Scapegoat

Gul Lola Traglor strode confidently through the corridors leading to the Upper Pylon 3, where her new ship was docked. Nala Kel followed close behind her, carrying her duffel bag. Their young son, Zan, walked between his parents.

Nala smiled at his mate to see the old spring back in her step. Since her exile and the end of the Dominion War, he'd seen her growing more restless by the day. Her entire attitude had changed since being offered the command of a small Cardassian freighter. Now, she received a new ship, the Kalafana, a Kelvan class cruiser left over from the Dominion War.

"I'm glad you see you happy again, Lola," Nala said. "I'm grateful to Kasidy Yates for offering you an opportunity to return to space again."

Traglor turned to Nala, putting a gentle hand on his forearm. "It's not that I was unhappy before. I am always happy when I am with you. I was bored and I needed a challenge."

"Yes, you aren't the type that can take too much idleness."

" I was all right until I finished writing my memoirs," she said. "After that was finished and my memoirs published, I began to realize that I needed a change. I was completely sick of the sight of Deep Space Nine; the same people, the same shops, the same corridors, and so on."

"You will appreciate your home more when you get the chance be away from it regularly," Nala said. Squeezing her hand, he added, "Zan and I will miss you."

As they reached the airlock where Traglor would board the Kalafana, they found Gul Iniki Melset waiting for them. Melset had been on DS9 for some time, working since the end of the Dominion war with the relief efforts for Cardassia, which had been left in shambles by the retreating Dominion forces.

"Gul Traglor, I am glad that I didn't miss you," Melset said. "I wanted to wish you all the best of luck with your new ship and that you will be able to use this opportunity to serve Cardassia as you did so well in the past."

"Oh. Yes. Of course. Thank you." Traglor's voice was hesitant. It had been so long since she'd thought in terms of serving Cardassia, nor was she thinking in such terms now.

Melset picked up on Traglor's apparent distractedness, but did not comment. She knew that her former protégé would naturally fall into the proper discipline and mindset once she got underway on the new ship. Cardassian training was thorough to the point where discipline came as second nature while on duty.

"I won't keep you from your departure," Melset said. "I know you have a schedule to keep."
"I am grateful for your support," Traglor said. "It has been awhile since I've sat in the command chair."

"I will see you upon your return, then," Melset said, turning to leave. She knew that Traglor would want a private farewell with Nala.

"I look forward to it," Traglor replied.

Melset hurried down the corridor without another word

"Think of me while you're gone," Nala said into Traglor's ear as he embraced her. "I will count the hours until you return."

"As will I," she murmured, giving him a gentle kiss. Breaking away reluctantly, she said, "I have to go. Schedules to meet and all that."

Giving Traglor one final squeeze, he said, "Good luck".

Not wanting to prolong their farewells, the Cardassian woman turned and briskly walked through the airlock. She turned once to give Nala a longing glance, and then disappeared as the ship's hatch slid shut behind her.

A slightly built Cardassian nearly her own height met her as she boarded the ship. "Gul Tanlor….err, Traglor!" he said. "I'm Glinn Tewar, your first officer."

"Ah, a countryman," Traglor said, with the hint of a smile. "It's been a long time since I've heard my name spoken in Varagasi. I've gotten so used to Kardasi Standard, that I even dream in it, now."

"Yes, I understand," Tewar said. Gesturing to a crewmember waiting nearby, he said, "Take the Gul's bags to her quarters."

After the crewman complied, he turned back to Traglor, handing her a padd containing the ship's manifest. "The cargo has already been loaded, having been picked up from both Bajor and Lissepia," he told her. "As you can see, it is mainly building supplies, farming equipment, and foodstuffs."

"Fairly standard items." She handed the padd back to Tewar. "Now, then, let's prepare to get under way. Have the senior officers meet me in the ready room in ten minutes."

"Right away."

A short time later, Traglor entered the ready room. Tewar, along with three other officers stood as she appeared. After seating herself at the head of the table, she gestured to the officers to do the same. The Cardassian woman did not speak, but studied each officer silently. After a long moment she nodded at Tewar to begin the introductions.

Gesturing to his left, Tewar said, "This is Glinn Erston, Second Officer." Moving right along, he continued, "This is Glinn Chagrov, Third Officer and that is Var Gibo, Apprentice Officer." Taking a deep breath, Tewar concluded, "Gentlemen, this is Gul Traglor, Master of the Kalafana.

Traglor nodded unsmilingly at each officer in turn, her hands folded in front of her on the desk.

"Welcome aboard the Kalafana, gentlemen," Traglor said. "As you well know, our mission is to transport supplies, and sometimes, passengers, for the rebuilding of Cardassia. It will be much different from what you might have known aboard military vessels, but it will be no less important."

Taking a deep breath, she continued, "Though this is a merchant vessel, my rules will be the same, regardless. I set a high standard of conduct and efficiency for myself and I expect the same out of each of my crew, from the Chief Officer down to the lowliest crew member. I will do my job, and you would do best to be careful to do yours."

Rising, she said, "That is all, you are dismissed. Before she reached the door, she turned to Glinn Tewar. "Have the ship ready for departure in fifteen minutes."

"Aye, Gul."

After the door had slid shut behind her, Chagrov turned to Erston, "Very haughty, that one."

Erston did not answer, but shifted nervously from foot to foot, hoping that Chief Officer Tewar did not hear him.

For several days, the voyage was uneventful. That was the way Traglor preferred it. She had never been a flamboyant commander. Get the job done quietly and efficiently was her preferred command style. She expected the best from her crews and did not tolerate anything less than their best. Of course, she expected no less from herself. Traglor's promotion to command at an early age, plus her long list of commendations was proof of the efficacy of her attitude and work style.

Nine days into the voyage, Traglor was eager to make delivery of the cargo on Cardassia Prime. They'd made several deliveries at some of the outlying Cardassian colonies that had survived the Dominion War and had only one last stop to make before returning to Deep Space Nine.

Late that night, Traglor finally rose from her command chair. It had been a long day and she was exhausted. The Kalafana had made a stop at Bryma to offload supplies. The manifest had been in error and it had taken several hours to straighten it all out. Traglor despised dealing with petty bureaucrats and was quite relieved to leave Bryma's orbit once everything was in order.

Walking around the bridge, Traglor visited each station, reviewing each computer's readings. Stopping in front of one display, she noted some strange readings.

"Some odd readings here," she noted. "It would seem as if the supernova from the Ceber System has generated quite a bit of planet debris. I'm reading a dense asteroid field that wasn't there before and the radiation readings are off the charts."

"Yes, I've been tracking it for some time," Third Officer Chagrov said. "The field is still moving rapidly out from the Ceber system. Though it has lost some speed, it should pass in front of us and be gone by 0600 hours."

Turning to the helmsman, she ordered, "Full stop."

As the helmsman complied, she turned to Chagrov. "We will stop here for the night. I don't want to get too close to that radiation, nor do I want to risk any chance of damage from the asteroids. Better for Cardassia Prime to get its supplies late than not at all."

"Yes, of course," Chagrov agreed.

Moving to the communications officer, she asked, "What ships are in our vicinity?"

"I just exchanged a message with the Antila," Communications Officer Rilvan said. "They have noted the anomalies due to the supernova and passed along their readings."

"Good," Traglor said. "Anyone else?"

"I've overheard the Itani," Rilvan reported. "They've been sending out a high volume of personal messages in the last few hours."

"Have they mentioned the anomaly?"

"No, just the personal transmissions."

"Send them a message and advise them of the conditions and that we've stopped for the night because of them," Traglor ordered. Not waiting for Rilvan's reply, she headed to the door to the ready room.

"I am going to lie down for a bit on the settee," Traglor told Chagrov. "Let me know if anything unusual happens."

"Of course."

Back at the communications station, Rilvan sent a message to the Itani. Before he could finish, however, the Itani's communication officer snapped back, "Shut up, shut up, I am working Caprac!"

Rilvan frowned, cursing to himself under his breath. Shut up he says! Well, the hell with him! I've got to do some routine maintenance on this station anyway. I did my part -- I tried to warn him. Let Caprac get him out of a mess if that's what he wants! Rising from his seat, Rilvan opened the access panel to the communications station, eased himself down on the floor and began to work.

Some time later, while Chagrov was idly monitoring a sensor station, he noted a rapidly moving blip suddenly appear on the screen. The image faded in and out as interference affected the sensor output. Pressing his wrist communicator, he told Traglor, "I have a fast moving ship that just appeared on the monitor, but I can't get a clear reading on it."

"Give me a minute to check the readings on the monitor in here," Traglor replied, her mind fuzzy with sleep. A moment later, she said, "It seems to be a ship about our size. Has the ship contacted us?"

"No."

"Have Rilvan to hail them and let me know what they say."

"Right away." A moment later Chagrov said, "There is some interference and Rilvan cannot get a message out."

"Have him to try a low band transmission," Traglor said. "Perhaps we can get their attention that way."

A few minutes later, Chagrov reported, "There was no response".

"Keep on trying every now and then until they are out of range," Traglor said. "Let me know if you get a reply and have Rilvan hail them once he gets his system online again."

A short time later Second Officer Erston and Apprentice Officer Gibo came to relieve Chagrov. After bringing them up to date on what had happened during his watch, Chagrov went below to get some much-needed sleep.

After supervising Gibo as he went through all the necessary beginning of watch duties, Erston idly checked the sensor, which was appeared to be functioning normally. As he checked the monitor, he noted a ship which appeared to be stopped within fairly close range of the Kalafana. The sensor indicated it to be a ship similar to his own.

"Sir, I'm getting strange readings," Gibo called out to Erston a few moments later. Erston walked over to Gibo's monitor and commented, "Seems to be a subspace echo". He made no further comments and both men lapsed into silence. About a half hour later, another strange reading appeared on the sensor as Erston was watching it. "I think it must be residue from a volley of photon torpedoes."

"Photon torpedoes?" Gibo said. "I haven't seen any indications of battle out there."

"It could be that the subspace transmitter of the ship firing the torpedoes is malfunctioning and they are attempting to communicate that way. They are probably warning another ship out of our range to avoid the area until the danger has passed."

"Sounds logical to me," Gibo agreed.

Pressing his communicator, Erston reported the anomalous readings to Traglor.

"Has Rilvan repaired his system yet?" Traglor asked, yawning loudly. She'd been in a sound sleep when Erston hailed her, and was still in a haze.

"No, he's still working on it."

"Have him continue to try with the low-band transmission, then," Traglor ordered. "Traglor out."

A few hours later, Erston and Gibo had observed eight indications of photon torpedo fire. Shortly after the last one, the ship Erston had been monitoring by sensor went into warp and disappeared.

Turning to Gibo, he said, "Go into the ready room and bring the Gul up to date on what has happened.

"Yes, sir." Gibo walked slowly toward the ready room door, not eager to wake the sleeping Gul. The young man was somewhat intimidated by her and had been on the receiving end of her sharp tongue one time, when he'd made a blundering series of mistakes. Since that time, he'd avoided her whenever possible.

Gibo entered the ready room quietly and saw that Traglor was sleeping soundly. Not wanting to risk being reprimanded, he backed out the room just as quietly.

As she heard the door swish shut, Traglor mumbled, "What is it?" Not hearing a reply, she drifted back to sleep.

"Did you tell the Gul what I told you to tell her?" Erston asked.

"Yes, sir," Gibo lied. Erston would never know the difference.

Some time later, Glinn Tewar arrived on the bridge to relieve Erston and Gibo.

"Anything to report?" he asked.

"There was another ship stopped further ahead of us for some time, but it eventually left the area," Erston told him. "Communications were down, except for low band transmissions. We tried to hail the ship that way, but there was no reply."

"There was also indication of a series of photon torpedoes fired," Gibo put in.

"From this ship?" Tewar demanded.

"No, I don't think so," Erston said. "It seemed to be coming from further away." Shrugging, he concluded, "I don't suppose it was much."

"Did you notify the Gul?"

"Yes, I sent Gibo with a report."

After Tewar checked in at all the stations around the bridge, Erston formally turned the bridge over to him and went below.

About a half hour later, Tewar went to the ready room to awaken Traglor for the day. As he accompanied her back to the bridge, he brought her up to date on what Erston and Gibo had told him.

"Has Rilvan completely repaired the communications systems?"

"Yes, but he went off duty directly afterwards."

"Have him report to the bridge and to send a general message to see if he can get any further information about that ship and also the photon torpedoes fired last night."

"At once, Gul."

"I am going to the mess hall for breakfast," Traglor told him. "Let me know if Rilvan comes up with anything of interest." As she reached the turbo lift, she turned and added, "Also, check the readings in reference to that anomaly. If the numbers are within acceptable parameters, prepare to resume our course on my order."

As Traglor was eating her breakfast a short time later, she was surprised to see Tewar hurry into the mess hall, closely followed by Rilvan.

"There's been a ship lost," Rilvan burst out.

"Is this so?" Traglor asked Tewar.

"I'm afraid so, Gul," he said.

Rising, she followed them out of the mess hall and headed back to the bridge. "Which ship?" she demanded.

"It was the Itani, commanded by Gul Ejay," Tewar told her. "A large passenger vessel."

"Coordinates?"

When Tewar told her, she swore softly. "What in Klingon Sto-Vo-Kor was that idiot thinking taking his ship into a known anomaly?

"Not only that, Gul," Rilvan broke in. "but I tried to warn them last night of the anomaly and I was told to shut up!" The communications officer still could not believe the nerve of the Itani's communications officer.

Tewar gave Rilvan a sharp glance. A lowly communications officer did not butt into a conversation between a ship's commander and the Chief Officer. Deciding to overlook it this time, he turned to Traglor. "I would imagine he was trying to make a fast passage," he said. "It's rumored that a highly placed Ferengi businessman is offering a large prize to the ship who makes the fastest passage between the colony worlds and Cardassian Prime."

Traglor snorted in disgust. After pausing to look out at the stars from a view port, she asked, "Survivors?"

"Several shielded escape pods managed to escape the danger zone," Tewar reported. "The Arpat, commanded by Gul Stron, is on the scene now recovering pods."

"Has the anomaly yet dissipated to within safe parameters?" Traglor demanded.

"Affirmative."

"Set a course for the Arpat's coordinates," she ordered. "Proceed at once."

Turning to Rilvan, she said, "Contact the Arpat, let them know we are on the way, and ask what we can do to assist."

"Right away, Gul".

Nearly two hours later, as they headed for the Arpat's position, they came upon another freighter stopped in space.

"Contact that ship and see who it is."

A moment later, Rilvan told her, "It's the Untem, commanded by Gul Mor."

"Onscreen."

"What can I do for you, Gul?" Traglor looked up to see Gul Mor, who was at least twenty years her senior.

"Can we be of any assistance?" she asked.

"Thanks for the offer, but we're fine," he assured her. "We got the Itani's distress call last night but could not proceed any further, due to the anomaly."

"Understood. Traglor out."

A few minutes after leaving the Untem, Traglor ordered the Kalafana stopped, as they were within beaming distance of the stopped Arpat, which had just finished beaming the last of the escape pods aboard.

Turning to Rilvan, Traglor ordered, "Hail the Arpat."

A moment later, the face of Gul Stron, a short, wiry Cardassian about ten years older than Traglor appeared on screen.

"Greetings," Traglor said. "This is Gul Traglor of the Kalafana. Can I be of any assistance? We have room for 47 extra people, if you wish to transfer any of the survivors."

"That won't be necessary," Stron replied. "We're just about done here and are about to resume our course." Leaning forward in his command chair, he continued, "However, I would appreciate if you would search the area to see if there are any escape pods we might have missed."

"Yes, of course," Traglor replied, her lips pressed together tightly.

"Thank you," he said.

After the Arpat had gone into warp and resumed its course, the Kalafana combed the area for signs of life. Not discovering any, Traglor ordered the helmsman to resume course three hours later.