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Patriotic Chorus, Part I by Drew Z.


This story and more @ http://wagontrain.livejournal.com/

"See in the skies, flutt'ring before us
What the bright bird of peace is bringing!"
-- Stephen Oliver, "Patriotic Chorus"

"I'm sick. I'm so sick of it." Jamie threw all but her last card onto the table. "Yatzee."

Kyle Jovi eyed his companion wearily. "Uno, Jamie. We're playing Uno." He checked her cards and reluctantly admitted that she had won. "Sick of what?"

"Kuni!" she spat. She flopped back onto Kyle's bed to trace the seams in the bulkhead beside it. "He's so...him!"

Jovi glanced at the clock over his desk and considered reminding Jamie that it was nearing three in the morning. He suspected she wouldn't hear him. Instead, he slumped on the floor next to the desk and waited for Jamie to explain herself.

"It's his quirks, you know?" Jamie said, sitting up abruptly. "He's got all of these little endearments for me: honey-pie, snookums, pookie! It's weird! Why can't he just call me Jamie?"

"He probably thinks that having his own name for you makes his connection to you special," Kyle suggested.

"I mean, look at the man!" Jamie continued. "Sure he's nice and strong, but he isn't all that bright." A sad look came over her face. "Do I really want to wash his underwear for the rest of my life? He has really big underwear." She held out her hands to indicate distance.

"Wait a minute--when did we start talking about lifelong commitment?"

"Exactly!" Jamie cried.

"Did you do this with Gangies, too?" Kyle asked.

"What?"

"When you decided you were done with her, did you do this? Sit back and list everything you didn't like about her?"

Jamie sniffed. "I don't think that's fair. I haven't ditched him." Her tone became haughty. "I'm just trying to candidly examine the possibilities of our relationship."

Kyle shrugged, unimpressed. "This just seemed...familiar."

"You want me to do what?" Kalb asked incredulously.

Alyse Pojman ducked her face down to the table and groaned. "Could you please be a little quiet, Jacob?" she whispered. "I'm being quiet. Why do you think I'm being quiet?"

"You're afraid somebody else might hear your ridiculous idea?" Kalb asked.

Pojman waved her hands frantically. "Yes!" she hissed. Her eyes darted around the mess hall. Kalb gasped as she grabbed his ears and dragged him down to her face. "Listen. I like Kyle."

"He's a sweetie," Kalb agreed. "Could you, ah...?"

Pojman continued, "And it would make me very happy if I could get to know him a little better."

Kalb tried to squirm free. "You could just talk to hi--urk."

"I've tried talking to him, but it always turns into a discussion about work," she said plaintively. "I want to talk to him socially."

"How old are you?" Kalb demanded, breaking away.

Pojman blinked. "Twenty-two. Why?"

"Because you're acting like a school girl, Alyse!" Kalb threw up his hands. "If you want to talk to the man or date him or have his babies or whatever, you have to go do it yourself! I'm not setting you two up on a date!"

Kalb stood and left. Pojman sulked for a few moments, staring out the window. Slowly, a smile grew across her face, then she bolted from the mess hall.

"We have a problem," Lukan said.

Rebecca Gangies looked up from her padd in surprise. "A plague of Tribbles loose on the ship?" she asked mildly. "I could use a pet."

"Storik's started writing again," Lukan groaned, "and now it looks like he's got Pojman helping him."

Gangies dropped her reading on her desk and sat back. "I thought he got that out of his system after he wrote that opera in the style of a Klingon love ballad."

Lukan slumped into a chair opposite Gangies. "I'd never heard a Vulcan sing before. That was impressive, but..."

"It was the throwing things that got me."

"Rebecca, it took three hours to clean up afterwards." Lukan sighed. "And you haven't heard the best part."

"It gets better?" she asked timidly.

"Apparently, he's taken up the style of a late-twentieth century Terran rock show," Lukan said, smirking at the look of horror on his captain's face.

Rebecca spun in her chair and let out a long groan. "Oh, no. No, no, no, no, no..." She stopped and stared, dumbfounded. "I should never have lent him my Queen albums!"

Lukan smiled. “I’m sure that the crew will thank you.”

Ti'Fiano was slowly coming to appreciate the necessity of command, and perhaps even her role in it. She was not coming to appreciate the paper work. It seemed that the forms and regulations were designed solely to keep her trapped in her quarters.

The door chime sounded. "Enter," she said, hiding both her irritation and gratitude behind a mask of apathy.

Lieutenant Kalb marched inside, standing at strict attention. "Sir. On your time, I wish to speak with you. Sir."

Ti'Fiano felt a tug at her lip, but stifled it. "Very well. Speak."

Kalb startled slightly when the chair he had expected was not offered: Ti'Fiano kept no chairs opposite her desk. "Sir. As you know, I am due to begin my supplementary Academy classes within the year."

Ti'Fiano called up Kalb's service record. "Because you are a product of the accelerated sessions utilized by the Academy during the war," she read.

"Yes, sir. Despite my current rank, my commission is not complete until I have finished the last year at the Academy, or equivalent courses elsewhere." Ti'Fiano noticed that Kalb hadn't shifted his gaze from some point just over her short, frosted hair and felt herself gain a modicum of respect for him.

"Yes. You and a dozen other members of the Armstrong's crew." She glanced at him. "What is your point, Lieutenant?"

Somehow Kalb stood straighter. "Sir, I would be honored if you would proctor my proxy classes in tactical history. Sir."

"Why?" The word blurted past her lips before she could stop it, but the question remained, and it seemed to surprise Kalb into moving.

"I..." he started, then gained his wind and continued. "Because you are the senior most officer with the necessary experience and if our tactical credits can't be fulfilled by lessons from you then a great many of us are going to have to spend more time on Earth, away from Armstrong." He gathered his strength. "And...because it could be a great honor to be taught by one such as yourself."

"Lieutenant," Ti'Fiano said coldly. "I am immune to flattery."

Kalb's attention broke entirely. "Sir! No flattery intended. Er...I do not wish to falsely inflate your ego..."

Ti'Fiano sighed. "Perhaps you'd like to tell me what you do mean."

Kalb raised his chin. "Only that you are undoubtedly one of the great heroes of the Dominion War, sir. That you are--"

"Stop," Ti'Fiano snarled.

Startled, Kalb lapsed into silence. Ti'Fiano slowly stood and circled around her desk to stare into the side of his face. She waited and watched sweat form on his forehead.

"You wish," she said lowly, "to emulate me."

"Ah..." Kalb swallowed. "Yes. Yes, sir."

Ti'Fiano leaned closer to him. "You wish for me to teach you of the glories of war and the art of killing."

"...sir...," Kalb choked out.

Abruptly Ti'Fiano turned away and sat again at her desk. "Your request is denied. Please inform any others with similar...aspirations...that their requests are preemptively denied." She called up a file on her computer screen. "Furthermore, you will return to Earth for your classes, where you will be taught that war is not something to be celebrated." Her ice-blue eyes pierced Kalb. "Dismissed. Now."

On later reflection, Kalb realized that not stumbling over his own feet on the way out was the best part of the conference.

"Thank you all for your attendance," Storik said. "It is my sincere hope that all of you appreciated the production."

Gangies rose from her chair and cleared her throat. "It was certainly...it was quite the effort, Storik."

The crew left their seats, either in search of food or to flee the scene of the crime against modern theater entirely.

"Personally, I liked the..."--Kyle paused to search for a word--"...the flow. It felt very natural. I'd never heard anyone segue from 'Tommy' to 'Fame' in such a...unique manner."

Pojman beamed. "I helped with that part. Storik wasn't even going to use 'Fame,' but I convinced him."

"Lucky us," Jamie said lightly.

"I saw 'Fame' during my first year at the Academy," Alyse continued. "I went with a group of friends and the music just blew my mind!"

Kyle nodded. "I remember going to musicals at the Academy. Back then, I had the biggest crush on Jayme."

"Grk," Alyse choked out, wide eyes on Cordiou.

"Jayme Miranda," Jovi continued, heedless of Alyse's sudden discomfort. "She had the most expressive eyes and the prettiest smile." He sighed. "But she got together with Moll Enor and I hear that they're both pretty happy now."

"Too bad," said Pojman, relaxing a little as her heart started again.

Rebecca Gangies could tell that something was wrong when Ti'Fiano stiffened at her station. Across the bridge, Chief Cordiou glanced over at the flicker of motion. Gangies rotated her chair and waited while the commander frowned at her panel.

"We've received word from the Concordia, flag ship of the Eighth Fleet," Ti'Fiano announced.

"Our good friends," Kyle muttered.

Ti'Fiano continued, "We are ordered to make best speed and join the fleet at Starbase Three Seventy-Five to prepare for combat operations."

The bridge was silent for a moment before Gangies asked, "Excuse me?"

"The orders are confirmed," Ti'Fiano said.

"All right...," Gangies said. "Kyle, set a course to Starbase Three Seventy-Five and get us there at warp eight. Ti'Fiano, get me in contact with the commander of the Concordia and Captain Orsini on the Odyssey. I want to know what's going on here."

Kyle shook his head as he plotted the course. "Who's left to fight?" he asked. "Maybe all the folks in the Eighth have been too busy waving the flag to notice, but the Cardassians really aren't in any sort of shape to be a threat."

"As officers it is not our place to question our orders," Ti’Fiano reproached. Her panel beeped and she checked it. "The Odyssey is responding. It seems that Captain Orsini wishes to speak to you."

"I'll take it in my ready room," Gangies said. She stood and let the doors open before her. The screen on the wall blinked the Starfleet emblem and at Gangies' command it faded to the face of Jace Orsini.

"I take it you've gotten our orders?" he asked lightly.

Gangies nodded, pacing in front of the screen. "What is this about? What threat is there that would require the assembly of the entire Eighth Fleet?"

Orsini shook his head. "I don't know and drawing conclusions from incomplete information is a dangerous waste of time. I suspect that we'll find out soon enough."

"Understood. Will the Tetsuo join us at the rendezvous?" Gangies asked.

Orsini nodded. "Yes. In the meantime, I have a ship to ready. We'll see you at Starbase Three Seventy-Five, Captain."

The screen shifted back to the Starfleet delta and Gangies sat heavily in her seat. After a moment, she began calling up tactical information on Dominion vessels.

"My money's on the Klingons," Kuni Acots said. "I heard they weren't too satisfied with what they got in the Treaty of Bajor." He nodded confidently. "Assembling the Eighth is probably just a show of force, to make them back down."

"My God. It's the Jem'Hadar." Jamie's words silenced the table and she glanced around uncomfortably. "That's got to be it, doesn't it? Why else would Starfleet assemble an entire combat fleet? The Dominion is coming back through the wormhole and we're al--"

"Jamie, shut up," Aaron Korma said. "The Dominion War is over. There's some other reason."

Alyse Pojman glanced around worriedly. "What if..."

"If," Kalb stressed. "Alyse, if the Dominion is back then we'll fight them."

"And we'll die," Jamie said. "Remember why I got my job? It's 'cause everyone else was dead!"

"Snookums!" Kuni hissed.

"Look," Pojman said simply. The others followed her gaze to the viewport and a hush fell over the mess hall. Like sharks, the gleaming hulls of a hundred starships hung in space.

"You know," Korma said, "the last time we saw the Eighth Fleet, I was much happier about it."

"Or maybe the Breen," Jamie whispered. "Starfleet didn't make much of an effort to disarm them and the Romulans say that you should never turn your back on one. And if the Romulans think that they're untrustworthy..."

That gave Kalb pause. "You know, nobody's even seen one outside of its encounter suit. We don't even know what they look like."

"Maybe they're angels!" Pojman exclaimed with forced enthusiasm. She glanced uncertainly from harsh look to harsh look. "Sorry."

"Kyle?" Alyse considered thumbing the door chime again. She shifted nervously from foot to foot and jumped a little when she heard, "Enter."

The room was dark, except for the harsh glow from the computer monitor. Kyle sat hunched before it. "Kyle?" Alyse asked as she crept in.

With a start he turned. "Oh. Alyse. I was just going over some data."

"Those are combat recordings," Alyse said. She squinted. On the screen a Miranda-class starship broke formation and plunged into a line of Cardassian and Dominion warships. To its right was a Defiant-class and beyond that another Miranda. There was a flash and the second Miranda spun out of control, the forward half of its saucer destroyed by a polaron beam. A second later the camera ship was pierced by a beam and tumbled end over end as it was hammered from behind. The Defiant flew on.

"See, that's what you aren't supposed to do," Kyle said with a nervous laugh. "That was the Sitak, destroyed in the blockade run during Operation Return. The Venture was over there." He pointed to the lower edge of the screen.

Alyse reached past him and pulled up the other open files. "Kyle...there are hours worth of replays here."

Kyle's head bobbed quickly. "I'm watching everything Starfleet Tactical has on Jem'Hadar ships. I want to see how they fly and how other helmsmen flew small ships like this against them." The screen switched to a Saber-class dodging a Cardassian picket ship and dropping two torpedoes into it as it passed. "When I fought the Jem'Hadar, I was flying the Venture. She was great, but piloting her was completely different than piloting Armstrong."

The tremor in his voice betrayed something worse, and Alyse leaned in. "Kyle...?"

"I’ve been in contact with other helm officers in the Fleet stationed on small ships like ours, asking how they fought against the Jem'Hadar. They've given me a few good ideas--"

"Kyle!" Alyse cried. "What are you doing?" She glanced around the room: clothes were strewn on the floor and at least one meal's worth of plates sat on the desk next to the computer.

He stared at her wordlessly for a minute. "It's the Jem'Hadar," he whispered. "It's them. They're back." He shuddered. "I know it. You don't know what it's like, Alyse. They're killing machines. I don't know that we can stop them again, I don't--"

Alyse placed a single finger over Kyle's lips. "We don't know that it's the Dominion," she whispered. "I know it's scary--I was on the Armstrong through the last four months of the war. But, Kyle, we have to be ready, not...not scared. Not like this." She turned her face, shying away from what she was about to say. "I'm scared, seeing you like this."

Kyle looked away and Alyse let the silence run its course. Then, slowly, she pushed his arms aside and sat in his lap. Her fingers worked the control panel and a new image played on the screen. A squadron of Klingon birds of prey dove into a cloud of attack ships. Shots of emerald and amethyst were exchanged until a Jem'Hadar ship pulled up and rammed one of the birds of prey. "Look at that," Alyse said, pointing to the sensor readings alongside the video. "Two and a half seconds before impact, they diverted power from their weapons, life support, and shielding into the engines." She looked back. "Do you think you could hit one of those things in two and a half seconds?"

Kyle watched the replay again. A wry smile began to form on his face. "Well...sure," he began quietly. "When I was on the Venture, we got pretty good at it. Muzillia and myself. I'd line up the attack ships so we could get the forward torpedo bay to bear and Muzillia would just rip them up." He nodded. "Yeah. It's just the Jem'Hadar. We beat them before and we've had time to get ready for them. You hear that they're starting production runs of Defiant and Sovereign-class starships?" He smirked. "We'll be ready."

Alyse smiled at him, then watched as his face fell. "Please don't let it be them," he whispered.

Cordiou dashed into the situation room, trying to look casual and failing utterly. Seated around the table were Hovin, Lukan, Jovi, and Ti'Fiano, with Gangies sitting at its head. Behind her stood a dour-looking man with the rank pips of captain on his collar. Embarrassed, Jamie sat quickly.

Gangies' gaze flickered over her officers before she spoke. "There have been a lot of rumors running around the ship since news of the fleet assembly was made public. I have received word from Admiral Tolwyn on the Concordia that the threat we're facing is not the Dominion."

Lukan, Cordiou, Hovin, and Jovi all deflated a little at the news. Ti'Fiano remained impassive.

"I'm more than a little relieved myself. We won't be facing the Jem'Hadar," Gangies said. "Not today and hopefully not ever again. Regardless, I'd like to introduce Captain Dorminu of the starship Kaneda."

Captain Dorminu nodded his thanks and spoke. "This briefing is being given to every command staff in the Eighth Fleet. At three hundred hours yesterday, the starship Ulysses picked up an automated distress signal from the starship Budapest while on patrol near Almatha." He gazed levelly at each of the officers. "By the time Ulysses arrived, the Budapest had been destroyed. There were no survivors."

"My God," Jovi whispered.

Dorminu continued, "The Himalaya was called in to take detailed scans of the wreckage, and one thing is evident from them. The attackers who destroyed the Budapest were Cardassian."

"Not to contradict the fine crew of the Himalaya," Lukan said, "but we've seen the state of the Cardassian people. There's no will to fight left in them."

"I understand your concern, but our evidence is fairly conclusive," Dorminu replied. "Throughout that day, the Hathaway registered eight Cardassian vessels, theoretically cargo ships, in the area that the Budapest was destroyed. We consider each of them suspect."

"Which is where we come in," Gangies said. "The Fleet doesn't want any ships searching alone, so we've been paired with the Kaneda in the hunt for those eight ships."

"Eight ships in the whole of Cardassian space?" Hovin asked quietly. "They've had plenty of time. They could be anywhere by now."

"Which is why the entirety of the Eighth Fleet is here now," Dorminu said. "That many ships will make our job that much easier."

"Now they realize it," Jovi muttered under his breath.

Gangies shot him a look and cleared her throat. "We'll be underway within two hours. Jamie, I want the sensors at top efficiency. Kyle, Ti'Fiano, I want the two of you to work through tactical simulations of how to disable and capture whatever type of vessel the Cardassians could be using. Got it?" There were nods all around. "Good. Go."

Jovi drummed his fingers on the helm console and eyed the viewscreen warily. "It's been a while since I had to fly in formation," he said.

"What's our time?" Gangies asked.

Ti'Fiano checked her board. "We will intercept the Brakar in seven minutes. The Kaneda has hailed Gul Ocett and ordered her to stand down."

Gangies stood and stepped around the helm position to get a closer view of the Galor-class vessel. "Commander," she said, "I want you to go to the Kaneda and join the conversation with the Gul. You've spoken with her before. Kyle, go with her." Ti'Fiano nodded sharply and turned on her heel to leave the bridge. Jovi hurried to catch up with her.

Ensign Vossler caught Ti’Fiano’s eye as they entered the transporter room. "Kaneda reports that Gul Ocett has come aboard and that they're ready for you," he said from behind the transporter console.

Ti'Fiano stood on the transporter pad and adjusted the phaser on her belt. "Energize when ready."

"Ah, sir?" Vossler said. "I don't think you'll need that phaser."

Jovi shook his head and Ti'Fiano pierced the man with her icy eyes. "You may energize now, Ensign."

The room around them disappeared into silver and once they could see again they stood in a room much like the one they had just left. A man with commander pips smiled up at them and held out a hand. "Well, welcome aboard. I'm Commander Lanlau."

Ti'Fiano stepped off the pad and took his hand. "Captain Gangies wished us to assist in questioning Gul Ocett. Where is she?"

"Ah...," Lanlau said, beginning to feel his fingers chill from a lack of circulation. "Well, Captain Gangies must run a tight ship." He extracted his hand and, rubbing his fingers, led them from the transporter room. "We've got the Cardassian in the conference room. Follow me."

The first thing Jovi noticed about the Kaneda was the hallways. They were one-and-a-half times as wide as Armstrong's and the ceilings seemed just a tiny bit higher. There were more people, yet there was none of the cramped feeling that Jovi had become so familiar with on Armstrong.

Even the turbolifts were bigger.

Lanlau brought them to the bridge and stopped them outside the conference room. "You have to understand, the captain has been very adamant about conducting the interrogation himself. It'd be a very poor idea to interrupt him."

"We are here only to aid and observe," Ti'Fiano said. Lanlau nodded and opened the door.

"I want your crew manifest. I want your inventory. I want your logs for the last two weeks." Dorminu towered over the seated Ocett. "And I want an explanation of why your government ordered the destruction of the Budapest!"

Ocett's eyes slid to her left and she let out a patient sigh. "You want quite a bit, Captain."

"I'm very used to getting what I want," sneered Dorminu.

Jovi and Ti'Fiano seated themselves silently. Ocett noticed Ti'Fiano and turned to face her fully. "Well. Isn't this delightful. You're the charming captain from that little ship, aren't you?"

"First officer," Ti'Fiano corrected evenly. "Though I am interested in the answers you might give to Captain Dorminu's questions."

Ocett leaned back in her chair, her face a study of annoyance. "As you all seem so fond of listening to repetition, I shall tell you again. I cannot tell you why my government ordered this vessel of yours to be destroyed because they did not. The Cardassian people have neither the capability nor the willingness to go to war again." Noticing a smudge on her ebony armor, Ocett wiped at it distractedly. "Although if the captain and crew of this 'Budapest' were as engaging individuals as you yourselves are, I could see how one might wish to have them killed." Jovi stiffened with repressed anger. Dorminu showed less restraint, leaving Ocett to touch the spot of blood over her eye. She raised her chin and suggested, "Or perhaps they provoked their own deaths."

Dorminu's next blow knocked Ocett to the ground. He waited until she had struggled to her knees before kicking her in the face. "Funny that you should mention that."

"Commander...?" Jovi asked, worry quaking into his voice.

Ti'Fiano sat in stony silence, her arms folded across her chest.

Jovi stood. "Captain Dorminu, I think--"

"Shut up, Lieutenant," Dorminu snarled. He reached down and grasped Ocett's hair, pulling her head back. "I'm going to let you go, just this once. Because I'm a nice person."

"I can tell," Ocett whispered hoarsely.

Dorminu dropped the Cardassian to the ground. "Though if I hear--or think that I hear--that you or any of your species had anything to do with the loss of Budapest, then death will be a mercy."

The captain stepped away. Lanlau dragged Ocett to her feet and pulled her out of the room.

The door closed behind them and Jovi burst to his feet. "What the hell was that?" he demanded incredulously.

Dorminu glared across the table in silent anger. Jovi held his gaze, waiting for some sort of answer.

"Interrogating the prisoner," Ti'Fiano replied simply. Ignoring Jovi's sputtering, she turned to Dorminu. "Do you have any other leads?"

"Not for now," Dorminu said, rubbing his knuckles idly. "But it's only a matter of time. Cardassians are brash and stupid. Sooner or later one of them's going to start bragging. Then it'll be all over for them."

Dorminu dismissed Ti'Fiano and Jovi, and Lanlau returned to guide them to the transporter room while Jovi muttered things like, "I cannot believe..." and "What ever happened to..." even as they dematerialized.

"Perhaps, Mr. Jovi, if you explained your point of view in a structured manner, I would be able to understand and empathize." Ti'Fiano decided that Jovi would never realize just how difficult those words were for her, or how appealing the idea of beating him into submission was.

Jovi, for his part, seemed content to sputter for a few moments more. Armstrong's transporter room appeared to be a perfectly acceptable place for the conversation that Ti'Fiano knew Jovi was leading up to, so she let him go on. "Commander," he began finally, "were you and I in the same room there?"

"Of course."

"He was beating a prisoner, Commander! Starfleet has procedures detailing the handling and interrogation of prisoners and they all say that torture is out! We had ruled her out as a suspect! We don't treat innocent people like that!" Jovi's face was turning red and Ti'Fiano was battling her own temper.

She took an steadying breath and spoke with forced calm. "Lieutenant. You seem to have developed the idea that all Cardassians are soft-eyed, pitiable creatures who are in need of our care and defense. Bear in mind that this is the same people, the same government, that sanctioned the creation of metagenic weapons, created situations in which they could capture, torture, and replace good citizens of the Federation, and committed massacres against civilians on worlds like Setlik III and many, many others. All of this without a formal declaration of war. Would you like me to list their atrocities during the Dominion War?"

Jovi shook his head. "Those things don't make each and every Cardassian guilty," he said.

"Of course not. But it does make them suspect. If Gul Ocett does have information regarding the terrorists, then we need to have it now, before they strike again. And yes, it is...wrong...of us to violate our own protocol, but in my judgment, it was a necessary action to ensure the safety of our officers."

"So the ends justify the means?" Kyle asked.

"Mr. Jovi," Ti'Fiano said slowly, "that is the principle upon which I have sacrificed my life."

"Yatzee."

"Now you're doing it on purpose," Kyle said.

Jamie just smirked.

Kyle pulled the cards out of her hand. "Anyway, you've only got seventeen," he said, flipping over a ten and a queen. "I win."

"So she just let him beat on the Cardassian?" Jamie asked. She stood up and stretched her arms, her hand brushing the simple wooden cross mounted over Kyle's bed. Kyle collected the cards before Jamie trampled them.

"Yeah," Kyle said. "She didn't seem...overly disturbed."

Jamie shrugged. "I've been saying that the woman's a psychopath. It's the sort of thing that happens when you think that violence is the solution to everything."

"It's just so damn disturbing. I talked to Gangies about it," Kyle said.

Jamie glanced over irritatedly. "Like she's going to do anything about it?" Kyle looked up in surprise and Jamie spoke quickly to try to cover the venom in her voice. "Nobody can control Ti'Fiano. She's insane."

"Why are you so angry? Is this about Captain Gangies?" Kyle asked.

Jamie looked side-long at him. "Kyle...this was never about 'Captain Gangies.'"

"The Kaneda is hailing us. They say that they've received directions from the Concordia to investigate the rumors of unknown vessels entering the Loval system," Ti'Fiano said. Jovi turned in his chair, irritated at the sound of her voice.

Gangies sat like stone in her command chair. She had said nothing throughout the shift nor during the shift before, for that matter. Her eyes slid over to Ti'Fiano and finally she spoke. "Mr. Jovi. Match the Kaneda's course and speed." Ti'Fiano held her gaze unflinchingly and Gangies abandoned the staring contest to gaze at the viewscreen once more.

Jovi shot a worried look over to Cordiou, who simply looked smug. "Coming out of warp...now," Jovi said.

Ti'Fiano's fingers danced across her panel. "The colony is on Loval IX, a class-U planetoid. The atmosphere is inhospitable to humanoid life; eighty percent of the surface is covered in ammonia oceans--"

Across the bridge, Cordiou yelped in surprise. Ti'Fiano glanced over at her. "It's...it must be very cold there," Cordiou said.

Ti'Fiano shook her head and continued, "The colony is an enclosed environment, supporting three thousand Cardassians." Her board beeped. "Kaneda has hailed the colony."

"Patch us in," Gangies said, allowing herself to become slightly more animated.

Overhead, the voice of Dorminu snarled, "--order you to give up the terrorists. If you do not comply, we will be forced to take action."

"I assure you, Captain, we harbor no criminals here." The speaker sounded not so much old as tired. "We hardly have enough resources for ourselves, let alone off-worlders."

Dorminu's voice took on a frigid tone and Gangies shifted uncomfortably in her chair. "Cardassian...I offer you one last chance to come clean."

"They don't know anything," Kyle whispered.

"We do not--" began the Cardassian.

Dorminu cut him off. "Of course. Tactical, target the colony's life-support systems and fire."

"Dorminu!" Gangies yelled, leaping from her chair. Ti'Fiano's jaw opened in shock, but that was quickly replaced by rage. On the screen, a torpedo fell from orbit and even from space the geyser of gaseous ammonia was visible from the impact point. "Captain, you cannot fire on civilians! Stand down!"

"Gangies," Dorminu said lowly. "I don't really care if you're too pathetic to do what needs to be done. But don't condemn me for not being so weak." The channel cut.

Ti'Fiano said quietly, "Kaneda is continuing to fire on the surface." Her voice was choked and the red alert lights shaded the clenched muscles in her jaw.

Gangies watched the assault and leaned over Jovi's shoulder. "Kyle," she said, gathering her strength, "I want you to target the Kaneda's weapons array and disable it."

"Are you out of your mind?" Cordiou demanded. "We can't fire on another Federation starship!"

Across the bridge, Ti'Fiano sought Gangies' gaze. Her eyes were angry and she spoke in a hush. "Stop them."

"Rebecca," Jovi said, "this is a hell of a time to grow a backbone about fighting. That's an Akira-class starship. We're out-classed, big time." He looked over his board at the view of Kaneda still firing on the planet. "Let's get on with it," he whispered.

"Sound general quarters," Gangies said, sitting in her command chair. "Red alert, all hands to battle stations. This is not a drill."

"Attempting to match our weapons to Kaneda's shield modulations," Ti'Fiano said, "and sending out a distress signal."

"I'm targeting the launchers between their nacelles," Kyle said, "and plotting an attack pattern that will keep us out of the majority of their phaser arcs."

Cordiou checked the ship's status on the situation board behind her. "All decks are secured. Yaysi reports engineering ready."

Gangies' eyes slitted. "Kyle...fire."

Kaneda's shields flared as Armstrong swept in close, hammering at the torpedo launchers. The first pass finished, Kyle pulled the ship around tight and returned to the launchers.

"Incoming hail from the Kaneda," Ti'Fiano said.

The screen shifted from a winding of stars to Dorminu's furious visage. "What the hell is wrong with you, Gangies?!"

"Stand down your attack on the colony, Captain, and I'd be delighted to discuss it with you," Gangies said with a humor she didn't feel.

The channel cut and Armstrong shook violently. Cordiou gasped and began to report, but was interrupted by a sudden lurch in artificial gravity. "Engineering's been hit! We're losing power across the ship."

"Any response to our distress signal?" Gangies asked.

"Plenty," Ti'Fiano replied, "from the Eighth Fleet."

"I can't get through their shields!" Jovi yelled.

"Our forward shields have collapsed," Ti'Fiano said. "Kaneda has captured us in a tractor beam. Reading transport signatures across the ship--"

Six pillars of silver sparkles appeared around the bridge and resolved into security officers. Ti'Fiano tensed, but as Gangies stood she motioned her to stop.

The lead officer trained his weapon on her. "Captain Gangies," he said, "you are under arrest."

 


Proceed to Part II

 

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