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Chapter Five

Hours later, Ziminske awoke on one of the main biobeds in the starbase infirmary feeling an odd sensation on her face. She felt the bridge of her nose and the ridges that made her appear Bajoran were gone. That made her feel more exposed than when she was arrested, more exposed than when Limis addressed her by her real name. And there was no going back to Section 31 after this failure. In all likelihood, she would take the fall and stand trial for experiments in biogenic warfare.

And the reason for her downfall walked in. Aurellan entered through the primary ICU and made a left turn into the lab to pick up some medicines for the Lambda Paz’s sickbay. Aurellan just went about her business of picking up a fresh set of medical supplies, without looking in the direction of the main surgical bay. The contempt in Ziminske’s eyes soon turned to pity when Aurellan exited the lab and headed straight for the infirmary’s main entrance--pity for all the misguided idealists. At least I can carry on a conversation with her without worrying she’ll beat the crap out of me.

“I’d ask why,” Ziminske deadpanned, “but the answer is obvious.”

Aurellan sighed and gently set down the two cases in both of her hands. She asked the two security guards to step outside, and they quickly obliged. “You conspired to commit genocide,” she said in disgust while she slowly paced over to the main surgical bay.

I did nothing of the sort,” Ziminske corrected. “I was simply charged with working to find a cure and to do it in secrecy.”

“I stand corrected,” Aurellan sarcastically retorted. “We wouldn’t want the general public to know that a rogue Federation organization is the reason the Founders are dying. And the Federation’s image as a benevolent multi-planetary alliance would be tainted. And we don’t want that, do we?”

“I’m glad you see it that way.”

Aurellan gritted her teeth. “The choice was clear,” she confidently stated. “You reminded me that we can’t save every patient no matter how much we might want to. We can’t fix every problem.

“When I first heard about Section 31, it was like finding out a childhood hero was anything but a hero. I was shaken to learn that a branch of Starfleet was okay with using biological and chemical weapons. But what could I do about that? Here, I saw a chance to do right and I took it.”

Ziminske stood a few feet from Aurellan, looking eye-to-eye with a forcefield separating the two women. “Now that all the cards are on the table,” she said plainly, “I think you are too much of an idealist for your own good. And that’s why we need Section 31 to let people like you have your ideals.”

Aurellan scoffed and paced away, unable to look at Ziminske anymore. “Sorry, you don’t get to play the victim here,” she huffed. “Not with me, and certainly not with Limis.” Not wanting to be reeled into an endless philosophical argument, she walked to the main entrance, making sure to fetch the two cases of medical supplies.

***

Ziminske woke up in the middle of the night, still on a biobed in the starbase infirmary. Her face was blank, her eyes were dilated as if some outside force was controlling her thoughts and actions. She shook her suddenly regaining her equilibrium, her mind absorbing the instructions she had been clandestinely sent from a long distance. She smirked, gloating to the security officers, albeit absent ones, who had chosen not to have her strip searched as she removed a rectangular device from her left sleeve. She slowly tiptoed over to the forcefield surrounding the surgical bay, which still caught the attention of the two security guards at the main entrance. They pointed their rifles at her while she set the device on the floor. It instantly shorted out the forcefield.

Ziminske tumbled out of the way of phaser fire and rolled closer to the guards. She kicked one of them in both knees and then punched him in his abdomen as she positioned herself back into an upright standing position. She jabbed her right elbow at the back of the second guard’s neck. They both swung around, facing each other, and Ziminske delivered a right hook to his jaw. The first guard had barely enough time to get on his feet when Ziminske grabbed a middle-aged human female nurse and held a hand phaser taken from one of the guards to her neck. “Back off,” she shrieked at the guards. “Or she’s dead.”

Seeing that the phaser was set to kill, one of the guards put up a hand signaling the other guard to lower his weapon. Ziminske then stepped out of the infirmary with her hostage in tow.

###

Limis Vircona was in a daze as she lay flat on her bed. She hadn’t bothered to change out of her uniform, but simply unzipped both the outer jacket and the inner tunic. A comm chime suddenly had her bobbing her head back and forth. “Captain to the bridge,” came the familiar voice of Ronnie Kozar. “Urgent.”

Limis sat herself up and brushed a few beads of sweat from her brow before tapping the comm panel on the nightstand. “What is it, Kozar?” she groggily asked.

“Commander Ziminske’s escaped the station infirmary,” Kozar replied. “And she’s managed to override docking bay lockouts and disable the station’s tractor beams and defensive systems. We’re in the best shape to pursue an escaping Type-9 shuttle.”

“Get us underway then,” Limis replied. “And skip the usual pre-launch protocol.” After closing the channel, she gulped down the last bit of now tepid water in a glass on the nightstand and jogged over to the head to make herself presentable as quickly as possible.

***

“Report,” Limis called while barely half off the bridge’s starboard turbolift.

“We’re at full impulse closing to within fifty thousand kilometers of the shuttle,” Rebecca Sullivan reported from the helm.

“Slow to half,” Limis replied as she sauntered over to the command chair. “Morrison, hail the shuttle.”

Morrison keyed a command sequence to page the escaping shuttle even knowing that effort was futile. “No response,” he reported, shaking his head in frustration.

“Can you get a transporter lock?” Limis asked, turning her attention to the ensign at operations.

Kozar was looking over the ensign’s shoulder when he saw an error message appear on one of the readout screens. “Negative,” he plainly said.

“Keep the channel open,” Limis instructed. “Ziminske, listen to me,” she said with a strong sense of doubt in her voice. “You don’t have to do this. The courts are prepared to grant you amnesty if you…”

“I’m reading a power buildup in the anti-matter injectors,” Morrison interrupted. “Core breach in five seconds.”

“Back us off, Rebecca,” Limis called. “Fast.”

Rebecca barely had time to carry out the order when the shuttle exploded in a blinding fireball that slightly jolted the bridge. All the officers on the bridge could do was stare at the viewscreen with looks of horror and powerlessness.

###

Shinar sh’Aqba stood in front of a mirror applying a dermal regenerator to the hickey on her neck. The scarring was far less conspicuous than it had been over the last few days, but she was still aware of it. And the dark blue rash was still very pronounced, so it was still a reminder of one of the biggest mistakes in her life no matter how much antibiotics she applied. All those feelings of dread over the consequences of that one night of indiscretion gave way to anxiety that she would be more exposed than she already was when her doorbell chimed.

Shinar applied the regenerator one more time before throwing on her gold tunic and black and gray jacket. “Come in,” she said with feigned cheerfulness.

Tarlazzi stepped into the cabin before the doors were all the way open and looked around the cabin. “I was wondering where you were,” he said once Shinar emerged from the bedroom. “You weren’t answering the comm.

“As a non-bridge department head,” Shinar replied while gently nursing the rash, “I have some discretion over when I report for duty. Being ten minutes late isn’t a court martial offense.”

“No, but repeated tardiness is,” Erhlich jokingly retorted.

Shinar rolled her eyes. “Don’t presume to invoke protocols with me, Lieutenant.”

“Sorry,” Erhlich deferently, but also reluctantly responded. “What was the other reason I came here? How’d it go with Karlek?

Shinar sighed and landed on the sofa. “Terribly.”

“So he declared you movat whatchacallit?”

Movat slevach,” Shinar corrected. “The closest translation is ‘open-legged one.’ I am someone to be avoided. Wives will be told to keep their distance from me even though Karlek isn’t married.”

Erhlich’s left eyebrow twitched, wondering being an outcast in the eyes of the Klingons was such a bad thing for Shinar.

“I know. What’s the big deal if I’m not a Klingon?” she continued in anticipation of his question. “I’m considered a good luck charm among the Klingons in the Seventh Fleet. I can imagine what they think of me now. And it’s only a matter of time before other Andorians learn of this disgrace.”

Erhlich shook his head in disbelief. “Would they really exile you from your home planet? I mean, that seems counter-productive if your species is facing extinction.”

“Long-held traditions don’t always have to make sense, Mister Tarlazzi. I wouldn’t be formally banished, but even informal sanctions can have a profound impact on one’s life.” Again, she winced in pain and gently touched the rash on her neck.

“You should get that looked at…” Erhlich offered, slowly stepping towards the sofa and took a curious look at the portion of her rash not covered by her uniform collar, “…whatever that is.”

Shinar adjusted her collar, futilely hoping to hide what he had already seen. “Something about the chemical composition of Klingon saliva that doesn’t agree with Andorian skin cells,” she explained. “I wanted to see a doctor, but it was so embarrassing…”

“I understand how much it feels the whole universe is against you. But you don’t face this alone, Shinar.”

Shinar was nearly moved to tears by Erhlich’s kind words. She quickly rose from the sofa and hugged him gently. “I always thought you weren’t my type,” she whispered. “But I never gave you much of a chance. You’ve selflessly offered a hand of friendship. You understand me better than my bondmates do. Better than Karlek.”

She tenderly kissed him on the cheek, and then held his face allowing his eyes to meet hers. He raised his hands, at first wanting to remove her hands from his cheeks. After that hesitation, he kissed her on the lips.

Shinar looked soulfully into Erhlich’s eyes and planted a longer kiss on his lips. She moved her hands down his neck and along his shoulders, slowly removing his uniform jacket. They slowly walked into the bedroom, as their hands slipped off the other’s clothes one by one.

“My people can do without me for a while,” Erhlich remarked as he leaned downward to slip off both his boots, “and so can yours.”

Shinar smirked devilishly while seating herself on the bed and began unfastening Erhlich’s uniform trousers.

###

Markalis was in the process of treating sh’Aqba’s month-old hickey with a dermal regenerator when Limis entered sickbay through the primary ICU. Aurellan looked over at the captain indicating she would be with her in a minute, and then turned back to sh’Aqba.

“If you had come in a lot sooner instead of consulting a computer database,” she told sh’Aqba as she set the regenerator aside, “it would not have been as hard to treat.” Aurellan loaded a hypospray with an analgesic and handed sh’Aqba a packet of topical cream. “Take two cc’s of this twice a day,” she explained, indicating the hypospray, “and apply the topical analgesic as often as needed.”

Aurellan then dismissed her patient and saw Limis waiting near the door with a somber look on her face that instantly said to Aurellan her captain had some very bad news. “What is it, Captain?” she asked, sounding terrified that Limis was bringing news of a death in the family.

“At oh-two-seventeen this morning,” Limis said grimly, “Commander Ziminske escaped the starbase infirmary and left in a shuttle. I’m sorry to say that the shuttle was destroyed shortly afterwards.”

“Did you get her out in time?” Aurellan asked, even knowing what the answer was.

“I’m afraid not,” Limis grimly replied.

“Oh, god,” Aurellan dejectedly gasped. She paced back and forth across the ICU, fighting back tears. Realizing her emotional state, she took refuge in her office. “This is my fault. She didn’t deserve to die for her role in this.”

She turned to face Limis while brushing one eye. Limis was about to speak, having followed Aurellan into the office, but words flowed out of Aurellan’s lips at a near manic speed. “What really sucks is that she was a friend and I betrayed her.”

“That’s not fair, Aurellan,” Limis assured her. “You did nothing wrong.”

“I know what it’s like being betrayed by people I thought were my friends,” Aurellan insisted, as if she hadn’t absorbed any of what her captain had said. “Like my semester abroad on Deneb Two when my ‘friends’ locked me in a storage closet with two dozen tribbles in heat.”

“Aurellan, listen to me,” Limis said both gently and firmly. She touched both Aurellan’s cheeks with both hands. Tears were still flowing from the young woman’s eyes. “You did the right thing. You don’t have to ever apologize for that, no matter what anyone might tell you. You can’t blame yourself for any negative consequences. You understand?”

“Yes, I think so,” Aurellan said, choking back sobs.

Limis wrapped her arms around Aurellan’s shoulders and held her in a consoling embrace. Normally, Aurellan would recoil from such close physical contact. But given her current emotional state, she welcomed it.



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