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Part Three: A House Divided



1


The northern continent of Piqus VII was a cold and barren place made even more inhospitable by the frigid gusts of winds that swept across the lands at irregular intervals and Tazla Star couldn’t help but wonder who had thought it a good idea to establish a colony on this world.

From the little background she had been able to get her hands on, the Piqus system had once been a vital mining outpost for the Krellonian Star Alliance but those rich asteroids had long since been stripped bare and relegating the system as well as its only inhabited planet to near irrelevance.

It was perhaps for that reason that the central government had not mounted a larger effort to address the spreading epidemic that had broken out here, or perhaps why Yorlo had been successful in lobbying for Starfleet assistance for a planet that in the grand scheme of things was not considered particularly significant.

Tazla watched through the windows of the runabout cockpit as a team of Starfleet engineers, led by Lieutenant Hopkins, were braving the cold and blustery conditions outside and setting up the field hospital. Three modules had already been set-up; mostly living quarters for the sixty-something staff that would make this installation their home for the next few weeks, the larger modules containing the medical sections were up next.

The construction effort was proceeding on schedule, despite the inclement weather conditions, the lack of a starship in orbit to assist and the general reluctance of the local government in providing any meaningful assistance to Starfleet’s undertaking which was aimed at helping fight their battle against an epidemic threatening to spiral out of control.

Tazla understood the challenges they were up against better than most, and not just because of her background in spearheading exactly these kind of missions as Dezwin Sigus and later as Dezwin Star. If this had been merely a medical relief mission, the stakes would have been high enough already. As it stood, this was potentially much more a threat not only to this relatively isolated colony but quite possibly to the entire sector and beyond.

To make matters worse, presently Tazla was the only person who had any knowledge of this wider threat, certainly amongst her own people, now that Owens had left orbit with Eagleto assist the Agamemnon.

She wasn’t entirely comfortable with the idea of keeping secrets. And not because she didn’t know how, in fact, much of her professional career had been spent gathering and containing classified information while working as part of Starfleet Intelligence. It had also led to the most disastrous decisions of not just her life but of the Star symbiont in general. It was little surprise then that she had hoped that she had left that aspect of her life far behind when she had become Eagle’sfirst officer.

She heard the Nebuchadrezzar’sairlock cycle open and turned from the windows just in time to see Katanga step inside, wrapped tightly in a thick, standard-issue, Starfleet cold-weather parker which he was quickly shedding along with the gloves.

Unexpectedly, he hardly even acknowledged her presence and instead walked right up to one of the computer stations in the cockpit and began to work the console.

“How’s it going out there?”

He nodded. “Good. Hopkins clearly knows what she’s doing. Wouldn’t have guessed that, considering she is practically still a child.”

It was true that Eagle’schief engineer had apparently been one of the youngest officers to hold that post when she had joined the ship after its commissioning, but Tazla knew she was in her early thirties now which certainly wasn’t an unusual age for an officer in her position and definitely not after the Dominion War. “Compared to the two of us, most of our colleagues are children,” she said with a smile, trying to lighten the mood.

He simply grunted an unintelligible response and refused to look up from his station.

Tazla had enough of this and stepped up closer. “Eli, we need to talk.”

“A little busy here, ma’am.”

She didn’t miss, of course, how forced he had made the honorific sound. She walked right up to him and looked over his shoulder to see what it was he was working on. Quickly coming to the conclusion that it wasn’t anything too vital, she slipped a hand onto the control panel and with two quick taps shut down the entire console, causing it to turn dark.

“What the hell?” he said angrily and looked up at her. “I was in the middle of coordinating patient relocation efforts.”

She crossed her arms in front of her. “Considering we are still at least one day away from being fully operational, I think that can wait a few minutes.”

“Every moment is crucial, you should know better than—“

“Spare me another speech about medical expediency, please. Yes, you are right, I do know. Since I helped write the book on it.”

“Dezwin did,” he said and stepped away in search of another console no doubt.

“And all his memories are inside me.”

“His memories perhaps,” he said as he started on another console which was still operational. “Not so sure anything else made the transition.”

She followed him across the compact cockpit. “You know what, I’ve had it with this. I really have. You want to play hurt and angry, go ahead, I can take it. But as you like to keep reminding me at every opportunity lately, I am your superior officer and I am entitled to a certain level of respect from you, no matter how you feel about me personally.”

Katanga stopped in his tracks, squared his shoulders and turned to look her straight in the eyes. “You are of course quite correct, Commander. So let us pause our time critical efforts to save an entire world from a deadly epidemic and instead discuss whatever it is that has you concerned about the perceived lack of respect you have been receiving as of late.”

Tazla uttered a heavy sigh. Had he been any other man, as in, had he not been a dear and long-time friend of hers, as well as quite possibly one of the most experienced and gifted physicians in all of Starfleet, and had he not been the most critical piece to the puzzle of solving their current crisis, she would have wasted no time at all to relieve him of his duties, at least until he had cooled off a little.

And, of course, Katanga knew this as well. Knew precisely that she had no choice but to put up with him.

Yet she was not determined to give in so easily. “First of all, I want to discuss your reckless behavior in the hospital yesterday. That was entirely unacceptable and I will not tolerate this behavior from one of my officers, no matter the results.”

“Noted.”

She regarded him with a suspicious look. “Is that all you have to say?”

“What else is there? The only reason we are here now is because of my so-called reckless behavior. And considering that you’re clearly not interested in any kind of justification for it, such as the fact that I was never in any kind of danger, I guess we’d better leave it at that.”

That threw her for a loop a bit. “What do you mean?”

"We already knew that this disease was only affecting Krellonians on a planet which is populated by at least five different species, none of which, according to medical reports have shown any kind of symptoms. After that, it didn't take me long to determine from the medical charts in the hospital that this virus is targeting a specific RNA strand within the Krellonian genetic makeup."

“A strand which is missing in human RNA,” she said.

“Precisely. As well as in Trill RNA and those found in other Federation races.”

"And you came to this conclusion after spending just five minutes examining a Krellonian patient? I've been a physician, Eli. I know it has been some time since I practiced medicine, but even I know that that is not nearly enough time to form a valid, scientific hypothesis. Certainly not if you are planning to stake your life on it."

“I took a calculated risk based on the information available to me at the time. Even Commander Xylion would agree that it was a logical decision considering that we were about to be kicked out for good.”

She shook her head, seriously doubting that the Vulcan science officer would have come down on his side of things on that one. “You don’t know that. In fact, after what you did, Chella was more than willing to double down on her decision.”

“I changed her mind though, didn’t I?”

“Maybe you did. But I don’t see how your actions of exposing yourself helped.”

“They started the conversation, I thought that much was obvious. Now do you want to continue to discuss the wider implications of what I have done or can I go back to work and making sure that none of it will have been in vain?”

Tazla worked hard to keep her anger in check but wasn’t quite sure how well that was going. “Next time, you will consult with me before you even think of doing something like that again. Do I make myself clear, Doctor?”

"As crystal, Commander," he said and then promptly left the cockpit, apparently having decided that he could get his work done much easier and without the threat of further interruptions in the runabout's back compartment.

Tazla began to massage her temples to try and stave off an impending headache. Her tenure on Eaglehad been difficult from day one, having brought with her a reputation practically burned to a crisp and trying to replace a highly respected first officer who had given his life to save his crewmembers. She had encountered nothing but mistrust from not only the people under her command but also from her own captain.

She had unexpectedly found a friend and ally when Elijah Katanga had joined the ship and things had steadily improved for her since then. Eventually, that trust which had long eluded the crew and the captain had started to come into play. Then the war had ended and things had looked bright for the first time in a long time for Tazla Star.

Good things, she had long since learned, were never meant to last.


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