The captain’s yacht attached to the USS Lambda Paz was spiraling towards an asteroid. Following a confrontation with two Cardassian patrol vessels, the yacht lost its port nacelle, as well as its ability to stay upright--as the term applied to the vastness of interstellar space. The occupants of the Starfleet support vessel’s cockpit had been thrown out of their seats after the last hit.
Captain Limis Vircona and Ensign Rebecca Sullivan were clutching the deck to get back to the primary and secondary piloting stations. Sullivan got the main piloting station first and tried to steer the ship away from the asteroid. Limis took the other station to get an idea of the situation. Lieutenant Lisa Neeley and Elim Garak returned to the aft side stations from which they were forcibly removed. “Can you get us away from that rock?” Limis impatiently demanded.
“No response from maneuvering thrusters,” Rebecca answered. “I can tell you we will not survive the impact.”
“Greaaat,” Vircona retorted. “That’s some definite encouragement.”
Looking over at Garak and then Neeley, she asked, “Can you transfer power from auxiliary circuits or from some non-essential system.”
“Define ‘non-essential’,” Neeley quipped.
“Anything not relating to propulsion.”
“All transfer circuits are fused,” Garak shouted over the loudening hum of the engine.
“Of course they are,” Limis mumbled. Didn’t think I’d meet my demise this way, she silently mused. “Becca, you and Garak go down to thruster control and try to put some more juice in the system.”
Limis took over the primary piloting station once Sullivan headed below. “Not to put too much pressure,” Limis added, “but impact is in two minutes and twenty seconds.”
“We could try firing two quantum torpedoes at the asteroid’s surface,” Neeley offered. “The shockwave could take us off a collision course.”
“Or it could blow us up,” Limis shot back.
“We’d have to time it perfectly.”
“Every risky decision comes down to perfect timing,” Limis grumbled, rolling her eyes. In other words, death by crashing into big rock or death by explosion. “Prepare the torpedoes, Neeley. Becca, how’s it going down there?”
Down in the lower deck, Garak set down two power packs near an access panel. Sullivan pulled retractable cables out of the packs and plugged them into the panel. She frowned when she saw how slowly power was transferring. “May take longer than we have.”
“At least we can straighten this thing out once we implement Neeley’s plan,” Limis replied. “I’d suggest finding something to hold onto. Fire the torpedoes, Lisa.”
“We’re not close enough,” Lisa protested.
“There’s the asteroid’s gravity well to consider. We still have some margin of error. Fire!”
Two quantum torpedoes erupted from the ship and rammed into the asteroid. As expected, the backwash of the explosion sent the yacht hurdling away. Limis and Neeley clasped their stations as a readout indicated inertial dampeners had failed. “We have an additional problem,” Neeley sang out. “Structural integrity is failing.”
“Anywhere we can set down?” Limis asked.
“There’s a Class-M planet we passed just before the Cardies showed up.”
“I’ll take it. All hands to the escape pod.” Limis entered a command beaming herself and the rest of the yacht’s crew, along with emergency provisions.
A spherical pod jettisoned from the yacht and streaked towards a nearby planet. The yacht exploded once the pod was in the atmosphere.
Limis had taken the captain’s yacht to pursue her missing chief medical officer. Aurellan Markalis left the ship after the captain had planned to arrest a group of human augments residing on Tagra Four. They had already used a listening post in the Epsilon Trianguli system as a proving ground for a deadly biological weapon. Markalis had infiltrated the group as part of a mission for Section 31. She was not initially interested in being recruited, but Agent Cole took her non-answers as maybe.
Dressed in a short-sleeved navy blue shirt and navy trousers, Aurellan entered the residence of Rhys Darcen, the leader of the augments on Tagra Four. “Hello,” she called out, upon entry into the stone building. No one was in the foyer, which seemed darker than the last time she was there.
Accompanying her was a tall blond-haired human male. He was the lone survivor of the proving ground. He had been in the Lambda Paz’s sickbay before Markalis escaped with her. She found herself unable to look at him during the shuttle ride, as he was a reminder that she had withheld his genetic status from her captain.
The lights brightened slightly as a familiar face stepped into the room. “Aurellan,” said Darcen. “You’re back already. And, Seamus, you got out of there alive.”
Darcen and the man who came with Markalis quickly embraced. “I was the only survivor,” Seamus O’Dell reported, wincing with something of migraine headache. “But I may be showing other symptoms of the virus.”
“I could administer something for the headache,” Markalis replied, reaching into her medkit hanging from her right shoulder.
“I’ll be all right for now,” Seamus lied, managing a squint.
Markalis was about to insist when she noticed the two women she had met during her previous visit. A youthful blond-haired man with an ambivalent facial expression also entered. Looking at Grimaud, Aurellan felt what could be described as a telepathic echo. She remembered a subliminal message in her mind, from after Limis announced her intention to arrest the super-humans. Grimaud looked as human as Rhys, Seamus, Ileana Roshanak, and Snežana Ilochko, yet telepathy was never part of the genetic enhancements on humans.
“Does he know?” Aurellan asked him, even knowing he would not answer.
“Of course I know that he’s a Betazoid augment,” Darcen firmly replied, stepping in front of Markalis as Grimaud walked away speechless. “Do you think I would let him probe my thoughts without my permission or even without my knowledge?
“Of course, the doctors at the Daystrom psychiatric center on Galor Four were hoping to suppress his abilities entirely. That’s why we broke him out. Why should such an extraordinary gift go to waste? He knew you were some kind of double agent. He was just trying to make sure exactly where your loyalties lie.”
Markalis quickly blinked her eyes and felt her temples seeing a field of roses. As quickly as they appeared in her mind, the flowers were gone. “He just did it again,” she gasped, looking over at Grimaud. “I saw a field of roses.”
“He’s telling you he likes you,” Darcen explained.
“Great,” Aurellan mumbled almost inaudibly, not knowing whether to be flattered or annoyed that someone was freely probing her thoughts.
“Do you have the gel you had promised us?” Darcen asked while Aurellan was lost in a thought.
“What?” she asked, waking from her momentary trance. Then she remembered the bio-mimetic gel she had offered to sell him when she had first met him. “Oh, yes, it’s on the shuttle.” She forced a smile, considering how direct this man was.
The external hatch of an escape pod flew open. Limis and Neeley used a heavy cargo container as a makeshift battering ram in order to force the door open. The pod has landed on the edge of a dank and musty jungle. The area had patches of swamp. The sun shone very brightly from the west in a dimming sky, suggesting either dawn or dusk.
Sullivan followed them out of the pod. Behind her was a dark skinned human male dressed in older-style military fatigues carrying a fair-skinned auburn haired human male, who was drifting in and out consciousness. The wounded soldier was laid down on his back. Neeley kneeled down in front of him and set down a first-aid kit while the others went back in the pod to recover more emergency provisions.
Neeley began scanning Les Galloway with a medical tricorder. He began gasping in pain each time he inhaled. “Take slower breaths, Les,” Neeley suggested. “You have a fractured sternum and a punctured lung. You could also have internal bleeding. We’ll get you out of here and you’ll be good as new.”
Breathing was painful enough, so Galloway just answered with a nod.
The rest of the team hastily returned with additional medical supplies. Samaritan Bowers handed Neeley a hypospray loaded with painkillers while Limis opened a case of disinfecting clothes and placed one on the gash on Galloway’s forehead. The captain then walked over to Sullivan to help her haul a bulky piece of equipment.
“Can you get this com-unit working?” Vircona asked.
“Can’t really say yet,” Rebecca answered pensively. “We don’t even know if the right people received our distress call.”
Limis looked back at the MACO soldiers. Neeley and Bowers continued to encourage Galloway to hang in there. Bowers even suggested Galloway would soon be wishing for something that would serve as insect repellent. But Limis could tell from their repeated promises that even they knew their wounded colleague would not see tomorrow. She inhaled slowly to keep from breaking into tears around her subordinates. “What have I done, Becca?” she sighed. “This was my fool’s errand.”
“You’re the captain, Vira,” Rebecca responded shooting her friend a stern look. “You’re always putting your people at risk.”
“They’re prepared to lay down their lives fighting in the Dominion War,” Limis insisted choking back a sob. “I’m only acting on my obsession with bringing down an organization that stomps on everything the Federation stands for. And now that man will die because of my foolishness.”
Limis took slow breaths to keep her emotions in check. She was now recalling how she first became familiar with the rogue intelligence organization that resorted to the kinds of underhanded methods the rest of the Federation and Starfleet outwardly condemned. That was fourteen years ago, coincidentally, about the same time she first met Rebecca. She could not have known then that they would become each other’s dearest of friends.
Fourteen years earlier, a young Limis Vircona was living on Volan Three in a sector in dispute between the Federation and the Cardassians Union. She worked long hours at a manufacturing plant owned by a multi-planetary mining company. The hours were long, and the pay was lousy. At least she made enough to support her son and her overseers didn’t strike her for not working up to par. She frequented the local taverns after her twelve-hour workdays.
She normally got dirty looks from various aliens who could identify her as a Bajoran. At this particular establishment, she was getting curious stares. Perhaps they were enamored by a characteristic that was foreign and exotic. Except most of the patrons were women. Some of them had masculine features: tall, short hair, muscular upper bodies. One of them stood out. A dark-haired adolescent human girl gave inquisitive stares.
Since her childhood, Vircona had heard stories from pre-Enlightenment times that same sex couples were considered sinners, and thus were treated like outcasts. She never believed that to be true, yet her native language had no other term besides “lost souls” for individuals who “lay with mankind like he lay with womankind.” The idea of such coupling still made her feel awkward since she was not ever sexually attracted to other women.
Vircona took a seat at the bar and leaned forward snapping her fingers to get the Tellarite bartender’s attention. The nostrils of his porcine snout slightly widened to let out a snort. She wasn’t sure if this was an expression of disdain, as she not been around many Tellarties. “Let me get a whiskey,” she snapped, trying restrain her derision.
The bartender placed a bottle out from under the bar, and then slammed a glass on the bar.
“This some kind of place for the balik’pagh?” the Bajoran woman asked.
“The who?” the bartender asked, not familiar with the foreign term as he finished pouring her drink and put the bottle back on the shelf underneath the bar.
“What you Federations call lost souls…sinners.”
“Yeah, well we don’t discriminate,” the bartender retorted walking away. He mumbled something unintelligible, which Vircona guessed was a Tellarite swear.
“Nice to meet you too,” Vircona shot back.
She had heard all kinds of stories about Bajoran refugees settling on other worlds. The colony worlds were ideal resettlement locations during the early years of the Cardassian Occupation. Resources quickly dried up as the colonists were gradually forced to fend for themselves. Neighboring races throughout the region welcomed alien visitors. Yet as more and more Bajorans began settling on these worlds, the natives became more contemptuous of the “unwashed.”
The Federation, of course, was more tolerant. Or so she had heard. She had yet to see that kind of tolerance for “her kind” from the various Federation member races residing on Volan Three. But who was Vircona to judge? She had a strong hatred of Cardassians for their callous devaluing of sentient life.
That girl was looking in her direction again. Only this time, she walked towards her. She sat down on the stool on Vircona’s right and smirked. “Mind if I buy you that drink?” the human girl asked.
“I’ve got money,” Vircona sneered. Though she didn’t put any thought into how Federation citizens paid for drinks if they supposedly did not use more conventional currency.
“I’ve never seen you here before,” the girl remarked.
“I don’t date women if that’s what you’re wondering.”
Those words slipped out, though Vircona was not certain this girl only had romantic relationships with other women, or it was something she had “experimented” with, as adolescent human girls were known to do.
The human girl smirked. “Nothing wrong with that,” she quipped.
“I just didn’t feel like my usual place,” Vircona said gruffly, taking a big sip of whiskey. “I’m used to being looked at funny, but not today. Tough day at work.”
“What do you do?”
“I work at that deuterium plant a few blocks from here. It’s exhausting, but it beats working in the Cardassian ore processors.”
“You’re Bajoran,” the human girl stated in order to indicate interest.
“The nose wasn’t enough of a giveaway?” Vircona retorted, finishing her drink. “Whatever, I’m out of here,” she said standing up.
“You sure you don’t want to stay for awhile?” the girl asked, clasping Vircona’s right hand.
“Get your fucking hands off me, you valki,” Vircona angrily hissed. “I told you, I don’t sleep with other women!”
“That’s not it at all,” the girl implored. She never heard what this Bajoran woman just called her, but her anger suggested it was a Bajoran swear word. “I was just looking for someone to talk to. I don’t meet that many people.”
Vircona gave a remorseful sigh, now regretting having hurt this poor girl’s feelings. “I’m sorry,” she said, sitting back down. “I’m just not used to non-Bajorans being nice to me.”
“We humans are supposed to be more tolerant. But some do think they’re superior to those who didn’t live privileged lives. I’m not one of them.”
“Even after what I called you? I work long and stressful days and I have a kid to take care of.”
“You don’t have to explain. Name’s Becca, by the way.”
“Vira,” Vircona answered with a smile. For the first time since coming to this world, she felt accepted by a non-Bajoran. This encounter gave her a new sense of purpose and a renewed sense that maybe she had made the right choice in relocating herself and her son to this place.
In a far corner of the tavern, a man of advanced middle age shot a quick look at Vircona. For a very brief moment, Vircona saw him staring at her for what felt like five seconds. She wasn’t certain, but he might have been the same man watching her as she dropped off her son at school. Who was he and why was he following her?