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.