Aurellan Markalis watched the sunrise over the mountains on the horizon. She analyzed the red giant star and the bright colors that surrounded it intellectually, comparing the lighting effect to that of Earth’s yellow sun. She wished she could watch and appreciate the sheer beauty of a sunrise or sunset as most others could. She was distracted from these thoughts when she heard water splashing in the nearby artificial lake.
Snežana emerged from the water. Aurellan gave a light smile. She did not bother to look away, expecting that Snežana would be wearing some type of bathing suit. That was why she let out a surprised gasp when turning her gaze away from Snežana’s fully nude body.
“You mind handing me that towel?” Snežana asked.
Continuing to divert her gaze, Aurellan grabbed a towel draped over a reclined lounge chair on her right and held it out to the Russian-accented woman. Snežana patted her chest with the towel before fully covering herself with it. “You’re a doctor,” she remarked. “You see naked people all the time.”
“Naked dead people mostly,” Aurellan replied, slowly looking back at Snežana, hoping not to see certain feminine body parts. “Those cadavers from med school still give me the creeps.”
Snežana had been aware of Aurellan’s presence for some time before Aurellan was aware of Snežana’s. Snežana had deduced that Aurellan was ruminating over the events of the day before. Seamus’s impending demise and Rhys’s cavalier attitude bothered her as well. Of course, Snežana was never one to question any of Rhys’s decisions. “You seem troubled,” she offered, clasping Aurellan’s left wrist. “Tell me what bothers you.”
Markalis began to feel tense at what seemed like a gesture of affection on the other woman’s part. But she was willing to listen to her, so Aurellan did not want to pass up this chance to unburden herself. She sat down on the lounge chair, and Snežana sat down next to her. “That Rhys doesn’t seem to care a close friend is dying,” she said hoarsely. “What does he plan to do with this virus he’s having me work on that he said will end the war?”
“He hasn’t said anything to any of us either,” Snežana replied, placing the palm of her right hand on Aurellan’s left cheek. “I understand the need to make difficult decisions in war, decisions our leaders are not willing to make. The Dominion is unlike any other enemy the Federation has fought. Seamus was willing to give his life so that others of us are not accidentally infected.”
Aurellan still was not feeling any better. She slowly slid Snežana’s hand off her cheek and looked away. She could understand Klingons and Romulans easily volunteering for death. Cardassians were notorious for using sentient life as a means to an end. She had never encountered humans this indifferent. As much as they claimed these decision were difficult, their lack of emotional responses said otherwise.
“You seem uncomfortable around me,” Snežana continued. “But how do you know you are not attracted to the same gender if you’ve never been in a successful romantic relationship?”
Markalis, again annoyed that these people knew so much about her just by her body language and facial expressions, was not sure whether Snežana was asking a rhetorical question. She considered the question for a second, visually analyzing Snežana’s wet black hair and drops of water dripping down her bare shoulders. “You just know,” she answered plainly.
“I never believed that.”
“Stop,” Aurellan insisted, raising her right hand thinking Snežana was leaning over to kiss her. She quickly stood up and walked away leaving Snežana to wonder what drove her off so suddently.
Inside the house, Darcen felt a hand stroke his cheek. He opened his eyes, knowing full well that Ileana was in bed next to him, and clasped her hand to kiss it. Ileana smiled and leaned over to kiss him on the lips while stroking his bare chest. Realizing why she asked him to make love to her last night, he placed two fingers on her lips after a second kiss.
“You were a little hard on Aurellan last night,” he said calmly.
Ileana rolled over, lying on her back and sighing. “I see the way you look at her. Usually, I wouldn’t mind, but she’s tough to figure. How do we know her loyalties are not truly with Starfleet or the Section 31 agents who turned on us?”
“You are correct, my love. That is why I will not reveal the specifics of our plan until she finishes work on the virus? And at the first sign of treachery, I will eliminate her myself.”
Ileana moaned pleasingly as Rhys stroked her right ear. She shot him a devilish smile before getting out of bed. Rhys gave the same devilish smile watching as Ileana walked naked towards the shower.
Thanks to Sergeant Galloway’s crash course, Ensign Sullivan was able to get the emergency comm-unit in working order. She was able to handle the basics of sending out a distress signal on a Starfleet frequency, while Neeley and Bowers tended to their fellow soldier-- observing that he was going into shock—by scrounging together some mangled up blankets in the emergency provisions.
The general feeling of optimism was interrupted when a legion of ten Jem’Hadar unshrouded. The Starfleet team began running for cover and whisking essential equipment out of the way of enemy weapons fire. Limis and Neeley laid down cover fire with hand phasers while the others moved Galloway and the comm-unit into the jungle. They managed to hit two of the enemy soldiers, but the rest kept coming unfazed.
Bowers and Garak joined the women, handing them extra phaser rifles before using their own rifles to keep shooting at the Jem’Hadar. The shots managed to take down the left and right most soldiers. The four left standing paired off on two sides, continuing to fire their rifles. One Jem’Hadar lunged at Bowers from the left. Bowers pulled a knife from his holster, a Capellan kligat, and hurled it straight into his chest.
Neeley, meanwhile, prepared to arm a photon grenade, but it had no power. That caught her off guard, as the two advancing Jem’Hadar lunged at her and Limis. They were about to go in for the kill when blasts from a hand phaser took them out. Neeley stood upright to see Galloway was holding the phaser. Limis was equally astonished to see a wounded man save her life. Galloway suddenly collapsed with Neely and Bowers scrambling after him.
After coming home from her outing with Rebecca, Vircona found Agent Chadwick waiting for her outside her house. The first thing that came to her mind was the welfare of her son. After the night before, she did not entirely trust Chadwick, intuiting that he sent those masked men to ambushed her. “You better not have touched a hair on my boy’s head,” she snapped.
“I didn’t harm your son,” Chadwick insisted. “He’s inside sleeping. I have another assignment for you.”
“Nevertheless, let’s go in the back, so you don’t draw too much attention.”
Chadwick curtly nodded and followed Vircona around to the back of the house. “Our Cardassian insiders report that Legate Gorat will be a VIP guest,” Chadwick stated pointedly. “His shuttle arrives tonight.”
“And who is Legate Gorat?” Vircona asked in confusion.
“He’s a influential member of Central Command. Getting into Gul Zarrel’s personal database was big. Gorat would be a major fountain of information.”
Vircona considered the proposal for a long moment. Any chance to gather incriminating information on the highest levels of Cardassian government was an opportunity she could not pass up. “I’m in,” she said quietly.
“Good. It’s the same routnine as last night.”
After finishing her business transaction with the legate, Vircona again encountered the same masked men. Only this time, she put up less of a fight. Again, one of the masked men used a laser device extract cell samples from her neck and shoulders. Vircona waited until her assailants were a considerable distance from her and opened her eyes.
Prior to her latest undercover operation, Vircona had ingested a large quantity of makara herbs, normally a medicinal agent for pregnant Bajoran women, in order to counteract any sedatives she would be given. She followed the sounds of the men’s footfalls down an alley. Upon turning the corner, she looked right, then left. She saw the two masked men on her left and quietly tiptoed after them.
Vircona followed the two men to the cellar of an empty building. She slipped through the door as it was closing, crept down the stairs, and hid behind a set of old wooden crates. The two dark-haired men who had accosted her removed their masks. An older heavy-set human with thinning gray hair was already there waiting for them. She could not make out much of what the three of them were whispering, but they did mention obtaining another sample and having a better understanding of Cardassian genetic and physiological idiosyncracies.
Ileana and Snežana watched Markalis as she continued her modifications of the virus. Grimaud stood in a corner quietly observing the women. Ileana looked up when she saw Rhys walk down the stairs of the cellar. Though he always tried to keep a cool head and a stoic demeanor, he could not hide his somber expression from Ileana.
“Seamus has died,” Darcen said plainly.
Ileana and Snežana lowered their heads in a moment of silence to mourn their dead friend and colleague. Markalis caught glimpses of the other women’s momentary emotional vulnerability. She could even tell that Grimaud was feeling a sense of loss though his face didn’t show it. After her converstion with Rhys, Aurellan thought she would be able to exploit this from Darcen’s followers.
“But we must make sure his death was not in vain,” Darcen added as he continued down the stairs. “Aurellan, have you finished modifying the virus?”
“I have four different strains of the virus,” Markalis replied. “Human and Betazoid augments could be immune to one or all of them. I don’t have enough antibody samples to run further tests.”
“Of course you do,” Darcen answered sharply. “The four of us.”
Markalis was at a loss for words. Was he actually suggesting that she infect him and his followers with the virus? “You don’t mean… “ she began with hesitation.
“Yes,” Darcen snapped. “I want you to infect each of us the virus.” Seeing the look of worry on his lover’s face that only one of them would die, he added, “Some ideals are worth dying for, Ileana.”
“Yes, my love,” Ileana replied, as they kissed.
Markalis prepared vials of the four different virus strains and injected Grimaud, then Ileana, and then Snežana. When she stepped over to Rhys, she had a morbid feeling just from his cold demeanor. “Come on,” he snapped. Aurellan placed the last vial into the hypospray injected him with the virus.
“Now that that’s over with,” he said with a slight grin. “Our destination is Ventani Two.”
Darcen saw Markalis’s eyebrows twitch at that planet’s mention. “I trust you know of it, Aurellan,” he continued.
“It was the home of Tret Akleen,” Markalis replied. “He’s considered the father of the modern day Cardassian Union.”
“Correct. It is not one of the most strategically significant sectors of Dominion space. But it would be a demoralizing blow to the Cardassians.”
“It would send a message that the same fate would befall other planets in the Cardassian Union,” Ileana added.
“Even their home planet,” Snežana chimed in.
The three of them exchanged devilish grins, but Aurellan kept quiet, biting her lower lips to hide her own fears. Even though the residents of Ventani were Cardassians, many of them were innocent civilians. And so far the Dominion had not used biological weapons in its war against the Federation and its allies. An attack of this magnitude would give the Founders an excuse to do just that.
Markalis looked up at the ceiling unable to sleep that night. She was not sure what bothered her more. That she helped with the virus Darcen and his group were planning to unleash, or that she would be partially responsible for so many deaths. Since this was her first undercover assignment, the fact that her actions were part of that assignment offered little consolation. Having not changed out of her daytime clothes, she figured she could make a run for it.
Aurellan tiptoed around the house to make sure everyone was sleeping. Rhys and Ileana were asleep in one room, while Snežana was asleep in another. She could not find Grimaud anywhere, but maybe that was a good thing. But then she had no idea the full range of his telepathy. From a dark corner, the Betazoid did see her exit the front door.