Occupied Cardassian Space 53109.5 (February 2376)
“Come about, two-four-three mark one-four, full thrusters.”
The Tamarian helmsman was not executing the order fast enough for the young captain in the center seat. “Come on, D’nas, do it, do it now!”
Captain Sintina Aurelia ignored the chastising glance coming from the Andorian communications officer and instead focused on the tactical display in her armrests. “Karim, the ventral shields of target two are fluctuating.”
“I see it,” the Persian tactical officer replied.
“Torpedoes full spread.”
Aurelia glanced up and onto the screen just long enough to see the massive fireball which moments before had been a Cardassian Galor-class starship. A tiny smile formed on her lips but she afforded herself no time to rejoice. There was still plenty to do.
“Target one is firing a broadside!” Lieutenant Commander Karim Bin Nadal shouted.
Aurelia jumped out of her chair. “Evasive, hard to starboard!”
It was too late. The ship shuddered with such ferocity that the captain was slung to the floor.
Commander Ethan Winslow–who had wisely remained in his seat–quickly leaped to her side, offering the captain his hand.
Aurelia didn’t take it. Instead she shot daggers towards her tactical officer. “Damage report.”
“We’ve taken serious damage to the starboard nacelle. I’m reading power fluctuations all over the ship.”
“Reacquire your target, Mister, and respond in kind.”
“Sir,” Kimula interrupted. “The Keldon has jumped to warp.”
“Stay with them.”
“I cannot,” said D’nas, disappointment evidence in his voice. “The warp drive is not responding.”
“Damn it,” Aurelia cursed. “Bridge to engineering, what the hell is happening down there?”
The reply was not quite as prompt as she had hoped. “I apologize, Captain, but that last hit has severely damaged our starboard nacelle, my team and I are still assessing the damage.”
“Not good, enough, Mister Jinal. I need those engines now.”
“I will do what I can, sir, Jinal out.”
“Commander,” Aurelia said to her first officer. “Get down there and light some fires. I want that warp drive up and running,” she said and looked at the now empty view screen. “I’m not letting another one get away.”
Windslow nodded and left the bridge.
“Commander Bin Nadal, you have the bridge. I’ll be in my ready room,” she said and disappeared into her office before the tactical officer even had a chance to acknowledge.
Bin Nadal exchanged a concerned look with Kimula who decided to take action. She stood from her station and determinedly followed the captain.
“Come,” the impatient voice of Captain Aurelia replied after Kimula had activated the door chime.
The Andorian stepped inside to find her long time friend sitting behind her desk and studying her desktop computer. She looked up. “You here as a friend or a counselor, Lieutenant?”
“A little bit of both.”
“Well I don’t need either right now. I need somebody who can get those damn engines back online, so unless you have some solid background in warp drive engineering I don’t see how you’ll be much help.”
Kimula was not impressed with her gruff demeanor. “I know you have been under a lot of pressure lately so I won’t take offense by what you’ve said.”
The captain relaxed slightly. “I know I’ve been riding them pretty hard but we can’t continue to allow this rag-tag band of Cardie rebels to wreck havoc to the reconstruction efforts. We have to put a stop to this.”
“Sintina, this is not a battle we can win on our own. I think perhaps we should swallow our pride and admit that much.”
“Windslow to Captain Aurelia.”
“Go ahead, Commander.”
“Sir, I’m afraid the damage down here is much more serious than we previously suspected. The warp core is close to losing containment. I suggest we broadcast a distress signal before it might be too late.”
Aurelia began to massage her temples. “Surely it isn’t that bad. There must be a way you can get a handle on it.”
“Perhaps. But it is equally likely that we can’t. There are at least three other Starfleet vessels in proximity which could render assistance. I strongly recommend that we ask for some.”
Aurelia didn’t like the sound of that one bit.
“Pride,” reminded the Andorian in a hushed voice.
The captain sighed. “Fine, Commander, go ahead and get us some help. Aurelia Out,” she said and then looked at her friend. “Happy now?”
“No,” she replied. “I’ll be happy once you stop trying to prove to everyone that you’re good enough to be here.”
“Did it ever occur to you that maybe I’m not? I don’t know why I got this ship or why they sent me out here but lately I just don’t feel up to it. I have the most powerful vessel in the fleet and recently I can’t get anything right. And this is supposed to be what I’m good at. What if somebody, somewhere made a big mistake putting me here? What then, Kimula?”
The Andorian stepped closer. “Who knows, maybe they did make a mistake. Maybe they set you up to fail in the first place. But you are a good captain, Sintina. Maybe you’re not yet great, maybe you’re still learning what it really means to sit in that chair but I’m convinced you are here for a purpose and that purpose is not to give up and it certainly isn’t to fail.”
Aurelia offered a small smile. “I guess we’ll find out eventually, won’t we?”
Enterprise En route to Uliria Prime 53111.2
“You’re practically glowing, Jean-Luc.”
He did but he didn’t care that Deanna Troi had noticed. It was quite obvious, he knew, even to those without telepathic skills. “You could say I feel a sense of renewed hope,” he said.
“You’ve been advertising your mood ever since the end of the Xepolite conference. It doesn’t take a counselor to tell that you’re euphoric about these upcoming talks.”
Picard smiled as he and Deanna Troi at her side walked down the corridor towards a turbolift. “I’ve been dreaming of a chance to get a close look at the Ulirian Cluster since my early days at the Academy. But the Ulirians have always remained close allies of the Cardassians and not in the least bit interested in opening their borders to us. Now that the war is over and the Cardassians are defeated the Ulirians are much more inclined to the idea of allowing Starfleet ships deeper access into their territory.”
Deanna nodded. “They sound like opportunists to me,” she said. “Their allegiances shift anyway the wind blows.”
“They are by no means ready to become part of the Federation but we might be able to lay the groundwork for a fruitful relationship. And if they agree to open their borders we’d be able to explore parts of the Alpha Quadrant we’ve only speculated about before.”
“So is that what this is all about then? A chance to see new worlds again? You planning on putting the key note address you gave at the conference into practice?”
The captain’s expression grew more somber as they both entered the turbolift. “I believe we need to. After the war it’ll be good for people to remember why Starfleet was called into existence in the first place.”
“Riker to Picard,” the first officer’s voices sounded over the ship’s intercom. “The Ulirians have just approved our approach to their home world and send word that they are looking forward to meet you in person.”
“Please extend our gratitude, Number One. We’re on our way to the bridge now,” Picard replied.
“Off to brave new worlds,” Deanna Troi said with a smile before the turbolift doors closed.
Agamemnon En route to Starbase 375 53111.7
“I’m not implying that the Dominion War has not changed to some degree the way we see the galaxy and ourselves in it. But I don’t believe that we should radically alter the fundamentals of the Federation or even Starfleet. Space has always been a dangerous place, there have always been wars and there always will be conflicts. Just read some of those logs from Archer, Wesley, Kirk or DeSoto. We have come close to the end more times than we would like to admit.”
Captain Amaya Donners listened intently to her dinner companion in her quarters. They had both only just attended a conference on Xepolite about Starfleet’s role in the post-war Alpha Quadrant and now Agamemnonwas shuttling her fellow captain and close personal friend Michael Owens back to Starbase 375 where Eagle, his own starship, was waiting for him.
“It sounds to me as if somebody took Picard’s speech close to heart,” the radiant, dark-skinned captain said, her brown eyes sparkling like twin stars.
“The man is a great speaker,” Owens replied with a nod. “But regardless of his oratory skills, I believe he made a very decent point. We cannot let the Dominion alter our way of life. We won the war defending it and to give it up now would be as if they had been victorious instead of us.”
She took a sip of Saurian brandy. “It will be difficult not to. You might be right; the Federation has been close to the brink plenty of times before but never this blatantly for such a long period of time. It changes people when they go through something like that. I know it has changed me. I hate to admit it but I can no longer help not seeing a potential threat around every corner. And I know many other captains do too.”
Owens poured some more of the replicated beverage into her glass before emptying the final drops into his own. “That’s only natural. I certainly feel as if I’ve called yellow alerts more frequently after the war than I‘ve ever done before. It’s a transitional phase. As time goes on, we need to recover from this, especially psychologically.”
“The war has decimated our ranks. You’ll find two out of three Starfleet captains out there are young and eager officers who have proven their mettle during bitter battles against the Dominion. That’s what they know and what they’ve come to expect. That’s the new generation of Starfleet.”
“Captain, please report to the bridge.”
Both Donners and Owens stood upon hearing the first officer’s voice.
Amaya grinned. “I think he means me.”
“This is Donners, what’s happening, Arden?”
“We’re receiving a distress signal from the USS Independence, I’ve ordered a course change.”
“Very well, I’m on my way,” said Donners and headed for the doors. When she looked back she found Owens still standing by the table with an obvious eagerness mirrored in his eyes. She gave him a beaming smile. “You can come along if you wish.”
Owens shrugged in an unsuccessful attempt to appear indifferent. “Sure why not,” he said and followed her.
“You may want to call a yellow alert, just in case.”
Aegis Occupied Cardassian Space 53112.4
“Sir, we’re approaching the Independence,” reported Juanita Rojas, the helm officer of the USS Aegis.
“Slow to quarter impulse,” ordered first officer Lieutenant Commander Cherenkov.
Rojas complied and the tactical cruiser dropped out of warp just minutes away from the similar-sized Starfleet vessel.
An appreciative whistle escaped Tai Donner’s lips when he spotted the blade shaped starship on the main view screen. “Interceptor-class. Not many of those around. They pack some serious firepower,” said the Angosian tactical officer.
Captain Terrence Glover smoothly stood from his chair. “No reason to get jealous. Lieutenant, what’s their status?”
“They’ve suffered damage to their starboard warp nacelle and I read alarming power fluctuations in their containment field,” Jasmine Mendes-Glover replied from operations. She kept her tone perfectly even, concealing the fact that she was more to the captain than just another officer.
“Looks like Starfleet may have launched a ship that wasn’t quite ready yet,” said the Russian first officer.
“Hail them, Lieutenant,”
Within moments the captain of the Independence appeared on the view screen. The short woman of Hispanic origin didn’t quite strike the image of the commanding officer of one of Starfleet’s most powerful vessels.
“This is Captain Glover from the Aegis, Captain Aurelia, I presume.”
The woman nodded. “Captain, thank you for responding so promptly,”she replied in a clipped tone.
Glover and Cherenkov exchanged a quick glance. This was not a woman who liked asking others for help. Glover found her immediately more likeable. “I understand two other ships are on their way,” he said and was certain he could see her roll her eyes. “But perhaps we’ll be able to assist you before they get here. I have the upmost confidence in my chief engineer.”
“We’d be grateful for any assistance you could render.”
Glover nodded. “I have Commander Uhnari beam over with a team and supplies immediately. May I ask who did this to you?”
Aurelia was quite obviously not happy to answer that question. “Damn Cardies,” she said after some hesitation. “We were hunting down some surprisingly well armed insurgents. They got me on a bad day.”
Aegis’ captain smirked. He was not surprised by the insurgents however. He had painfully learned that their organizational skills as well as their resources had been dangerously underrated by Intelligence. “Alright, Captain, hopefully we’ll have you back in shipshape in no time. I would also like to hear more about those insurgent ships. I wouldn’t mind in the least to track them down and finish them for good.”
There was a glint in Aurelia’s eyes. “Now you’re speaking my language, Captain.”
Agamemnon Occupied Cardassian Space 53113.2
“ETA to the Independence, two hours, twenty-five minutes. The Aegis and the Sutherland have also responded to the distress signal,” said Commander Arden Texx, the Bolian first officer. “Looks like it’s going to be one big happy family gathering.”
Donners noticed Owens’ frown. “Something wrong?”
“I know Shelby.”
Donners’ grin widened. “Michael, I don’t think there is a person in the fleet who hasn’t heard of Captain Elizabeth Shelby and the Sutherland. I hardly think she’ll force you to come to a party.”
He shook his head. “That’s not what I meant.”
She gave him a quizzical expression.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Alright,” she said and looked back at the screen which currently showed nothing but the stars streaking by. “Glover is commanding the Aegis. I’ve met him a few times while I was working for his father on DS5. Not a bad looking man at all.”
The gorgeous, dark-skinned captain got a kick out of Owens’ scowl.
“We’re receiving a priority one message from the Enterprise,” reported Lieutenant Mer’iab, the avian tactical officer.
Donners squared her shoulders. “Put it on screen.”
“It’s addressed to Captain Owens, sir,” Mer’iab said with surprise evident in his tone.
Owens shared the sentiment and communicated that to Amaya by shooting her a puzzled expression.
“Take my ready room,” she suggested.
He nodded and headed to the captain's office immediately adjacent to the bridge. He stepped inside, walked past the wall decorated with ancient African tribal masks and a model of the late USS Columbia on which he had shortly served alongside Donners and then sat down in her chair.
Activating the computer screen he soon found himself faced with the image of Captain Jean-Luc Picard. “Sir, it’s a pleasure seeing you again.”
Picard smiled. “Michael, I hope you are well.”
Owens nodded but couldn’t help wondering at which point they had gotten to first name basis. This was the first time he had spoken to the legendary captain alone. “I am, thank you.”
“Very good. I know we didn’t get a chance to speak much at the conference but I very much appreciated your observations.”
“I found your speech on the current state of the Federation enlightening. But am I correct in assuming that you haven’t contacted me for a follow up conversation?”
The bald captain’s facial features hardened. “Not this time, I’m afraid. I am contacting you in regards to an intricate matter which will require a certain degree of finesse. And it is something I would like you to bear in mind over the coming hours.”
“I don’t quite follow.”
“As you may be aware there has been increased activity by Cardassian insurgents in this sector. However, what you may not know is that many believe that they are operating out of Ulirian controlled space.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong but aren’t you in negotiations with the Ulirians at the moment?”
“Precisely,” Picard replied. “In fact we have been trying to deal with the notoriously difficult and mistrusting Ulirian government for decades. This might be the first time that they will agree to a permanent peace treaty and for provisions to allow our vessels to cross their territory, a vital stepping stone in our long term plans to gain access to deeper parts of the quadrant.”
“And you are concerned that operations against Cardassians hiding in Ulirian territory might endanger those prospects?”
Picard nodded. “The Ulirians have been close allies with the Cardassians for at least a century. Captain, we have a potential powder keg at our hands here and I’d like you to make sure it won’t be lit. I detest the insurgency as much as anyonebut we have to make sure that the fight stays in Cardassian territory for now.”
“I understand what you’re saying, sir, but I don’t know why you are coming to me.”
At this the veteran Starfleet captain offered a smile. “In short, I trust you, Michael. There are a lot of people out there who would like nothing more than to hunt down the insurgents no matter the political consequences. Their dedication is admirable but misplaced. I have Admiral Ross’ approval for this but he’s currently too involved in other matters to give this his full attention and I am tied up here.”
“I will do what I can, sir.”
“I’m sure you will, Captain. Good luck. Picard out.”
And with that his image disappeared from the screen and Owens leaned back in his chair, a heavy sigh escaping his lips.
Agamemnon Rendezvousing with Independence, Aegis and Sutherland 53113.3
Four starship captains sat around the conference table in Agamemnon’s observation lounge and none of them looked particularly happy to be there.
“I have to be honest,” said Terrence Glover. “I don’t understand why Captain Owens has been put in charge. I’m certain he is not the officer with the highest seniority in this room.”
Michael Owens was the only captain who had decided to keep standing. It hadn’t seemed right to take the head of the table which was reserved for Donners but he didn’t want to sit at her side either.
“Not to mention that he’s the only one here without a ship,” added Aurelia.
“Perhaps that makes him the best candidate,” said Donners. “He is the only one who can afford to remain impartial.”
“Yeah, right,” mumbled the Hispanic captain. She had noticed the looks between the captain of the Agamemnon and Michael Owens and they certainly were not of the impartial kind. It was obvious the two of them were close and while they did an admirable job to try and hide it, she suspected they were more than friends. “Regulations seem pretty clear to me. In a situation such as this, the captain of the tactically most superior vessel should assume command of all joint operations.”
Elizabeth Shelby leaned forward slightly. “And who would that be? You? Captain Glover? Donners? What do you suggest we do, have a challenge to find out whose ship is strongest?”
Aurelia shrugged and leaned back in her chair. “As far as I’m concerned the Interceptor-class is the most powerful vessel of its kind currently in this sector.”
Glover smirked. “Clearly you haven’t witnessed the multi-vector assault of a Prometheus yet.”
“And let’s not forget that the Independence is the only vessel which has already sustained battle damage.”
Aurelia shot Donners a glare for that comment.
Owens cleared his throat. “We could sit here and squabble for the next few days over which ship should take the lead and who should be in command or we could focus on trying to hunt down this insurgent ship before it can do any more damage.”
“Ships,” corrected Glover. “A small fleet of vessels from what we’ve been able to establish. So far they’ve been attacking supply convoys headed for Cardassia and other planets all over the sector. Captain Aurelia has taken at least two of them out of commission but there are more.”
Shelby nodded. “And from what we’ve been able to find out their base of operations is a planet in the Lekuta system.”
“That’s in Ulirian controlled space,” said Donners and aimed a concerned look at Owens.
“So what?” said Aurelia. “Let’s go in there, take out their base and any ships making port there and get out. With our numbers it should be an easy enough operation.”
But Owens shook his head. “Picard was quite clear about that point. We are not to endanger the Federation-Ulirian peace talks by violating their territory.”
“So let me get this straight,” Glover began, straightening up his impressive shoulders as he spoke. “We’re going to ignore the insurgents which are killing our relief workers in increasing numbers so that Captain Picard can get another few stellar phenomena to study?”
“This is not just about exploring new territories,” replied Owens, meeting the dark-skinned captain’s steely gaze. “By establishing peaceful relations with the Ulirians we will gain access to resources which could become invaluable to the reconstruction effort of Cardassia and many other worlds affected by the war.”
Shelby wasn’t buying it. “Maybe in two or three years from now,” the blonde-haired captain said. “But we need to think about right now. I respect Captain Picard a great deal, I am proud to be able to say that I had a chance to serve under his command but I’m also the first to say that he’s wrong on this one. We have to squash the insurgency and we have to do it before it has a chance to develop into something much worse.”
The room fell quiet for a minute as an unspoken agreement spread across the majority of starship captains.
“The orders are not to cross into Ulirian territory and I intend to stand by those,” Owens finally declared resolutely.
The other captains didn’t hide their disagreement but before they could voice them Amaya Donners spoke up. “What if we could get into the Lekuta system without the Ulirians ever knowing about it?”
“How?” Owens asked.
She stood from the head of the table and walked to the computer screen embedded in the rear wall. She activated the screen and quickly brought up a map of the sector, including their position and the Lekuta system.
“The Ulirians don’t rank very high on the overall technology index. In fact most of their warships use technology they have acquired from the Cardassians. Their weapons and shielding are quite good but they lack decent sensors.”
Shelby was intrigued. “Are you suggesting we could sneak into Lekuta unnoticed?”
She nodded. “Perhaps,” she said and manipulated the controls to zoom into a neighboring star system. “Lekuta itself has no Ulirian colonies and their nearest outpost is a fleet repair station some point three light years away in the Trexia system. They have no active long range sensors monitoring Lekuta.”
“No doubt to maintain plausible deniability,” said Glover.
“All we need to do is find a way to interfere with their sensors at this repair station,” she said, pointing at the outpost on the screen. “And then quickly strike the insurgent base in the Lekuta system. They’ll never be the wiser.”
All eyes in the room wandered towards Owens who took his time to contemplate the suggestion. He didn’t like it but he felt a compromise was in order. Perhaps it was possible to have it both ways after all.
“Very well but we do this my way,” he said firmly. “There’ll be no deviations of any kind.”
The captains nodded.
A few minutes later the room had emptied out as each captain returned to their ship to make preparations for what was to come. Only Michael Owens and Amaya remained.
“If I didn’t know any better I’d almost say you enjoyed that,” she said.
Owens smirked. “What, telling other captains what to do? Maybe I could get used to the idea.”
“I’ve heard the rumors going around, don’t even try to deny them. Your father served Starfleet with distinction as an admiral so naturally they think that his son will make a good one too.”
“I’m not the only admiral’s son around. Terrence Glover’s father is head of Starfleet Security.”
“Yes but Picard has asked you,” she shot back.
Owens shook his head as he headed for the door. “I like Eagle and I have no plans to go anywhere for the time being. For now I’ll be happy if I make it through this without a trip to the gallows.”
Sutherland Approaching Ulirian repair station, Trexia System 53114.1
Elizabeth Shelby looked over to her right to find a squirming Commander Sam Lavelle in the chair next to her.
“You’re not getting nervous on me, Sam, are you?”
The Canadian first officer quickly stopped and sat up straighter in his chair. “Not at all. I’m still getting used to this seat, it isn’t as comfortable as the helm.”
“I’m sure you break it in eventually,” replied Maria Django from her post which Lavelle had used to occupy. “If not you can always sit on my lap.”
Lavelle frowned but when Shelby laughed he didn’t manage to maintain his disposition. “That might be more comfortable for me, Lieutenant, but how ‘bout you?”
The lithe woman shrugged with a playful smile on her lips “You know I can take it.”
“Captain, we’re approaching the repair station,” Sito Jaxa reported from her tactical board.
“Alright people, show time. Let’s put on our serious faces,” she said.
“Bridge to engineering,” said Lavelle. “How do our nacelles look, Jadon?”
The response came promptly. “We’re radiating like a Deltan in heat.”
Lavelle just shook his head at the inappropriate metaphor. “Am I glad Anara isn’t around anymore to hear this kind of talk,” he whispered to Shelby.
“Please tell me we’re going to get this over with quick,” the engineer continued. “I can’t stand seeing my engines in this kind of pain.”
“Hang in there, Jadon,” Shelby said. “With some luck this will all be over with in a jiffy. Bridge out,” the captain said and stood. She straightened her uniform jacket. “Lieutenant Sito, please hail the station. Inform them that we’ve had a serious radiation leak in our warp nacelles and that we’re requesting assistance. Sell it.”
“Don’t worry, sir. I’ll give‘em a command performance.”
Shelby nodded. “Maria, bring us in nice and close. Make sure to position us right next to their main sensor platform. Run the script, people.”
Agamemnon Holding position outside Ulirian space 53114.2
“The Sutherland has achieved her position,” Commander Texx said.
“Is it working?” asked Owens.
“They’re generating enough interference to blind the Argus array. I can hardly even make them out anymore,” said Agamemnon’s first officer after checking the ship’s sensors.
Donners sat down in her chair. “So far so good.”
Owens nodded. “Send the signal to Aegis to proceed.”
Aegis Entering Lekuta system 53114.3
“It’s the third planet,” Jasmine said. “I’m detecting several satellites and small orbital installations.”
“Good job,” said Glover. “Let’s do this quickly. Red Alert, raise shields and ready weapons.”
The bridge alert klaxons came to life instantly, accompanied by flashing red lights.
“Lieutenant Rojas,” said Cherenkov and stood, “Take us in fast. Donar, advise the Independence to follow our lead and to watch out for other ships in the system.”
The two officers acknowledged.
Lieutenant Commander Pell Ojana sat down in the chair to the left of the captain once the first officer had left the command area to help out at tactical. The Bajoran leaned in towards Glover. “You haven’t said much since coming back from the Agamemnon. I take it the meeting didn’t go over all too well.”
“Nothing escapes your sharp gaze, does it?” he shot back sarcastically.
“Your projecting, Terrence,” she said quietly. “And there is no point in letting others suffer for you bad mood.”
He nodded reluctantly. “I guess I need to work on that.”
“All weapons ready,” reported Cherenkov. “Vector-mode?”
“No. We want to keep our profile as small as possible,” replied the captain.
“Let me guess,” Pell said. “You locked horns with the other captains.”
“I just don’t like this sneaking around business,” Glover said. “We shouldn’t come in here like some shadowy intelligence group and try to do things under the radar. We should proudly wave the flag and declare in no uncertain terms that we do not tolerate terrorism. But that’s not how Picard and Owens like to play it. They want us all to get along and think about the next star system we could go and explore. They’re hopelessly stuck in the past.”
“So that’s adding some more captains to the list of people you don’t get along with. Tell me do you have any friends left among your peers?”
“Now that’s just unfair,” he said. “Captain Shelby and I have a good relationship and Aurelia strikes me as a capable person. And I’ve known Donners from her days at DS5 and if she weren’t so loyal to Owens I could see myself getting along with her just fine,” he said but regretted it the moment the words had come over his lips.
His wife had overheard his comments and turned to glare at him. “They’re all female.”
“The satellites are now in weapons range,” reported Lieutenant Donar.
Glover wanted to say something to Jasmine to assure her he hadn’t meant it the way it had sounded but she had already returned to her station. He sighed and stood. “Destroy them.”
Phaser blasts leashed out from the tactical cruiser, cutting down the few satellites in seconds.
“Now entering standard orbit,” said Rojas.
“I’m reading an extensive structure on the northwestern continent and at least half a dozen starships, maybe more. I can’t get a clear reading however due to atmospheric interference,” the tactical officer reported.
“Are they Cardassian?” the captain wanted to know.
“Target the installation.”
But Donar shook his head with frustration. “The targeting scanners are unable to get a clean lock.”
“Captain,” said Jasmine. “I’m reading a native population on the planet close to the Cardassian base. There is a pre-industrialized civilizations scattered all over the continent.
“Mister Donar,” said Glover and turned to his tactical officer. “I want you to manually target the base with quantum torpedoes. They know we’re here by now. Send them a warning. They have forty-five minutes to surrender or we will open fire. And be precise, Tai. I don’t want another Loval on my hands.”
Independence Lekuta System 53114.3
“The Aegis has just sent an ultimatum to the Cardassians on the surface,” said Windslow who was monitoring the other Starfleet ship.
Aurelia nervously tapped the armrest of her chair. “I wish he would just get it over with. We all know they’re not going to surrender.”
“Captain, I’m detecting a Cardassian ship, Keldon-class, entering the system,” said Karim Bin Nadal.
The captain almost jumped out of her seat. “ID that vessel.”
“No question, it’s the same ship we fought earlier,” reported Kimula sh’Somachanar. “They have detected us and are changing course to escape.”
“Not in the mood to come to their brethren’s rescue, huh?” said Aurelia and turned to the Andorian. “Open a channel to the Aegis.”
“They can hear you now.”
“Captain this is Aurelia. You seem to have things under control here. I’m going after that Keldon that has just decided to make a run for it.”
“I hate to point it out but the orders were to stay in the system.”
The Hispanic captain smiled. “You’re playing devil’s advocate now? It looks to me as if the Cardassians are trying to head deeper into Ulirian space. Now that would blow our little secret operation here wide open, don’t you think?”
“Decent point, Captain. Good hunting.”
“And you. Independence out,” she said and took her seat again. “Mister D’nas, set a pursuit course if you please.”
The Tamarian swiftly followed the order.
It took the Independence less than thirty minutes to pick up the warship’s trail again.
“They cannot outrun us,” said D’nas. “Our maximum velocity far exceeds theirs.”
Aurelia studied the tactical information being fed into her armrest console. “Change course one-two-seven mark three-two, increase speed to warp nine point eight six.”
“What are you planning?” asked Windslow.
She smirked. “I want to be able to look them in the eye when we take her down,” she said. “Karim, status of weapons?”
“Pulse cannons and quantum torpedoes are standing by.”
“Change course one-eight-four mark three-three, match our speed to theirs.”
The Tamarian suddenly understood what she had planned. “We will overtake the target in twenty-six seconds.”
“On my mark come about and open fire with everything we’ve got.”
Twenty six seconds passed. And then twenty six more. “Mark.”
Independence performed a full one hundred eighty degree turn to bear down on the Cardassian vessel head on. Worried about a potential warp collision the Cardassian ship dropped to impulse. By then of course it was too late. Independence was right on top of them and unleashed a fierce assortment of phaser pulses and torpedoes.
Aurelia smiled when she saw the Keldon taking a beating at her hand.
“Sir,” Kimula said with urgency. “Our position …”
“What is it, Lieutenant?” asked Windslow when Aurelia didn’t reply right away.
“We’re just outside the Trexia star system. I’m reading Ulirian warships on an intercept course.”
Captain Aurelia stood. “Damn.”
Sutherland Trexia System 53114.4
“How many?” asked Shelby.
“At least six heavy cruisers,” replied Sito. “They will intercept Independence in less than five minutes.”
“They move fast,” said Lavelle.
“We’re being hailed by the station,” the Bajoran said.
“Let’s hear it.”
“Sutherland, you are to hold your current position and under no circumstances are you to move away from this station. If you attempt to do so it will be interpreted as a hostile gesture.”
The first officer raised his eyebrows. “They want to keep us tied up here so they can go after the Independence.”
“Jaxa, does the station represent a danger to this ship?”
She shook her head. “They have a few spiral disruptor arrays but nothing to seriously slow us down.”
“Good,” responded Shelby and looked at her first officer. He knew what she wanted without having to put it into words.
“Jadon, get those engines back online. Game’s over,” Lavelle ordered.
“You’ve got it!”
“Red alert, shields,” Shelby barked. “Set a course for the Independence, full impulse. And brace for incoming fire from the station.”
Agamemnon Outside Ulirian Space 53114.5
“The Ulirian ships have engaged the Independence. Sutherland has now joined the battle,” said Texx, reading the sensor data from a station near his chair.
Owens couldn’t believe it. The plan had fallen apart.
Donners faced him. “What are your orders?” she asked.
But Michael Owens was not paying her any attention. “Commander, have all ships retreat immediately.”
The Bolian tried to execute the order. He shook his head and looked up again. “I don’t think they can. The Independence is reporting that the Ulirians have surrounded them.”
“Where is the Aegis?”
“Still in the Lekuta system. They have now destroyed eighty-five percent of the Cardassian base.”
Donners knew Glover was out of position. “They are too far away,” she said and looked at Owens. “We’re closer.”
Michael Owens walked over to Texx’s computer station, hoping he’d be able to see something the first officer had missed.
“Michael, if you think I’m just going to sit here while our people are being taken apart by–“
He cut her off. “I know, damnit, I know.”
Amaya shot daggers at her friend, silently demanding for him to take action.
Owens nodded reluctantly.
Agamemnon’s captain sat in her chair, her visage a mask of focus on concentration. “Red Alert, battle stations. Helm, take us in. Maximum warp.”
Sutherland Outside Trexia System 53114.5
“Jaxa, target the lead vessel’s weapons and engines,” Shelby said, her voice, firm as steel, her gaze focused on the images of the unfolding battle on the view screen.
“Firing,” replied the petite Bajoran at tactical. Shelby couldn’t see it but there was a spark in her eyes, as if an entirely different personality was trying to assert itself.
The Nebula-class starship peppered the Uliran vessel with phasers and torpedoes. The barrage was a little too heavy for what Shelby had asked for which became even more apparent when small explosions began ripping across the ship’s hull.
“Lieutenant, check your fire. I want to disable them.”
“Sorry, sir,” Sito said slightly flustered. “I overestimated their shield strength.”
Shelby wasn’t quite convinced but there was no time to worry about it now.
“The Independence has just destroyed the Cardassian ship,” said Lavelle after consulting his computer terminal. “They’re now concentrating their fire on the other Ulirians, and they’re not holding anything back.”
The first officer’s report was emphasized seconds later by the image of the Interceptor-class starship closing in tightly on one of the black, arrow-shaped ships and unloading its devastating pulse canons at point blank range. The opposing vessel didn’t stand a chance and was soon consumed in a fiery explosion.
Captain Shelby shook her head slightly but didn’t comment on the event. Instead she was forced to hold on firmly to her seat when Sutherlandshook hard from incoming fire.
Sam Lavelle was thrown out of his seat but quickly recovered.
“Two Ulirians have sneaked up on us,” Sito reported. “Multiple hits to the lateral shields. They’re holding at sixty-seven percent.”
The newly minted first officer jumped into action. “Maria, change your heading to one-three-one mark one-seven-eight.”
Shelby watched carefully as Lavelle issued rapid-fire orders to the crew.
The quick course change had brought Sutherland into an ideal firing position behind one of the enemy ships.
“Jaxa, fire phasers, maximum yield!”
Sutherland flung crimson colored energy bursts towards its target. The sustained blast eventually cut through their shields.
“Ready quantum torpedoes,” Lavelle ordered who had now smelled blood himself. His enemy was vulnerable and he had a chance to take them out before they could do any more damage. He would have to act quickly to take full advantage.
He felt the soft hand of Elizabeth Shelby on his shoulder and turned to look at the shorter woman. Her eyes were surprisingly calm. Only then did he realize what he had lusted for and the eager Sito Jaxa had been only too willing to comply.
“They wouldn’t hesitate,” he said quietly.
“But we do.”
He nodded slowly. “Lieutenant, find their engines and take them out.”
Jaxa acknowledged and within moments the Ulirian warship was dead in the water, no longer possessing the means to propel itself under its own power.
Another hit forced both Lavelle and Shelby to find something to hang on to.
“Shields at fifty-four percent,” Sito said. “Sir, there are still three vessels remaining. We might not be able to get out of this by limiting our fire.”
Shelby didn’t appear concerned as she slowly took her seat.
Lavelle couldn’t help but be irritated by her knowing smile.
“If I read Donners correctly she isn’t the one to stay on the bench when her team needs another player.”
“With all due respect, Captain,” said the first officer, “but what if you’re-“
“Sir, the Agamemnon has just dropped out of warp,” reported Jaxa, cutting off the Canadian officer. “She’s opening fire at the Ulirians.”
Lavelle shook his head with disbelief as he sat down next to the captain. “Does telepathy come with that fourth pip?”
Shelby smiled. “Call it captain’s intuition. Don’t worry, Sam, you’ll get the hang of this soon enough,” she said and patted him on the shoulder.
“The Ulirians are retreating,” said Django. “I think they’ve had enough.”
Shelby nodded. “They’ve made their point,” she said. “Maria, maneuver us discreetly alongside Independence. I don’t want Aurelia to start hunting them down.”
“Captain’s intuition again?” asked Lavelle.
“She’s a good fighter but a bit of a loose canon. We’ve made things bad enough today, no reason to get dragged into an all out war over this.”
“Sir,” reported Jaxa. “Agamemnon is signaling us to retreat into Cardassian territory.”
Lavelle exchanged a quick glance with his captain who gave him a reaffirming nod.
“You’ve heard the lady, Lieutenant Django. Get us out of here.”
“Aye, aye, Commander Lavelle, sir,” replied the Brazilian woman playfully before she entered the new course.
The first officer decided to ignore the jibe. He would have to have a word with the helmsman in private he decided. However he did notice a pensive smirk on Shelby’s lips
“Something funny, Captain?”
“I was just thinking that I’m glad I’m not in Owens’ shoes right now.”
Why his captain found that thought amusing Commander Sam Lavelle did not know.
Agamemnon Occupied Cardassian Space 53115.1
The debriefing was over and Owens sat by himself in the ship’s observation lounge, looking out of the windows at the slowly departing starships.
Amaya Donners entered but Owens didn’t turn to acknowledge her presence.
“The good news is, neither Sutherland nor Independence have reported any casualties. Both ships will be heading for Deep Space Nine for repairs.”
The captain of the Eagle nodded but remained silent.
“Captain Glover confirmed that the insurgent base in the Lekuta system was completely destroyed after they tried to scramble their starships from the surface. He reports no collateral damage occurred.”
“And in the meantime the negotiations with the Ulirians have broken down,” said Owens, still refusing to make eye contact with Donners. “After getting word that Starfleet ships had violated their borders, the Ulirians quickly opened fire on the Enterprise. She barely got out in one piece.”
“I hate to say it but perhaps it is for the best.”
That was not what Michael Owens had wanted to hear and the cold look in his eyes made sure Donners knew it too.
She sat down in a chair next to him. “Shelby was right. This isn’t the time for Starfleet to tiptoe around our neighbors and look bright-eyed towards new places to explore. Our enemies are looking for our weakness now more than ever and we can’t afford to show any. Not in our current condition. The Ulirians might have gotten a bloody nose this time but they’ll know we mean business and they’ll think twice before supporting the insurgency again.”
“So we’re in the business of intimidation now? Is that it? Strike the enemy before he can strike you?”
“Michael, at this point we are in the business of survival and hanging on to what we have left,” she countered.
“So I guess when we were talking about that new breed of Starfleet officers yesterday you forgot to mention that you are one of them,” he said, the accusation in his tone not easily missed.
She stood from her chair. “If by that you mean that I was among those fighting at the front lines day in and day out during the war than the answer is yes. We all did: Glover, Shelby, Aurelia. And I guess it all changed us. Perhaps in a way that people like you and Picard will never fully understand.”
Owens uttered a sarcastic laugh. “People like me?”
“I’m not questioning that you didn’t do your part during the war,” she said, albeit in a softer tone now. “But it wasn’t the same for you as it was for us, Michael.”
The blade-shaped Independence slowly glided passed the windows of the observation lounge. The Interceptor-class starship was in many ways the closest Starfleet had ever come to building a warship.
Owens watched it carefully. “A sign of the changing times.”
Donners shook her head. “They won’t for long. But we need to bring back stability to this sector, to the whole of the quadrant before we can think of pursuing the old ways again.”
“What if we lose the old ways in the process?”
At that she smiled. “With people like you how around to keep us in line how could we?”
“You know,” he said and stood. “Maybe considering those admiral stripes isn’t such a bad idea after all. Maybe they’ll need some clear headed flag officers back at Command to keep an eye on all you brash captains out there,” he added with a smirk.
“Commander Texx to Captain Owens. I have Captain Picard for you on a priority channel.”
“That is if Picard won’t bust you down to cadet before you ever get the chance,” she said, countering with a smirk of her own.
Michael Owens took a deep breath. All of a sudden that possibility sounded extremely conceivable to him.