Imperium in Imperio PT 1

CHAPTER ONE

 

Year 2410

It was almost completely dark in the room, the barren features of the interior were barely recognizable. A small ceiling light and glimpses of passing stars through the large window illuminated the shape of a middle-aged man sitting at a desk, leaning back, his hand holding the lower part of his face. He was looking intensely at a small framed picture before him. A photograph of a woman and two young children, his family. The door chime went off, “Enter!” he replied after a few moments, hiding the picture under the desk.

 

A young female in her late twenties entered the room, carrying a data padd, she stopped in front of the desk, her arms folded behind her back. 

“Sir, everything is in place. Rear Admiral Jessica Pita’s death has gone according to plan.” 

The man nodded and said: 

“Phoenix must take the blame. He must be behind this.”

“Sir, I have made sure Jesse Phoenix will take the fall for Pita’s death. Nothing will point back to us”, replied the female assuringly.   

 

The man, his arm resting again on the desk, holding his head like a pillar a heavy rooftop, he hesitated for a moment, then finally looked up and replies: 

“Good. You are dismissed”, the man told the women. 

She gave a quick respectful nod, then walked out of the room and returned to the bustling corridor, which was revealed beyond the door.

The man straightened up on his chair. 

“Computer, initiate program Omega-1, authorization Jefferson-Gamma-Three-Zero-Four-Nine-Two”, the computer voice interface answered with an affirmative chime, 

“Set a silent countdown for three hours - mark”, said the man. 

 

The computer voice responds: 

“Program initiated. Silent countdown active. There will be no further audio notifications.” 

 

“Bridge to Deputy Director Jefferson”

“Go ahead.”

“Sir, we are dropping out of warp and are about to dock with Starbase 56, they are waiting for you to disembark before we head towards Earth for our refit.” 

“Thank you, Commander Leslie. Tell the Starbase I am on my way to the transporter room”, replied the man, - “Understood, Sir. Bridge out.”

 

Deputy Director William Jefferson stepped out of a turbolift into Ops of Starbase 56. A few young officers were working at their posts, fairly busy, yet eying him immediately. 

A young commander approached him: 

“Welcome aboard, Sir.” - 

“Thank you. What is the status of the U.S.S Valentine?”

“Sir, the U.S.S. Valentine should be here within the next couple of hours. She is traveling from Delta Quadrant. I will inform you when she arrives. As you requested, our Intelligence personnel are finishing up their work meanwhile and will soon be ready to meet you.”

“Thank you, Commander, have them meet me on Deck Four as soon as the Valentine approaches”, Jefferson replied before he left Ops.

 

Four hours later. 

Jefferson was making his way through the starbase corridors, walking fast and firm. Passersby made way for him and his associates. At his side Station Chief Gracie Jones, stern-looking, tough, gushing out her sentences with efficient precision, walking slightly behind was her Deputy, Mettus, a Saurian with pale, green-looking, slightly wrinkled skin, silent and analytical. 

“...sector-wide yellow alert for all Starfleet vessels, tightened security and the package on its way! 

This incident sure stirred up some people”, Jones exclaimed. 

“‘Opened a can of worms’, I should better say, but Mettus here would only find that delicious”, she said, giving her colleague a sly wink. 

Jefferson was not in the mood for humor. 

“You got all your files on hand?”, he asked. - 

“Yes, Sir, everything from our local resources. HQ has sent us what they could find as well, as did Commander Low from the Valentine. We are ready to brief you as soon as we get there.” 

They entered the transporter room and proceeded to get onto the transporter padd.

 

“Sir, the U.S.S. Valentine is ready to receive you all. Standing by to energize on your command”, said the transporter operator.

“Energize!”

 

The three materialized on the transporter padd of the U.S.S. Valentine. The ship’s First Officer standing by, ready to great them. 

“Welcome aboard the U.S.S. Valentine. I am Commander Heather Low, First Officer.”

“Thank you, Commander. I think there will be plenty of time to get acquainted, later. We should get down to business.” 

“Of course, Sir. If you please follow me”, the Commander said.

 

Inside the Valentine’s briefing room, the group has assembled around the table. Additionally, sitting at the table’s end is the ship’s captain, an elderly, slightly frail African man, emanating wisdom, Jeff White. All were listening to the briefing hosted by Low and Mettus. 

 

“By now you all know that three days ago, Rear Admiral Jessica Pita died as a result of a shuttle accident. All reports confirm the shuttle exploded shortly before docking with her ship. Admiral Pita is the sole fatality. As of now, all evidence suggests the explosion was a result of intentional tampering with its fusion cells”, Low referred.

“What intelligence do we have on this attack, Mr. Mettus?”, asked Jefferson.

“Starfleet Intelligence currently believes the individual responsible for this attack is former Deputy Station Chief Jesse Phoenix. We have gathered evidence from his residence, his personal communication terminal and from his quarters at Starfleet Intelligence complex.”

“What makes you so sure? After such a short-lived investigation?” asked Captain Jeff White, speaking for the first time.

“The evidence we collected leaves hardly any room for doubt, Sir. It was a pleasantly efficient investigation”, Mettus answered. 

 

“Where is Jesse Phoenix now?”, Jefferson asked.

“At this time, both Starfleet Security and Starfleet Intelligence are unable to locate him”, Low answered. 

“Intelligence believes he has left Federation space and is hiding in Klingon territory. His last confirmed sighting was on Drozana Station, where he checked in fourteen hours ago. The station’s records confirmed this. It would be reasonable to assume that he could have boarded a commercial vessel heading for Klingon space”, Jones explained.

Commander Low added: 

“There is one more thing. Federation President Aennik Okeg is on his way here, he wants to be briefed personally on the incident.”

 

Captain White looked around, concerned.

“When is he going to arrive?”, he asked.

“The President should be here within the hour, Captain”, the Commander replied.

White and Jefferson shared a look for a moment. 

 

“Alright, that would be all for now, thank you. We will continue this meeting when the President arrives”, Jefferson said while getting up from his seat.

He and his staff left the briefing room, followed by Commander Low. Low and Jones stopped at the door for a moment to look back at Captain Jeff White, who has not left his chair, staring out the windows.

 

Meanwhile, a few lightyears away, the U.S.S. Leeds was coming into view, a sleek and modern ship, not huge, but regal in appearance, the Air Force One of its day, traveling at high warp, stars flying by at tremendous speed.

 

At his quarters Captain Bill Roy was trying to ease his slight apprehension by reading. 

“Bridge to Captain Roy.”

“Roy here, go ahead”, he answered. 

“Sir, sensors are picking up a spatial disturbance directly in our path. Sensors indicate that we won’t be able to form a stable warp field in there. I recommend we drop out of warp, and go at full impulse”, Commander M’Telle responded. 

“Can’t we plot a course around it?”, asked Captain Roy. “Negative, Captain. Whatever that thing is, it is huge, flying around it would be useless, going through at impulse should be the best course of action”, she replied.

“Very well, Commander, take us out of warp, continue our present course at full impulse. How long of a delay will this cause us?”, Captain Roy asked.

On the bridge, Commander M’Telle, an alien-looking female responded: “It will delay us almost two hours.”

Roy’s groaning was audible over the intercom. 

“Inform the U.S.S. Valentine and our VIP guest about our delay. And get the science boy to work on that anomaly, I want to know what is, as soon as I am back on the bridge.”

“Aye, Sir. Commander M’Telle out.” 

She was turning to a now suddenly nervous-looking young man in a bluish uniform sitting at his work station. 

“You heard the man, Ensign. Get to work!”

 

Shortly after Captain Roy stepped out of the turbolift onto the bridge. 

“Report!”, he demanded. 

“The analysis of the anomaly has been inconclusive”, M’Telle replied while vacating the captain’s chair for him.

 

A sudden faint chirping on his console made the Tactical Officer hastily push some buttons.

“Sir, I am picking up tachyon particles all around us. There appears to be several cloaked vessels following us.”

“Can you identify them?”, asks Captain Roy.

“It appears to be about half a dozen vessels, trace signatures suggest both Klingon and Romulan birds-of-prey”, the Tactical Officer answered.

“About? Can we get an exact number?”

“Sir, it’s hard to pinpoint how many vessels, interference from the anomaly is screwing up our sensors. I have been able to count up to fifteen possible contacts now.”  

“Why would the Klingons and the Romulans be attacking us? They would never attack the Federation together…”, said Commander M’Telle.

“Does it matter?”, asked the Captain. 

 

He now began to address a man, who had been silently standing in the corner, almost unnoticed. 

“Inform the package, Major.”

Major Winslow, MACO commander in charge of the President’s security nodded and walked into the turbolift to inform the VIP of the impending attack.

The Captain was now spraying orders.

“Prepare the drones and pre-arm all weapons, raise our shields. - Engineering, do what you can to get me a warp field, will you?”

“Should we go to Red Alert, Captain?”, M’Telle asked.

“No, we don’t want to provoke them. Maybe they are simply paparazzi… Open up a channel to them.”

“No response, Captain.”

After a beat, the Tactical Officer added:

“Several birds-of-prey now distinctly identifiable on an intercept course and they are charging their weapons.” 

“I would say that is a response. Send out a general distress call and stand by to engage the enemy vessels. Battlestations!”, Captain Roy ordered. 

 

The lights on the bridge dimmed out, the enerving Red Alert sound blasting, red-lighted wall panels rhythmically flashing.

 

“The enemy vessels will be in range within thirty seconds”, the Tactical Officer reports, 

“Sir, that just leaves six enemy vessels to deal with.”

The Science Officer soon interrupted: 

“...that is, if there are no more cloaked vessels…”

 

On the bridge of the lead Klingon vessel, I.K.S. Chang, bathed in red light and cold steam, the bridge crew silently awaited their orders to attack, watching the viewscreen, where the Federation ship’s appearance was growing ever larger with them closing in for the kill.

 

“Sa', vIwoH Sotlaw' 'oH vo' DIvI' Duj [General, it seems the crew of the Federation ship becomes agitated and calls for help]”, the Klingon First Officer remarked with relish. 

“bagh Duj? [Which ship is it?]”, the Second Officer asked.

“U.S.S. Leeds. najwI' bopummeH HIv pong tlhIngan 'ej romuluSngan Duj [U.S.S. Leeds. A dream to attack the ship of this name, a testimony to the Romulans]”, the Klingon commander calmly remarked.

“'ar? [How many?]”, the Second Officer wanted to know.

“Duj jagh wa'maH cha' qen Hotlh [Second Officer, the enemy numbered ten ships on the last scan]”, responded the First Officer.

The Klingon commander rose from his chair, putting his hand on his chest, where a fiercely shaped dagger was strapped. 

“DIvI' Duj He HIjmeH. DI' 'emvo' nargh 'ej qul Ha'DIbaH chuq [Full speed towards the Federation vessel. When the beasts are within range, let no one escape.]”

“HIja', Sa' [Yes, General]”, the Second Officer responded.

 

On the bridge of the Valentine, Jefferson was having a chat with the senior crew, when the Communications Officer interrupted them:

“Captain, there is an incoming distress call. 

It’s from the Leeds, they are under attack by cloaked ships!”

“Set an intercept course and engage at maximum warp!”,

Captain White quickly ordered.

 

“Aye Sir, course set, engaging now”, the helm officer reported.

 

Meanwhile, on the U.S.S. Leeds’ bridge, the red alert was going off, hot sparks were spraying from a number of spots on the walls, a few consoles were smoldering, a small fire being extinguished by the automatic suppression system. The bridge crew, though shaken, was largely unharmed, one officer was helping another on his way to sickbay.

 

“Sir, the Klingon vessel is hailing us.”

“Put it on screen”, the Captain ordered while straightening himself from the encounter.

 

The partially damaged viewscreen of the U.S.S. Leeds switched from a blurry star field to the view of a Klingon Vor’cha class bridge, in the center an old Klingon facing them.

 

“General, thank you for your timely assistance”, Captain Roy exclaimed.

 

“Think nothing of it, Captain. Every good Klingon could do none other than trying to avert this cowardly attack”, the General railed with angry disdain.

“The High Council received intelligence that there was going to be such an attack on a key Federation contact and Chancellor J’mpok ordered me to assist”, stated the Klingon General.

CHAPTER TWO

 

Deputy Director Jefferson was glazing into a brightly lit mirror as he finished washing his hands, as the computer beeped informing him that he received a message. He gingerly walked over to his desk and tapped the control panel, extending a small monitor while he sat down on his chair.

 

“Admiral, have I disturbed you?”, asked Major Winslow.

“No, I am fine. Go ahead.”

 

Major Winslow slightly grimaced and hesitated.

 

“Well? Is it done?”, asked Jefferson.

“No. A bunch of Klingons intervened. According to the Klingon general, J’mpok received some intelligence about an impending attack”, Major Winslow said.

“What intelligence?”

“The Klingon general did not say where the intelligence came from. Also, the Leeds’ new point defense weaponry was much more effective in repelling incoming fire, as our analysis predicted. Along with the Klingons, those enemy ships posed no substantial threat.”

 

Jefferson turned away in his chair. After a short while Winslow responded:

“Sir, I have devised a plan B, so-to-speak.”

“No. I am not interested in your ideas. It would look suspicious if another attempt on the President’s life is made. No matter, what is done, is done. You had one job and you failed!”, said the old man.

“Sir, why don…………”, said Winslow.

“No...what is done, is done. It has already been finished”, replied Jefferson.

“What is that supposed to mean?”, asked Winslow.

“I will be meeting up with you soon”, Jefferson replied.

 

He deactivated his communications terminal before Major Winslow could respond. He groaned as he stood up, his knees weren’t as good as they used to be, or maybe it was simply frustration about the incompetence of the people working for him. As he started to pace around in almost complete darkness, the only thing that lit the room was the stars that were passing by the windows. 

 

“I knew he would not be up to his task……… you know what needs to be done”, a second male voice said from a corner of the room.

 

As Jefferson turned in the direction of the person addressing him, he answered:

“Yes, I do, I will contact the Fixer. The Fixer will take care of our little problem.”  

 

He then went back to his computer terminal and hit some buttons and brought up a picture of a plain-looking man in his thirties with brown hair.

“Sir, how can I help you today?”

“Major Winslow failed his assignment and needs to be taken care of and soon”, Jefferson told him.

“I will fix it, consider this matter taken care of.”

The image on the monitor went black again.

 

On his way to the turbolift down the corridor, Jefferson had hardly passed any crewmembers and those who showed were looking very apprehensive. The death of the admiral heading Starfleet Intelligence and an attack on the President’s ship made everyone feel a little uneasy. 

 

A few hours later.

Once again Deputy Director Jefferson and his associates, Jones and Mettus have assembled in the Valentine’s briefing room, Captain White and Commander Low were also attending. Everyone was waiting silently.

The door opened and a group flocked in, guards, aides, assistants, some carrying suitcases with built-in communication equipment, data padds, etc. The last person stepping through the door, a short and elderly, light blue-skinned Saurian took a seat at the end of the conference table. 

The others had risen from their seats, Captain White and Deputy Director Jefferson approached the Federation President Aennik Okeg.

 

“Sir, welcome aboard U.S.S. Valentine. It’s good to see you up and well”, Captain White exclaimed.

“Thank you, Captain. But please, let us not talk about my well-being after this little mishap on the way here.”

He gestured for everyone to sit down.

 

“I just want to know what happened and why.”

 

Jefferson rose to speak:

 

“Sir, as of this moment we have not been able to come up with new information on the attack on Admiral Pita. Jesse Phoenix is our main suspect. As of 20 hours ago, he was last seen on Drozana Station. It would be reasonable to assume that he could have boarded a commercial vessel heading for Klingon space”, he explained.

“Though very quick to react in force, the Klingons are unusually reluctant to share any information on their intelligence, which made them come to your rescue in the first place”, Jefferson told the President.

President Okeg responded back: 

“What about our resources in this region?”

“All the relevant sources in the Klingon Empire are doing their best, our operative at Drozana was able to confirm that Phoenix passed the station. But that is as far as we have come”, Gracie Jones added.

“Very well. In the meantime, have a look at the data from the attack on my vessel and see what you can find out. My staff will give you full cooperation”, the President said. 

In a more ceremonial tone he added:

“And finally, in accordance with Starfleet regulations and agreed to by Starfleet Command, I am promoting Rear Admiral William Jefferson, currently Deputy Director to the position of Director of Starfleet Intelligence, with the rank of Vice Admiral, effective immediately. I certainly wish the circumstances were different. Good luck to you, Admiral.”

“Understood, Sir. Thank you”, Director Jefferson replied.

 

As the President began engaging in talks with his staff, Jefferson approached one of the President’s guards and whispered:

“Where is Winslow? Shouldn’t he be here as well?!”

Without turning his eyes away from the package, the guard answered: 

“Major Winslow had to be relieved from his duties, Sir. There was evidence that implied his participation in the attack on the President’s ship. Winslow is already on his way back to Starfleet Intelligence for debriefing.”

Jefferson just nodded at this revelation.

 

Yorktown Station

 

18 hours later, the U.S.S. Valentine docked with Yorktown station. There were dozens of other vessels docked or in orbit. Several Klingon and Romulan Republic cruisers were patrolling the perimeter, together with a number of Federation starships. 

Director Jefferson was walking with Deputy Gracie Jones through a fairly crowded hall on Yorktown Station, Jefferson stopped for a moment to look through the large overhead windows at the massive fleet that has gathered to provide security and to deliver dignitaries; starships like the Leeds, Devore, Valentine, Venture, Voyager, Defiant, Enterprise and many others. 

“Sir, we should be going, it’s time”, Jones reminded the Director. 

 

In a large ceremonial hall, hundreds of high-ranking functionaries were attending the funeral, a lot of Starfleet brass, governors, foreign dignitaries. A number of armed guards lined the walls and entrances. A grey coffin with the Federation flag draped over it was sitting on a pedestal. 

 

The Federation President began to address the crowd:

”Ladies and Gentlemen, Admiral William Jefferson, the newly appointed Director of Starfleet Intelligence, has asked me to allow him to hold the eulogy”, he said before stepping back while Jefferson ascended the podium from his front-row seat.

 

“Today, we honor Rear Admiral Jessica Pita. She was an admiral’s admiral. An exceptional mother. A loving wife. A great good friend. She was also a person of faith. She believed in rules, in law, in God, and in Starfleet. These believes gave her the strength to lead and compared her to uphold the values in which we hold dear to us. Those of us gathered here today, feel her passing as a personal tragedy for which we will mourn for the rest of our lives, but to Starfleet in which she lived and the civilization she struggled to defend, her death is nothing short of calamity. We often hear it's better to light a candle than curse the darkness and so in my heart I light a candle in honor of Admiral Jessica Pita, but I curse the darkness also. This awful shadow falling across our hearts a cloud, darkening the principles for which she stood. I ask that as Admiral Jessica Pita as our example, we leave here today recommitted to the rules of Starfleet and to the rules of the Federation in which she sacrificed her life. Goodbye, my old friend.”

 

A small band started playing a farewell tune, while a squad of neatly dressed MACOs fired a 13-gun salute with their phaser rifles.

With the official ceremony over, the crowd began to get up from their seats and engaged in small groups for conversation. Captain White, who had followed the proceedings silently, got on his feet and started making his way towards a bar area in the back of the hall. He walked by several high ranking officials and a crowd of people expressing their condolences to the husband and child of Admiral Pita.

 

“May I have tea, Earl Gray, hot, please?”, he asked the bartender with a spent smile.

 

Captain White was enjoying his tea with a thousand-yard stare when a man approached and suddenly stood next to him.

“That was a very touching service for the Admiral, don’t you think?”, asked the man in a gentle voice.

“Yes. Yes, it was”, White replied, barely taking notice.

“I guess Director Jefferson and the late admiral were close, being that he used to be her deputy for so many years”, White added.

“Oh, trust me, Captain White, they weren’t.”

White, now turning to the man, said: 

“Excuse me, but have we met before? I am sorry, but I am afraid I can’t remember you, although you look familiar”

“Don’t be. We have not met before, but I know you, Captain. My name is Phoenix”, the man said. 

 

“Phoenix?! … PHOENIX?!”

 

White, his eyes now wide, jumped from his barstool, as Phoenix turned and started walking away. White was about to give chase, when a young ensign stepped in his way, blocking him.

“Captain, I was looking for you. You are supposed to meet with the others in Conference Room 3, Sir.”

 

Captain White was not paying attention at all, trying in vain to track the unknown man, as he disappeared into the crowd. The young ensign noticed his Captain’s behavior and confusedly turned his head as well, then facing Captain White again.

“Captain, is there something wrong?”

“I… uhm, no, nothing, I think. Sorry, Ensign, you were saying?”

CHAPTER THREE

 

Deep space, a cold, wide infinity. An innumerous array of white dots covered the blackness - distant stars, some of them covered by milky clouds of purple dust, forming erratic contours. A deep vibration disturbed the silence, a massive grey shape was shoving itself slowly forward, a set of antennas pointed outward, next to massive sensor arrays, everything cluttering the outer edge of a starship’s hull. A number of lighted windows revealed a view of the interior, crewmen working, others relaxing in their living quarters, walking about, they were tiny figures, like observing an ant colony. 

Further down the hull: the arrowhead-shaped Starfleet emblem. 

 

USS Nelson, Romulan Neutral Zone, 2387

 

In one half of a set of cramped duplex quarters someone was sleeping in a small bed, clutching a blanket, his feet slanted sideways. A strident noise sounded from a panel at his bedside, he stirred, then reached over with his hand and pressed a button, sleepily and annoyed he answered the call:

“Yes, what is it?”

A gentle female voice on the other end replied.

“Sorry to wake you, Billy. I know your shift is not due for hours, but could you come here please?”

  “Yeah, I’ll be there in a few minutes.”

While the young man was putting on his uniform, he ordered a cup of coffee from the replicator unit, his wobbly legs made him almost stumble when putting on his boots. He took a small sip of coffee and hastily left for the door, in the opposite bedroom his roommate was still sound asleep, snoring. 

Straightening up his appearance as he went, we begin to recognize his features: a much younger William Jefferson, in his twenties, still with a slightly boyish face, but alert and determined in his demeanor. On his way to his post he only passed a few crewmembers on the sparsely populated corridors. He made another turn and arrived at a door to the next compartment, a sign read “AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY”, a security officer was standing guard. Entering the room Jefferson spotted his colleague, a woman his age, beautiful, although she couldn’t care less, her blonde hair gathered in a high ponytail. She was talking to an officer at a desk, biting her nails once in a while, another security officer was standing next to the desk.

Jefferson approached her, greeting her and the men at the desk, who gave him straight-faced nods.

“‘Morning, Jess, I hope this is worth my while, I was having a fairly decent dream actually.”

She turned toward him with a sheepish smile.

“Yeah, sorry about that.”

Jefferson signed his name on a padd the desk officer was holding out to him before moving over to the automatic security gate leading to the next room, the computer made a quick full-body scan before a readout on a monitor displayed:

“Identification Positive: Jefferson, William, Ensign, DJ-485-9732 DTP - ACCESS GRANTED”

“Will you tell me what’s going on, or do I have to guess?”, he asked her.

While following him through the booth, she replied:

“It’s easier if you listen for yourself.”

Meanwhile the computer responded to her scan as well.

“Identification Positive: Pita, Jessica, Lieutenant, YP-312-6605 WSA - ACCESS GRANTED”

 

They stepped into a large room, fairly dark, faintly bluish-lit by its high-tech equipment, dozens of consoles, large sets of monitors in front of individual work stations, each with an uniformed crewmember sitting in a reclined seat, intensely looking at displays, graphics, wearing futuristic headsets.

On the walls were huge star charts of the surrounding space, overlayed with a red mesh, the joints linking each line were blinking, as was one rather large joint, the central nexus. We were in an operational center of a Starfleet Intelligence SIGINT mission.

Some higher-ranking officers were pacing up and down the walkways, others were in conversation, the room was unusually busy. Looking around somewhat bewildered, Jefferson took a seat at his station, some of his squad members down the aisle acknowledged his arrival with a short gaze. Pita, leaning on the console, handed him his headset.

“Listen to all this chatter!”

Jefferson took in some of the subspace communications which were being fed to his station by the ship’s sensors, he listened for a moment, after a while he typed on his console, selected audio filters, adjusted the channel, then switched to another one, his face showing only more confusion. He turned to Pita and summed up what he had heard so far:

“Ship deployments, distress calls, evacuation timetables, worried moms. What are they doing, starting a war?”

“Hopefully just an exercise. We have been getting in this stuff for hours, there are more transmissions than what we would get in six months - Chief had us bring in all the off-duty analysts as well, so you are not the only one working overtime today”, Pita answered him.

Jefferson was about to put his headset back on when an intense electronic roar blared through all the headphones and speakers in the room, the other analysts ripping of their headsets as if they were made from red-hot metal, others were holding their ears in pain from the noise. The red mesh on the star chart was suddenly going blank, so do most monitors. The room was now almost in a frenzy, officers were making calls to the bridge, status reports were being inquired, crewmen checking their equipment, shrugging, exchanging looks of concern and frustration. 

“What the hell happened?”, an older officer asked around.

After a short time, most of the displays were coming back online. Transmissions could be heard again. Jefferson wanted to listen, but Pita tapped his shoulder and indicated the wall, Jefferson looked at her, her face was in mild horror, he followed her gaze to find the star chart, the red mesh was back online as well, except for the big central nexus, which was gone now.

 

A few hours later, the ship’s crew was summoned to attend an announcement from the Captain. Pita, Jefferson and most of her analyst colleagues were in a mess hall. Not only their listening post was shaken from the unknown incident, but the whole crew was also eager for an answer. Pita and Jefferson stood in a crowd of people, many unsettled faces were around them, others were whispering and exchanged outrageous rumors. The Captain’s face appeared on a large wall monitor.

“Good Morning everyone, many of you witnessed an unusual disturbance in subspace a few hours ago. Fortunately, the ship and the crew sustained no damage or casualties and except for some routine data transmission bursts getting lost on their way to Earth, our operations have not been impaired. Starfleet Command, independently confirmed by the Vulcan Science Council, informed us that there has been a large-scale catastrophe in the Romulan Empire. From what is known so far, a distant star went supernova, but in an unusual way, apparently, the shockwave was partially traveling through subspace at tremendous speed and destroyed the Romulan system before it dissipated. We don’t know if the Romulans were able to attempt an evacuation, currently, we expect an almost total loss of life on their homeworld. Starfleet has ordered the Nelson to standby at our present location and prepare for relief efforts. A number of Starfleet vessels are also on their way to the Neutral Zone. Starfleet expects to receive an official request for assistance from the Romulan ambassador shortly. It is likely that we will have to assist in the evacuation of other Romulan worlds, possible relocations, and refugee transfers as well as medical assistance. You will receive further orders soon. Captain out.”

The crowd, some stricken with commiseration, others with indifference, slowly dispersed.

 

Later, Pita and Jefferson were sitting in a crew lounge by a large window; Pita, slightly shaken was quiet and had a 1,000 lightyear stare, she was holding a drink which she hadn’t touched, Jefferson had just emptied his third, he was bored and slightly agitated. 

Indicating his empty glass he addressed her:

“At this rate, I might make it through three shifts before having tasted the entire cocktail menu once. So they better be letting us go back to work by then.”

Pita didn’t react. He went on.

“The entire department is suspended of duties until further notice… guess Starfleet Command thinks it’s provocative to spy on them while also extending a hand and offering to help… Ha, in a situation like this shouldn’t it be even more important to continue what we are doing, to warn the Federation of any indications that things might be going in the wrong direction, getting unstable…”

Pita slowly turned to him.

“What is there to listen to now? Do you want to eavesdrop on millions of distraught people inquire about their missing relatives?”

Jefferson matter-of-factly responded:

“We will listen for the same things as we did before: fleet deployments, traffic analysis, electronic orders of battle, lines of communication, readiness states, defense capabilities, domestic stability…”

Pita waved him aside. There was silence for a minute. Now staring out of the window as well Jefferson suddenly exclaimed:

“Maybe we should occupy the whole damn place, just to make sure.”

“What are you talking about?”, Pita asked.

“Well, you know, maybe we should move in, place starships at strategic locations and take over the remaining core worlds and key systems. This way at least we can ensure things will not spin beyond our control.”

Pita was appalled. 

“You can’t be serious. The Romulans had their homeworld blown away and you want to go in and grab the scrabs? Interference with the internal affairs of a society is a violation of the Prime Directive!”

Jefferson leaned forward, taking her hand, he didn’t want her to make a scene.

“Look, all I am saying is, that this might be a wise course of action, I am not talking about a forceful occupation, rather a peacekeeping mission. There are so many possible scenarios, many of them much less desirable. I mean, we don’t know all the details yet, but look at the situation: their homeworld is destroyed, the leadership and political establishment is probably dead mostly, the fleet decimated considerably, civil and military structures have broken down. It’s inviting total chaos, well beyond their own borders. Do you want the Klingons or Cardassians to move in instead? Imagine how a Klingon occupation force would govern them, they don’t like it and resist only to be massacred! And how would it affect the balance in the quadrant, if, say, the Klingons suddenly would be in control of the Romulan Empire? And if we all leave them alone, then what? The local governors, the military, the Tal Shiar, they all are going to be fighting for control, maybe lashing out at neighboring sectors for resources and territory. And who knows, without their oppressive government forces breathing down their necks, some of their worlds might even want to join the Federation.”

Pita met him with disbelief.

“The Romulans?, the xenophobic Romulans joining the United Federation of Planets? Now you are being sarcastic, Billy.”

“Am I? Don’t forget there have always been moderate forces in the Empire, like this movement Spock used to work with for a while. And what about all those outer systems which the Romulans conquered and whose population was subjugated. Who’s to say they won’t develop the same way the Bajorans did - and I don’t need to remind you that the latter did not happen without armed conflict either…”

“Even though the Federation moved in immediately”, she interrupted Jefferson,

“Sometimes even the best intentions won’t prevent a war.”

Jefferson did not respond. Pita smiled at him weakly and rose from her seat.

“Whatever happens, we are not the ones calling the shots here, so we’ll do what we are ordered to and for the moment that is standing down.”

“Yeah”, Jefferson answered with a hint of resignation.

“I am going to bed Billy. You should call it a night too, I think you have had enough of the cocktail menu for one evening. Good night.”

“Good night, Jess.”

Pita gently touched his shoulder before walking out the next door.

 

Jefferson was sitting by himself for a while, absorbed in thought, then a young man approached him, dark-haired,  gaunt-faced and bony. Jefferson recognized him, another analyst from his operations center, usually sitting in the far corner from him.

 

“May I join you, Sir?”, the young man wanted to know.

Jefferson studied him for a second, then motions him to sit down. The young man started to talk.

“I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with the Lieutenant.”

Jefferson chuckled.

“Isn’t that what we all are trained to do, listening to other people’s conversations?”

The man gave him an affirmative smirk.

“What’s your name?”, Jefferson asked.

“Crewman 1st Class Bowman, Sir.”

“Argh, don’t sir me around here, we are all off duty at the moment...is there something I can do for you, Mr. Bowman?”

“I just wanted to tell you that you are not the only person who is apprehensive about Starfleet’s idleness in the current situation. A number of others think the way you do, I myself included, the scenarios you have outlined to your friend are very real and potentially dangerous.”

Jefferson tried to meet Bowman’s austereness with humor.

“A number of others, huh? I think you might take your spy job a little too seriously.”

“My espionage duties end with my shift, Mr. Jefferson, I assure you. I am merely having chats with my fellow crewmates, one can’t help but pick up their opinions along the way, can you? But going back to this whole matter we all now find ourselves in, I agree with you, sometimes there is a need to act. Regardless of our specific occupations, all of us are Starfleet officers who swore an oath once and as the Lieutenant correctly pointed out, interference could mean violating the Prime Directive, but that same oath demands from us to defend the security of the Federation and its citizens.”

CHAPTER FOUR

 

The U.S.S. Valentine was en route to Drozana Station, having departed Yorktown Station after the funeral proceedings were finished.

Commander Low stepped off a turbolift, walked down the corridor and entered the conference room near the bridge. She made her way across the unlit room to the end of the conference table and commanded:

“Computer, lights!”

The lights came on and revealed Captain White, who had been sitting there all along, almost completely immersed in the data padd he was reading. In front of him on the table, a number of additional padds were lying scattered about along with a steaming cup of tea.

Low, slightly startled, shrieked as soon as she spotted him.

“I am sorry, Sir. I didn’t know you were here already. I didn’t mean to disturb you.”

“No worries, Heather.”

Captain White looked up from his padd, then threw it on the pile with the others. He ran both hands over his face and eyes, exhausted.

“Looks like you have been here all night. What are you doing?”

“I am just trying to grasp all this intelligence and evidence they presented about this Phoenix kid.”

 

Low nodded, she smelled his tea.

“Earl Grey blend, isn’t it?”, she asked. White nodded.

“You do know who also loved to drink Earl Grey tea, Captain?”

“Yes, Ambassador Picard, during his days as a starship captain. As a matter of fact, I picked it up from him, you know.” 

He was smiling now, suddenly reminiscing about a past event.

“But you have never served under him, as far as I know, Sir”, Low inquired, baiting him to tell his anecdote.

“No, but I met him once, well, sort-of, back at the Academy. It was shortly after he had resigned his post as captain of the Enterprise and I had just finished my exams for the flag officer course and they brought him in to give a speech at the graduation ceremony. I remember my entire class being awestruck, I mean we all were Lieutenants and had been on assignments, served on starships and all that, but this was Picard! We just felt like first-year cadets again. I will never forget his last sentence: ‘A good cup of Earl Grey won’t hurt a good captain’, the next day in the mess hall everyone had a cup of this stuff for breakfast.”

Captain White laughed, wiping a tear from his left eye.

Commander Low smiled and sat down next to him. White’s laugh faded and his face darkened. 

“Back then, everything was so much easier, it seems, all the things that have changed, our relations with the Klingons, the Romulans, all those damn hostile incursions we just had, all those lives that have been lost and now? Now we are in pursuit of some intelligence operative gone rogue, blowing up his admiral in her own shuttle.”

He got up from his chair and walked to the bridge, leaving Commander Low alone in the conference room. 

 

The ship approached Drozana Station, a former starbase at the edge of Federation space, close to Klingon territory, long abandoned by Starfleet it was now run by a gang of Ferengi, their continued business efforts making the place appear only slightly derelict, a diffuse crossbreed of casino, night club, and arms dealership, filled with every pirate, smuggler and cutthroat between Vulcan and Qo’noS. 

 

The hideous face of a Ferengi appeared on the bridge’s main screen, Drozana’s automatic greeting message:

“Welcome to Drozana Station, we hope you’ll enjoy your visit, this week there is a fifty-percent discount on all Dabo games for our registered customers, register now and secure your exclusive VIP-access at our trade fair next week and don’t miss our new holo...”

“Cut transmission”, Captain White barked. 

“Away team, report to transporter room 3.” 

He walked towards the nearest turbolift, Low closely behind him. Another officer took a seat at the captain’s chair. White addressed him:

“Commander, keep your eyes on those sensors, I don’t want any uninvited guests or any other surprises.”

“Aye sir”, the officer replied.   

 

In the transporter room, White and Low were joined by Jefferson, Mettus, and Jones, as well as three of Jefferson’s men, all in civilian attire.

“Alright everyone, remember, nobody is going to tell us anything thinking we are Starfleet officers, stick to your cover story and your designated search areas, phasers on stun”, Jefferson instructed the others and then motioned the transporter chief to commence transport.

 

Drozana Station

 

The away team materialized on the transporter padd of Drozana Station and was greeted by a group of Orion women in salacious clothing. 

“Welcome to Drozana…”

“Can I get you a free drink?”

“Do you wanna come with me and have some private time?”, the Orions eagerly swarmed the group which quickly dispersed,  walking off in groups of two. 

 

The away team members spend hours searching the station for any clues, talking to vendors, bartenders, dancers, secretly scanning the environments, mapping their findings, but getting nowhere. 

The Captain and Commander Low quickly met in the middle of the dancefloor.

“Anything?”, Captain White yelled over the music in her ear. She simply shook her head. He continued to walk towards a bar area, the room was crowded and loud. Suddenly an Orion waitress passing him made a clumsy movement, spilling a drink over his jacket.

“Oh dear, I am so sorry, love.”

She hectically started to wipe the liquid from the shiny leather patch on his shoulder. 

“Please Sir, don’t tell my boss about this, he will punish me.” 

She fixed his gaze with her dark eyes, bewitching him heavily.

“Here”, she pulled a latinum strip from her cleavage and placed it in his hand.

“It’s on the house, play some Dabo and maybe it’s your lucky day. Bye.” 

With this she turned on her heels and was gone, leaving Captain White dumbfounded and still dripping.

He examined the tiny piece of latinum and turned his face towards the Dabo table with a look of ‘The heck with it!’.

 

The Dabo table, always a major attraction at these sorts of places was crowded with players and spectators, a number of Dabo girls were cheering, inciting the players next to them to place higher bets, meanwhile flirting, touching their arms, fondling their heads, an ageless scam. White had to elbow his way to the edge of the table and tried to get the attention of the Dabo girl serving as croupier.

“Excuse me, Miss, hello? Yes, I am looking for someone.”

“Tell you what, Mister, you play a round at my table and I answer one of your questions.”

He handed her the latinum strip and placed a bet, other players did the same. Out of his sight, the croupier girl pushed a button under the table. The Dabo wheel aligned and all the gizmos started to flash. The croupier girl yelled ‘DABO!’, the Dabo girls cheered and while jumping up and down they surrounded the Captain, declaring him the winner. The other players were much less excited. The Dabo girls besieged White. 

“Buy me a drink, sailor?”, one girl asked him.

“No, buy me a drink first, I brought you luck!”, another girl demanded. Captain White started to collect his winnings, slipping latinum pieces to the girls to silence them and holding another one to the croupier girl.

“Alright, cowboy, what do you wanna know?”

“I am looking for a man, human male, early 30s, lean. Have you seen someone like that in the past three days here?”

“Hmm, there are a lot of men coming through this place, I might have seen him, but I might not.”

Annoyed White slipped her another piece of latinum.

“You know what, I am not the best person to talk to about that, you should try your luck with the Orion waitress.”

“Thanks”, he answered and walked off towards the bar once more. 

The Orion waitress he had encountered earlier grabbed his arm from behind, handing him a drink from her tray.

“See, I told you it was your lucky day”, she said with a wink.

“Listen, Miss. I am looking for a man, human male, early 30s, lean?”

“Oh?! And I could have sworn I was exactly your type.”

She caressed his chin with her index finger. White politely moved her hand away from his face.

“Please, it’s important, I have business dealings with him.” 

“Oh, business, huh? You sound just like a Ferengi, but you don’t have their ears.” 

She caressed his left ear with her index finger. White politely moved her hand away again.

“I think I have seen someone resembling him a few days ago, he boarded a cargo ship heading for Klingon space.”

“So much I already know”, he responded with frustration.

“Oh love, you are way too much concerned with your work - here - try this”, 

she pulled an isolinear chip from under her skirt and handed it to him with a wide smile.

“Our newest holosuite program, very relaxing, just what you need right now, try it out, I promise you, afterwards you will feel like a newborn, risen like a phoenix.”

The Captain looked at her wide-eyed, she nodded, he then gave her a look indicating that he understood.

 

Unseen from the other members of the away team who were still conducting their search, Captain White made his way to Drozana’s holosuites. Before stepping into the room he looked over his shoulder, checking that nobody saw him.

He placed the isolinear chip in a suitable socket at the user terminal, the computer rumbled for a few seconds before stating: 

“Program complete, commence when ready.”

“Start the program”, White said.

The hologrid partially dissolved and created a figure resembling the man White had met at the Admiral’s funeral. The hologram started to talk to him:

“Greetings, Captain. My name is Jesse Phoenix, I am glad that you made it here. Right now you may wonder why I do not very much look like the mugshot that you have been presented during your investigation, well, let’s just say in my profession it is useful to be flexible in one’s own appearance. What I am about to tell you is extremely sensitive information, the people concerned would not hesitate to kill to keep it a secret, so I urge you not to directly reveal anything about it to anyone. Admiral Pita’s death was not an accident, as you well know, it was an assassination to silence her. My involvement is an attempt to silence me. The Admiral and I have rattled the wrong cages and trusted the wrong people, she paid with her life and I have become a fugitive. Normally I would already be dead just like her, but Starfleet Intelligence had spent a lot of effort to train me in surviving exactly those scenarios. So far, my skills have enabled me to elude my pursuers and I am not talking about your ship, Captain. The people that are after me, is Section 31. You may have heard about them, although they officially do not exist, they are very real, the events of the past days are their handiwork. They have been around since the dawn of the Federation, operating with no oversight or accountability whatsoever. This organization has its core within Starfleet Intelligence, but they have successfully infiltrated most of the Federation’s institutions, they have people in the fleets, the council, cadets at the Academy, even among foreign powers throughout the Quadrant, nobody really knows how many. Their goal is to protect the Federation and its interests at all costs. They are, by any definition, our equivalent to the Tal Shiar or the Obsidian Order, except that their efforts have never been concerned that much with their own people, unlike their counterparts. But recently this has changed, ever since William Jefferson became their head. His operations turned out to be much less subtle, driven more by paranoia than actual threats. When Admiral Pita tried to expose him, she signed her own death warrant. My own is still due. I will keep trying to find out more about their structure and who are their members, but it will not be an easy thing to do while also staying one step ahead of their hitmen. This is where you come into play. I have chosen you because I think you are an outstanding officer with genuine beliefs, no lip service, your loyalty lies deep with the Federation’s most basic principles. I also know that you are a man who does not like coincidences if I am right, this whole investigation did not feel right to you even before we met at the funeral. You are sitting at the core of the official investigation against me, commanding the ship in pursuit, it will be less suspicious if you ask critical and unpleasant questions. Go through the investigation files, cross-check the evidence, there will be loopholes. What I ask of you, Captain, is not easy and very dangerous, so, by all means, feel free to ignore my request and assist Admiral Jefferson in bringing me in, but then things will go south, I am sure. Keep an open mind, stay safe and most importantly: Don’t trust anyone.”

 

The away team gathered again at the transporter padd.

“What did you find?”, Jefferson asked around with a low voice.

“He was definitely here and left with a Klingon vessel”,

Gracie Jones summed up her findings. White nodded.

“A witness said basically the same to me”, he added, while hiding the small isolinear chip in his hand.

“Let’s get back to the ship”, Jefferson suggested.

 

The USS Valentine was traveling at high warp through Klingon space.

Captain White was sitting at the desk in his ready room with a hint of nervousness. The door chimed. 

“Yes, come in.”

Commander Low entered the ready room and threw the isolinear chip on White’s desk, slightly upset.

“What do you think?”, he asked her.

“It’s downright nonsense, I mean, you know, like apple sauce.”

She was making wild gestures while continuing her tirade.

“This bastard blows up a Starfleet admiral, and not just any admiral, but his commanding officer who has been his benefactor for years and now he has the audacity of blaming it all on some shady organization that supposedly operates within the Federation. And you, you are thinking of believing him, don’t you, Captain?”

Captain White looked away.

“I am not sure, Heather. I don’t know what to believe.”

“Why would he target you with this deception attempt in the first place? How did he know that you would get the chip at Drozana?”, Commander Low asked him.

“He must have made arrangements so that it would end up with me. He contacted me already at the funeral, was suddenly standing next to me at the bar, he seemed to know exactly who I was and why I was there.”

“So what? You read the files yourself, Captain. He is a former intelligence operative and one of the best they had. These guys are experts in planning ahead or even on the run, he has every skill necessary to plot this whole thing, including our participation, he could have deduced the Valentine would be chosen for the pursuit and information from your Starfleet dossier would enable him to assume a character profile, one that told him Captain Jeff White is the kind of guy that might listen to him. And here you are, spreading doubts.”

White countered her.

“This is not the first time that I have heard about this Section 31 group. What Phoenix said corresponds pretty much with the rumors that I have heard over the years.”

“Yeah, rumors! And a lunatic terrorist who exploits them to manipulate you!”, 

she was almost yelling, but then calmed herself with a deep breath and sat down at the desk. She now spoke with a tranquil and cordial voice.

“The evidence against Phoenix is overwhelming, his motive is very plausible. Probably he has been in the business for too long, has carried out too many assignments, sometimes people can’t take that pressure and sometimes they snap. He must have thought killing Admiral Pita would relieve his own pain, as if her murder would make him come to terms with the things he had done and avenge an unwelcome transfer, one that was nothing short of a demotion. And there is a young girl who lost her mother because of this. He got to you, Jeffrey, alright, so be it, until now there is no harm done and we have contained his deception. And I promise I won’t name you as a security risk to Director Jefferson.” 

She gave him a weak smile.

 

“It is unwise to leave the scene now, your supervision is still required”, a voice said to Jefferson, who was once more sitting in his office.

“I don’t have a choice. Starfleet Command has summoned me to an urgent meeting at headquarters. The Crazy Horse will pick me up in a few hours.”

“Still, we have been unsuccessful in our attempts to neutralize Mr. Phoenix and we both know what his strategy will be in the current situation. What if he already has made contact with someone?”

“There are solutions to this”, Jefferson answered.

“I think we should send the Fixer after Mr. Phoenix.”

Jefferson looked up and after a beat, he nodded.

“Very well.”

 

“...which would place him right here”, 

Gracie Jones drew a yellow circle with a marker around a tiny spot on a massive computerized star chart. She was presenting the newest intelligence on the hunt for Jesse Phoenix. In the conference room with her was all the senior personnel we have seen before investigating the Admiral’s murder: her deputy Mettus, Captain Jeff White and his XO Heather Low from the Valentine, as well as a high ranking security officer, bald, but tough looking. Director Jefferson was joining them via subspace livestream on a large monitor behind the table. Jones continued her briefing.

“It is called Hitora, a Class L moon orbiting a gas giant, approximately twenty lightyears from Qo’noS. There is a Klingon colony on the northern hemisphere with a few million settlers. At the moment we strongly suspect that Phoenix has fled to a compound on the outskirts of one of the settlements.”

“Intel used it as a safehouse and observation spot during the last war against the Klingons. We know that he had frequented the place during his time as an active operative and it has been abandoned for years, it would be an ideal hiding spot”, Jefferson remarked.

“But not ideal enough, we were able to trace the Klingon transport that he traveled on from Drozana and know that they dropped off a passenger there a few days ago. Long-range scanning from one of our regional assets shows the place to be occupied by a human male”, Jones explained further.

“Then it is time to strike before he relocates again”, Director Jefferson stated. Everyone except Captain White nodded to show their approval. White raised his voice, he was afraid to pose his question.

“What exactly do you mean by ‘strike’, Sir?”

“We will be sending an assault team from OMEGA SQUADRON and apprehend him on the spot, Captain. I suspect you are concerned that lethal force might be used, but the men have very strict rules of engagement. We want Phoenix alive, so we can bring him to justice”, Jefferson assured with confidence.

“But surely we can’t raid a place that is within the jurisdiction of a foreign power, can we?”, Commander Low wanted to know.

“I asked Command to relay our findings to the High Council, along with a request to allow us to intervene. Phoenix is a dangerous criminal and terrorist, it’s likely that the Klingons will leap over their own shadow and allow us to proceed instead of sending their own warriors. Commander, do you want to add anything?”, 

Jefferson now addressed the security officer, the OMEGA commander, who, until now has been observing the proceedings silently.

“My team will rendezvous with the Valentine in three days at Hitora, a smaller reconnaissance detachment will be in place even sooner. As soon as we are greenlit, we are ready to move.”

 

Hitora

 

Flaky clouds, churned up by dusty winds, obscured an early morning sky, which was heavily saturated in sepia, a few golden streaks of sunlight were shimmering through gaps in the cloud cover near the horizon, the soil below was nothing but rusty gravel, meager and alkaline, every now and then overgrown by scrubs and dead-looking leafless trees. On a gentle slope sat a two-story house in the middle of a small walled compound, like all Klingon-style buildings it was a mix between a pagoda and a blockhouse bunker. In some distance, other small houses were scattered throughout the hills. It was shortly after sunrise.

The entire scenery was fed through long-range, high-resolution video sensors from surveillance posts hidden in the vicinity to an improvised command center onboard the USS Valentine, which was in geosynchronous orbit, her own sensors delivering a bird’s eye view of the compound and its surroundings, similar to a live satellite image. The investigation team was glued to the large wall monitors displaying the different video feeds, people were tense, nobody said a word, except the OMEGA commander who was calmly supervising the operation, explaining the proceedings and issuing orders to his teams.

“Kestrel-One, Kestrel-Two, engage the woofers on my mark - three...two...one...mark. Echo Team, Whiskey Team, start your approach, ETA four mike.”

“What are they doing now, Commander?”, Captain White inquired.

“The observation posts flood the area with heavy-duty sensor scramblers, so he won’t detect our assault teams with a tricorder. They also disrupt any signals that he might use to set off explosives or any sort of self-contained booby trap.”

“Do you really think that he has mined the whole area?”

“Irrelevant. These measures are standard operating procedure, Sir. But to answer your question: given the fact that Phoenix is a seasoned intelligence operative with the experience and access to use any sort of technical gadget to his advantage, I would say that we can not be careful enough, the well-being of my men is paramount.”

“If this is so dangerous, why can’t you beam him out of there?”, Low wanted to know.

“Our sensors show that he has employed transport inhibitors all over the place, but we can’t locate them precisely enough in order to neutralize them. You can purchase this stuff everywhere under-the-counter these days, but there is still no effective way to beat it.”

On the surface a dozen figures appeared from their cover behind bushes and slowly walked towards the compound, weapons trained. On the opposite side of the house, five-hundred meters away, the same thing happened. The men moved smoothly, sometimes one group stopped and kneeled down, covering another group, then they switched roles, slowly and unnoticed they were making their way towards their objective. They were clad in state-of-the-art combat suits, equipped with a cluster of ultra-light ablative panels, portable force fields, transparent helmets with high-tech targeting devices on their faces, gauntleted-mounted phasers, highly modified pulse rifles of different types, belts full of explosive charges, grenades, breaching equipment: OMEGA SQUADRON, a branch of Starfleet Security, the Federation’s 25th Century counterterrorism unit.

Upon reaching the compound’s walls, they split up and hunkered down on both sides of their entry points, the frontal gate and a marked spot on the backside wall. Breachers prepared explosive charges, while the others secured in all directions. They made hand signs, signaled their readiness for the entry.

With the rising sun in their back, two assault shuttles bolted towards the compound, flying in close formation, not more than ten meters from the ground, closing in at breakneck speed. The moment they thundered over the area, almost shearing off the roof tiles, the assault teams used the distraction to trigger their charges - BOOM!!! The front gate was blown off the hinges, a man-sized hole was blasted out of the back wall. The assault teams filed into the inner yard quickly and surrounded the house, more entries were prepared by the breachers, while other operatives had their rifles trained on the windows and the second-floor balcony. The assault shuttles had made a hard turn and were back over the compound, one was hovering low over the flat roof, another team jumped down from its cargo hold, the second shuttle was flying higher in small circles, marksmen covered their comrades from the opened hatches. On a sign from the commander some men fired stun grenades through the windows, they exploded with a deafening bang, knocking all potential occupants inside the house off their feet. Simultaneously the team breached the ground-level doors and moved inside, the team on the roof climbed down on the balcony and assaults the second floor. Loud shouting could be heard:

“Freeze”, ”Get down on the floor”, ”I wanna see your hands”

 

In the Valentine’s command center, the investigation team was on tenterhooks.

“Echo Zero-One to Valentine, the compound is secure, Tango is in custody, no casualties, no injuries”, the ground commander cabled. The OMEGA commander replied:

“Understood. Disengage the objective, prepare Tango for interrogation and be ready to rally at Lima Zulu in ten mike, Valentine out.”

Gracie Jones got up from her seat and motioned Mettus to follow her.

“We got to take care of securing the evidence”, she addressed the others.

“I am coming with you”, White exclaimed and jumped to his feet to follow them.

 

Jones, Mettus, White and two security officers materialized just outside the compound. The assault shuttles had landed nearby.

Upon gazing on the house and its surroundings one security officer scoffed:

“Nice shack, but this place sure isn’t Risa.”

“To a Klingon, it is, Ensign”, Jones replied.

At the front gate, they were greeted by the ground commander who advised them on the situation. OMEGA operatives slowly surged out of the yard towards the landing zone, taking off helmets, bumping fists, congratulating each other. 

“Visual confirmation, Sir. He is inside, secured to a chair, still a little dazed from the stun though.”

“Did he resist you in any way?”, White wanted to know.

“No, Sir. He was unarmed and slightly disoriented, I guess he actually slept when the assault began.”

“Did your men secure any evidence that you need to turn over to us?”, Gracie Jones asked.

“No, Ma’am. The place was picket clean, aside from the sparse furniture, the commander answered. 

“Thank you, Lieutenant.” White turned to the others.

“Let’s go inside and then bring him back on the ship.”

 

They had walked a few steps when White’s communicator came to life:

“Captain, get out of there, now!”, Commander Low shouted over the comm. White tapped his communicator.

“Say again, Valentine.”

“Get out, someone is shooting at you from space!”

They all looked up.

“Oh my god”, Jones gasped.

A bright whistling light followed by a long blazing tail shot through the clouds right for the compound.

The OMEGAs yelled at each other to take cover, some dove behind the shuttles, the Valentine’s away team sprinted outside and barely made it through the front gate, when a tremendous explosion leveled the house behind them, the blast pushed everyone to the ground, face-first.

 

The whole area was one big cloud of dust and smoke. After a few moments, everyone was getting up again. Jones was holding her injured arm, groaning in pain, Mettus helped a security officer on his feet, White raised his head from the dirt, coughed, and turned around to face the smoldering pile of rubble that used to be the house. Jesse Phoenix, who was left inside, was very dead.

CHAPTER FIVE

 

In orbit around Hitora, the USS Valentine was facing a Klingon bird-of-prey. Inside the conference room, Captain White was sitting at one end of the table, Low, Jones, and Mettus were with him. On the far end there was an enraged Klingon with his aides, once a formidable warrior, a bulging belly was now hindering his agility, his long curly hair was turning grey. 

“This is an outrage, Captain. The High Council agreed that your men could apprehend a criminal, not turn this place into a warzone!”, he bristled.

“Governor, our team, I myself included, barely made it out alive down there. We weren’t the ones that fired at the building”, White tried to soothe him.

“Apparently the attack was made by a small cloaked vessel”, Mettus informed the Governor.

The elderly Klingon rose from his seat and leaned on his arms, spitting nails, he countered:

“Are you suggesting that it was my people who attacked you?”

“No, Sir”, Jones said, ”the projectile that hit us was a micro-photon torpedo, like those we are using on our attack fighters.”

“I see. So it seems, one of your people wanted to kill this man, ah, Phoenix, rather than bring him back alive. After what he did, I can certainly relate. However, I advise you not to leave orbit until my people have verified your claims.”

He turned away and grunted at his aides to follow him.

 

As soon as the Klingons had left the conference room, Gracie Jones angrily slammed her fist on the table while jumping up from her seat:

“Ok, so what the hell is going on here? A cloaked Federation vessel firing on us?”

“How do we know it was one of ours? It could have been a Klingon ship”, Heather Low responded. Mettus intervened: 

“It couldn’t, Commander. When it fired the Valentine’s sensors were able to detect trace particle signatures, however, they did not show any resemblance to current Klingon cloaking technology. I also don’t see how they could have integrated a Federation-issue torpedo in their weapons system, they simply don’t have the expertise for it.”

“So, Romulans then?”, Captain White asked.

“Klingon cloaking devices are based on Romulan technology, so that’s a negative. Whatever that was, the cloak was technically different from what we are used to and it’s very advanced”, Jones said.

“A number of alien races have cloaking technology as well, any of those could be responsible”, Low countered.

“What else do we know about it?”, the Captain asked.

“The vessel was rather small, about the size of a large shuttle, small enough to accurately maneuver so close to us, it was only a few meters from our starboard bow when it fired”, Mettus said. 

Captain White grabbed his forehead while he summed up the issue:

“Alright, so we have an unidentified craft firing a Federation-type torpedo at the site where a wanted terrorist has just been apprehended, making it look like to the casual observer that our ship did the firing. But why?”

“A Starfleet vessel firing on a Klingon colony, someone could try to start a war between us and the Klingons”, Commander Low suggested.

“But it was not an attack on the colony itself”, White replied.

“It was a precision strike that took out the one man responsible for the Admiral’s death, depriving us of any possibility of bringing him in for questioning”, Jones continued.

“And preventing him from ever revealing his reasons or anything else, for that matter. Suspect dead, case closed - quite convenient”, the Captain finished.

The last sentence left an uncomfortable silence in the room.

 

A few hours later the USS Valentine was still in Orbit around Hitora, facing off with the Klingon warbird, which had now been joined by a large battlecruiser. On his ship Captain White once more received the Governor, now accompanied by his superior, a Klingon general. The latter is not unknown to us, he was the commander who came to the rescue of the President’s ship earlier. To accommodate the high-ranking guests and to appease the Klingons’ mood, a small buffet had been arranged, a mix of Klingon delicacies: tentacles, mollusks, worms, in shades of gray, brown and magenta, one more slimy than the other. Both Klingon dignitaries had a dish of Gagh sitting before them. The Governor was silenced by the presence of the General, not displaying any of the aggressive demeanor he had done earlier, he sat quietly while the General addressed Captain White:

“It appears that your initial claims were true, Captain. There was indeed a small vessel of non-Klingon design that fired on that site near the settlement. It is fortunate that your people all escaped unscathed from this cowardly attack. However, since we can’t pinpoint the origin of the attack and the circumstances suggest some sort of foul play, I must insist that your ship leaves Klingon territory immediately. The High Council wishes no further occurrences.”

“qoH SoH, Sov chaH puS nuq chID chaH [I am sure they are not admitting all of what they know, you fool!]”, the Governor snorted.

“mu'qaD Qo' chergh jIH [Do not talk to me like that, I am warning you]”, replied the General angrily.

“chaH DaH ghob'e' qengtaHbogh Duj'e' net maH [Only one ship is carrying them, it won’t be on our conscience for long].”

“yap SoH wIpI'moHtaH maH! [Enough, stand down!]”, the General yelled, his hand wandering towards the handle of his dagger.

“qaH, nuqneH Hol yab [Sir, please mind your language]”, Captain White interrupted them in perfect Klingon.

The General gave the Captain an affirmative grin, the Governor folded his arms and pouted in silence.

“My ship will fully comply with your demands, General. However, there is one more thing that I would like to inquire, Sir.”

“And what is that, Captain?”, the General asked.

“I understand you were in charge of the force that came to the aid of President Okeg, when his ship was under attack. What can you tell me about this attack?”

“There is not really much I could tell you that goes beyond what your people have filed in their report, Captain.”

“And how did you know about the attack in advance, General?”

“I am afraid that information is classified. I would advise you to have a word with the captain of your President’s ship, I am sure he can give you all the answers you need, Captain”, the General answered stoically.

Captain White sighed in frustration. 

After he finished his meal the General pulled a pen-sized embroidered piece of metal from his coat and used it as a toothpick before he got up from his seat, throwing the tiny needle on the plate before him, which the Captain noticed with disapproval.

“I must compliment you on the skill of whoever programmed your food replicators, Captain. The Gagh was quite good.”

“Thank you, General. I will convey your praise to my crew.”

The General nodded kindly, then signaled the Governor to follow him and they left.

 

White now walked over to the bridge through a different door.

Commander Low was sitting in the command chair, she got up and faced the Captain as soon as she noticed him.

“The Klingons demand that we leave their territory at once. Commander set a course for the Federation border and engage at your discretion. I’ll be in my ready room”,

Captain White ordered with resignation.

“Understood”, Commander Low replied.

The USS Valentine turned towards open space, the huge warp nacelles powered up and the ship bolted away in a flash of light.

 

From his new glossy office at Starfleet Command, William Jefferson was having a video conference with the team on the Valentine, White, Jones, and Mettus, who were appearing on a large video screen in front of him.

“Were you at least able to secure any physical evidence from the site?”, he asked.

“Negative, Sir. According to the OMEGA operators, the place was clean, the only piece of interest would have been Phoenix himself”, Jones told him.

“Too bad. Well, given the circumstances, there is no point in continuing the investigation any further. The evidence against Phoenix is convincing and after his death, we have nobody we can charge with the crime in court”, Jefferson exclaimed.

“Hang on, Sir. There is still the issue of the unidentified attacker, I mean we ourselves almost became victims. We have to pursue this lead now, Admiral”, Jones replied mildly shocked.

“I agree, Sir. The same goes for the attack on the President”, White added.

“A different team is investigating the attack on the USS Leeds. And I am not impressed with your conjectures about that cloaked attacker either. A number of foreign assassins could have been responsible. An intelligence operative can make enemies very easily. Ms. Jones, Mr. Mettus, I want you to return to your station. Prepare your final report and have it ready for me at your arrival. Captain, kindly ferry them back to Starbase 56, Jefferson out”, the Admiral said before closing the channel.

 

In the Valentine conference room, the investigation team looked at the suddenly black screen with confusion.

“Great, just great”, Jones scoffed.

“I don’t suppose that the General left you any more relevant information, Captain?”

“No, just a toothpick”, White complained.

Jones’ face dropped at hearing this.

“What did you say, Captain?”, she asked in bewilderment. 

“I mean after he was done eating he used some small metal piece as a toothpick and left it on the plate. Why?”

“We need to find it right now, trust me, Captain!”, Jones yelled.

Captain White nodded and tapped his comm badge.

“White to Mess Hall!”

“Go ahead, Captain”, was the answer over the intercom.

“Please find out who cleared the table in the conference room after the Klingons left and have the crewman report to me.”

“Wait, tell them to meet us at Holodeck 2”, Jones interrupted.

“You heard the lady, make it so”, White added.

He looked at Jones baffled.

“Will you tell me what this is about?”

“Come be with me, I’ll show you”.

 

White, Jones and Mettus stepped off the turbolift adjacent to a corridor leading to Holodeck 2. Jones was moving with a purpose now, the other two were struggling to keep up with her.

“Gracie, do you really believe it is that simple?”, Mettus asked her.

“Yes, either that or it is just a coincidence, but from the very Klingon that both saved the President’s ship and won’t give us any intelligence that we can make use of, I bet it isn’t!”

Next to the holodeck entry, they met a nervous-looking male crewman.

“Crewman Suma reporting as ordered, Captain”, he said while pathetically trying to stand at attention.

Jones moved very close to him.

“Now listen carefully Mr. Suma, when you cleared that table, did you find a small metal object on one of the plates?”, she asked him, almost pushing the poor young man against the wall.

“Uh, yes, Ma’am.”

“Where is it now?”

“Uh, I… I… I still have it here”, he babbled and pulled the piece out of his pocket, Jones snatched the tiny metal rod from his hand immediately.

“I did not want to put it in the recycler, thought I could keep it as a souvenir… Am I in trouble?”

“No, but I must ask you to keep this issue strictly confidential, do you understand?”, Jones told him.

Crewman Suma turned to Captain White for reassurance. White nodded and said:

“That will be all, Crewman.”

Gracie Jones went in the holodeck, Mettus and Captain White followed her. 

“Are you going to tell me what you want to do with this thing in here?”, the Captain asked.

While she quickly typed a few combinations on the user interface, Jones answered him:

“Even though the General used it to pick leftovers from his teeth, this thing is a datarod.”

“A datarod? You mean it contains information?”, White asked.

“Possibly, Sir. We have encountered these rods a few times during the War. Their advantage is, they can be hidden in plain sight. They appear to be just some fancy insignia on a sash or a miniature dagger that can be worn on a belt. And no person in their right mind would try to take such an item for inspection from a Klingon warrior”, Mettus explained.

“What do we need to read the information?”, White wanted to know.

“If there is anything on it, we can not read it simply by plugging it into a console. The rod can not be interfaced with our technology directly, it needs a Klingon console port, but an advanced holodeck such as this ought to create a sufficient replica”, Jones replied while she finished her programming.

After Jones pressed the last button on her panel the hologrid constructed a small console of Klingon design in front of them, its maroon-colored screen blinking, awaiting input.

Jones plunged the rod into a port on the console’s surface. Rows of Klingon script appeared on the screen.

All three looked intently at the display. Finally, Mettus commented the content:

“Nothing more than sets of spatial coordinates. Why would the Klingon general send us coordinates? Why go through all the tradecraft, if he has nothing more substantial?”

“He wants us to take a look at those places”, White answered.

“The Klingon general?”

“No, Jesse Phoenix”, the Captain said.

 

At his Starfleet Command office, William Jefferson was reading incoming intelligence reports. A young aide-de-camp officer entered to deliver a set of data padds.

“These are the remaining reports you wanted, Sir.”

“Thank you, anything on the other issue I asked you about?”, the Director asked.

“No, Admiral. There has been no update to the latest reports”, the officer responded.

As soon as the young man had left his office, Jefferson switched on his comm terminal and pressed a combination of keys.

His hail went unanswered, which prompted him to smash his fist on the table.

“Something vexes you?”, the familiar voice asked from behind him.

“Winslow is gone. Ever since he was arrested on the USS Leeds, he disappeared.”

“Well, we sent the Fixer after him, didn’t we?”, the voice corrected.

“No, you don’t understand. Winslow was never meant to be caught in the first place. Something went wrong. The Fixer could not have gotten to him before his arrival at Headquarters, but he wasn’t even on the transport and I can’t reach the Fixer now either,” Jefferson urged.

“Then we will have to rely on different assets instead”, the voice stated.

 

A few days later

The USS Valentine was holding position near Starbase 56.

On one of the upper decks, Gracie Jones and her deputy Mettus were on their way to the transporter room in order to return back to the starbase. They were accompanied by Captain White and Commander Low.

“The past days certainly have been unusual, Captain. I would like to say that this investigation concluded satisfactorily, there sure are many questions yet to be answered”, Jones stated with mild resignation.

“I agree, maybe there will be elements in Starfleet Command or the Council who will reopen the inquiries at a later time. When that time comes, my ship will be at your disposal”, the Captain said and offered his hand to Jones.

“Save journeys, Captain White, Commander”, Jones addressed her hosts before stepping on the transporter pad, Mettus closely followed her.

 

Back in open space, the Valentine was gracefully making her way to a new destination, traveling at low warp. Life has gone back to normal, there are random impressions from the life aboard this futuristic spaceship: crew members walking about corridors, greeting each other, engineers diligently working at the massive warp core, scientists analyzing sensor data in their state-of-the-art laboratories, a couple sharing a romantic moment while looking out the panoramic windows of a lounge, the bridge crew manning their posts while they relieve the previous shift. Throughout this we hear Captain White dictating a personal log entry:

“The revelations of recent events have troubled me very much. The knowledge that a secretive organization under the command of a renowned Starfleet admiral might wield such power within the Federation is unsettling, to say the least. Against Phoenix’ advice, I have shared the content of his attempts in contacting me with my First Officer, as well as with the Intelligence specialists among the team. The latter only became suspicious with Director Jefferson’s order to cease the investigation as soon as Phoenix was reported dead. They agreed with me that it would be best to continue the investigation conspiratively. Commander Low, on the other hand, remains skeptical. There are so many unanswered questions. Why did the Klingons get involved in this? Was the General working on behalf of Phoenix? And if not, how did he get his hands on all that intelligence? We may never find out if Jesse Phoenix was telling the truth or not. If yes, then all of us need to be extremely careful, giving away any indication to a possible Section 31 spy could turn out to be fatal. Maybe for all of us.”

 

While sitting in his quarters, Captain White noticed that his ship suddenly turned and changed to a new course. He tapped his comm badge and inquired:

“Captain to bridge, what is going on?”

“Low here, Sir. We have received a distress call from a fellow Federation vessel, they request immediate assistance.”

“Understood. I’ll be there in a minute, Captain out.”

On the bridge, the turbolift doors opened and the Captain quickly walked over to his command chair, Commander Low was typing on a small console next to her seat, retrieving data for her to report to the Captain.

“Report!”, Captain White demanded.

“Audio only, Sir”, Low informed him. She switched on the transmission.

“This is the Federation starship USS Rabin, our position is 765.5 by 92.8 by 451, Argus Sector. We request assistance from anyone who can hear this. We have massive plasma leakage and our warp core is offline, life support is holding for now, but we are dead in the water.”

White reacted with the calm determination that his crew has come to expect from him.

“Alright, Helm, increase speed to maximum warp.”

“Aye, Sir”, the helm officer confirmed.

The Valentine raced towards the emergency at tremendous speed.

 

Upon arrival in a remote region of the Argus Sector, the USS Valentine approached the fellow Starfleet vessel and stopped athwartships from it. The USS Rabin, a tactical cruiser configured as an escort-carrier hybrid with the aggressive design was listing heavily to starboard, her twin secondary dorsal hulls, like that of an upside-down catamaran, were swathed in greenish-blue plasma clouds coming from the failing warp nacelles.

On the bridge of the Valentine Captain White and Commander Low stood in front of the large viewscreen and looked on with concern.

“Open a channel to them.”

The bridge of the Rabin appeared on the screen. The picture was grainy and blurred. It showed a middle-aged Andorian Commodore, Ghee Shelk, the commanding officer, slightly disheveled, but seemingly relieved.

“Captain White, you were the last person I would have expected to show up. And you are too late for any heroisms anyway, my crew have already been able to stabilize the key systems”, the Andorian bantered with the Valentine Captain. 

“Glad to hear it Shelk, I guess we’ll be on our way then”, White joked. The Commodore gestured his surrender.

“If you could send us some spares and a team of engineers for support, that would be great.”

“Of course, I’ll take care of it right away”, White responded.

“Bridge to Engineering, assemble a response team and beam over to the Rabin at once.”

“In the meantime, will you join me in my ready room, Captain? I think I even have your Earl Grey on the replicator file”, Shelk said.

“So, your ship is still immobilized, but your replicator is working, huh?”, the Captain asked with an impish smile.

“I told you, the key systems are back online”, Shelk laughed.

“You have the bridge, Commander”, Captain White told his First Officer and then left the bridge.

 

He materialized on the transporter pad aboard the Rabin, the engineering team which came along the same transporter cycle quickly fanned out to different corridors in order to support repairs. White made his way to the bridge, where he found Commodore Shelk talking to an officer. Shelk gave a quick nod to his bridge crew and motioned White to follow him to his ready room.

As soon as the door closed Shelk ordered:

“Computer, lock the door, authorization Shelk-Alpha-2-4-6.”

The computer gave an affirmative chime.

Shelk marched over to the replicator unit installed in the wall next to his desk and ordered their respective beverages, Earl Grey tea for Captain White and Andorian ale for himself. While being handed his teacup, Captain White inquired:

“So, you got my message then. I take it this looks worse than it actually is, a little too melodramatic for my taste, but on the other hand, you have always been a showman, Ghee.”

“You said ‘make it look real’.”

“Yes, however, I did not want to spend more time here idling than really necessary”, Captain White countered.

“We won’t be idling, Jeff, there are some superficial repairs that have to be made, which can be done in no time by the combined efforts of our crews and then your ship will escort me to your destination, which is, I am sure you noticed, not far and the closest inhabited system”, the Commodore answered while raising his glass for a toast.

“You didn’t really sabotage your own ship, did you?”

“No, I let some of the engineers in on my plan to perform an ‘intense readiness exercise’. The rest of the crew thinks this is real - and in case you haven’t realized - you owe me!”

CHAPTER SIX

 

With a hastily patched up USS Rabin in tow, the USS Valentine reached the vicinity of an inhabited planet, its surface white and blue from an entirely arctic climate. In low orbit, an antique little spacedock slowly drifted into view.

In Commodore Shelk’s ready room he and Captain White were leaning over a large flat computer display, studying their target.

“If the coordinates are correct, whatever we are looking for is some fifty meters underground”, the Commodore explained.

“Looks like it’s on the outskirts of this settlement. We must get there somehow without arising too much suspicion”, White added.

“Yes, I know, Jeff, spies could be everywhere…”, the Andorian remarks with sanguineness.

“Look, I got it all figured out. I convinced Starfleet Command that it will be quicker to have my ship repaired here than waiting for a tug. Your ship will stay on station as well, so it can assist in the continuing repairs and provide protection when needed since we are outside of Federation territory. My crew will be granted extended shore leave for the time being, so there will be plenty of Starfleet personnel on the surface for any spy to worry about. I suggest to grant your crew the same and given the local climate I recommend for them to go skiing”, Shelk told his old friend.

“I can see that you have thought of everything, Ghee. What would I do without you?”

“Exactly!”, the Commodore grinned.

“By the way, be prepared to hand over one crate of Arcturian fizz which you, I trust, are still carrying around somewhere. Those engineers on the spacedock will only accept payment in beverages”, he closed.

 

On the planet’s surface, which was frozen over and windswept, a large settlement sat in the middle of an endless desert of snow, immense and grotesque formations of ice flanked insular mountains barely visible on the horizon. The settlement was a disorderly cluster of small wooden shacks, huts, and houses, stretching any sense of privacy, urban planning and the laws of physics, they were built next to, on top of, or almost into one another, with innumerous chimneys busily puffing smoke from the old-fashioned home fires. Shelk and White wandered through the narrow alleys of the settlement, wearing heavy-duty winter fatigues, doing their best to make it look like an innocuous stroll of two off-duty officers. Other crew members were nearby, as well as a surprising number of natives, crowding the tight spaces between buildings, braving the subzero temperatures. A number of small booths were manned by street vendors, loudly yelling and touting, trying to sell all sorts of clothing made from unfortunate individuals of the furred local fauna, while others offered their fleshy haunches roasted on long skewers. 

“How far is it?”, Captain White asked.

“Should be down one block this way and then to the right”, Shelk replied after covertly looking at the tricorder in his coat pocket.

“Hey, are you sure you don’t want to try this guy’s grog? Local delicacy! I heard that, if served at the right temperature, it will keep you warm and happy the whole night”, the Commodore exclaimed while indicating a nearby vendor who gestured for his set of shot glasses with steaming murky liquids in them.

“Come on, this isn’t a field trip at the Academy”, White responded annoyed and began dragging Shelk away.

 

They rounded a corner into a more deserted alley and found themselves in a dead-end.

Shelk glanced at his tricorder once again before saying:

“Looks like nobody’s home”, pointing at an abandoned and nailed up shop. 

Captain White, staring for a moment at the old-fashioned padlock sealing the door, then turned right and left, making sure nobody was watching them, before pulling out a small hand phaser and blasting the lock into pieces. He kicked the door in and went inside, followed by Shelk, who closed the door behind them.

“Just like the old days. This reminds me of the time when Phil, you and I broke into the superintendent’s quarters and rearranged the entertainment controls”, Shelk reminisced.

“That bugle didn’t let him sleep for three nights in a row”, White chuckled.

“He had it coming”, Shelk confirmed before taking out a flashlight. The Captain did the same and they started looking for clues in the room which was empty except for a few swivel chairs and cabinets.

“I think this used to be some sort of barbershop”, White stated. They made their way into the backroom. 

“Uh-huh. But if you’re correct, why would they even put a physical installation anywhere? I mean, it eventually results in this - someone stumbling over it”, Shelk stated. 

Captain White’s tricorder made a quick chime after he had panned it over one wall.

“There seems to be some sort of shaft behind this wall”, he indicated, upon which both started feeling around the wall for a hidden switch. After a short search, Shelk announced:

“I found something!”, uncovering an old panel.

“I think this is a control unit for an elevator, but it also locks the door”, he added.

“Can you open it?”, the Captain asked while Shelk pulled out his own tricorder and tried accessing the panel.

“The technology is fairly old, with a little bit of tweaking it just might…”, he stated before the small piece of technology made a slight hiss, unlocking the door.

Both men pushed hard to open the old intractable doors, revealing a dark shaft, no elevator car to be seen, just a dark hole plunging into nothingness.

Commodore Shelk pulled out a flare, lit it and threw it down, its purple flame lighting up the latticed walls of the shaft as it descended.

“You go first, Jeff”, Shelk smiled.

It was an arduous climb down the darkened chute and both men were exhausted when they arrived at the bottom, now standing on top of the elevator car, which was still sitting in place, the flare’s flame ebbing away nearby. After probing with his boot a few times, Captain White found a roof hatch, pried it open and both climbed through into the cabin which gave access to the adjacent room.

Looking around with their flashlights, they caught sight of several dozen workstations, computer terminals, a large celestial map in the middle of the room, everything covered with a mixture of decades-old dust and rime. Shelk wiped clean one of the consoles, tapped a few times before it came to life. 

“Let there be light!”, the Andorian triumphantly declared before pushing another button that switched on the ceiling lights which began to illuminate the chamber.

Shelk now tried to access the files on the main computer, while Captain White wandered around, shining his light here and there, looking for anything that could give him a clue.

After a while, the Commodore called him over. 

“Jeff, something isn’t right here, I mean look at this! The technology must be almost half a century old and from the layout of this place and the type of computer encryption, I would say this was a Starfleet Intelligence station, long-distance data transmission or whatever. And nobody has been here for a long time. If your Mr Phoenix is right about Section 31, why would those coordinates bring us here? I mean this surely is not their headquarters, if they even have something like that!”

“No, I suppose they operate within the realms of Starfleet and other Federation agencies by having their people everywhere in key positions”, White responded.

“Hidden in plain sight!”, Shelk confirmed.

“Exactly.”

“But surely there must be a reason for him sending you here, there must be something beyond the mere existence of this underground bunker?”

“What about the computer files, can you retrieve anything from there?”, White asked.

“Encoded. The only thing I can readily access is the last duty roster - however, I don’t understand why all this stuff is still here in the first place. Even if it was just an Intelligence base, they ought to dismantle or destroy all the hardware before leaving, right?”

“Over there is a cup with frozen coffee and some personal belongings on the floor. Maybe they had to leave in a hurry and could not return to retrieve anything.”

“Then we should not stay around much longer ourselves, Jeff.”

Shelk now pulled up a list of personnel most recently stationed at the outpost and showed it to his colleague.

“Any familiar names?”, he asked White.

The Captain began to read, then he stopped and froze.

“Familiar? Oh, yes!”, he said before motioning Shelk to download the data. 

 

At the next instant, a tremor rocked the entire chamber.

“What was that?”, the Captain wanted to know while looking around nervously.

“Ah, a reason to leave in a hurry maybe?!”, the Commodore suggested, while beginning to type more quickly on the console. 

Another tremor shook the place, more powerful than the last, throwing up dust from the rock walls. 

Captain White tapped his communicator.

“White to Valentine, we need an emergency beam-out - Valentine, respond?!”, he yelled. 

Shelk also tried to reach his ship, to no avail. 

Yet another seismic shock. A huge one.

“We must be too deep underground.”

“This whole place might cave in, is there another way out?”

“No, just the elevator shaft, but we never make it back up there in time, if the tremors keep increasing like that!”, White shouted over the loud noises of crumbling rock around them.

“Get started on the elevator, it’s the only way!”, Shelk said.

Captain White frantically began to push buttons on the control panel inside the elevator car. 

Meanwhile, the tremors had become a fully grown earthquake, the rupturing rock beneath the floor began to form huge cracks, pushing up sections and making sink others. A huge piece of rock detached from the ceiling and crushed a workstation right next to Shelk, who finalized his data download.

“Whatever you’re doing, do it fast!”, he screamed.

The Captain meanwhile used his tricorder to bypass the control circuits, he adjusted the signal and then gained control of the elevator car.

“I got it, come on!”, he shouted, motioning Shelk to come to him, the Andorian started to run, barely moving out of the way of a large chunk of rock which buried the console he had just been working on. Both got into the elevator car and the doors closed, the cabin began to rise slowly. There was no time for them to catch their breath, the earth and rocks around them shook violently, the uncanny sounds of crumbling rocks and twisting metal in the shaft below, the massive tremors that almost threw them off their feet a few times. All the damage done to the shaft made the elevator car suddenly stop dead in its tracks. White and Shelk looked at each other for a fraction of a second, then pushed and pulled with all their strength to open the doors, but they would not move more than a few centimeters, barely enough to squeeze through. The car had almost made it back to the street level. White pushed from behind while Shelk tediously pushed his body through the gap. The moment he got through, the framework around the cabin began to give away, making it slide down a bit in the shaft. White now reached through the gap, trying to exit, Shelk pulled from the outside. The tremors continued. The shaft began to collapse in itself. The elevator slid down, even more, the opening for the Captain to get out was becoming smaller. One more violent shock, one more jerk of the cabin and the Captain would be trapped - or torn in two. Both men pushed and pulled. The car would fall any second now. With a final concerted effort Shelk pulled White through the gap between the doors, which now quickly closed before the whole elevator shaft, its supporting lattice, the car and tons of rocks collapsed with a tremendously raucous roar into a seemingly bottomless chasm, the remains of the chute spat out a huge cloud of dispersed dust.

Both men were lying on their backs, gasping for air before breaking into laughter, absurd, tension draining.

“Hey, are you alright?”, Commodore Shelk asked.

“Yes, but I am getting too old for this”, White exclaimed between coughs. Shelk got up and helped his old friend on his feet before dusting off his dirty coat.

“I got the data, now let’s get out of here before we raise any more suspicion.” 

“Alright, but now I wouldn’t mind stopping by at this grog vendor.”


 

In a corner of his lavish Paris office, on a marble-tiled floor, in the midst of a staggering collection of preserved furniture, exquisitely carved tables, handcrafted drawers, everything expertly gilded, veneered, brocaded, embroidered with intarsia and marquetry, the walls with burl wood paneling and stucco ornaments, he himself sitting in an armchair upholstered with damask, next to the large windows which were flanked by finely woven drapery, overlooking the center of Paris, this most magnificent Human metropolis with its modern glassed high-rises and the Eiffel Tower, the steel lace beaming its metallic smile upon the Belle Epoque palaces beneath it, the Federation President turned his head quickly to a side door through which his personal secretary entered.

“Sir, the Head of Starfleet Intelligence is here to see you, he says it’s urgent.”

“Very well, show him in”, the President uttered.

 

Director Jefferson came into the office with resolute strides, accompanied by more Starfleet brass. President Okeg tensed. One of the officers put a small suitcase on the nearest table and opened it, revealing a portable computer with a large viewscreen. 

“Sir, this came in less than an hour ago”, Jefferson stated while switching on the viewscreen which started to play a recording. The President watched until a loud thunking sound signaled the end of the tape, the President reacted with devastation to the accompanying pictures.

“And there is more…”, Jefferson warned.

 

Back on board his vessel Captain White stepped out of the turbolift and entered the bridge. Commander Low went to meet him.

“I am afraid we have to cut short the shore leave, Sir. Starfleet Command priority message just came through, we are to converge on the nearest starbase immediately. Similar orders have been issued to most of the fleet.”

“What happened? Another attack?”, Captain White inquired with a worried face. Commander Low nodded commiseratively.


 

The USS Valentine was racing back to Federation space. On the bridge, Captain White was in his chair, his First Officer Commander Low right beside him.

“Sir, the transmission will commence in a few seconds”, she told White who in turn replied:

“Understood. Transmit it throughout the ship.”

 

On the large viewscreen on the bridge President Okeg appeared, telegenic, though his wrinkled reptilian skin was more sallow, his eyes more alert, his mouth more indehiscent than they used to be. On this day he felt the burden of his office.

 

 

“Good day.

Today, our fellow citizens, as well as people from multiple other worlds of the galaxy became victims of a despicable and cowardly attack when an alien craft fired on the Federation colony on Khefka IV, along with its embassy which was hosting a diplomatic conference at the time. It was a gathering of people from many different worlds, who came together to negotiate peace treaties, trade relations, submitting bids for joining the Federation, people who had found gracious hosts in our Federation citizens on this faraway planet. This was not merely an attack on those people’s lives, but also our way of life, our virtues, and our beliefs were the targets. The victims were in their homes or in their offices, their shops, at their posts: secretaries, merchants, diplomats, colonists, farmers, security personnel, Starfleet officers, mothers and fathers, children, friends, and neighbors. More than a thousand lives were suddenly ended by an evil act of terror. The pictures of orbital bombardment fires burning, structures collapsing, they have filled us with disbelief, terrible sadness, and quiet, unyielding anger. These acts of mass murder were intended to frighten our union into chaos and retreat. But they will fail.”

The bridge crew of the USS Valentine looked intently at the screen. All over the ship crew members watched the speech on other view screens in mess halls or at their work stations, their expressions ranged from sorrow and concern to anger and determination.

“Our peoples have been called today to defend a great idea. These attacks can shake the foundations of buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of our integrity. They can shatter steel, but they cannot dent our resolve. The Federation was targeted for attack because we're the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the galaxy, a shelter for liberty and reason, an ambassador for peace and understanding. No one will keep that light from shining, no one will destroy that palladium, no one will hinder our mission.” 

In their office on Starbase 56, Gracie Jones and Mettus had tuned in as well, their subordinates had stopped their activities, joining them to watch with saturnine mood.

“We know now that this act was but the culmination of a series of incursions upon our safety and security. The preceding weeks saw one of our most distinguished officers being assassinated, another attempt was made on the very ship I was traveling on, only prevented last-minute by our loyal allies. Immediately following the latest attack, and with unanimous support from the members of the Federation Council, I implemented a number of contingency plans. These plans call for the increase of security at all Federation installations throughout our territory as well as embassies abroad. We will take every precaution to protect our citizens from further attacks, everywhere in the galaxy.” 

In the presidential office, a recording unit was trained on the President while he addressed the peoples of the Federation, behind it, out of view from the camera, dozens of onlookers had assembled, government officials, council members, Federation dignitaries and potentates, Starfleet officers, in the back was Director Jefferson, his arms folded, observing coldly.

“The search is underway for those who were behind these evil acts. I have directed the full resources of our intelligence and security communities to find those responsible and to bring them to justice. We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.”

On a square on the Klingon homeworld the speech was also being broadcast, a large crowd had gathered to view it. 

“I thank the leaders of our neighboring worlds who have joined me in strongly condemning these attacks and who have called to offer their condolences and assistance. The United Federation of Planets and our friends and allies join with all those who want peace and security, and we shall stand together to win the war that was declared on us. 

Today, I ask you to join me in prayer and mourning for all those who grieve and for those who are not with us anymore. Tomorrow, I ask you to unite in our resolve for justice, peace and vigilance. The upcoming months may ask much from many of you in order to prevail over our enemies, to defend freedom and all that is good and just. Thank you. Goodbye.”

 

                                                                        TO BE CONTINUED

Written by: Logitech007 and Apexpredator2012

Based on an original story and characters created by: Logitech007

© 2020 by logitech007 for Star Trek stories | Logitech's Treks | Logitech007.