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.”