Morrison lay down on the marble floor of a communal prison cell. He was one of fifteen crewmembers of the late Lambda Paz captured by the True Way. He was contemplating his fate after being coerced into delivering a message for his captors. Would he ever see Vircona again? Though she refused to commit to a more serious romantic affiliation, Morrison began to care for her very deeply, more so than other colleagues.
Most of all, he could not stop asking herself one question. How, after, surviving countless encounters with the Jem’Hadar, could his ship be destroyed by lesser-armed escort vessels?
A shadow formed over Morrison. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see a large intimidating Cardassian gul pointing a rifle at him. “Get up!” he ordered.
Morrison blinked his eyes pretending to drift in and out of consciousness. The gul was not fooled. He leaned down and grabbed Morrison by the collar. “Get up1,” he growled more emphatically.
Morrison stood up on his own. “Mandel Morrison,” he groaned, “Rank: lieutenant commander. Serial number… “
I’ve heard all that before,” the gul snapped. “Now, what are the Federation’s rescue plans?”
“Go to hell!”
The gul slammed his rifle right into Morrison’s already blackened left eye. “Cardassians have evolved beyond the need for religious supernatural figures,” he proclaimed with a chortle.
A civilian Cardassian woman entered the cell at the same time the Starfleet officers backed off. Korinas whispered inaudibly to Gul Enic Hadar. He and the guards followed her out of the cell. The guards backed away with their phaser rifles trained on the prisoners to prevent any sudden escape attempts.
Once the double doors closed, Korinas gave her report. “The Defiant will be leaving Deep Space Nine tomorrow morning, heading straight for Cardassia.”
“Is the Bajoran terrorist on board?” Hadar asked.
“Yes, the Lambda Paz’s captain is accompanying the Defiant’'s regular complement.”
“Excellent. Now we begin to implement the next phase of our plan.”
Diagnostics on the cloaking device all check out,” Ensign Prynn Tenmei reported from the situation area of the Defiant’s bridge. “That should expedite our departure.”
Ezri stood at the helm station, inputting information from a PADD she held in her left hand. Throughout the bridge, officers and crew were busy loading the intelligence files that could be salvaged from the Lambda Paz into the Defiant’s computers. “Is this mission interfering with your social life?” she jokingly asked.
Prynn was not at all amused. Jadzia had been known to crack jokes to lighten the mood during tense situations. She and Ezri inherited that characteristic from Curzon, although Ezri’s attempts at humor were not well received.
“The sooner this mission is over, the better,” Prynn bluntly stated striding toward the starboard communications station. “Let’s leave it at that.”
Ezri was well aware of Prynn’s strained relationship with her father, Elias Vaughn, when Vaughn first reported aboard. What she didn’t know was that Prynn held Elias responsible for her mother’s presumed death during a confrontation with the Borg.
Since she began realizing her potential as a joining of Ezri Tigan, the Dax symbiont, and all of its past hosts, Ezri was no longer a counselor in terms of her job, Ezri still could not help but psychoanalyze a gulf between parent and child. That was her life before getting the Dax symbiont.
“How are those anti-virus algorithms coming?” Ezri asked. “Prynn, your father wouldn’t have chosen you if you were not such an exceptional pilot.”
“Loading will require five more minutes,” Prynn answered. “I appreciate your attempts to counsel me, Ezri, but for now, I’d rather keep it professional.”
The discussion was interrupted when the port door slid open. Fitzpatrick walked through with Bashir close behind. “Read Jack Bauer’s own personal accounts,” Bashir was insisting. “Hamri al-Assad’s conciliatory initiatives were genuine.”
“Weapon calibrations completed,” Fitzpatrick reported to Dax, and then looked back at Bashir. “I’m not disputing Bauer’s accounts. He could have been duped as well.”
Rashid stepped onto the bridge, behind them. “If his peace offering was just part of an elaborate plan to assassinate the President of the United States, “ he offered, “would he have helped to prevent his colleagues from detonating a suitcase nuke just outside of Los Angeles?”
Those who knew Julian well, especially Ezri, knew immediately that the three were discussing a holosuite program. He was not that well versed in Earth history, but he familiarized himself with the historical context of these holosuite programs. “One of their holosuite programs, I assume?” Tenmei asked taking a seat at the helm.
“He’s been into this stuff since O’Brien introduced him to that Battle of Britain program,” Dax replied.
“I overheard an argument between those two about a Davey Crockett last year,” Tenmei whispered. “Commander Worf resolved it.”
Fitzpatrick was standing at the weapons station to the right of the helm, making a few minor checks. He then turned to Bashir and Rashid. “The bottom line is we can’t be certain. The neo-conservative cabal could have tried to assassinate Palmer, but there’s no proof.”
Vaughn stepped onto the bridge. Bashir and Rashid sat at the stations on the port side of the bridge. Dax and Fitzpatrick sat at the stations on the opposite side. “You all know the drill,” Vaughn declared. “Seal the airlock, release docking clamps, port and starboard thrusters at station keeping. Aft thrusters at one quarter.”
The implant in Rashid’s brain was again triggered. This time, his contact was seeking out information on the Defiant’s tactical weaknesses.
The Defiant pulled away from the station, turned around, and warped towards Cardassia.
Admiral Ross arrived at the station aboard the U.S.S. Bellerephon at roughly the same time the Defiant had departed. Although higher-ranking admirals and civilian dignitaries would serve as principal mediators, Ross specifically requested to welcome the delegates himself.
Kira did not enjoy the cordial relationship Sisko had with Ross ever since the incident at Derna. The Romulans had placed plasma torpedoes on the Bajoran moon over a year earlier. Kira, who had been promoted to station CO during Sisko’s three-month leave of absence, set up a blockade of outdated fighters inferior to just one Romulan warbird. It was only when Ross threatened to take action that the Romulans stood down. Ross again put Kira on notice when she gained command following Sisko’s disappearance in the Bajoran Fire Caves.
Kira and Ross had to maintain a united front when welcoming the delegates. The Breen Confederacy had refused to relinquish Cardassian territory provided the Breen as part of their alliance with the Dominion. The Cardassian provisional government argued that the treaty was nullified after the Dominion was banished from the Alpha Quadrant. The Bajorans had a vested interest in the dispute, as the Breen were nothing more than interstellar pirates prior to the war.
Both officers were at the airlock in full dress uniforms to greet the dignitaries. A Cardassian was the first to step through the airlock. “Ambassador Pirak,” Ross said. “Welcome to Deep Space 9.”
“Admiral Ross, “Pirak replied. “Pleased to finally meet you in person. I regret Castellan Ghemor himself could not come. His position is quite fragile given the tense political situation.”
“Allow me to introduce station CO Colonel Kira.”
“On behalf of the Bajoran government,” Kira said, “welcome to the station.”
The tall Cardassian who dwarfed even Ross smiled. “Thank you for the kind words, Colonel. I hope the war’s end can bring about a new spirit of friendship between our peoples.” He then turned and introduced his party.
“This is my chief of staff, Legate Turrell.” Turrell represented Cardassia in treaty negotiations with Bajor shortly after the end of the Occupation. “And other dignitaries,” Pirak continued. “Ilon Tandro of Klaestron Four, Jolar of Kobheria, and Rigus of Lissepia.”
Ronnick and Solarin watched the formal introductions from a crawlspace above the airlock. Ronnick pushed a few buttons on a data pad. A photo of a partially gray-haired Cardassian appeared on the readout screen. He pushed a button that activated a scanner. An identical photo appeared to the right of the first.
“Yes,” said Solarin. “He’s our target.”