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Chapter Five

Mirren’s lifeless body lay on the main biobed in sickbay. The Vulcan nurse placed a cardio-stimulator on the patient’s chest hoping to revive him. Doctor Markalis entered commands into the biobed’s surgical scanner to administer electrical pulses from the stimulator. The scan indicating Mirren’s vital signs indicated a flat line even after each pulse. “Again,” the doctor ordered after each pulse.

No change registered on the EKG readout. After five pulses at the highest intensity, the doctor gave up. “I’m sorry,” she said, lowering her head dejectedly. “I did everything to try to save him. Everything I could. But he’s dead. I’m very sorry.”

“I know you did everything,” Limis replied. “It’s my fault. How did it happen?”

Markalis looked straight ahead and walked over to Limis. “Cardassian physiology is adapted to a thinner atmosphere on their home planet,” she said in a dispassionate monotone voice. “The air pressure calibrations on Starfleet ships bombarded his respiratory system. Like frostbite, you have to warm the affected area slowly. Otherwise, the sudden flow of blood could lead to potentially fatal damage.”

In my youth, I would have said that Mirren was just a Cardassian. When I was recruited into the Resistance. I hated all Cardassians and wanted them all dead. As I got older, I was able to temper that hatred and think in more pragmatic terms. Each death that I caused made a little of me die.

There are rules even in war. And I condemned a sentient being, not to mention a noncombatant to his death. I was ready to face the music.

###

Limis sat in her ready room the next morning reading daily status reports when Kozar and Morrison paid her a visit. The first officer had given her a hard time about minor violations of protocol since her first day on the job. Limis immediately sensed that Kozar would throw the proverbial book at her on even more serious violations of regulations.

“Mister Morrison told me what happened last night,” Kozar matter-of-factly stated.

Limis looked up to see the chief of security was also present. “Why do I get the feeling you’re going to gang up on me?” she inquired.

“Before we left space dock,” Kozar stated, “Admiral Jellico contacted me.”

Limis felt that Kozar saw her as an obstacle to the starship captaincy he had been seeking since his tour on the Horatio Nelson. She stood up assuming he wouldn’t hesitate to use this latest situation to push her out of the way. “What are you saying?” she asked, standing up.

“Captain Limis,” Kozar proclaimed, “I hereby relieve you of your command under Starfleet Regulation 104, Section C.”

“That regulation only applies to a CO judged physically and mentally unfit. Can Doctor Markalis certify that with a full medical examination?”

“Admiral Jellico told me she doesn’t need to. He granted me expanded autonomy which I am now using.”

Kozar then turned to Morrison. “Mister Morrison,” he said. “Please escort the captain to her quarters and confine her there.”

Morrison walked around the desk to carry out that command. “I’m sorry, Captain,” he said apologetically. “If you’ll come with me.”

“She’s all yours, Captain,” Limis sneered at Kozar on her way out of the ready room.

For sure, my short Starfleet career was over. While the Cardies may argue that the ends justify the means, Starfleet and the Federation have very little tolerance for mistreating prisoners. Despite the intense guilt I felt over Mirren’s death, I felt in the back of my mind such actions would help turn the tide in this war. The JAG office wouldn’t have seen it that way, which I was prepared to accept. But certain things happened over the next week that changed all that.

###

Kozar paced back and forth in the ready room, somehow not feeling the emotional high of getting the command he felt he was entitled to. His worries at the moment were not for he had just done, but for what he would do in the near future. He was mulling over what to do with the information Limis had obtained through the use of torture. Taking out one of the Dominion’s ketracel-white manufacturing facilities would be a huge blow with the enemy’s supply lines to the Gamma Quadrant cut off. Surely, there were other ketracel-white manufacturing plants on the Alpha Quadrant side of the Wormhole, but considering how the war was going for the Federation and the Klingon Empire, any victory of this magnitude would be a big one. While he felt that he had to take some kind of punitive action against his captain, Kozar could not pretend he knew nothing about this ketracel-white manufacturing plant.

He was taking slow paces towards the desk when the doorbell chimed. That roused him from his metacognitive trance. “Come,” he said, turning to face the door.

Morrison entered to see Kozar standing at attention. “You wish to see me, sir?” he asked in a professional tone.

“At ease, Mandel,” Ronnie said in a friendly, but still professional cadence to his voice. “I’ve been thinking about how to act on this new information we obtained.”

“What’s there to think about?” Mandel wondered aloud. “Captain Limis obtained that information through illegal means. If we were to follow up on this lead, the rest of the crew would be just as guilty…”

“Fine,” Ronnie interrupted. “In a criminal investigation, if one of us tortured a confession out of a suspect, that confession would not be admissible in court. But this is a matter of winning or losing a major interstellar war rather than closing a criminal investigation. We may have obtained crucial information that could potentially deal the Dominion a crippling blow.”

Morrison’s eyebrow twitched, uncertain as to the reason for the commander’s skepticism. “’May have’?” he repeated.

“Torture is far from the most reliable means of obtaining information,” Kozar repeated. “I can quote you dozens of case studies where a person who was subjected to physical torture later admitted to deliberately disclosing inaccurate information. At the very least, we have to follow up that lead Mirren gave us just before he died; verify those coordinates are accurate.”

“Then you may as well not have relieved Limis of command,” Morrison offered.

Kozar raised hand before Morrison could say more. “No, that still had to be done,” he assured his friend. “She has to be accountable for having knowingly causing the death of a non-combatant. Let the war crimes tribunal sort that out. But I doubt they’ll go after us for acting on this information we obtained. But on the slim chance they do, I will take full responsibility for this endeavor. And Admiral Ross has signed off on it. So I need to know, Mandel. Are you in or out?”

“I’m in,” Morrison replied with no hesitation in his voice.

While the two men exchanged nods, the doorbell chimed once. This time, the chime came from the side door leading a corridor behind the bridge. “Come,” Kozar said.

Doctor Markalis entered the office, carrying herself rather rigidly and her face in no way betraying her non-emotive state. She greeted both Kozar and Morrison with light nods, and then looked at Kozar with a coldly attentive stare to indicate the commander had her undivided attention. “Lieutenant Aurellan Markalis reporting as ordered, sir,” she said.

Kozar grinned, remembering his earlier conversation with Limis about Markalis and her socially awkward mannerisms. “You don’t need to that every time you’re summoned here,” he blithely assured her.

Markalis gave a half-embarrassed smirk while still quietly congratulating herself for still following the applicable social protocols to the letter.

“You were the first to identify one of the alien devices we brought as being involved in manufacturing ketracel-white,” Kozar pointedly continued. “I need you to work with the sensor technicians to help us detect similar devices at the coordinates we’re headed for.”

“I’m not an engineer, sir,” Markalis hesitantly protested.

“Not an engineer, a consultant,” Kozar replied. “I know of your fascination with how all the devices you regularly use are put together. This device may have unique characteristics. And you may have some way of allowing the sensors to better detect tri-nucleic fungi and yridium bicantizine. This is an opportunity to put some of that encyclopedic knowledge to good use. Let the technicians worry about the more technical aspects.”

“No problem, sir,” Markalis replied with an enthusiastic smile. “I’ll get right on it.”

“You’re dismissed then,” Kozar said with a nod. Markalis sauntered out of the room in her usual rigid posture. Kozar then turned his attention to Morrison, saying, “Commander, set a course for the coordinates at maximum warp.”

“Aye, sir,” Morrison said with a nod before heading for the bridge.

Kozar then took a seat in the one of the guest chairs at the desk and activated the desk monitor. Despite his new status as acting captain, he did not feel for some reason that he deserved to sit behind the desk.

###

I couldn’t believe it. After I was dropped off at Starbase 375. Though I had been relieved of command, Kozar was still following up this potentially big lead. I must say, for a power-hungry son of a bitch, he sure had his priorities in order.

After a week of traveling at maximum warp, the Lambda Paz eventually reached the border of Dominion-controlled space. It was a region some distance from one of the major patrol routes. Kozar still had the ship at yellow alert in case of any surprises.

The officers on the alpha-shift were at their usual stations— Morrison at tactical, Carson at conn, and Huckaby at ops. Though Morrison was next in line after Kozar, Kozar had not appointed an officer to serve exclusively as first officer. That was not much of a priority considering the urgency of this mission; so much of the first officer’s responsibilities still fell to Kozar. He completed his circuit of the main and auxiliary bridge stations at ops where Ensign Huckaby was monitoring communication channels.

“We’re ready to drop the relay beacons,” Huckaby explained to Kozar. “Each is transmitting on alternating bandwidths with rotating transponder frequencies.”

“Get on it,” Kozar instructed. He headed for the tactical station expecting a status report from Morrison.

Akira and Saber wings two, three, and six are in position,” Morrison reported. “Ready to move in once we give the go ahead.”

“Very good,” said Kozar, heading for the bridge’s two center seats. “Helm, lay in a new parabolic course for our target at maximum warp.”

“Course laid in, sir,” Carson replied with a few carefully entered commands.

***

Six hours later, the Lambda Paz fell out of warp near a lone asteroid guarded by a single squad of Jem’Hadar fighters. The ship slowed to half impulse at the edge of sensor range to avoid attracting the attention of any installment that might be housed on the asteroid. Kozar kept his eyes focused on the viewscreen as the asteroid moved closer into view while the rest of the bridge crew focused on their stations. Markalis entered the bridge from the port turbolift and took a seat the mission ops station.

“Keep us in an elliptical orbit at the edge of their sensor range,” Kozar ordered Carson. “We need to collect as much sensor data as we can without giving those fighters cause for alarm.” He looked to his right, asking both Huckaby and Markalis, “Anything yet?”

“No, sir,” Huckaby and Markalis simultaneously answered. Markalis then rolled her eyes, annoyed that the ensign might have drowned out her voice.

All of the bridge crew was in a nervous silence waiting on someone to report any major findings. The silence lasted for several minutes until the tactical station chirped. “Picking up an object emerging from one of the chasms,” Morrison reported.

“Put it up,” Kozar replied anxiously.

“Give me a second here,” Morrison nervously said, trying to quickly recalibrate his sensors.

The viewscreen magnified the image of the asteroid to focus in on the chasm in question. A small sensor probe ascended from the asteroid. Kozar’s eyes widened in apprehension, almost certain the ship had been spotted. “Parallel course towards the asteroid, helm,” Kozar snapped, pacing towards the helm. “Morrison, ready phasers. Take out that probe.”

“Sir?” Morrison asked, almost certain carrying out such orders would blow their cover.

“Do it,” Kozar demanded.

“Aye, sir,” Morrison relented, targeting the phasers on the probe. A phaser beam erupted from the saucer’s ventral, effortlessly vaporizing the probe.

The Lambda Paz moved in hard on the asteroid as if it would eventually crash into it. Then at the last second, it arched to port and swung around to the other side of the asteroid.

“Three fighters on an intercept course,” Morrison called out.

“All weapons at the ready,” Kozar responded, sauntering towards the port auxiliary stations. “Huckaby, talk to me. Any other artificial structures besides where that probe came from?”

“I have it,” Huckaby said after a few sensor recalibrations. “A shuttle emerging from the far side. Tracking its origin.”

A metallic structure on the surface of the asteroid appeared on the viewscreen. Two shuttles were departing it while a third was headed for a landing bay.

“Tell me you have something too, Markalis,” Kozar barked.

“I have something, too,” Markalis quipped. “Heavy concentrations of tri-nucleic fungi. Seventy parts per million…”

“That’s sufficient, Doctor,” Kozar snapped, heading back to the helm. “Escape course, Carson. Full impulse. Mister Huckaby, transmit our findings to our reinforcements,” he added. “Don’t tell me how difficult it will be.”

“Jem’Hadar on attack course,” Morrison called at the same moment Huckaby acknowledged the commander’s order.

Three Jem’Hadar fighter swooped in on the Lambda Paz in a single-file formation. Each ship took turns firing disruptors at the Lambda Paz’s starboard side, moved off, and swung around for a second pass. The Starfleet ship fired phasers from its starboard dorsal emitter, clipping all three the fighters. “Carson, move us within a thousand meters of the center ship’s nose,” Kozar ordered. “Morrison, throw everything you have at all three of those ships.

The Lambda Paz inched closer and closer to the center ship while the shields continued to absorb weapons fire. Upon getting within a thousand meters of that fighter, phasers and quantum torpedoes tore through all three of the fighters. With most the weapons fire concentrated on the center ship, that fighter erupted in a fireball.

The bridge rocked hard and sparks crackled from various stations as the ship took weapons fire from the two remaining ships. “The other four squadrons are headed for us,” Morrison reported ominously, “in attack formation.”

Kozar instinctively took a seat in the first officer’s chair to the right of the captain’s chair as the ship continued to be clipped by enemy fire. “Kozar to engineering,” he said, tapping the comm on the panel to his left. “Mister Logan, divert as much power you can muster into the warp drive and I don’t want to hear any excuses!”



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