive maneuvers," Tigranian said bracing himself against the chair.
"It's locked onto to us. Twenty seconds till impact," Laria said.
"It just crossed the border!" Katie said.
"It's an enemy weapon in our territory. Destroy it!" Tigranian shouted.
"It's actively trying to jam my targeting sensors. It's fighting me, Sir," Katie exclaimed.
"I don't care!" Tigranian replied. "Fire manually, full lateral spread if you have to!"
"Belay that!" Annabeth shouted at Katie. "Dan, they're baiting you. If one of our phaser shots hits a Cardassian ship, it's all they need to say we started it!
"Ten seconds!" Laria yelled.
"Qu'vatlh!" Tigranian screamed. "Quantum torpedoes, close in burst. All hands, brace!"
"On the way!" Katie screamed as she sent three torpedoes out from the forward tubes. The projectiles flew in a tight cluster until meeting the target beacon in mid-flight. They exploded in a brilliant flash. The shockwave of the blast immediately overtook the ship, rattling every bulkhead and deck plate. Sparks flew from the overhead lights as debris from the destroyed beacon bounced of their shields.
"Damage report," Annabeth called.
"All decks reporting, Ma'am," Katie replied. "Only minor damage from the torpedo shockwave. No injuries."
"Dispatch damage control teams to affected areas and put that bastard, Varak on the screen!" Tigranian was so angry he shook.
A few seconds later, a grinning Varak appeared in front him.
"Captain Tigranian, are you and your vessel alright?" he asked sarcastically.
"What the hell was that?" Tigranian shouted back. "You shot a target beacon across the border at a Federation starship, Varak! That it is an act of war!"
"Captain, please calm yourself. I assure you, it was…an accident. One disadvantage of using beacons guided by autonomous computers is that sometimes those computers malfunction. As you can imagine, quality control is not quite as high as it used to be since we've had to rebuild after the Federation's and Klingon's brutal war."
"An accident?" Tigranian said as his knuckles turned white. "That probe actively tried to disrupt our sensors with active jamming!"
"Of course, Captain," Varak said stroking his chin. "What good is a practice target that is easy to hit? This, of course, would not have been an issue if you had vacated this sector as I recommended to you in the first place."
"Rest assured, Legate," Tigranian spoke with a voice sharper than a d'k tahg. "I will be reporting this incident to both Starfleet and the Republic of Cardassia with a firm recommendation that they increase our own military patrolling along the border as a result of this hostility.
"Report all you like, Captain Tigranian. I welcome a greater imperialist presence along our space. It serves as a poignant reminder to our troops of what we're fighting for. After all…" He leaned forward to stare right at the viewscreen. "What good is training for battle if you never fight? Surely you can understand that?"
It was Tigranian's turn to abruptly end a conversation.
"Lieutenant Stone, turn him off."
The screen went black and he collapsed back in his chair. He violently rubbed his eyes, angered that his rules of engagement prevented him from personally wiping the arrogant smirk off the legate's face.
"Calm down, Dan," Annabeth whispered into his ear. "Don't give them what they want."
"You're right, of course," he said steading his breathing and repeating the strains of the "Daj qeylIS qaD," in his mind. "And thank you for preventing from making a real error back there. I wasn't thinking straight."
"It's not often a first officer receives gratitude for countermanding her captain's orders on the bridge," she mused with a grin.
"It's not often a first officer is as good as you, Number One," he said with another deep inhale of air. "Phil…"
"Sir?" the helmsman said over his shoulder.
"Reverse course, take us back a million kilometers from the border, I think we have enough information for a preliminary report to command."
"Alex, I'd like you to do an analysis of the radiation levels we monitored with Laria. I want to know how long a Cardassian crewman could safely man one of their line ships. It might give us insight into their crew rotation patterns and ship movements."
"Yes Sir," the two women said in unison.
"Katie?" Tigranian said looking towards Tactical.
"Yes Sir?" she asked looking downtrodden. He could tell she felt guilty for the back blast damage to the ship.
"There was absolutely nothing you could do to lessen that shockwave. Your actions probably saved us a lot more damage and prevented people from getting hurt," he said softly. "Well done."
"Thank you, Sir."
He rose to his feet.
"I'd like your annexes to me within the hour. I'll be compiling my debrief in my ready room if anything else happens. Annabeth, you have the bridge."
On his own viewscreen, Varak watched the Pershing slowly back away.
He took great satisfaction in humiliating Daniel Tigranian, even if it was only slight. When his former wartime commander, Harok, had asked him to put together a small strike force to attack Bajor a year and a half ago with weapons acquired from the Romulans, he thought the time for revenge had finally come. He was livid when he found out Tigranian and his crew had saved that planet of terrorists, criminals, and vagrants.
Now, with the Romulans directly supporting the only real Cardassians left, he felt like he had another chance to bring things to a head. He had hated the Dominion, but at least they helped re-arm his people in the face of humiliating defeat at the hands of the barbarian Klingons. He hated the Federation even more.
It was their incessant and persistent opposition that had lost Bajor for Cardassia and turned the once mighty Union into a third-rate galactic power. It was the Federation that had forced the split of Cardassian territory. It was the Federation that forced his fellow countrymen into poverty and starvation by occupying the most profitable parts of the former empire. It was the Federation that necessitated Harok's political repression to restore a proper and traditional Cardassian social order. And it would be the Federation to first face his wrath.
Unfortunately, he knew Harok had neither the intelligence, nor the courage to do anything. The Romulans, though formidable, were far too cautious and political to strike the first blow. No, he had come up with the idea for Operation Cataclysm. It was a good plan, a soldier's plan, and it would be up to him and the rest of the Cardassian State Military to force the politicians to act.