By Jack Elmlinger, with Christina Moore and Brydon Sinclair
Smoke filled Tattok’s lungs and drove his senses to near-consciousness, causing him to cough. The explosion had thrown him a good distance from where he had been standing. He felt droplets of blood oozing down the side of his face and the last thing that the Roylan remembered was passing through the airlock between his runabout and Sanctuary.
“Admiral…? Vice-Admiral Tattok?!” a familiar voice echoed through the chaos. Through the smoke and debris, Tattok could see that it was Rkasi Cen, his Bolian chief of staff. Slowly searching for him, he appeared to be in shock with a hand held to his left shoulder. Soot covered his exposed skin as he looked for him.
“Medic!” Cen called out when he found him. Rushing over, the captain dropped down to his knees beside the admiral.
There was a crippling pain in his left leg and when Tattok looked down at it, he found that his left leg had nearly been severed—and he wondered if the Goddess had finally come to claim him.
“Who…did this?” he muttered.
The little alien looked up at Cen before slipping into unconsciousness.
“Just because you’re a senior captain doesn’t mean that you get to bully me into handing this investigation over to you!” the commanding officer of Sanctuary said while she stood behind her desk in the commander’s office. The desk was the only thing left behind from the previous administration and she hadn’t found the time to redecorate.
“Maybe you didn’t see my pips, young lady, but I happen to be a Fleet Captain!” Alexander Galloway shouted back, glaring at her with anger. The bearded, middle-aged captain of a Saber-class starship leaned forward and rested his hands on the top of her desk. “And according to regulations, I’m the next in command of Starfleet operations in this sector until the admiral recovers or Starfleet reassigns someone into the position. Besides, you’re just a stationmaster… a babysitter…”
“I happen to be the commander of this station who—”
“Commander of what? Commander of a Cardassian relic? This is just a spoil of war!”
Synnove Natale breathed deeply and counted to ten in her head before speaking, “The investigation into the attempted assassination of Admiral Tattok—”
“—will be handled by SCIS, you noodleknockers,” a gruff voice interrupted her, as a Tellarite of medium height walked through the open doors that led out into Ops. He held up an identity card and handed it to Natale.
“What’s SCIS?” Galloway asked.
“Starfleet Criminal Investigative Service,” the Tellarite said, his captain’s pips becoming more visible on his red collar. “I’ve been assigned to Vice-Admiral Tattok’s staff as his SCIS liaison.”
“And?” asked the Orion station commander.
“And,” Danis bin Kaav said, annoyingly, “Admiral Vancek ordered me to investigate the attempt on Tattok’s life.” He looked at Galloway with a scowl and the Pericles’ captain stood up with a look of confusion. “What’s your take on this, Fleet Captain Galloway?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t had a chance to start an investigation.”
“And you, Natale? What do you think?”
“There could be a number of possibilities—from enemies he’s made on the Federation Council, to anyone at Starfleet Command, even to someone from his past.”
“Or even someone close to him,” Kaav said, thinking over the possibilities. He looked at Natale with emerald eyes. “I don’t have any personnel to fill the SCIS office here until Vancek can shake the tree a little. Give me a few officers and—”
“We happen to be in the middle of getting the station to rights, Captain Kaav. All of my people are devoted to repairing the primary systems. Chief Engineer Grafydd needs everyone that—”
“That wasn’t a suggestion, Captain,” the Tellarite said, taking his identity card back from her. He returned it to a pocket in his trousers and fetched a PADD out of the same pocket. Handing the PADD to her, his scowl deepened. “Here are my orders. If you don’t give me what I asked for, I’ll arrest you on an obstruction charge.” He paused, stroking his mustache. “I hear that the Cardassian brigs are more impressive than ours. Do you really want to visit one?”
Natale scowled back at him, saying nothing.
Captain Telka, a female Roylan, stood on the transporter pad in Ops after the transporter beam dissolved around her. She looked around the Cardassian command center and frowned. When Admiral Rabb of the Starfleet Judge Advocate General Corps had informed her that she was being assigned as the chief legal officer to the 11th Fleet, she hadn’t imagined that she would be sent into the heart of Cardassian space.
The human beside her looked down and smiled briefly with a nod of her head. They stepped off of the platform with another officer as they were approached by the station commander, a dark orange-skinned Orion of medium height.
“Welcome to Sanctuary, Captains,” Natale said with a nod of her head. “I’m Captain Synnove Natale, commander of the station.”
“Motoko Kimura of the Trident,” the commander of the Excelsior-class starship said. She turned to the officer on one side of her wearing lieutenant’s pips on his collar. “This is Talan Ha'naye, my ship's counselor.”
“Telka,” the JAG officer said with a bow of her head.
“Am I glad to see you, Captain Telka. We’re in a bit of a pickle over jurisdiction. Please, let’s step into my office,” Natale said, then turned and led them up to the office at Telka’s nod.
“Yes, I heard that Alexander Galloway was pushing his weight around,” Telka said. “Fleet Captain in rank he may be, but his command ends at the Pericles.”
“Really? Please, do sit down.” She motioned them to seats in front of her desk. She moved to sit behind it, happy that at least one requisition had been filled and the chairs had finally arrived. The Cardassian furniture that had been in the prefect’s office had been too rough and spine-aching for her to handle.
“Starfleet regulation 39 – dash – seven, paragraph fourteen,” Telka went on, reciting the regulation from memory. “In the case of a fleet commander being indisposed, injured, or otherwise unfit for duty, command of the fleet reverts to the flag captain until the officer’s recovery or a replacement is assigned. Galloway… oversteps his bounds. I am now the Flag Captain until Tattok is recovered.”
“We were to transport him here as well, but he decided to come ahead of us due to the delay we experienced at our launch,” Kimura added.
Natale nodded slowly. “And what about this Captain Kaav? He claims that jurisdiction for the investigation falls with him.”
“SCIS jurisdiction applies, I’m afraid.”
The lieutenant by Kimura's side glanced behind him at the light shout from someone out in Ops. “It seems that you’re still picking up the pieces around here,” Ha’naye commented.
“Yes,” Natale acknowledged, “and with a shortage of personnel, it’s been slow going getting the station up and running.”
Ha'naye raised an eyebrow and looked at his captain. “Perhaps we could assign some of the crew to assist the station personnel?”
“Well, they did need shore leave,” his captain said with a smile. “Make it possible, Counselor.”
“By the way,” Kimura went on, speaking to her Orion colleague, “you’ll be gratified to know that all your medical and science staff—from Starfleet anyway—have arrived at last. I am truly sorry for the delay.”
Natale nodded with a slight smile. “That is good news, though you can’t be held responsible for not realizing that your ship’s data distribution relays couldn’t handle the upgrades you got.”
Kimura nodded as Telka cleared her throat. “Captain Natale, I have to ask if—after the explosion at the docking port—any leads have come up? As acting commander of the 11th, I must ensure the safety of the admiral and his fleet until Tattok can return to duty.”
“What kind of assurances are you looking for, Captain?”
“Please, call me Telka.”
“Ok… Telka,” Natale said with surprise.
“For security’s sake, we think the admiral should be moved to the Trident for the time being,” Kimura said.
“Why? We have a doctor. Three of them, in fact, now that you've brought me the other two, plus the rest of the nursing staff.”
Kimura sighed and looked at Telka for support. When she didn’t speak, she looked back at Natale, feeling slightly nervous about speaking to the higher-ranked captain. “You and your crew are still in the middle of a transition, Captain Natale. There are security concerns, possible traps, and engineering problems to solve. The command structure of the fleet must be maintained until a replacement for Vice-Admiral Tattok is sent or he recovers to return to duty. Now, we have no slight against your crew or your Cardassian doctor’s talents but—”
“Dr. Messar is unfamiliar with Roylan physiology,” Natale interrupted. “I’ve been tending to him myself.”
“Know Roylan medicine, do you, Captain Natale?” Telka inquired.
“No,” she said, “but I know enough to treat a near-amputation and put a bandage on it. Dr. Messar is certainly capable of doing that as well, but I think the admiral’s size disturbed her a little. She’s never treated someone so small, not even a child.”
“Still,” the JAG officer continued, “it would better for Tattok to be treated on the Trident.”
“I have no problem with that, Captain Telka, but if the admiral’s fleet is to be based at Sanctuary, it would be more benefiting to my crew's morale if he were to remain here.” She leaned forward in her seat. “Send your doctor over if you like, Captain Kimura, but now that we have a medical staff on hand, I think he would be better off on my station.”
Tattok opened his eyes and breathed deeply. There was an itching in his left leg that was bothering him. The lights overhead blinded him and he closed his eyes, feeling pain running up his left side and in his back. He raised a hand and found a transparent bandage across his forehead.
“Wh-what… hap-happened?” he whispered.
Rkasi Cen entered his field of vision and the Bolian smiled at him. “Welcome back to the world of the living,” the chief of staff said before he tapped his commbadge. “Cen to Doctor T'Liann or Doctor Garcia.”
“This is T'Liann, go ahead.”
“The admiral's regained consci—”
“Captain Natale, locate her,” the admiral whispered, closing his eyes for a moment. There was a memory that struggled to reach the surface. Something about Captain Cen. “I must speak with her.”
“Sir, she's busy and—” The Bolian looked nervous for no apparent reason.
“Get her,” the Roylan said firmly.
“Yes, sir,” Cen replied reluctantly. He tapped his commbadge twice to close the channel with T'Liann and to contact Natale. “Cen to Captain Natale.”
“Natale here,” the station commander said. She sounded like she was out of breath.
“Miss me, did you?” Tattok spoke up from the biobed.
“Report to my location at once. There is much to discuss.”
“Aye, sir,” the Orion answered.
Natale brought more than herself to the meeting. Walking into the recovery room of Sanctuary's infirmary, she was followed by Captains Kaav, Telka, and Kimura. Fleet Captain Galloway had tried to barge his way into the meeting but a quick look from Dilik Zram, also present, had sent the older captain back to his ship.
The Trident's chief medical officer, backed by the station’s own Dr. Margherita Garcia, of course, had objected to this meeting so soon after Tattok had regained consciousness, but the fleet commander had overridden both women. He was now sitting up on his biobed, wearing a blue medical gown with fresh bandages on his leg.
“How are you, sir?” Kimura was the first to ask.
“I wish I had the number I had of the asteroid that hit me,” the vice-admiral responded before his eyestalks moved to Kaav. “Good to see you again, Kaav. Investigating me again, or are you here for kicks?”
“I'm not the one laid up on his ass with a barely-there leg.”
“It will mend itself soon.”
“Really?” asked Natale. “Because I was concerned about that.”
“She doesn’t have much knowledge of our species,” Telka spoke for the first time. The Roylan looked at the SCIS captain and frowned. “Have you any leads, Captain Kaav? My brother will not sit still for long. A great Human said once, 'A little less conversation, a lot more action, please.' I believe it would be prudent to conclude your investigation quickly.”
Natale stared for a moment. She didn't know that the JAG captain was the admiral’s family. His service record had large portions of it labeled as 'classified' and even his last duty assignment was only on a 'need-to-know' basis. It was information that she thought that only the Tellarite captain had his hands on.
“We believe that the True Way might have set the bomb in the airlock, Admiral. Lieutenant Vehl detected traces of an explosive in the remains of the bomb used.”
“What kind of explosives?” asked Zram from the back of the room. He was flanked by a Marine gunnery sergeant that had been assigned to stand outside the admiral's room.
“Sorium and angine were detected.”
“Sounds like someone tried to make it look like a Ferengi locator bomb,” Kimura said with her arms crossed over her chest.
“Agreed—but why would the Ferengi try to kill me?” Tattok queried.
“There are several possibilities to bring up, Admiral. That's why I took all Cardassian personnel and residents on the station into cus—” The SCIS captain was interrupted by Natale.
“By whose damned authority, did you have the right to—? “
“ENOUGH!” Tattok shouted over them. Grabbing a walking stick that looked like it had been crafted from old wood, the man nodded to Dr. Garcia, who had stood by to watch over him, and the Human female helped him down off the biobed. When he was on his one good foot and leaning on the cane, the Roylan admiral glared up at Kaav. “Release the Cardassians, Captain. Question them all if you must, but release them.”
“Do it, or there will be a strongly-worded reprimand put on your record, Mr. Kaav.”
Both aliens stared at each other before Kaav relented.
“Of course, sir, but I want my protest put in the log.”
“What log? We’re just having a conversation. Nevertheless, my orders are to be carried out just the same—is that understood?” Tattok said.
“Y-yes, of course... sir,” the SCIS officer said before he stomped out of the room. Kimura gave the admiral a rare smile.
“Still in fighting form, sir, despite the leg?”
Tattok smiled at her before looking at Natale again. “I wonder how the bomb was planted… Any thoughts, Captain Natale?”
“When was the last time that the Naxovah was serviced?” This question came from Kimura and not Natale. To the admiral, the question did have merit.
“Cen would know.” He looked for his chief of staff and found him missing.
“He was just here,” Zram said, frowning. He tapped his commbadge. “Zram to Captain Cen. Come in, please.” There was no response.
“Find him, Chief,” Natale started to say before she was interrupted by her commbadge.
“Kelley to Natale.”
“Go for Natale.”
“Captain, we have an unscheduled launch attempt from Upper Pylon Three. It’s the Arthur C. Clarke.” Named for a twentieth-century science fiction writer, the Sydney-class passenger transport had arrived the day before with more essential personnel from Deep Space Nine.
“Activate a tractor beam and stop them, Commander.”
“We can’t, Captain,” said Grafydd. “The tractor beam emitters are still on the repair list and we haven’t gotten to them yet. Will Tuesday work for you?”
“What will work is my station working, mister!” the Orion snapped, turning back to Tattok. “Sir, it seems that—”
“I heard them, Captain Natale,” the Roylan said, then turned to Dr. Garcia. “Doctor, I need a uniform.”
Margherita Garcia placed her hands on her hips. “The only place you’re going, Admiral,” she said with a tone that sent shivers down Telka’s spine, “is back to bed.”
“I can override you, Doctor.”
“Not in my Infirmary, sir!”
“Doctor, now is not the time to fight authority. We have to stop Cen,” Telka said, turning to face the healer.
Tattok closed his eyes, and that nagging memory of his chief of staff came back to him. It was clearer now. He had seen Cen place a foreign device on his ship just before the Naxovah had left the Trident.
More images came to him when he reached deeper for more clarification. The reports from Starfleet Intelligence of attacks on supply routes to Cardassia Prime, the feelings of disgruntled Starfleet officers who disliked bringing aid and security to the Cardassians. It all made sense now.
“Captain, if I’m to be Chief Medical Officer here, then—” Garcia was arguing with Telka.
“The True Way,” Tattok said, opening his eyes and looking up at all the tall people around him, “was blamed for this. But our true enemy lies within.”
He started to limp a few steps before he lost his balance and fell flat on his face. Grimacing, he regained his stance with his sister’s assistance.
“Doctor, I should not tell you how to run your Infirmary, but there is an apparent traitor on the loose. We need to stop him.”
Garcia looked at him for a moment before she looked over at her captain. She sighed, shaking her head in disbelief. “I'll go get the hover-chair,” she said, looking down at him and then Natale. “Admirals are just as bad as captains when it comes to neglecting their health.”
“I will return—and thank you, Doctor.”
“Report!” Natale said as the turbolift reached up to the Ops deck. Kimura had returned to the Trident to prepare her ship for combat if necessary while the admiral and the JAG lawyer had made their way to the docking pylon where the Clarke was berthed. Red alert sirens screamed all the way up from the Infirmary and she could sense feelings of hesitation and fear in the younger members of her crew.
“The Clarke’s trying to break away from the station,” Grafydd reported from the engineering station behind Kelley, who was standing at the pool table. “I’m trying to get this rusty old wheel running and some maniac has to—”
“Calm down and get me a sit-rep on the Triumph.”
“She’s too far away to be any help, Captain,” Kelley said.
“If I were a betting woman, I’d put my money on either the admiral, the Trident, or the Triumph. Right now, I just want to know where they are.”
“Slow down, Tattok,” Telka said after the older Roylan had zoomed out of the turbolift on his hover-chair. She chased after him as quickly as she could, a phaser in her hand. With a grimace, she remembered that the last time that she had handled such a deadly device had been during small-arms training at the Academy.
“You’re slowing me down, Telka. Hurry!” The door to the airlock was starting to grind to a closed position. The deck and everything around them shook violently as the Clarke tried to leave Sanctuary. Debris from the previous tenants swept through the corridor and the lawyer was able to dodge some of it as she followed her brother.
“I’m coming!” she said before a large piece fell from the ceiling and knocked her off of her feet. Turning to check on her, Tattok saw her fall. Held under the broken arch that pinned her, she looked up at him. “Just go!”
The admiral hesitated for a moment but with a nod of his head, he surged forward past the grinding door and it crushed his chair just as it closed shut. Falling forward with his walking stick, he landed again on his face.
“The pylon’s starting to buckle, Captain,” Grafydd reported. “She’s gonna give any second now!”
“Telka to Ops,” came over the intercom.
“Go ahead, Captain!”
“Release the Clarke, Captain Natale. Admiral Tattok is taking care of the situation.”
Crawling out of the airlock on his good leg and a non-functioningleg wasn’t a recommended exercise for a Roylan of any age, let alone one who was nearing seventy. He moved slowly, using the walking stick made of an old sarukaar tree to pull himself closer and closer to his quarry. Thankfully the docking port on the Clarke was on the same deck as the bridge. Along the way, he found bodies, some unconscious and some of them with phaser burns in their mid-sections.
“So the one-legged wonder finally caught up with me?” the Bolian said with a wild look in his eyes. He turned away from the flight control console to face the admiral with a phaser in his hand.
“Why?! You have to ask?! Maybe you should ask that question of the Cardassians! Or their victims!” Cen stood from the chair. Moving towards the admiral, he leaned down to his knees.
“I thought you were better than this, Rkasi. I thought you were smarter than to throw your lot in with the Maquis. You’ve shamed me and you’ve shamed Starfleet.”
“Shamed Starfleet? I’m making them responsible! We can’t work with them—you’ve seen the reports. You know what happened to the Cayuga? They stopped a rightful execution of justice!”
“You call it justice. I call it murder,” Tattok said. His inner calm had limits, and the steps Cen had taken to derail the Thivas System Revitalization Project was more than he could bear. Scowling at his chief of staff—no, his former chief of staff—he stared into the angry orbs of a murderer.
“Is this about Haxilon being attacked during the war?” he continued.
Tears flowed on Cen’s face. “They were defenseless! No one was there to defend them! The Cardassians… the Jem’Hadar! They took my wife… my children… my life!”
“No! Your life has continued! Live for them!”
“No! Don’t talk me out of it!” the Bolian said, returning to his feet. With an eye and his phaser on Tattok, he walked back to the flight console. Inputting instructions to the Clarke’s computer, the quaking around them stopped and on the forward viewscreen, the station started to move away from them.
“You’ll be my little gift for the leaders of my cell,” Cen said, a smirk of pride on his face. “It was so easy to plant the evidence making SCIS believe that you were attacked by the True Way. Those Cardassian extremists couldn’t find their way in the dark without light.”
“Think me weak, do you? A failure to you, I may be, but weak,” Tattok said, standing up to his full height, “I will never be.” The phaser that had been on his belt, he noticed, had disappeared during his crawl from the airlock… but that wasn’t his only weapon. With a slight click of the handle, he pulled a sword from his walking stick and with a quick swipe, he sliced the Bolian’s arm off.
Blue blood splattered all over the deck, Cen, and Tattok as the Roylan aimed his sword point at his jugular. His heart was broken by this action, but it was an action that he had to take. With the sudden loss of blood from his damaged arm, the captain quickly slipped into unconsciousness.
“Tattok to Natale,” he said, almost in a whisper.
“Send security and medics to Upper Pylon Three, Captain. We have injured.”
“We’re alerting the infirmary now. How are you, sir?”
He sighed, dropping the sword from his right hand. “Tired.”
Fleet Commander’s Log, Stardate 53461.2...
When I assumed command of the Eleventh Fleet, I believed myself close to retirement. There are many challenges to face here, in Cardassian space and beyond.
I believe that we can overcome them.
Captain Cen has been arrested for attempted murder, murder, and assault by the Starfleet Criminal Investigation Service. He’ll be taken for trial and rehabilitation. I feel sadness for my old friend. I’m going to miss him. A new chief of staff, for a new command—a new future—awaits me now.
“Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork! Bureaucrats’ lives are run by paperwork!” Vice-Admiral Tattok said mischievously as he walked down the length of the Promenade. There were many similarities to Deep Space Nine that he could see, and walking on two workable legs now, the old Roylan could see that the future was well in hand.
“Complaining again?” Telka asked, walking beside him. She had recovered with only a few bumps and bruises. With the arrival of the starships Daedalus and Wolfsong to deliver the station's runabouts and some additional supplies, she would be moving on to the new Starfleet facility on Cardassia Prime, where she could better administrate the affairs of her little JAG fiefdom.
“Lawyers understand paperwork better. Mother never understood why your nose was always in a book.”
“She didn’t much understand you either, did she?” Telka said with a smile. Neither Roylan saw Captain Natale walk up behind them until her shadow fell in front of them.
“I’m glad to see that you’re back on your feet, sir,” the dark orange Orion said, smiling.
“I am glad to have the use of my leg back,” he said, flexing the near-fully healed one he’d almost lost. He had been given a clean bill of health from both Dr. Garcia and Dr. T’Liann of the Trident, both of whom had been surprised that his leg was almost completely healed in just a week.
“So what will you do now, Admiral?”
“First, I must assess the needs of the Cardassians. The eyes of the Federation are upon us, and we must show them that there can be peace.”
“Through hard work and determination there will be,” echoed Telka.
“No, I meant, how are things going to be around here, sir?”
“Your office is safe, Captain. Redecorating is not one of my greater skills.”
“And swordplay is?”
“A hobby, merely,” Tattok assured her. He paused before continuing. “My new ship will soon arrive. I will fight if I must, but I am sure we can help bring peace to the Cardassians.”
“Then I think we’re well on our way, sir.”
“Of course we are. I said that, didn’t I?”