Gul Latham stepped onto the bridge of the lead Galor-class warship stationed at the Chudala system. He had been a seasoned veteran having fought in both the Dominion War and the last Federation-Cardassian war. His lightening skin and streaks of silver in his black hair were the most visible signs of aging. Among his people, however, his advanced age was worthy of great respect. “What do you have, Glinn?” he asked the officer manning a starboard tactical monitor.
“Intermittent tachyon spikes at a 500 thousand klarik radius,” answered Glinn Orlak.
“Cloaked ships?” the gul wondered aloud.
“Possibly. Sensor technicians are trying to extrapolate plasma wakes.”
“How intense are the ion storms in this vicinity?”
“They are beginning to subside, but they are still able to limit the effectiveness of a cloaking device.”
Latham slowly walked over to the command chair. “Why would they even bother with cloaking?” he quietly asked himself. He sat in the chair and pushed a key on the comm-panel on the right arm. “All ships, this is fleet command. Lock onto those tachyon spikes and fire on my command.”
As the Cardassian fleet began moving towards what may have been cloaked ships, half a dozen Morgai-class Romulan warbirds decloaked around them and began firing disruptor charges. The cloaked Klingon vessels being used as bait for the Cardassians then appeared. Six Birds-of-Prey and two Vorcha-class attack cruisers decloaked and fired, severely damaging two of the twelve Galor-class warships.
One of the important social skills Aurellan Markalis struggled to learn growing up was making eye contact. Walking into a seedy tavern on Tagra Four, she was presented with an even greater challenge. According to intelligence reports, Rhys Darcen frequented this tavern. Markalis would have to get Darcen’s attention in a subtle manner, while at the same time, not drawing attention to herself from any other patrons.
She removed the hood on her knee-length jacket upon her entry into the tavern and let out a nervous exhale. She gave a quick visual survey of the establishment filled with people from nearly a dozen different races. She began hoping she was not the only human present since that would mean she would most likely stand out. She saw a group of humans at the bar. One of them was her “person of interest.”
Markalis walked by the bar slowly and quietly to avoid attracting attention. She removed a padd from her left trousers pocket and began operating it. She bumped into a middle-aged human male. “Excuse me,” she mumbled, quickly looking up from the padd.
The man, who had jet-black hair and a light olive-skin complexion, smiled. Aurellan ignored him and continued on her way. She sat down at an empty table in a dark corner and continued manically pushing buttons on the padd. The man at the bar stared over at her, fascinated by this beautiful, yet timid woman.
Ziminske entered the tavern dressed in a Starfleet uniform. Unlike when she was on the Semmelweis, her collar was operations gold rather than command red. The bridge of her nose lacked the ridges that distinguished a Bajoran. Markalis saw her contact enter, so she quickly concealed her face with the hood.
“I’m looking for a human woman,” Ziminske called out to the patrons. “Blond hair. She is believed to be smuggling bio-mimetic gel to the Orion Syndicate.”
No one answered. That description could have described anyone. Those who had seen Markalis didn’t consider that she was the woman Ziminske was describing. “If I learn that she is here,” Ziminske continued, “this establishment will be shut down.”
The man who noticed Markalis shot Ziminske an up-and-down look “You’re not too shabby yourself,” he retorted, with an accent that sounded somewhere between British and Scottish.
“Don’t get smart, bud,” Ziminske shot back. “You know anything?”
“I’ve seen a lot of blond haired human women. Other than yourself, I don’t see any in this bar.”
Ziminske made another quick visual inspection of the tavern. Markalis happened to look in the agent’s direction. Markalis nervously looked down at the table to continue working the padd. “Anyone else here know anything?” she demanded.
Many of the other patrons either ignored the inquiry or shook their heads.
Ziminske walked out slowly. The man covering for Markalis stared intently at Ziminske waiting for the agent to leave. Once Ziminske was gone, he walked over to Markalis. She continued to ignore him even as he sat down in the chair across from her.
“Bio-mimetic gel,” the man said with a wry grin. “That’s a controlled substance in the Federation.”
Aurellan looked up and removed her hood. She smiled triumphantly while placing a stylus in the right edge of her mouth like it was a cigar. “I could do hard time,” she quipped. “But I hope to reap a pretty hefty commission from my next sale. Thanks for covering for me, by the way.”
“My name’s Rhys. Rhys Darcen. Have you found a buyer yet?”
“Aurellan. And no. I’m still shopping it around.”
“I know of some people wanting bio-mimetic gel on the black market.”
“I’d be interested in meeting them.”
“I’m sure I can arrange that.”
Markalis would later accompany Darcen to his home just outside of the city’s central business district. The interior of the main living area was a large rocky enclosure, which looked more like the cargo hold of an old freighter. Three humans were present in the room to greet Darcen and his newest guest.
“Rhys, you’ve brought a guest,” one of the two women remarked. She spoke with a slight South Asian accent. Her light tan skin complexion suggested either Middle Eastern or South Asian ancestry.
“Ileana, this is Aurellan,” said Darcen. “She’s a dealer in bio-mimetic gel.”
“Where did you find her?” Ileana replied. “We’ve been looking to replenish our supply.”
“All in good time, my dear,” Darcen replied. He then introduced Markalis to the other two humans.
“This is Snežana,” Darcen continued, indicating a woman with short black hair in a coiffure arrangement with bangs down to her eyebrows.
“And this is Grimaud,” Darcen said of a youthful blond man, whose facial expression remained unchanged since Darcen and Markalis entered. “Like the ‘Three Musketeers’ characters, he only speaks when absolutely necessary.”
Grimaud did smile at Markalis, and Aurellan returned the greeting. She then took another glance at the two women, who both wore sleeveless shirts and form-fitting cargo trousers. She remembered having read that the women in Khan Noonien Singh’s group dressed similarly, possibly to show off their muscular upper arms. That was one trait that set these women apart from the more stereotypical human female. On the other hand, Ileana’s cleavage contradicted that notion, as well as Aurellan’s own standards of modesty.
“Allow me to take your jacket,” Snežana offered, speaking with a thick Eastern European accent.
Markalis just gave an uncomfortable grin as she unbuttoned the jacket. She had seen Snežana’s amorous stare from a lot of men, but she was unsure what to make of a woman looking at her in the same manner. “We have so much to show you,” Snežana continued.
Markalis and the other four humans walked outside, into a large garden. Their surroundings did not seem possible in a desert region of the planet. Nevertheless, they were surrounded by large trees and a garden of fruits and vegetables from various worlds including a vine of Kaferian apples. Markalis stared in amazement at what she was seeing, especially seeing the barren desert sand just a few hundred feet away.
“How is this even possible?” she asked.
“This region became uninhabitable when atmospheric pollutants threatened all life on this planet,” Darcen began.
“And even when all the pollutants were cleansed from the air six years ago,” Ileana added, “this region was very inhospitable. Even the greatest scientific minds on Tagra could not devise a way to live here.”
“We have tamed this part of this hostile desert,” said Snežana, “Just like the first colonists of Australia and the planets Jaros Two and Ceti Alpha Five.”
“We’ve made Eden here,” Darcen proclaimed.
Markalis remembered hearing of Eden from a story she heard as a little girl. Until this moment, she thought that story nothing more than myth. “You did all this,” she said still in awe.
“The four of us, and many others,” Darcen replied. “Now, I do believe we have business to transact.”
“Yes, of course,” said Markalis, still with a rare smile.
The Lambda Paz and two flanking Akira-class cruisers moved in on the fleet of Cardassian warships and support vessels with phasers firing. Six small fighters were clipped by phaser fire, and they quickly fell out of formation. The four Galor-class ships, however, returned each phaser hit with their own phaser fire from the forward array. The Lambda Paz fired torpedoes at one of the center vessels tearing off its starboard nacelle, and then moved towards the other center vessel to port.
“This one’s a bit slippery,” Sara Carson noted of the quantum torpedoes that ship had dodged.
“Keep on its tail,” Limis replied, while looking at the display on her side console. “Morrison, keep a tight lock on those flanking fighters.”
“I see them,” said Morrison entering the targeting command sequence.
A swarm of quantum torpedoes tore through two Hideki-class fighters over the dorsal of the warship the Lambda Paz was pursuing. The warship then fired its aft phasers inflicting some damage to the ventral of the saucer section. Three more warships slowly approached the Starfleet ship from the port stern through a flotilla of debris.
Garak had been along for the ride because of his expertise in monitoring coded Cardassian transmissions immediately noticed the three ships on his sensor display at the port Mission Ops station. “Three more Galor-class warships approaching from stern, Captain,” he called out.
“I see them,” Limis replied. “Call in the Vigilant and the Endurance to give us a hand.”
“We’re way ahead of you, Captain,” Kozar answered through the comm-line from one of the Defiant-class ships.
Two Defiant-class starships fired their multi-targeting phasers at the port and starboard ships while the Lambda Paz fired aft quantum torpedoes at the center ships. The two outside ships moved off while the middle ships turned towards the Vigilant and Endurance.
Without warning, an explosion plowed into the Lambda Paz and four of the surrounding Starfleet ships. Crewmembers on lowermost decks of the secondary hull where the explosion took place were blown out into space. The protective field around the warp core failed. Logan scrambled to the console in front of the core to keep antimatter containment from failing. Consoles on the bridge exploded sending officers to the deck.
Limis gathered herself and sat back down in the center seat. “What the hell was that?” she asked between coughs.
“Some kind of explosion,” a baffled Huckaby answered. “It just came out of nowhere. We’ve got hull breaches on decks eighteen, nineteen and twenty. Emergency forcefields are in place, but they won’t hold for long.”
“Send teams to close the emergency bulkheads manually,” Limis ordered, noticing on her display that some of the bulkheads were not closing automatically. “And evacuate those decks.”
“Incoming hail from the Vigilant,” Morrison reported.
“Whatever that was sure packed a wallop,” said Kozar through intermittent static. “We’re dead in the water. So are five other ships. Recommend we forward the sensor logs to the rest of the tactical wing. Maybe some other ship will catch something we missed.”
“Some of kind of subspace mines?” Garak offered. “They were highly experimental and virtually abandoned when I was still in the Obsidian Order.”
“Looks like the Dominion has had better success,” Limis quipped. “Make it so, Commander. You too, Huckaby. Morrison, start laying down cover fire with whatever is in the arsenal. Carson, take us to our fallback position. And call in five tow ships if you have to.”
With the warp nacelles burned out, the Lambda Paz could manage no more than maximum impulse. The Vigilant and the Endurance fired quantum torpedoes before following the Lambda Paz. The Tetsuo and the Kaneda moved up in front of the Lambda Paz and locked their tractor beams on the crippled ship.