Star Trek: The Interim Years

The Great Game

By Adrian Jones

Edited by Scottish Andy

Based on 'Star Trek', created by Gene Roddenberry.

Story based from 'Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country' by Nicholas Meyer, Leonard Nimoy and Denny Martin Flynn

Supplemented by the invaluable assistance of the crews of the

U.S.S. Sheffield, Justice, Grissom, Fearless, Lexington, Hathaway and Intrepid.

Ferasan race created by Cryptic and used in Star Trek Online

Lyran race created by Jim Curtis, their politics by Steven Paul Petrick

Hydran race created by Andrew Robinson

Hydran Ambassador Solev created by Mas Yelwoc

Kinshaya race created by John M Ford

Vudar race created by Jon Cleaves

A special thank you to David R. George III and Keith R A DeCandido.

© 2010. All Rights Reserved.

Personal log:

I never set out to be an expert on the Klingon people. That was never the plan.

I’d heard the stories from my father and grandfather of their experiences in Starfleet; it sounded exciting.

All that changed on the


The Great Game then to open with the Hirayama under fire from Hawkins’ perspective. The feeling in the gut as the Klingon warships appeared on screen and then the run up to firing, the long run of the torpedo with the feeling of fear and adrenaline before the pain and chaos of the hits... ..that then stumbles into the scene on the treadmill and the call about Azetbur.

Prologue: An end, and a beginning.

Stardate 9521
27th December 2292

It all started with Praxis.

Praxis: the moon of Qo’noS which acted as the primary energy production facility for the planet below. The moon, whilst similar in size to Luna, had been mined for resources since the first Klingons had been able to set foot on the surface. The Hur’Q, who had oppressed the Klingons for centuries, had left Qo’noS and the surrounding systems as a mineralogical desert. The exception had been Praxis, which was found to be rich in dilithium and other rare minerals essential for faster-than-light travel. Having escaped both the chains of their masters and the chains of gravity, the Klingons were keen to conquer and expand their Empire. Within a short time the Klingons were mining the rich resources of Praxis, creating large mines deep into the moon and reactors to convert the minerals into energy. Praxis was the powerhouse for the Klingon revolution and drove the Empire forwards to battle and glory. There was a problem. Praxis, as the oasis of mineral riches and energy production in this region of space, was exploited more and more as the Klingon Empire expanded, with no regard for safety or the impact on the integrity of Praxis itself.

The explosion on stardate 9521, and report by Captain Sulu of the Excelsior, was well documented. What was not realised was the true scale of the destruction wrought by the vast forces unleashed at Praxis. The shockwave, whilst powerful enough to be felt by the U.S.S. Excelsior several light-years away, was cataclysmic at ground zero. The destruction of seven eighths of the moon translated into an almost supernova-scale release of energy. Enough, albeit brief, warning of the imminent explosion was just sufficient to activate the military defences of Qo’noS; these included powerful shields designed to protect the home world from orbital bombardment of enemy fleets. The shields barely lasted a fraction of a second, but managed to protect the planet from being pulverised into ‘planet-omelette’ by the raw energy released by the dilithium and reactors in Praxis. What the early visits and scans into Klingon space revealed was that the surface of Qo’noS had been both scoured and rippled on the side that had been facing Praxis. For a brief second, the atmosphere on that face of the planet had been ripped away, creating an airless firestorm of plasma energy that scorched away everything: plants, animals, cities and Klingons. As the shockwave expanded spherically, so it destroyed any starship or facility that was too close or unshielded from the furious onslaught. The Qo’noS system had vast starship construction facilities and hundreds of warships obliterated in the explosion. The Klingon Empire was brought to its knees in an instant.

Chancellor Gorkon had been lucky; he had access to a shelter and the First City had been on the far side of the planet when the explosion occurred. The reports that Gorkon had received immediately spelled out the dire consequences of the situation reached further than the earthquake-ravaged apocalypse that confronted him on the surface of Qo’noS. First indications were that much of the central infrastructure of the Empire had been badly compromised, shattered in most cases. The Defence Force was still assessing how many of their warships had been caught in the explosion; the early indications were that the Fleet had been strategically crippled. The explosion had reached dozens of light-years into the Empire; the Defence Force was the visible sign of the power and control of the Chancellor and High Council over their Empire. That control was now in jeopardy and the very future of the Klingon Empire was in doubt. General Chang argued that the Empire was at risk from a Federation attack. Indeed, Chang was mooting over whether this sudden catastrophe at Praxis was as a result of Federation saboteurs on the moon itself. What was known rapidly was that the Empire did not have the resources to deal with a disaster of this magnitude. For the first weeks, Qo’noS denied anything was wrong. This position was both undeniable and untenable for long...


U.S.S. Sheffield,
En route to Starbase 77.

The footfalls pounded like the incessant beat of a metronome; this beating matched the pounding of the heart pumping oxygenated blood round to vital organs: fuelling muscles, driving legs. Adrenaline gave a warm, comforting glow as the rivulets of sweat helped to cool the runner as they evaporated. Breaths came in steady, deep, channelled inhalations and exhalations. The blue eyes were focussed, as was the mind. The mental journey of the runner was supplemented by the stereoscopic scenery provided by the lightweight specs that the athlete wore; the built-in headphones allowed the runner to listen to the sounds of the fictional park they were running in, masking the sound of the footfalls on the treadmill.

"Peers to Hawkins".

The voice drifted down into the subconscious, like water soaking into a rag; awareness ballooned out as the outside reach of reality invaded the synthetic world of the exercise park: "Peers to Hawkins".

A hand reached up to press the combadge on the maroon running vest. The badge chirped briefly when pressed; simultaneously the other hand pulled the earphones out, allowing Hawkins to listen clearly.

"Yes," Hawkins managed to say whilst not breaking his stride; the word seemed snatched and rushed out along with the breath, "what is it, Lieutenant?"

"I need you to join me in social sciences: you'll want to see this".

The link went dead.

Hawkins mused over the silence for a moment as he slowed down the treadmill to a jog, then a walk, finally stopping; he reached for the white, fluffy Starfleet-issue towel with the crest of U.S.S. Sheffield embossed on it; he gently towelled his soaked face and his exposed shoulders and muscular arms. He stepped off the treadmill, turned and walked to the door of the gym; only now was Hawkins aware of the other occupants of the room as they lifted weights, stretched or punched bags.

The doors to the social sciences laboratory parted; Commander Nathaniel Hawkins walked into the room, buoyed by the adrenaline which made his body feel lighter; the towel rested across his shoulders, his breathing restored almost to normal after his exertions; the shoulderless maroon vest rose with each breath, his arms glistened with the sheen of sweat. It was 19:41 hours and he had been off-shift for just over three-and-a-half hours. The early evening hours meant that Hawkins had the beginnings of stubble on his chin, which matched the equally short grey-brown stubble which was all that was left of his hair; his blue eyes pierced from under his sweat-beaded brow.

Across the laboratory, facing the myriad of screens, was the source of his early conclusion to his evening exercises: lieutenant Judith Peers. Peers was a tall, lithe blonde human from Fife in Scotland. Her hair was quite long, but still regulation. Years before, Hawkins and Peers had been a 'serious item' at Starfleet Academy, but that was ancient history now; the intervening years had filled out her frame with toned muscle, she had always seemed like a beanpole at the Academy. Hawkins imagined that, despite her ice cold demenour towards him these last five years, she really enjoyed summoning him at these awkward hours: making the ex. suffer.

Hawkins moved closer to read the information on the display in more detail; as he leaned in he towelled his face to clear away the film of sweat; his eyes swept across the tables of data and the graphs, charts and profiles. Hawkins' mind worked overtime as the whirling, dynamic displays fed more and more information into him; this was the conclusion of a study that had been started many years beforehand: The data and images led to the only conclusion.

"The final chapter of the biography of Chancellor Azetbur has been written; she is dead". Captain Raekwon Okigbo's unmistakeable voice, as smooth as silk, informed the two from the doorway.

Captain Raekwon Okigbo was a Nigerian in his sixties; Okigbo had been in Starfleet for forty years and had seen many changes. His hair was now grey, flecked with hints of the original rich black. Okigbo's goatee beard matched his hair; his dark eyes betrayed both a warmth and wisdom beyond even his years. He walked up to Hawkins and Peers at the far side of the laboratory, looking at the screens.

This was the end of a chapter, both for Hawkins and Azetbur. He had studied her from his time at Starfleet Academy right through to just before heading for the gymnasium that evening. This was a moment he had been expecting for years; preparing himself and Starfleet for the moment the Chancellor would, inevitably, be challenged and killed.

"She was assassinated by one of her generals". Captain Okigbo said simply.

"Which one?" The question was automatic for Hawkins, now hungry for more information.

"General Gorak. He was then killed by one of the Chancellor's guards', added Peers.

"This wasn‘t a challenge laid down in the Great Hall?," noted Hawkins, a frown of puzzlement crossed his face, "This wasn't a duel about leadership?"

Peers interjected on the captain's behalf at that point. "It was a challenge in the Chancellor's private office, as far as is known at this time. The attack took place there; the guard reacted quickly, but not quick enough to stop the assassin being successful."

Hawkins read down the screen. The information was coming from a live feed from Starfleet Intelligence, being directed up from the secure line via the intelligence department downstairs. The source of the information was not given, but given the speed and detail of the information it could only be from either an individual on the scene or intercepted communication.

"Is this information live?" asked Hawkins, his mind churning over what he was seeing.

"Relatively", Okigbo replied, his face a mixture of deep thought and concern for the implications of the unfolding events.

"This doesn't ring true". Hawkins dropped the crooked right index finger from under his nose, a sign of his analysis, as he voiced his gut feeling. "Gorak was a decorated general from a recent campaign against rebellious colonies of the Empire. He wouldn't kill Azetbur by deception, this would have been a public challenge in the Great Hall to her face. He didn't need to assassinate her - he would have challenged and slaughtered her, honourably."

Hawkins moved the position of his right hand to scratch at the stubble on his chin, another sign of his thoughts. Nathaniel Hawkins had always said Starfleet paid too much attention to the Klingons, but this didn't stop him studying them in great detail. This act of murder was dishonourable, sneaky - not the act of an honourable, decorated and distinguished warrior general. Hawkins dried his face again with the damp towel.

"Has headquarters given us any instructions, Captain?"

"We're to return to Starbase 77 as planned. The Tomed Incident extended our mission as it was. We'll have to let the Courageous monitor this one".

"The Courageous?" The questioning of the Captain's statement was made with due respect, but suggested strongly that Hawkins disagreed. "Sir, we have been plotting Azetbur's imminent demise for years on the idionomothetic system. Her pro-Federation aid stance did not win her many friends. She ordered her fleet to stand with us at Tomed. Had she stayed in power much longer, further concessions towards a peace treaty were highly likely. Surely we cannot sit at the sideline whilst all this takes place? The death of a leader, and the selection of their successor, is something that will shape the politics of the Klingons for years."

"I'm sure Captain Scartine will rise to the challenge: have some faith, Number One". Okigbo turned and smiled. He understood the eagerness of his officers to study this latest event, but he wouldn't let it cloud his judgement. "Lieutenant, I'm sure it wouldn't hurt to share our findings with the Courageous".

"No Sir". Peers agreed.

"And I've no doubt the two of you are going to run a report on the implications of this. Commander, this might also be the time for you to think ahead to your first command. This development would be an ideal one to investigate. If only for the reason we didn't see it coming."

"No Sir, thought Hawkins aloud, "we didn't"...

Chapter One: Planning and execution.

U.S.S. Sheffield,
Starbase 77, Aljetarius sector.
Stardate 13401.5

The ready room was conspicuously empty. Like all such rooms in Starfleet vessels from the '70s onwards, the ready room was cramped, with barely enough space for a table and a chair for the captain and a guest. This room was usually personalised with african art and memorabilia from half a dozen diplomatic missions.

Captain Raekwon Okigbo was quite a legend in Starfleet where diplomacy was concerned. Okigbo knew how to use the resources of a Miranda class starship to his advantage where negotiation mattered. Starfleet had noticed Okigbo's talents and had decided to promote him to a larger ship: Excelsior class U.S.S. Hood.

Raekwon was glad to be finishing this mission, it would allow him a brief respite to Nigeria and a family home he hadn't seen in a long time. Such was the price of being in Starfleet. The desk had a small pile of PADDs on it - final paperwork before the refit of the ship and assigning of a new captain. Okigbo was gently stroking his beard when the door chimed.

Commander Nathaniel Hawkins entered the ready room. Hawkins had been Okigbo's First Officer for the past three years. Okigbo had chosen him after reading about Hawkins' last assignment. he knew immediately that he had found his Executive Officer. Hawkins had shown himself to be a capable and resourceful officer, able to make the hard decisions whilst keeping in mind the mission objectives and his crew. Hawkins had wanted to learn from Captain Okigbo, so the assignment suited both men.

For the past few weeks, Hawkins had been working in his social sciences department, monitoring the first steps of the fledgling Kaarg administration. The bloodshot look in his eyes, and the bags under them, betrayed the fact that Hawkins had sacrificed many hours of sleep. This was what he lived for, and he didn't like to learn of new developments the morning after. Captain Okigbo had summoned Hawkins to the ready room for, perhaps, the last time.

"You asked to see me, Sir."

"Sit down." Okigbo gestured to the chair across the table from him. Hawkins sat.

"Looks like you have your hands full, Captain." Hawkins gestured at the PADDs.

Okigbo smiled his white smile. "Perhaps. Now," he picked up one of the PADDs, putting down the one he had in his hand, "I think it is time we finally address this."

Hawkins glanced at the PADD, recognising his own work instantly. "My proposal for a mission. it might be side-tracked by this new development. It might become a study with an Oberth class surveyor. Maybe in eighteen months..."

Okigbo silenced him with a raised hand and another smile. "What's wrong with this mission and this ship? you and I both know that the only way to understand what is going on is this mission."

Hawkins tapped his lieutenant commander rank insignia. "Aren't you forgetting this, sir? With my rank I might get an Oberth class or Apollo class frigate..."

"With this record?" Okigbo waved another PADD, with Hawkins' personnel file on it. "Bronze award for scientific excellence on the Monarch, Gold award for scientific excellence, First Contact award and Starfleet Wound Decoration on the Montrose, a commendation and Starfleet Wound decoration with an award for courage on the Blazer, not to mention the First Contact award with silver clasp, a commendation and Gold Award for scientific excellence for this mission. And that is without mentioning all the psychology awards you have."

"Alright, Sir, so I have earned a few medals and awards. We all have. I still do not have the seniority.."

"Nonsense," A chuckle erupted from Okigbo, "you have twenty years of career and you had that meeting with Starfleet Intelligence last year.."

Captain Okigbo was referring to a meeting that took place discreetly between Hawkins and a representative of Starfleet Intelligence. What was said was known only between Hawkins, Okigbo and Starfleet Intelligence.

Okigbo continued, "...and that is why I feel you should bring this up with Commodore Buckingham. I sent him a copy."

"With all due respect, why?"

"Because I know of your history with Maxwell Buckingham and I think you need to put it aside and get your career front and centre. You have the ideal opportunity to bring it up during our 'little meal' with the Commodore and his wife."

"I don't know what to say."

"'Thank you' is the usual response," Okigbo was visibly enjoying this, "besides, you've worked hard on this." He held the mission PADD and waggled it. "This is your idea, your work.."

"...and I am the one to lead it. Thank you." Hawkins finally understood.

Captain Okigbo put the PADD down and arched his forefingers. he nodded. "we ought to be heading for that dinner. I don't think you need the PADD. You know the mission."

Hawkins took his cue and rose from his chair. The two officers exchanged the nods of old friends who understood each other. He turned to leave but the captain stopped him.

"Don't forget your dress uniform. And your medals."

"I think the commodore knows my record as well as you do."

"Remind him."

* * * * * *

The ceiling of the Great Hall of the Klingon First City reached up as far as the eye could see, as if reaching to the heavens themselves. The Great Hall had been rebuilt, stone by stone, at the command of Chancellor Gorkon nineteen years ago. The explosion of the moon Praxis had devastated the Great Hall, just as it had lain waste to much of the Klingon home world of Kronos. Chancellor Azetbur had continued the work of her assassinated father, utilising the Lukara Edifice as a temporary meeting place for the High Council as the chambers were rebuilt. The work was now completed, with the great throne of the Emperor once more dominated the far end of the chambers.

The High Council was assembled for one of its most important functions: the selection of a new Chancellor. Fifteen members assembled currently made up the High Council; these were the High Houses of Klingon nobility, the ones that held the most power and lands in the empire. There were the familiar ridged Klingons as well as the QuchHa' - the "unhappy ones" - who seemed quite human in their appearance: a left over from experiments in augment technology in the 22nd Century. Medical advances now meant these human-esque Klingons were now being returned to their Klingon appearances, but a few still remained. The council members wore uniforms which were covered in medals from the various campaigns they had fought in, as well as badges of office and insignia of many of the various orders that made up the Klingon upper social circles, such as the Order of the Bat’leth.

Honour and ones House meant all to a Klingon, above even their life. A house spoke more about the destiny of a Klingon than their own strengths did; a warrior’s son became a warrior, a farmer’s son became a farmer. the greatest Houses in the empire could be traced back to the time of Kahless the Unforgettable; many of those Houses still served on the High Council, only those that had disgraced themselves and been dishonoured, or had been all killed in battles or blood feuds, had lost their place on the council. Many of the previous members of the Houses of the Great Council had served as Chancellor, ruling until they were honourably defeated in combat by their successor. Such was the ways of honour in the Klingon Empire; there was no shame in dying in an honourable way: the defeated were sent to Sto-Vo-Kor with the honoured dead, the council members letting the dead know a warrior was about to join them.

This day the council were assembled to debate the successor to Chancellor Azetbur. The Chancellor had been killed in her chambers by General Gorak, the general having been killed by one of the guards assigned to bolster the protection of Azetbur. With both the Chancellor and her challenger both dead, the High Council now had to select a suitable candidate to succeed her. The Sonchi ceremony had been performed, confirming to the High Council that Azetbur was indeed dead, now the candidates for succession had to make their case to the council. There were a handful of generals who had been carving up the empire and fighting each other for the last couple of years, despite the best efforts of Azetbur for unity. The two candidates which now stood before the council were General Kaarg and General Klaa; Kaarg was a veteran of the recent Tholian incursion, whilst Klaa had been guided by his mate Vixis into becoming the Chief of Staff for Azetbur. Both were strong candidates with factors fore and against them.

"Who seeks to succeed Azetbur as Chancellor of this council? Who has the honour and glory to their name worthy of leading us? Speak, now or be silent!"

The speaker for the High Council was an aging, bald Klingon by the name of Kahnrah, a Klingon who had served on the council for over fifty years. It was Kahnrah whose vote had tipped the stalemate and passed through Gorkon’s initiative to approach the federation for assistance after the explosion of Praxis. This vote had come at a very high personal cost to Kahnrah. Now the white bearded Klingon stood at the threshold of history once more.

The first contender to step forward was a much-decorated general; this general had once faced up to Captain Kirk and was now one of the senior members of the High Council. Where as once his hair had been a bushy, wild reflection of his own soul, now his neat ponytail and immaculate beard showed the maturity of one who had learned much from experience.

"I am Klaa, son of Ro’jeq. I stand before you as one worthy of leading this council. I have fought many battles, earned much glory and am now the Chief of Staff of this council. I am ready to lead this empire to glory and honour in the path of Kahless."

"The general who apologised to Kirk and who was tricked by the Torye wishes to lead us?" The mocking tone of General Kaarg filled the air.

"This council needs to be run with strength and honour in the true path of Kahless, not by someone who would bow down to a human. I stand forward as a challenger to the claim of Klaa: I am Kaarg, son of Kesh."

The hulking form of Kaarg stepped forwards. Whilst Klaa was a warrior in the prime of condition, his arms bared in order to display his prowess; Kaarg on the other hand was a wall of muscle, the size of a large bear. Both looked more than capable of rending a man limb from limb with their bare hands, they now looked each other in the eyes with defiance.

Klaa seethed at the accusations, whilst Vixis observed from a corner of the Great Hall. "I might remind this council that it was General Koord who ordered me to apologise. I have since gained many victories since then. did you not wait for reinforcements against the Tholian two years ago, Kaarg? Does this empire want a thinker, or a warrior?"

"Mevyap!" the speaker of the council demanded, his voice shaking the walls with its intensity. "Two stand before us to challenge for the leadership, are their more?"

A pause of silence.

"The Rite of Succession is between Klaa, son of Ro’jeq and Kaarg, son of Kesh. we will hear your cases and decide which one of you has the honour to lead us."

* * * * * *

Returning to Earth was a rarity for Commander Hawkins as much as it was for Captain Okigbo. Both men had led the Sheffield through three years in the Beta Quadrant - extended beyond the original end date on a handful of occasions due to the developing Romulan situation. Now that the Sheffield was showing wear and tear, she was finally forced to the repair facilities at Starbase 77. Nathaniel Hawkins was looking forward to visiting his eldest sister at the starbase, where she was the wife and adjutant to Commodore Maxwell Buckingham, the starbase commander.

Hawkins loved to see his family, but he disliked the Commodore; he disliked the man even more when he became Hawkins' brother-in-law. Since the Sheffield had returned to Starbase 77, Hawkins had done his best to avoid Buckingham. Now he had no choice. Starbase 77 was the forward-deployment base for Starfleet's Second Fleet. The first squadron of the Second Fleet was based at Starbase 77; ready for deployment through the Nirophian Corridor to the other end and unexplored space, as well as easy access to both Romulan and Klingon borders should the need arise. Tradition was that when a starship departed on a mission, the Commodore invited the senior crew for a dinner. upon returning from a mission the meal was twice as grand. Even Hawkins couldn't get out of this one.

Dress uniforms: there was something about dress uniforms that always made them stiff and uncomfortable. Perhaps, mused Hawkins, that was part of the design criteria. This dinner was going to be uncomfortable and he knew it. Seeing Charlotte would be a good thing, but Maxwell Buckingham; that man was enough to put Hawkins off his food for good. Hawkins had chosen a scientific career in Starfleet; serving on Oberth and Miranda class starships, whilst Buckingham had served on tactical missions and risen up the ranks of command until that fateful classified mission on the brand-new Renaissance class starship Shakespeare. It was this mission that had secured Buckingham junior his flag rank and assignment to the potentially-prestigious fledgling starbase. That and having a father who was the fleet admiral in charge of the Second Fleet.

The crimson uniform was adorned on the left breast by the Starfleet insignia, with the various awards Hawkins had earned neatly aligned underneath. The medals and ribbons only came out for the most formal of occasions and this seemed to fit the bill. The uniform tended to stay towards the back of the wardrobe in Hawkins' quarters. A smile crept across his face; did Buckingham need an extra piece on his uniform for all those medals? and did the weight of them stretch his uniform out of shape? Did he wear them to bed? As Hawkins put on his shiny dress uniform boots he slipped into diplomatic mode; assaulting a flag officer wouldn't do his career any good. Over the twenty year career that Hawkins had so far he had dealt with Klingon commanders, Romulan ambassadors and the full spectrum of races in-between. He could handle an obnoxious Commodore, at least for a few hours.

Starbase 77 was a ground based facility with a cluster of buildings on the thermocrete apron; these included the Hub, control centre of the base; the accommodation block, the science block, the medical block and the engineering block. Then there was the flag officer facilities; essentially this was an extension of the accommodation block but with its own self-contained eating, entertaining and sleeping residence. The meal was to be held in the commodore's own dining room and the venue did not disappoint; the dining room could easily have held over a dozen people around the table, so the party of four was quite intimate and left plenty of the tabletop for extra dishes.

It was the commodore’s discretion as to when he held social dinners, this was one of the more frequent occasions: the return of a starship after a successful mission with the commanding officer and their executive officer were entertained by the commodore. Usually this meal would be held with a larger contingent of the senior staff but Commodore Buckingham wanted this to be an intimate reunion for Hawkins with his eldest sister as well as an end-of-mission meal. Starfleet etiquette dictated this was an occasion for dress uniforms and medals; a rare chance to display one’s achievements.

Raekwon Okigbo and Nathaniel Hawkins beamed down in the main accommodation block transporter room, and walked through the maze of corridors in their dress uniforms. The collection of medals on Okigbo’s chest clinked with each step of his impossibly-shiny boots.

"You’re running out of uniform front there, Captain" joked Hawkins, noting the collection of first contact awards.

"I’m reserving a place on my sleeves for the rest in my drawer." came the tongue-in-cheek reply.

Commander Hawkins couldn’t help but think of how tonight was the end of a chapter in his life; he had served under captain Okigbo for the last three years and this meal formally marked the end of that mission. Looking around the starbase, this would be the last night of his old undershirts too: Starfleet had introduced a new-style flush collar to their officer uniforms; the quilted turtle-neck design was going after over 35 years in service.

The ante room was the first destination of the evening. Okigbo and Hawkins passed a couple of the biggest security guards in dress uniform that they had ever seen, before entering into the ante room with a small bar at one end. The room was fitted out with wooden panelling and had warm lighting from the walls. Behind the bar stood a steward in the familiar sky-blue special services uniform, matched by his professional polite smile.

"Good evening sirs. What will it be?"

Okigbo and Hawkins both looked at the collections of wines behind him. Okigbo reached a decision first.

"Could I have a glass of red wine please?, the Chateau Neuf du Pape."

"and you sir?" said the waiter, turning to Hawkins.

"A glass of Chardonnay please."

Once the glasses were presented and the two officers picked them up with thanks, they turned to face the room to look around. There were portraits of the former commanding officers of Starbase 77 including Maxwell Buckingham and his predecessor. Dotted around were also images of previous meals that had taken place there including meals with Klingon and Romulan guests. The base was portrayed as the front line for exploration and learning; these images were a deliberate reminder of the peaceful, respectful nature of the United Federation of Planets towards its neighbours and friends.

Before Okigbo and Hawkins could engage in more idle small talk about the anteroom and its decor, Commodore Buckingham and his wife entered the room. Buckingham wore his flag officers dress uniform which, unsurprisingly, had a large swathe of medals and ribbons on it. Beside him was Charlotte Jennifer Buckingham, his wife for just a few months. Hawkins couldn’t help but smile as he caught a glimpse of his eldest sister; they hadn’t seen each other since the wedding and they hadn’t really had much chance to talk then. Charlotte knew her brother’s feelings about her husband and respected how Nathaniel kept it to himself in public.

"Raekwon, so good to see you." Commodore Buckingham smiled from under his trademark hair, grasping Okigbo’s hand in a firm handshake.

"Good evening, Commodore. It’s always a pleasure to see you and your new wife. I trust married life is sitting fine with you both?"

Buckingham took the moment to look at Charlotte in her dress uniform, genuinely admiring her face and those sapphire eyes. "Absolutely, it was the best decision I have ever made in my life. I bet you are looking forward to seeing Enomwoyi?"

Okigbo’s smile widened at the mention of his wife, "Definitely. I’ve been requesting the captain of the Caloundra to step on it for tomorrow."

Ignoring the jovial exchange between the captain and commodore momentarily, Hawkins naturally gravitated towards his sister. "Hello Charli, it’s been far too long, sis."

The two Hawkins siblings hugged each other tightly, not caring about the creases this would put in their dress uniforms. Charlotte stepped back for a second. "I know what you mean, Bro. Seems like only yesterday since I saw you last, although that couple of days was a blur. Have you spoken to Andy recently?"

"I grabbed him for a few minutes about a week or so ago, but commanding the Galatea seems to be keeping him busy."

"I see your hair hasn’t grown back yet?" Charli noted, raising her gaze as she mock-chided him.

"Least it doesn’t change as often as your styles do." He said, a grin erupting on his face.

The moment of sibling ribbing was interrupted as Commodore Buckingham turned to Hawkins. "Nathan, it must be good to see your sister, I bet. How was three years with Raekwon?"

Hawkins let the commodore’s overuse of using the diminutive for everyone’s forename wash over him; the commodore always acted as if everyone was his friend.

"Good evening, Commodore. Are you settling into Starbase 77? it looked a little like a building site when I was here last." Hawkins smiled pleasantly as he kept his diplomatic face on.

"It’s always a little like a building site here, Nathan. Truth is that I have had a short time to bring this base up to speed. Thankfully Starfleet Corps of Engineering have lent me one of their captains to lead a unit to construct new facilities and to refurbish and improve the rest. Ah, I see dinner is served."

The commodore had seen the head steward in the corner of his eye and pre-empted the formal declaration that dinner was served.

The dining room was a larger, more impressive setting than the anteroom had been. The wood panelling theme had been carried through to the dining room with diamond chandeliers hanging from the ceiling. The candles on the table were a throw-back to an earlier era, but somehow fitting for the occasion. Hawkins found himself sat across from his sister with Captain Okigbo across from Maxwell Buckingham. The meal started with a small speech from the commodore.

"This meal tonight is to celebrate both the return of the Sheffield and her crew, and to celebrate the return of friends to this table. It was Horatio Nelson who said ‘We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he today that sheds his blood with me shall be my brother.’ Today my wife and I are reunited with two of our brothers and for this alone we have reason to celebrate in style. As former captain of the Shakespeare, I know what it is like to conclude a mission; it is a mixture of emotions that we feel, of endings and new beginnings. Now, at this table, we see not an end but a new beginning, one which shall keep this band of brothers together. With Captain Okigbo to assume command of the Hood as the flagship for the forward-deployed squadron of the Second Fleet assigned to this base and Commander Hawkins due to assume a command of his own, my own Force H will be in the best of hands."

The commodore grasped his wine glass and raised it, provoking all the seated guests to stand and raise their own glasses in response.

"I propose the toast: to bands of brothers; may we always be there for each other."

"To bands of brothers." parroted the others, toasting each other.

As the gazpacho soup was plated and served, Hawkins couldn’t resist observing: "An appropriate quotation, Commodore. Did you know that the manoeuvre used by Nelson at Trafalgar was identical to one performed by Admiral Adam Duncan at the Battle of Camperdown against the Dutch in 1797? Some eight years beforehand? Sadly, being Scottish, history seems to have overlooked this matter."

"I can’t say I am familiar with that." shrugged Buckingham.

"Something I learned at the Academy whilst at the annex in Dundee, Scotland." Hawkins responded, straight-faced. Something he doesn’t know. A first. he added in his mind.

The fresh tomato flavour of the soup was the appetizer for the fusion of cultures that the menu ahead was to represent. As the finished soup bowls were smoothly removed by the waiters in black, the conversation picked up again.

"Why Force H, commodore?" asked Okigbo, referring back to Buckingham’s opening speech.

"During the darkest hours of the Second World War, Force H of the Royal Navy was there for Malta and for the Mediterranean."

"Do you consider this to be a dark hour, sir?"

"It was up to last year, with the Romulans. Tomed brought us all to the brink and, I believe, we haven’t seen the last of them. Just an absence." Buckingham replied sombrely. He then abruptly brightened, remarking "Of course this natural pause has allowed Starfleet to press forward with the exploration of the Beta Quadrant and I intend the Hood and Sheffield to be there at the forefront."

The second course was served with a fish course of Scottish salmon; the wine glasses were refilled and the conversation was quieted to the occasional burst in-between eating. Okigbo and Buckingham shared stories about their terms as commanding officers, whilst the Hawkins siblings caught up on family affairs. The stewards were soon removing the empty plates and the main course was delivered.

"Not tempted to take over from St John Talbot when he retires in a few weeks, Raekwon?" joked the Commodore between courses.

"Big shoes to fill." observed the captain, "besides, I’m more of a starship diplomat myself."

The third course was a Jordanian speciality: Mansaf; a dish made with lamb, prepared in cheese like Jameed, served with a bed of rice with pine nuts and almonds. In native Jordan, this dish was usually reserved for weddings and other important ceremonies and Charlotte Buckingham took pleasure in explaining all of this to the guests. Then, in one of those usual dinner eccentricities, the topic then turned to the private sector.

"I see that Bold Fortuna have sent their own Oberth class starship to Vaarati V, to join in that big archaeological study going on there." observed Okigbo.

"The trouble is," Hawkins commented wryly, "the private sector is only good at uncovering goods long enough to drag them to the patent office."

"The private sector has worked in concert with Starfleet from the beginning, to develop our starships and facilities." protested Okigbo.

"Only as far as providing starships to find the next technology or discovery which they can exploit." Hawkins countered. "When I was on the Montrose, the representative from Tagruato put more lives in danger from their selfish, corporate-driven actions than anyone else on the ship; An’il’taya eventually had them thrown off her ship."

"Speaking of those Oberth class ships, didn’t Dad visit the Bold Fortuna shipyard once?" Charlotte enquired.

"Yes he did. He told me they had systems on their ship that put our own Oberth class to shame."

Okigbo’s eyebrows rose just a fraction. "Prototyping, perhaps?" he offered as an explanation.

"Maybe. Or maybe trying to keep one up on their corporate rivals; we get blamed for being the ‘military’, but at least we play as a team and do not have our own, secret agendas. Scientific arms of corporations are merely hyenas trying to get a cut of the market. Some things haven’t changed much in the last few centuries."

"A tad cynical, wouldn’t you say Nathan?" Buckingham smoothly calmed the debate. "Weyland-Yutani are still terraforming planets.."

"’Building better worlds‘". noted Charlotte, quoting the company’s slogan with a smile.

"Indeed. They’re sending representatives here to look at taming this wild beast of a planet for proper colonisation; I was sent here to build up this forward-deployment base and that is what I am going to do."

Desserts were being served up by this point, with coffee or tea with mint chocolates to finish with afterwards. Lemon cheesecake, always Charlotte’s favourite, was naturally on the menu, as was a Risan chocolate cake with sugar sculptures as decoration.

"So, Nathan, I understand you have a mission plan for the current Klingon resurgence?" queried Buckingham, turning to face Hawkins.

"And their neighbouring minor races, yes", corrected Hawkins. His hairs bristled on the back of his neck, or was it the dress uniform? It was times like this it took effort for him to not 'raise shields'. He reached for another sip of white wine; he needed to keep his hand occupied.

Buckingham locked gazes with Hawkins from under his foppish swathe of hair. "I have read your draft of the mission and thought Starfleet Intelligence ought to have a look at it." He noted silence from Hawkins. "They are interested. Partly under their advice, I would like a meeting with you in my office at 13:00 hours tomorrow. Alone".


Starfleet Intelligence; even the name invoked the imagination. Hawkins had a few experiences with them in his career. His specialisation in profiling members of other governments and threat races meant that his work was referred to by Starfleet Intelligence. It was his work on the Klingons that brought him to the attention of Starfleet Intelligence the last time. Starbase 77 was a world away from that meeting point on an old K series deep space station mid-way through being dismantled.

Commodore Buckingham's office was spacious and bright, with a panoramic view of the thermocrete apron that housed Starbase 77 and the surrounding lush green hills. Regardless of the cloudy weather outside of the window, the view was still breath-taking. The open plan office had all the usual exotic plants and water features. Hawkins unconsciously scanned all of the small details of the office as he walked in. He was a psychologist: it was habitual. There were pictures on the wall, some were of people that Hawkins knew to be family members and others were of starships and planetary facilities. Probably places he had served at or been to.

"Good afternoon, Nathan. Early I see, just as always."

Commodore Buckingham was dressed in an immaculate uniform, the thin yellow stripe running parallel to the usual black one on the jacket indicated his flag officer status. His wild hair seemed barely constrained as it flopped in an almost suave and casual manner. Buckingham always acted in a more relaxed manner with Hawkins: no doubt a consequence of being his brother-in-law. Hawkins disliked the Commodore, but there was always respect for the uniform and rank.

"Good afternoon, Commodore." Hawkins hid his feelings behind protocol and formality.

"Sit down Nathan. Tea isn’t it? Earl Grey?"

The smell of Brazilian coffee met Hawkins' nose, along with the pleasant smell of bergamot. He didn't like the taste of coffee, but the smell was a pleasing one.

"The deputy director of Starfleet Intelligence recommended approval for your mission, based on your meeting last year on the K station."

Buckingham tapped furiously on his tabletop computer system, speed-reading the display. "It seems your observations on the Klingons were on-the-money."

"That was Vice Admiral Kylie Hudson last year?"

"Yes. Our positions as flag officers sometimes require a more discreet approach, Nathan."

Hawkins recalled the dilapidated space station which he had been summoned to under mysterious circumstances. Vice Admiral Kylie Hudson was a petite Australian human. Her blonde hair was either short or tied back behind her head. Another fraction of a second look had confirmed the latter. Her blue eyes had regarded Hawkins with the same look that he’d imagined he was giving her. Friendly, yet analytical; eyes which no doubt attended to the details.

Back in the present, Hawkins settled with his china cup and saucer with Starfleet Headquarters insignia on - which Hawkins' admired for a moment as he savoured the hot cup of tea steaming in front of him - the meeting began properly. Hawkins brought up a astropolitical map of the Beta Quadrant. All of the governments were represented including the Federation, Klingon Empire, Romulan Star Empire, Orion Syndicate, Tholian Assembly and many others.

"The Beta Quadrant: an area of space we have been paying particular attention to since the signing of the Khitomer Accords nearly 20 years ago. The Emden, Fearless, Montrose, Courageous, Hood and the Sheffield have all been involved in analysing the quadrant since then. Within the last six months, we have seen changes in the Romulan Empire and now the Klingon Empire. From this last three year mission of the Sheffield, I have amassed evidence that the Klingon Empire is on the verge of collapse."

"Collapse? I’ve heard rumours like that a dozen times or more in my career lifetime alone." objected Buckingham.

"This is a mission proposal based in scientific observation and analysis, not scuttlebutt, Commodore."

Hawkins let his reply hang in the air for a second before explaining himself.

"We have studied the Klingon Empire for decades. Every political change, every treaty, and every new member of the High Council; the events of the last couple of years with an increasing amount of the empire’s colonies rebelling around the fringes has been somewhat alarming. My meeting with Starfleet Intelligence last year confirmed that they too are concerned."

"And you think these colonies rebelling might have brought down the might of the Klingon Empire?"

"The Soviet Union of the twentieth century was brought down by similar circumstances in the late 1980s and early 1990s; the meeting I had last year included being made aware of a classified Starfleet meeting on Stardate 9521, before the rendezvous between the Enterprise and Kronos One. This meeting spoke of the inevitable collapse of the Klingon Empire, due to the effects of the explosion of Praxis."

"I recall seeing excerpts from that briefing. Are you saying the empire is still crumbling despite the aid we supplied to them since as part of the Khitomer Accords?"

Hawkins leant forwards; he knew he had his audience and a chance to get his mission approved. Hawkins enlarged the display in order to cover the Klingon Empire and those governments on its borders.

"According to the briefing on Stardate 9521, based on eight weeks of research, the pollution of the atmosphere of Kronos would cause their home world to be uninhabitable within fifty years. The fear was that this could lead to a collapse of the empire as the iron grip that holds it together weakened; Federation aid was allocated to support the clean-up operation and to provide scientific knowledge to assist."

"I am familiar with that bit," Observed Buckingham.

"But are you aware of the full reasoning behind the aid missions?" challenged Hawkins, "Starfleet Command and Starfleet Intelligence were fearful of a huge influx of Klingon refugees into Federation space; there are quotes about Klingons becoming the ‘alien trash of the galaxy’. A weakened empire would mean external powers like the Romulans, the Gorn and the Tholians could take advantage of the situation."

Hawkins gestured at the different astropolitical powers with his hand as he named them, continuing by saying "Starfleet wanted stability and information on the races beyond Klingon space such as the Sha’kurians and the ‘unknowns’."

"I remember a briefing on those races; it seems as if we have Klingon information to rely on for descriptions," Mused Buckingham, sipping on his coffee.

"Rather poor quality information, unfortunately." Hawkins changed the display to include the new Klingon Chancellor. "None of us predicted the recent rise to power of Kaarg; Intelligence just gave us details that he is the youngest of the three sons of former Chancellor Kesh. Kaarg may bring with him a change in political direction to return to the ways of his father, although he was a proponent of the policies of Azetbur up until her murder."

Buckingham threw a challenge out to Hawkins: "So have you and your current team looked at what Kaarg will do next?"

Does he recall that we are still in refit? Thought Hawkins; "Kaarg has promised a return to glory and honour. If you add victory to that list and a minor war would seem to fit the bill."

"You suggest a minor conflict; against whom?" This was enough to stop Buckingham sipping his coffee.

Hawkins adjusted the map. "The Hydran Kingdom humiliated the Klingons when they declared independence and forced Azetbur to back down; they also have rich sources of minerals and dilithium. The trouble for the Klingons is it’s a gamble."

The display changed; Hawkins continued briefing; gesturing with his hands, he explained his concerns.

"If Kaarg assembles the main Klingon armada and achieves a quick victory then he will gain the honour he wants; if he gets bogged down in a protracted war..."

"…then their other borders are ripe for an attack" realised Buckingham.

"Exactly; from prior experience if the Unknowns choose that time to attack then the Klingons could be wide open. Then we have an empire of refugees with, potentially, enemies of the empire following hard behind."

Commodore Buckingham sipped on his coffee as he mused over what Hawkins had said. Naturally his briefing was biased towards outlining what Starfleet didn't know, but what Hawkins thought Starfleet knew and what it actually did know were two different things. The Commodore would keep those cards to his chest, however.

"So you're saying the Sheffield is the right ship for the job? Why not the Courageous - on station as we speak - or an Oberth class? Two years is enough to study the fall out of this regime change."

You can't be sure of that, Commodore. Besides, the Sheffield has a lot of the specialists this mission needs, and I have already consulted with Anglocorp and Commander Carter concerning the equipment the Sheffield needs to be refit with."

"Do you mean Commander Robert Carter of Station Psi 3?" Buckingham seemed to have a micro-smile on his face when he said that; Hawkins mentally took note.

"Yes, my mentor from Starfleet Academy" He nodded towards his tea cup, adding "Excellent tea by the way."

Hawkins saw Buckingham nod to him slightly, he continued, "U.S.S. Courageous is on the border, and her equipment isn't bad. I understand Commander Ilani is onboard leading the studies. The Sheffield liaised with the Courageous these last few weeks, but this refit will put cutting edge equipment into the Sheffield. Even the Phantom doesn’t get idionomothetic data as good as this. Secondly, we need to look at the Klingon Empire in terms of its fragmenting around the periphery, the potential impact on the Federation and surrounding space and actions necessary. Thirdly we need to look at the minor races in detail; we haven’t done this properly in decades and the information needs updating badly."

Commodore Buckingham rose from his chair. He paced up the office and stared out of the window. This idiosyncrasy was his way of thinking.

Hawkins felt too hot in his uniform, even in the climate controlled office.

"So let me get this straight, Nathan. You want to conduct a study of the Klingon Empire and their neighbours, using the Sheffield and new equipment you have requested from a contractor?"

"We need to do this the right way, with the right people and the right equipment; we have grown fat on diplomatic dinners, waved the flag many times and exchanged quips with Klingon battleship commanders countless times; we have to do this now." interjected Hawkins.

"You have been offered the U.S.S. George Kelly, but you insist an Oberth class is too limited and you say the Sheffield is the ship for the job."

"She is in refit already, Commodore." Hawkins offered, "She has the diplomatic facilities, the scientific equipment and, with your help, we can assemble the best team in the sector." Hawkins altered the desk display to show a wire-frame display of the Sheffield, all of the proposed equipment changes highlighted.

Buckingham noticed the Anglocorp brand on the display, and Hawkins’ father mentioned as a consultant from Starfleet Advanced Starship Design Bureau. This provoked a small twitch of a smile, just for a second. The Commodore was deep in thought as he spoke again. "You’ve contacted a contractor and ex-mentor for systems and, no doubt, you want to command this mission?" Buckingham turned to face Hawkins. He had reached a decision. "The Monarch has the equipment you are after and, as a Soyuz class about to be expended, her parts are compatible with the Sheffield. I must confess that I saw earlier drafts of your proposal some months ago. It seemed back then to be a fool's errand, but recent events have given your argument some weight. You have made a convincing case, Nathan."

The commodore’s look changed to a serious one for a second, "Starfleet Command and Starfleet Intelligence are both concerned about these developments in the Beta Quadrant you have discussed here. It would seem that 'Hawkins' Folly' is going to be approved after all. Congratulations, Captain."

With that final word, Buckingham extended a hand. In it were two captain rank insignia - he was promoting Hawkins.

"Thank you, Commodore." Hawkins' throat was dry from both all the talking and his nerves; this was probably the first time he had ever thanked Buckingham sincerely for anything.

"I do have a condition or two, however". The commodore added

* * * * * *

Starbase 77, Aljetarius sector.
Stardate 13401.5

Once shuttle Firth was back in shuttlebay one, Hawkins headed back to find the captain, with only a short stop to change back into his standard uniform. Even as he stepped back onto the ship, change was in the air. the corridors were emptier than normal as the crew disbanded for a vacation and then reassignments. Hawkins would have to move swiftly in a few cases, to get the crew he would need. Or rather, keep the crew he needed.

The Bridge was almost empty, barely a couple of enlisted crewmembers and the captain. Hawkins looked around the Bridge, it had been his haunt for the last five years and was about to be dismantled and refurbished ready for the next five years. Even the upholstery on the captain's chair would be refurbished. This would be a fresh start for his mission.

"By the look of it, congradulations are in order, commander, or should I say, Captain?"

Hawkins unconsciously looked at the captain rank insignia on his left sleeve. "Your advice worked, Captain. Vice Admiral Hudson agreed to the mission and has green lit the overhaul and the mission itself."

Okigbo smiled and nodded. "I thought she would. You convinced me of your mission idea for over a year. This will be your biggest challenge - here, now - you will just have to use your experience on the Blazer, Montrose and, of course, what you learned here."

The look in Captain Raekwon Okigbo's eyes was the look of a proud mentor, whose protigee was about to take their place in the universe. The student becomes the master. this chapter for Okigbo was one of melancholy, he was losing his student and his ship, but he would never lose the friendship.

"So what is your first move, Captain? We have a lot of PADDS to read, exchange and sign."

Anglocorp was one of the largest megacorporations on Earth. It was the product of centuries of amalgamations, take overs and expansion. Hawkins had approached their carlisle office six months beforehand. He had investigated their options for a scientific mission, specialising in social sciences. The queries had been so successful that he had used precious leave time to visit Anglocorps offices to go over the final details.

In the privacy of the ready room, Hawkins and Okigbo discussed the finer points of the refit ahead. A brand new prototype sensor package would work through the new sensor/autoloader torpedo pod which was also coming up from Anglocorp facilities. A new navigation system from Mandor Industries of Delta and new Galahad shield systems would be installed from the Vulcan Institute for Defensive Arts. In addition there would be a fresh pair of LN 64 warp nacelles. Hawkins had gleaned ideas from many places and visits.

Captain Okigbo listened to the refit plans and ideas for the crew. Hawkins went into the details of his conversation with Vice Admiral Hudson, and her conditions. Through Admiral Hudson's support, Starfleet Security, the Federation Science Council and other Federation agencies had already lent their support to the mission. There was a price to pay for this support: compromises to the mission profile and composition.

"Have you told her yet?"

Hawkins seemed a little off-guard. "Peers? I have to try to convince her to stay on. Selling the role of Executive Officer on a temporary basis won't be easy." Hawkins' face said it all. He knew it would be an uphill battle.

Whilst he was talking, Captain Okigbo was finishing the transfer of command documentation on the PADD in front of him. This documentation was important, transferring the responsibility of the ship and remaining crew to the new captain. Once completed, Okigbo stood up. In that moment, two friends stood and knew this was the end of a chapter of their lives, but not the end of the friendship. It was always the hardest part of the mission - it always was. The first few weeks of a mission were tough as the crew found their feet. This was the hardest part: saying goodbye.

Okigbo was as commanding as ever, but there was a tinge of sadness as he said the words: "By order of Vice admiral Kylie Hudson, you are requested and required to relinquish command to Captain Nathaniel Hawkins as of stardate 13401.7."

"I relieve you, Sir." Captain Hawkins extended his hand, which was firmly gripped by Okigbo.

"I stand relieved."

Transition with a handshake. Now would begin the briefings, the assembly of the crew and the overseeing of the refit. Any doubts or fears that Hawkins had were more than outweighed by his excitement. There was a first step that was the most important and, perhaps, the most difficult.

Hawkins walked down to the idionomothethics laboratory. The starship was quieter now than he had known in five years. Where there had been faces he could name, as Executive Officer, there was now a flood of engineers with strange faces. This was the stage of breaking the ship down, ready to build it back up again. renewed and reinvigourated for the voyage ahead.

The laboratory doors parted. Hawkins could see the svelte form of Lieutenant Judith Peers in the far corner of the laboratory, deactivating displays and packing PADDs into a case.

"Packing up so soon?" Hawkins ran his hand idly over the phrenologist's head that sat on the side of the laboratory.

"I have family waiting for me in Glenrothes. A big party by the sounds of it. besides, I want to spend some time in Scotland before any new assignment." The look on Peers' face said it all. She was tired from the years of working on this mission. The assassination of Azetbur had increased the workload still further.

Hawkins mused for a second, then continued. "Well, after your quality time with your family, you might want to consider my offer."

Peers stopped her packing for a second. "What offer I've had a few good offers already - U.S.S. Montana, U.S.S. Valkyrie, The university of Betazed and station Psi 4." Her expression changed, one of bemusement perhaps? reminiscing for sure. "As I recall, you lied to me and used deception to get me to accept this mission. What makes you think i want to go on the next one?"

"All, no doubt, offering you a role as science officer, maybe even chief science officer. I'm offering you far more. oh, and i didn't lie to you the last time. i just didn't admit I was the one asking for you. I didn't want past history to bias your decision. This time I am offering you Executive Officer - prepping the mission and crew selection. Chief science officer is yours as well."

"What's the catch?" Peers had learned to be skeptical.

"The catch," Hawkins admitted reluctantly, "is that Admiral Hudson wants Commander Ilani of U.S.S. Courageous to assume the role of XO once we are on-station. But..."

"So I am temporary Executive Officer?" Peers interjected.

"...yes you will be. But you are second Officer and mission specialist. in terms of the mission, you will be vital. Captain Okigbo and I both feel you performed to an exemplary level over the last five years, especially around the Tomed Incident and Azetbur's assassination."

There were two clunks as two shapes dropped from Hawkins' left hand onto the worktop: lieutenant commander rank insignia.

Hawkins continued. "These were mine, now they are yours. You more than earned them. I want you as my XO. I need you, just as I did five years ago. You keep me on my feet and you are the authority on idionomothetics: you pick the team and together we get results."

"So why do we need Ilani?" Peers asked the obvious question.

"Commander Ilani has had some of the longest time out on the Klingon and Romulan borders, studying the cultures and major players. She is considered to be an authority on the matter. truth is, she is almost experienced enough to command this mission. i think it was courteousy to me, as the mission designer, that I am commanding this mission and not her. So whilst i want you as XO, I have been overruled."

"So you expect me to accept a role as temporary First officer for six months, then step aside as second officer and mission specialist? I choose the team?"

"Yes". Hawkins was to-the-point. No point lying or skirting this issue this time.

Peers thought for a moment, The other offers were good, but most of the starships were small Oberth class science vessel missions - she had done plenty of those - or science officer jobs. This was a promotion. Hawkins seemed embarrassed by the Ilani issue. there was also the issue of Peers own past history with Hawkins. It was one thing with her being his deputy in the department and him as XO. now he was captain. A decision had to be made.

"Okay," she said, her blue eyes piercingly bright. "I accept. My show, my people, your mission, run my way."

"More or less. Besides," Hawkins smirked, "your way has been our way these last five years."

They shook hands, formalising the deal.

"Get some rest, commander. I'll need you back fit and rested. we have less than six months to get refit, re-crewed and on-station."

Peers smiled. "we'll be ready, Captain."

Chapter 1: An Untried Captain

The waters off San Francisco parted effortlessly as the cadet jumpsuit entered the lukewarm saline; limbs thrashed to buoy the figure up into the sunshine, the smiling face shaking seawater out of hair in an exaggerated shake of the head. Cheers erupted from the gathered group of cadets; with a pop the cork flew off the bottle of champagne, spraying all and sundry with the bubbly, sticky foam. This was the prize of being a winning skipper in a race; not just any race, the race. Every year the Academy J-class sailing sloop Inspiration was pitted against two other J-class. This was one of the few years that a non-command division cadet had skippered the sloop and this year she had won.

This was the defining moment of the career of Nathaniel Gallas Hawkins. Hawkins had spent five years at Starfleet Academy—changing direction from biological sciences to psychology for the second attempt—and he had been a dedicated sailor. It wasn't that Hawkins was good at it, it was that he loved to sail and put every effort into it. Some would even say that some of his final year was sacrificed for the privilege of being the skipper. He had led the sloop to victory, and his crew had ceremoniously thrown him into the sea.

The year was 2297 and Hawkins had put together the teachings of his lecturers, the journals and field experience that Starfleet had provided him with. There were also some lessons that Hawkins had learned that were strictly not on the curriculum. Many of these were bitter ones, and these had not ceased with graduation either. Starfleet Academy was the school of broken hearts; a third of cadets washed out from the courses, testament to the strictness of the tutors. The reason for this strictness was clear: space is the most unforgiving environment in the universe and most people cannot take the mental and physical stresses of prolonged missions.

Explorers are a breed unto themselves; journeys and sacrifices that others would be daunted by are as a regular nine-to-five job to these people. Starfleet wasn’t just a job, it was a commitment to a lifestyle which would last potentially years. One of the most important roles of the Academy was to drill into the cadets, both enlisted and commissioned pathways, that this life would cost them. To see the unique sights, sounds, smells and tastes of the universe a heavy price was exacted: for the enlisted this may be as short as a two or three year assignment, or for the commissioned and enlisted that got the exploration bug this could be a commitment for life. Families were often separated for months or even years; relationships often didn’t survive the distances and demands that a life in the fleet demanded.

For Cadet Hawkins this life of exploration and separation was already a reality; his parents, brother and sisters had all donned the uniform: most were still serving the fleet, his mother had retired from Starfleet medical some decades beforehand to look after the four children. The path had already been laid out for the young Hawkins: to be like his father, then his sister, then his brother. Entering the Academy had been a formality; maybe it was a desire to be out in space with his father, the chief engineer of the mighty Hood; perhaps it was a desire to see the sights that lay beyond the boundaries of the blue skies and clouds: to venture to places the imagination hadn’t thought of. The first attempt at the Academy, as a biologist and environmental technician, had ended in washing out at the end of 2291. After a year of searching for a new path, this new junior social sciences officer was ready for his first assignment.

This assignment took him no further than the space dock of Utopia Planitia yards. Hawkins was assigned to the unique Soyuz-class U.S.S. Monarch, a relic of a retired sub-class of starships used as a test bed for technologies that Starfleet intended to incorporate into future starships. Hawkins worked in the social sciences department playing with a new piece of kit known as the Idionomothetic Analyser. This equipment was in a pioneering field of social sciences that was able to statistically analyse the behaviour of an individual in relation to their surroundings and company. The end result was a screen that displayed the statistical analysis on the person and gave predictions of their future behaviour based upon all the available data; it was new equipment, it was temperamental—and it was Hawkins' problem.

In hindsight, Hawkins discovered that his move here was on the direct order of his Mentor, Commander Robert Carter: Carter wanted to ensure Hawkins' feet stayed firmly on terra firma. The second lesson of this assignment was the lesson of command. Patience and determination were imbued on Hawkins during the twelve months he spent there. It was easy to find drive and inspiration for a defined four-year Academy course; it was something else to find the drive for a mission without definition or the glory of discovering new worlds and species. Every day, on select Federation channels, Starfleet personnel would show the watching audience what they had found out there: beyond the frontier. The new Constellation and Excelsior class starships were pushing back the boundaries, discovering the new worlds and climbing those peaks of discovery. Hawkins and his peers wanted to join them but, for now, they would have to content themselves with developing the tools with which to make names for themselves later.

The reward for this patience was a promotion to Lieutenant (junior grade) and assignment to the Constellation-class starship U.S.S. Montrose NCC-6236. Hawkins was the junior to his former mentor, now social sciences officer for this mission into the unknown. Constellation-class starships were classified as ‘star cruisers‘; their four warp nacelles and general construction made them robust and flexible enough to venture into areas of space that other starships would be wary of entering alone. The missions were of five year duration or more; this was the double-edged sword for being at the sharp end of exploration: it took weeks, or even months, to get to the virgin territories outside the Federation. This was a commitment for the long-term.

Hawkins brought the Idionomothetic equipment onboard the Montrose, soon earning it the nickname of "Hawkins' Folly." Carter had wanted the equipment debugging finished as soon as possible and Hawkins had managed it. Deputy Head of Social and Behavioural Sciences soon became the department head as Hawkins gained another promotion and pushed his career forwards. This brought Hawkins directly into contact with the starship's Commanding Officer Captain An'il'taya—a Saurian—and Lieutenant Commander Rangi Turoa, the Maori First Officer. Their command styles would influence the development of Hawkins’ own; their decisions would ultimately shape his path as well.

As well as the deep space exploration, U.S.S. Montrose was assigned to the Klingon aid mission to Qo'nos. Klingons were a major topic at the Academy long before Hawkins or his Starfleet parents had even been born; their language, tactics and mannerisms were recorded in every encounter and passed on to the new green cadets. Hawkins had learned a lot about Klingons and earned still more about them through participating in this delivery of aid. Before the explosion of Praxis the borders had been sealed shut and buffered by a Neutral Zone; with the zone now gone, the Klingon culture beyond the warships and soldiers was now open to inspection and comment. It was this observation that first started Hawkins developing the mission which he would ultimately become famous for.

Nathaniel threw himself into his work, sometimes too far. This dedication to detail earned him a rapid rise through the lower officer ranks, but also almost brought his career to a rapid end for health reasons. With the help of a friend or two and some sobering advice, Hawkins managed to keep it together. In light of this hard work, Captain An'il'taya decided that the psychologist would be a good choice for the command route. It took all kinds of persuasion to get Hawkins to steer away from being the scientist to being the starship commander; Hawkins relished the challenge of the unknown, solving the riddles and piecing together the puzzles. Finally it took the captain to put the suggestion to Hawkins. Rather directly.

An'il'taya was known for her periodic clear-outs of senior staff, promoting them either sideways or upwards. Hawkins was in the latest batch of officers which An'il'taya accused of having grown stale and happy to just stay where they were. An'il'taya liked fresh blood with fresh ideas, to keep the starship vibrant and productive; she felt that once a member of crew didn't have a goal to achieve, they would peddle less vigorously and the starship wouldn't develop as well as it could. Conversely if an officer or crewman aspired, An'il'taya would do her best to realise their ambitions. It meant a steady turnover of crew on the Montrose, but it also meant the ship was home to the best.

After a sobering departure from his comfort zone, Lieutenant Nathaniel Hawkins found himself on the Academy training vessel. Oberth-class U.S.S. Blazer—standing in for the usual Oberth-class U.S.S. Uganda, which was in a refit, was there to train the young officer about the responsibilities of command. Hawkins took the step all budding commander must: Operations Manager. He was given the provisional rank of Lieutenant Commander, with all of the work and privileges that the rank endows the bearer. The Operations Manager had to understand all of the activities that a starship undertook; this mission would train Hawkins in all the various departments as well as how to utilise them. Failure in the Operations Manager course would forever limit the possibilities of promotion; success in this course would open the door to command. This was a scientific study mission and classified low-risk. Hawkins still maintained wearing his science grey uniform; inside his mind there were changes taking place in attitudes and style.

Commander Hawkins joined U.S.S. Sheffield in 2309 as her Executive Officer, under the command of Captain Raekwon Okigbo. Okigbo was a legendary diplomat and a fervent supporter of the "New" Starfleet which had been espoused since the review of Starfleet on stardate 10000. That was now eleven years behind, yet Okigbo was determined to push this new vision forwards. He saw in Hawkins an officer who was "New" Starfleet and embodied the desire to negotiate, rather than to fight. There were tensions developing with the Romulans, Sheffield was at the forefront of trying to understand what was happening in the Beta Quadrant. With the culmination of events at Tomed, and the assassination of Azetbur, Hawkins had finally earned a place in the captain’s chair. Captain Nathaniel Hawkins finally put his science grey uniform into his closet, choosing to don the new low-collar command white undershirt. As with his former commanding officer, An'il'taya, he also reviewed the whole of his inherited senior staff from Captain Okigbo. Most were sideways or upwards promoted by Hawkins as he sought to change the ship to suit the mission and himself.

"This is my senior staff, not Captain Okigbo's," was his reasoning. Had he bothered with self-analysis, he would have realised this attitude had come from An’il’taya and the Montrose mission, so many years ago.

He automatically had the label of "untried captain"; scuttlebutt rumours arose concerning Hawkins throwing out the senior staffers that he hadn't liked during his five-year tenure as Executive Officer. This was soon cleared up when his Executive Officer arrived.

Chapter 2: Message from Romulus

Things were different now. The last few months had been a period of adjustment and Caithlin Dar had changed with them. The Romulan sector on Nimbus III had grown and matured since her first arrival twenty-five years beforehand. Her attitudes had changed since those dark days and they were changing again.

There was a time where Nimbus III had been shunned by the empire, neglected as being a pacifistic gesture and a waste of resources. The colony had then become an important political pawn as the three governments fought over who was working hardest to renew the sandy wasteland which the world had become. With the increased importance of the colony, the Tal Shiar had returned. The colony was now the only place where the Romulans had not retreated behind the neutral zone; Tomed had been a humiliation and the Praetor had fallen. The Tal Shiar now controlled the news that leaked from the empire and the words which their population spoke.

Pax Romulan had ended in embarrassment; the empire was now reconsidering the strategy for the future. At least the Romulan sector now had the facilities they once only remembered from their time within the empire. Baths, arenas and theatres: all of those things brought some civilisation back to Nimbus III. Where there had once been a dustbowl, their scientists had recreated the forests and steppes of their portion of the planet. New life had come to the villages; new Romulan citizens had been brought to Nimbus III from the empire to present a healthier image to the outsiders. To the Tal Shiar, presentation was everything.

Caithlin Dar's office was plush; the true sign of Romulan status. Since the colony had become such a central political issue, Caithlin's status had risen from obscurity to become the sole representative of the Romulan Star Empire outside of their borders. The office had many souvenirs from hundreds of political meetings with other ambassadors: a Tholian silk, Vulcan IDIC and many others besides. Naturally, the Tal Shiar stage-managed the appearance of the office as much as they did everything else Caithlin Dar did. Romulan artefacts were placed prominently behind the main chair, so that any political transmission from the office portrayed the Romulan achievements and products.

Caithlin strolled across her office, carefully avoiding where the house servant was cleaning the room. As she was lost in thought looking at the map of the Romulan Star Empire, a dark humanoid form flowed across the room, appearing to merge with the shadows as it moved, until Major R'mel of the Tal Shiar was alongside. Neman had the standard Romulan military haircut, short and functional. She wore the standard military uniform of the military, but with a black sash and black gloves. It almost appeared as if she did not want her hands to be tainted by the touch of anything; shielded from impurities.

Major R'mel was always serious, like all members of the Tal Shiar. Their power was absolute, their influence universal. There were no secrets from the Tal Shiar and no limits as to the punishments which they could inflict upon whole families and communities for transgressions. Even the senate lived in fear of the knock on the door at the middle of the night. There were no rumours about secret gulags where the Tal Shiar was concerned; it was all true. R'mel was the latest Tal Shiar agent to be assigned to Caithlin, arriving within the last couple of months. Dar suspected that this was a result of the recent regime change; whenever there was a regime change there was a change in the order of things.

"A Federation star ship is on its way to this colony. Their captain is assigned to study our race, as well as the others of the Beta Quadrant. No doubt the visit here is an attempt to assess our empire after Tomed." R'mel always spoke in a matter-of-fact way, stating secrets she knew as if they were entries in a giant encyclopaedia.

"Am I to avoid a meeting with them? Or is this to be a situation to take advantage of?" It was always wise to ask where the Tal Shiar was concerned, wiser still to clarify what was required before a costly error was made.

Major R'mel mused for a moment before deciding, "If a meeting is requested we should not show we fear the Federation. This could indeed be a situation we can turn to our advantage; we can assess their evaluation of us whilst we feed them disinformation."

Dar nodded; message received. Almost as quickly as she arrived, Major R'mel faded into the background again. Dar was once alone left to her thoughts. R'mel had that habit; leaving the seed of a thought in the mind, nurturing it as needed. These were serious times, a total contrast to how things were when she arrived. The adventure with the Enterprise seemed like a lifetime ago. Close relations with outsiders to the Romulan Empire was dissuaded where possible and closely monitored where it was not.

Caithlin Dar was soon reminded of the lessons she had learned as a young diplomat on Romulus. A child of a privileged family, Dar had received an intensive education to prepare her for a political life. Her father was a senator and it was intended for Caithlin to follow in his footsteps. She had been schooled in the etiquette and lifestyle of a senator's family member. Political debating, languages, intrigue, history and dealings with the Tal Shiar were all part of the training that Dar received.

A relationship with a male Romulan of lower status was enough to ensure her first political posting would be a distant one. Nimbus III was this first diplomatic assignment; this would be her chance to forge a name for herself, yet be distant enough that the affair would be forgotten. The intention was that after a couple of years that she could return to the empire. With the rise of Sybok and the Army of Galactic Light, this posting became much longer. It also became infinitely better for her political career.

The ideological young woman who arrived on Nimbus III had matured into an established ambassador and senior diplomat. The posting on Nimbus III had allowed her access to some of the top ambassadors from other governments. This had provided useful information for the Tal Shiar, as well as a platform for the Romulan perspective. The Romulan way was the right way and the message had to be sent to drown out the propaganda of the Federation and Klingon governments. The lies would continue to be spoken by the outsiders, but the people of Romulus would be shielded by the truth from their own government.

Caithlin remembered the childhood that she had left behind, the upbringing that determined her attitudes and beliefs. The big villa in which Caithlin had grown up lay on one of the hills overlooking the town of Charbek, in the southern hemisphere of Romulus. Her father, Lovak, had lived in the house all of his life, as had his father. The villa had wings for the sleeping quarters and guest quarters, flanking the central living area. The gardens were extensive, allowing Caithlin to play amongst the low trees and short sculpted hedgerows.

Being the family of a senator, Caithlin had private tutelage to prepare her for diplomatic life, and to allow her to interact in the regular meetings and parties with other senators and their families. The social life was rewarding, with rich foods and fine ale regularly served. Nimbus III had been a culture shock; the colony was a ragtag dustbowl with just shambles of homes and a garishly-lit bar. With the move to Nimbus brought on by a perceived indiscretion, Caithlin had been determined to make the best of the opportunity. What she had found was a colony in the last throes of a decade-long drought that had destroyed the crops and reduced the population through starvation and disease.

After the colony had been ‘rediscovered', following the ‘Sybok incident', Caithlin had found the supplies distributed to the colony had been increased one hundredfold. In her mind's eye, Caithlin Dar was determined to recreate the lifestyle she was accustomed to. With the arrival of the Tal Shiar, shortly thereafter, the plans to build the Romulan sector up to mirror the glorious achievements of the empire was escalated still further. The three towers dominating the centre of Paradise City were designed to each reflect the three governments which forged the colony. The Romulan tower was made from imported material from Remus, similar in appearance to marble. The result of the work of stone masons and architects brought over from Romulus was an embassy that would be the sole representative of the empire outside the border by 2312.

With the building of the baths and theatres, Caithlin Dar regained the social life which she remembered from so long ago. The Tal Shiar were keen to keep their citizens obedient to the ideals of the empire, yet this also involved keeping the citizens happy with entertainment, to show the other races of the universe how civilised the Romulan Star Empire truly was. Play and operas, as well as dancing were shown at the theatres; a world away from when all the population were concerned about was feeding their hunger. What had started off as exile for political reasons had ended up an opportunity to advance her career. Given the situation on Romulus after Tomed, perhaps this was a blessing in disguise, thought Caithlin.

The Tal Shiar was a shadowy organisation, always one step ahead of knowing what was going on before other intelligence agencies. Caithlin Dar had dealing with them since her childhood, but ever since the colony rebuilt its links with the empire, the Tal Shiar had made their presence felt. Since the first supply ships arrived from Romulus, a major of the Tal Shiar had been there to ‘advise' Caithlin on her speeches and meetings. This major had been replaced as administrations had come and gone on the home world; the latest arrival was no exception to this. The major was not the only Tal Shiar presence in the colony; Dar knew that there would be others scattered amongst the servants of the household and other Romulan establishments. The agency had ears everywhere.

Caithlin Dar went for her daily session at the baths; her servant aiding her in getting changed for the warm waters. The heat of the water eased her muscles and allowed her to relax; it wasn't uncommon for Romulans to conduct business and political meetings in the baths. Whereas the Vulcan cousins were living on an arid rock from their past, meditating in the desert, the Romulans still held onto the civilised ways of the past. Romulus was a green world akin to the way Vulcan was before the atomic wars which separated the two peoples. The conditions of the planet when Caithlin Dar arrived showed her how the Vulcans must live on their world; the sand got everywhere. Now that Nimbus III had returned to being a green paradise in no man's land, Caithlin could be forgiven for thinking she was living back on Romulus.

Like her father, Caithlin had turned into a political tactician. When a regime changed at the senate, this often proved to be a fatal change for the senators affiliated closely to the wrong party. Caithlin's father had managed to gauge the wind direction before the changes, a skill she had now acquired. Times like this, as she soaked in the warm waters of the baths, allowed her to think her current situation through – and plan for the future. Dar had suspicions that at least one of the baths staff had to be Tal Shiar; there were too many important meetings here for the baths to go unmolested.

Caithlin changed from the warm waters to the sauna steam room. There were other Romulans there from the diplomatic quarters and business sectors but she kept herself isolated. There were many things on Caithlin's mind and the arrival of that Federation starship was near the top of her list. With the withdrawal of the Romulans from outside of the neutral zone, this was the only place the Federation could study her people. No matter the reasons which the commander had given for their mission, the truth must be that they were coming to see why the Romulans had decided to withdraw. They would not know the truth from her.

Plans were beginning to form in Caithlin's mind as she plunged into the final bath of icy cold water; closing her pores after steaming the dirt from them. She would play this game casually, as one might play a game of chess. Dar would allow this starship commander to come to her and then she would turn the situation around, to learn what she could from them. How things had changed since the young Romulan representative had arrived at the colony. Back then she had actually trusted the Federation but recent events had changed her attitudes. The deceptions of the Federation had reminded her of lessons she had been taught from childhood: outsiders should never be trusted.

Caithlin's servant helped her dress properly in her ambassadorial robes, ready to return to her residence. The villa was as large as her family one back home on Romulus. She had yet to choose a husband to run the estate with her; she was too choosy and often just too busy for such things. The villa lay on the hillside on the outskirts of Paradise, overlooking the city. A sumptuous meal awaited Caithlin as she stepped into the vast day quarters; there was nothing like a good meal after a bath to prepare you for political battles. One of her staff handed her a padd with messages from other embassies in the empire and further instructions from the Tal Shiar. She was ready for the Federation; waiting.

Chapter 3: Fresh Blood

The Sheffield sat in the dry-dock at Copernicus Fleet yards. The power was being supplied by the external umbilical cords attached to the ship as the Matter/Anti-matter Reactor core was shut down. This was vital for the work which Lieutenant Sean O'Reilly was currently conducting; the Sheffield had been worked hard during her previous five-year mission and she needed to have the worn out parts replaced. In some respects, the ship and the crew needed the same remedy. Five years was a long time to be away from home and a starship crew rarely survives that long without losses. Thirty-three personnel were either killed or seriously injured on that previous mission; not all of the injuries were physical either. Post-traumatic stress was commonplace in Starfleet; an issue that was not publicised, but never ignored. Space exploration was dangerous and certainly not something to be taken for granted. In the early days of space travel there were times when the general public had become complacent and incidents served to remind them of the dangers. The accident on the Apollo 13 mission and later loss of the space shuttles Challenger and Columbia were painful reminders of the dangers of space.

Hawkins cleared out the majority of Captain Okigbo's senior staff, he envisioned replacing them with a team of young and enthusiastic officers and crew. He wanted people with radical new ideas on his crew; fresh people who had been allowed to be relaxed and refreshed after their last deep-space missions. This next mission would be a new problem and needed a fresh approach. Commander Ilani was his Executive Officer in waiting; Judith Peers would be the one to help Hawkins select his new crew. The first person that would need replacing was the Chief Security Officer; they would be one of the hardest to find a successor to. The Andorian, Arin Thera who had served Okigbo so well, needed time to recover and heal. Peers was already lined up to be the second officer and senior science officer, replacing Hawkins in the latter role. Hawkins had an idea about one of the vacant roles: Senior Enlisted Advisor. His father had always told him that he needed someone reliable as his S.E.A., and there was a potential candidate for the role - if he moved fast. There were also the other principal bridge officer roles to fill; Peers had mentioned something about whales and that she had people in mind. A new Operations Manager would be needed as well; a role that was vital for the smooth running of the ship.


Stardate 13416.5 January 30th 2312
Starfleet Headquarters
San Francisco, Earth.

Hawkins' boots clumped as he walked down the corridor; it had only been a few days since his meeting with Commodore Buckingham. He had an old family friend to meet and persuade to stay on for one last mission. Kissunguaq was from Nunavut, one of the Inuit Territories and was due to retire. He had served Starfleet with distinction for over three decades and was ready to go home to Iqaluit and settle down with the wife that he never saw. Kissunguaq had survived being a security specialist for most of his career - a ‘red-shirt'. He had seen many of his colleagues killed or badly injured by many of the threat forces or mysteries that made up the universe. Kissunguaq always said that people joined the security division so that they would always be chosen to go on Away Teams, or Landing Parties as they were called when he started. Engineers or scientists were selected for missions according to their specialisations; security personnel were there to ensure the safety of the crew, often at the expense of their own lives. Kissunguaq had been promoted and decorated for valour many times; he was now ranked as master chief, a title by which he was referred to more often that not.

It hadn't always been that way. Decades beforehand, a nervous young crewman called Kissunguaq had been assigned to the U.S.S. Hood as a security specialist. At that time, the ship was on a five-year deep space exploratory mission. On a particularly hazardous Landing Party, Kissunguaq had saved the team from almost certain death by following his instincts. This had brought the young crewman to the attention of Commander Richard Hawkins, the Chief Engineer. Kissunguaq and Hawkins became friends and their careers had followed one another for years afterwards, even including a transfer to the ill-fated experimental NX 2000, U.S.S. Excelsior. By fate, two other Hawkins siblings had managed a tour of duty with Kissunguaq; Nathaniel Hawkins was now hoping he would make it three.

Kissunguaq was about to start the process which would end his career, hand over his uniform and walk out of Starfleet forever. This was the end.

"I wouldn't sign that form if I was you, Master chief."

Kissunguaq heard the voice, half-recognised it and turned around.

"Another Hawkins trying to keep me away from my wife?" he smiled. A handshake soon turned into a half-hug as the family friends warmly greeted one another. Hawkins stepped back again and continued.

"My father was there with you at the beginning, you've been with Andy and Liz and I thought it was my turn. besides, you know that you'll be bored without your uniform."

Kissunguaq thought for a moment. "You know I have a promise to keep to my wife and children? They haven't seen much of me for thirty years; there are grand-children to now consider as well. I'm an old man, Nathan, what could you possibly want from me that you couldn't get from a younger, more ambitious ‘goat‘?"

Hawkins smiled as Kissunguaq used the term ‘goat'; it was a slang term dating back centuries in the navy which referred to chief petty officers. Indeed, the chief petty officer's mess was often referred to as the 'Goat's Locker'. The newly-minted Commander knew what Kissunguaq was referring to, it was hardly a kind thing to keep a man away from his wife, children and grandchildren for another few years. The reason was selfish as well; Hawkins had to be honest to this friend: he needed him.

"I need you, Master chief; I need your experience and skill. I'm not going to get that from a younger ‘goat', not in the quantities you have. Dad always taught me that I needed as good a left hand man as the one on the right. I have a good XO promised to me, now I need a good S.E.A. - you."

Hawkins contemplated his next sentences carefully.

"All I'm asking is that I need you to help me get the enlisted crew into shape, a year or so. After that, if you want to get back to civilian life then I'll make it happen. Vice Admiral Hudson has helped me to get the crew together, I'm sure she will help you get your wishes if it will help the mission to succeed."

Kissunguaq considered the PADD in his hand with the release documents; he looked down at the enlisted Starfleet insignia on the jumpsuit chest, then the master chief rank insignia on his sleeve. A thought or two later and his hand put the PADD down; he turned and shook Hawkins' hand firmly with the grip of old friends.


After successfully securing his ‘left hand man', pending approval from his wife, the crew continued to be assembled. Recruiting took place often away from the Sheffield, by distant senior crew.


Stardate 13443.4 21st March 2312
U.S.S. Courageous
Klingon border.

S'sana was wondering why she was here. Her career had shuffled along for the last twelve years, earning her just two promotions in all of that time. For the last five years she had served on the Miranda class U.S.S. Courageous and now they were soon to be on their way home. Mission accomplished and she would have to find another assignment after this one. The difficulty was that S'sana had never been head-hunted for the job. She was an officer with all the drive that anyone could want, she just lacked the direction. For a substantial part of her career, S'sana had served on the Starfleet Academy training vessel U.S.S. Mars, an obsolete, beaten up old Daedalus-class starship.

S'sana was used to obsolete, beaten up equipment. She was from the colony of Nimbus III, known throughout the galaxy as the Planet of Galactic Peace, although people usually said that description with more than a hint of sarcasm in their voices. The colony had barely been in existence for a decade when it suffered a decade-long drought that almost destroyed the colony. Only a hostage situation had brought the plight of the colony to the attention of the rather-embarrassed trio of governments that had set it up.

By stardate 8454 the only thought in S'sana's mind was that of escape. Things had been tough on Nimbus III. It was only when the starships Achilles and Emden arrived, following up the Enterprise-A, that S'sana had managed to find both her escape from her personal hell of a home and also found a sponsor for her application to Starfleet Academy.

Twenty-four years later, and here she was in the First Officer's office. S'sana wondered what was going on. She was only the Mission Operations officer, and that had only been for the last few months since the transfer of Lieutenant Carpenter, after that dreadful incident on Pyress III. Before then she had just been a communications officer, not even the Chief of Communications. Across the desk from S'sana sat the Executive Officer. Normally, S'sana's half-Orion biology could have emitted pheromones defensively in the situation, but this wouldn't affect the officer across from her: Commander Ilani was a Deltan. The meeting was called because Ilani had been offered a new assignment. Ilani was to be Executive Officer on the U.S.S. Sheffield. Ilani had asked for leave to contemplate this decision—they had even stopped off at Delta IV to let her make the decision in peace.

"Have you given any thoughts to what you might do after we get back to Spacedock?" asked Ilani. "Family visit?"

That was a probing question, and S'sana knew it. She had been around Ilani long enough to know what she was doing.

"I haven't given it much thought," she replied.

"Any thoughts on your next assignment?"

"I haven't finished this one yet, Commander, so again I haven't given it much thought."

Ilani could feel the strong emotion bubbling away under the surface of S'sana. Orions were known for their passionate side—especially Orion females. But add to that the product of a union between an Orion and a Romulan, and what comes out is like raw emotion. Uncontrolled and unstoppable, except by willpower. S'sana had to learn self-control with these emotions before she could put her career into a higher gear. S'sana had been known for emotional outbursts both at the Academy and in her early years. It was something Starfleet hadn't seen much of since the Hellguard colony survivors of the mid-2270s.

Romulans were known for their strong emotional sides—like Vulcans but without the Surakian discipline of logic. They were very much like the Vulcans before the Reformation. S'sana had not chosen her birthright, but she had to bear the consequences on a daily basis. It had given her a rather unpredictable edge, but it had also proved to be a source of incredible determination. It was this determination that had gotten her through the Academy and got her this far. And Ilani knew this. "I've often wondered how far you would get if you allowed yourself the chance, Lieutenant," Ilani noted. "I think you'd go far, if only you'd see the strengths you have, the way I do."

"And what strengths are those?" S'sana was beginning to feel like she was sitting on the counsellor's couch rather than in the XO's office.

"Your passion, your drive and your keen mind for organising."

"Well with all due respect, Ma'am, these ‘talents' have only gotten me this far in twelve years. My genetic make-up also comes with a temper and passion that can get an officer like me in trouble. And it has."

"All true, Lieutenant. But why do you think you got transferred to Mission Operations?" Ilani looked into S'sana's eyes for a response. Then Ilani continued, "Because I asked the Captain to put you there. I can see your potential, and I wanted to see if my instincts were right. They are."

"Am I supposed to say ‘thank you', Ma'am?"

Ilani let the emotional upsurge from S'sana wash over her. Ilani smiled pleasantly, unperturbed, "You might. But I'd rather you read this PADD—" Ilani slid a PADD across the desk to S'sana, "—and let me know if you are interested in being Operations Manager for this mission. Of course, should you not want to further your career and let your perceived flaws hold you back, then I'll understand." S'sana started to read the contents of the PADD.

Ilani continued as S'sana read. "I know you are the right choice for this mission. It will take all of your drive and determination to get yourself trained up to speed for the promotion. You can also see that there may be some old ghosts of yours that you will have to face..."

S'sana looked up for a second. Ilani could feel the emotional sparks from across the desk.

"...I know that you haven't been home in years, but I need your knowledge. I need your skills and I know you are the right person for the mission."

S'sana got to the bottom of the PADD. It was going to be a difficult mission, she would face old ghosts. But maybe...

"Lieutenant, do you know what the worst thing in the universe is?" Ilani paused for a second, adding that little bit of dramatic edge to her open question. "Uncertainty. Not knowing where we fit in the universe, not knowing who we are and where we are going. I just answered those questions with myself back home. You are at that crossroads now. I can help you, but only you can make the final choice. What you need in your life is a compass, a direction for yourself. I want to help you."


Ilani wasn't the only one to be looking for new crew. Hawkins had been looking for the best people to be on his crew. He looked to the Starfleet database, but he also looked to old acquaintances from the past...


23rd March 2312

Personal Log, Stardate 13444.5, Oberth-class U.S.S. George Kelly, NCC 18880. Captain Nathaniel Hawkins, passenger, recording.

Station Psi 4: the Federation's principle psychological research station. A huge facility sat away in the corner of space, off the beaten track and away from prying eyes. It wasn't that there was anything illegal about the station, it was just that the Federation wanted to keep one step ahead with the research going on here. In short: they didn't want classified data appearing on the market courtesy of the Orions, or Romulan spies. The station orbited the planet Jingir II. From a distance the station looked like a silver ring in space, rotating slowly over the acidic desert planet beneath it. There was no reason for prowling eyes to enter this system, nor was there reason for scientific research. The system was chosen as one that was so ordinary, so normal, that no one would want to be out here. The other three Psi stations were in more expected locations: Delta, Betazed and Vulcan, but this station was purposefully out of the way. Here the real studies could be conducted in peace.

With barely months to go until the U.S.S. Sheffield mission, I have decided to find the most capable crew for the mission, and the most up-to-date, cutting-edge equipment that the Federation has or expects to have at the time of our launch. I haven't been out here to this station since I was last here on the Montrose. This truly is the frontier of Federation space, nothing beyond here but emptiness, probes and starships exploring.

I've been in communication with this station for years, correlating the data that Commander Carter and I gleaned form the Idionomothetic research, passing on our findings to help design the next generation of psychoanalytical systems for Starfleet. I always thought that my first assignment, to the Soyuz class U.S.S. Monarch, was a waste of time. I thought that I was assigned there to ‘cool my heels' whilst my friends were all exploring beyond the outer rim of the Federation on Oberth, Excelsior and Constellation class starships. What I came to realise was that my mentor was preparing me for my own five years beyond the borders.

Hawkins stopped the log. There was no point reminiscing on his days with Commander Carter and the U.S.S. Montrose. It was his next assignment he needed to worry about. A glint in the periphery of his vision reminded him that Hawkins now wore Commander's bars, and that as Commanding Officer on the U.S.S. Sheffield it was going to be his job to get the mission done to the best ability of any Starfleet vessel. That is what Hawkins had assured Vice Admiral Hudson.

The door chimed and Hawkins was torn away from the window looking out over Jingir II. "Come."

The door opened to reveal an enlisted crewman in the uniform of a steward. Crewman Bates, as Hawkins recalled. "Sorry to disturb you, Sir." The Glaswegian accent was refreshingly familiar. "We've arrived at the station and they're expecting you."

"Thanks, Mr. Bates." Hawkins smiled. Bates nodded and backed away from the door, allowing it to close.

Captain Hawkins picked up his PADD and headed for the airlock to walk into the station.

The reception area of Station Psi 4, like the rest of the station, was brightly lit and welcoming. A reception desk there was manned by a male Betazoid in Federation science uniform. Hawkins had to remind himself that this wasn't a Starfleet base. He walked up to the desk.


"Captain Hawkins," said a voice to Hawkins' side, completing his sentence. The voice sounded friendly and the person was smiling when they said it. Small details Hawkins' mentor had taught him to take note of at the Academy. He turned to face the new arrival.

The voice came from an Aenar female, slightly built with that whitish skin, white hair and sightless eyes that were indicative of that Andorian cousin race. This was the only Aenar Hawkins had ever met, but with her telepathic abilities, it was as if they had known each other for a lifetime. The strange thing was that she was blind. Still, for a race as telepathically capable as an Aenar, she could easily have caught the passive output of the humanoids around her—literally seeing the world through their eyes.

"V'riel. It is good to see you again." Hawkins smiled, a brief attempt at shaking hands soon turning into a hug.

"Here to try and whisk me away with you again, Nathan?"

Hawkins smiled still more, always a good defence mechanism. "I'm here to talk to you, to see what technology you have that could aid the Sheffield mission…"

She pursed her lips.

"…and yes, I am here to talk about the mission with you, see what you think."

Hawkins walked along the corridor, looking occasionally into the open doors of the laboratories and other rooms that were undesignated. The corridors were well-illuminated with plants in abundance—someone had obviously gone to great efforts to make the station as friendly and welcoming as possible.

The canteen area was, if it were possible, even more relaxed than the rest of the station. The whole wall was a window into space, turning and showing the planet below, before arcing and showing the vastness of space—albeit very, very slowly. The tea here was as good as Nathan remembered.

"It's been, what, two years since I was here last?" Hawkins observed.

"Three and a half," chuckled V'riel. "You should get a better chronometer."

"I've lost track of time."

"Must be all that training. You were a young lieutenant last time you were here, trying to go up in the world. Now I see you are a Commander and a ship's captain, out on official business for your ship already."

"I know," Nathan smiled again, "not even out of spacedock and I'm already a ship-proud man." He took another sip of tea. God it was good.

"As you should be," V'riel joked, before becoming serious again. "You know that you have requested equipment that we haven't even passed as ready yet?"

Hawkins nodded. "No equipment is really ‘ready' until it is tested. Given the difficulty of what Starfleet Intelligence wants me to do, I want to have the best equipment for the job. Ready or not." He broke into a half-smile again, "Besides, we can always call for tips if we get stuck."

V'riel smiled. She never failed to be in a good mood, and had a good aura to be around. "I know you want me to be on your ship too." "Well, we do need the best people for the job. I can't think of a better person to be our chief Science Officer and Social Sciences expert."

V'riel pulled that anguished face that people do when they really want to do something but can't, and they know the negative answer is going to disappoint but they have no choice. Hawkins knew the answer before she even spoke. Sometimes human intuition makes up for telepathy.

"I'm sorry, Nathan. You know that as an Aenar I am a devout pacifist. I couldn't go on a starship which is armed and may go into combat—that isn't our way."

"Even though our mission is a purely peaceful one? I'd never put you in harm's way, nor put you in a position to make a choice between peace or defence. That's my decision—or my XO if anything happens to me."

V'riel gently shook her head. "I'll help you as best as I can from here, but I cannot join you."

Nathan nodded gently. "I knew it was a long shot."

She looked him in the eye. "But you had to try," she smiled.

Hawkins looked about at the bustle as he finished off the last of the tea. "Excellent tea. What's all the fuss about? I didn't think the George Kelly was dropping off much besides the usual supplies?"

"There's some items coming back from the U.S.S. Urbani that they want us to look at."

"Maybe their own Freudian couch?" Hawkins joked. "So what's new here?"

"We have five hundred personnel on this station, eighteen research laboratories and nine multifunctional rooms with seven secure units. We have people from all of the psionically talented races of the Federation, and a few from other places too. At any one time we have nine studies underway here on the station, whilst simultaneously examining data from over two dozen starships dotted around the galaxy."

Nathan let out a breath. "Seems like you're busy then. You practice saying that spiel at night, or is it written on the back of your hand?"

V'riel sensed he was jesting at her. "Careful, Commander, my race have been known to make it impossible for people to find the exits. I'd hate for you to be wandering round this station for the next four days." A few seconds of mock-stern face soon melted into a cheeky smile.


Captain Hawkins had not succeeded in getting V'riel to join the mission, but he had reunited himself with an old friend. He would have to fall back on Plan B for the Social Sciences officer, and that was more than just a prickly issue from his past. More than a few people had warned Hawkins to "leave the past in the past", but he needed the best people for this mission—that was his ex-Captain's words to him—and he was not going to let something from the past affect his decisions about the future.

There were just three officers kept from the old senior staff of Captain Okigbo—Lieutenant Commander Judith Peers, Lieutenant Sean O'Reilly and Lieutenant Kara Fox. Kara Fox was the Chief Communications Officer and had demonstrated, on countless occasions, that she possessed unmatched communications and encrypting skills. Such skills would be vital for the mission ahead and Hawkins knew it. The svelte redhead had a reputation for being rather abrupt at times, and not suffering fools gladly, but her talents more than made up for this shortfall of personality.

Sean O'Reilly was a native of Ireland and an old friend of Hawkins. The two of them had been together since the Academy and had both been on the winning Inspiration race of 2297. There were more tales to tell of Hawkins and O'Reilly than could be fit into a saga. There was the time O'Reilly sneaked down to the surface of Delta IV, the time that Hawkins met Judith Peers for the first time, the time that O'Reilly had made sure that Hawkins and Peers were trapped together and uninterrupted...

Times had changed since then. Peers had gotten married and settled down for a time before divorcing. Hawkins had invited her aboard the Sheffield when he was XO. Peers had responded to the invitation by almost walking straight back off the ship when she realised who had sent her the invitation. Peers had decided to accept the role as social sciences deputy head and, over time, she had fallen for the chief engineer. This had caused ‘complications' with Hawkins. He denied this, of course, but any empath worth their salt knew the emotions emanating from the XO.

Since then, Peers had gained promotion to Lieutenant Commander, whereas O'Reilly was still the same rank and position. This had caused friction between Peers and O'Reilly and now threatened to destroy the fledgling romance. Hawkins had been seen what was happening but stayed clear. A war between friends was not something to get involved in. Both O'Reilly and Peers knew he wanted them to stay, but also if there was a problem there was the option for either of them to leave.


Spacedock, in orbit of Earth.

Judith Peers managed to find a chief security officer in Lieutenant Jonathan Hirst. Hirst was a man with a reputation. Unfortunately, the reputation was more for his shameless womanising as much as it was for his prowess with a phaser and tactical issues. It appeared from second-hand accounts that Peers had found Hirst in a bar at the spacedock. He had just come off the U.S.S. Invincible, where he had cut his teeth as a junior security officer. Hirst had shown himself to be a competent security officer, but his womanising ways had gotten him into trouble more than once. Hirst had spent the last twelve weeks unwinding and trying to find himself a new starship to serve on. The Invincible had been decommissioned, so it had to be a new ship.

The bar allowed Hirst to do what he did best: charm the female officers from other ships that came in, with the hope of it becoming more than just a conversation. The irony was that he was good at what he did. The Yorkshire accent and rugged good looks made him come across as the ‘bit of rough' that some of the ladies wanted. The twinkle in his eye and good physique helped him in this respect. The trouble for Hirst was that he had actually tried hitting on Lieutenant Commander Peers, not knowing that she was in the bar for business. Normally that could have killed off the career posting dead, but Peers was flattered by his approach. Besides, his career spoke for itself in terms of his professionalism and capabilities.

The PADD slapped down on the bar, just after Hirst arrived with the drinks for the two of them.

"What's this, Judith?" he asked, a little confused.

Peers smiled like a cat looking at a canary, "The real reason I'm here."

"You mean I'm not it?"

Peers chuckled. "No. You never let me finish my sentence, Jonathan." She emphasised his name, as if to remind him of their respective ranks. "My captain sent me to look for a new security chief and you look like a good candidate."

The smile returned to the face of Hirst.

Back onboard the Sheffield, Peers laid down the law with Hirst. The skills and competence he had was what Hawkins had asked for, the womanising would need to be controlled. She arranged for Hirst to go to the nearby ranges to prove he was as good with a phaser as the record showed. A couple of practical exercises at crowd control and security procedures with minimal force and Hirst had shown his true talents didn't just lie with charming the ladies. They had their security chief.


Midway through the refit of the Sheffield, a shuttle docked in shuttle bay two of the Sheffield. It contained some of the new crew that Hawkins had asked for, including an old friend.


The heads of the High Houses gathered around the newly-crowned Chancellor. The Arbiter had placed the ceremonial robes onto the recipient, the medals and badges of office jangling on the oversized cloak as it rippled into place. Despite the size of the robes, Kaarg filled the outfit of office well with his hulking form.

"Q’apla’, Q’apla!" rang out the voices of the assembled High Council as they celebrated the crowning of their new leader. The race had been a tight one, with both parties stating their cases for choosing them. Battles had been listed, achievements described in detail as well as explaining their agenda as Chancellor and how they would bring new honour and glory to the empire.

Once the cheering had subsided, Kaarg stood to give his inauguration speech; these words would define the direction of the empire and could change lives for the Houses assembled before him as well as innocent worlds which had yet to hear the word ‘Klingon’.

"Today is a victory for honour and for us all. Kahless himself said that we are Klingons and that we need no one else. Gorkon, and his daughter Azetbur, both showed us that we needed assistance to help rebuild our world after the explosion of Praxis. I stand before you today to say that we no longer need this help, that we are ready to stand once more on our feet and forge our own destiny."

Cheers interrupted the speech; Kaarg had chosen his words well, honouring his predecessors whilst still reversing their policies. Kaarg was a planner, a thinker as well as a man of action. Previous incidents had shown he could plan ahead as easily as he could choke his enemies with his bare hands.

"Azetbur reminded us at Khitomer that we are a proud race. I stand before you to say we shall regain our lost footing, rebuild our fleets and return to the true path of Kahless and glory shall surely be ours. Kahless said that the sharp blade cuts true; our warships and skills have been allowed to rust whilst we have become dependent on hand-outs. We shall read the words of Kahless once more, as our fathers taught us to and their fathers before them."

The chamber echoed again with the roars of satisfaction of the assembled senior Klingons. Around Kaarg stood generals and captains, Klingons who would indeed relish the opportunity to have their dilapidated ships repaired. Azetbur had preferred to use words and talking did not keep the warrior’s blade sharp or their warship maintained.

Kaarg drew his hands up, eager to play the audience around him that was hanging on his every word.

"To teach our sons and daughters about the words and ways of Kahless, I hereby create the Children of Kahless; this organisation will exist to teach and to train our young on what it is to be Klingon. For the High Council I propose but one change: Azetbur, whilst wise on rebuilding our home world after Praxis, neglected the ways set down by Kahless. She did not choose a mate, nor did she build her House to continue the lineage of her father. Kahless taught us the lord of the House should rule in matter of politics, whilst our women kept our Houses in order. To keep these ways and to keep us true to ourselves, I hereby forbid women from serving on the High Council. No more Houses should fall whilst we decide our roles in society. Kahless showed us the way, let us follow him!"

Uproar! Those female Klingons present in the council chambers rocked and shouted in protest as the male Klingons shouted their support of the restoration of gender roles the way Kahless saw it. A few of the female Klingons stormed from the chambers, the great doors cast aside. Vixis skulked in the shadows; this would complicate her plans but would not foil them. Klaa was still on the council: he would have another day.

The Arbiter calmed the voices after a few minutes to allow Kaarg to continue.

"For almost 20 years our empire has slowly crumbled. Houses have fallen as a result of Praxis; great Houses as well as minor ones. I want the generals assembled here to send their ships to secure our borders, to find us new resources and to see what we need to rebuild. Kahless built us an empire; let us rebuild it to honour him!"

The cheers lifted the roof as the vats of the finest blood wine were brought into the Great Hall, starting the celebrations which would last for days afterwards.

Chapter 4: A new ship and old friends

There were few starships in the Starfleet registry with as distinguished a career as the Sheffield, with a history dating back to the 20th century in the Royal Navy, and far further back if the history of the namesake city was taken into account. The first Town-class cruiser called Sheffield was always referred to as ‘Old Shiny', so in continuation of this theme the current one was referred to as ‘Space Shiny'—as had all the space-borne ships.

Nathaniel Hawkins was contemplating the long and illustrious history of this ship as he headed for the shuttlebay to receive the shuttle which had just arrived from Earth. Hawkins was accompanied by the Chief Engineering Officer—and long time friend—Sean O'Reilly. Sean was from Kilkenny in Ireland, with medium height, boyish looks and hazel eyes to compliment his brown hair. Sean was always of good humour, but his friendship with Hawkins had become strained over the last few months. Both officers did their best to keep the friction discreetly hidden, but the feelings were still there.

O'Reilly and Hawkins had been inseparable during their Academy days, both enjoying the triumph of winning on the Inspiration in 2297. Hawkins had been the skipper and O'Reilly had been his right hand man. The divisive element that now stood in the way of their friendship was an age-old one: a woman. O'Reilly was currently dating the woman that Hawkins had during his Academy days. The irony was that Hawkins had invited Judith Peers back onto the ship, against the advice of his mentor and many others. Peers had fallen for O'Reilly and now the friendship had a wedge placed between them. The situation had also taken a twist with the promotion of Peers which, in itself, had undermined the relationship between her and O'Reilly.

The corridors were still full of Copernicus fleet yard technicians and Starfleet engineers as the ship was slowly refit from stem to stern. O'Reilly had been supervising much of the work that had been undertaken; he was needed to receive the latest arrivals from Earth as they had to consult about the modifications needed for the new navigation and helm controls. These new arrivals were referred to as the ‘Whale Team', for obvious reasons. The Sheffield was due to be fitted with a new helm and navigation system from the cetacean institute on Earth. This new system would enable the Sheffield to manoeuvre quicker than standard Miranda-class starships; so ran the theory.

O'Reilly was busy showing off the ship to Hawkins, as the two of them toured the decks on the way to the hanger. Hawkins had toured the ship before and had read the technical manuals, now it was his tour as the captain of the ship. This was different. O'Reilly was ensuring that Hawkins knew this ship—really knew it—and would know the various options at his command should he so command it.

The Sheffield was now twenty-six years old, being launched in January 2286 from the Copernicus Yards on Luna. She was one of a batch of three Miranda class vessels which were ordered to replace lost ships. Sheffield, Coventry and Ranger were all from this small batch of cruisers and were well equipped to deal with the rigors of deep space exploration. Only the Constellation class of starship surpassed the Miranda class in this role, and the Excelsior and Renaissance class ships were a number of years from becoming established in this role. The Sheffield actually had much of the original ship from the mid-2280s still in place; the ship was part of the batch built after the refit design became standard, not one of the original vessels that were rebuilt. Parts of the U.S.S. Sheffield were also state-of-the-art, with a new Sickbay and laboratories. Hawkins had insisted that the Sheffield had the most up-to-date facilities in this respect to ensure his mission had the best chances of success.

Just as Hawkins and O'Reilly entered shuttlebay two, one of the Sheffield's shuttlecraft – Helen Sharman named for the first British cosmonaut – slid into her assigned space. The rear door slowly opened, like a mouth yawning. As the door opened wide enough, Hawkins looked straight into the face of an old friend, flanked by her new associates. Doctor Helen Marshall was one of Nathaniel's oldest friends; he had known her since his days at the academy. Their paths had crossed a few times since then, usually when discussing old days at San Francisco with Judith Peers. Helen came from the old millionaires playground of Hayling Island; rebelling from her parents to assert herself in her own career. Marshall trained at Starfleet Academy in medicine, specialising in psychiatry and biological psychology; this training had come in handy in the latter part of her career. At the sight of Hawkins, she smiled. The two of them embraced before she spoke.

"Permission to come aboard, Captain."


Marshall waited until two of the other officers flanked her; she introduced them.

"This is Lieutenant Shai Ramon, your new navigator and this is Lieutenant Marcus Mossl, your new helmsman."

"Welcome aboard gentlemen, a pleasure to have you aboard. I believe Mr O'Reilly here wishes to discuss the modifications you propose." Hawkins gestured to his friend alongside.

After Ramon and Mossl departed with Sean O'Reilly, Hawkins decided to escort Helen Marshall to her quarters. It was a good chance to catch up with an old friend, not to mention a good opportunity to find out what had happened since he last saw her.

"Last time I saw you, Helen, you were still working in psychiatry; helping me at the time as I recall. How did one of my medical officers, and mission specialist, end up with whales?"

"I studied whales off the coast of Australia and in the Pacific region in general, as you may recall. I decided for a change of scenery from psychiatry and whales always held a fascination with me. Besides, after reading the papers by Professor Gillian Taylor of the cetacean institute, I couldn't hold back my enthusiasm." Marshall had that infectious smile that Hawkins always remembered.

"You always scored higher than me in comparative psychology, so I can't say I'm all that surprised you ended up where you have. Lieutenants Mossl and Ramon seem to know what they are doing. I even understand Mossl has artificial gills?" queried Hawkins, fascinated by the subject and relishing discussing scientific matters instead of command details.

"He does indeed; interaction with the whales directly makes repairs to the whale/helm system easier. You cannot beat a hands-on approach."

As they walked through the corridors in the heart of the ship, a lithe female lieutenant with dark hair joined them. She politely interrupted Hawkins and handed him a PADD to examine. Hawkins read down the details as Marshall asked him:

"So what happened to that girl you were seeing last time we spoke?" She thought for a second, to remember the details, "Eryn, with a ‘y' wasn't it?"

Hawkins read to the bottom, seeming to suppress the smile that made his lips itch.

"Sorry, I should have introduced my chief of special services – she's an expert in all things diplomatic."

The brunette lieutenant extended a hand, adding with an Australian accent "Lieutenant Eryn Hart. That's Eryn with a ‘y'."

Both Nathaniel and Eryn couldn't help but smile at the embarrassment of Helen Marshall.

"Those details look great, Eryn. It seems you have covered pretty much everything we discussed last time. Have you sorted the issue of the chef and Klingon food yet?"

"I'm working on it. It helps when you have more details on what Klingon food is; not to mention you need to find a chef prepared to deal with live food – and I don't just mean lobsters."

"Very well, keep me posted."

With a gesture of his hand forwards, Hawkins ushered Marshall and himself onwards down the corridor. There were engineers working on exposed panels of circuitry and lights as the two officers walked towards the quarters where Marshall was to stay. The systems that were being installed upgraded the ship to the latest standards and were a far cry from the original systems the ship was equipped with in the 80s. Panels allowed the crew to access the ship's computer from a multitude of points on the ship, as well as locating crew and specific rooms. The lighting was being improved in the corridors, as well as the damage control systems.

Hawkins and Marshall arrived at the grey door which had Marshall's name already stencilled on, next to the room location.

"These are your quarters. I think you'll find they are an improvement on anything we had on the Montrose."

The door opened, exposing quite a large room, with space for a table, seating arrangements, a dressing table and locker for all of the uniforms and casual clothes which Marshall would need for the mission. She looked inside.

"Very impressive, are your quarters like this?"

"No, they're bigger." smiled Hawkins. "Then again, I do have to hold meetings and work in mine. It's not just for sleeping."

As Hawkins was about to excuse himself and leave Marshall to settle in, she stopped him.

"Nathan, I just wanted to say how glad I am that you are with Judith again."

Hawkins was caught a little off-guard, but replied "If you mean serving with her, then yes we have managed to serve for five years without killing one another – despite what people thought at the time."

"I didn't know whether it was a good idea, when you first told me about it five years ago." Marshall put her hand on Hawkins' shoulder, "I think it is a good idea now; I saw the preliminary results of your studies together."

Hawkins nodded and turned to go. "I better let you settle in, besides I need to see what O'Reilly and your two colleagues are getting up to with my ship."

With an exchange of smiles, Captain Hawkins continued down the corridor, allowing Marshall to enter her quarters and look around.


Lieutenant Sean O'Reilly had found it a little awkward being around his commanding officer, and best friend, for some time. It was since he had been dating Judith Peers that things had become complicated. Sean remembered back to happier times with Hawkins; the two of them had been at Starfleet Academy together and he had been there for the meeting of Peers and Hawkins, as well as the victory of the Inspiration in '97. Although Hawkins had pursued a career in science and O'Reilly was in engineering, the two of them had still managed to find plenty of time to socialise.

The two friends had shared many assignments together after graduation, including the Montrose and the Sheffield. Sean had joined the Sheffield along with Hawkins five years ago. Hawkins had said that if he got command after the Sheffield mission, he'd naturally want to have O'Reilly as his Executive Officer. That hadn't worked out; he didn't know if it was because of the situation with Peers, but O'Reilly knew that there were two people now up for the job before him. Hawkins had explained that it was because of Peers' performance record and that Ilani had been picked by the admiral, Sean didn't buy it entirely.

That aside, O'Reilly was happy with his role on the Sheffield; he was Chief Engineering Officer and king of his empire down in the vast cathedral that was main engineering. Whilst Hawkins was captain of the ship, O'Reilly ruled down in the bowels of the vessel. It was Sean that had proposed installing the cetacean navigation system into the Sheffield, discussing it with Hawkins and making the necessary changes now that the ship was docked at Copernicus. O'Reilly was headed to the shuttle bay with Hawkins to meet the three members of the cetacean team – Marcus Mossl, Shai Ramon and Helen Marshall. Marshall had been an old friend of Hawkins' and Sean thought it would be a good thing to have her back onboard; a distraction for Hawkins from the other social matters going on.

O'Reilly's thoughts wandered as he walked with Hawkins through the corridors; he pretended to listen to what was being said to him, his mind was on matters elsewhere. The truth was that the relationship that O'Reilly had with Peers, the one which had caused the friction for the last few months, was in the final stages of disintegration. The blame for the break-up could be placed on many people for many reasons; in the end was it worth it? Peers was promoted to lieutenant commander, the pressures of both their jobs had taken its toll and there was the social awkwardness of two senior officers dating. Despite attempts to remedy the situation, O'Reilly feared the situation was doomed to failure.

On the positive side, refitting the Sheffield had kept both Peers and O'Reilly busy. O'Reilly had just finished working with Lieutenant Jonathan Hirst on the new torpedo roll bar sensor/torpedo assembly. The Anglocorp technicians were swarming over the new structure like ants and Hirst had his hands full keeping the situation running smoothly. The presence of Lieutenant O'Reilly aided in the testing of the software and mechanism of the new assembly; when O'Reilly had left Hirst, the first delivery of photon torpedoes was due to arrive. In total, Sheffield would be armed with fifty photon torpedo casings – the primary defensive and sensor probe packaging. The new assembly was an autoloader; gone were the days of having to crew the tiny pod and manually load the torpedoes as when the Miranda class was new.

The two officers neared the shuttle bay; even down here the Anglocorp technicians were omnipresent, toiling away at displays and open ODN relay access ports. The corridors were currently a maze of engineers, open access panels with tools and new parts nearby. This would be gone in a matter of weeks, all closed up and carpeted in a new blue/grey Starfleet-issue flooring. The shuttle bay doors opened, Hawkins and O'Reilly stepped into the cavernous chamber that lay beyond. Sheffield had many shuttles of varying sizes, from the runabout Firth to the aeroshuttle Brierley. Galileo class shuttle Sharman had just arrived and the aft ramp yawned open and clanged to the deck. A cluster of uniformed Starfleet people milled near the ramp before off-loading; O'Reilly recognised Marshall as she strode down the ramp, flanked by two engineering division officers whom Sean recognised as Mossl and Ramon. After introductions to the captain, O'Reilly accompanied the two engineers back into the ship.

Alone with the two new arrivals, O'Reilly felt a little more relaxed; whilst he had been with Hawkins there had been the tension, not to mention explaining engineering matters to a scientist wasn't always the easiest of things. Hawkins' stock answer was "You've got the wrong Hawkins" – a reference to the fact his father was an accomplished engineer in Starfleet, and former chief Engineer of the experimental Excelsior in the 80s. Here Sean was with fellow engineers and they could talk shop, shamelessly use jargon and generally be engineers together.

Whereas O'Reilly was from Kilkenny in Ireland, Marcus Mossl was from Sheffield, just like the captain. Mossl had graduated from Starfleet Academy and had hungered to try out new ideas in engineering. He had been seconded away to Starfleet Research and Development and worked with the Advanced Starship Design Bureau at various offices and fleet yards in the Federation. Mossl enjoyed comparing the technologies of the various races of the Federation, and races outside the borders, measuring the development of a civilisation by the technology they possessed. Marcus liked nothing better than to reverse engineer newly discovered technological artefacts, indeed it was no secret that some of the technological leaps made by the Federation and other races came from items left lying on some deserted planet. Lately, one of the technologies which had interested Mossl was organic technology: the use of living organisms to run a ship.

Cetacean technology was a fairly new development in Starfleet; it had only been twenty-five years or so since a person knowledgeable in whales had arrived from the past, bringing two humpbacked whales with them. Mossl had been drafted in by Starfleet Research and Development to assist in developing the technology for medium size starships such as the Miranda class. Mossl was now aboard the Sheffield to supervise installing the technology and because he wanted to explore the galaxy, not just shipyards. The mission included entering Klingon space and Marcus looked forward to seeing the latest technology they had up close.

Lieutenant Shai Ramon came from the city of Jerusalem. Ramon was the navigation officer of the Sheffield and had prior experience on the Roosevelt and the Montrose. Ramon was another officer who had known the sharp leadership style of An'il'taya and had been ‘persuaded' to move onto a new assignment to best forward his career. This was something that An'il'taya did when an officer or crewmember seemed to be getting too comfortable on the ship. Ramon was an expert navigator and had approached Hawkins about the cetacean program – just as O'Reilly had done the same. Ramon was knowledgeable in Klingon space, from the Montrose aid missions, so Hawkins had no doubts that he was the man for the mission ahead.

"You are in for a treat aboard this ship," said O'Reilly as he was explaining the details of the vessel to the new arrivals, "she has the latest in ODN relays and humanoid/computer corridor interface units – which you can see being installed as we go along. The recreation deck will have a spa area, swimming pool, yoga classes and state-of-the-art gym. I've also managed to acquire new LN-64 warp nacelles for the old girl from Copernicus." There was a twinkle in O'Reilly's eye as he added the latter comment.

"It sounds like a pleasure cruiser, more than a science vessel." noted Mossl.

"It comes from the captain being a psychologist." Ramon replied.

"Touchy-feely scientists, nothing worse." Joked Mossl as he wiggled his fingers to emphasise the expression.

The team entered the tank room; this was the heart of the cetacean team's work. The room consisted of a giant tank for the two dolphins to swim in and be attached to the ship's helm and navigation systems. Two dolphins had been selected for the mission: Swift Fin and Eyes Sparkle. The tank had an airlock attached to it; this allowed a technician to enter the tank to service the equipment, or a medic to enter the tank to attend to the dolphins. Marcus Mossl had been fitted with experimental artificial gills, to allow him to spend protracted periods in the tank. The three engineers all looked at the bare metal walls and exposed ODN conduits as the Copernicus technicians busied themselves installing the system.


Down in Sickbay the veteran Grazerite Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Jobin A'ochak, was examining one of the new biobeds with apparatus from his supply box from Starfleet Medical. Sickbay, like much of the Sheffield, was coming back together slowly. Large medical scanners and intensive care beds were being installed by the medical technician division of the Copernicus yards. These beds were state-of-the-art medical facilities that A'ochak had ordered. He had always kept up with the latest developments in medicine, always at the cutting edge, just like Doctor Marshall. It was she who had recommended these new beds.

He opened the box, removing several new medical tricorders and diagnostic devices; the new Sickbay was at the cutting edge of rapid diagnostic equipment, the line of thought being that the quicker a pathogen was identified, raising the recovery rate for treatments. A'ochak also liked to use natural medicines found in exotic animals, plants, fungi and bacteria. Advanced viral therapy technology was another field which he employed, using a targeted, specific treatment to the individual infection. Modern medicine worked with the individual's own immune system, modified for the species being treated.

In its stripped-down state, Doctor A'ochak could see the isolation ward being assembled. This ward would have to deal with potential level four pathogens, only surpassed by the facilities on dedicated medical starships or starbases. He had pressed hard for better facilities but the resources were scarce and the space available was prohibitive. The chief nursing officer, Savar, was due to arrive on the next run of shuttles from Vulcan. He had worked with Savar before and both their natural calm demeanours meant for a professional, efficient sickbay. With his right hand man in place, A'ochak felt he would be better placed to finalise the piecing together of sickbay.

He entered the almost-completed office and checked the computer for a roster of personnel arriving he needed to consult with. One of the arrivals due was petty officer Ranjiv Singh. Singh was a special services and medical specialist in the field of nutrition. Singh's duty was to ensure that all of the 231 crew aboard the Sheffield had the correct nutritional intake; a healthy diet over a 5-year mission could mean the difference between an efficient crew and unnecessary casualties. The new diagnostic equipment in sickbay would allow Singh to analyse the body of a crewmember to see that the various organs were healthy and functioning normally.

As A'ochak was reading the display, movement caught the corner of his eye: it was his Junior doctor, Amihan Ahkiong, fresh out of Starfleet Medical School. For a moment, Jobin remembered how he felt as a freshly minted doctor, with so much responsibility and no more training to do. Knowing this, A'ochak paused from his reading to greet his aide and make the transition to the real world of medicine a little easier.


Elsewhere on the starship, Lieutenant Eryn Hart had just met with the captain and a new arrival that had managed to embarrass themselves. Eryn was the chief of the special services; this was the blue epaulette division which dealt with the housekeeping elements of the ship. The chefs, stewards, janitors and launderers – all were part of the special services division. This was the division that, when they were working efficiently, they were invisible. Hawkins depended on Hart for the diplomatic aspects of the mission ahead; she was the person responsible for studying up on the cultural and dietary needs of a species and orchestrating the diplomatic dinners accordingly. In the mission ahead, there would be a need for Vulcan meals, Klingon dishes, Deltan dishes and others besides. In her meeting with Hawkins, they had discussed a need for a good quality chef; Hawkins knew that Hart would be the one to find just such a person, specialised in the preparation and presentation of diplomatic dinners.

Eryn was on her way to cargo bay four, where there was some cargo being delivered that she had to ensure was in place; this cargo included the Sheffield silver-plated steel cutlery that Hawkins had demanded be included in the ship manifest. Hart realised that given the name of the starship, and the fact Sheffield was the captain's home, nothing other than cutlery from home would do. The city had been famous for cutlery-making for centuries, even after the steel-making industry had been cut back in the late 20th century. The doors to the cargo bay opened and exposed a cavernous room. Safety was a primary concern when entering a cargo bay; power-loaders carried large pallets around the bay, other pallets were fitted with anti-gravity units and moved into their appropriately allocated area.

Hart was met at the door by petty officer Buraak, a rather dour Tellarite.

"Good afternoon, Lieutenant; what do you want?"

"Mr Buraak, I was just wondering if the package had arrived yet." Eryn let the brusqueness of the Tellarite wash over her.

"Well, lieutenant, on your fourth enquiry you'll be glad to know that the captain's bulk order of cutlery has arrived. Of course, I don't know the difference between a fruit knife and those strange pieces used for seafood. I'll leave it to your team to decipher that one."

Buraak handed Eryn a PADD; she smiled as she looked up the details, eager to see that they matched the original request. Hart was a perfectionist, and even one item that was short or not up to standard would be instantly returned.

"Thank you, Mr Buraak; everything appears to be in order, which means even the fruit knives are in stock." She smiled again, much to the indifference of the petty officer. "Now I just need to check on the delivery of towels for the spa and sauna departments."

Chapter 5: The Unseen Influence

Stardate 13490
14th June 2312
U.S.S. Sheffield
Copernicus Fleet Yards

Floating over the grey, crater landscape of the lunar surface, Copernicus Fleet Yards was a hive of activity. Dozens of starships were in a state of construction or refit; smaller science vessels of Oberth class and patrol vessels of Okinawa class made up much of the work, with larger cruiser sized Miranda and Constellation class vessels making up the rest. Copernicus may not have been producing the larger explorer type Excelsior class starships, but the work done at that yard was no less important. Twenty-five years ago, Sheffield had been constructed in a yard adjacent to the new U.S.S. Hathaway; today those vessels were amongst those at the forefront of exploration.

One of the most important events in a starship history was the setting off on a new mission; Sheffield had completed a series of minor shakedown runs in and around the Sol sector, now it was her time to depart for the frontier. The ship had been busy during the refit and now the activity was reaching a climax; the cargo bays were now stored up ready, the crew were all onboard - minus a few to be boarded from the Courageous and Starbase 77 - and the impulse and warp drive systems had been tested to the satisfaction of Sean O'Reilly and the yard engineers.

In the compact room at the aft section of the bridge module was the captain's ready room. This small room acted as a solace for the commanding officer when he wanted to get away from the mayhem of day-to-day activity for time to think. Hawkins subconsciously stroked his right hand on the stubble on his head as he held a PADD with the latest situation reports in his left. When his career had just begun, twenty years before, most of what he was now looking at would be beyond him; today this wasn't the case, not since the Blazer. Ever since Hawkins had been put on the path to command by the Saurian commanding officer of U.S.S. Montrose, he had begun to understand where all the pieces of a starship operation fit together.

Every starship commanding officer had to fulfil one role on a starship: Operations Officer. Just as once upon a time on the oceans of Earth, the Royal Navy required all captains to become Principal Warfare Officer and understand the overall picture of what was happening in the air, on the sea and under the water; this role gave the officer a grasp of how the overall 'big picture' came together. This was essentially what the Operations Officer worked on a starship, seeing how the systems and departments of a ship came together to enable the missions to be performed. If you couldn't do this as an Ops Officer, you just wouldn't be cut out to be a commanding officer.

Hawkins put the PADD down for a moment and looked at one of the holographs on the wall; it was an image of a younger version of Hawkins, still with hair on his head in the signature brushed-up manner of his formative years as an officer. He was standing on the bridge of the U.S.S. Montrose, a Constellation class starship that had been his first long duration deep-space experience. The captain was named An'il'taya; she had a fierce reputation for changing her crew when they got 'too comfortable' on her ship; a rumour that turned out to be true. The young lieutenant (junior grade) Hawkins had come onto the ship as a junior to the Executive Officer, Commander Robert Carter. Carter and Hawkins had known each other as far back as the Academy and he had chosen Hawkins to aid in his research. Carter was also aware that he had been made an almost irresistible officer by Starfleet to run a science station; Carter was adamant that he wanted a suitable successor and Hawkins was it.

The Montrose - or ‘Monty' as she was affectionately known - was a baptism of fire for the young Hawkins. His previous mission was on the static Soyuz class test vessel U.S.S. Monarch, with a lieutenant commander in command; Montrose was something different. An'il'taya was a veteran of deep-space missions and her tough command style was born of the need to be strict in order to keep her crew alive. She knew that deep-space was dangerous and that discipline was her key to keeping the deaths limited to a minimum. A Constellation class starship may be the most robust class of starship in the fleet, but it still needed her crew to operate; there were no replacement crew beyond the Federation borders.

It was whilst on the Montrose mission that Hawkins had actually begun to experience the geopolitical factors which would ultimately lead to him creating this mission. The Montrose had been on one of the aid missions to the Klingon home world of Kronos. Ever since the explosion of Praxis, the Federation had been sending ships into Klingon space to help study the effects of the explosion and to repair the environmental damage. As Hawkins had subsequently found out, a classified meeting at Starfleet Headquarters had given the Klingon Empire ‘fifty years of life'. Like most Starfleet personnel, Hawkins had been exposed to countless lectures on the Klingons; this led Hawkins to state that Starfleet was ‘obsessed' with Klingons.

He never knew it at the time, but Hawkins enjoyed the experience of travel into Klingon space probably more than his time in uncharted deep space. Deep space missions tended to chart a lot of unpopulated planets or dead worlds; you cannot psychoanalyse dead worlds beyond their status at the end. The Klingons at least offered the chance to study a race in a state of socially dynamic flux. The Romulans too were interesting; a long-term threat to the Federation, Hawkins found it fascinating to study them. The really interesting part was when the result from the Idionomothetic analyses turned out to be unaccountably wrong; not slightly wrong but significantly inaccurate. It was these inaccuracies which had started to form the seeds of this mission. The simple question: why?

The door chimed.


The lithe form of lieutenant commander Judith Peers strode into the room.

"Ah, Judith. You caught me reminiscing again" admitted Hawkins.

Peers looked at the holograph for a moment before replying with an impish smile "You had hair here."

"Indeed. I was just remembering what brought me to this point in my career; I was also remembering what created the mission we are about to embark on."

Peers crossed her arms and frowned almost imperceptibly. "I thought you explained your reasons to Commodore Buckingham?"

"Well, the abridged version. You never did manage to go on a deep-space mission, did you?"

Peers raised an eyebrow fractionally. "Have you been reading my career records again?"

"No, but I do recall that your spell as a family woman cost you the experience of deep space - and I have no doubt that with your scores..."

"..I could have been on an Excelsior class starship. I believe I have heard this argument before."

"Yes you have; it doesn't make it any less true, does it?" he paused for a second for a response that never came. "I deceived you, five years ago, to get you onto this ship and to help get your career back on track. You have been acting Executive Officer as well as working on your own department and acting as Operations Manager until lieutenant commander S'sana arrived from the Courageous. In effect, you have compressed into six months what I had to learn over several years. That is no small effort." Hawkins paused, before voicing the lessons from his recently-stirred memories. "I was remembering my days on the Montrose and the stern command style of Captain An'il'taya. I learned a lot from her, just as I learned a lot from Commander Carter. A 'comfortable crew' is a dangerous crew, a crew that has let its guard down and become complacent with their roles. What is needed is a crew that is sharp, resourceful and going the extra mile without provocation. Only once I commanded the Blazer did I truly understand at last. You are the kind of officer I need. I can only hope that Admiral Hudson is right in placing an unknown as my X.O. instead of you."

Hawkins paused before snapping out of his thoughts with a change in expression from almost serious to a casual smile, accompanied by a sharp intake of breath. "I take it from your appearance that we are ready to leave Copernicus Yards?"

"Aye sir, we are. Mr O'Reilly says he is now satisfied the inertial dampening system has been fine-tuned from that last run out to Pluto and back and he says warp drive is now ready whenever you want it."

Peers had a satisfied look in her eyes; it was plain to see that her stint as Executive Officer had pleased her and Hawkins felt ashamed that he could not keep her in that role. Despite her arrival barely a couple of weeks before, lieutenant commander S'sana had proven herself in the role of Operations Manager. Hawkins had wanted an impartial 'outsider' to be in that role, rather than an officer with an agenda to one department over another. He knew, from his time on the Montrose, that there was a temptation for a dual-role science officer and Operations Manager to prioritise ones own division over any other; besides, he wanted Peers to be able to focus on her mission priorities. She was the mission specialist and Mission Operations officer; a vital role in the mission ahead.

The turbolift doors on the bridge parted as Hawkins and Peers entered and resumed their positions at the captain's chair and science stations respectively.

"Departure stations please. Lieutenant Fox, signal the yard we are ready to depart."

The svelte form of Kara Fox deftly keyed in the instructions on her keyboard, replying momentarily "Dock master confirms and acknowledges we can depart when ready."

Hawkins nodded. "Helm, thrusters at station-keeping; clear automatic moorings and engaged thrusters ahead. Take us out, steady as she goes."

U.S.S. Sheffield suddenly took on new life as her navigational lights winked on, followed shortly by movement as she smoothly moved out of her berth of six months, manoeuvring past a nearly-completed Constellation class starship Valkyrie, undergoing a refit. Once clear of the yard, Hawkins ordered impulse power engaged. The Miranda class starship suddenly accelerated as the raw power of the ship came to bear, powering her to one-third the speed of light. This was the speed the Sheffield had to maintain as she passed Mars, then onto the navigational hazard in the form of the asteroid belt, before accelerating past the powerful gravitational presence of Jupiter. Once the mighty gas giant was past, the ship could change speed again.

"Navigator, plot a course to intercept the Courageous. Helm, prepare to make the jump to warp speed."

Captain Hawkins was very businesslike on the bridge. People who had known him for a long time, such as Judith Peers, noticed the change in demeanour and the maturity that he had attained over the years.

Lieutenant Ramon turned to Hawkins. "Course to intercept the Courageous has been plotted and locked into the system, sir."

Hawkins acknowledged the statement as he raised his right hand, the fore and middle fingers extended together. "Helm, warp seven. Engage!"

With the final word, Hawkins emphasised the command with a downward arc of the raised right hand. Main Engineering, down below, surged with power as the mighty matter/anti-matter reactor brought the full might of its power to bear, charging the warp nacelles and accelerating the Sheffield in a surge of blue into warp speed. Hawkins sat back into his command chair; the mission had begun.


The chancellor’s residence was adorned with the trophies of numerous victories. Klingons did not dwell idly on souvenirs and victories of the past; such was the pastime of those elders who had been denied a glorious death in combat. Trophies did, however, permit a good excuse for a tale or two and songs og great deeds, accompanied by bloodwine.

Kaarg had recovered from the drinking and celebrations of his acceptance as chancellor, he now had some personal matters to attend to. He had asked ambassador Kage and his aide Ditagh to join him in the residence.

Ambassador Kage wore his regal robes of office, the same ones he had worn when he had agreed the Treaty of Algeron with Paulo Endara and Gell Kamemor. Kage had been a close ally of Azetbur and wondered how long his services might be required under the new chancellor. Hi aide was Ditagh; a recent addition to his retinue after his previous aide was required to take up leadership of his House. Ditagh was a muscular, ambitious young Klingon who had confessed to Kage his allegiances lay with the late General Gorak.

It was Gorak who had attacked Azetbur, forcing the choosing of a new chancellor. Since that time, Kage had noted that Ditagh did not seem overly perturbed by the attack by Gorak, which had resulted in the disgrace of that House. A meeting such as this was expected by Kage but a meeting of just the chancellor and himself; the presence of his aide as well was unusual.

"I have asked you both here in order to discuss the new direction of the empire. For too long we have hidden behind words and politeness in order to appease the Federation," the distaste in Kaarg’s voice was clearly evident, leaving a verbal bad taste behind them, "this will continue no longer. We are Klingons, proud and honourable and I intend that we regain our rightful place on the tables of discussion as equals. We are not mewling baby Targs."

Kaarg's thunderous expression would have intimidated most non-Klingons; Kage was nonplussed, he had seen such theatrics before.

"What are your proposals, chancellor?"

"A harder edge; like the blade of a bat’leth. We need the Federation to know that whilst we have accepted their help, for now, that we still have our own agenda: we will not be dictated to by outside powers. Ch’ramak, for instance: this is our new bread basket. I do not care for the bleating of those wet Federation ambassadors talking about human rights."

"Shall we risk having their aid convoys halted?"

"Yes. We are Klingons; we forge our own destiny!" He lent forward with the sincerity of a father. "You, Ditagh, will be a part of this initiative: I want you to go to Nimbus III and make our presence felt. We haven’t had our presence felt there since the death of Koord and I do not want the humans to capitalise on that world. You have been loyal to me and I always reward loyalty".

Loyalty for what, thought Kage, and why is Kaarg fawning over my aide?

Ditagh bowed his head in gratitude, masking the smirk that threatened to play across his lips, "As you command, chancellor." So, you recognise my role in your accession?

"An aide must occasionally be given responsibility, in order to grow." Kaarg seemed to sense the questions on the mind of Kage. "Our guidance now comes from this," he hefted a large tome of the words of Kahless from one of the monasteries, "we must rediscover the path from which we have strayed in order to find ourselves and rebuild our empire. Too many colonies have defied the will of Azetbur and the High Council; we must remind them of the need to obey and the price of rebellion."

The last rebellions were almost two years beforehand and had been put down by General Gorak. Kage was under no illusions that Kaarg, a former General and leader of the main battle fleet of the empire, would not hesitate for a second in putting down any further separatists by force.

Kaarg dismissed the ambassador and his aide, turning his attention to a map of the empire. There were several colonies which were still threatening independence; a swift crushing blow would settle this matter and deter others from such foolish thoughts. The empire would reassert itself, regardless of the cost.

Chapter: Taubat 1

Stardate 13447.5
U.S.S. Chantho
Oberth Class

Mission: Archaeological study of planet PPB-318

Captain Javed Wali, of the New Mumbai colony was deep in prayer. The beauty of Starfleet was the acceptance of the cultures and beliefs of all. This allowed the Muslim commanding officer to adhere to the beliefs of his Indian forefathers whilst maintaining the discipline of being the captain of a science vessel. The usual understanding was that the captain was not to be disturbed during his prayer time, therefore the incessant chiming from his communications station meant that whatever it was, it was serious. He might need to repeat his prayers from the start, but this discovery could be vital.

Wali rose from his prayer mat and activated the screen.

"I take it the ruins have proved to be as interesting as we hoped?" he said, direct and polite.

On the screen was Commander Billy Tyler, his executive officer from Salt Lake City. His Number One was somewhat excited by the look of it and given what they were looking for, this was not good. It was a good thing that this was a secure channel.

"Sorry to disturb you, Captain, but this couldn't wait. Lieutenant Ming has confirmed that the language samples on the artefacts are Taubat."

"Taubat?" repeated the Captain, unconsciously. Wherever there were Taubat, it was known that the real danger, the Metar, were not far behind. "Are the artefacts recent?"

"Inconclusive. The humidity and constant downpours in this rainforest make an accurate dating of them virtually impossible. Since we are trying to lock down the date to within the last 20 years; that isn't going to be easy."

The Chantho was assigned to this as-yet-unnamed planet to study some archaeological remains on the planet from an as-yet unidentified race. The executive officer was leading the away team on the planet to catalogue and compare the remains with those on the extensive Federation database. The remains looked to have been untouched for some years, although the humid rainforest conditions had degraded the remains possibly faster than would have been the case in arid desert.

With the Andromedan invasion, which had caused a distraction for the Beta Quadrant with a handful of ships for the last decade, now in the final stages of being repulsed, Starfleet was now addressing older problems.

Twenty years beforehand, the three superpowers of the Beta Quadrant were caught up in a land rush for the Tabula Rasa worlds- a group of systems pulled out of subspace by the detonation of the Shiva weapon by the Romulans. These worlds turned out to be the prison of a powerful species known as the Metar; only with help from the ancient enemies of the Metar- the Hubrin- were the Federation able to return the Metar to their prison.

When the data from the final closing of the subspace rift was examined in detail, the advanced sensors of the Starfleet ships suggested that a handful of Metar ships may have escaped and scattered. Up until now there were only rumours of sightings of the vassal race to the Metar- the Taubat. This new discovery could well be the evidence of a growing threat hiding in the shadows.

This far out on the rim there were many thing that were either unseen beforehand or just simply unexplained. The Montrose and Fearless had both been out this far, searching on wild goose stories of Metar escapees from two decades beforehand. Wali hadn't heard of anything from the top brass about any findings, but the instructions for this mission did include special details for reporting any such findings directly to Admiral Hudson directly.

There had been many anonymous worlds that the Chantho had been sent to beforehand, worlds either devoid of life or with ruins such as these. It was only now that the secret briefing that the two senior most officers had sat through came into force.

Captain Wali returned his thoughts to the matter in hand; "Keep working on dating those artefacts, commander."

"What shall we tell the Admiral?"

Wali remembered the long conversations that he had with his XO about the Great Metar Hunt. They had discussed what they would look for in terms of definitive evidence, as well as what they would do in the actual event of finding it. There would be some briefing of need-to-know information in light of this and the Chantho mission would jump up the priority list.

"Just you let me worry about that, Number One."

* * * * *

Starfleet Intelligence Office,
Starfleet Command,
San Francisco, Earth.

Vice Admiral Kylie Hudson, the deputy chief of Starfleet Intelligence, was troubled. This latest report from the Chantho was what she and her predecessors had feared for the last twenty years. The emission of energy from the closing Tabula Rasa rift had been enough to blind most sensors; it had only been the cutting edge Excelsior class starships that had provided the evidence of Metar. Intelligence had feared that this wild goose chase would turn out to be more than that and here- possibly- was the proof. Both the Fearless and Montrose had reported finding that some of the smaller republics in the Beta Quadrant had been developing bio-technology far beyond their means over the last few years. The source of their bio-tech had never been confirmed.

She knew that all three superpowers had denied obtaining or retaining any Metar technology after they were re-secured in the rift. The reality was, she knew, that all three governments had either captured technology or taken detailed scans. The technology had- so far- defied successful replication, but the emergence of this bio-tech was suggestive that someone had had- at least on a limited scale- managed to do so.

The Vice Admiral had to plan contingencies quickly. Her solution was twofold: to recommend to Commodore Buckingham that he bolster the defences of Starbase 77, reactivating the role it had during the Tabula Rasa campaign. Dreadnoughts Zrinyi and Fuso and fleet carriers Glorious and Ocean would be added to the compliment of cruisers, destroyers and frigates already assigned to the starbase. The second aspect of her plan would be to recommend that the Sheffield mission include a specific role to hunt down the Metar and Taubat- the two races being obviously linked. Similarly, the Fearless would spearhead an active sweep of the area, following her captain's lead about the bio-tech and hunting down the source.

This discovery, like the prior ones, would be controlled and kept to captain's and executive officers only- any other personnel on a need-to-know basis. With the Andromedans and ISC now contained this disturbing new development was to be- discreetly- assessed and dealt with.

Hudson finished her coffee and prepared to talk to the Starfleet Chief of Operations. Perhaps reactivating the dedicated Ninth Fleet from Starbase 77 might become necessary after all...

Chapter 6: Feeling in three dimensions.

The candle was lit. The flickering flame was the only source of light on the shimmering bowl of water, representing the rising sun on the shores of P'liaris. Muscles and sinews stretched as the nude form gracefully loosened up in the semi-darkness. As the body prepared itself for the day ahead, so did the mind.

The Cha'uud ritual was the Deltan way of starting the day. On Delta IV, the ritual was supplemented by the rising sun on the horizon and the sea air that permeated the archipelagos of the planet. Then there were the people, other Deltans. Here there were none; the ritual was being performed in virtual mental silence. There were other psionic presences, but none had the beautiful pattern of a Deltan mind.

The ritual continued with the systematic cleansing of the body, as much symbolising the cleansing of the mind and spirit ready for the day ahead as it was the cleansing of the body. The quarters were gently scented by the oils used after the washing was completed, providing the silky skin with a sheen. The Cha'uud was completed by a meal of fruits and vegetables. Once satisfied, the Starfleet uniform was removed from the wardrobe. Trousers slipped on, along with the command white undershirt. Boots followed, finished off by the maroon jacket, fastened by the belt buckle and shoulder strap.

Commander Ilani looked at herself in the mirror. The Cha'uud ritual had helped her prepare for the day, but it still did not resolve her feelings from that last mission. She couldn't talk to any Vulcan member of the crew about it; they were a race so afraid of their emotions that they taught themselves to control them. Neither could she speak to the Chief Medical Officer, or the other humans onboard. They were emotionally immature as a species, they were ruled by their emotions and did not understand always what they meant and what they should do about them. Deltans were regarded as the most emotionally intelligent race in the Federation, if not all known space. The only species closest to the Deltans for Ilani's needs were the Betazoids. There were none assigned to the Courageous.

The call from Admiral Hudson was expected, she knew Kylie Hudson well from their time together. Ilani wanted to go home, she had done her bit for King and Country. Hudson had a way of working people round to her way of thinking. Most times. Ilani had reluctantly agreed when she had heard of one development: the Sheffield was having purpose-designed Deltan quarters onboard; Ilani would be amongst her people again.

Deltans were emotional people, whose abilities with pheromones and telempathy made them as evolutionarily advanced in their emotional intelligence as to make humans look like children by comparison. The Deltans were an old race, older than the humans were and equally old as the Vulcans and Romulans. Unlike those latter races, the Deltans did not seek to journey amongst the stars. For a Deltan to be away from their people is like a musician to be taken away from an orchestra and plunged into silence. The intensity of shared emotions between Deltans made it impossible to achieve the same effect amongst non-Deltans. The emotional immaturity of other species meant Deltans had to take an Oath of Celibacy with Starfleet.

Ilani detested the Oath. For her it was an insult to the Deltan people, stating they had no self-control. The irony, that it was the emotionally immature species that needed the reassurance from a pledge. From before her first mission on U.S.S. Emden in 2284, the other races of the Federation, and beyond had fascinated Ilani. In terms of cognitive intelligence, the Vulcans matched the Deltans. Both species had become the dominant ones on their worlds by the attainment of intelligence. For the Vulcans, this had both led them to, and saved them from, the nuclear Armageddon that had turned their world into the desert it now was. The Deltans had not fought wars; their telempathic emotional links made that prospect far too painful.

Unlike most Deltans, Ilani had chosen to explore the other worlds and races of the universe. She was curious to see what experiences the other species experienced and what experiences they could share with her. The Deltan home world was off-limits to most non-Deltans, limiting the experience of off-worlders to the moons of Seyann and Cinera. Deltans tended to explore their innerspace, to meditate and be at one with each other and the surrounding ecosphere. Ilani wanted to know what wonders lay beyond Delta IV. She had promised to return. That was thirty-one years ago.

What Ilani had not counted on was her talents as a Starfleet officer. Her natural abilities gave her certain advantages, and she used them to the full. The experiences at Starfleet Academy had also exposed the young Ilani to a danger that would be ever present: members of other races who could not cope with her Deltan sensuality and pheromones. This could manifest itself as advances, stalking behaviour or worse. Ilani had seen, and cope, with it all.

As Ilani snapped out of her momentary meditation and straightened her uniform jacket, she decided that the mission now, and assignment to U.S.S. Sheffield, would be her last. Ilani wanted to go home and start her family, as was the Deltan way. She wanted children before it was too late. Her parents and siblings had all hinted, in their own way, that Ilani would not feel fulfilled until she was a mother. She knew they were right.

Ilani headed out of her quarters, towards the turbo lift. This was part of her daily routine. 06:00 hours. As she made her way towards the turbo shaft, she could sense the background noise of waking minds. If she thought for a second, she could identify some or all of those minds: the logical Vulcans and irrational humans. Ilani reached the turbo lift, stepping into the brightly-lit interior with a cross-sectional diagram of the Courageous prominently at the back - with a marker for the current position of the turbo lift.

"Deck nine."

The turbo lift smoothly snapped the doors shut and sped downwards towards Ilani's destination: the Intelligence department. Seconds later, the doors snapped open and Ilani took the left turn to the doors of her department. The scanner on the door scanned Ilani's unique neural and DNA signature, as well as the security device on her uniform, allowing her access into this most secret section of the Courageous. Turning to her right, Ilani entered her office and sat down. She did not disturb those personnel working on the secure communications stations; they would greet her when they were not busy.

Isolation was not the first choice of a Deltan, but Ilani needed to concentrate on the first tasks of the day without any distractions. With her transfer to the Sheffield imminent, it was more important than ever that she get these tasks completed promptly. With no loose ends. Once her office doors were closed, Ilani activated her displays, secure files and systems.

"Computer: activate systems, code Ilani-gamma-one-seven."

"Working. Systems activated."

The displays that came up revealed the events from overnight. There was more unrest in the Klingon Empire. Since the assassination of Chancellor Azetbur, there were more individuals in the empire seeking power. Half a dozen factions were listed by Starfleet Intelligence. Ilani respected the Klingons; they were a race that almost matched the Deltans for passion and emotion. Ilani smiled to herself, the Klingons might not see it that way.

There was no news on the Romulan front. Silence. Ever since the events of the Tomed Incident, the Romulans had retreated behind their Neutral Zone. The Treaty of Algeron had seen the Romulans withdraw, and the Federation rescinds all use, and research into, cloaking technology. After the last decade of Romulan brinkmanship, intrigue and the threat of war this was uncharted territory. Dark memories, and associated feelings, surfaced once more. Ilani sat for a moment, closed her eyes and the feelings transformed into calm once more.

Ilani was a Deltan who had developed a career for herself in Starfleet. This was a rare occurrence for a Deltan. Deltans, by their very nature, tended to strongly miss the company of their own kind and had to accept the behaviour of the less emotionally developed races around them would be influenced by their pheromones. To a Deltan, humans - for example - were like a child in their ‘Terrible Twos' when it came to emotions: they were often ruled by their emotions, reacting to them without understanding them. In the case of Deltan pheromones, this could result in unwanted attention. Ilani, like other Deltans, had the patience to understand humans cannot always control what they do because, like the toddler, they do not understand things as they do. Some Deltans resorted to drug therapy to control their pheromones. Most, like Ilani, understood the nature of their biochemistry, choosing to control their pheromones by meditation and thought.

Ilani was reminded of the other reason for their being few career Deltans when she stepped onto the Bridge of the Courageous some hours later. The instant she stepped out of the turbo lift, she could read the emotional states of all of the crew on the bridge, even the controlled emotional output of the Vulcan science officer. She could feel the reactions to her presence, even though her pheromone emission was minimal. At the same time, there was a feeling that the emotional ‘dialogue' was blunted, dulled by the limited emotional abilities of the others on the ship.

Deltans were a ‘three-dimensionally' emotional race, whereas humans were still 'two-dimensional'. A human could understand how they felt and could read the emotions of another human in line-of-sight. A human could empathise and counsel another, helping to change how the other person felt. By comparison, the sophisticated emotional biology which Deltans had evolved (such as an enlarged amygdala) allowed them to sense accurately what others felt around them. They could read body language like a book. The pheromone and telempathic aspects of a Deltan allowed them to have an ‘emotional dialogue' with other Deltans around them, even whilst out of sight. The pheromones also enabled Deltans to even modify the feelings and behaviours of those around them - truly it was a sophisticated biochemical system that had evolved.

The long service in Starfleet had helped Ilani get used to the dulled emotional experience, but the appeal of serving with Deltans on the Sheffield in purpose-designed quarters did appeal. Ilani was naturally good at what she did. Her abilities meant that she could read emotions of others, gauge their state-of-mind and assess their needs. This was useful for Ilani's job as an intelligence officer, as well as her command skills as an officer.

Ilani had spent most of her career on Miranda class cruisers. She had been on U.S.S. Emden prior to the Courageous. On the view screen, hovering in holographic techno-magic was her next assignment: U.S.S. Sheffield. The Courageous had stayed on-station for the last six months gathering data on the developing Klingon situation, ready to transfer the accumulated information across to the Sheffield upon her arrival.

Admiral Hudson's instructions were clear: Commander Ilani was to transfer to the Sheffield, taking the information across with her. Captain Scartine wasn't entirely happy with the loss of Ilani - that she could sense - but he would lose her regardless, whether to the Sheffield or back to Delta IV. Ilani had decided to go with the Sheffield option.

"Everything ready, Commander?" Enquired Scartine.

"Everything". Ilani smiled pleasantly, presenting her hand. "It has been an honour and a privilege, Captain. Permission to disembark?"

Scartine rose from his chair, grasping Ilani's tiny hand in his massive clasp.

"Permission granted Ilani. And the pleasure was all mine."

The journey to the transporter room was a wave of emotion for Ilani. The hardest emotion for a Deltan to bear was goodbye. These were people that she had got to know over the last few years, good friends. For a new adventure to begin, you had to say goodbye to the old one. The final farewells were said from the transporter pad. A tear made its way down the cheek of Ilani as she dematerialised from the Courageous.

It was a different collection of people as it was a different atmospheric mood when she materialised in the identical transporter room of the Sheffield. Ilani quickly wiped away the tear and looked up at the greeting party. There were three people in the room: a tall close-shaved man who came across as being the Captain. Next to him was an equally tall blonde science woman. This second individual spoke more with her body language and surface emotions than she could with words. Whilst the captain was full of expectation and curiosity, this second officer had feelings of mild hostility that she was trying to hide under her professional demeanour.

"Permission to come aboard."

"Granted". Said Hawkins pleasantly. "Welcome aboard the Sheffield. This is Lieutenant Commander Judith Peers, my second officer, who has been acting-Executive Officer until your arrival. The two of you ought to compare notes to facilitate a smooth transition. I will see you both of the bridge later. She's all yours, Commander."

Hawkins gestured for Peers to take Ilani on the introductory tour of the ship.

"Aye Captain. If you will follow me please, Commander."

As Ilani left the transporter room, the flurry of emotional exchanges made for an insightful experience. As Peers and Hawkins had passed, there had been some sharp emotional exchanges. Peers had shown a mixture of emotions towards Hawkins, yet he had shown a surprising selection of emotions back. There had definitely been an involvement between the two of them, far more than just the professional.

Most of the tour of the Sheffield was a mere familiarity. The Sheffield was virtually identical in layout to the Courageous. There were a few situations where Ilani had been surprised by what she found. The first notable situation was when they passed through main engineering. The Chief Engineer had offered a greeting towards them both and - yet again - there was a mixed response of strong emotions from Peers. There was definitely more going on onboard this starship than just the usual crew. It took the senses of a Deltan to spot this.

The second notable difference between the Courageous and the Sheffield was when Ilani was shown her quarters. This was one of the factors that had persuaded Ilani to join the Sheffield mission and she was not disappointed. These were Deltan-style quarters. A communal room joined the separate rooms in the centre. There were half a dozen other Deltans on the Sheffield and, unlike the Courageous, Ilani knew that she would be able to truly relax on this ship: She would be amongst her own people.

The tour had been enlightening to Ilani. On the one hand there were questions about the crew that she was curious to know details about, on the other hand she had Deltan-style communal quarters which meant she would have to address her own issues and feelings. She'd buried those on the Courageous, but there was nowhere to hide them here now.

After the tour, Ilani was invited to talk with Hawkins in his ready room.

"I trust Commander Peers brought you up to speed on the ship and crew?"

"She did indeed. I am most impressed with the quarters you have had installed for the Deltan crewmembers."

Hawkins nodded. "I modelled them on the quarters I witnessed whilst I was at the Academy annex on the moon of Delta IV."

"Ah, you studied on Seyann? That would explain it." As she spoke, she sensed Hawkins had the usual emotional response towards her that she usually got from human males, tempered by his professional control. In addition to this, he was nervous. This was also a common emotional reaction from non-psionic races that felt mentally naked in the presence of a psionic. "It is an interesting selection of crew that you have selected, captain."

"'Interesting?' Does that mean that you approve or not? I'd also point out that I didn't select all of the crew. Admiral Hudson selected a few - you included."

"You have chosen a far higher degree of psionically gifted personnel on this mission than most, this might make some crewmembers nervous. You also appear to have chosen friends from your past."

Ilani waited for the emotional and verbal response.

"It is easier working with friends. You know their strengths, weaknesses, fields of interest and that I get on with them. Fewer unknowns."

Ilani gently probed back. "..And in their own complications? Can you order friends into potential life-threatening conditions?"

"You do not have to order a friend."

"I see. And what of feelings that are stronger than friendship?"

Hawkins knew that he was rumbled. "You refer to the presence of Judith Peers onboard?"

"I do." Ilani smiled pleasantly, to show she was merely asking, not questioning the wisdom. "I know that Okigbo questioned your choice. I sense there was some wisdom in his query?"

Hawkins mused. "Perhaps, but if you check the records for the last five years she has been onboard, you will find that any prior emotional history has not effected the performance of either officer. Yes, I deceived her initially to get her onboard again five years ago. Yes, it was awkward having my first lover back in my life, but the presence of Judith Peers did contribute to the success of the last mission."

"I see you use honesty as a defence?"

"I have nothing to hide from my First Officer. If we are to work well together, then honesty is the first duty and expected norm."

Ilani nodded, then added "if that is so, do you honestly think the situation between your Second Officer and Chief Engineer is not going to be a problem?"

This time it was Hawkins' time to smile, gently shaking his head. "The Admiral said you were good. Damned good. She wasn't overstating the matter, was she? Peers and O'Reilly developed their relationship over the last two years. I was happy to see my best friend and ex. together and happy. It helped morale and also diffused the situation between Peers and me."

"But it also complicated matters?" Observed Ilani.

Hawkins smile faded. "Yeah. It brings up a lot of ‘what ifs' of the heart and, as you have noticed, they have lost that loving feeling."

Ilani had gently broached perhaps the most delicate matter of the whole mission so far, in just her first guided tour of the ship. Yet, she had managed to address the issue with Deltan sensitivity.

"If you were Deltan, Captain, then emotionally laden situations are easier to deal with. It is my experience with humans that it can be more complicated."

The smile returned to Hawkins. "Then I am glad that I have Deltans onboard. Besides, I have been around your people quite a while and learned a few things. Oh, and since you are my First Officer, crew matters such as Peers and O'Reilly, are now your concern, Commander."

Ilani smiled, glowing as ever, and nodded. Being amongst humans was a very different experience to being with her own people. At least on this ship she had a Captain who understood Deltans and had Deltans onboard. The next issue was how would she address the issues that being amongst fellow telempaths again was sure to being up?

Chapter: os1 - Frontier

Captain’s Log Stardate 13489.5, Lieutenant Commander Nakamura recording.

The Falkland has been diverted from her usual patrol of the Churchill sector border to investigate a reported theft by Orion pirates. I have ordered Chief Engineer N’thal to see what power she can get from the warp drive. The regular disruption of trade by the Orion Syndicate is becoming a source of embarrassment to the crew of this ship and to me. The usual tactic of the Orions seems to be to disappear into the Neutral Zone, which we cannot continue the pursuit into without prior permission. I have Lieutenant Greene currently hailing Starbase 23 for instructions, but I fear we will be denied permission, yet again.

Captain Nakamura sat back in his chair in his quarters, the seat towering over his diminutive form. The Okinawa class lacked a proper ready room, being such a small design. He gave a sigh and rubbed his eyes; he had been awake for hours in the fruitless pursuit of a reported act of piracy by the Orion Syndicate. The call had come in from an annex of the Dharma Initiative just as Nakamura was about to turn in for the night. The exact item of equipment and amount was not specified by the representative of the corporation, only that it was of a ‘sensitive nature’.

U.S.S. Falkland, NCC 2309, was a member of the Okinawa class of frigate. These ships were second in quantity only to the ubiquitous Oberth class, and the 183 metre ship with a crew of 80 had the multiple responsibilities of patrolling the frontier, policing thefts like this one, preventing smuggling and illegal immigration, as well as the role of customs and excise. Nakamura was loathe to admit it, but this theft broke the monotony of the routine. Orion ships were notoriously fast and routinely ignored political borders and restricted zones. The Falkland was more than capable of stopping the Syndicate ship; they just had to catch it first.

Nakamura had already contacted sister ship Interceptor, but the Falkland was closer by far. Nakamura decided to go back to the bridge- he just couldn’t relax in his quarters; he liked to know what was going on firsthand. The bridge of an Okinawa class frigate was compact yet functional. Frigates were often the first command of a Starfleet officer and were worthy successors to their predecessors, of which Horatio Nelson had spoken so highly of at the Battle of the Nile. Nakamura had served on other members of the class as well as larger ships such as the Constellation class Nagato, which he remembered affectionately.

In the darkened bridge Nakamura was easily able to read the monitors on the various stations around his command chair. His First Officer, Lieutenant Louise Carpenter, was standing by the cluster of master situation screens at the rear. Carpenter’s face was a picture of concentration and calm all in one as she shifted attention seamlessly from one screen to the next, taking in the current status of each and every division.

“How soon before we get the Orions into visual range?” Nakamura broke the silence.

“Thirty-eight minutes, Captain.” Carpenter replied.

“Tell Lieutenant Vidovic to prepare his team; I want a boarding team ready as soon as we are within transporter range.”

“Aye Captain,” replied the first officer with a look that Nakamura recognised.

“Something on your mind, Number One?”

Lieutenant Carpenter’s shoulders dropped slightly “Although we are now thirty-seven minutes from interception, the Orions will be in the Neutral Zone in thirty-one minutes.”

Nakamura couldn’t keep the flash of annoyance from his face “Mr Khan: do we have any reply from Starbase 23 about our request to pursue the Orions into the Neutral Zone?”

“No Captain.”

“Try them again!”

The long hours without sleep had taken their toll on Captain Nakamura; the normally cheerful commanding officer was becoming increasingly short with the crew. There was also an element of frustration at what seemed to be the inevitable termination of the chase with Starfleet set to deny him permission to follow the Orions into restricted space.

“Instructions coming through now, Captain,” said Khan, holding the earpiece into his ear to hear more clearly. “We are to stop pursuit once we reach the Neutral Zone and hold position.”

“’Hold position?’”

“The admiral says that he wants the Interceptor and Falkland to prevent the Orions doubling back into Federation space. Apparently they have a ship already in the area that can intercept.”

“What other ship?”

U.S.S. Sheffield, en route to Nimbus III.

The ready room of the Sheffield didn’t seem spacious when there was only Hawkins in it; with a guest or two it seemed smaller still. Captain Hawkins had been joined by Commander Ilani and Lieutenant S’sana. They were poring over the reports from the Flag Officer Space Training; the recent evaluations had revealed some short-comings in the preparation of the ship and Hawkins was determined to have them rectified before their first port of call.

Every starship had to be visited by the ‘FOSTies’ before they could deploy out of system. They were there to ensure that the officers and crew were trained up to the standards required by Starfleet. The testing included emergency drills, simulated accidents, attacks, disaster-relief and diplomatic encounters. Each and every aspect of starship operation was covered by the FOST and all commanding officers- like their sea-going contemporaries before them- hoped for the designation ‘satisfactory’ or better. Failure meant a re-run of the testing’ failure twice was unthinkable and could have cost Hawkins his command, even before it had begun.

Admiral Harris’ report had been okay for the most part, with a few areas for brushing up. Other aspects had been found wanting. The triumvirate of senior officers looked at the names on the reports, who had been slow, hesitant or even rash- these were the crew who required extra training and encouragement to improve and excel. Some of those named on the list were a surprise, others were.

“Tal Reno- seems to still have motivational issues and lapses of attention,” Ilani read from the report.

“He does have issues,” said Hawkins defensively, “but this is surpassed by his talents. As countless reports list, he has the exact talents that we could do with on this mission. He has unique insights.”

“It sounds like you have had to apologise for him before, Captain,” S’sana observed.

“Once or twice,” Hawkins replied, defusing the issue with a smile. “He is my burden and here on my authority. He’ll be worth it.”

“That is quite a promise to make on behalf of someone else. Now to turn to the department that gave us the most concerns…”

The intercom interrupted Ilani.

“Sorry to interrupt you, Captain but Starbase 23 just contacted us with some instructions.” Lieutenant Fox relayed her information as professionally and efficiently as ever.

“New instructions? Go ahead.”

“There is an Orion Syndicate ship that is believed to have stolen some rather sensitive equipment from the Churchill system.”

“I take it the Admiral knows we haven’t got any stop-and-search powers in the Neutral Zone?” asked Hawkins.

“He is aware, but asks if we can investigate since this is not the first time the raiders have escaped into this pocket of Neutral Zone and we already heading for Nimbus III.”

“They might be passing straight through into either Klingon or Romulan space, if not, Nimbus III would be the logical destination- who has been chasing them from their side of the zone?”

“Starships Falkland and Interceptor; Nakamura of the Falkland is standing by to brief you on hyper-channel.”

“Put him through.” Hawkins paused for a second before the captain of the Okinawa class frigate appeared on his screen, “Captain Nakamura, good to catch up with you again. Not like you to lose a pirate.”

“Nathan, it’s been what, nine months since you last called in here? I see you finally got those captain’s bars you wanted. As for the pirates, it’s all down to getting permission to enter the neutral zone and you know how long that can take.”

Hawkins nodded knowingly.

Nakamura continued. “I gather you are in the zone en route to Nimbus III. You might be able to head them off, although they have quite a lead on you.”

“What did they steal?”

“The Dharma Initiative wasn’t too keen to talk about it. I pressed them with as much pressure as I could bring to bear and found out that it was prototype universal translator equipment. I gather it was being readied for the two Ambassador class prototypes.”

Hawkins frowned in thought and a little confusion “That’s not exactly what I’d expect the Orions to take. Any ideas what they could use it for, or who the buyers might be?”

“I’ve checked with some of my usual sources and there’s no word at all. I have a few others that should get back to me, but this one seems to be a mystery.”

Hawkins turned to his colleagues, “Any ideas from this end?”

“This region of space is covered by one cartel, and has easy access to any one of the Ferasan, Lyrans, Romulans, Klingons or Hydrans. And that is for starters,” said Ilani.

“There are plenty of Orions on Nimbus. Separating pirates from the legitimate traders will be hard. That is without mentioning that occasionally they may use cloaking technology they have ‘acquired’.”

Ilani could sense the awkwardness in S’sana as she commented on her former home world.

Hawkins turned back to the screen. Nakamura nodded in acknowledgement of the comments.

“A cloaking device would explain how they got past us to steal the equipment in the first place.” Nakamura paused for a second in thought, and then said: “I’ll take the Falkland back to the Churchill system and see what I can find out about this stolen equipment and where it’s going. Interceptor will make sure the Orions don’t double-back on us. I’ll warn them the Syndicate ship might cloak.”

“Good luck with the Dharma Initiative, let us know what you find.”

“Good hunting Sheffield, Falkland out.”

The captain’s eyebrows rose unconsciously as he turned to appraise the opinions of his two colleagues “So what does the Orion Syndicate need a prototype universal translator for?”

Chapter 7: Quest for answers.

Stardate 13501.5
July 5th 2312
Sector 15447

"Three hundred years after human civilisation faced near-extinction in the nuclear fires of the quest for oil, the vision of one man in Montana led the survivors towards a hopeful future. The brief flight of Zephram Cochrane in the Phoenix attracted the attention of a Vulcan scout ship. Major cities, reduced to radioactive ruins, were rebuilt and re-populated after the plagues, famine and global warming; centuries of ecological abuse, pollution and deforestation were reversed.

"With the advent of warp drive, the final frontier was opened up for exploration and colonisation. Earth had been pillaged due to a high population and the greed of a few. Ideology had as much separated humanity as it brought it together; when one person places their beliefs or way of life above all others, everyone will ultimately suffer. It took the nuclear cauldron of the Middle East and Caucuses for the peoples of Earth to learn this truth. It was in this furnace of politicians, greed, extremism and the blindness of politicians in which everything burned.

"Today a very similar picture can be seen in the Klingon Empire. Nineteen years after the ecological disaster of Praxis, the empire is at the same crossroads of survival that Earth was at three hundred years ago."

Captain Nathaniel Hawkins ended his introductory piece, continued seamlessly by his Executive Officer, Ilani. The briefing room had a large ovoid table made from steel lined with oak; eighteen divisional heads and other senior crew sat round the table as the full briefing for the mission began in earnest. Hawkins wanted his crew – his new family – to be in the picture about what this mission was about, the goals and potential hazards – all briefed in advance. Ilani pressed a button on the table, overlaying the table with a map of their sector of space.

"Sector 16447: this area of space was a part of the Klingon Empire until five years ago. In a classified briefing, on Stardate 9521, Starfleet Headquarters debated the aftermath of Praxis. In this meeting, it was declared that the Klingon Empire had fifty years of life left to it; today there are just thirty-two years left. It was feared that Klingons would become the ‘alien trash of the galaxy' and that the Klingon Empire would fracture and splinter. Praxis exposed the deficits in the Empire which had been developing for decades; whilst the Klingons are a formidable military power, their capabilities in the non-military areas – specifically eco-disaster techniques – are poor to non-existent.

"Starfleet Intelligence predicted that the empire would begin to fracture almost immediately, with a refugee crisis within five years. This never happened. Chancellor Azetbur had placed a request for aid from the Federation and we have been supplying starships and resources to Qo'nos ever since. Five years after Praxis, the first signs of dissent appeared. As you are all aware, Starbase 10 was attacked by what was later described as ‘rogue Klingons'; it was fortunate that only one person lost their life, but the Federation Council gave serious consideration to halting the aid missions."

On the display on the table, the map widened in coverage to show the Klingon Empire and surrounding space as Ilani continued her introduction. A green dot blinked on the screen to show the location of the Klingon attack in 2298; the decision to label the attackers as ‘rogue' was a political decision, doubtless designed to keep the peace movement on track and to maintain the aid missions.

"The aid missions were continued on the basis of maintaining a stable empire, the fear being if the empire splintered, weapons technology would filter down to smaller rogue nations. This tactic appeared to be working up until five or so years ago when the first signs of the predicted break-up of the Klingon Empire. At first – as in the case of sector 16447 – Chancellor Azetbur resolved the situation diplomatically in order to appease the Federation, later as political pressure mounted on Azetbur she ordered General Gorak to resolve the rebellions by force. Gorak later mounted an attempted coup against Azetbur but was himself killed by Azetbur's bodyguard despite fatally wounding the Chancellor.

"My mission on the Courageous was to monitor what happened after the assassination. The High Council deliberated for over a week until finally General Kaarg was chosen. Kaarg is very much an unknown, politically, but his initial actions have been to ban women serving on the High Council and to introduce the Children of Kahless – a youth movement apparently designed to instil traditional Klingon values."

Peers leaned slightly further across the table and interjected "That would tie in with the thesis on Kaarg that I did on the last mission. He is a traditionalist and right-wing; these sorts of moves would be what we would expect from him – as a starter."

At this point, Ilani nodded to Hawkins, who continued "The main objective of this mission is to examine the main superpower empires of the Beta Quadrant and their relationships with the minor powers. For one hundred and fifty years, the Cold Wars between the Klingons, Romulans and Federation have prevented us from examining these races in detail with perspective. The minor races such as the Tholians, Orions and Gorn have been neglected whilst resources were concentrated on these superpowers. With the Cold Wars officially over, this is our window of opportunity to examine the races of the Beta Quadrant – and this window may not be as wide as you might think."

Whilst Hawkins gave his initial description of the mission, the holographic map changed to show the Klingon Empire, Romulans Star Empire and the minor powers of the Tholian Assembly, Orion Syndicate and Gorn Hegemony were all highlighted in distinctive colours.

Ilani caught Hawkins' eye to continue the briefing. The other officers and senior crew listened intently as the briefing continued. Most were aware of the general details about the mission, these were specifics. Ilani felt a shiver run through her mind at the memories stirred by the next topic she was to speak of, years of Deltan training and experience allowed her to gently calm the storm within.

"The second aspect of this mission is to study the Romulan Star Empire. As you are aware, seven months ago the Romulans cost thousands of lives in what is now referred to as the Tomed Incident. Following this catastrophe, and the intervention of the Klingons, the Romulans subsequently have withdrawn behind their neutral zone. The Romulans have played this strategy once before and the Federation Council requires intelligence on whether this is a temporary manoeuvre or something longer term. With the withdrawal of the Romulans, this allows us to re-examine the events leading up to Tomed with a new perspective. The Romulan belligerent attitude increased up to the point of Tomed, yet despite this confidence, they withdrew behind their borders. This mission will attempt to ascertain why."

The memories intruded again. For a Deltan, such emotive memories were hard to suppress. Younger, less experienced Deltans had suffered mental breakdowns from such experiences that Ilani had. Being amongst her people once more, aboard this ship, would help heal the wounds.

The holographic screen zoomed into a planet in what remained of the Neutral Zone. The planet was pretty unremarkable were it not for the fact it had recovered from ecological devastation. It was also the only place in the universe where all three major races of the Beta Quadrant resided and the only place where you could find Romulans – outside their own borders. The planet expanded to fill the display and the system overlaid settlement names and borders.

"Nimbus III," Hawkins identified the unique world, "Planet of Galactic Peace and a colony built by all three of the major Beta Quadrant governments. The colony has been around for forty-five years, neglected for ten and rebuilt for the last twenty-five. The planet has three designated ‘zones of responsibility' where each government is responsible for the upkeep of the colonies there. One-third of the planet is still Romulan, and it is this section that we are interested in."

The new Operations Manager, lieutenant commander S'sana sat uneasily in her chair. The presence on the screen of her old home world was disconcerting enough on its own, but there was plenty about the Romulan zone which she wasn't going to talk about; this was a past she had tried to bury and Ilani had tried to get her to confront. S'sana was exotic, in every sense of the word. The greenish tinge of her skin betrayed Orion roots, but the upswept eyebrows and pointed ears were of Vulcanoid origin. What few knew was that it wasn't Vulcan blood in her veins; it was Romulan.

Ilani continued the briefing. "Nimbus III is the only place that we can immerse ourselves in Romulan culture and to see if we can answer the question of what has happened to the Romulans since Tomed. The capital city, Paradise, is still home to Caithlin Dar – one of the longest serving emissaries of Romulus. The remoteness of the assignment, and the high profile, has allowed her to survive numerous regime changes. Starfleet Intelligence suspects there has been another such change on Romulus. This may be our chance to confirm this."

Memories bubbled under the surface. Pain, suffering - emotions that a Deltan should never be forced to endure in such amounts. It was those eyes, the eyes she could never forget, and the shame of doing nothing. Ilani concentrated, remembering that it was her mission at stake and that she had no choice but to do nothing. She knew this before the mission; Ilani had to hope that the benefits from the assignment had been worth it.

"Aside from our detailed examination of Romulan culture," Ilani spoke on, seamlessly; the emotional turmoil underneath had subsided invisibly, "Starfleet Intelligence has an additional matter to investigate. The former Klingon ambassador to Nimbus III – General Koord – was assassinated in his quarters. At the time the Klingons insisted that his death was to be investigated internally. The Federation Council agreed. Lately, there have been signs that the Klingons have internal issues within their empire; Starfleet Intelligence wishes to know more on who the assassin was and, more specifically, what nationality and race they were."

Ilani leaned forwards slightly, to emphasise her point "Intelligence believes there to be more behind the assassination than the Klingons are prepared to admit. Given the number of prominent Klingons that died over the last ten years – a period with few hot wars – there seems to be a disturbing pattern developing. This pattern was confirmed by independent studies by the Captain and Commander Peers on their last assignment; Starfleet Intelligence does not believe in coincidences – and nor do I."

As Ilani mentioned the deaths of prominent Klingons, holographic Klingon heads appeared hovering above the briefing table: General Koord, General Kerla, and General Gorak. There were also others that the assembled staff failed to immediately identify. All of those Generals had, at some point, commanded the main battle-fleets of the Klingon Empire. Kerla, formerly Brigadier and military adviser to Gorkon, had been commander of the Second Fleet; Gorak had commanded the First Fleet and had killed Azetbur in a failed quest for leadership. Koord's military tactics had been required reading at the Academy for decades.

Hawkins resumed the briefing. "Nimbus III is to be our first assignment in our quest for answers, there are many other races to study out here and answers to be found. We know, from some ‘acquired' intelligence, that the Klingons have a race on the far side of their empire called the Sha'kurians. Little is known of this race except that they seem to fight skirmishes with the Klingons on a fairly regular basis, holding their own. There is also a race that has been labelled by Starfleet Intelligence ‘the unknowns'. Nothing is known about this race, which resides on the far side of the empire from the Federation; we do not even have a name for this race. All we know is that whenever this race of unknowns fights the Klingons, the Klingons are forced to send a large portion of their battle fleets."

The holographic map resumed displaying the Klingon Empire. The areas on the far side of the empire were annotated with hypothetical territorial areas for these new races which Hawkins had mentioned. The map displayed the Klingon Empire in red and, as it enlarged the display once more, a thin blue line could be seen: this was the Nirophian Corridor.

"This is the Nirophian Corridor, an area of space which broke away from the Klingon Empire after the weaknesses exposed after Praxis. Azetbur made it plain that the empire did not seek to re-take the corridor and, as a gesture of good faith, allowed the Federation access. This former dead-end corner of space has now been transformed into the advanced supply base for the Second Fleet. Starfleet now has a short-cut into unexplored space; the mission of the Sheffield is important for the primary analysis of these new races. For too long, Starfleet has encountered races and reacted based solely on that first encounter. It has taken one hundred and fifty years to build up our current understanding of the Klingons and Romulans; Starfleet and the Federation Council want to speed up this process."

The display hovering over the briefing room table changed into a display of the Miranda class Sheffield, the out hull peeling away to reveal the inner workings of the ship in turn, as the display rotated. Insignia appeared above the starship and aligned themselves.

"Starfleet Command, Starfleet Intelligence, Starfleet Security, the Federation Council and Science Council have all sponsored this mission. Many of you have been assigned to this starship by one or more of these bodies. The Courageous, Hood and Liberator have been on-station over the last few months, paving the way for our mission; this starship has been out-fitted with the latest equipment for cultural and technological studies, with it we shall be able to glean the best detail on both old races and new. This is no five-year mission studying phenomena as we find them; this is a directed, precise mission which will last anywhere from three years up to five. Starfleet wants answers and we shall get them. Are there any questions?"

Chapter 8: Dark Beginnings

"Your dream can become a reality. The landscape is simply breath-taking! The recreational opportunities are limitless. The vicinity is famous for plentiful local wildlife and the fishing is terrific! You can own your own home conveniently located in the heart of paradise. What are you waiting for? Beam on down!"

The salesman smiled throughout his delivery, gesturing jovially at the paradise around him, the blue skies and lush vegetation. For those seeking paradise, as described for millennia, and a chance to create their own Xanadu, this was their irresistible chance.

Paradise, Utopia, Xanadu, Eden—all were different names for a concept that every child of every race knew of. A chance to live in beautiful peace, closer to nature, was an intoxicating dream to many. Colonists from the time of sailing ships had sought to start anew on virgin soil. This was the latest such opportunity.


10th May 2268

Captain's Log, stardate 4210.5.

The Hood has been redirected away from her supply run to Science Station Delta Zero Five and instead has been ordered to Starbase 10. Commodore Stocker has not been very forthcoming, besides stating it was the Enterprise that was to perform this mission. From what I understand, the mission to Neural has become ‘complicated' by Klingons, and their First Officer has been injured. As the Hood has traditionally been one of the flagships of the fleet, she has been chosen for this new, important mission. Since we were already in the Bolarus Sector, we were the natural choice for this mission over the more distant Essex or Yorktown.

Captain Emma Roberts completed her log and then made her way to the starboard docking hatch to meet the special guest that she had been told to expect. Red-shirted security officers flanked the hatch as her First Officer, Lieutenant Commander Singh, arrived and stood by her right shoulder. Captain Roberts checked that her gold command division uniform was its usual crease-free appearance, then gave a curt nod. The hatch opened and in walked a rather nervous looking fellow in a brand new white suit. The man was in his early thirties, with foppish long brown hair that he swept out of his eyes. He straightened himself and offered his hand out to the captain.

"St. John Talbot, Federation Diplomatic Service."

Stardate 4757.2
26th August 2268
Planet Nimbus III

Paradise, the capital of Nimbus III, had established itself in a clearing in the hinterland of Nimbus III's largest continent. The population was around 25,000 souls, living in the shacks of the shanty town that had been built. The central feature of Paradise was the Venus Bar, a drinking hole that was run by an Orion. The bar itself was the proverbial dive, and fights were common as the colonists—the "dregs of the galaxy"—often took to fighting amongst themselves. Weapons had been forbidden, but it didn't stop the colonists fashioning their own.

The day was much like any other—the colony was still receiving immigrants, albeit at an ever-reducing number. St John Talbot and the other leaders had inspired their own colonists to settle down and expand the colony. Many of them had headed out to the mines in an attempt to make some credits and to dig for those elusive rare minerals that they believed were still there. The truth is that the planet had been mined for years before it became a colony, and most of the rare ores had been leached out beforehand.

For those remaining in Paradise, it was a case of trying to establish trade and to "live the dream" of being in Utopia. This dream had ended up at the bottom of a beer glass for many of the colonists, and most of the drunkards could be found in and around the Venus Bar.

It was early in the morning, and the vast majority of the Venus Bar residents had gone home. Even the diehards had passed out by this time. It was now that the Orion dancer left through the side door. The Venus Bar had many dancers there to entertain the colonists and to raise further funds for the bar. The Orion girl had wrapped herself up to conceal her beauty—aware of the effect she had on other colonists. She didn't live too far from the bar and wanted to hurry home and sleep until she was back in to dance again later.

There had been a few drunken colonists leering at her that night, but as an Orion she knew that her pheromones affected the males around her and aroused them. It was used by female Orions as a method of control over their male counterparts. To see these colonists getting worked up over her as she squirmed and gyrated around the pole on the stage gave her a thrilling sense of power. It was her who was in control and not the colonists. They might pay to see her dance, but it was her pheromones and beauty that made them pay to see her in the first place.

It was raining steadily as the Orion dancer made her way through the alleyways of Paradise. Puddles had formed on the muddy paths that were the roads of this shanty town. The Orion pulled her cloak closer to her face to try and conceal herself from recognition and from the onslaught of the raindrops as she made her way hurriedly towards her home. Not far to go.

It was as she got halfway down one of the narrowest passageways she noticed that she was being followed. The sounds of footsteps echoing against the walls and splashes of puddles alerted her, she glanced behind her. It was the Romulan who had leered at her over his glasses of ale. She tried to stay calm and increased her pace.

Powerful arms grasped her. She struggled to break free, hoping her pheromones would disable the Romulan's senses, but unfortunately the Romulan ale had done a good job of that already. When she screamed for help, the Romulan slapped her across her face with the back of his hand, drawing green blood from her lip. The moment was nearing as the Romulan overpowered the fragile green beauty in her robes.

The more the Orion struggled, the more he held her tighter and punched her. He punched her until the fight was taken out of her and her blood was on his fist. The Romulan ripped open her cloak, exposing the gown she was wearing underneath. The rain now started to soak the Orion girl, wetting her outfit and chilling her. The Romulan chilled her more.

He struggled to open his trousers and to get in position, ripping the Orion's panties off in a clumsy, alcoholically disorganised way. As he struggled with his trousers she slipped from his grasp, frantically scrambling backwards to escape from his clutches, but the Romulan was too fast. With one hand holding up his trousers he grabbed her fiercely with the other. To subdue this little rebellion he headbutted her in the face. Blood wetted his face now, as well as the rain.

The Orion screamed then was muffled as the Romulan now raped her. His drink-fuelled lust drove him to take her and to once more feel power as he overwhelmed the Orion dancer. The Orion girl could only lay sprawled helpless as the Romulan took her. She managed to bite his fingers—producing a curse—and freed up her mouth enough for one last scream.

Welcome to Paradise. Welcome to Hell.

Chapter 9: Paradise City

Stardate 13501.5
5th July 2312
Planet Nimbus III

Forty-five years later, Paradise City had changed in ways even St. John Talbot would never have imagined. Paradise City was now home to millions of colonists and there were now other cities dotted around the planet. Despite the Great Drought that had blighted the planet for a decade, and the accompanying neglect of the colony that took place, Nimbus III had rediscovered its way thanks to an unusual hostage situation involving a smiling Vulcan. Thanks to Sybok's plan-which had brought starships to Nimbus III to rescue the three government representatives-the plight of Nimbus III had been made public. The resulting outcry at how this project aiming for ‘Galactic Peace' had been neglected stung all three governments into rapid and comprehensive action. It was that action which had created the bustling megacity that Paradise City had now grown into.

Originally, the three representatives had met in a back room in the Paradise Inn. This had led to the temptation to engage in excessive drinking of alcohol when it became apparent that the three governments had "lost interest" in the colony. Upon the resurrection of the colony from stardate 8454, the three governments decided to jointly build a central structure in Paradise City fit for their representatives. Three towers, one built by each government, grew from the new centre of Paradise City. Each tower bore the styling of the people it represented. To avoid any political ramifications, all governments agreed the towers would be of equal height and joined at their bases by a conference centre.

It was in the transporter complex of the Federation tower that Captain Hawkins and his entourage beamed into. The building was state-of-the-art and indistinguishable from the latest starbases that were coming online. This was a deliberate attempt by the Federation to show that they would never neglect the colony again.

Captain Hawkins had taken a small, select team with him for this meeting: Commander Ilani, Lieutenant Commander Peers, Lieutenant Hirst, Master Chief Kissunguaq and Senior Chief Petty Officer Leena Tamkivi.

Hawkins looked around the room "Not quite what I expected, but I guess that’s progress."

Ilani looked at him quizzically.

Hawkins smiled, a little embarrassed. "I read the memoirs of St John Talbot when they came out--didn’t everyone? I was expecting a dusty ghost town like we saw on the Federation News Service twenty-five years ago."

"Back then, Paradise City held maybe a couple of dozen thousand people," a voice rang out from behind them. It was Tara Reid, Talbot’s aide. "We also were in a walled city which was in pieces after the assaults by the ‘Galactic Army of Light' and Starfleet rescue team."

Tara was an efficient, petite Irish woman with her dark hair in a bob. She exchanged greetings with the Captain and his team before gesturing them to follow her as she continued her introductory spiel. Kissunguaq smiled and shrugged at Hawkins, simultaneously raising eyebrows the two of them sharing a look which said what have we got here?

"We actually have to thank Sybok, for he reminded the universe that we were here. Paradise City is now the largest city on Nimbus III, the planetary capital and only place in the galaxy where Klingon, Romulan and Federation live and work together on a daily basis. Billions of colonists have travelled to Nimbus III after our revival, caused by the publicity from the hostage crisis. Paradise City is home to millions of colonists from the Federation, Klingon Empire and Romulan Star Empire. Virtually the whole township of Paradise City has been demolished and rebuilt."

"Ambassador Talbot is the one who suggested reviving Paradise , isn’t he?" Ilani observed.

"Yes, he made a presentation to the Romulan and Klingon representatives with a crude diagram of this new Paradise City . It was based upon informal conversations on the Enterprise -A on the way back to Nimbus III, where he took on ideas from Koord and Dar. Ever the diplomat, St John was eager for all three governments to have a say in the design of the enlarged city."

Hawkins added, "‘Enlarged’ is an understatement. It wasn't long after the commencing of the construction work that this city exceeded the size of the surrounding township walls. By the end of the 80s, the walls themselves were demolished."

"The only main ‘civic' building to escape demolition was the Venus Bar." Tara added. She had given this introduction many times before, as her perfect timing passing a holographic display of the ever-changing cityscape showed.

Central to the new Paradise City were the three government buildings. Each building had the characteristics of the government it represented: the tall glass edifice of the Federation tower; the imposing, aggressive-looking Klingon tower that was almost a miniature of the High Council building on Kronos; and the regal Romulan tower that was similar in appearance to the Romulan Senate buildings on Romulus . These citadels, although separate as three, were joined at the base by the crystalline dome that was the Sybok Conference Centre. This building was designed in the shape of the Vulcan IDIC symbol.

Tara and Captain Hawkins talked about the development of the colony as they walked into the main centre. Along with the reconstruction of the colonial aspects of the Planet of Galactic Peace, hundreds of ships had also arrived with the express purpose of restoring the ecosystem of the planet. Climate managers, botanists and biologists were brought in large numbers to achieve the goal of reviving the planet to the idyllic state it was in when the colonists first arrived.

Hawkins remembered from Talbot’s memoirs that one of the ships at the forefront of the mission to restore the ecology of the planet was the Oberth-class science vessel U.S.S. David Bellamy. Captain Clark Rogers led the specialist crew of the ship and the region around Paradise City was selected as a test region to restore the crops and trees. This was done as much to produce positive images to attract new settlers as for the more important short-term objective of feeding the emaciated colonists, reversing the dreadful effects of the decade-long Great Drought.

As she walked along, SCPO Tamkivi remembered seeing the changes happening on Nimbus III during past visits to the colony which she still could not discuss with the others. The city seemed to have grown even further than the last time, the sights and smells triggering memories that had been forgotten. The Estonian twin had many adventures in the last few years which she couldn’t discuss; Ilani had joined her for one of those missions. Leena ran her hand through her greying hair, tousling and then combing the hair with her fingers. Not all of the memories were good ones.

Outside the three government towers was the Galactic Peace Park. This was a huge expanse of grass and trees with a river running through the middle. This park was created before the towers were even half-way through their construction.

Surrounding the park and the three towers were new accommodation blocks for the population, the three governments providing up-to-date facilities. Ilani secretly knew that this was done more to win propaganda campaigns rather than supplying aid to what many Klingons and Romulans still saw as a misguided project.

Tara led Captain Hawkins and his party through the Federation tower. When Captain Hawkins reached the office door to Ambassador St. John Talbot's office, Tara stepped through the doors for a moment before the smiling visage of the Federation envoy was there to greet them.

"Good afternoon, Captain."

St. John warmly greeted each member of the away team individually before ushering them into his office. The office contained numerous artifacts, gifts and relics from across the Federation and beyond. Amongst the items were a Klingon bat'leth, a bottle of Romulan Ale and a tablet upon which ancient Vulcan runes were imprinted- all souvenirs from a previous adventure, from another age.

On the back wall of the office was an impressively large map of Nimbus III, noting all of the countries, cities and geological features. The planet was roughly divided into three, each sector under the control of one of the three governments that set up the colony, thirty-six years ago. On the map, in the Federation sector, the ruins of the city of New Terra stood out as a scar on the planet. The city was destroyed eleven years ago in a terrible act of terrorism. St. John Talbot felt a burning in his throat and fought back tears whenever he remembered that day. He knew every Federation colonist that had ever been to Nimbus III, not an easy task these days given the expansion of the colony.

St. John was approaching the end of his career. Now in his seventies, Talbot had become a veteran ambassador of the Federation, meeting with representatives of Romulus , Kronos, Tholia and many others. Talbot's trademark crumpled white suit had been replaced with a tidier crease-free version. He regarded the group of Starfleet officers.

Ambassador Talbot held out his hand. In his palm rattled a couple of crystals; these were crude, unrefined versions of a crystal any engineer could instinctively identify.

"Dilithium crystals," Talbot said simply, "the lifeblood of every warp-capable civilisation."

Talbot slowly showed the crystals to each of his audience, for effect, then continued. "These crystals are what shape the political landscape in this quadrant. It is the same issue that has shaped empires and civilisations for millennia: the issue of energy. Every civilisation requires energy to thrive and to grow. Where there is energy there is growth. Where there is not, the civilisation stagnates."

St. John leaned forwards, knowing that he had the attention of everyone in the room.

"That is the situation here in the Beta Quadrant," he continued. "The quadrant is divided between those that have dilithium and those that want it. The destruction of Praxis nineteen years ago has seriously deprived the Klingons of energy. The Klingons have been forced to rely, to a greater extent than ever before, on exploiting the dilithium mines at Kraylon and Rura Penthe. As you know, these crystals are of a poor quality. This has forced the Klingons to seek out new sources of dilithium before their civilisation implodes, in a manner similar to the fate of the Soviet Union on Earth on the twentieth century."

Ambassador Talbot paused for a moment, catching the eye of each of the guests in front of him in turn. "I needn't remind you that the quest for resources has had plenty of historical precedent for trouble on Earth. The so-called ‘Great Games' of the 19th and 21st Centuries brought the superpowers into playing political brinkmanship with each other and caused wars with Japan and the Middle East. In short, we can expect the Klingons to be manoeuvring to find new sources of dilithium to revive their empire. Kaarg will want to make an impression on his people after assuming the mantle of Chancellor."

With that, Ambassador Talbot put a PADD in front of his guests.

"And that is what we have been witnessing."

It was quite a point that Ambassador Talbot had made. It illustrated the current situation better than most would realise. He gestured to the PADD. "These reports come from a variety of sources: starships Cerberus, Diamond, Emden, Sheffield, Rattlesnake, Hyuga... the list goes on."

"The Klingons have been manoeuvring into Sector 16447, but the Federation Council wants the corridor secured for further exploration, work started by the Fearless. With Nirophia wedged between the Hydrans and the Sha'kurians, we can't afford to let this one slip." Hawkins paused for emphasis. "The long way around is… very long indeed."

"The Federation really needs to look beyond its borders; there are races and worlds out there that can only dream of the lifestyle we enjoy. Up until the late 80s we were living in conditions that mirrored the 19th century closer than the twenty-third. I can take you to townships not too far from here which are still like that." said Talbot.

"There’s no denying the Federation has overcome poverty, disease and want."

"…On the core worlds perhaps." Ilani clarified.

"The Klingon Empire has been lacking vital raw materials for decades; the promises and deals made in the sixties were more for show than actual valid gain." Leena pointed out. "They boasted at the time that people in this quadrant were all busy learning to speak Klingon."

"It sounds like shades of Khrushchev." Hawkins and his team all understood Talbot’s reference to the Soviet Premier of the mid twentieth century.

"What about the Ferasan? Ever since they returned onto the scene they have been spoiling for a fight, technology notwithstanding," asked Peers.

"I think they still have a dented pride after those early fights against Earth," Tamkivi replied.

"It’s never been the same since the incident on the Tholian border," said Ilani.

"It’s their teeth I’m more worried about- especially when they’re chewing on me," Peers noted darkly.

"The sanctions limiting the Ferasan developing weapons systems beyond police units has been an issue their government has petitioned against for sometime now; other races have aggressed in a similar manner and haven’t had sanctions of this type applied." said Talbot.

"It’s possible the Klingons would support a more liberal approach to the Ferasan," began Ilani, "both races have a Bushido-style honour culture and they all aspire to honour and heroism in their actions. Starfleet Intelligence has even gone as far as to suggest talks have taken place between Ferasan and Klingon members concerning weapons technology transfer."

"Perhaps Kaarg wishes to keep the Federation from being too complacent; a multi-polar quadrant would favour the Klingon aspirations of recovering their standing at the big table," added Tamkivi.

"Chancellor Kaarg has been acting the militant reactionary in his policies so far," said Peers.

"An alliance between the Ferasan and the Klingons?" thought Talbot out loud, "well the Ferasan do have mineral resources that the Klingons need- and it would explain why Ambassador Kage has been sent to The Patriarchy. I thought it was just the formalities of greetings from the new leader."­

"I doubt the Tholian ambassador would be too impressed at that prospect," said Hawkins.

"It would certainly change the local balance of power," Ilani observed.

"Little is known of the Ferasan in terms of their cultural changes over the last century and a half. The recent incident on the Tholian border suggests they are preparing to expand their horizons," said Peers.

"The Lyrans might be an avenue to explore on that front..." Tamkivi offered.

A stern look shot across from Talbot. Hawkins explained the reaction quietly.

"You cannot – must not – ever compare the Lyrans and the Ferasan. Such a comparison within earshot can cause extreme violence. You must never say such things. Ever."

Tamkivi nodded; lesson learned.

"On the issue of the Lyrans, it is intriguing they are now making overtures to us." Talbot picked up Tamkivi’s point and made a positive out of it.

"Given their actions in Hydran space in the eighties and nineties, can the Federation be seen to befriend them so easily?" observed Ilani.

Talbot shrugged. "Better a friend on our borders than another potential hostile. Our mission out here is to promote peaceful relations."

"Besides, it gives us leverage with this potential Ferasan situation," Hawkins added.

"Well we have the Tholian ambassador to thank for the heads up on the visit by the Klingon ambassador" said Ilani.

"Hell hath no fury like an annoyed Tholian?" Tamkivi offered.

"Well they are accusing the Ferasan of the incident on their border." Ilani noted.

"Accusations the Federation has yet to prove," Hawkins replied.

"Interesting how quickly the Klingons have fallen in with the enemies of their former allies the Lyrans. Whatever happened to the alliance?" Tamkivi said.

"It went the same way as they Klingon-Romulan alliance" said Hawkins, recalling his history lectures.

"An alliance of necessity which lasted only as long as it needed to." said Peers.

At that point the meeting was gently interrupted by waiting staff that brought in a collection of tea and biscuits for the assembled party.

"This seems like a good moment to pause." Said Talbot, reaching for a chocolate bourbon.

Chapter 10: The Loneliness of Homecoming

Arcing gracefully in orbit of the rejuvenated Nimbus III, the Miranda-class U.S.S. Sheffield was a hive of activity. With two hundred and thirty-one crewmembers there was always a crowded bridge and crowded corridors too. On the bridge there was the artificial serenity of a starship in orbit. The security chief, Lieutenant Jonathan Hirst, was diligently observing the display on his tactical board, positioned directly behind the captain's chair. He grinned as he examined the sensor displays, which showed the streets of Paradise City in more detail than Starfleet would ever admit to.

"Helm, steady as she goes; keep an eye out for traffic out there," Lieutenant S’sana instructed from the captain’s chair.

"Yes, ma’am" Mossl replied.

At the communications station, Lieutenant Kara Fox was listening to the comm traffic. Fox was from one of the outer Federation colonies and was a svelte human with a strict eye for standards. Fox moved her supple fingers across the comm board like a professional pianist at a Rachmaninov concert. She was, like the rest of the bridge crew, an expert of her art. Kara was known as quite an abrupt direct officer at times, but the truth was that the dataport at the back of her head gave her a headache. Every day. These headaches tended to make the lieutenant a little grouchy, but the advantages were infinite. The lieutenant didn't discuss her dataport, and hid it behind her red hair. Plenty of coded traffic going out today, she thought. Obviously our presence has piqued their curiosity.

At the helm, Lieutenant Marcus Mossl was bored. As a helmsman he usually had to maintain concentration and steer the ship. In orbit, however, there was nothing more needed than a cursory glance- just to make sure the ship wasn't beginning atmospheric re-entry. This gave Marcus an opportunity to speak to his colleague on Navigation, Lieutenant Shai Ramon.

Mossl quietly leaned towards Ramon "Have you seen such an eclectic mix of junk as what is orbiting out there?"

Ramon looked at the shabby freighters, shuttlecraft and liners as they crawled past the polished form of the Sheffield.

"This is the frontier, Marcus, this is what we signed up for; I can’t wait to see what a colony is like that has Klingons, Romulans and Federation races all living in harmony."

"…perhaps not quite harmony, Shai."

"You are always the cynic," Ramon half-joked.

Ramon was an Israeli from Jerusalem on Earth. Ramon was a deeply religious man, but then he was from the world capital of most faiths. For years, his home city had been the focus of divisions between the principle faiths, but now it proudly stood as Earth's example of acceptance and understanding. If Mossl had nothing much to do, Ramon had even less. He was eager to get down to the planet surface, to experience first hand the Planet of Galactic Peace, where Paradise City was another example of acceptance that mirrored that of Jerusalem. At least on the surface.

"Lieutenant Mossl has a point, Mr. Ramon. Nimbus III is not quite the idyll that it professes to be, but it does aspire to it at least." S’sana added with the voice of authority on the matter.

Sitting in the captain's chair, Lieutenant Commander S'sana was a rather exotic individual, with Orion and Vulcanoid features. To the casual observer, she seemed to be purely exotic, lacking the Vulcan logical side that they expected. The truth was, it wasn't a Vulcan half—it was Romulan.

S’sana was the operations manager, the third highest position on the starship after the captain and executive officer. S’sana had spent the last twenty-seven years rebuilding her life after escaping from the planet that now filled the screen.

S’sana’s dark brown eyes had regarded the displays at her Operations station on the approach to the Nimbus system. Various departments had been competing for sensor usage as the ship entered the proximity of the system; intelligence department had been principal amongst them, scanning for the distribution of life forms on the surface. In addition to scheduling the sensor usage, S’sana was responsible overall for the selection and preparation of all equipment needed for the away mission. She had been in contact with Lieutenant Henrik Kyrre to ensure the appropriate shuttle craft were on standby in case the transporters couldn’t be used. S’sana’s clinical mind was ideal for this type of work; the only thing that caused her indecision was the shore leave schedule that had been passed around from Commander Ilani.

Kara Fox turned in her chair "It sounds like you speak from experience, Commander."

"I am," replied S’sana, slightly caught off-guard by the topic. "Twenty-seven years living on a dusty Wild West planet that aspired to promote peace whilst attempting to stop the colonists descending into full-scale anarchy."

"Anarchy?" said Kara with a tough of surprise, "Surely it never got that bad, did it?"

"You of all people should know that colonies aren’t always paradise, Lieutenant. A decade of drought, a shortage of food and people soon resort to weapons and action; civilization is merely a veneer."

"You were on your own for a decade, as well" Fox recalled.

For S'sana, above all the crew, this was an emotion-stirring experience. This wasn't just a mission for S'sana; this was a homecoming. Looking out over the planet, S'sana was reminded of the first time that she saw this view—on the bridge of the U.S.S. Achilles, when she was finally able to get passage off the planet of her birth. Away from her past, away from her pain—or so she thought.


Stardate 8458.4
22nd February 2287

S'sana had walked across the plains of Om'rath for days, retracing her exodus from the township of Paradise. Behind S'sana were pain, anguish and betrayal. Ahead of her lay uncertainty and the pain of past rejection. Two years before, she had sworn that she would never return to the shantytown that had been her home during her childhood as too many memories were there. She had found love and her mother had denied her the consent she wanted to have before she wed.

S'sana had never known her father, and her mother had never spoken of him. Her mother was protective of S'sana, always trying to guide her destiny. S'sana had rebelled against her mother's protectiveness, always wanting to experience the world that lay beyond the sphere of her mother's influence. It was this rebelliousness that had led her to her husband-to-be. It was also the same rebelliousness that drove her mother away, sent S'sana into exile and ultimately betrayed her.

It was in the rags of betrayal that S'sana now walked back to Paradise, defeat in her eyes; an acceptance of the lecture that she was to get from her mother. Was her fate to be a dancer in some fleapit bar, or a whore on the backstreets? Pleasuring the men of the township to earn the money to survive—her dignity sacrificed to fill her belly? S'sana had one aspect of her personality fuelled by her mother from the time she was a little girl: an aspiration to be more. More than her mother, more than her friends were going to be and more even than her dreams.

S'sana's mother had rejected her husband-to-be because he was a Romulan. She had warned him that he would, one day, betray her. S'sana had argued that the Romulan Star Empire was light-years away from Nimbus III, and that the empire had rejected the colony, just as every other government had rejected it. They were the undesirables, the unclean of the universe. No Romulan vision would steal her husband away from her. The way of D'era, the Romulan way, had betrayed her husband as it had betrayed the colony. He would have no allegiance to the empire, S'sana had told her mother. No allegiance except to the one he was betrothed to. S'sana was wrong.

S'sana and her husband had fled to a village in the Romulan sector of the planet. S'sana's half-Romulan heritage had allowed her to blend in a little with the villagers, but not enough. The green skin of her Orion blood was still clearly visible, tinted slightly olive by her Romulan DNA. Romulans, by their very nature, were very puritan in their beliefs. Imperfection was abhorred, and S'sana never felt truly at home in their midst. Whispers would follow her around the village like a breeze through the leaves.

The betrayal had begun slowly, like the dripping of poison into the blood. Slowly, the whispers and stares of the other villagers would work its way into the very soul of S'sana's husband. At first he pretended that there was nothing to it, that he didn't care. Deep down, though, the pain of rejection from his own people burned in his soul. Her husband's friends had begun to ignore him, for inviting imperfection into the gene pool that was the Romulan blood legacy.

His friends had begun to poison his mind with the ideas of D'era. S'sana's husband had tried to indoctrinate S'sana in to the way of D'era, tried to assimilate her into the Romulan way. All that he achieved was the murder of his love for S'sana and the end of his marriage. Less than two years into the marriage and S'sana was once again on the road. This time she had been betrayed by the man she loved, and the promise of freedom had turned to ashes.

Tears had filled S'sana's eyes as she had wandered through the desert that the surface of the planet had become. The pounding of her heart had become louder in her ears, and she felt every beat within her ribcage. She despised herself, the way that what she was had betrayed her. Nimbus III was the melting pot of the galaxy, and yet she had still not managed to really find acceptance here. Perhaps in Paradise City she could, once again, blend into the scenery.

As S'sana got close to the walls of Paradise she could see that the gate had been broken down. It wasn't long after that she had found the ragged remains of the Galactic Army of Light—souls as lost as her who had found a saviour in the form of a laughing Vulcan. The fates had then spat in S'sana's face when she discovered that Sybok had fled with the select few of his army on a starship called Enterprise. When the ship had returned, Sybok was dead. S'sana was denied her release by this saviour.

It was then that S'sana had seen strangers in burgundy uniforms, bringing aid to the suffering and trying to put the shattered gates of Paradise upright once more.


"Are you alright, Commander?"

S'sana righted herself, lost for a moment in memories that brought back the pain that had never quite healed. She brought her focus back to Lieutenant Fox, who had a puzzled look on her face, "I'm fine, thank you."

S'sana walked over to the science station to scan the planet below. She didn't need to perform a scan of the planet, but it gave her the excuse she needed to turn her back on her colleagues for a moment. A tear momentarily threatened to make its way down her face, but a discreet wipe ended its hopes. As S'sana looked down as she wiped away the tear, she saw her uniform and was reminded of the hope that had come her way after all.


She had done everything possible to persuade these new arrivals that she could help them, in exchange for getting off the planet. Everywhere that these uniformed strangers were, S'sana was there. Where there were aid packs to distribute, S'sana helped them. Where the landing parties were lost, S'sana could guide them through the streets of Paradise. The reunion with her mother had gone sour, as S'sana had feared. Walls had been built up on both sides, so helping these strangers was as much a distraction for S'sana's sorrows as it was a ticket to escape.

It was after performing help for over three weeks that she finally had come face to face with her destiny. It wasn't the face of a lover, or of a husband. It was the weather-beaten face of a Starfleet captain who had been watching S'sana from afar. This was Commander Stirling of the Saladin-class starship Achilles. Stirling was renowned for his dry humour and command style. His hair was close cropped silvering stubble and his face had more wrinkles than a prune. He was a legend in his own time, yet he was direct and to the point.

"If you keep helping my crew like this, I might have to give you one of their uniforms," Stirling noted dryly. "You seem eager to help."

S'sana didn't know what to say. This was her moment to escape and yet the fear held her tongue for a second. Just a second, though. Then she suddenly found she could speak. "You are trying to help us. I am only returning the gesture."

Commander Stirling regarded her for a second, squinting in the bright sun as if composing his reply. He then spoke.

"Maybe you do want to help. Then again, maybe you're trying to get yourself a ticket off this rock."

This made S'sana blush a slight shade greener. "You see a great deal, sir."

"Maybe, Maybe not," Again he paused for a moment. "If you want a ticket off this rock, you have to work for it, but not here, not now."

"I do not understand," S'sana replied, confused.

"You want to get away from this planet, to explore? You certainly have been asking questions about everything and anything from my crew. If you really want to learn, then I'll help you get the chance."


The present once again invaded S'sana's reflections. A crewman handed the Second Officer the cup of herbal tea that she didn't remember ordering a few minutes beforehand. As she sipped on the drink, she remembered the view from the bridge of the Achilles as they had left orbit. She had soon learned the truth behind Stirling's words: he sponsored her to enter Starfleet Academy. There she had finally found acceptance, had found an outlet for her curiosity and hunger for experiences.

It had also been an escape from her past, a past that S'sana had since evaded for a quarter of a century. The question she now had to face was one of whether or not to return to the world she had tried so hard to escape. Would her mother still be there? Would they be able to heal the wounds of twenty-five years? And would her pain ever leave her heart?

Chapter 11: Death and Honour

St. John Talbot and his guests were now onto their third round of drinks (mostly tea). The discussion had turned for a moment from the issue of current affairs to that of recent events. Observing a holograph of General Koord by the side of Talbot's desk, Hawkins had decided to gently bring up the last visit he had made to Nimbus III, to the conference here.


Stardate 11804.5
9th January 2304
Planet Nimbus III

The Constellation-class U.S.S. Montrose orbited the Planet of Galactic Peace while her senior officers under Captain An'il'taya met with the Federation Representative St. John Talbot to discuss matters of great import. This gesture by the Federation was a result of the terrorist attack on the Nimbosian city of New Terra. Even now the exact number of dead could not be calculated. A shuttlecraft had deliberately been flown into the ground in the centre of the city at near-warp speed. The destruction had been virtually total. An estimate of the number of dead put the figures well over one million, and as the attack had taken place during a visit by the starship Excelsior, the timing of the terrorist attack was thus taken as not a coincidence. Despite a thorough investigation by Captain Sulu and his crew, no conclusive identity of the perpetrators could be established.

The Montrose was sent as a flag-showing exercise those few months later for the Nimbus III conference. Captain An'il'taya was both familiar with the planet and a no-nonsense starship commander. Commander Okigbo was the Executive Officer and Lieutenant Hawkins had accompanied Commander Robert Carter in his last mission before Hawkins would assume command of the social sciences division.

Thus, the Montrose was the perfect ship to have sent in. Lieutenant Hawkins knew that his division would be working overtime to keep up with the events of the upcoming conference, and Ensign Donna Carson and the rest of the Intelligence division would be working just as hard.

"There are indeed five factions in the Klingon Empire at this time—that we know of," noted Commander Okigbo. "With Chancellor Azetbur entering her eleventh year as Chancellor, her position has become increasingly perilous the older she gets. Such is the way with Klingon Chancellors. The studies that the Idionomothetic experts on my ship are currently conducting suggest that Azetbur's closest ally is General Kerla, and that she should reassert her authority as soon as possible. The crackdowns we have been hearing about from Ch'Ramak may well be the first signs of this."

"Weakness in any Klingon figure of authority can be fatal," observed Talbot, "and a typical Klingon response to a challenge of being weak is to fight back."

Commander Okigbo waggled the PADD gently. "There will be trouble."

Chancellor's Chambers
I.K.S. Gorkon

Azetbur had always felt the clasp of her enemies around her throat since before she became Chancellor. There were always opponents to her father's belief in dialogue with the Federation. She had kept her father's ideas and beliefs alive long after his death. A leader led from the front, and that was even truer for a Klingon Chancellor. With the shattered remnants of her previous flagship scattered over the surface of Ch'ramak, Azetbur naturally wanted a powerful battlecruiser as her new flagship.

She knew why she had decided to come to the Nimbus III conference in person. There were things she had to say. Things for the other governments to take note of and consider, things for the other worlds of the Beta Quadrant to consider and things for the Klingon Empire to listen to. A storm was coming and she knew she had to pre-empt it if she was to continue to be chancellor. And Chancellors never resigned alive.

Federation Tower
Paradise City
Planet Nimbus III

The Idionomothetic statistics had said—for some time—that Chancellor Azetbur needed to make a statement to re-assert her leadership. Now, it would seem, she had chosen this conference to be her time to do just that.

"This is an interesting development," mused Ambassador Talbot. "I hope General Koord has prepared for her arrival."

"General Koord is a close friend and one of the few remaining supporters of the Chancellor," Hawkins noted.

"An aged supporter," Talbot pointed out. "My friend has been around for a long time and I fear he will not last forever. Especially in these uncertain times."

"We had better run the system to take into account the Chancellor choosing to be here," suggested Lieutenant Peers.

"Agreed," said Hawkins, nodding. "Commander, permission to return to the ship."

"Granted." Okigbo touched Hawkins shoulder as he rose. "I need some figures on this, Lieutenant. Fast."

"Understood, sir."

U.S.S. Montrose
Orbiting Nimbus III

For Donna Carson's career and professional reputation this would be a make-or-break mission, and the stakes were getting higher. Carson—along with the rest of the dozen-strong division—had been working double shifts to get everything ready for the commencement of the conference in just a few hours time. Much of the information fed to the intelligence division on the Montrose was raw, unprocessed data contributed by various ships including the Phantom, Suffolk, Brisbane and Te Mana. Starbases too were adding to the massive influx of data.

Having organised her data, Ensign Carson began putting together her section of the briefing for the senior staff. She'd pulled this duty due to her intimate familiarity with the equipment, it having been delegated to her by the division commander. Armed with a glass of iced tropical fruit juice, Donna glanced down the latest summary of intelligence that the division had produced and began to prioritise the entries. There were some disturbing patterns developing and that might have a bearing on what Chancellor Azetbur and the others might end up discussing.

Bridge, U.S.S. Montrose

Commander Okigbo stepped onto the bridge, having just returned to the Montrose along with Captain An'il'taya. An'il'taya had headed straight for the intelligence department, leaving Okigbo to relieve the Second Officer on the bridge, Rangi Turoa. Okigbo took stock of the situation: U.S.S. Montrose was in standard orbit over Nimbus III with two battlecruisers belonging to the other two governments involved with the colony. Tactically the Romulan vessel was an even match, but the Klingon warship was an unknown factor.

Okigbo walked over to Allegro Bertolucci at the communications station and put his hand gently on the tall lieutenant's shoulder.

"Anything new?"

"Nothing as yet," said Allegro, holding her earpiece in whilst talking to the commander. "It just seems that the security precautions have been tightened even further and they're polishing the conference centre again."

Okigbo smiled at that. He let Allegro continue to monitor subspace as he stepped over to the tactical station to address Lieutenant Thera.

"What do you make of the other two ships?"

"The Romulan V'lar-class cruiser is of comparable ability to our own," the Andorian lieutenant explained with the aid of her multitude of displays, "but the Klingon D-7N variant battlecruiser is of much greater concern. Sensors suggest we are looking at a vessel with capabilities more comparable to an Excelsior-class vessel than our own."

Okigbo stroked his chin subconsciously with his right hand, a sure sign he was troubled. "That could be a problem, in the wrong circumstances."

"You better believe it, Commander."

Klingon Tower
Paradise City
Planet Nimbus III

The Klingon Representative to Nimbus III was troubled. Koord was an aged general from a much earlier time. Koord had been on Nimbus III since the beginning of the Planet of Galactic Peace but was now in the twilight of his life. Most Klingons die in combat, never relinquishing to the ravages of age. Koord had been successful and lived far beyond the lifetime of most of his peers.

Age was beginning to catch up with Koord—his reflexes were slowing and his faculties were not as sharp as they once were—and age was the enemy even a Klingon could not defeat. To many Klingons, perhaps most, the only honourable death was a warrior's death: in combat. To die from old age was not honourable and many Klingons feared to die from decrepitude before they could die in combat.

For Koord this was not an issue. Fifty years ago he had been a general for whom cadets like James T. Kirk had to learn the strategies of at Starfleet Academy. Back then he had been the archetypal warrior and desired a warrior's death. Now that he had forty years as a diplomat behind him, Koord was content that his best role was as a diplomat and distant adviser to the Chancellor.

Koord was faithful to the Empire and he viewed Azetbur as little more than a child sitting on the throne. Azetbur had a good father who had taught her well, and Koord had taken over the role of spiritual adviser to her following his death. Koord and General Kerla had been the left and right hand men of Chancellor Azetbur respectively. Kerla had guided Azetbur in military matters, Koord in spirituality and being Klingon, whilst the teachings of Gorkon kept Azetbur in good stead in matters political.

When Azetbur had informed General Koord of her intent to come to the conference, to speak for the Klingon Empire in person, he was pleased that he would speak with her again. On the other hand, when Koord remembered the political situation on the Homeworld, he wondered how wise this move would be. Things became more unsettling for Koord when he learned of what Azetbur intended to say at this conference.

When he carefully questioned her on the issue, she gently, firmly closed the door on the issue.

"A leader's place is to lead from the front—by example. The matter is closed!"

Koord knew then there would be trouble for the Empire.


The figure smiled inwardly. It had been so easy to get to the planet. So many freighters from so many worlds. No one would suspect them. It would be so easy to achieve their mission too—with all of these different races on the world, no one would pay too much attention to them. Perfect.


The security at the Sybok Conference Centre was joint Federation, Klingon and Romulan, although the planetary policy of no weapons still held true. All of the security personnel were trained in unarmed combat and were the highest rated in the field.

With the centre all set for the conference, history was ready to be made yet again. The various pieces were in place: the hall was rented, the orchestra was primed. It just was not yet time to dance.

The Federation contingent consisted of Ambassador St John Talbot, Captain An'il'taya, Lieutenant Commander Rangi Turoa and Lieutenant Hawkins. Talbot was to speak for the Federation. For the Romulans there was veteran Admiral V'rel, his aides and Ambassador Caithlin Dar. Dar was the one who would speak for the Romulans, an exceptional orator and diplomat. The admiral was there to suggest changes in response to the other two governments, who would speak first. The last to arrive, and the first to speak in the conference, were the Klingons. Chancellor Azetbur confidently led the Klingon party into the chambers. Behind her trailed Generals Koord and Kerla.

Over in the Federation section, Hawkins examined the face of the Chancellor, seeing if there was anything that would give away the mood of things to come. He had a psychotricorder discreetly placed to allow things like heartrate and neurological indicators to be monitored. What he read from her face and from her physiological indicators gave the first signs of trouble ahead. As Azetbur headed for the podium, Commander Okigbo saw anomalies in her body language. His urgent whisper said it all:

"Monitor this speech closely. We have trouble ahead."


The figure made it to the building with no questions. The identity of the shadowy form meant they could enter the building unhindered. They didn't draw any attention to themselves as they made their way to the location they required. Then there would be preparation and patience before success would be theirs. The price of failure was high, but the rewards of success would far outweigh that...


Chancellor Azetbur climbed up to the podium, turned to face the lectern. There were no notes with her, no PADD of carefully selected—and sanctioned—speech as in ages past. Azetbur was a gifted orator, like her father, and Gorkon had worked hard to enhance her skills. For eleven years, Azetbur had supported co-operation with the Federation, supported the aid mission to Qo'noS—even after the attack on Starbase 11 in '98 by ‘rogue' Klingons disaffected with the closeness of relations with the Federation. Most of all, Azetbur had helped to maintain the peace. Until now.

Azetbur's speech stated with all of the diplomatic pleasantries that can be expected from a Klingon Chancellor. She thanked the Nimbus III trio of representatives for organising the conference, with the view to reducing tensions between the three governments. Azetbur mentioned how previous conferences—indeed one held here on stardate 11222—had helped to stabilise the situation between the three governments and allowed for progress to be made with trade negotiations and mining rights.

Hawkins had almost begun to relax in his chair. With the terrorist acts of a couple of years ago behind them, he thought that maybe Commander Okigbo's warning had been a misinterpretation. Then the Chancellor made the move they had all been expecting. For a while it had been anticipated, yet no one wanted to hear the words.

"...therefore it is with a new sense of vigour that I intend to take the Klingon Empire forward in this new century. For too long the Empire has placed the burden of reconstruction after Praxis on the shoulders of others. I therefore propose plans to expand the Klingon Empire to increase our resources. No more shall the Empire be denied the pride that I promised it would retain after the death of my father, over a decade ago.

"Many have spoken of the annexing of the Ch'ramak system. It has not gone unnoticed that there has even been political debate raised concerning the future of that world, the system and its inhabitants. Let me announce to the assembled persons here today that there will be no further debate on the system of the Ch'ramaki, and other systems like it. The Klingon Empire will be revived from the stagnation that callous acts have attempted to impose on us. Let the other governments assembled here understand that the Empire has traditionally expanded to survive and we shall not let our traditions go questioned any longer."

The rest of the speech was barely noticed. Most of the delegates were somewhat stunned by the almost out-of-character speech made by the Chancellor. Such strong words had not been heard since the time of Chancellor Kesh. It had been most of what the experts had been predicting: the gauntlet had been laid down. Azetbur had as much dared her own rivals, within the Empire as much as without, to get in the way of her running the Empire. This was due notice that normal service was now resumed with the Klingon Empire and the tolerance for interference from without and within was at an end.

After such a revolutionary speech, and having left many of the delegates wondering how to react, Ambassador Talbot called for a recess: There was much that would need to be discussed by the assembled representatives, best done in their own tower.


As with all of the government representatives, the Klingon dignitaries withdrew to their own tower. The interior of the Klingon tower was styled in classical Klingon manner: Sparse of luxuries and comfort, functional and celebratory of honour. There was little discussion by the generals and the chancellor. They had already discussed what she had said. She had given her own reasons for her choice of words—the reasons she had given in the auditorium—but few of the generals were convinced. They knew about the rivals to Azetbur's leadership, and they also knew that a tactic such as this would only gain her time, nothing more. Only by defending physically against these challenges, and meeting them with force, would she prove her worthiness to retain leadership of the Empire.

The figure heard the chatter of people approaching. They had already overheard others discussing the speech by the Klingons and the sudden recess. This was good. The moment was nearing.

In the Federation tower the Starfleet officers were accompanying Ambassador Talbot to his quarters. There had been preparations made for this day. Talbot was most perturbed by Azetbur's speech.

"There must have been some pressure from her hardline generals. She has been losing supporters steadily since the attack on our starbase. Some see the continued Federation aid convoys to Qo'noS as a sign of weakness..."

The figure could hear the voices getting closer. Their weapon was ready, there was no thought of escape, only the mission...

Talbot continued. "…we all knew that Azetbur would have to reassert her authority. I just never anticipated her move for such extreme expansion. Anyways, this is my stop," he smiled tightly, "I think the Federation Council will want to know of this."

Talbot turned and entered his door, which hissed gently closed behind him.

The door opened and the figure saw their target. The hand tightened on their disruptor, causing an almost imperceptible click. Almost imperceptible. At the sound of the click, the target dodged to the side and knocked the disruptor from the figure's hand. Furniture was rent asunder as the two figures wrestled. This had not been planned or anticipated by the assassin—they had no formal training for this—but they were far younger than their target. Both were now unarmed.

General Koord had separated from the Chancellor and her entourage. He had planned to rest for a few moments in his quarters with a flagon of bloodwine, using his resources to assess the reaction of the other governments. He had not anticipated finding an assassin in his room. Koord was well past his prime, but decades of warrior's training sprung into action once again. Since his experiences with Sybok, seventeen years earlier, Koord had sobered up and his reflexes had returned to the condition they now reached.

Koord didn't recognise his assailant, but saw in their eyes that they intended to kill him. He hadn't caused the weapon to discharge, nor could he reach the com button so there would be no assistance on the way, for now. Both sides were fairly evenly matched in abilities, Koord's slowed reflexes were equalled by the inexperience of his nemesis. Time and again it appeared that one had the advantage over the other. Desktop items and furniture were turned into improvised weapons. Feet shuffled as both combatants moved to gain leverage and poise. As boots moved, the assailant's disruptor was kicked about in a slow, sick waltz.

Koord finally gained purchase around the assassin's neck and began to throttle his potential murderer. The assassin began to gasp and choke, fumbling around for their weapon as the old general squeezed the life out of them. The hand fumbled around: table leg, PADD, statue—all were items the hand touched but could not gain purchase on. Finally the fingers brushed the grip of the disruptor. Koord squeezed the throat with all of his fury, knowing he must warn the others of the assassin's identity. The fingers gained purchase on the disruptor. Koord felt the strength ebbing from his foe. The assassin saw double as they raised the disruptor. Almost there, Koord moved to finish the assassin and break their neck.

The disruptor discharges echoed around Koord's room.


Stardate 13501.5
5th July 2312

Hawkins turned to Talbot after their fourth cup of tea, and after remembering the events leading up to the assassination of Koord. "You never found out who the murderer was, did you?"

"No." The disappointment in Talbot's face was obvious. "The Klingon government stonewalled me—stonewalled the whole Federation." He sipped from his tea. "As far as they were concerned, it was a disaffected Klingon faction and the assassin was dead. Case closed."

St. John held up a PADD. "Just over a year ago the investigation I was doing on the sly suggested that it was a disaffected Klingon colonial that was the assassin. Not a Klingon."

Hawkins leant forwards in his chair, his curiosity piqued.

Talbot continued. "It wasn't a Klingon that killed Koord. It was a Ch'ramaki. The Klingons barely admitted to it as the crackdown by General Gorak two years ago put an end to the rising rebellion in the Klingon frontier colonies."

Hawkins drank more tea. This was fascinating. It opened up areas for his mission to explore. Especially Ch'ramaki.

Chapter 9+ - The Minor Races

The beverages served by the ambassadorial aides were first rate. Whilst Tamkivi, Peers and Ilani discussed the matters raised in the first part of their discussion, Hawkins pored over a holographic map of the Klingon Empire and surrounding areas rendered in the centre of the room. Hawkins was familiar with this map- it was the one which he had looked at hundreds of times before whilst planning his current mission. The map had different shades of colour for each astropolitical body. Many people would have had difficulty naming and positioning the smaller, minor races. Captain Hawkins had no such troubles.

"Is everyone alright if I continue?" queried Talbot. Nods universally around the room supported his request.

The map zoomed into a new region on the underbelly of the Klingon Empire: the Hydran Kingdom. This region of space had been split in half by the twin invading forces of the Klingons and the Lyran Star Empire; both had been forced to withdraw after a protracted war of attrition.

"The Hydran Kingdom, freed after decades under the Lyrans and Klingons, despite the fact that most of the worlds in this region are incapable of sustaining either life form. Referring back to my opening statement, this was a war of resources rather than for territorial gains." Talbot began.

"The Klingons didn’t want to give it up after the explosion of Praxis," said Tamkivi.

"The withdrawal of the Lyrans forced their hand," said Ilani, "the border war with the Ferasan meant they had other matters to attend to."

Hawkins couldn’t help but observe "Which one? They fight over their borders constantly."

"Indeed they do," Talbot agreed, "but look at the last time we sent a diplomat to mediate…"

The need to elaborate faded along with the sentence. The Federation had sent a mediator to negotiate the disagreement between the Lyrans and the Ferasan. The result was the unfortunate death of the diplomat, which had the effect of causing the Federation Council to lodge a formal protest and, after much bad publicity on the Federation News Service channels, the Federation withdrew from sending any further mediators.

Ilani broke the brief, awkward silence. "Starfleet Intelligence reports that the Hydrans have been rebuilding their home world with resources from their Lost Colonies. Altroth, Minxitith and Krooth offered a convenient bolthole for the Hydrans in the darkest days of their occupation- and a base from which to rebuild their fleet. Hydraxan XXIII has assumed the throne of Hydrax, and the royal palaces are midway through an extensive rebuild."

"They were flattened, weren’t they?" Leena Tamkivi pointed out.

"Yes," Ilani continued, smoothing over the point, "as I said, an extensive rebuild. The mines on many of their worlds were untouched by the Klingons..."

"…for the resources." Talbot clarified.

"…indeed, for the mineral deposits that permeates the Kingdom. Intelligence suggests that the Hydrans have begun trade with the Lyran Democratic Republic. The Klingons continue to intimidate the Hydrans along their border, whilst the Vudar Enclave continues to occupy Hydran sovereign territory."

At this point St John Talbot took over. "May I also point out the Vudar also occupy Klingon sovereign territory as well? Whilst we are on the topic of Hydran trade, Hydran Ambassador Solev is due to arrive here to negotiate for trade with the Federation."

"Do the Klingons know?" Hawkins asked.

"Probably," Talbot conceded, "but this is neutral space and the Hydran ambassador is coming here at the request of the Federation Council; I cannot see them causing an incident."

"It depends on Chancellor Kaarg’s intentions." Ilani observed.

The holographic display changed focus as Talbot moved the conversation on from the Hydrans to other matters. The region now central to the display was a rich amber colour; this was the Lyran Star Empire.

"The Lyrans are next on our list of races to discuss," Talbot began, "they have been fairly quiet of late since their latest round of border squabbles with the Ferasan and their withdrawal from the Hydran Kingdom."

"There are unconfirmed reports of a military build-up in the Lyran star fleet. Of course, this could be down to internal rivalries or a reaction to the Ferasan," said Ilani.

"There hasn’t been a challenge to the ruling family of the Lyran Star Empire for a decade or more," Talbot said, adding "unless they are preparing to deal with the Lyran Democratic Republic?"

"They have royal protection." Hawkins observed.

"Protection that can be revoked," replied Talbot.

The Lyran Democratic Republic was a county within the Lyran Star Empire which had broken away from the crown and appointed a Chairman to rule by the wishes of the people. The republic had been allowed to survive for political reasons. The Republic was democratic to the same model as China in the late 20th/early 21st centuries. To-date, the LDR had not attempted expansion and had stabilised a military imbalance by their creation- two factors which had permitted this anomaly to continue unmolested.

Master Chief Kissunguaq finally spoke up from the corner, "Such political standpoints are likely to want to resolve their differences sooner or later."

"You think they will overrun the Republic?" asked Tamkivi.

"Each philosophy will see their viewpoint as the correct one, and the fact there are members of their own race with a different culture." Kissunguaq replied.

"Do you think this will result in a military strike or a coup?" Talbot asked.

"Either is possible." Kissunguaq didn’t commit himself.

"The Vudar Enclave could well be more of a military hotspot", Peers said, "being caught in-between the Klingons- whom they embarrassed by leaving the empire- and the Hydrans whose territory they are occupying."

"The Vudar situation is a complicated one," admitted Talbot. "The Federation Council supported the Vudar in their democratic move away from the Klingons…"

"Escaping from occupation," Corrected Hirst.

Talbot let the interruption roll over him. "The point is that before the doves muted the support, the Federation made its support known. This move made things ‘awkward’ between the Federation council and Azetbur..."

Talbot wandered out of his chair; Ilani could sense his awkwardness about the matter. Talbot’s closeness with General Koord had coloured his view of the Klingons and their culture- this was against that grain.

"…On the one hand the Vudar have freed themselves from the Klingons, on the other hand they have expanded from their own borders to include the sovereign territory of the Klingons and the Hydrans- neither side will stand for this as Mr Hirst pointed out."

"Our mission is to look at the dynamics of these races, assess their current social and political structures and predict future moves before they are made." Hawkins reminded everyone in the room. "The Vudar, the Hydrans, the Lyran, Ferasan, Klingons and Sha’kurians- we know little or nothing of their current dispositions and intentions. Some races we know absolutely nothing concrete about. We are to lift the fog on their peoples."

"We have Klingon Intelligence reports they shared with us after Khitomer…" Hirst said, optimistically.

"…sadly the accuracy of those reports is questionable," Tamkivi remarked from her own experience trawling through those same reports, "and the neutrality of those reports is also dubious."

"Cultural flavouring to a common experience, my dear," Talbot said from experience.

"The mission logs from the Fearless are proving to be useful reading for many of those races," Ilani offered, "I read many of them during my time on the Courageous to compare notes. Captain Sheltarah zh’Corithan and her crew have provided some detailed, accurate information on some of these peoples."

"There was that incident with the Lyrans…" Hawkins reminded her.

"… in which no one was killed, thanks to the skill of the helmsman," Ilani pointed out, "and they did get some useful information from that part of their mission."

Talbot then decided to bring the mission into focus; this was, after all, the purpose of his briefing. He gently caught the attention of the room.

"If I may return to my briefing, you have all managed to illustrate my opening remark; it is my observation that the universe runs on the balance of ‘have’ and ‘want’. Whilst on the face of it the Lyrans have different ambitions to the Gorn and the Klingons are different to the Hydrans, all have an inherent need for resources. The Klingons are the quintessential ‘wants’ at the moment, with their post-Praxis shortage of minerals, especially dilithium. Since Praxis, I spoke at length with my late friend Koord…"

Talbot looked pensive for a moment, as the memories of his lost friend Koord came back to him. Ilani instinctively felt the pain. Talbot put the memories to one side and continued.

"…about the effects of the explosion of Praxis. As you are no doubt aware, Koord was a close friend and proponent of Gorkon and his daughter, Azetbur. He knew that the policies that they were pursuing could ferment the kind of rebellion and reactionary responses in kind from the military leaders. Liberalism is not something generally found in the Klingon High Council as it is equated with weakness. The recent attacks on Ch’ramak and from the Vudar are characteristic exploitation of this perceived weakness."

"And Chancellor Kaarg is a response to this perceived weakness?" Hawkins asked.

Talbot nodded, "Indeed it is; Kaarg was once a supporter of the policies of Azetbur, keeping his own beliefs private. After the assassination, Kaarg took it upon himself to move against the liberalism and reassert the iron fist of the Klingon people."

The holographic display changed to a rundown of the members of the Klingon High Council and military high command. Many of the faces were familiar to those people in the room; however there were also recent additions and deletions from the known list. Talbot allowed people to look at the display for a moment; he sipped a glass of water to wet his pallet and then continued.

"Kaarg moved to adopt a more conservative High Council than has been the case for two decades; several of the high families were either cast out of the High Council or moved into lesser roles. New members such as Ditagh suddenly appeared in powerful roles, Ditagh being the aide to Ambassador Kage. If the leaked report from the Tholians is correct and Kage is headed for the Ferasan home world then Kaarg is continuing his active policy of trying to get the Klingon Empire back to its feet."

Judith Peers took this moment to broach the topic. She leant forward, absent-mindedly combing her blonde hair back with the fingers of her left hand. Peers had spent the last three years on the Sheffield studying the Klingon Empire; she had been following the promotions, demotions, discommendations and executions since the murder of Azetbur.

"Kaarg’s change in political position is suspicious; during the latter years of Azetbur he was seen as a supporter – even offering his own guards to protect her from a perceived challenge from General Gorak…"

"…a challenge that resulted in her death regardless of the gesture…" Ilani interjected.

"…absolutely," continued Peers, "Now turn the clock forward to his accession and Kaarg denounces Azetbur with every other line, blaming her for the failures of the Empire over the last twenty years- am I the only one that finds that surprising actions for a former proponent of Azetbur?"

"A politically motivated change of heart perhaps," said Talbot, "Or an honest change of heart, now that he is no longer honour-bound to support the former Chancellor. Klingon politics is never a simple matter, as I am sure you are aware."

At that point an aide appeared and walked to Talbot, whispering in his ear as they simultaneously showed him a PADD. Talbot nodded, dismissing the aide.

"It would seem that Klingon politics has put this meeting on hold. We have an invitation from Klingon representative Ditagh to assemble in the Sybok Conference Centre; it would appear that he has a message to convey to us from the new Chancellor."

"Ditagh? Sounds like the recent addition has gotten himself an early taste of promotion," Ilani observed, "Kage to Ferasa and Ditagh to Nimbus III- curiouser and curiouser."

Talbot, Hawkins and the other Starfleet personnel got up from their chairs as they headed for the turbolift.

"Trouble?" asked Hawkins, discreetly.

"Could be," Replied Ilani.

Chapter: Tipping the Scales

The K’tinga-class battle cruiser departed Klingon space into the Neutral Zone, leaving the old D-5 warship behind. The old war horse was still in service after a century at the frontline. Many of the old dents from previous battles were still visible; the warship made a good patrol vessel and many of the Klingons felt honoured to serve on a ship that had fought in many battles with famous commanders.

By comparison, the K’tinga-class Boq was a recently-refurbished warship, the choice of ship deliberate to make the right impression when the guest aboard arrived. The Boq was now over forty years old, but her armament made her more than a match for any of the vessels at the destination.

Deep within the Boq Ditagh was absent-mindedly flexing his muscle; his huge physique filled the fitting black outfit with gold chain mail vest. Ditagh relished in wearing this outfit that so reminded him of the Imperial Klingon Navy uniforms from decades past. Despite Ditagh being the aide to Ambassador Kage, he wanted no one to be in any doubt as to where his allegiances lay.

Ditagh had served with Kage for over a year, becoming pre-eminent during the treaty deliberations at Algeron. During the talks, Ditagh had become frustrated at the concessions that Kage was contemplating. Outbursts by Ditagh had been met with calm rebuttals from Kage, culminating in the aged ambassador choking the young aide. The demonstration had certainly put Ditagh in his place.

Now there was no one to put Ditagh in place; he was the representative for this part of the mission. Algeron had culminated in the Romulans replacing the agreed-upon treaty with one of their own, after which they withdrew from this side of the quadrant. That final meeting had included General Kaarg amongst the Klingon contingent; Ditagh had later helped to arrange for Kaarg’s accession to Chancellor.

In the small, functional space which Ditagh had been given he looked at the duplicate documents of the ones which Kage had with him.

The quadrant will not be the same after this speech; he thought to himself, we will free ourselves from the Federation leash at last.


Ferasa, the Ferasan Home world: a planet of prairies and mountains which had seen the dominant life evolve from the predatory life forms.

The drab olive green of the Klingon Bird of Prey blended well with the grasslands as the aft ramp lowered with a short blast of steam. The gathered Ferasan dignitaries gathered at the foot of the ramp as the figure of Ambassador Kage gathered in the shadows atop the ramp. Kage was a veteran ambassador for the Klingon Empire; he had seen developments all the way from Chancellor Kesh all the way to Kaarg.

This latest move by Kaarg is worthy of the Klin Zha grand master that he is, thought Kage, but giving Ditagh this much responsibility is too much, too soon.

The Treaty of Sirius: the means by which the Federation hamstrung the Ferasan, after five wars against Earth. The treaty included the provision that the Ferasan were forbidden from the development or manufacture of any weaponry, save for border defence. Kage had considered Kaarg’s decision to be the honourable one as well as the right one. The Ferasan were warriors and no warrior deserved to be caged like this.

Kage wore the robes befitting his status as ambassador of the empire; badges of office and medals bedecked the sash across his chest. The robes flowed effortlessly as the powerful form of the ambassador walked down the ramp to join the Ferasan waiting below.

Prel-ambassador was Kage’s opposite number on the Ferasan home world. Prel-ambassador, like all Ferasan, looked like a cross between a gorilla and one of the big cats of Earth. Prel-ambassador wore trophies proudly; like Klingons, the Ferasan prized prowess in combat. Prel-ambassador regarded Kage with the merciless eyes of a hunter, eyeing up his prey. He knew what the Klingons had done for his people and for this the Klingon had earned his respect.

As Kage stepped down the last few metres to the floor, he noticed that the Ferasan fur allowed them to blend in with their surroundings. For a moment he felt the thrill of what it might be like to be stalked by such a being – truly that might be glorious!

"You honour us with your presence, Ambassador." Prel-ambassador said in baritone Klingon, via the wrist-translator. "I am glad that we can cement this accord in person, as one warrior to another."

Kage bowed slightly, being sure to maintain eye contact and not to smile; the former was to show no weakness, the latter as a smile would be interpreted as a challenge.

"Warriors should not be imprisoned by words, they should be allowed to fight and be true to their nature!" Kage spat with disgust at how the humans had beaten the Ferasan with a signature, being careful to highlight their common warrior heritage. "Today your people will regain their place in the stars, Prel-ambassador."

The Ferasan regarded Kage closely, their nostrils quivering, picking up the unique scent of their guest. With Kage at the bottom of the ramp, Prel-ambassador towered above him at two metres tall. The two started walking towards the transport that would take them into the First City.

"I trust the goods exceeded your expectations?"

"We are satisfied at the results so far. We have prepared the first delivery of minerals for your people in return." Prel-ambassador smiled a satisfied, toothless smile that only humans with cats for pets could understand.

"My aide has prepared an announcement to be read at the place of our choosing. I am sure the humans will not fail to grasp the message that we are delivering to them today."


The Klingons called a meeting in the Sybok Conference Centre; this was the central point on the three towers and the location of many ground-breaking declarations. Today was to be no different.

"You say you had no warning of this meeting, Mr Talbot?" Hawkins queried as he fastened up his dress uniform jacket. The call had come to him twenty minutes beforehand that there was to be a conference and that St John Talbot had requested that both the captain and his executive officer join him.

"You have to remember that the Klingons like to be seen to be in control of the situation," reminded Talbot, "no doubt they have some new treaty that they want to share with us."

"Maybe they have declared war on someone." said Hawkins half-joking.

"Perhaps they want to talk about that rumoured meeting you talked about earlier?" Ilani suggested.

The conference centre was an impressive circular space with a podium in the centre which commanded the attention of all who entered the room. Ilani quickly noted the arrival of the Romulans over the far side of the room, led by Caithlin Dar. The Klingons soon arrived with a powerful, muscular Klingon that she recognised from intelligence reports leading at the front. Ditagh, her eidetic memory reminded her.

Once everyone was seated Ditagh introduced the reason for the meeting.

"Glory to the Klingon Empire; Today we celebrate further good news for the recovery of the Empire. I give you Ambassador Kage."

The lights dimmed and a holographic transmission filled the auditorium, depicting the ghostly figure of the elderly Klingon ambassador.

"Rejoice for today another ally joins the cause of the Klingon Empire. For too long the Empire has suffered the effects of the explosion of Praxis, causing us to rely on handouts. Today we have taken a step towards the recovery of the Empire." Kage turned to an unseen figure behind him. "Mr Ambassador?"

At this point, the hulking form of Prel-ambassador joined Kage in holographic electric blue; cries and gasps were uttered from the Federation side of the hall as familiar feelings of fear rippled down the spines of many.

"We are proud to announce a new trade partnership between the Klingon Empire and the Ferasan Patriarchy. This new deal will see the rebuilding of the Empire; we shall regain our honour and our place in the quadrant."

The announcement then went into vague details introducing the trade routes between the Ferasan home world and Klingon space. Minerals were mentioned including dilithium and various rare metals. The details for the Ferasan trade was kept to simply ‘manufactured goods’. The message ended with the customary "Q’apla!" and the twin forms of Kage and Prel-ambassador shoulder-to-shoulder. The lights rose in the auditorium gradually, illuminating the surprised faces of many in the room.

The customary Klingon propaganda thought Ilani.

"A trade deal with the Ferasan?" said Talbot, slightly taken aback, "I never saw that coming."

"Trade in what?" Hawkins thought aloud.

"Weapons; those are the trade the Klingons are best known for. He’s also hiding something." Ilani observed.

"Everyone is hiding something," replied Hawkins, adding with a wry smile "but he is hiding something."

Ditagh proceeded to answer questions from the conference hall as the details of the treaty were fed to the PADDs of the assembled members.

Ilani could feel the pride and patriotism radiating from Ditagh as he answered the audience.

"It is our duty to rebuild the empire," boasted the Klingon representative, "the Ferasan share our cultural values and priorities and are best suited to our needs."

"Since when do Klingons make treaties with kuuve, Ditagh?"

The question came from Caithlin Dar. Along with her Romulan aides, she had remained silent and impassive throughout the announcements. Dar was showing her knowledge of Klingon culture by talking about kuuve – a derogatory Klingon term for barbarians.

Ditagh rounded on the Romulan representative, for one painful second it looked as if he might leap down from the podium and impale her. Ilani could feel the flash of Ditagh’s anger and embarrassment from her seat.

"As I believe I explained earlier, ambassador, we share common values with the Ferasan. This trade agreement is to the satisfaction of both sides. This is a mutually beneficial pact."

"I fail to see what the Ferasan are gain from this, Ditagh." St John Talbot took the opportunity to join his Romulan counterpart in seeking to pull out specifics from the Klingons. "You say the Klingons are gaining mineral deliveries from the Ferasan and this PADD mentions manufactured goods going to the Ferasan. Could you elaborate on this? Are they agricultural? Construction equipment? Military?"

The loaded question hung in the air.

"The Klingon Empire does not have to explain their agreements with others."

"What if it may conflict with the Treaty of Sirius?"

"The Klingons are not signatories to that treaty."

"So you are suggesting that these deliveries are weapons?" Talbot pressed the issue.

"Klingons do not ‘suggest’." Ditagh was visibly unimpressed. "This is trade for the Ferasan people, trade which your treaty and quarantine zone have suppressed for decades. How long must the Ferasan be punished for decades-old wars?"

Ditagh pushed the question back to Talbot, wrapped in indignation.

Ilani leant forwards and whispering into Talbot’s ear. "Point scored, Mr Ambassador. He is uncomfortable about the breach of treaty."

Talbot nodded slowly and let the issue hang. Arguing over the Treaty of Sirius could get ugly and he needed to talk to the Federation Diplomatic Service for advice on this.

"Silence from the Federation? As expected. Are their any more questions?" Ditagh took a small measure of satisfaction from the lack of response from Talbot. "No? Then this meeting is adjourned."

St. John Talbot and the two officers filed out amongst the others, the murmurs of uncomfortable Federation members still shaken from the appearance of the Ferasan ambassador on the screen.

Chapter: Repercussions

The conversation was buzzing between St John Talbot and his Starfleet guests as they made their way back to his office. Hawkins had recalled most of his team back to the Sheffield, keeping just Ilani and himself to discuss matters with the ambassador. Peers was sent with orders to monitor all channels to see what the response was to this announcement.

As they entered the office, Ilani voiced her concern "Why was this announcement left for an ambassador to make? Surely something of this magnitude would be a propaganda coup for the Chancellor?"

"A chancellor survives in his position by winning battles; both political and combative," observed Talbot, recalling what his friend Koord had told him, "to not make an announcement like this the Chancellor must have something even more prestigious planned for himself."

"Such as planning for war," suggested Hawkins.

Klingon War Room under the Great Hall, Kronos First City.

The War Room had been used many times since it was first carved out of the rock under the First City during the times of Kahless. It was from here that most of the campaigns that the Klingons had fought were planned and executed. The layout of the room had been altered from time to time but still utilised traditional maps and other non-electronic equipment; this measure ensured that the room could not be detected by enemy warships from orbit and the natural rocks dampened any attempts to scan for life forms.

The War Table was dominated by a map of the Klingon Empire and surrounding regions; on it were pieces representing the Klingon war fleets and support facilities. Even the explosion of Praxis hadn’t stopped the War Room operating. In the corner, Chancellor Kaarg was staring at the complicated game board in front of him; the Klin Zha Grand Thought Master was deep in a match against himself, the so-called Final Reflection.

Despite the concentration entailed, the Chancellor was adept enough to continue his conversation with the assembled generals that he had summoned to share some of his plans with. The assembled generals had fought more battles in the last two years than they had for the entire rest of Azetbur’s reign as chancellor. Many of them had learned their craft under General Chang and the senior staff during the time of Kesh and Gorkon; Kaarg was counting on this fact as he was turning back the clock to the golden years of the Empire.

Kaarg moved a piece and used it to take one of the other counters off the board.

"The key to a successful campaign is to make the most of the whole picture and not focus on one part" he intoned in his baritone voice, "in order to revive the Empire we must look at all of the options open to us. The more complicated the battlefield is, the harder it will be for the analysts of our opponents to deduce what we are doing- we will keep them on their back feet."

General Klaa was listening intently, the failure to gain the position of chancellor having negligible effect on his career pathway, the Imperial Klingon First Fleet now under his command as Chief of Staff.

"The first fleet stands ready to execute your plans, Chancellor."

The Chancellor nodded slightly in acknowledgement as he continued the fight to the death against himself on the Klin Zha board.

"The Empire needs resources and it also needs to regain the respect that it once held. For two decades we have grown soft as Azetbur talked her way out of battle after battle. Praxis crippled more than just cities and the Home world; it crippled our respect in the eyes of our allies and enemies. We have been exposed as helpless mewling children trying to fight a fire with our flagons of blood wine. We must remind the quadrant of our fighting prowess as we locate the resources we need and take them."

As if on cue, the Chancellor once again used a Klin Zha piece to remove another from the board. He then continued cryptically:

"We have made a start with my first campaign with the announcement of the trade agreement with the Ferasan; we shall now have an increase in vital minerals from their systems in return for a generous supply of materials for their own needs…"

"…the Lyrans will not stand for this move," Observed one of the generals.

"They will make no moves whilst they gain our taxes and our supplies to keep the warships operating that we sold them. The Lyrans have been far too busy fighting themselves to be able to fight anyone else; they need us for a while at least. They may protest but the treaty will hold for long enough to execute the next part of my plan."

The Chancellor stopped concentrating on the game and looked up at his generals and then specifically at Klaa.

"Prepare the First Fleet for imminent action. Be ready to fight when I give the order!"

"By your command, Chancellor."

Ambassador Talbot’s office, Nimbus III.

The potential repercussions of Kage’s speech were still being discussed by Talbot, Hawkins and Ilani. Everything from the reactions of the Gorn and Tholians had been discussed- even the Federation Council- but there was one race that came up time and again: the Lyrans.

"I must concur that apart from the expected protest from the Federation Council, the Lyrans are most likely to be the most aggrieved party from this trade agreement," said Talbot, stroking his beard.

"Given their historical enmity towards the Ferasan, I’d imagine the Lyrans are furious. This could be the end of the Klingon-Lyran alliance."

Prompted by the conversation, Hawkins tapped on his comm badge, "Hawkins to Sheffield."

The efficient voice of Kara Fox replied smoothly over the encrypted channel "Go ahead, Captain."

"What is the comm chatter for the Lyrans like at the moment?"

A pause and then "Starfleet Intelligence is still trying to break down the messages but traffic flow spiked at the announcement."

"Thanks, Lieutenant, Hawkins out."

"Well, it seems like the Lyrans are indeed unhappy. Very unhappy," said Talbot.

Lyrantan: ancestral home of the Lyrans.

The snows were beginning to melt in the evergreen forests around the capital city, soon it would be spring and the prairie grasslands would explode into a carpet of flowers and new green shoots.

The capital city itself was built into the mountains, allowing an unparalleled view of the surrounding forests, whilst also offering some protection. The scenery lent the planet the look of the Colorado Rockies, with snow-capped mountains and evergreen forests. Traditionally this was the lair of the Lyrans and the Royal Family which ruled over the empire. The throne room echoed with the angry snarl of the emperor-king. The messenger cowered at the abject fury that stood before him; the PADD which he had handed to the king lay in shards across the far end of the room, hurled there in disgust.

King Raa’zzark VI had ears pointed almost perfectly flat back; this was nothing short of betrayal.

"I have tolerated the Klingons operating in our territory for years, exploring worlds we should be conquering ourselves and this is how they repay us?"

One of the royal aides gently attempted to reason with the monarch’s fury.

"Sire, they still provide us with taxes and weaponry systems as well…"

"…In return for making deals with our enemies?"

"Perhaps, sire, we could punish them with further taxation? That way we could still gain from them technologically. We still need spare parts for the D-7T’s, D-10B’s and Catbird warships we acquired from them" offered the aide, showing his affiliations to the Enemy’s Blood duchy which earned financial gain from the explorations in the Far Stars duchy.

This was a reminder from the aide, about the small but significant acquisition of warships from the Klingons which required spare parts from them. The L-42 Catbird was one such warship design that the Lyrans had outfitted for the Hydran occupation, when the Klingons supplied them with spares. There were clans that were pro-Klingon, equipped with these scouts as well as the larger D-10B Riskadh warships allowed for co-operation with the warriors from Kronos.

"Bring me the Klingon ambassador!"

The Klingon ambassador to Lyrantan had only just been briefed about the trade deal. Kyrox was a veteran of Lyran politics and had been sent there during the Hydran occupation to show Klingon sincerity concerning the mutual invasion of the Kingdom. Kyrox knew the alliance could go South at a moment’s notice given the passionate nature of these feline warriors. With their hatred of their Ferasan brethren, perhaps today is a good day for me to die he thought as he entered the throne room.

The emperor-king had used the time taken for Kyrox to arrive to ponder the words of his aide. He had paced up and down the throne room, causing several servants to scurry for cover. When the doors opened to allow the Klingon ambassador to enter, the emperor-king assumed his place on the throne once more.

"How dare the Klingons forge an alliance with our enemies? What is the meaning of this?" The emperor-king didn’t even let Kyrox fully enter the room.

"The Klingon people do not have to have your permission to make trade agreements. This is a deal beneficial to my own people, useful in the light of your own current internal disagreements which have caused several incidents with Klingons ships and crew."

Kyrox took the initiative and honest approach of pointing out the in-fighting that had stalled the Lyran occupying forces in Hydran space and caused their eventual withdrawal.

The honesty helped to diffuse the anger of the emperor-king, but only slightly. "The incidents with your ships is regrettable, however this does not excuse this treaty which insults the generous deal we signed with good faith. The price of this will be an additional levy on your survey forces payable to this royal court. With this we shall act to insure your safety against any further incidents."

Kyrox considered his reply. Whilst he could stand there and engage in power play with the emperor-king, this would needlessly provoke the eviction of their scout ships and freighters and the Chancellor was explicit in his instructions to preserve the treaty to allow a broadening of options to restock the empire’s mineral wealth.

"The emperor is wise in not allowing such matters as a trade agreement to soil the good relations our peoples share."

As Kyrox was led out of the palace the emperor-king turned to his aides "We shall use these new funds from the Klingons to fund new ships of our own design; this shall be the punishment for their insolence. Assemble the dukes; I wish to put an end to these petty squabbles and draw their focus onto our true enemies."

In the ambassadorial chambers on Lyrantan, Kyrox spoke to the High Council via encrypted channel "The response of the Lyrans has been as expected. They have decided to raise taxation for the royal fleet, rather than allow the Enemy’s Blood duchy gain more wealth than they already have."

"Excellent news," Kaarg almost seemed pleased by this development. In fact he was.

"Why is this good news, Chancellor?" Kyrox furrowed his brow in confusion.

"Everything is proceeding as planned; you have done well in preserving the treaty. The emperor-king may dislike our trade agreement, but there are others who see the benefits of allying themselves with us far clearer than he does. We will just have to appeal to their desire to improve their standing in the quadrant. Proceed with the next stage of my instructions and contact Archduke Fzzrrt III of the Enemy’s Blood duchy."

Chapter: Intentions

Starbase 12 at New Holland Colony in the Gamma 400 system, near the Maelstrom phenomena.

Commodore Maxwell Buckingham looked out of the view screen on U.S.S. Hood, sharing the view with Captain Raekwon Okigbo and a cluster of other bridge crew. He hadn’t seen this many starships since the last time he paid a call to the Second Fleet headquarters. As far as the eye could see there were starships; there were dry-docks with ships under refit such as the Excelsior class Endeavour and still more massive Ulysses class super dreadnoughts Zrinyi and Fuso. Other tactical elements of the Second Fleet were here as well, with numerous Ascension class, Belknap class and Federation class vessels all providing a sense of security to the proceedings.

Although his face wouldn’t belie the fact, Maxwell Buckingham was restless; the commanding officer of Starbase 12 and the Second Fleet was his father, Fleet Admiral Charles Lawrence Buckingham. If there was one person in the quadrant that could intimidate the Commodore, it was his father. This meeting was one that would have repercussions for both Starbase 77 and the fleet as a whole.

Starfleet had recently appointed a new Commander-in-Chief, Starfleet and her name was Irina Khmelnova. The Russian admiral had formerly been the captain assigned to review Starfleet in the aftermath of the Khitomer Accords being signed and now she was looking to review Starfleet as a result of Tomed. Commodore Buckingham felt this was another visit by the hatchet-woman to scythe portions of the fleet away without consideration for the full picture. Within months of that last review, Starfleet found itself going from the feeling of the end-of-history to a new conflict with the Interstellar Concordium. Despite this development, the peace dividend was paid with many ships mothballed or scrapped. Buckingham did not want a repeat of this.

As the Hood passed by dry-docks on approach to Starbase 12, Buckingham reflected on the dreadnoughts that lay there silent, waiting- perhaps they might have fought their last battles he wondered.

Starbase 12 was a functional, efficient Starfleet facility. Commodore Buckingham was met straight from the transporter pad by his father. Fleet Admiral Buckingham had an impressive spread of medals and awards on his uniform, betraying a long career in Starfleet with more than a few hostile encounters under his belt. A casual glance would confirm the relation of the father to the son, with the Fleet admiral’s hair now greying and the face more wrinkled.

“Permission to come aboard?”

“Granted, son,” replied the Fleet Admiral, breaking from the formal standing to attention to hugging his son.

“Good to see you again, Father.”

“You too,” The Fleet Admiral nodded to the gold braiding and rank insignia on his son’s uniform. “The new uniform suits you as well.”

“Thank the crew of the Shakespeare– and the Romulans,” said Maxwell with some irony.

The two flag officers walked down the corridor towards the briefing room, shadowed by a pair of security guards. The station had large windows lining one side, with a breath-taking view of the planet below and the fiery, mysterious Maelstrom Phenomenon -- also known by its more scientific designation, the "Tau Eridani Cloud" -- in the background. Many starships had tried to penetrate the fearsome cloud to explore within, but the inherent physics of the cloud defied them all.

The two flag officers entered the Second Fleet Operations Room – an impressive room with screens displaying the disposition of all of the ships of the fleet; each of the screens depicted an aspect of the fleet- ships deployed, those in refit and how long they will be in repair for, ships awaiting departure and extensive reports on what the ships were doing. From this one room, Fleet Admiral Buckingham could control all of his fleet and tell what each ship was doing in real time.

Perusing these screens was the highest-ranking officer in the Starfleet: Commander-in-Chief Irina Khmelnova. The C-in-C arrived at Starbase 12 a few days beforehand on the U.S.S. Lexington. Khmelnova’s icy blue eyes seemed to glow in the reflected image from the screens as she read the status reports. She turned to face the door as the two flag officers entered.

“Good afternoon Commodore Buckingham, a pleasure to meet you in person at last.”

“Good afternoon Ma’am,” acknowledged Maxwell.

The screen behind Khmelnova lit up with a new display, no doubt pre-programmed.

“I wish to discuss my proposal to review Starfleet. Part of this is re-examining the Beta Quadrant to balance the starships and starbases for the demands ahead, rather than the challenges already past. With regards to you, Commodore, I wish to emphasise pushing the boundaries of exploration; the Nirophian Corridor is high on this list and I have asked the Fleet Admiral to re-deploy further ships to Starbase 77 to express the importance we place on the corridor.”

Maxwell Buckingham was curious and a little bit concerned. “How many ships have you in mind, Ma’am?”

“Admiral,” Khmelnova prompted the elder Buckingham for an answer.

“Five more capital ships, with extra escort, scout and auxiliary assets.”

“I’m not sure the Klingons will appreciate too many tactical ships on their border,” Maxwell was never shy of voicing his concerns.

Khmelnova looked nonplussed, folding her arms and scowling slightly under her blonde hair. “Chancellor Kaarg has shown us he wants to go back to the old days; he has stated implicitly he wishes to revive the Empire. To have forethought is to be forearmed, gentlemen. I do not want a revived Klingon fleet reclaiming the corridor.”

The Starfleet Commander from Karakalpakistan region of Uzbekistan was intimidating despite her svelte figure and diminutive frame. Despite her age and desk job, she still managed to practice her sailing and fitness regime from her academy days. Fleet Admiral Buckingham passed his son a PADD with the extra ships listed on. The commodore read down the list.

“The Howe and the Fuso, Zrinyi, Ocean, and Glorious: quite a spread of dreadnoughts, and two carriers. This will certainly change the nature of our residing in the Corridor on the pretence of exploration. Is there something you aren’t telling me? I only ask as I have assigned two ships- the Sheffield and the Courageous- to study the astropolitical and sociological situation in the Beta Quadrant. Both these ships and the Fearless, which preceded them, have not given any indication of a military build up in the region.”

Khmelnova leapt in to justify her moves “With the latest announcements in the region with a trade agreement with the Ferasan and diplomatic overtures with the Lyrans, it is plain to see that the Klingons are resurgent in their aspirations in the quadrant. Kaarg wants the aid missions with the Federation to end and is apparently not too picky with who the Klingons choose as allies as long as it isn’t us.”

“Would you risk losing the political gains we have made over the last eighteen years, Ma’am?”

Khmelnova steepled her fingers as she explained: “The Klingons are merely the latest problem from the quadrant. The Romulans have disappeared behind their Neutral Zone…”

“…all matters that the Sheffield, Fearless and Courageous are looking into ma’am…”

The C-in-C ignored the impassioned interruption “…there are assets that suggest the silence of the Romulans is due to events happening elsewhere in their empire. Possibly attack on the far side of their empire, possibly a civil uprising within the empire – we haven’t enough information yet- this is where your own mission comes in. We have the Hydran ambassador en route to Nimbus III, something that is no doubt going to provoke a response from either the Lyrans or the Klingons; or both.”

“I have the Fearless on stand-by just in case.” Maxwell added.

Khmelnova acknowledged the precaution with a nod “This is a time of uncertainty and we need to be ready foremost to put our hand out in the name of peace; but we cannot do this at the expense of being unprepared for a more negative outcome.”

“You’re referring to the Interstellar Concordium pacification campaign after Khitomer?” Fleet Admiral Buckingham observed.

“I am,” Khmelnova nodded, “we were so wrapped up in the Khitomer Accords and the ‘end of history’, selling off our tactical fleet into mothballs in payment to the peace dividend, that we didn’t pay too much attention to the growing threat from beyond the Romulan and Gorn territories. We paid a high price for that oversight.”

The elder Buckingham remembered his history “As I recall, it was you that was heading the review of Starfleet at the time- those cuts that you speak of were made at your recommendation, Irina.”

“You forget, Charles, that the review was biased towards certain ‘recommendations’ made by the predecessor in my current job, C-in-C William Smillie. Smillie wanted to leave behind a legacy of taking Starfleet to a new era of peace. Unlike Bob Bennett, Smillie wanted to decommission the dreadnoughts and increase production of the Excelsior and Constellation class starships. As for the ISC threat- it was seen as a distant problem in another person’s territory,” Khmelnova sighed as she recalled the decisions that were made almost two decades before, “we didn’t expect the Romulans to be overrun.”

Khmelnova reminded the assembled flag officers of the fall of Romulan territory in 2297, brought on by the overwhelming onslaught of the superior ISC technology. Despite the Romulans withdrawing from battles when the odds were insurmountable, the ISC eventually did begin to occupy territory. The Federation had been watching the ISC for over a year before they encountered the Excelsior on Stardate 9611.4.

“I needn’t remind you, of all people Charles, that it took us five years of bloody fighting to bring the fighting with the ISC to a halt; the end result was an armistice line- we never occupied their worlds or saw their military dismantled as the task was too big.”

“It wasn’t for the likes of commanding officers like me petitioning for it,” Charles Buckingham had been commanding officer of the U.S.S. Ark Royal, class ship of the new carriers for the Federation and he had been in the thick of the fighting against the ISC, as a couple of feint scars on his face stood testament to. “We tried to tell the ISC that we had just signed a treaty with the Klingons at Khitomer; things weren’t all that bad with the Romulans at that time either.”

“No doubt the Veltressai planned their moves against us some years before, when things were more heated between the Beta Quadrant major powers.” Khmelnova brought the conversation back to the point of the meeting, “Back to why the extra forces to the Nirophian Corridor- quite frankly I do not want history to repeat itself. Although the ISC have stayed behind their armistice line, we live on optimism alone when the Ferasan and Lyrans are restless and the Klingons are rediscovering their patriotism.”

The C-in-C pressed a button and changed the display to show the Federation border region.

“This is what we are moving our forces to protect- the Federation border. Our outposts and patrol ships can only cover this vast frontier as best as they can. The more ships you have out there, the better protected they can be. We have this report from one of those patrol ships.”

The screen changed to a display that read: Okinawa class frigate U.S.S. Egret, sector 16447. Egret was commanded by Captain Gahiji Mubarak of the New Cairo colonies. She was one of the small frigates that policed the frontier of the Federation, stopping the traffickers, preventing piracy and illegal immigration. Mubarak was a Lieutenant Commander by rank and this was his first command. Seventy crew were under his command and their mandate was to be the front line, being the first eyes on a scene. This time things hadn’t gone quite to plan. The screen frizzed and then went clear.

Captain’s Log, Stardate 13497.2. Whilst following up a report of Orion pirate activity we came across a Jindarian caravan convoy crossing into Federation space. Despite pointing out that they were entering into our territory, they continued towards a restricted mine holding owned by Tagruato Corp. We attempted to stop the caravan by persuasion and a face-to-face discussion by myself and my security operations team. The discussions broke down with the Jindarians claiming their freedom to roam the stars overrode any claim by companies to those asteroids that Tagruato were claiming mining rights to. The situation degraded into a heated exchange and, before we could extract ourselves, it became a fire fight. We lost a handful of our security personnel and the Egret came under fire from the caravans…

The recording froze as Khmelnova continued the story. “The Egret survived the attack and was able to deter the caravan from entering into the restricted area for long. Tagruato Corp, however, did not waste any time in lodging a protest to Starfleet from their legal department.”

Commodore Buckingham folded his arms and frowned “Do we answer to the President or a multi-system corporation? Last I checked, I’m not employed by Tagruato.”

“But they are a major supplier of Federation supplies and systems, Maxwell, and they do have supporters in the Federation Council.”

Khmelnova loathed admitting to the Commodore that he was wrong, from a certain perspective. There were many large corporations that had sprung up from incarnations that had lasted from earlier centuries. Many of these had cornered markets in technologies and resources. Although money was no longer a concern in the Federation, this didn’t stop these mega-corporations from acquiring influence through connections. Khmelnova continued:

“This was just the latest incident on the border but it does highlight that we have an Orion and Jindarian problem that we have ignored for far too long,” said the C-in-C.

“I have sent several Okinawa class ships after the Orions; they seem to have a hiding place that we haven’t found yet- but we will.” The Commodore assured Khmelnova.

“We need answers, Maxwell. I just hope those missions that both Admiral Hudson and you have backed will get us those answers. Starfleet needs to evolve for this new century and we need to be smarter, rather than larger. Get me those answers, Commodore.”

Chapter 12: Analysis

Deck three on the Sheffield was home to the ship's social and cultural sciences section. It boasted such departments as psychology, sociology, political science, linguistics, religious studies, anthropology, and still others concerned with culture and societal behaviour. Deck three also held the chief science officer's personal workspace, and Lieutenant Commander Judith Peers had made the office her own, with a wall of certificates that spoke volumes of her career so far. There were awards for polo playing at Balgonie Park polo school, certificates for archery and fencing as well as a myriad of sports and clinical psychology certificates; many of them were from Starfleet Academy but others were from her time at the Nirvana Colony. On her desk were holograms of her polo horse Hercules and a portrait of her family, her parents Donald and Heather smiling into the holocam with her sister Elaine.

Peers had always been the astute, sporting student even back at Markinch Primary and Auchmuty High schools. This athletic tendency had given her the lithe, muscular frame that got her through the Academy physical entry tests with ease. Her schooling in Scottish Country dancing gave her poise and balance; her archery gave testament to her patience and drive for precision. Polo and fencing gave her an outlet to express and hone her competitive edge. At the Academy, Cadet Peers had continued her drive for success, until a deepening relationship with her long-time sweetheart took priority over her career plans. As a direct result, Peers finished 778th out of the 1014 members of the Class of 2298.

The tall, lithe Scottish blonde had come across from the Leander three years earlier. Hawkins had requested her transfer to the Sheffield to operate the state-of-the-art Idionomothetics equipment that he was having installed on the ship. Idionomothetics was a field of psychology dating back to the 21st century that utilised both case-studies and general field studies to draw up a computer program. This program could then be used by a skilled operator to draw up the social relationships of a targeted individual, in order to statistically predict the future behaviour of that individual. Now, at the end of the day, all that data was compiled in a entity relationship or ‘shattergram’ of statistical information. Everyone knew the old adage that "there are lies, damn lies and statistics", but the Idionomothetic equipment had been successful, especially when drawing on the psychotricorder of fifty years earlier.

Idionomothetics was a method of using personality tests, in conjunction with observations, reports and psi analyses to predict the most probable future behaviour of a person or group of people. Peers would be the first to state that it wasn't 100% accurate—people are good at bucking trends—but it certainly had a good track-record. In short, Idionomothetics kept hearsay at bay and kept things all scientific and statistical. Now the art of using this equipment was in updating it constantly and over a long period of time, as that was when the patterns for people could be built up and the analysis would be statistically more accurate. Ever since this equipment was used in the front line, the Klingons had been a favoured species to use it on, especially the Klingon High Council. Thankfully, this had been all kept up to date. Now it was just a case of programming in the specifics of the situation and allowing the mighty computers of the Sheffield to chew over the numbers and spit out some predictions for them.

As she waited for the computers, Peers could still remember the first time she arrived onboard, looking for the executive officer. The ship was in pieces, mid-way through a refit and crawling with engineers. When she finally found her office, she found it occupied by a tall engineering lieutenant commander with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair.

“Excuse me, Commander, I was looking for the XO?” she had asked the engineer.

The tall figure had turned round which caused Peers to squint in half-recognition.

“It’s the Engineering uniform, it fools everyone. I always said I’d buy O’Reilly a drink every day that I wore this.”

“Nathaniel Hawkins,” Peers had said, embracing her old lover in a hug, before backing off to comment, “You were always the scientist. How long have you been buying him drinks for then?”

Hawkins had looked sheepish for a second. “Three years.”

Peers couldn’t stifle the chuckle quickly enough; shaking her head she’d added, “Sean always was the crafty one.”

“He obviously realised that to get high enough in the ranks you must become Operations Officer – an Engineering role.”

Hawkins had gestured for Peers to sit down opposite him at the desk, an island of order on a ship of chaos and engineers.

“It’s been what, thirteen years?” Peers had asked him, remembering the sadness at their parting.

Hawkins had nodded “A long time. I see from my PADD you settled down for a while and put your career on hold. I also see you have been trying to re-kindle that career. I have just the job for you.”

Peers snapped out of her recollection as the computer beeped to say that the analysis was complete. She focussed on the task at hand after swallowing some more of the tepid coffee still left on her desk. Her attention turned once more to the display in the middle of the room.

Peers was studying a large holographic display of the astropolitical layout of their area of interest. In it the various political entities were shaded in different colours. The yellow and lilac areas representing the Lyran Star Empire and the Hydran Kingdom respectfully seemed to loom over their slender corridor with more than a hint of menace. Peers idly noted that it must have been because of the size of the other regions in comparison with the Federation-blue corridor, as yellow and lilac were not normally colours she would have thought could feel "menacing".

Central to the display was the Nirophia system, then as the holograph worked towards the Federation border proper it passed Starbase 77. The display then whirled out towards a green shaded area nearby—the Klingon Empire. The display centred on a dusty, ruined planet near the border. Three decades ago no one had even really even known about this planet or its inhabitants and their desperate plight. Now the world was central to international politics: Ch'ramak.

Judith Peers had been concentrating on the system ever since the captain had communicated up to social sciences that he wanted everything about the system on his desk when he got back. She ran her long fingers across the keyboard to pull out the scant information that the Federation had on the planet and its inhabitants.

Captains, she thought with slight annoyance, always impatient. Peers cast her mind back three years to when the Ch'ramaki had reminded her—and the rest of the universe—of their plight.


Stardate 12803.3 7th January 2309

The Klingon K’t’inga-class battle cruiser Qo'noS One loomed over the Ch’ramak home world like the occupying force it was, the Chancellor's ship paying a visit to the power source that now fuelled the empire. The surface of the planet was pitted by drill sites for dilithium, and the metallic glint of mining facilities could be seen over the terminator on the night side of the planet. The command facilities of the planet were now ready to go online, at the third attempt. Qo'noS One was here to oversee this occasion, being used for duties such as this, flying the flag in the same way that battle cruisers on Earth such as H.M.S. Hood had done in the interwar period in the 20th Century. This was a symbolic gesture in more than one way. Firstly it was an inspection of the powerhouse fuelling the Klingon Empire's rising from its knees back to its feet. Secondly it was a reminder to the Ch'ramaki people of who was in charge.

The Ch’ramak system was a backwater at the fringe of the Klingon Empire, and for over a decade the Klingons had eyed this world's resources. The Ch’ramaki people sat upon one of the largest dilithium deposits in the Beta Quadrant, and an empire such as the Klingons had requires dilithium in large quantities in order to function. It was twenty-seven years ago, around Stardate 8200, that the Klingons finally invaded the Ch’ramak system by force. They quickly overwhelmed the system defences, installed a governor and commenced executions to ensure loyalty.

At the time Ch'ramak had been annexed, it had been eight years before the end of the Klingon/Federation Cold War. After Khitomer, the Klingons had not expanded their empire. For ten years, aid missions had traveled from Federation space to the Klingon home world of Qo'noS, aiding the Klingons in their time of need. The effect of the explosion of Praxis had been felt at a much deeper level. A bright flash had erupted in the sky, heralding a subspace shockwave that tore through the Klingon home system on Stardate 9521. The powerful wave of energy ripped through the orbital construction yards, obliterating them, and the Home Fleet stared at the open gates of Sto-Vo-Kor. Some managed to leap to warp in time, but others were unable or not quick enough and were dashed to pieces, scattered throughout the system.

The result of the devastation and disruption was that the Klingon Empire had been brought to its knees. Fighting attacks by the Romulans kept the fleets occupied, whilst they did not have the resources to combat the emerging catastrophe on the Homeworld. The Federation launched a program to aid the Klingons after the historic Khitomer Accords were signed.

The controversy of the Klingons exploiting this world that obviously was resisting their presence, whilst the Federation sent aid to help their home world regenerate raged on in the Federation Council chambers. One of the unofficial terms of the Khitomer Accords, lost in legal-speak, was the agreement for the Klingons to cease military operations where possible and to turn their efforts into helping themselves out of this crisis of energy, whilst the Federation helped them. Elements in the Klingon Empire were not happy at this, and an attack on Starbase Eleven in 2298 almost brought the aid missions to an end. Azetbur had been the diplomat that her father—the late Chancellor Gorkon—had hoped she would be, able to build political bridges between the Federation and the Klingon Empire whilst keeping the more hawkish elements of the Empire in check. However, the unrest about the closeness of the Federation and Azetbur's Klingon Empire was soon to bring changes to the universe. The mining of Ch'ramak was the first move.

As always, not everyone is happy with change, or the shape that those changes take. So it was again with the Klingons and their subjugated worlds, and this time the reaction would set off even bigger changes all on its own.

It was on the fourth orbit on the third hour after arrival of the Klingon flagship that she exploded.

From a point near the main engineering section, the hull erupted outwards like a newborn star. In a fraction of a second the ship was gone, swallowed by an expanding fireball that further scorched the ruined and pitted surface of the exploited Ch’ramak home world. Thirteen years after Khitomer the galaxy was once again going to change. What no one could ever predict was the forms in which that change took.

Stardate 13501.5 5th July 2312

Lieutenant Commander Peers remembered what happened next from that fateful day six years beforehand. Starfleet had alerted all fleets in the quadrant in case the Chancellor had been assassinated in the blast. As it turned out the victims had been a handful of admirals and their aides. This had not been the first time that the Ch’ramaki had made their wrath felt on the Klingons.

It was as a result of this that Hawkins, Peers and the rest of the ship had been ordered to investigate the planet of Ch'ramak. It was strange that now Hawkins was, five years later, resurrecting the quest of Ch'ramak. Everyone had thought after the assault on the colonials by General Gorak in 2310 that the insurrection had been put down once and for all. Evidently this wasn't the case.

The ‘shattergrams’ of the Idionomothetics equipment were beginning to build up a picture of the activities of the Ch’ramaki over the last few decades. Federation News Service reports, starship and Starfleet Intelligence asset reports were all pooled to provide an analysis of the events involving, and often caused by, the Ch’ramaki in their attempts to remove the Klingons from their home.

Back in 2285 the Ch’ramaki had been farmers, concerned only with growing their crops to sell to the local traders to sell on to the surrounding systems. The Klingons had been just one of their customers before greed and a need for the military to be fed ready for yet another war led the Klingons to send their First Fleet to invade the planet and capture their crops- and any other resources their planet might have.

As the Federation hadn’t traded with the Ch’ramaki- their world lay beyond the Neutral Zone- the original reports about the planet came from old long-range surveys by Hermes and Archer class scouts and testimony from the Ch’ramaki who had claimed sanctuary following the Arcadia incident.

The reports from the Grissom, together with the additional notes from the starbase immigration control officers, painted a picture of a desperate escape from murder and destruction back on their former home world. He group was split into two, with those responsible for the hijacking sent to a penal colony whilst the remainders were integrated into Federation society.

The first acts of resistance had involved the use of farming equipment and chemicals to destroy crops and attack the Klingon troops. This had limited effect. The Ch’ramaki then learned how to turn their fertilizers and other chemicals into explosives, and this they used to great effect in destroying the first two attempts by the Klingons to build a governors facility. With the hands of the Federation bound by the Prime Directive, the Ch’ramaki were on their own to force the Klingons off their world.

The Klingons were secretive about the loss of Qo’noS One, unwilling to discuss the loss of their flagship to outsiders. The official word that was ‘leaked’ was that there was an accident on the warship that had caused the reactor to go critical. Starfleet Intelligence went further than that to suggest the reason the Klingons wouldn’t: a suicide bomber. Analysis suggested that a Ch’ramaki-- easily mistakable for a Klingon-- had boarded the flagship and had detonated a device manually in engineering. This was an act of desperation- just the thing the Ch’ramaki would be likely to do after decades of occupation.

If the Ch'ramaki had gotten to the point where they could strike back once more then they must have gotten suppliers from off-planet. There were certainly races and organizations unscrupulous enough that they would readily supply weapons, information and transport across neutral zones and restricted space for the right price. Although Koord had died a year before the destruction of Qo'noS One, perhaps the Klingons weren't telling the whole story. Perhaps the Ch'ramaki still had aces up their sleeves, and it wasn't a good thing to be surprised. Peers got to work.


Ch’rami had once been a towering capital city. There had been parks, libraries, universities and temples. In the ruins of one such temple, Gh'ouzamek and his son, Ch'alabek, were there to see the K'lemiik—the priest/oracle—to see if there was any hope left on their planet of Ch'ramak. After the destruction of Qo'noS One the Klingons had hardened their stance against the inhabitants of the planet. Chancellor Azetbur was furious after the destruction of her flagship and the repeated destruction of the Governor's Command Post. She sent a crystal clear demand to Governor K’drax that this vital energy-producing planet needed to be brought under control.

Governor K'drax took the command to heart and understood the undertones, and had sent out his shock troops. Their orders were simple: bring the population to its knees. Kill all those who cannot serve the Empire, kill all rebels and the rest can dig for the dilithium and minerals that the Klingons had assimilated the planet into their empire for. Gh'ouzamek lost his wife in the latest crackdown—a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The K'lemiik drained the juice from the stem of a Jaarvid plant onto the ceremonial dish. The oracle-priest spread the juices out, filling the room with the sweet smell and looking at the pattern forming. Whilst they were interpreting the pattern, Gh'ouzamek lit a roll of Jaarvid leaves for himself and his son. The K'lemiik spoke, moving his finger over the pattern to show what he saw.

"I see the darkness spreading over our world. I see death, I see pain—and yet I see hope. I see..."

The rickety door of the ruined temple burst in, and the three Ch'ramaki present turned to the noise. In the doorway stood four large Klingons, who didn't wait for an explanation for this illegal gathering. The Klingons looked at each other, then at the farmer, his son and the oracle. Keeping their disruptors holstered, the Klingons drew their d’ktahg and charged.

The temple echoed with screams.

Chapter 13: Of Days Past and Days Lost

S'sana stood on the transporter pad. Finally the First Officer had beamed back onto the Sheffield, freeing her up to do as she pleased. It was actually fortunate that it had taken so long, as S'sana couldn't decide whether or not to go back to the planet below. It had been twenty-five years—the old city had been demolished and she didn't even know where her mother would now be living. Having thought the matter over, she considered that there was very little to lose at this stage, and everything to gain.

The transporter beam released S'sana in the Peace Park in the centre of Paradise City. The first thing that struck her was that there was a green park in the middle of the city. The second thing was that she had to look upwards at the towerblocks that now dominated the Paradise skyline. When she had last been here, the buildings at Paradise were of primative construction from the natural materials—only the Venus bar made it much beyond two storeys.

Now the towers around her were of thirty to fifty storeys high and housing hundreds of people in each block. S'sana had thought that having grown up in the township called Paradise would enable her to navigate across the city, no matter how big it had grown. She was wrong. After the planet had gripped the attention of the galaxy again, more immigrants travelled to the planet to get ‘a piece of peace' for themselves. Billions had arrived on the planet over the last 25 years, and the old township of Paradise was lost together—lost in the steel and transparent aluminium constructs that had appeared since then.

S'sana had to think on her feet. Where would she find one person in a city that now housed closer to ten million now? The place that sprang to mind was the Venus Bar. The landlord there used to be a very resourceful Orion named Vikstaad Jaanz. It was quite probable that if Jaanz was still there, he would know where S'sana's mother was. S'sana headed off to the centre of the city—the last place she knew the bar to have been located.

S'sana was glad of the civilian clothes that she was wearing, as she didn't want to attract the attention of the crowds. There were hundreds of people in the park, all enjoying the fountains and streams that lined it. It was a world apart from the desertified ghost town that she had fled from a quarter of a century beforehand. There were stalls around the park selling food, so S'sana took a moment to get her bearings, approaching one of them for some information.

"I'm looking for the Venus Bar," she told the merchant at the nearest stall.

"Venus Bar?" The trader furrowed their brow for a second, as if S'sana had made a joke. "Oh, you mean the Venus Club." He gestured down the path. "Just need to go down the main path here and just on the corner. You can't miss it. If you have the credits, you're sure to have fun. Then again, if this is your first day working there I'd not be too late, Mr. Jaanz likes people to be prompt."

"Er, thank you." S'sana tried to hide her feelings.

Well, at least that conversation had proved that a Venus Club was still here. It also confirmed that Jaanz was still the propriator. That should hopefully mean that she would get the answer she needed.

The towers were certainly impressive—there had been nothing like it when she had lived there. Then when she looked closer, there were still people around that looked homeless and were begging. The Federation may have eliminated poverty and hardship, but here on the frontier these things were still evident.

It didn't take long to find the Venus Club. Two Naussicans and a large Orion acted as bouncers outside the venue. The bar had grown to several storeys high and dominated the centre of the city. The club had obviously gone from strength to strength. S'sana went up to the doorway to face the doormen and go inside. As she got to the doors, the doormen quickly checked her with a tricorder for bugs, and as they checked for earpieces they exposed one of her pointed ears.


Inside the bar, the hulking figure caught a glimpse of the ear onscreen as he watched faithful punters returning to his bar. Vikstaad Jaanz was a goliath of a figure—two metres tall and built like a Klingon on steroids. He had been in the business for many years and was the quintessential Orion. "Business is business", he liked to say, and there was certainly no business that he didn't know about on Nimbus III.

The pointed ears on the Orion entering his facility aroused long-forgotten memories in the back of his mind. Could it be her? He thought for a second. Yes, it could be. She would be about that age by now. Vikstaad pressed a button on the system.

"Let her in." His voice was rich, deep and baritone. Together with his size, there was always a tone of finality to whatever he said.



As S'sana was searched she heard one of the bouncers mumble "Yessir" in his earpiece and then let her proceed.

Through the doors was like another world. There were seven floors of gambling, dancing and debauchery. There were acts that had been drawn from the Alpha and Beta quadrants—singers, dancers, strippers and comedians. There was something for everyone at the Venus Club. Spending credits was what was encouraged the most. The gambling tables and bars were there for that. There were also the pole-dancers and lap dancers. S'sana was quite surprised. To say that this was the ‘Planet of Galactic Peace'—it also seemed to be a haven for gambling.

As S'sana walked through the club she felt eyes on her. She realised that, as an Orion, they might be under the impression that she was one of the dancers, or even on of the patrons. The latter could be useful, to an extent, the former was definitely undesireable. It was one of the things that she had left this planet to avoid becoming. This was a wonderland of noises and lights. She could sense the pheromonal emissions of fellow Orions and Deltans too. It seemed that Vikstaad could pull in the entertainment from anywhere he pleased. It was Vikstaad that S'sana was looking for, and she had a feeling he was upstairs.

Orions were good with their pheromones, for both emitting to control males and sensing the pheromones of others of their kind. S'sana could sense the scent of Vikstaad—memories from her youth. She couldn't consciously tell where someone was, but she always seemed to have a feeling inside. Feelings, for S'sana, were dangerous things. They were a weakness that she knew Vikstaad would exploit. However in her case she was half-Romulan. Romulans were known for the Vulcanoid extreme emotions and, unlike Vulcans, Romulans did not have the restraint of logic. For S'sana, she was halfway to Hell, as with her Orion physiology and Romulan emotionality she was always a cauldron of emotion, seething in one direction or another.

S'sana instinctively knew that Vikstaad was upstairs. This was for two reasons: The boss was usually always upstairs; and upstairs offered a panoramic view over the whole club—which is what any boss would enjoy.

S'sana walked up the stairs, past the bars that were illuminated from underneath, with exotic, smartly-dressed aliens serving drinks that were rainbow coloured—some bubbling away as they were served. Up still further, past the quieter gambling tables and the booths where some of the lap dancers and dancing girls seemed to be enjoying the company of patrons. They also seemed to have credits slipped into all kinds of places on their person. S'sana went still higher, until she was stopped by the frontline of Vikstaad's defences: an alien of unknown origin called M'uubaar. M'uubaar was, perhaps, the most dangerous alien in the club. No one could say exactly why he was so dangerous, just that he was. No one had actually lived long enough from a confrontation to say what it was that M'uubaar did, just that he was absolutely lethal at it. No blasters, no phasers. Just deadly.

M'uubaar regarded S'sana for a moment. His compound eyes regarded her from thousands of facets. His face was lined with tiny horns and his skin was striped alternating red and yellow. His voice was sharp and rasping.

"What do you want?"

"I am here to see Vikstaad Jaanz."

M'uubaar looked at her again. "I don't see you on the appointment list."

"He will see me. We are old acquaintances. I want to ask him if he knows where my mother is," S'sana stated calmly. She could see Vikstaad in the background and realised that he was now looking at her. Vikstaad nodded, and M'uubaar let S'sana past. She walked up to the table where Vikstaad was sitting, and he gestured for her to sit down.

Vikstaad Jaanz filled the chair that he sat in, a bull of a man with bulging biceps, a thick neck and barrel chest. Truly, a large Orion. He might have M'uubaar as his front line of defence, but only a fool underestimated either the physical or mental abilities of Vikstaad. As with most Orion males, he had metallic implants on his body, and wore leather boots with a leather suit. As a large man he filled all of S'sana's vision, yet his aura filled the whole club. Here was the Orion who had built this empire, and he wasn't afraid of letting you know it. However, though he might be a bull of an Orion, when he spoke, it was with a velvet politeness.

"Welcome back to the Venus Club, Lieutenant Commander. It has been a long time. Twenty-five years as I recall."

"You have done your homework, Vikstaad. But then, you always did know what was going on here on Nimbus." S'sana played to Vikstaad's ego, hoping this would encourage him to discuss the whereabouts of her mother.

Vikstaad nodded. "Naturally. It is prudent business sense to have an idea who is in the neighbourhood. I was half expecting you to bring your friend Captain Hawkins with you."

S'sana realised that Vikstaad was name-dropping, just to make sure she knew that he knew exactly who was here. He obviously had good sources. "I came here for my own business. This has nothing to do with the ship."

"Would you like a drink, Commander?"

S'sana understood that Orion business began with pleasantries. "Sularian Sunrise, please."

Vikstaad smiled slightly. "A good choice." He nodded to a waiter behind a private bar who hurriedly set about preparing the drink. "I understand that you are here to ask me where your mother is?" Vikstaad's voice took on almost a fatherly tone of voice. He seemed to muse silently for a while before replying. "S'zama was relocated a few years after you left. The city has been redeveloped—as you can see—and S'zama was given a new home, like the others who were relocated."

S'sana mulled that thought over. Her family home, the one she had grown up in and had so many adventures in, was gone. She had visions of her mother living in one of the hovels of the shantytown on the outskirts of the city.

The drink arrived back—a mixture of oranges and yellows with a deep purple hint. Vikstaad continued as she sipped. "Is that good? Excellent." Vikstaad smiled a broad green smile, like a giant cheshire cat. "Your mother is living in one of the tower blocks on the outskirts of the city. She has a rather wonderful view, actually. I'm sure that she would love to know what you have been up to since you left. I know that she has been worried about you."

S'sana looked at Vikstaad, looked him in the eye, unafraid. A brief surge of Romulan emotion flared through her. "How could you know how she feels about me?"

Vikstaad was unmoved. "Because I know things, S'sana. I know things." The whites of his eyes grew slightly larger as he emphasised the final point.

Chapter K3: Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics

Down on deck three, Lieutenant Commander Judith Peers had the latest information on the Ch’ramaki displayed on the vast screens in front of her. The information from St John Talbot on the assassination of General Koord was being correlated with the Klingon story that the assassination had been in internal Klingon affair between rival Houses. Starfleet Intelligence had supplied data, via deck nine, to the Idionomothetic system and now Peers was looking through the data.

The Ch’ramaki occupation was now twenty-seven years old; thousands of people had died in the exploitation of the once-fertile farming world. The Klingons had invaded on Stardate 8134 to take the rich harvest for themselves as part of the Empire. With the discovery of rare minerals on the planet, the planet was scoured by scouts and mining ships landed on the planet to begin digging out the much-needed ores.

Starfleet had classified the invasion as an internal matter of the Klingon Empire and done nothing. It wasn’t long before the Ch’ramaki issue became front page Federation news, as Peers began to read off the screen. The passenger liner Arcadia picked up some strange refugees and the ill-fated starship Grissom had been sent to investigate these klingonoids who did not speak Klingonese. Captain Estaban had been approached to grant the refugees asylum and to liberate their home world. He had been able to grant the former, but the Prime Directive prevented the latter.

Some of the Ch’ramaki reacted with grief and anger at the refusal to help their world, taking the liner hostage. It was only by careful action by the security operations team from the Grissom that the Arcadia stand-off was resolved with no loss of life. This was the first inclination that the Ch’ramaki would take their cause beyond their borders. Starfleet Intelligence had branded the incident an ‘opportunistic act of terrorism’, down-playing the chances of any further action.

Judith Peers’ blue eyes glowed luminescent in the reflected light from the screen as she read down the reports by the various members of the Grissom crew. Sohrab Saberi had described the attire of the Ch’ramaki refugees and their mannerisms. It seemed as if the Persian chief security operations specialist sympathised with the refugees; historically the Middle Eastern region of Earth had seen many refugees driven from their home lands. This made Judith unconsciously comb her fingers through her hair as her mind chewed over the information; these were refugees who were opportunistic, utilising the tools at hand to achieve a political goal.

Along with his superior, Lt. Lars ‘Thor’ Thorsen, Saberi had written a most detailed after action report. His eloquent, almost poetic report had described everything in intimate detail and had also covered the questioning of the hijackers after they had been detained. The act had indeed been one of desperation; it had very little planning before execution. Conversely assassination of Koord required detailed planning and careful insertion just to get into the high-security area where Koord had been murdered. On the face of it, Peers could have rejected the notion of a Ch’ramaki being the assassin until another report showed how they had become more sophisticated in their attacks.

Intelligence reports from the loss of Qo’noS One showed that the destruction of the flagship had been as a result of anti-matter containment failure. The containment systems of a D-7 K’tinga variant battle cruiser were extra shielded, with redundancies to insure against battle damage that a typical warship commander would expect to get. In short, it took catastrophic damage from heavy weapons fire to breach the core. This looked more and more like sabotage.

Peers took a break from the screens to think. She went to the replicator system and brought herself a coffee before settling down in front of the screen, crossing her lithe legs. Starfleet Intelligence had managed to acquire a report in which the Klingons were questioning the identity of one of the engineers; apparently one of them may not have been the Klingon they professed to be. The identity of the individual was not given, but there was the strong suggestion that they had been a Ch’ramaki. This got Peers thinking if they look like a Klingon, can speak Klingonese now fluently enough to pass as a native, then acquire and use codes to board the Klingon flagship, then they could do the same to get in and kill Koord.

She pressed a communications button.

"Specialist Karl Hoffmeyer please report to the psychology laboratory."

Minutes later the Klingon cultural specialist arrived in the laboratory.

"Specialist, I need to run a few ideas past you and your expertise."

Peers soon brought Hoffmeyer up to speed about the Qo’noS One report and their suspicions, concluding the summary with a question: "If you were a Ch’ramaki, what Klingon cultural information would you need to pull this off? And how much could you rely on your looks and how much must you learn?"

The short form of Specialist Hoffmeyer filled his enlisted uniform well, being partial to good food and good beer. His blond curls lent him the air of a mad professor, his mannerisms occasionally supporting this impression. He pursed his lips and rested his left index finger across them as he thought for a moment before replying in his staccato, breathy manner.

"The Ch’ramaki are klingonoids, so it really wouldn’t take much to alter their appearance. Getting the language right would be the main feature, especially given the back history that this individual would have to create. Explaining how many of the crew do not recognise this individual from serving on other warships would also be an issue; being assigned to the flagship usually involves prestigious assignments beforehand to earn the assignment to this vessel."

"So the main issue is language, accent and back history?"

"Yes Commander."

"Would this be the same for say a diplomatic facility?"


"Thank you, Specialist," Peers said with a nod, dismissing the Petty Officer.

Peers set about entering the new data into the system, adding it to the mix about whether the assassin would have been from a Klingon House or from a Ch’ramaki terrorist. The next thing to consider was whether Koord had any enemies; this in itself was an issue since all Klingon Houses have allies and enemies, it was just a question of whether they were passive or active enemies.

The House of Koord had been in disgrace at the time of his appointment to Nimbus III; the job was seen as demotion from the General whose tactics were required reading at Starfleet Academy. During his long and illustrious military career Koord had acquired many enemies from overriding orders and disobeying orders in order to attain victory. Many of these enemies had been placated by the disgracing of Koord and his relegation to the Planet of Galactic Peace. Koord had outlived many of the rest of his enemies and killed some of the younger ones; this was rapidly leading to the assassin being either a short listed, determined former enemy or a terrorist looking to make a headline.

St John Talbot had been thorough in his investigation of his late friend’s murder. The Klingons had provided open-and-shut case details about the killing, even providing information about the House that was avenging itself on him. The more Peers checked with Hoffmeyer about the details of what was required by Klingon honour and the availability of members of the House in question to commit the murder, the less credible the cover story seemed. Talbot had even gone as far as to obtain a piece of the carpet where Koord had been killed, which right now Doctor A’ochak had been studying.

When the results came up for comparison with the sample the Klingons claimed to have gotten from the scene, there was no match. The carpet had the blood of Koord and also DNA from the attacker which was similar but significantly different from Klingon DNA. A quick check through Starfleet Medical records for the medical data on the Ch’ramaki refugees soon provided the answer: the assassin was indeed a Ch’ramaki.

Peers reclined on her chair with a small smile of satisfaction; this was an answer to the question which Talbot needed, however this also raised new questions.

How did the assassin get the codes to get into the building? How did they get the weapon past security and how did they know where to be in order to kill Koord? Was Koord their intended target? Peers had more information to feed into the machine.

The statistician of the social sciences department was T’pala, on secondment from the Vulcan Sciences Academy. Impassively her fingers had been working on the idionomothetic equipment, looking at the results pouring out onto the screen. She took no notes, instead she utilised the awesome mental capacities of her species to perform the analysis in her head. She stood patiently and silently next to Peers in order to get her attention in typical stoic, Vulcan manner.

"Lieutenant Commander, I have the information you require; the system reports a strong likelihood that the Ch’ramaki have begun to take their campaign against the Klingons to a new level, attacking high level Klingons. This not only will hurt the command structure of the occupying force and distract them long enough to strike again but also this will draw unwanted publicity to their world."

"They are relying on intelligence agencies and other people like us studying the quadrant to see their actions?" replied Peers, beginning to get the picture.

"Indeed, their previous attacks on the Klingons have drawn the most reaction when they have been high profile; the destruction of Qo’noS One being a notable example."

Peers sat silently in thought for a second before responding. "Thank you, T’pala. I’d better take this to the Captain."

Chapter 14: Angels and Demons

Stardate 13487.5
9th July 2312

Back in the Federation tower in Paradise, Captain Hawkins and Ambassador Talbot had progressed from the ‘small talk' of politics in general to the more secretive issue of the mission of the Sheffield itself. The office was constantly scanned for bugging devices and was, currently, only occupied by the commander and the ambassador. This gave both individuals a chance to talk off-the-record. At least, as far off-the-record as Hawkins ever got.

Both Hawkins and Talbot originated from the United Kingdom on Earth, in fact from cities that weren't all that far from each other. This gave Hawkins a touch of Yorkshire dialect in his English accent. Talbot, being an ambassador, had more or less lost his Lancastrian accent from Manchester. He had the polite English accent that so often seemed to stereotype the English.

"Do you miss the Peak District?" enquired Hawkins. "It's the one thing I really do miss when I'm away from Earth."

"Sometimes," confessed Talbot, "and especially during the Great Drought. You've no idea how much you can miss vegetation and trees until you have none."

"Those must have been hard times. How did you survive?"

"From day to day, Captain."

A few moments passed before either of them spoke. Those words required a moment's silence for the untold fallen, those who had not been as fortunate and not survived the drought.

Talbot broke the silence, as he stared out of the window over the grand metropolis that Paradise had now become. "So tell me, Captain, what brings you out to the furthest reaches of Federation influence? Why the mission to Nimbus III?"

"It's a long story, St John. We might be here drinking tea all night." Hawkins ended the sentence with a smile, though the truth wasn't that far off. Besides, Talbot didn't need to know all of his hunches. Not yet.

"The teapot is full, Captain. And there is nothing better than a good story."

Hawkins leaned forwards slightly, ready to tell the unfettered truth to someone who would actually understand where he was coming from for once, perhaps even without an agenda of their own.

"The truth is, St John, there is so much about the Klingon Empire that we don’t know about. After Praxis everything changed - we had two chancellors in the space of as many years; we had no idea of the real agenda of Gorkon or Azetbur beyond their public speeches. The real problem is that we didn’t pay enough attention to the neighbours of the Klingon Empire for seventy years. Lyrans, Hydrans, Ferasan, Gorn- we know next to nothing about these races beyond the encounters in the sixties and seventies or the ambassadorial meetings we have had recently, in the case of the Lyrans."

"So the minor races are what has brought you out here?"

Hawkins nodded, The minor races- and the races beyond the empire which we haven’t encountered yet: the Sha’kurians and what we called ‘the unknowns’. It turns out that the Klingons have been holding out on us about many things, even after Khitomer. These ‘Unknowns’ could well be one of the best cases."

"In what way?"

"I was sent on a mission on the Montrose to get a source close to the Klingon High Council. I succeeded in a way that wasn’t anticipated; I gained a general’s son as a friend, rather than a source. We have had lots of chats- and blood wine- ever since and shared knowledge at the same time. It turns out these Unknowns are a race called the Kinshaya; Starfleet Intelligence had heard of this race before but hadn’t put much together before Khitomer. It seems the Klingons have been fighting these Kinshaya for centuries and we didn’t even know anything about this race."

"Koord never mentioned them specifically, but the word does seem familiar." Talbot couldn’t help but smile slightly, "Koord did like to brag about battles he’d been in. I lost count of them, to be honest."

Hawkins nodded with common understanding "L’mak is the same. He likes to talk about his victories- he’s ratcheting them up at quite a rate as well, despite this period of peace we’re supposed to be having. What worries me is that the Klingons have no sociological data on these Kinshaya beyond their demon-like appearance and berserker-like fighting qualities. They have tactical information but nothing on the people themselves; it’s data gaps like that which worry me. Just how much more information are the Klingons keeping from us? What don’t we know about the other races in the Beta Quadrant? That is what is driving my mission"


IKS Do‘Ha‘, Suspicious class scout-frigate just beyond the Klingon border near the T’Dakka system, known as the Demons Rift.

"Scanners on maximum, Captain." announced the scientific officer as the frigate continued into the area claimed by the Kinshaya.

Commander Torgas was one of the new breed of warship commanders, trained from after the death of the legendary General Chang; Torgas hungered for glory and honour, two things denied to him by the policies of Azetbur and then the assignment to a scientific vessel.

For the commander of a Klingon scientific vessel after Praxis the only glory you could find was in discovering new sources of minerals to power the Empire and its military-industrial complex. With the Federation on one side and the Romulans on another, the most promising direction to go was towards the Demon’s Rift. The Rift was the territory referred to by the Klingons as the Kinshaya Tyranny; this was the place where the Klingons found a race as vicious and warlike as themselves.

It was here that the Klingons first encountered the Kinshaya; the first attacks quickly showed the Klingons the ferocity of the Kinshaya and their determination to repel them from their space. The expeditionary force sent by the Klingons to the Rift disappeared, as did the investigating mission and the next after that. A single warship survived from the fourth expeditionary fleet to report on a race that had devastating spherical ships; he had also found, to the loss of much of his crew, that these hellish apparitions could survive in a vacuum.

This was the beginning of what the Klingons referred to as the Demon Wars - wars in which even the K’tinga class warships met their match, resulting in mass fleet movements by the Klingons to stop the fanatical Kinshaya onslaught. It was these large-scale fleet movements that alerted Starfleet Intelligence to something the far side of the Empire that was fiercely fighting the warriors of Kronos.

Commander Torgas was brought back to this region, now a quiet front of a cold war, to scan for mineral sources. Nothing had been heard from the Kinshaya for years, both sides having placed scanners across their borders. These were times that required daring and resolve; with the treasure trove of Praxis now an irradiated hunk of rubble, the Empire now needed new sources of minerals- fast.

The Do’ Ha’ had been on deep space patrol for over two years; the patrols with more potential had been assigned to his elder brothers and to other warriors of higher Houses. Torgas had only the regions left that were considered of lesser interest. For the last few months Torgas’ mood had deteriorated from the usual morose to blood thirsty foulness.

Torgas turned to the scientific officer, his second since the mission began and the life-expectancy of his replacement was looking promising- for now.

"Any sign of Kinshaya?"

"Negative Captain."

"Very good. Maintain yellow alert status and scan for mineral sources."

The Suspicious class scout-frigate continued into the Rift; the science-configuration of the frigate was not fitted with a cloaking device, forcing Commander Torgas into being ‘creative‘. With only four disruptors to defend herself, the scout-frigate was in some respects even a lesser ship than a Bird of Prey. Torgas was banking on the superior sensor systems of the ship to detect minerals and enemy ships with sufficient range to make tactical decisions in time to fight on his terms. There were other warships within range to offer assistance if necessary.

The sensors suddenly came alive, pouring streams of data onto the scientific officers’ monitors.

"Sir, sensors have detected a planetoid with high levels of dilithium, pergium and astatine - ideal for surface mining!"

"Excellent," Torgas was on his feet, "just the change in fortune I was hoping for. Inform the fleet..."

"Sir, incoming vessel detected!"

The drumming of the warrior’s call filled the ears of Torgas - he knew what it was even before he requested identification.


"Kinshaya - configuration matches known cruiser designs."

"Battle stations! - and get that transmission to the fleet that we have minerals and have encountered a hostile."

Holy Kinshayan cruiser Sacred Chalice

The Holy Order of the Kinshaya had been maintaining the purity of their space for decades. The Archbishop ordered a crusade against the demons, to purge them from their worlds. The crusades had resulted in the martyrdom of many of the faithful, but eventually the demons had been expelled. There had been no invasion for years and Archbishop Adnarim had begun to believe their enemies had been exorcised for good.

The Sacred Chalice had been keeping the Devout pure for the last nine months, quietly mirroring the movements of the Klingons on the other side of the border. Intelligence reports stated that the demonic ones known as ‘Klingons’ were becoming increasingly belligerent towards their neighbours. They were a warrior race who were never happy unless they were bringing their slaughter to others.

The rules of engagement were simple under the rules of Holy War - slaughter all of the unclean and leave no survivors; demons must be exorcised to avoid contaminating the cleanliness of the devout.

Vicar Ardnassac knew the drill: "Battle stations! Prepare boarding parties!"

His twin colour tattoos on his vestigial wings fluttered as he turned his attention from giving the orders to resuming his vigil on the central monitor.

The spherical cruiser pounded the shields of the armoured assailant, outgunning the enemy frigate by almost ten to one.

"The demons are attempting communication to their fleet!"

"Jam them!"

"Trying... their communications systems are most powerful."

Vicar Ardnassac stared into the holographic display in the centre of the circular bridge, "Then we shall have to silence the senders of the unholy message- board them now!"

IKS Do’ Ha’

Commander Torgas looked at his displays. The situation was deteriorating fast and the next stage would be a boarding. Kinshaya were vastly stronger than Klingons and their demonic zeal meant that this would be a battle to the death. Excellent, thought Torgas. The blood sang in his ears as he drew his bat’leth, ready to fight.

The alert sound suddenly changed as the Kinshaya boarded.

Chapter 15: Intelligence

Onboard the U.S.S. Sheffield, the turbolift arrived at deck nine. The doors sprang open with a quiet hiss, allowing Commander Ilani to exit. Ilani had been in Starfleet for longer than Hawkins, having been part of the Class of '84. Hawkins had been the Class of '97. Originally, Ilani hadn't been much different from Hawkins. She had been a social sciences officer, studying the Klingons and other races from Miranda-class U.S.S. Emden. The galaxy back then had been a different place, she remembered, but not that different. There were two cold wars going on—one with the Klingons and one with the Romulans.

The Klingon Empire had been under the rule of Chancellor Kesh. In many ways, it was similar to the way that it was being run now: proud, aggressively expansionist for the resources that the empire so urgently needed. Figures such as Gorkon were just junior members of the High Council at this stage. His moment in history was waiting in the wings. At that point in Starfleet policy, the Klingon Empire was a high priority. Ilani could understand Hawkins' point of view when he described those years as "Starfleet's unhealthy obsession with the Klingons". It was this focussing on the Klingons which had caused the gap in intelligence that the current mission of the Sheffield was setting out to fill.

The Romulans had been in the background, plotting and testing the defences of the Federation. It wouldn't be until the first decade of the 24th Century that they began to put their plans into motion, annexing worlds and expanding to the point that war had seemed inevitable to both sides. Only the incident with the Tomed had put an end to the conflict. Intervention by the Klingons had put paid to the Romulan aggression, and now they sat behind their Neutral Zone, waiting. They had done a disappearing act before, after the Romulan War with Earth back in the 22nd Century. That time they had stayed hidden for one hundred years. Who knew how long they would wait this time?

The door into the Intelligence Division opened and Ilani strode in. The only people with access to the labs were those who worked in the division, carefully screened engineers and the top three officers on the ship. Most of the information in the room wasn't supersensitive, despite what the rumours and myths about the department said. It was more that they wanted to work in peace, and it wasn't sensible to broadcast what was being studied, or who. There were screens on the walls which displayed data. None of the material was visible from the door—a precaution in case the intelligence personnel were accompanied by guests or colleagues this far. There was a door off to the right as Ilani walked in, this being her office in which she could read the status reports on the projects currently being worked on. For now, she was content with asking her deputy and staff what the current situation was, and to brief them on what was needed now.

"Report, Lieutenant."

Lieutenant Donna Carson was from the northern part of Ireland. She had a rather thick Irish accent which complimented her green eyes and brown hair. The Celtic blood in her family was strong. "You're not gonna like what I have to tell you, sir. General Kaarg has given the green light for the D-9. He has even given it priority over the other cruisers waitin' for repairs."

Ilani gave that news a second or two of thought. The D-9 was a super battlecruiser that had been ordered five years ago by Chancellor Azetbur. It was supposed to be a replacement for Qo'noS One.

Ch'ramak. That was why Hawkins had sent Ilani back to the Sheffield, and it all seemed to be coming back to Ch'ramak again. There was obviously some unfinished business there, and that was usually the cause of the worst kinds of trouble.

"Lieutenant, we have an assignment from the Captain. He wants us to find all of the data on the Ch'ramaki colony of the Klingon Empire." Ilani spoke with the exotic accent of the Deltans. To some it sounded reminiscent of the Indian continent on Earth, but this was a myth generated by the influence of that continent on one of the most famous Deltans to have been in Starfleet—Ilia. Her loss had been a tragedy for the Deltans, and reinforced to many that Starfleet exploration wasn't for many of them.

"All of it?"

"Yes. It could be possible that the colony hasn't been put down by the Klingon forces two years ago."


Stardate 12203.3, 7th January 2306
U.S.S. Courageous NCC-1861, Miranda class.
On border patrol along the former Klingon Neutral Zone, proximal driftward of the Klingon/Romulan border.
Captain Ajen Viraxx commanding.

The experienced Tellarite Captain Viraax reacted with some urgency when his Science Officer reported an explosion in the Ch'ramak system. At first, Viraax had to be sure that this was not an explosion on the actual primary dilithium ore-mining planet. Once it was determined the source of the explosion was Qo'noS One, Captain Viraax placed the Courageous on yellow alert and assembled the senior staff.

The myriad of computer displays depicting long range scans done from the Courageous soon convinced Captain Viraax that there was going to be serious repercussions from this explosion. The first indications were that the K't'inga-class Qo'noS One was completely destroyed from an apparently internal explosion in the engineering section. Ironically this was not far from the torpedo hit area inflicted by General Chang's Bird of Prey almost a decade beforehand. What frustrated Viraax and his staff was the lack of intelligence concerning who was actually on the flagship. If the Chancellor had been aboard the flagship there was a high probability that she had been killed. Captain Viraax looked again at the long range scans. The elegant, regal form of Qo'noS One—decorated with many emblems from successful battles and campaigns—was orbiting in standard orbit when its purple and grey form was ripped apart by the violent explosion. Captain Viraax had alerted the other border patrol vessels by secure commlink, whilst Fleet Admiral Revell was contacted Priority One for instructions on how to proceed.

Revell had held back the fleet from a more active response until more details were known. Comm chatter from the Klingons was intercepted and passed down through Communications Intelligence Officers to Fleet Admiral Revell and Admiral Khmelnova. The Klingon Empire lost a few good flag officers and their staffs, but it appeared the Chancellor was not aboard on that fateful day.


None of that mattered to Gh'ouzamek and his son. The Klingons had despised his people since they first visited the world for trade in the mid-2290s. The Federation had not intervened as it was seen as an "internal Klingon affair". The Ch'ramaki had seen this differently—or at least some had. They recognised the Klingons' greed for power. They knew that they would be annexed. The result of this had been seen very quickly, with the initial command base for the Governor being destroyed in a bomb blast, killing the inspecting Governor. Despite the mass executions that followed, the Ch'ramaki continued to fight, sabotaging all attempts to build the second command base and conducting small commando raids on Klingon facilities.

The mid-2290s saw the Klingons had discovered just how much dilithium was on Ch'ramak, and Gh'ouzamek and his late-wife had seen their once vibrant and beautiful world ravished by the Klingons as a result. At first the Klingons had promised to aid the planet and bring advanced technology to the people, but it soon became apparent that the Klingons had lied and by then the invasion was all but complete. Huge dilithium mines tore up the landscape as the post-Praxis Klingon Empire fought to fuel itself from off its knees back onto its feet.

With a strange parallel to the Planet of Galactic Peace—Nimbus III—the planet Ch'ramak soon suffered the ravages of abuse and as their crops failed deserts started to appear over the planet. The Ch'ramaki were not the most advanced civilisation and all the Klingons were bothered about was regaining a source of power to secure the Empire, ready for further expansion.


The D-9 super battlecruiser was the replacement for Qo'noS One. A modified D-7—the Gorkon—was only a quick and temporary measure, but what Azetbur wanted was a flagship that would secure her image as the Chancellor, and give the Klingon people a measure of pride once more in their empire. The difficulty had been that the empire had been worn out by decades of fighting. Resources had been used up quicker than new supplies could be found. As a result, the fleet yards could not operate as quickly or efficiently as was desired. Projects such as the D-9 were put on the backburner, with a policy of patching up and maintaining the current fleet level taking precedence. The difficulty was that the current fleet level at that time could not be sustained, and patrols suffered as a result.

The Klingons had been fighting on four fronts in the 2290s: the Romulans, the occupation of Hydran space, Sha'kurians and their cold war against the Federation. These four battlefronts had depleted the Klingon resources to a dangerously low level—it was also the driving force that had fuelled the safety flaws that led to Praxis exploding. If the Klingons were ready to begin building the D-9 again, things might be improving for the Empire—or Kaarg might want to give that impression.

Information on the current disposition of the Romulans was scarce. This was one of the things Ilani hoped that Hawkins might be able to glean from any conversation with Caithlin Dar. Ever since the Romulans had retreated into their own space, there had been little to go on. Ilani had cautioned those she spoke to about assuming there were no longer any Romulans outside of their space. In the build-up towards the Tomed Incident, agents would have been increased in numbers in the Federation and in neutral space. To maintain the secrecy of the numbers and identities of these agents, it is doubtful that they were withdrawn. They would still be out there, in neutral and Federation space as sleeper agents—or perhaps active ones.

"I want all data and material on Ch'ramak on my desk in thirty minutes, Lieutenant."

"Aye, sir."

Chapter 16: Reunion

S'sana was back on the streets of Paradise. Vikstaad Jaanz knew more than S'sana could ever have guessed, and she was now armed with the address of the tower that her mother lived in. Despite the separation of a quarter century, and the circumstances of that parting, S'sana still couldn't help her heart racing in anticipation.

The streets of Paradise were filled with a multitude of aliens from the Alpha and Beta Quadrants. There were even alien races that S'sana couldn't identify—probably something that the Sheffield should investigate, she thought absentmindedly. There were smells from stalls on the streets that were selling exotic foods. There were sweet smells, savoury smells, smells of meat being cooked and smells that were pungent and offensive to the nose. It was a melting pot of societies and, thought S'sana, it was one of the best places in the galaxy to study these races and how they interacted.

The centre of Paradise was very built up, with high rise towers reaching into the sky to house the millions of new arrivals in Paradise over the last 25 years. Some of these tower blocks were more like high-tech slums, built quickly after 2287 to house the rapid rise in population. The towers were in a multitude of architectural styles—Romulan, Klingon, Andorian, Human—all with their own distinctive quirks.

S'sana arrived at the Raazal tower to discover that it had an almost prime out-of-town location. The tower stood near the banks of the artificial river Ambrosia that had been engineered by the Federation to supply water to the capital of Nimbus III. The tower also had an impressive view of the hills surrounding Paradise, matching the cityscape view with an equally impressive view of nature.

S'sana entered the tower, where she discovered that the warden was already aware of her impending arrival—no doubt from Vikstaad, thought S'sana—and there was no need for the usual ID check before she entered the glass elevator which would take her up the side of the building to the 53rd floor. S'sana was surprised to see that this was the penthouse suite, with the best view in the whole building. The elevator continued slowly upward, allowing S'sana to admire the cityscape more and more.

The elevator stopped in a large glass lobby area, which opened out into the apartment. S'sana quickly realised that without the warden pressing a code in, the elevator wouldn't even come up to this level. S'sana looked around at the luxurious apartment. There was exotic Tholian silk cushions to rest upon, plants from all over the galaxy, some with flowers in purple, blues and reds.

As S'sana looked around, a voice stopped her.

"So, you decided to return home?" A pause. "Did you decide to finally stop running and accepted your fate? Or are you here to continue where we left off?"

"My fate?" queried S'sana. After pause of her own for thought, she continued, "You mean to be a dancing girl at the Venus Club?"

The voice sounded pained, even for the exotic Orion accent. "Do you feel so little for our people and our culture? There is so much more to us than dancing. So much more business."

The voice gained a presence as an Orion woman in her fifties emerged from the back of the apartment. This was S'zama, S'sana's mother. S'zama's hair was still black, her skin more green than S'sana's half-breed olive tone. Despite her age, S'zama still slinked in that distinctive Orion way. "Did I not teach you what it is to be Orion?"

S'sana looked her mother in the eyes with the same flame of determination in them as when she last faced up to her—unafraid. "Last time we spoke you showed nothing but disappointment in me."

"You rejected the way of the Orion for the way of D'era. And following the Romulan way ended in tears for you—as I said it would."

"I am half-Romulan!"

The words hung in the air for a few moments. S'zama then spoke gently, as if trying to diffuse the situation. "Not by choice, my daughter."

"What is that supposed to mean?" Curiosity hung in S'sana's question. She had never known the truth about her lineage, only that she was half-Romulan.

"I wanted my children to be Orion, and nothing else. Your Romulan half poisoned your future, poisoned your mind and drove you away from me." The pain in S'zama's eyes was obvious. Memories which had been suppressed for a long time threatened to come to the surface. The strength appeared to ebb from S'zama, as though she had been holding back a flood of emotions for decades, but the defences were now insufficient. S'zama looked for a second as if she would collapse.

S'sana rushed over to hold her mother. "What is it? What's wrong?"

Tears brimmed in the eyes of S'zama. "I never chose for you to be half-Romulan, my child. I hated myself for years. I even caught myself hating you too." The words were coming out now, more as a staccato flood of emotions than the composed words S'zama had started with. "I didn't choose you to be as you are. I didn't want you, but I loved you too much."

S'sana's mouth stood agape at the flood of emotion coming from her mother. For years she had wondered what a reunion with her mother would be like. She knew that the Orion way was one of business. Business unhindered by ethics or limitations. Supply and demand in the purest sense of the word. Looking around at the apartment and the luxuries it contained, her mother had obviously learned this lesson well.

"You didn't choose me to be like this?" S'sana enquired. A thought entered her head. "You didn't choose the mating?"

Tears flooded from the eyes of S'zama. The truth was revealing itself. She nodded to S'sana that her guess was correct as the tears spotted down onto her breasts and outfit. "I was raped. And you were the product."

Chapter LY1: Rites of Succession

U.S.S. Sheffield, social sciences department, deck 3.

"This is yours, as is this one? and this one too"

The laboratory was a hive of activity as Lieutenant commander Judith Peers started handing out the PADDs with the logs of the Courageous, Emden, Fearless, Hood and Montrose on. These were amongst the starships that Starfleet had first sent into the Nirophian Corridor and Beta Quadrant to explore the races that resided there. This team were the first specialised social sciences team with state-of-the-art equipment to start the analysis of the data these other ships had acquired over the past few years. There were plenty more logs to add to these, but this would be the starting point- and not an easy one at that.

Struggling under the small pile of PADDs was Specialist Asmund Thorirsson, Petty Officer (first class) and Sociology and Political Sciences expert in the department. Asmund was from the Astronesian colonies, one of the most diverse colonies in the Federation with members of almost every species and culture. Thorirsson had been fascinated by the diversity and looked for new cultures to add to the list of the ones he already knew. Starfleet was the natural outlet for his interests and at twenty-nine years old he had been in the fleet for over a decade.

Asmund weaved past the algorithmic analyst, T’pala and found some spare desk space next to Acchos K’Fennix, the pattern analyst specialist from Monchezke in the Beta Quadrant. All of these specialists were starting the mammoth task of finding links between the different events logged by the starships, trying to piece together what the other governments were up to- if there was a pattern to find.

"What are you starting on?" enquired K’Fennix.

"Lyrans," replied Thorirsson, straightening his hair after putting the PADDs down. "There are quite a few entries by the Fearless crew after their last encounter- and that latest announcement from the Klingons is liable to ruffle their fur a little."

"I suspect they won’t be alone on that score"

"Maybe so, but in many ways the Lyrans are one of the most unpredictable races in the Beta Quadrant; their in-fighting over the last decade between the two most capable duchies creates political swinging that in turn can influence the surrounding space. Foreign policies have a way of sending out waves that influence other cultures."

"As my equipment tells me," K’Fennix replied politely, "the Ferasan/Lyran conflicts have tended to be amongst the most savage when even taking those involving the Klingons into account."

Thorirsson pulled up the "shatter-gram" of the Lyran Star Empire and began sharing his findings from the earlier analyses.

"As you can see, the Emperor-king is very much at the centre of events on the Star Empire; his succession will influence events for the better part of this century. To-date he has been pitching the Enemy’s Blood duchy against the Foremost duchy. This competitive jousting has caused the Lyrans to lose focus – keeping them as a minor power in the quadrant."

"So had they been acting as a collective they would have achieved more?"

"The Ferasan would have been annihilated for a start. Nothing matches the Lyran hatred of their Ferasan cousins."

The specialist from Monchezke pointed a spindly finger at the diagram on the screen.

"I see that the Klingons feature on this display, mainly from recent history with the Hydran occupation."

"Indeed they do," The Astronesian native was now in his element, "the alliance served both sides well until Praxis and a determined Hydran resistance caused the Klingons to relinquish the territory, the Lyrans following suit shortly thereafter."

"Is it just the Emperor-king that has caused this in-fighting?"

"That and the disagreement over the alliance with the Klingons; The Enemy’s blood duchy are pro-Klingon and the Foremost duchy are totally against them, with the exception of gaining taxes for the Klingon freighters passing through from the Far Stars duchy- and don’t get me started on the treaty allowing the Klingons into Lyran space."

"Intriguing- I shall endeavour to get this data entered and analysed; your initial hypothesis that the Klingons actions will influence the Lyrans would seen to have merit."

Skagmark: a major industrial world in the Enemy’s Blood Duchy of the Lyran Star Empire.

Klingon ambassador Kyrox descended the ramp from the Bird of Prey, met at the bottom by Archduke Fzzrrt III. Both exchanged bows and greetings before walking into the reception area. These two races shared a respect for honour and fighting prowess, this in turn had led to a close alliance during the co-operative occupation of the Hydran Kingdom.

The Enemy’s Blood duchy bordered with the Hydrans and was the most directly involved with the occupation. This brought the duchy the most gains from the invaded territory as well as the losses from the Hydran liberation efforts. The Emperor-king had ordered the cessation of hostilities and the accompanying humiliating withdrawal. This had left a bad taste in the mouth of the archduke.

Kyrox was putting the next part of Chancellor Kaarg’s plan into operation. The Emperor-king had shown his disgust at the Klingon trade agreement with the Ferasan. I wonder how Fzzrrt will view this opportunity thought Kyrox.

The residence of the Archduke was a fairly grand affair, with trophies and pictures on the walls to celebrate the successful lineage of which Fzzrrt was the latest member. Whilst not as grand as the royal palace, the Enemy’s Blood duchy was up until recently the most powerful duchy in the star empire. The breakaway of the Lyran Democratic Republic had weakened the duchy, but the ambitions of the Archduke still remained undiminished.

The Emperor-king was indeed growing old and choosing a successor was a tricky business with pitfalls at every move. He set tasks for each of the dukes to accomplish in order to show their worthiness to succeed the Emperor-king upon his death. The skill was in keeping the dukes all fighting against each other to stop them mounting a coup against the Emperor-king; this traditionally succeeded up to a point, however the Enemy’s Blood had gained a disproportionate amount of power. Permitting the LDR to declare independence had eased that threat, for now.

"You have come to me after speaking to our leader- why?" Fzzrrt III was not renowned for his patience or subtlety.

Kyrox regarded the archduke; his attire was one of a Lyran of high status with the rank insignia of high office and braiding with ribbons to reflect a successful campaign of battles against both the Ferasan and the Hydrans.

"Our peoples have worked closely together before; I have been sent to rebuild this relationship?"

" creating a trade agreement with the Ferasan?" interrupted Fzzrrt.

He called it a trade agreement; he is putting this into perspective better than his leader did Kyrox noted with interest as he let the Archduke continue with his interruption.

"Ever since Praxis you have made deals with anyone who will give you minerals. You have become the needy beggar of the universe and this deal with our despised enemies proves my point."

Kyrox reigned in his anger to reply "If you had not withdrawn from Hydran space we might have kept our supply of minerals from there." He paused for dramatic effect, "my mistake, had you not been ordered by the Emperor-king to withdraw."

"A loyal Lyran follows orders without question. That doesn’t change the fact you made a deal with our enemies". The comment by Kyrox had stung the Archduke, as intended.

"Your loyalty is perhaps misplaced, given the Emperor-king has poisoned the success of your duchy for years; he allowed the formation and continued existence of the Lyran Democratic Republic and has sided with the Foremost duchy in almost every issue against you. What I speak of is true and you know it, Archduke."

"The Foremost duchy will fail in their attempt to curry favour with my leader?"

"Will they?" challenged Kyrox, "they have run a successful campaign to wear down your forces; the distraction this has created has allowed your enemies to regroup and further their own ambitions. You have all been fighting over whether or not an alliance with us is worthwhile."

"All this I know already. I ask you again, Klingon, why are you here?" the frustration and anger was beginning to show in the Archduke’s voice.

Kyrox had placed the seed of doubt into Fzzrrt’s mind, now was the time to table Kaarg’s proposals.

"Chancellor Kaarg has sent me to rebuild our alliance with you, the Enemy’s Blood duchy. You speak with anger, as your leader has also done, about the trade agreement with the Ferasan. You ignore the fact that recently you sent your own ambassador to our former enemies, the Federation. This ambassador was chosen from your rivals, the Foremost duchy. The Emperor-king listens to their values and ignores your own, for fear of your potential; Chancellor Kaarg recognises your potential- that is why I am here."

Archduke Fzzrrt III leaned forwards slightly in his chair, intrigued by this appeal to himself.

Kyrox mirrored the Archduke, leaning forward in a conspiratorial manner.

"The agreement with the Ferasan distracts your Foremost duchy rivals; it keeps the Federation off-balance and will unify the Red Claw duchy with your own in fighting a common enemy, requiring hydran resources to fuel this fight - which with Klingon military assisstance you can win. Chancellor Kaarg proposes helping your own bid to succeed the Emperor-king- we have a delivery of ships standing by for you."

"It is hardly an honourable move to assist in succession, Kyrox."

"There is no greater honour than to help a friend, Archduke."

"And if I refuse your offer?"

"Then we could present it to the Red Claw duchy, who have never wavered in their support of trading with us- and then they could be rewarded for being our friends. With help, they could offer an alternative to the current leading challengers?" as Kyrox’s words trailed off, they left no doubts that the deal was on the table and if refused could easily be presented to others. With Klingon help the Red Claw duchy could mount a serious bid for succession with Klingon help. The Archduke knew this.

Kyrox had been surprised he had been instructed to reveal so many details to the Archduke; the strategic brilliance of the Klin Zha grand master Kaarg had awestruck Kyrox more than anything in decades. The Ferasan deal both showed the Lyrans that the Klingons were prepared to make deals with other people than them; it also provided a means to goad the Archduke into re-establishing the alliance with the Klingons, whilst the Ferasan provided an incentive to unify the Lyrans, provide a much-needed distraction and insurance in the event that the Lyrans took exception to the trade agreement. It was a win-win scenario for the Klingon Empire.

"What do you propose, Kyrox?"

"A new alliance with the Enemy’s Blood duchy which the Chancellor is certain will be mutually beneficial."

"A new Hydran occupation?" said the Archduke, a pleased look forming in his eyes.

"The withdrawal was an embarrassment for us both, one that Kaarg intends to correct," nodded Kyrox.

The Archduke thought over the proposal for a few minutes before clasping hands triumphantly with the Klingon ambassador. The pact was made.

"What is the first move?" Fzzrrt III was impatient about discovering how he would attain the crown which he had worked so hard to attain.

"Next I need to see the Red Claw duke, to forge an alliance that will ensure security for the Lyran Star Empire whilst allowing a flow of forces ready to fight the Ferasan. As for the Hydrans- those methane-breathers may have new weapons on their ships, but we shall overwhelm their arrogance. Even now they are sending their ambassador to Nimbus III to forge an alliance with the Federation; if he was to ‘get lost’ en route then this could only aid us in our cause."

A pleased look formed on the Archduke’s face. "I am certain that can be arranged."

Chapter 17: Hunting the Hunter

Hawkins was on a mission: to test the waters with the other representatives, now that he'd had a chance to talk to St. John Talbot. Questions had been raised and he wanted some answers. The last Klingon representative had been assassinated, and the Klingons were not forthcoming on the answers. They acted as if it were a closed issue. Maybe it was—but maybe it wasn't.

Hawkins returned to the Sheffield for a change of clothes. Talbot had warned him that his Starfleet uniform would get him a cold reception, so Hawkins opted for black trousers, a t-shirt with his old sailing sloop Inspiration emblazoned on the front, and a long imposing black coat together with his trusty Starfleet boots. The look was not one he normally conducted business in, but this should at least distract people from his identity as a Starfleet commander.

The Venus Club was as loud as it was tall. When Hawkins arrived the sun was setting in Paradise City and the nightlife was beginning to stir, which he had decided would be the best time for him to meet both of the other representatives. There were two tall, very broad bouncers at the door, one being a Nausicaan who was as big as they came, the other a burly Orion male. Both looked as if they could snap Hawkins in half like a toothpick. This should have been where his old skills came in handy by letting him imitate a casual clubber, but there was one problem: Hawkins wasn't a regular clubber. He'd have to improvise.

As Hawkins approached the door the first thing to assault him was the bright neon lights glaring out the name of the club. If that was a rude awakening to his senses, it was practically subdued compared to the loud music that emanated from the place.

If entertainment in the galaxy has one constant, thought Hawkins, it's that it's loud.

He approached the club with a look of blasé acceptance, as if he was always coming here and always getting in. He didn't want to draw attention to himself by acting excited and eager—or desperate—to get in. He joined the queue, which was like a cross-section of Nimbosian culture, with all kinds of lifeforms in all kinds of outfits, sporting all kinds of attitudes. Some were subdued like himself, others were excited and ready to dance or gamble—either that or they were under the influence of recreational drugs. It was hard to tell from that distance. Hawkins finally got to the front of the queue.

"Arms up and legs apart," the Orion ordered gruffly. Rough hands frisked Hawkins thoroughly. Although this was the planet of galactic peace and weapons were strictly forbidden, it didn't stop visitors—or locals—from trying to bend that rule. The hand stopped on his combadge. The Starfleet emblem was unmistakable. Hawkins kept a straight face as the Orion looked at it. "Is this supposed to impress me, Starfleet?"

"No. I just need to be in touch with my ship," Hawkins tried to pass it off as matter-of-fact. "Rules, you know." Hawkins did his best to smile and diffuse the situation.

The Orion was not impressed. "Keep it hidden. No one cares about you here."

Hawkins breathed an internal sigh of relief and walked in. That could have gone better.


"Interesting. Seems we have a Starfleet visitor tonight. I wonder what he's up to?" noted Vikstaad to no one in particular. He was watching a bank of monitors that showed all angles of the club, but was specifically following the latest arrival. The Orion doorman had tripped a concealed button to warn Vikstaad of the visitor, as he hated to miss out on what took place in his club. No other Starfleeters had come to the club yet, and this was an officer's badge. Must be from the Sheffield, he thought. Vikstaad pressed a comm button.

"Follow the new Starfleet arrival in the long coat. Be discreet, see where he goes, what he does and with whom."


Hawkins walked into the club and entered the bubble of noise. He looked around the ground level to see a dancefloor with members of all kinds of races dancing there; Orions, Tellarites, Andorians, Vulcans—moving gracefully in their logical way, no doubt applying body kinaesthetics to the mathematical tempo of the music—and more. There was even a Betazoid male there, dancing in an almost trance-like state, caught in the emotional rhapsody of those around him.

As he walked in further to the club, Hawkins saw the first of no doubt many bars. The barstaff were like bees in a hive, swarming up and down the bar, fluidly serving drinks to the waiting punters. Hawkins checked along the bar. No Klingons or Romulans there, besides the odd civilian. Hawkins noted at the other end a human male busy trying his best to score with an Orion waitress. The beer glass in his hand was drained part of the way down, but as Hawkins walked past the two made brief contact. Hawkins nodded encouragement to the man, and thought to himself that the Orion would probably eat him alive. Then again, Orion girls had things on their own terms with non-Orions, and he doubted if that human would be in luck tonight.

Hawkins walked on, looking at the gambling tables and bars as he entered the depths of the club. As he walked further into the back, Hawkins noticed the club was a little more subdued from the gaudy loud music of the front. Here was where the gambling, dealing and carousing took place. Hawkins suspected that a Klingon commander wouldn't look very good on a dancefloor, but here in the arena of passion, drinking and gambling, there was a far higher probability of finding him.

Bingo. There was the imposing, well-built mass of Commander K'thruud, successor to Koord. Even with no dagger at his side, or sword secured on his back, there was no mistaking that this was a Klingon warrior—all coiled and ready for combat. Now Hawkins would have to find a way to talk to him.

An idea struck him. Casually—but boldly—he walked up to the vacant place next to the commander at the bar. Before the Commander could even say anything, Hawkins had called over the barman and had a bottle of bloodwine delivered.

The Commander eyed him with distaste and demanded, "What is the meaning of this, you Human patahk?"

"I wish to honour the hero of the battle of Lambda Hydrae by sharing a bottle of bloodwine, one warrior to another."

K'thruud was silent for a moment. This human obviously knew who he was. Was he a spy? He would break the human's neck like a twig if this was so. He snorted a laugh at Hawkins. "Warrior? I see no warrior here. And it was only Romulans that got to see me in that battle. Dead ones at that."

Hawkins smiled back, that kind of ‘I-know-something-you-don't' smile, as he poured them each a flagon of bloodwine. "Let's just say I got to see the repeats. Nice manoeuvre you pulled on the Taauvik, it caught them fair and square." Hawkins raised his flagon. "To you, Commander. Glory to you, and your House."

K'thruud looked with great distrust at Hawkins, but took the flagon. Hawkins drank deeply. K'thruud waited.

"Sorry, Commander, I should have introduced myself. Nathaniel Hawkins, Captain of the U.S.S. Sheffield. I read about your exploits whilst I was trained in tactical studies. I took the liberty of reading up on you before I came here. I'm rather a student of this colony and wanted to know something about the successor of Koord. And the best way to know a Klingon is from the way he fights, wouldn't you say?"

K'thruud didn't particularly like humans. This one was either very bold or very foolish. He'd kept eye contact with K'thruud and hadn't keeled over or vomited from drinking the bloodwine, so he'd obviously tried it before. But who was this Human to interrupt to interrupt the Klingon ambassador's night? He said he was a Starfleet captain. Drinking with a Human? thought K'thruud. He honours me with knowledge of my battles, even though others have done more. What does he want?

Deciding that he would play the Human's game—if only to satisfy his own curiosity—K'thruud demanded, "What do you want, Human?"

Hawkins shrugged. "Just to share a drink with you, Commander, and to ask you a question."

"You have had your drink, Human. And I am here to get away from questions."

Hawkins smiled. "You haven't drunk your drink yet. I know it isn't one of the better vintages from Qo'noS, but it isn't bad. I learned to drink bloodwine after reading the philosophies of Kahless. Immersion in a culture is a good way to understand it."

K'thruud decided to drink the bloodwine. Maybe the wine would help dull out the voice of this whiney human and his questions. "Ask your question and begone, Human."

Hawkins looked K'thruud in the eyes as he asked: "Who killed General Koord? I can't possibly believe a Klingon would have killed him. That would have been without honour." That was a lie, Hawkins knew a Klingon could easily bend 'honour' to suit the needs of killing Koord. He just wanted to watch and listen to the response.

"The matter is closed, Human, and an internal matter of the Klingon Empire. It is no concern of your Starfleet."

K'thruud said the last word as if it left a bitter taste in his mouth. Obviously the goodwill of Khitomer had yet to catch up with the good commander, thought Hawkins.

"You're probably right, Commander. I'm sure the putdown by General Gorak closed off any other options. Good day, Commander."

Hawkins noted the reaction to his comment in the eyes and face of the commander before he got up and left. Discretion is the better part of valour—and it's a crap day to die, thought Hawkins. That could have gone better, he noted mentally, but I got what I needed. Now, the Romulans.

Hawkins went off deeper into the club in search of Caithlin Dar. Hopefully she would be more talkative, but unfortunately there were hazards of another kind to consider.

As Hawkins glided up the stairs, his coat flapping as he stepped upwards, eyes were watching his every move. His every word had been monitored and his actions watched.

Chapter 18: Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Commander Ilani was studying hard, leaving Lieutenant Carson to look after all things Ch'ramaki whilst Ilani took in the wider picture for a moment.

The principle area of operations for the five year mission of U.S.S. Sheffield was Sector 16447, driftward of both the Federation and Romulan space. It was also driftward of Klingon space, so Qo'noS was on the far side of where the Sheffield would operate.

To understand how the Klingons worked on this side of the Beta Quadrant, it was necessary to know something of the geo-political landscape of the quadrant. There were two minor powers that had their eyes on Sector 16447—the Hydrans and the Sha'kurians. The Hydrans were tripod methane breathers who, up until recently, had been a subject race of the Klingon Empire. The Hydrans had managed to build up a fleet in a region far from the Klingons and eventually fought their way to freedom in a series of bloody battles.

With the Klingons weakened from the Praxis aftermath and various internal political battles, in concert with the border war with the Romulans, the Hydrans were able to maintain their freedom. Whereas General Gorak was able to suppress the colonial uprising in 2310, he didn't have the ships or the stomach to recapture the Hydrans. That would have been one fight too many for the resources he had, so his plan was to wait until the fleet was strong enough. However, Gorak had died attempting to assassinate Azetbur, so that plan was soon forgotten about.

The Hydrans were explorers at heart, much like the Federation in philosophy, and the ruler of the Hydran Kingdom had sent his ships out to explore the remains of the realm and beyond. This was to assess the resources with which the Hydran ruler could secure the Kingdom and prevent the Klingons from invading once more. Swift action was required to seal off the border with the Klingons, mine the area and place enough rapid-reaction warships on the border to deter any attempts to cross it, but with the Klingons' internal strife and other external enemies, the Hydrans were given the time to complete this Herculean task.

On the other side of the neutral corridor was the Sha'kurians. Little was known about the Sha'kurians, and what was known was second-hand information from traders or intelligence sources outwith the Federation. All that was known was that the Klingons had fought with the Sha'kurians and lost. It seemed that the Sha'kurians had the means to detect even cloaked ships, something the unfortunate Romulans had neglected to share with the Klingons during their period of co-operation. Both first contacts by these empires had been made by warships with the intent to subjugate the Sha'kurians. Both led to a brief but conclusive war which saw the Sha'kurians on the winning side in both instances.

Starfleet had sent probes into Sha'kurian space, never to return. No Oberth-class vessels were able to make first contact. It seemed the Sha'kurians were as fond of their privacy as they were xenophobic of those crossing their border. The Klingon intelligence data maintained that the Sha'kurians were a race of amphibians originally from the Delta Quadrant. Unspecified reasons saw the Sha'kurians move to the Beta Quadrant and set up what the Klingons referred to as the Sha'kurian Ducal Territories. Since the Klingons didn't really study sociology beyond the tactical abilities of the race, the data on the matter seemed very vague and, occasionally, contradictory.

With both of these races either side of the neutral corridor of space, Ilani realised that the corridor provided the Klingons with a means to reach both of these races and 'settle a few scores'. The corridor also potentially provided the Hydrans and Sha'kurians with resources. This meant there were four powers that could benefit with access to sector 16447.

This mission was going to get complicated.

The Federation claim to the sector was, for the moment, purely the presence of Starbase 77. Occasionally a Constellation-class starship would head through the sector on its way into unexplored space, or an Oberth-class vessel would pass that way to follow up planetary studies. This was infrequent, and the Sheffield would certainly be the largest Federation vessel in the area on a regular basis. These being the sum total of Starfleet's assets in the sector, it certainly was not a deterrent if any of the other three powers decided to make a concerted—or even a singular—move into the region.

The lack of information was what troubled Ilani. She got up and walked to the Intelligence lab's door. Turning to Donna Carson she said simply, "I'm going to Social Sciences, to try and shed some light on the gaps in our files."

Carson nodded as Ilani stepped out of the lab for the turbolift.

Chapter 19: Blood Ties

The tears continued to flow down S'zama's face, leaving S'sana shocked to the core. Her past was coming back to haunt her yet again, but this time her version of her past was also being rewritten. S'sana had always known that she was different from the other Orions, and also known that she had traits that were Romulan. She had always thought that it was a romantic encounter by her mother, as on this world of many cultures that was always possible. She had never considered that her mother had been violated.

It was a difficult moment for both of them. S'zama had let her defences down and was showing her true feelings to her daughter. For S'sana there was the 25 years of being away from her mother, and the many years before that having felt resentment toward her. S'sana simply didn't know how to react to this. She thought for a second before asking gently, "What happened?"

S'zama looked at her daughter and saw the beginnings of reconciliation in her eyes. The tears slowly subsided to occasional involuntary sobs. S'zama took a deep breath and began.

It had been barely a few months after the establishment of the township of Paradise City. The main body of colonists had arrived, and it was readily apparent from the beginning that many of them were criminals and the "dregs of the galaxy", sent to the colony as an easy way of lowering the numbers in prisons around the galaxy. There were races from both the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, some of whom S'zama had never seen before.

She had been working as a dancer in the Venus Bar, the only real commercial venture within Paradise. There were other "opportunities" around the different colonies on the planet, especially around the mining facilities, but most were thinly-veiled excuses for prostitution. S'zama was trying to build herself a business, as a true Orion would. Prostitution did provide opportunities for business, but only in a limited sense. The Venus Bar allowed S'zama a variety of roles, and a degree of choice and protection with regards to her business opportunities. There was also a great advantage to teamwork.

Amongst the roles that S'zama performed in was as a dancer at the bar. There were many dancers in the Venus Bar: Caitians, Deltans, Humans, but it was the Orions which tended to get the biggest audience. Orion women had a reputation across the galaxy, and it was one that tended to attract the males of other species in greater numbers and made them part with their credits. Lots of credits. S'zama was young then, and she knew how to dance in just the right way to attract the wealthy visitors to the Venus Bar to spend their money in her direction, to buy her trinkets and the occasional drink.

S'zama never fraternised with her clients, unless there was a worthwhile business advantage to be gained. On this particular day there hadn't been anyone of note watching her dance, except for this Romulan. He had leered at her the moment that she had set foot on the stage. It was obvious that he had been indulging in ale rather too heavily, and he'd tried to make approaches to S'zama all night—approaches that she certainly hadn't wanted from a leering drunk. He obviously wasn't of a high rank and was thus of no business advantage. She carried on dancing and did her best to ignore him and to seek out new opportunities in the crowd.

S'sana listened to her mother's story, captivated by the back history of the mother that she—apparently—hadn't known anything about. In all of her childhood S'sana had never felt compelled to ask her mother about her past. By the time S'sana was older, the barriers had already been built against her mother and she hadn't wanted to know anything.

S'zama continued telling her story. The shift had ended and S'zama left the bar for the short journey home. The Romulan had followed her in the rain—apparently the ale hadn't dulled the Romulan's stalking skills. He attacked her, beating her face until she was senseless. He violated her. He violated her until it hurt, until she screamed for him to stop. She was beaten unconscious, only being rescued later by a passer by.

It was then that the story took on an even more personal aspect for S'sana. S'zama was sobbing openly now, in between telling her story—the story she had always wanted to tell her daughter but thought she would never get the chance. She had been violated, and as such she had felt impure and dirty. Ever fibre of her being had screamed that she should abort the monstrosity that had been implanted within her. She hated her assailant, and therefore hated what he had done to her. This baby would be a permanent reminder of her assault.

Then the unthinkable happened. She started to love the life within her.

S'zama decided to keep the baby, no matter the advice she was given by her own people. It was love for the baby that had made S'zama decide to keep it. She couldn't destroy life.

The difficulty with S'zama's decision was apparent when the baby was born. S'sana was more of an olive colour than the avocado of a full Orion. Her ears were slightly pointed and her eyebrows arched lazily upwards at the ends. Despite these slight physical traits, S'zama was determined to treat S'sana as an Orion. Surely the differences were only purely cosmetic?

S'sana soon showed as she grew up that she was more than just physically different. The intellect potential of her Vulcanoid brain gave her a natural advantage at schooling, but this was equally matched by the volatility of her Romulan emotions. Romulans didn't seem to do anything by halves—her happy moods were very happy, but her tempers were second to none. More than once there were stools or tables that had been broken by S'sana in her fury.

This had not stopped S'zama from trying to school her daughter in what it meant to be an Orion. Her daughter's keen mind should have given her an advantage at making the most of opportunities, of doing the best business. The Romulan cunning and keen mind had made S'sana a survivor. No matter how bad things had got during the Great Drought, S'sana had managed to get what she wanted.

The confession had left S'zama spent. Her head dropped, as did her shoulders—as if a great weight had been lifted from them. S'sana put an arm around her mother and comforted her. A new understanding had been silently reached between them, old bonds had been restored.

A few silent moments passed. S'zama decided to be the one to ask the questions this time.

"Where have you been these last few years? I thought you have fled to another township."

"I left this place behind and went to find my own path, Mother. I caught a Federation transport offworld after the last time we spoke."

S'zama seemed embarrassed by the truthfulness of the reply. Maybe it was a little too truthful.

"My daughter, it has been such a long time since we last spoke like this. Tell me of the trade empire you have grown, the businesses you run. Tell me how you are a great Orion."

S'sana looked at her mother, slightly embarrassed by the leading question.

"Actually, Mother… I'm in Starfleet."

Chapter 20: Shadow Boxing

Hawkins continued up the stairs, his coat flapping as he stepped upwards, alert to the sounds and movement around him. He knew that he was being watched—this was good. The conversation with the Klingon representative hadn't gone as he had hoped, but in science a null result was also insightful. Besides, he had other options.

It was in one of the upper bars, in a quiet corner, that he spotted Caithlin Dar. Dar was a veteran representative at Nimbus III, having arrived at the colony just before the hostage incident involving the Galactic Army of Light. Dar was dressed in beautiful—and obviously expensive—Romulan robes, acquired from the best dressmakers on Romulus. This was symbolic of Dar's rise in power. Initially assigned to the colony at her own behest, many in the Star Empire had sneered at her decision, imagining that her first assignment would also be her last. As it had happened, the colony's rise in prominence had also raised Caithlin through the ranks of Romulan diplomats. With the withdrawal of the Romulans after the Tomed Incident, she was now the only representative outside of Romulan space.

As Hawkins reached the table, Caithlin greeted him. "Good Evening, Captain Hawkins. Do you want a cider, or are you wanting to sample a Romulan ale, as you like to on occasion?"

Hawkins smiled inside. She was trying to catch him off-guard by showing she knew about him. This would be a challenge. He loved challenges.

He smiled in a warm manner as he replied "I see the Tal Shi'ar have kept their records up to date. I think I'll try a Romulan ale, if that's okay? Have you held back some of your D'keeth Region vintage? It is so hard to get hold of some—especially as it is illegal in the Federation." Hawkins returned the move by showing he knew what her favourite brand of ale was.

Caithlin beckoned for Hawkins to sit across the table from her. "Sadly I'm still waiting for a shipment of D'keeth Region, but I have some Barosa Province." Hawkins nodded in approval. "So, I understand that you are interested in this colony. Since you no doubt got very little from my Klingon colleague, I suspect you hope to learn more from me?"

"Indeed." Hawkins didn't hide the fact. This was like shadow boxing, and lying to a practised liar would be futile. It could also open more doors if he reciprocated—to a certain degree. "I studied the colony in my last year of school, and also at Starfleet Academy. It's the only place one can meet and talk to Romulans and Klingons without the usual geopolitical baggage."

"It is rather hard to talk to Romulans these days. I suppose I am the only Romulan diplomat that outsiders can talk to. Is that what brought you to Nimbus III?"

"I must confess to being fascinated by your people. The Academy was somewhat obsessed with Klingons, and I feel there is so much more to the Romulan psyche. You cannot just be taken at face value, after all, can you?" Hawkins added the leading question at the end to see what the response would be like.

"I am an open-book, Commander. At least compared to some of the other members of the Senate."

"Ah, how is the Senate these days?" Hawkins had heard rumours that there had been a change of power after the Tomed Incident, he wondered if Dar would let this piece of information slip.

"The same as usual, really. I am a little removed from the politics of the senate out here. This is neutral space, after all."

Hawkins relished the Romulan accent. Romulans were certainly more interesting and worthy of study to Hawkins, but the Klingon agenda had sidelined them at Starfleet Academy. "I'm sure the Tal Shi'ar still reach out here." Hawkins smiled to diffuse the sharpness of his comment. "So tell me, Ms Dar, now that the Treaty of Algeron has been signed and you have all disappeared behind the Neutral Zone. Are you to be the only Romulan official left that I can speak to? Or will I have the pleasure of others outside the Neutral Zone anytime soon?"

Dar smiled back, but Hawkins could tell that this was one question he wasn't going to get a straight answer to. "You never really can tell what the new day will bring, wouldn't you agree, Commander?"

Hawkins nodded.

Dar continued. "I cannot speak for the Senate, but I do not have any intentions of leaving this colony anytime soon. We have been a part of this colony for over 35 years and have helped shape the colony at every stage. I have helped to shape the Romulan sector of the colony and had a hand in designing Paradise City as well. As to any issue concerning the Treaty of Algeron, I suggest you speak to the Federation Ambassadors—they were present too, after all."

Hawkins sipped on the Romulan ale. It warmed his throat all the way down until it glowed like a furnace in his stomach. "Excellent ale. I was wondering, do you agree with the withdrawal of your people? It must make your position more difficult than before."

Dar countered the question with a smile. "What do you think my position is? I'd have thought the commanding officer of the U.S.S. Sheffield would have used his social scientists to predict what my stance is."

"Maybe I have," countered Hawkins mysteriously, "but it is better to get your opinions from you. I do so hate guesswork, don't you?"


The sparring of smiles and controlled self-image and body language continued for over an hour. By the end, Hawkins wasn't that far forward and Dar made her apologies and left. Hawkins finished off the glass of ale. He had tried to drink the Romulan ale slowly—it was damned potent stuff and he didn't want to get intoxicated. He suspected that Dar could tell he was nursing his drink. Just as Hawkins was about to leave, a large green-skinned figure joined him at the table. It was Vikstaad Jaanz.

His voice was as silky and menacing as ever. "Good evening, Mr Hawkins. I am glad that you are enjoying your visit to the Venus Club. I was just wondering what you were after tonight, though. Most of my guests are after entertainment of some form. You seem to almost be interrogating people," Jaanz chuckled slightly, "and I have never seen that as a form of public entertainment—although there are some rather extreme forms of entertainment my guests have asked for. I would just hate for my guests to be harassed."

"Perish the thought," smiled Hawkins—noting that Jaanz may well have listened in to everything. "I am just enjoying the company of those that I never get to see elsewhere. After all, Mr Jaanz, I'm sure you of all people appreciate a good chat?"

Jaanz smiled like the proverbial cat with a canary.

Chapter 21: The River of Blood

Commander Ilani continued to muse over the geopolitical situation which overshadowed Sector 16447. his was what had diverted the Sheffield to Nimbus III after all. Ilani was more familiar than most about the situation with the klingons. or most of her career she had been assigned to Miranda class starships, studying the klingons, their culture, power structures and their politics. This was a favoured topic of Starfleet in the 2280s and 90s. Ilani's skills as a deltan made her naturally skilled in this field, and it was this credential above the others that made Ilani's application as Executive Officer stand out head and shoulders above the rest.

Ilani had served on the Emden and the Courageous, examining the klingons from the safety of behind the neutral zone. Now there was no neutral zone, and they were definitely in harm's way. Ilani had never been sure about climbing the ladder of command, but previous commanding officers had persuaded her that her natural leadership and skills should not go to waste.

The assassination of Koord was the current item puzzling the mind of Ilani. The ambassador had been in his twilight years and assassinating him served no purpose. After the assassination, the klingons had said that the matter was closed, that the assassin had been simultaneously killed by Koord with his dying breaths. The only thing was, this made no sense. If it had been a murder committed by a rival House, there would have been reprisals politically. None of this happened.

This got Ilani lateral thinking. If there was no political fall-out, maybe this hadn't been done by a powerful House, or one too powerful to touch. Then again, there would have been some ramifications of the assassination. This assassination was just too high profile for there not to have been an investigation by either the House of Koord or the High Council. Or both.

Ilani had mused over the matter for a little longer down in the Intelligence department, before taking the turbolift up to Social and Behavioural Sciences. She had a theory. If this theory was correct, it could change everything. Maybe it wasn't a klingon that assassinated Koord. Maybe it was someone who looked klingon enough to get into the building and assassinate Koord.

Ilani arrived at the psychology labs and walked in. She was greeted inside by the svelte form of Lieutenant Commander Judith Peers. Peers was the department head and was expertly manipulating charts and figures on the screen.

'Busy?' Asked Ilani.

'No, Commander, just playing with 'Hawkins folly''.

'Hawkins' folly'?'

Peers smiled. 'The Idionomothetics system. This is the captain's plaything from when he came aboard five years ago as XO. It's supposed to give statistical probabilities of future behaviour for individuals'.

Ilani pointed at the equipment. 'Perfect'.

'You have a task?'

'Can you just run a hunch through the system for me?'

'Sure. What are we looking at?'


Ch'ramak was a mineral rich world on the frontier of klingon space. The klingons had been short of dilithium following the explosion on Praxis in 2293. For a decade the klingons had tried to survive without this primary source of energy, attempting to tone down their usual aggressive imperialistic expansion to appease the Federation. All done in the name of aid shipments to Qo'nos. Chancellor Azetbur had survived more than one assassination attempt as the High Council battled with frustration in the ranks, playing down what it was to be klingon in exchange for 'hand-outs'.

Ch'ramak had been eyed for years by the klingons. In the early years of the 24th century, the klingons made their move. he population had been subjugated and the resources plundered. Now the cities lay in ruins, and giant, ugly mines dotted across the planet. The resource situation for the klingons had improved, at the expense of a planetary population. What had piqued the curiousity of Ilani was that the Ch'ramaki were klingonesque. They physically resembled klingons.

It had taken three attempts to build a klingon command centre on the planet. The previous attempts had been destroyed by the use of mining charges. But it was a more high profile incident that had raised awareness of the planet. The klingon flagship had been destroyed there in 2306, killing some high profile generals and causing a quadrant-wide scare that Chancellor Azetbur was dead as well.

This act of terrorism had resulted in wholesale slaughter on the planet in retribution. It had also established the Ch'ramaki as a passionate people who would go to any lengths to try and force the klingons to leave their world. It was this act that also had been the memory fired in the back of Ilani's mind, making her consider that perhaps Koord was their latest victim.

A klingon House had nothing to gain, but the Ch'ramaki had scored another point against the larger and more powerful opponent.

Federation ambassador St John Talbot had, in vain, tried to find out who assassinated Koord. He had offered Federation assistance, but the Klingons were not interested in the slightest. Sometimes diplomats hid intellegence-gathering under the veil of giving aid, and the klingons weren't wanting to risk this. Talbot was only half interested in the gathering of intelligence, he was more interested in the fate of his friend.

Peers continued to pour in the data, previous Ch'ramaki incidents and methods.

'The system seems to be hinting that this is a definite possibility'. said Peers, breaking the silence of typing. 'There's justa few issues which we don't have answers for'.

'What do we have?' Ilani was leaning over Peers' shoulder, her curiousity hungry for answers.

'Well we have a suggestion from the computer that the Ch'ramaki would be able to achieve this kind of a hit. However, who supplied them weapons? Additionally, who trained them with the knowledge to get through the security systems? The Ch'ramaki are a smart people, but the klingons are renowned for their security systems'.

'An insider?' offered Ilani.


It was a theory. But it was a troubling theory, with more than a ring of truth...

Chapter 22: The Officer and the Merchant Queen

S'sana's confession of being a Starfleet officer hung in the air for a few moments, like a bad stench. S'sana could see that there were cogs turning behind the eyes of her mother, big cogs and many of them. There was a slight change in the colour of S'zama's cheeks and S'sana recognised the emotion only too well: disappointment.

'How could you do this?'

'Done what?' S'sana shot back.

'Betrayed your heritage, worn the uniform of those who oppress our people'.

'We are explorers. Since there was nothing left here for me after our arguments, I headed off this planet and made something of myself. As for persecuting Orions, I've never seen evidence of that. As long as nothing illegal has been done, we leave other races alone to do as they please'.

'Illegal? The Federation do not understand the ethics of Orions, they only see their puritanical laws. Being an orion is about supply and demand, nothing more, nothing less. All the federation are concerned about is where goods come from, what they are and where they are going to. They only want to know this in order to see what laws we have broken. It isn't about laws, it is about trade'.

S'sana folded her arms defensively. She was far stronger now than she had been last time she was here, and she wasn't going to take abuse from her mother again. Not now, not ever again. 'It isn't me that doesn't understand, mother, it is you. After I came back here with nothing, begging you for a home and help, you rejected me. I was seen as nothing more than a disappointment to you and you didn't hide the fact'.

S'zama was about to say something in reply when her daughter silenced her with a stern look and a raised hand. S'zama suddenly realised, perhaps with sasfaction, that her daughter was much stronger.

S'sana continued. 'I was homeless, with nothing left and nothing left to lose. It was Starfleet that had given me the means to get away from here and gave me hope. Nowhere else apart from here would my dual heritage would be accepted. Starfleet don't see you as a colour or race, they see you as a person with potential. They nurtured my potential for four years before I graduated as an officer.

'I was sponsored for the academy by Captain Stirling of the U.S.S. Achilles, who saw the potential in me, even though I was only clothed in rags. he saw through the rags and saw the spirit within. My skills at negotiation and cunning which my dual heritage afforded me gave me an edge at the Academy. I excelled and finished in the top quarter of the class. So you see, maybe I'm not a disappointment after all. Least not to me'.

S'zama took this all in for a moment before answering. 'I'm glad those words of training gave you as my daughter did not fall on deaf ears. It seems I may have underestimated your resourcefulness. It seems maybe you haven't betrayed your heritage, it seems it has served you in a different way. You always did make the unpredictable decisions'.

'My heritage has served me well. I have the romulan mind for tactics and strategy, whilsty I have the resourcefulness and 'person skills' of an orion. I have the best of both worlds. Needless to say, Stirling wanted me as one of his officers. Now I'm a Lieutenant Commander with a good ship, a good crew, and a good prospect ahead'.

S'zama looked like a mother whose daughter had just graduated with honours from the best university, well maybe the second-best one. She saw opportunities here, but those could wait until later.

S'sana then turned the questioning around to her mother. She gestured about her. 'What is your story then, mother? When I last was here you lived in a small shanty town shack with a small kitchen. Now you live in a penthouse suite in one of the best towers in the city. How did you amass the wealth for all of this?'

S'zama seemed like a rabbit caught in headlights. A fraction of a second passed as she composed her careful answer. 'I have the skills of an orion and I have practiced them all of my life. I spotted opportunities and exploited them. I deal in business, supply and demand and trade is everything. As every orion aspires, so I expanded my business connections as the city regenerated. I found I have a good eye for partnerships, and I reaped the rewards as a result. After all, business is all about deals and business partners'.

Chapter 23: Business

Hawkins sat at the table, the hulking form of Vikstaad Jaanz just across from him. In some respects, this was a conversation that Hawkins would have wanted at some point. There was the other issue that Hawkins would have wanted it on his own terms, however he did have contingencies in place. Jaanz's menacing minder was just in the corner of his peripheral vision, and Hawkins knew the best way out of this was to keep talking, and remain calm.

'Any chance of another drink? Talking can be such thirsty business' asked Hawkins as a distracting question.

'Of course'. enthused Vikstaad in his velvet tones. He clapped his hands and instantly a pair of orion girls, the finest Hawkins had ever seen, appeared and took drinks orders for them both. 'It would be rude to discuss business with a dry throat, wouldn't it?'

'So it's business we are discussing, Mr Jaanz?' asked Hawkins casually.

'Naturally. We Orions always discuss business. Life is all about supply and demand. Business is what we do best'. Jaanz's white smile stood out in contrast to his green skin. 'There is always a deal to be made, trade to be delivered and customers to make'.

'I have to say I have never made trade with an Orion before. I might be a little out of my depth'.

'Possibly,' purred Vikstaad, 'but that never seems to have stopped either you or your Starfleet friends from pressing forward. as to why you have never traded with us before, maybe your credentials weren't sufficiently impressive to get you into this very exclusive club'.

Hawkins felt like he was the ball of wool, and Jaanz was the cat tossing him into the air as prey to be played with. Sadly if you were prey, this meant you would later be redesignated: Dinner. There was an opportunity here though, and if Orions always dealt in trade, perhaps this could work out. There was certainly an ego at play here, and Hawkins played to it.

'Thank you' Hawkins said, as the 'waitresses' arrived back with his drink. It was white wine, chilled and done to perfection. 'this certainly is am impressive club that you have, Mr Jaanz, and perfectly situated to get the best trade too. Quite an achievement to say this was once just a small bar'.

Jaanz looked at Hawkins. He was just so helpless at this minute, yet he was bluffing his way forwards with compliments. Jaanz felt there was no harm in telling his legitimate story. Jaanz's sixth sense said that Hawkins was trouble. and maybe by giving a little, Jaanz might gain more in return.

Jaanz had arrived along with the first colonists. He had helped to set the colony up, getting in supplies in return for aid in setting up his first businesses. There were already orions on the planet from where they had set up mining stations, so this was simply an extension of existing trading deals. The way of the orion was business, strictly business, and this was a colony that was ripe for deals.

Jaanz had established the Venus Bar, right in the middle of the colony. It was one of the first building established, and it was the largest. Given the fall out over the design of the government building, this soon became the unofficial parliament. Jaanz went on to describe how he had kept up the morale of the colonists. Even as the supply runs began to run dry, even as the drought started, it was his bar and his trade that ket the colonists hope up. It was this that had placed him well for the rebuilding of the colony.

'I have read all of the official texts on the colony, sadly your role has been overlooked. I'll have to look into correcting the history books'.

Jaanz nodded. 'Yes you should. It doesn't surprise me that the Federation doesn't want to reward an orion for helping a colony that was your responsibility. When the colony was left on its own, we stayed. Even when we should have left'.

Jaanz continued his story, telling how his trade deals had established his bar prominently and , such was the gratitude of the government of imbus, they allowed him to keep this central position for this new, larger club.

As the story went on, Hawkins hoped that he would be able to get away from the situation, but all that would happen was Jaanz sent for another drink. hawkins realised that Jaanz wanted him to stay. There was going to be a price asked for his freedom. Knowing Orions more than he let on, Hawkins knew that it was his position as captain of the Sheffield that was keeping him alive. Just as things were beginning to look ominous, Vikstaad's bodyguard stood to one side and let a figure join the meeting.

At first, Hawkins thought it was the 'waitresses' returning. Then the light caught the face of the woman. It was S'sana.

Lyran Chapter 2: Arms Trade

Specialist Asmund Thorirsson, Petty Officer, the Sociology and Political Sciences expert was continuing his analysis of the Lyran data that had been handed to him. Much of the information was fresh from the U.S.S. Fearless, the Excelsior class starship that was currently on a diplomatic mission to many of the Lyran duchies. The Fearless is now at the Lyran Democratic Republic- interesting he mused.

The Fearless logs were mentioning that the incidence of ‘Klingon technical advisers’ was at a higher level than had been seen for some time. The Courageous and Emden logs had noted a dip in these advisers after the pull-out from the Hydran Kingdom; a rise could indicate resumption of closer diplomatic ties between the Klingons and Lyrans. Thorirsson flagged up this information for the intelligence analysts down on deck nine.

One of the last ports of call for the U.S.S. Fearless was to Degomark in the Far Stars duchy; this was the newest duchy in the Lyran Star Empire and had grown comprehensively under the leadership of Duke Ruffiath I. The duke had arranged with the Emperor-king to have Klingon scout vessels pass through the duchy to explore the virgin space beyond their borders. This allowed the Lyrans to make use of the better Klingon sensor systems for mineralogy as well as making profit from the trade. For the Klingons this was a source of valuable minerals after the destruction of Praxis.

Payment from the Klingons came from the loan of ‘technical advisers’ and the sale of warships such as the Catbirds and the D-7T Koro class variants. The Treaty of Degomark was one of the more controversial political events of the Lyran Star Empire. The empire itself was not the most stable, due to the system of feudal leadership and the tendency of the Emperor-king to play one of his dukes off against the others. This often led to plots and the occasional skirmishes. The difficulty this time was that the system on the prior mission was beginning to insist time was running out for the emperor-king. One of the important things for this mission is to examine how accurate that proposal is, thought Asmund.

Specialist Thorirsson had studied the Lyrans in some detail on his last assignment on the Sheppey. The small Okinawa class patrol ship had given him plenty of opportunities to see the Lyrans up close. Asmund now looked through the details of the Treaty of Degomark as it flashed up on his screen, truth was that he could have recited much of it from memory- he just liked to do a visual check to be sure he got his facts right. It was thanks to this treaty that Duke Ruffiath I had improved his chances of succeeding the emperor-king from being a rank outsider to now being in contention.

The general fact file on the Lyrans scrolled on the screen in a column of its own. There was data on the Lyran physiology and the legendary Golden Fleet of warships as well. Asmund noted that Starfleet Intelligence had reported that the latest warships were the current catamaran designs converted into trimarans. A battleship design called the Lion class was rumoured to be under development. Asmund read that it had only been the smaller fleet units that had been involved in the recent skirmishes between the Enemy’s Blood and Foremost duchies. Some of these skirmishes had involved Klingon freighters, passing to and from the Far Stars duchy; occasionally these freighters had to defend themselves after being targeted.

The two Arch dukes were fighting each other for the throne and if the data was correct then the emperor-king needed to name a successor soon or his health might not last long enough. Should he die before naming a successor then there would be a free-for-all and all-out civil war. The Federation had recently commenced diplomatic relations with the Lyrans. Specialist Thorirsson read with interest that there were fresh reports of the Klingon Ambassador Kyrox being carpeted by the emperor-king. Kyrox had also been touring the duchies. Presumably smoothing things out after the Ferasan trade agreement, or are you trying to stop your allies from getting too friendly with the Fearless? He thought.

Bolmark, Red Claw duchy, Lyran Star Empire.

Ambassador Kyrox breathed in the air deeply as he walked down the ramp of his Catbird. Travelling on a Lyran variant of a Klingon design was odd, but Duke Altoroth V was keen to remind the ambassador of the traditionally close ties between the Red Claw duchy and the Klingon Empire.

“Kyrox – what brings you to my realm?” Altoroth V was a fairly martial looking Lyran, even by their standards. He had medals clearly on display, proud of his one-man war on the Ferasan.

“I am here to sample that Lyran blood wine vintage which you keep telling me will make me feel at home.” Kyrox greeted the duke as a brother. Unlike the Foremost duchy, that was more obsessed with Lyran tradition and pomp than with fighting their enemies. The Red Claw duchy considered themselves to be the frontline of the Lyran Star Empire. Their prime purpose was to fight their traditional enemy: the Ferasan.

The Bolmark palace was smaller than the Royal Palace, but had more heraldry and trophies than the Far Stars duchy had. The Red Claw duchy had been a loyal supporter of the Klingons, feeling that they had something in common with the Klingons in the form of their martial skills and mentality that you fought your enemies and spoke your mind. This shared common attitude was visible in the more relaxed nature of the exchange between the duke and the ambassador.

As he handed the ambassador a flagon of blood wine, the duke continued his conversation:

“I’m not the first to question your new trade agreement with the Ferasan but, as the duchy on the front line, I have to ask why?”

Kyrox took the flagon, took a swig, gave a satisfied half-nod then replied “Not bad, not bad at all. Do not worry yourself with the trade agreement. The empire needs to increase the supply levels of minerals to revive our industry and military. I am here because I wish to help our allies in the North of the Star Empire.”

This caught the attention of the Duke.

“Help us? In what way?”

“By saving you all from squabbling, when you should be fighting against the stagnation. The emperor-king has you all fighting each other. He seems to favour the Foremost Arch duke when all he will bring the Star Empire are promises to stay out of fighting the Ferasan or the Hydrans.”

“There has been no decision made on a successor…” the duke interrupted.

“…but there needs to be – and the right choice!” Kyrox countered.

The duke took a swig from his own flagon, full of the brew that was toxic to most humanoids, “Be careful not to embroil yourself into politics that do not concern you, Kyrox.”

The gentle warning went unheeded by the ambassador.

“The stability of our neighbours does concern us and the Lyran Star Empire concerns us the most. Kaarg wants to revitalise the alliance between our people. You have the minerals we need in the Far Stars duchy and we have the military-industrial complex to build whatever warships you require. I have approached the Enemy’s Blood duchy and am approaching you old friend to offer assistance to reach a solution which will aid us all.”

“The Emperor-king is no fool. He has the only shipyard capable of producing large capital ships and he will have spies to tell him of your deal-making.”

Kyrox nodded.

“We cannot stay aside any longer; with the Federation making overtures to your leader- this is yet another factor that risks you fighting policies restricting your actions rather than the Ferasan!” Kyrox spat out the word ‘policies’ like a foul-tasting morsel.

With that, Kyrox presented a PADD to the duke with his proposals on from Kaarg.

The duke scratched his chin, deep in thought “Audacious, daring… it might just work…”

Chapter 24: The Power of a Quiet Voice

Sickbay. This was in the heart of the Sheffield, a sterile area which was unusually absent of any smell, given the nature of what went on here. Monitors beeped and there was the occasional grunt or moan of a patient under the sheets of the biobeds. In this case it was Crewman Lomax who had managed to acquire a rather exotic version of the flu.

The Sheffield was an eclectic mix of the old and the new. The corridors were pretty much the original ones from the mid-2280s, whereas the Sickbay was state-of-the-art. Hawkins had requested when he took command that this was one of the areas to be modernised. Crewman Lomax rested in one of the intensive care beds, with a huge scanning device over the bed. This was the best medicare anywhere in the fleet, and it was Doctor Jobin A'ochak's residence.

Into this medical world entered the svelte form of Lieutenant Kara Fox. Kara was the chief communications officer, and she wore the furrowed brown of someone who wasn't happy. She looked around as she walked in, looking for A'ochak. The chief nursing officer, Savar, was walking from the ward with Lomax in, down to the laboratory with samples.

'Where's Doctor A'ochak?'

'He is in the operating theatre, he will be back in 1.3 minutes - he assured me'. Vulcans, always so precise.

Sure enough, the doors to the theatre opened precisely on time to reveal the Grazerite Chief Medical Officer. He had studied the medical records of all of the crew; Fox was one of the most interesting.

'Headache again?' asked A'ochak, barely pausing from exiting the theatre.

'Silly question' observed Fox. 'What else would it be?'

The Grazerite knew that there was very little that he could do. This was a chronic condition for Kara, sometimes it was worse than other times. When it was not so bad, he knew Fox could cope. On days like this, it required a little help. A'ochak was wise from experience, and wasn't afraid to give his opinion when circumstances demanded it. He played around the top of Kara's head with his medical scanner.

'Lie down here please'. He gestured to one of the diagnostic beds. Fox manoevred herself carefully onto the bed, aware that she was wearing the skirt version of the female Starfleet officer uniform. Once in place, the scanner played over the lieutenant, highlighting a profile of her on an adjacent screen.

'I see it's more of the usual problem', noted A'ochak, 'must really hurt in your mind like a sonofabitch. That doesn't give you a carte blanche to take it out on the other crew, mind you'.

Kara was about to object.

'I heard all about Cadet Walters, Lieutenant. I'd suggest an apology might be in order, after I've finished here'.

'I'm a professional bitch, what can I say?' half-joked Fox.

A'ochak pressed a few more buttons before inspecting the back of Kara's head. Under the luxurious length of Kara's red hair there was something hidden. This something was metallic and round. It was a dataport - a means of Kara connecting her mind to a computer. These devices weren't found very often in the Federation, but she wasn't a typical case. Lieutenant Fox was born on one of the outermost Federation colonies, and this colony hadn't had most of the luxuries that everywhere else took for granted. The dataport was a consequence of this background, and her youth.

A'ochak injected the side of Fox's neck. 'This should help a little. Anything more and I might interfere with your cybernetic-neuronal interface'.

'I guess that will have to help'.

'It will. I would be repeating myself to go over the root cause of your discomfort'.

Fox nodded a thank you and headed for the Sickbay door. The red hair hid the dataport well. The dataport hid more.

Chapter 25: It's not what you know...

S'sana looked at her mother. So much had changed since she had left her behind 25 years ago. In many respects, he didn't even recognise her mother. The emories were now so old, and the place that she had once called home was now long gone. All there was now was a penthouse suite and an unparallelled view of the city and surrounding scenary.

'You still haven't explained how you got all this', S'sana repeated, gesturing at all of the luxuries around her.

'I used to be a dancer in the Venus Bar. I used to meet all kinds of people from my work there. During the Great Drought, there really wasn't much in the people who visited. Occasionally there would be someone who worked at the mines and had resources, or nomadic traders who would come into town with their wares, prepared to spend their profits on a drink and a girl to dance for them. I used their needs. I traded with them: I would dance with them for supplies and wares that I wanted from them. It was a good arrangement, it kept food in our mouths.

'Then came the return of the outside world. That vulcan Sybok and his Galactic Army of Light came to Paradise and tore down the gates. Fom that point on the place was never the same. Sybok was smart - not surprising since he was a vulcan - he knew that if you held te represenatives hostage that they would send someone to free them. He achieved in less than a day what the represenatives themselves had failed to do in a decade'.

S'sana remembered returning to Paradise a short while after all of ther hostage drama. She hadn't seen any of this. S'sana had only heard the stories and rumours afterwards. S'zama continued her story.

'When the outsiders arrived, they discovered the poverty and hunger that they had left us to suffer. The dancing troupe which I was a part of consisted of orions, deltans, humans and even a caitian. All of us had to resort to extreme means to feed ourselves. Lucky for us that a dancer's costume doesn't consist of much. Rags is all we had. From the return of the outside universe, the planet began to revive. They were embarrassed by what they saw, of what their inaction had made'.

S'sana began to put together the pieces from what her mother was telling her. S'sana had left her mother and Paradise behind to start a new life with her husband. When this new life had tuerned to ashes, S'sana had returned to the home that she had left behind. The wreckage was what S'sana had found herself returning to. The Galactic Army of Light had stormed the township and made it their own. Barely days later the Enterprise-A had arrived and the army had been disbanded. After the argument with her mother when she returned home, S'sana was all set to leave the planet behind and start from a plain sheet. This she did. Not once for twenty-five years had she considered what she had left behind. Until now.

'Once the outsiders returned, there were far more opportunities. I made the most of the traders and charities that came to aleviate the suffering that they had caused by their own neglect'. S'zama had more than a trace of bitterness in her voice. 'The Federation, the klingons and romulans were far too busy fighting their own little cold wars and fighting over dilithium and all the other resources out there. What did we matter to them? I had gotten on through my wiles as an orion, but now I was going to get from them everything I could. I made connections to the syndicate and I intended to make the most of the situation. I did. Thanks to the assistance of the syndicate i was able to build myself up from being the lead dancer of a troupe up to being up here. Mistress of my own trading empire'. S'zama allowed herself a smile of satisfaction.

'Syndicate? The Orion syndicate? Mother you know the Federation doesn't approve of our methods'.

S'zama almost laughed when her daughter said 'our' methods. maybe this little head-to-head would get her more results than she thought. 'This isn't Federation space. This is simply a trading opportunity, a business deal waiting to happen. Sometimes there is good reason to go it alone. Other times it is best to synchronise your efforts with the larger whole. This was one of the latter. What was I suposed to do? deal over the whole planet?'

S'sana began to see a larger picture forming. One that her mother was being very careful to play down. The wealth that was all around her wasn't just the result of her mother's work. This was also the result of the intervention of the Orion syndicate. The syndicate was a most unique political structure. Whereas with the Klingon Empire or United Federation of Planets you were either born into that political structre or could be naturalised. With the Orion Syndicate you were either born into it or bought your way in. The only other way to be a part of the system was to be captured as a slave: an unwilling addition to the syndicate and its operations.

S'sana's mind worked over these thoughts as her mother cntinued to recall her achievements. This now made perfect sense. There was only one way that her mother could ascend from being a mere dancer to being an orion living in a penthouse suite, and that was through working with the syndicate to build her way up through trade. Business was the way that an Orion built themselves up in the eyes of the Orion Syndicate. the more trading relations you made, the more powerful you became. And as you made more deals, so the syndicate became more influential and powerful as a result. There must therefore be someone higher up the chain, and S'sana had an idea who that was.

'So tell me, mother. Who is your link to the syndicate on Nimbus?'

'Is that all you are bothered about?' S'zama almost seemed hurt at her daughter's question. 'Is this to be just about business, about Starfleet business, or did you return here to see your mother, your only family?'

S'sana felt a pang of guilt. 'I'm sorry. A force of habit, I guess. I did come here to see you. I have missed you, mother. I came back here because I wanted to rekindle the blood tie we have'.

S'zama embraced her daughter. 'And so you have my daughter. I have missed you, but fate has brought you back to me'. S'sana returned the hug.

By the late evening it was time for S'sana to go. She had to return to the ship soon, but there was somewhere else she had to go. One last place for answers. Parting from her mother had been hard this time, but at least with the family ties rejoined, she now had somewhere to go when she had shoreleave. That was a first for her.

There was this last call to make. It would answer some of the questions she now had in her mind. It was certain that her mother wouldn't give her any answers - she had done a good demonstration of evading the question - and family was a good topic to resurrect everytime. S'sana looked at the bouncers on the doorway to the Venus Club.

S'sana walked up to the bouncers. They parted and let her through with no hassle at all. Had her meeting with the proprieter oiled the system for future visits?

Once inside, S'sana walked past the dancing clubbers. As she looked around, she saw a familiar face at the bar, still there and chatting to the same woman that he had started the evening with. Something in S'sana's head told her not to react. The captain must be here. A quick, discreet flick of the eyes alerted S'sana to go upstairs. Funny, that was the way that she was going to go anyway.

After a few flights of stairs, S'sana was blocked by the form of Vikstaad Jaanz's personal bodyguard. He was about to turn her away when a discreet wave from Vikstaad was enough to tell him that she could pass. S'sana made her way past the striped minder to find herself facing Vikstaad at a table, apparently in the middle of some business deal. It was only when she got closer that she saw it was the captain.

Chapter ISC1: Relic

Chief medical officer’s log, Dr. A’ochak reporting:

My team and I have beamed down to the surface of Nimbus III to bring much needed medical supplies and our medical and nursing expertise to the more remote townships of the Federation sector. My team also includes a number of physical therapists and a counsellor, to administer holistic care to both mind and body. Whereas Paradise City has seen the focus of resources to upgrade the city and bring a lifestyle close to that enjoyed in the central worlds of the Federation, these townships are more like the Wild West settlements of 18th Century Earth.

Along with Savar and a handful of my staff we have now visited over a dozen of these 'shanty towns' and brought some relief to the generally sparse medical facilities we have encountered along the way. The routinised monotony of being transported from township to township has been broken by the stop at Dead man’s Drop. The transporter chief noted that for reasons he couldn’t isolate, these is a localised disruption field that seems to prevent the transporter getting a lock. Sensors do not seem, at first look, to suggest a geological reason for the disruptive effect. Mr O’Reilly has been despatched along with shuttlecraft Mappin to taxi us to the settlement and see if he can identify the cause of the problem. Whatever care we can deliver, is like a drop in the ocean to these people. What they need is investment, so they can secure their own future health.

Dead man’s Drop was like something out of a Western movie. The settlement was a collection of scruffy buildings with gaudy signs advertising their business and a saloon to wet the throat of the locals. The Mappin was parked in a quiet spot, allowing A’ochak and his team to disembark and head for what was referred to as the medical centre, which was little more than a general practice drop-in centre. O’Reilly poked his head out of the rear ramp of the shuttle, interrupting the medical team in their tracks.

“Before you go away healing the sick, Doctor, just a reminder that I’ll be trying to find the source of the interference around here. I might need to take the shuttle to help me triangulate.”

A’ochak looked at O’Reilly with his bovine eyes “Gauging by that landing, I’d say the interference reaches this far. That or your landing technique needs to be looked at by Mr Kyrre.”

“I’d like to see you land with half the systems on the frizz,” challenged the Irish chief engineer.

“I’ll have you know that ever since the Achilles I was able to fly a shuttle. I just prefer to be flown rather than be the flier” replied A’ochak wisely.

“Hopefully the Mappin will get this mystery solved quickly so you can get back to the ship without my expert bumpy touchdowns” O’Reilly said with a grin. The Mappin was a dedicated science shuttle with extra sensors on the exterior.

“I’ll be timing you” said A’ochak as he gestured his team to continue walking to the medical centre.

Dead man’s Drop was on the outskirts of the central badlands region of Nimbus III. After the Sybok incident the ecology of the planet was restored by years of careful aid, allowing the once-arid region to be a more tolerable savannah. The township was the first sign of life after the tall grasslands and blazing sun and a well-stocked medical centre was a wise precaution for the arrival of sick or injured visitors.

A’ochak was greeted by a leathery-faced Nimbosian native in a wide-brimmed hat. It turned out that this was the doctor. After exchanging greetings, the team entered the somewhat ramshackle building. Inside was a sight out of the history books with old 23rd Century medical scanners and tricorders, mixed with a smattering of modern equipment from aid boxes and some ancient looking alien devices, possibly even purpose made by the natives.

Back in the Mappin, O’Reilly was studying the sensor readings intently. His observations were interrupted periodically by muttered swearwords and furious corrective action input with lightning finger-presses. The display clearly showed the basic street plan of Dead man’s Drop and the surrounding geography. O’Reilly had to keep boosting power to the sensor arrays to cut through the interference, as well as working with the orbiting Sheffield to scan for the source.

“So you’re telling me your sensors aren’t detecting any geological reasons for the interference?” O’Reilly was querying with the geological officer, Ieuan Griffiths.

“There is a mine working just north of the town; this would be the most likely cause of any geological reason behind the interference. There is nothing special there, just the usual minerals like iron, gold and aluminium.”

The Welshman’s response seemed to pre-empt a discovery, as well as a disappointment.

“…but you found something?”

“Indeed- whilst scanning the mine and triangulating with your own sensors, the computer seems to be indicating that this is the source of your jamming. I recommend you pick me up and head there and we’ll find the cause of the problem.”

“Thanks Ieuan, I’ll be up there in a few minutes.”

“I’ll be waiting in shuttle bay two I haven’t seen a mine in months!” the lieutenant couldn’t hide the enthusiasm in his voice.

Once he had returned to the Sheffield to retrieve the Welsh geologist, it took only a few minutes for O’Reilly to pilot the Mappin to the entrance to the mine. The shuttle controls became increasingly unresponsive as it approached the destination and only some deft finger work managed to land the shuttle in one piece. The sensors on the Mappin confirmed what Griffiths had said, that the mine was the source of the interference. It was certainly at the highest levels here. The two of them looked at each other as O’Reilly shut down the engines, breathing a synchronised, long sigh of relief.

Griffiths got up from the co-pilot’s seat and retrieved the equipment that he had stowed in the back, including ropes, protective headgear and lights to see with. Records showed that the mines had fallen out of use during the late 70s during the Great Drought.

“I hope you have a head for heights,” said Griffiths with a wicked twinkle in his eyes.

“Standing next to a multi-storey warp reactor every day? I think so” retorted O’Reilly.

The two officers stepped out of the Mappin into the blazing sun. The mine looked deserted and boarded up, the signs in multiple languages were faded by the sun to the point of being illegible. Of what could be read, the labels suggested the mine was disused and a potential hazard to health if entered.

“A nice greeting,” observed Griffiths. “It says that there was a hazardous ore discovered and that the mine is now irradiated with dust.”

“You don’t believe it?”

“Well there is a source of ionising radiation, but it doesn’t match up with the mineralogical reason they have provided here,” said Ieuan, scanning in the direction of the mine with his geological tricorder.

“What are the levels like?”

“Within acceptable limits if we are down there for a short time. I wouldn’t set up camp down there.”

O’Reilly secured the shuttle and then the two officers donned their mining equipment, both checking each other before opening the entrance of the mine, stepping into the gloom and lighting their headlights.

The two men spent the better part of an hour searching the mine, creeping down long-disused passages and checking the integrity of the supporting props. The mine certainly looked safe enough and something was bugging Ieuan; if the mine had been disused for about forty years then there should have been some degradation? Illegal mining perhaps, he thought.

Tricorders sweeping ahead like metal-detectors, Griffiths and O’Reilly closed in on the source of the interference, struggling to get the tricorders to work in the environment. A faint thrumming noise was becoming audible in the passageway. The two men made for the noise as a substitute for the rapidly dysfunctional tricorders. Just as the levels reached their highest, they entered into a small chamber and the two of them stopped.

Across the other side of the chamber was an artefact which was thrumming with sequentially flashing lights and displays. O’Reilly and Griffiths were both unable to read the language, but O’Reilly recognised the font. The two of them ensured that they had positively identified the location of the chamber before they headed for the shuttle to get a clear signal to the Sheffield.

“O’Reilly to Sheffield.”

Sheffield here,” Ilani responded.

“Commander we have a problem here. We have identified the source of the interference here and it seems to be coming from a device in the nearby mines. I think it may be a communication-related system by the looks of it. I could do with Fox to have a look at it to be sure.”

“A communications device out in the wilderness? Whose is it?”

O’Reilly braced himself for the reaction. “I cannot read the language, but it is the language of the Interstellar Concordium.”

There was a long pause on the intercom, followed by the return of Ilani’s calm voice.

“Understood; I am sending down a shuttle with Arin Thera and her security operations team to secure the site. Kara will join you to translate the language I need to know what the device is doing now, what it has been doing, whether it is being used now and when the last person was onsite to maintain the system.”

“No problem, Commander. We’ll hold the fort until the cavalry arrives. O’Reilly out.”

No more than five minutes later, shuttle Sharman joined the Mappin. The rear ramp opened and a team of half a dozen Starfleet security operations personnel burst out and assembled at the bottom. Their leader, an Andorian female with strong features, walked along the line of security personnel, checking their outfits were impeccable and their kit was ready; this was Arin Thera.

The steely blue eyes of Thera regarded each of her team.

“You know the drill: we secure the site until we are relieved – no one and nothing gets past unless we are told it can pass. Everyone clear?”

“Yes ma’am!” they shouted in unison.

O’Reilly leaned in towards Fox “I guess they have had their fruit and vegetable quota for today,” he whispered.

Thera held O’Reilly in her gaze for a second. He couldn’t tell if she had overheard the comment but he didn’t want to find out.

Fox couldn’t quite hide a wry grin of amusement off her lips.

Lieutenant Griffiths led the combined team into the mine whilst a couple of security personnel stayed with the shuttles and set up a command and control base. Following the directions they had meticulously recorded, the group soon arrived at the ISC artefact. The security operations team scanned the cavern first to see who had been there last before O’Reilly and Griffiths had arrived. They carefully ran their tricorders over the artefact, being extra vigilant for booby-traps and any change in the operation of the device.

Kara Fox unconsciously bit her lower lip gently as she concentrated on scanning the device.

“It does appear to be a transmitter of some kind, Sean.”


“It seems to have an open link narrow-band transmission. The power needed to transmit to ISC space is what is probably creating the interference,” confirmed Fox.

“So the signs about radiation are a decoy?” O’Reilly asked.

Fox shrugged “It might be that the miners confused the radiation from the device with the radiation from the mine. It is also unlikely, however, that the miners would not have stumbled on this device, given its size and noise.”

“So the big question: is it a relic of the ISC pacification campaign or is it a more recent arrival?” Griffiths asked O’Reilly.

“Given the sophistication of ISC technology it is difficult to tell,” O’Reilly pointed out.

The Interstellar Concordium was a multitude of races from the far side of Romulan space. This group were an extreme pacifist version of the Federation, their guiding principals driving them to intervene in any aggressive act. Telepathic scans were a standard measure of determining the truth of the aggressive nature and the rights of individuals were seen as forfeit in the drive to stop all violence.

The Excelsior had first encountered the ISC in the Encebaran nebula on Stardate 9611.4, but their activities in Romulan space had been monitored for many months beforehand. The Interstellar Concordium had monitored the constant conflict and threat of conflicts between the Federation, Klingons, Romulans and their many neighbours. Outraged by this violence, the ISC had taken it upon them to end the fighting. Despite protests from the Federation that the recent Khitomer Accords had been a step in the right direction, the ISC insisted that enough was enough.

What followed was four years of sporadic fighting between the ISC and the races of the Beta Quadrant. The technological superiority of the Interstellar Concordium afforded them an advantage against the resident forces. Defeat only came when the ISC overstretched themselves against all of the races at once. The leaders were made to face a war crimes tribunal and an armistice line was established which the ISC were told never to cross lest a state of war be reinstated. Occupying the ISC was seen as against the spirit of the Prime Directive and the Federation considered the matter closed, although rumours of Klingon and Romulan ships taking retribution continued long after the conflict was resolved.

O’Reilly knew that Hawkins would want as much information as possible in his report; the ISC were a threat that made the Klingon resurgence and Romulan withdrawal fade in importance compared to the potential return of a threat force even more sophisticated than the Federation. ISC encryptions were notoriously difficult to break and their technology was difficult to understand. The options were that this was a relic from the 90s Pacification Campaign, a communications relay for use within the Beta Quadrant for communications today or a signals intelligence (SIGINT)/ electronic intelligence (ELINT) gathering device for spying on the delegates on Nimbus III – or further afield if the power of the device was more than expected…

Chapter ISC 4 - what I did in the war...

The news of an ISC device on the surface of Nimbus III made Commander Ilani ask the obvious question:

"As to the question of how long the device has been there, I would surmise that it has been there since the Treaty of Nimbus was signed."

"That was thirteen years ago" Hawkins noted, "so what would a communications relay doing there?"

Ilani steepled her fingers in thought.

"Perhaps it was placed to relay the ISC delegates' communications back to their home world in an undetectable manner. Or more likely it was monitoring the communications of the representatives in Paradise City ."

This made Hawkins sit up.

"So the ISC knew what the other parties were arguing for when they were setting out the treaty"


ISC war armistice, Earth year 2298

The armistice in August 2298 had stopped the fighting, but it was the Treaty of Nimbus of a year later that had finally ended the Pacification War. At that time the allied forces of Klingons, Romulans, Gorn and Federation forces had combined to drive the Concordium back to their home planet of Veltressa. The only remaining forces that the ISC could muster in the defence of ISC Prime-to use the planet's other title-were a handful of destroyers and frigates with one cruiser. The planet's defence satellites were the only additional weapons to defend the sole operational starbase of the ISC.

The Klingons tore through the ISC fleet, not waiting for the other allied ships to keep up; such was the fury of the Klingons at having their own space invaded.

The Romulans, ever the precise warriors, struck deliberately at the defence satellites before taking on the starbase, allowing the Klingons to continue in their reckless assault on the remaining ISC ships.

The Federation, as ever, attempted to keep the fragile alliance together, dividing their fleet to assist both the Klingons and Romulans equally in their attacks. The admirals were mindful of enforcing restraint on their partners before retaliation became genocide.

The Gorn followed the Romulans, sceptical of the copper-blooded former enemies and eager to resolve this war.

The Klingons had sent ahead their dreadnoughts and carriers to suppress the remaining ISC ships. Disruptor fire from a myriad of fighters and from the advanced L-24 battleships lit up the ISC ships with explosions as the returning fire barely slowed the warrior race down. Only stiff negotiating from Federation President Ra-ghoratreii to Chancellor Azetbur had reminded her there was no honour in annihilating a defeated enemy.

The firing had been deadly accurate, disarming and crippling most of the ISC ships, some of the smaller, weaker ones exploding in clouds of burning plasma. Explosions from the nearby defence satellites and the starbase confirmed that the Federation, Gorn and Romulan ships had also achieved their objectives in silencing the final defences of the Interstellar Concordium. Fleet Admiral Ashana Revell on the USS Independence knew she had to act swiftly to prevent the bloodlust turning into genocide. A planet-wide announcement was made demanding 'total and unconditional surrender'. The admiral knew any delay would allow the Klingon assault ships to begin unloading shock troops onto the planet surface and a massacre would surely follow.

Thankfully the parliament was quick in realising the war was over and a pre-written script of surrender was read out in return.

The allies had fooled the ISC forces with a dummy manoeuvre which made them think each major world would be taken in turn; instead a direct assault was made on ISC Prime to bring the war to a close as soon as possible. This ruse also meant the remnants of the ISC fleet was scattered throughout their space, along with the battle-damaged elements still in former-occupied allied territories.


For Lieutenant (junior grade) Nathaniel Hawkins, the ISC war had affected his career from the start. The cultural studies which normally concentrated on Klingons had now started studying the information coming in on the various races of the Interstellar Concordium. Information began to be forwarded from the Klingon and Romulan empires when the offer of Federation assistance was made.

Once the Federation was first approached by ISC ambassadors requesting the UFP joined in the name of peace, and later-once the membership request was rejected- when Starfleet began encountering ISC ships in their own right more information was obtained.

Through his connection with Commander Robert Carter, Hawkins was able to witness some of the interrogations with ISC prisoners captured during the myriad of encounters. Starfleet wanted as much information as possible on the aggressors, rather than the Klingon policy of killing any survivors. The Klingons had been hit hard as their cultural beliefs forbade surrender. A cataclysmic battle occurred in the Mempa sector with reports suggesting several fleets of Klingon warships had gone head to head with the main ISC fleet resulting in 'thousands of warships' destroyed as a result. The Klingons had prevailed-but at a cost.

The interrogations had taken place on Starbase 77, then a forward operating base in the Federation's war efforts. In one of the outlying buildings they were questioning prisoners with select scientific officers there to witness remotely on screens. One of the more memorable encounters was between Commander Carter and a Veltressa captain. Even normally, carter came across as a very confident, borderline arrogant, senior officer. His eyes missed nothing and his honesty was blunt. The Veltressa was sat on a plain chair behind a table. Carter circled the prisoner like a policeman in an interview, or a vulture circling its prey.

"So you state that you attacked the Federation starship Kinshasa as a result of her refusal to be pacified voluntarily. That this policy comes straight from your pre-conceptions that the Federation are a 'nation of barbarians', more inclined to pick a fight with her neighbours than to study life in all its forms peacefully? A fact-incidentally-that was made to your ambassadors by the Federation President three years ago."

The Veltressa was unmoved.

"Our emissaries went to your President to ask you to join the Interstellar Concordium and to renounce your violent ways. You rejected our request and persisted in fighting. In the defence of our realm we had no choice but to pacify you by force."

"'No choice'?" Carter had repeated, "I notice that you fail to mention that any membership of the Concordium would involve submission to the same telepathic policing that your own peoples are subjected to. Our own codes of ethics would forbid such a blatant violation of personal privacy."

"The innocent have nothing to hide…"

"…neither should the innocent be made to fear repression," countered Carter. After a moment's pause to let his point sink in, Commander Carter continued on a larger issue.

"You say that you came into the Beta Quadrant to bring peace to the region?"

"That's right."

Carter tipped his head fractionally as if calculating the response, although it was already on his tongue.

"We were on the path to peace a year before you arrived. You obviously had poor intelligence since the Khitomer Accords had been signed almost twelve months before you arrived. Were you so afraid that your neighbours could find peace together that you decided to start a war?"

A pause as the Veltressa thought.

"Well, did you?" Carter interrupted the calm to reiterate his point.

The Veltressa, separated deliberately from the other three members of his meskeen, took a few more seconds to answer. The mind games between Commander Robert Carter and the Veltressa captain had gone on for hours-and had many more still to go.

The lobed-headed captain then fixed Carter in his eyes before replying.

"I feel the thoughts of everyone in this room, behind the scanners and even your own arguments as you make them, 'Robert'. Your notions of peace are but a stalling tactic between the many wars that your race has fought for centuries; the Kzinti, the Klingons, the Romulans-your human race has been fighting ever since you left orbit of your precious planet Earth. Even as the United Federation of Planets you have continued to fight for over a century. Only by enforcement as we use can true and lasting peace be achieved. You talk of 'inalienable human rights' and 'personal privacy' yet your own people have spoken of 'the price of peace is eternal vigilance'. What is it to be, Robert? A sham peace as you described where so many compromises have to be made, or the true peace that only the ways of the Interstellar Concordium can bring?"

This was the first time that Hawkins had witnessed the dedication that the members of the ISC had to their values. Like a dark twin of the Federation, the ISC believed in similar values but enacted them in an entirely alien manner. Peace was enforced, security involved telepathic Thought Police and freedom was a concept full of exceptions when it clashed with the values of the Concordium. The Veltressa had probably been in his head, reading his mind as he was watching the interview with curiosity. Who was studying whom? He thought.

This experience observing interrogations and piecing together a picture of the Interstellar Concordium led to Hawkins being assigned to the USS Montrose as social sciences officer. Their mission was to study the ISC and learn about them to aid in the war effort as well as pioneering aid missions to the Klingon home world. One upshot of this assignment was that Hawkins continued to work for Commander Carter initially, and two of his best friends from the Academy were joining him: Sean O'Reilly in Engineering, and his old friend from his days on the sailing sloop Inspiration Will Kennedy, who would be in security.

Together the three of them would study different aspects of the ISC: the social, the technical and the tactical. During the latter stages of the war this allowed the Montrose and these officers to study ISC ships (or wrecks) close up, talk to survivors-often as they received medical attention-and even walk on some of the 200 worlds of the Concordium. Hawkins and the rest of the crew had the sometimes tough task of winning the hearts and minds of an enemy that was acting out of fear, fuelled by the propaganda that was fed down from their parliament that the Federation were barbarians. The often-ruthless behaviour of the Klingons and Romulans in the war did nothing to help in this matter.

By the time of the Battle of Veltressa, the Montrose was located towards the rear of the action, following the Romulan forces to Q'naabia rather than the main assault forces to ISC Prime. The mission would be to see if the Montrose could gain access to the ISC historical records and perhaps finally unlock their mysterious roots.


For then-Lieutenant Ilani the ISC had been an issue that had been brought to the fore right from the start. At the time of their appearance on stardate 9611.4 she was assigned as intelligence officer onboard the USS Courageous. The announcement from Starfleet intelligence on coded channels that a new superpower had made its presence known on the far side of Klingon and Romulan space made the Courageous change mission. For the past few years the Courageous-and before her the Emden -had monitored Klingon space and the changes that were taking place during the years of Kesh, Gorkon and now Azetbur. A message from a Rear Admiral in intelligence soon had the Courageous re-tasked to the far side of the Klingon Empire to both continue monitoring their original target, as well as looking at the new arrivals.

Initially the ISC ignored Federation space and concentrated their efforts on Gorn, Romulan and Klingon territories. This allowed the Courageous almost unhindered capability to watch the tactics of the ISC with little or no risk to them. The ISC had obviously done their research on the political and geographical details of the Beta Quadrant. It was only when the ISC sent representatives to Earth that the threat of the ISC was moved up to imminent.

As an intelligence officer familiar with the actual tactics of the ISC, Ilani found herself transferred frequently in the time leading up to confrontation with the ISC. These assignments included giving briefings at various starbases as well as starship assignments on vessels varying in size from Oberth class science vessels to Ark Royal class fleet carriers. The trick was to get the expertise of Ilani as forward placed as possible, examining logs, communications-encoding equipment and the likes as quickly as possible to enable Starfleet to glean information-and an advantage-from the wreckage. For much of this mission Ilani was assigned to Oberth class USS Marconi. The ship had been recently refitted with state-of-the-art communications equipment and yet was small enough to be disregarded by the ISC as a low-priority threat. The Marconi had been enhanced in terms of her sensors, warp and impulse power and was under orders to run at the first signs of danger.

The Marconi was part of the fleet assigned to Q'naabia, joining the Montrose and others in the assault. Like the Montrose, the Marconi was kept further back in the fleet whilst the larger capital ships such as the New Jersey, Missouri and Ocean met the remnants of the fleet defending Q'naabia. The Ark Royal and Ulysses class ships confronted their ISC counterparts, alongside the Romulan warbirds; the fight was as furious as it was brief-the ISC echelon tactics were now familiar and the allied forces had developed tactics to get around this. In addition the sheer numbers of allied ships soon reduced the Q'naabian forces to a mass of wreckage and disabled ships-the Romulans never quite got the idea of 'disabling fire'.

Once within transporter range the allies began to send down ground troops to suppress resistance, with the scientific teams behind them. The plan was to get the scientific 'techies' down onto the planet as quickly as possible to examine the wealth of development laboratories and manufacturing centres that dotted the frozen surface of Q'naabia. The chlorine atmosphere gave the planet a deceptively green tinge, but also required most of the away teams to wear environmental suits. It was this latter fact that was the root of the disaster that followed. Within a few minutes of the completion of the first wave of transportations disaster struck.

Communications channels suddenly became scrambled and those signals that did manage to get through were strangled gasps:

"Request emergency beam-out!"


For Ilani the mission started off as briefed; the team were beamed down some distance behind the ground troops, their mission was to find the mainframe for selected structures identified as laboratories from intelligence assets. The buildings themselves appeared to be of a moulded rock/crystalline structure which seamlessly fused with the hard blue-white ice of the surface of Q'naabia. The chlorine-rich atmosphere provided a greenish tint out of the faceplates of the environmental suits they all wore. The Marconi team stayed close together, the security operations elements of the group providing tactical cover for the intelligence and scientific members.

As the security personnel swept their phaser rifles to cover the way ahead, Ilani and the scientific team used tricorders to try and locate the mainframes. Ahead of them there was the occasional sound of gunfire as small pockets of resistance were stunned.

"In here."

Ilani pointed to a small side room, in it were a couple of terminals with peculiar symbols on the front: Q'naabian. Just as the others moved to follow the Deltan lieutenant a faint whining became audible. The sound rapidly grew in intensity, making the environmental suit vibrate sympathetically, especially around the faceplate area. Cracks suddenly started to appear in the faceplate of Ilani, making her gasp with surprise. As she whirled around to look at the others in her team she could see that they all were experiencing the same problem.

"Modulated sonic wave-it's attuned to the material of our…!"

The Andorian science crewman didn't complete the sentence as his faceplate cracked, allowing the poisonous chlorine atmosphere to start choking him. As Ilani processed the development and was reaching for the liquid suit repair kit in the leg pocket of her suit, so other members of the team found their faceplates shattering as the sound waves vibrated the crystalline visors to destruction.

"Get in here! Close the door!" Ilani ordered rapidly.

Ilani couldn't see who had managed to follow her order initially as she concentrated on getting the suit-fixing solution from her pocket, the tricorders quickly discarded. The door closed after what seemed like an eternity. With the repair fluid misting up her visor she was now blinded. The Deltan was alone with just the sound of her breathing in the helmet to keep her company.

In the aftermath report, it appeared that the Q'naabian waited for the ground troops to materialise, as expected. They then used a modulated sound wave to shatter the faceplates on the environmental suits, allowing the toxic atmosphere to choke the helpless troops. The Q'naabians must have had samples of the faceplates from salvaged starship fragments as other crystalline structures were unharmed. Casualty reports put the deaths in the hundreds, with thousands more suffering the effects of chlorine inhalation. The medical ships at the rear of the fleet were overwhelmed with the number of casualties and the ground offensive stalled immediately as a result.

Whilst the Federation forces worked on a technical solution, the Romulans opted for a more direct one; within minutes of the allied forces being evacuated, the Romulan warbirds targeted and levelled a dozen smaller cities on the surface. A demand was broadcast globally for the Q'naabians to surrender or the Romulans would continue until all of the resistance was vaporised. The plasma weapons proved to be effective in population elimination; however the frozen planet surface meant that the cities were reduced to a molten crater as the surface liquefied under the barrages.

After an hour or so the Q'naabian surrendered. It was readily apparent to them that their reinforcements would not arrive and the first reports from ISC Prime were that the capital world had been taken. Hawkins and his team on the Montrose got suited up, ready to beam down.

"I don't want anyone taking risks. I aren't in the habit of putting my life on the line needlessly, Alright?" Kennedy made his point as directly as possible in his Leeds accent.

"I'd hate you to actually earn your wages this week" Hawkins joked.

"I'd hate to see you have to actually work for once" Kennedy replied sarcastically.

At this point the stern face of Commander Darrien Scartine appeared at the transporter room door.

"Stow the humour, gentlemen. Remember: there may well be some of our people down there either injured or killed by the sonic blast earlier. Prioritise the wounded; we'll pick up the fallen later. Watch for the Romulans-they aren't happy. And stay frosty!"

Almost in unison everyone in the room acknowledged the order. Once in their suits they filed onto the transporter pads and the familiar whine and white-blue flare of the transporter beam

The group materialised in the same corridor section that Lieutenant Ilani had been in earlier. The corridor was much in the same condition as it was except for the horrific sight of lifeless environmental suit-clad personnel with their visors shattered; so many faces contorted in the throes of death-human, Romulan, Andorian, and Caitian: all had been suffocated by the chlorine as it invaded their lungs. Their eyes and nose streamed both tears and blood from the effects of the gas. It wasn't the first time Hawkins and his team had seen death, but it was the largest quantity.

Will Kennedy was on point, phaser rifle drawn; he was in no mood for confrontation after he saw the bodies. Many of them were in security uniforms just like him; perhaps some were classmates in the Academy.

"Life forms dead ahead!" Hawkins alerted the group as a couple of bulky reptilian Pronhoulites broke cover from behind the corner, rifles in hand; proving not all of the locals had surrendered.

"Got 'em, Skip" Kennedy noted as he expertly shot both of them down.

It was a hangover from the Academy that Kennedy called Hawkins 'Skip', short for 'Skipper'. Kennedy had been part of Hawkins' sailing team at the Academy. He'd helped the winning team in '97 and old habits died hard.

Hawkins continued to scan, quickly noting allied life signs in a small room to the right.

"Try in there, Will-friendlies."

"Okay Skip," Kennedy tried the door button to no avail, "it's stuck; locked form the inside."

"Mr Petersson if you please?" Hawkins directed the Danish engineering crewman to the door. On seeing O'Reilly's face he added with a smile "I'm saving you for later." The engineering enlisted Dane struggled for a few moments. The door was not locked but possibly was damaged, maybe from weapons fire. He didn't want to waste time in correcting the security officer's assessment; he just wanted to open the door before any more unfriendly security arrived. After a further minute or two the door opened ajar for a moment, then opened fully.

Inside there was a bundle of bodies on the floor-a couple of dead Korlivilar, one dead Starfleet scientist and a Romulan with another couple of Starfleet suits-one with what looked like suit repairing fluid all over it.

Chapter 26:'s who you know

Jaanz gestured over to S'sana with his big green hand. 'Come and join us, my dear'.

Hawkins kept his surprise to himself. As to why S'sana had come to join him, he didn't know. He was just glad for her company. Hopefully this trouble he was in, wouldn't draw her in as well. S'sana seemed remarkably calm. Hawkins was wondering still more when he remembered her personal history with this planet. Was there more to this than he knew?

'Thank you for helping me find my mother'. S'sana said simply to Jaanz.

'You're welcome, my dear. Your mother has been a good employee for a long time, I'm happy to see her family has been reunited'. he turned to Hawkins, 'I see your journey to this planet has been fruitful, commander'.

'I aim to please'. Hawkins replied with a half-smile, trying to diffuse the tension.

'I trust your mother has brought you up to date with everything you missed?' Jaanz purred.

'Indeed she has. Oh,' S'sana changed the topic slightly, 'Captain, Ilani has requested your presence back onboard for your meeting'.

Hawkins picked up the subliminal message. It was a cue for him to leave. Hawkins was unsure as to whether to leave his second officer here alone with Jaanz, but something told him that this wouldn't be a problem.

'Thank you, S'sana. Mr Jaanz, perhaps we can continue our coversation at a later date?' Hawkins offered his hand.

Jaanz grasped Hawkins' offered hand and crushed it in a tight handshake. 'I'm sure we can'. A smile suggested that Jaanz was enjoying this, and that he was far more interested in the new arrival. Hawkins was a plaything that he could resume with anytime.

Hawkins nodded to Vikstaad and walked away from the table. Jaanz's bodyguard stepped aside without a word. Hawkins walked down the stairs into the crowd and was gone.

Once Hawkins had gone, S'sana turned to Jaanz. 'You might be the head of the syndicate on Nimbus, but the captain is my responsibility'.


'My mother didn't tell me everything, but I guessed enough to know that you are the main businessman here on Nimbus. nothing happens here without either your say-so or your involvement. When my mother suggested that she built up a trading empire on Nimbus, and that she had Syndicate help, I came to the main Orion presence here on Nimbus. Here. I guess you are my mother's partner'.

'You could say that'. pured Jaanz. He was enjoying this. Power was an aphrodisiac to him, and control was an expression of power. The way that the plight of S'sana's mother controlled her actions was pleasing to him.

* * *

Elsewhere in the bar was the mind. The mind that was seeing and feeling all. The mind was feeling the emotions all around, the sea of emotions which were so intoxicating. There were so many thoughts filling the club - erotic thoughts, violent thoughts, wants, needs, loves and hatred. It was so dizzy to flow through the thoughts of so many people. Some hid their thoughts well, whereas others were as easy to see as a neon sign.

Seeing through the eyes of others, hearing through the ears of others - all were disorientating to most. This mind had done it before, so many times. It was so much easier than before, and the rush just got wilder and wilder as so many alien thoughts and emotions washed over him. It was hard to keep his mission in mind as the thoughts and feelings intruded and washed over his neurones. It was feeling what others felt, seeing what they saw. Nothing deep, just washing over the surface thoughts of all the minds around. The affective sea all around him...

* * *

Hawkins headed down the stairs. He was aware of the club security would be following him like a hawk, so he decided to play along to S'sana's improvised plan. A slight lock of gaze with a subtle flat-hand gesture near the bar made sure that contingencies would stay in play for now. Hawkins made it to the open air, breathing in the cool fresh air like a drowning man who just made it to dry land. He was convinced there was more going on here than met the eye. The meeting - actually one planned for the following morning with St John Talbot - would prove interesting. A blue sparkle of the transporter later and Hawkins was back on the Sheffield.

* * *

S'sana looked at Jaanz. 'Look at you. King of your domain. I'd bet that this club isn't the extent of your empire either'.

'An Orion always looks out for the next business deal, S'sana. The club is only one of the deals I have secured - and I always look out for more. Every deal brings trade, every trade brings influence and influence brings power - that is the way of the Orion'.

S'sana managed a smile with Jaanz, as she grabbed a drink that a silent waiter placed in her hand. 'You sound just like my mother. Ever since I can remember, she always taught me about what it was to be an orion. How business is all-important. I always saw her as just a dancer in your club, I never realised until I met her again, how by following the Orion ethos she had built herself up. She must have learned a lot from her time here with you'.

Jaanz smiled. He could only guess at any deal made between S'sana and her mother. He would have to find out later what was said exactly. For now, he would play along with her. This was his club and he was safe here. 'I trust that you understand how your mother worked so hard to build her business links up? Business is everything, S'sana, and I dislike complications in my trade associations'.

S'sana detected the slightest hint of a warning in the voice. She kept her voice low, but firm as she replied. 'My mother and I have an understanding. The best way to keep 'complications' out of your business dealings is if you leave the captain to me'.

Chapter 27: Just One Final Question...

Captain Nathaniel Hawkins looked at himself in the mirror. It wasn't everyday that he got to wear his dress uniform with all the associated ribbons and medals - to be honest it embarrassed him a little - but this was one of those few occasions when Starfleet protocol said he should dress formally. It was the dinner with Ambassador St John Talbot which his Executive Officer and himself were formally invited. This was Starfleet protocol at its best - or worst - depending on your viewpoint.

Straightening medals and ribbons just felt too much like a bad attack of self-pride to Hawkins. It didn't stop him doing it though. Now that he had finally made commanding officer, this would be a more common occurance, he thought to himself. He stopped for a second and looked at himself. It had taken a lot of persuasion from former comanding officers and superiors to swicth his uniform from sciences grey to command white. In his heart he was always going to be a psychologist, he would justify it to himself by arguing this was just his 'big psychology department in space'. He took that comment from his old friend Captain Samuel Hunter of the sister ship U.S.S. Venerable, when Hunter argued that was what Hawkins was turning the Sheffield into. Hawkins had smiled and replied 'That's exactly what it is' with a cheeky wink.

Hawkins walked round to his Executive Officer's quarters, chimed the door and then entered when prompted. Ilani was finishing putting on her dress uniform. Ilani had opted for the skirt version of the uniform, 'Exploiting my femininity is not something a deltan is worried about', she said, with a smile. Hawkins noted that the officer's uniform did not flater the female form as well as it could, but Ilani still looked stuning. That said, Hawkins was certain that Ilani would look stunning in anything. he also observed that Ilani had apparently more medals and ribbons than he did. Given her career was longer in Starfleet and the skill of Ilani, this wasn't a big surprise to Hawkins.

'Are you ready, Lieutenant Commander?'

'Always'. replied Ilani with a smile.

* * *

The ambassador's dining room was as splendid as one could ever hope for. There were crystal chandelliers, big windows and a long table all served up with food. Although there were only three people eating in the meal, there was still the presence of the diplomatic waiting staff. St John Talbot had groomed his beard and hair into a more presentable style, he had even changed into a brand new suit for the occasion. He greeted his two guests and gestured for them to sit down.

The meal was started with a starter of exotic fruit salad, before the main course was started with wine served alongside to wet the palate.

'I trust that you both have enjoyed your visit to Nimbus III, and that you will come back soon?' Talbot asked.

Ilani nodded gracefully to the question. She sensed an emotion in Hawkins and stayed quiet. Hawkins decided to reply to the question in detail.

'I have studied this colony since I was at school. I found the idea of having a colony where Klingons, Romulans and Federation members can all co-exist peacefully was compelling. At the time it seemed more than just a pipedream, it was a fantasy, but you and the other architects of this colony had a vision. You kept together and this colony now serves to be your legacy'.

Talbot toasted to Hawkins with his wine glass. 'You are too kind, Commander. This colony hasn't achieved perfection yet, but we are working on it. Did you managed to talk to the other representatives and get their perspectives? I know that you were eager to talk to them'.

'Sadly I didn't get as much out of them as I'd hoped. I found Commander K'thruud to be a less than communicative individual. Seems he doesn't like Federation types. I'd have liked to have gotten the chance to talk to Koord'. Hawkins tailed off at that point.

Talbot picked up on Hawkins' sentiment. 'Indeed. I miss him'. A pause for a second. 'I'm not surprised the good commander didn't talk to you. He isn't the most chatty person. I found that the klingons have become invigourated since the inauguration of Chancellor Kaarg. The klingons have found themselves again. They also seem to have found a little bit of their old arrogance, and that is a shame. Did you find out anything more on your investigation of Koord?'

'Nothing firm,' offered Ilani, 'but our investigation has a possible theory. We are still seeing if there is any supporting evidence. The klingons have not been forthcoming'.

'A theory? You have the name of a House responsible?'

'I do not think it was a House. I think it was a Ch'ramaki'. Ilani's reply silenced the room for a second.

'Good God'. Talkbot needed another refil of wine as he rapidly finished his current one in his shock. 'I knew the Ch'ramaki were resisting the klingons annexing their world, I even know they were implicated for the destruction of Kronos One five years ago. I never realised they could reach this far into space?'

'They couldn't'. Ilani replied casually, between eating the rich green salad on her plate, 'They would have required help, most likely'.

Talbot was captivated by the theory coming out. 'Any ideas who helped them?'

'No'. Hawkins was polite, but slammed the door shut on the debate before it gave way to speculation. 'We will let you know as soon as we know for sure'. he added, smiling courteously.

'Of course. How was your chat with the good ambassador Dar?'

Hawkins couldn't help but smile. 'It was quite a challenge. I found her an interesting person to talk to. It was like sparring in a mirror, I felt like she was trying to get more out of me than I was trying to get out of her. It was interesting to get her insight into the development of the colony since the Sybok incident, although it was as if the whole Romulan Star Empire was cloaked. She evaded every question on the matter'.

Talbot chuckled. 'Sounds like you got more out of her than most would. A quarter of a century ago I thought I knew Caithlin Dar. She was a fresh breath of air into this colony, arriving just as the colony resurrected itself from the ashes. I consider her to have been the herald of new fortune for this colony. Now, I really don't know anymore. Things got tense in the five years leading up to Tomed, then it all went dead. I didn't see Caithlin for months, and then when I did it was as if the empire no longer existed. Now she just deals with colony issues, anything else is seen as irrelevant to her. I suspect there are Tal Shiar agents making sure she keeps her silence on the matter'.

'I suspect you're right'. Hawkins noted.

The dessert arrived. Hawkins was helpless at the sight of the hot chocolate fudge cake. 'Another gym session beckons' he thought to hmself. Ilani helped herself to a lemon mousse, whilst St John Talbot helped himself to the cake with Irish Cream in it. 'Smells like there is a lot of alcohol in it', thought Ilani.

'I see the orions are doing well here'. Observed Hawkins. 'Mr Jaanz has an impressive club here. Certainly seems to be the heart and soul of the city. I guess you could say it is a hub of activity'.

'Mr Jaanz has helped keep morale on this colony high through good times and bad. His club has become one of the biggest selling points of this colony'.

Hawkins noted the smile accompanying this comment. Interesting. He thought hard that Ilani shouldn't comment on whatever she sensed.

All too soon, the meal was over. It was time to leave once again.

'Thank you again'. smiled St John Talbot, firmly shaking Hawkins' hand and kissing Ilani on the cheek.

'You were right about one thing, there definitely is a case of the 'haves' and the 'have-nots'', noted Hawkins to Talbot, 'It has helped a lot in our preliminary enquiries. Thank you'. Hawkins smiled pleasantly.

Then just as he was about to leave the door, Hawkins stopped as if he had forgotten something. 'I can't remember if I already asked you this or not, but you never told me how did this colony survive for ten years of the great drought without supply runs?'

Talbot seemed a little taken aback by this question, then he answered 'Well as I said before, it was a case of surviving day-by-day. It wasn't easy and we had to be resourceful - think outside of the box'.

Hawkins nodded and gave an understanding smile. 'Come on Lieutenant Commander, we have a ship to get to'.

* * *

Back on the U.S.S. Sheffield, Ilani turned to Hawkins. 'He's lying. Or at least he is hiding something. Your final question embarrassed him. He felt guilty'.

'I know'.

'Then why didnt you do anything?'

'There is an old Earth saying: Give a man enough rope and he will hang himself. I don't just want answers from Talbot, I want anyone else involved'.

Ilani looked whistful. 'It is a shame that you didn't get any more information'.

'I did'.

Ilani looked at Hawkins. 'You held out on Ambassador Talbot?'

'Yes'. Smirked Hawkins fractionally. 'You think I'm going to reveal my hand? I had Mr Hirst keep an eye on the Venus Club for the duration of my visit. He's an incorrigable womaniser anyway, so he needed no hints as to what cover to have. Hirst kept tabs on three people for me: Commander K'thruud, Ambassador Dar and Vikstaad Jaanz. He kept an eye on who they spoke to and where they went. It seems the good commander was eager to meet up with another commander after I left him. I must have delayed the meeting. Hirst wasn't close enough to hear what was said, but he said the new arrival wore the markings of a starship commander. I wouldn't be surprised if we have company up here. Cloaked company. As for Ambassador Dar, Hirst said that she was tailed around the club. Tal Shiar he suspects, as he had to cut off his observations. They were too good'.

'Anything else you neglected to tell me, sir?' Ilani asked. The smile was there but Hawkins knew he had to spill the beans.

'I had Mr Tal Reno hide amongst the dancefloor clubbers. I got him to 'do his thing''.

'You asked a man with a history of empathic addiction to sense his way around a night club?'

Hawkins nodded. 'I needed him'.

'You ordered him?'

'I asked him. It turns out that Caithlin Dar was frightened when I was questioning her. As for the guy tailing her, he was empathically blank - which reinforces the Tal Shiar theory. The interesting thing was our friend Vikstaad Jaanz. He was very interested in me, Mr Reno thinks I was seem as some kind of threat at some level. A danger. But what interests me more is that Mr Jaanz was far more interested when Commander S'sana arrived on the scene. There's more here than just a family reunion. I feel it'.

'I thought Mr Reno and myself are the telempaths here?' joked Ilani.

'There's more going on here on Nimbus III than we are seeing - pieces of the puzzle are on the table - and it's up to us to make sense of it all. Whatever the outcome, with the guilt of Talbot and the intregue of Mr Jaanz, we will be returning here'.

* * *

The large figure in the shadows blotted out some of the light in the penthouse apartment. S'zama looked at the figure.

'How much did you tell your daughter?' the figure asked, in their usual silky voice. ' She seemed adamant that the captain was her responsibility. Is she onboard?'

'Not yet, but I think she will be soon'.

'Do you think she guessed the truth between our business relationship?'

S'zama shook her head. 'No. She knows the truth of her conception, not of your part'.

'Good'. said Vikstaad Jaanz, stepping out into the room. 'We have to be careful with this one. We don't want to spoil a very lucrative business opportunity...'

Chapter 28: Conspiracy of Three

Nathaniel Hawkins reclined in his chair behind his desk in his Ready Room. Hawkins preferred to be on the Bridge in the middle of the action. There were other times, however, when Hawkins preferred the solitude of his Ready Room. A Captain's Ready Room reflects something of the personality of the man. Amongst the models of previous starships served upon: the Potemkin, Ballard, Monarch, Montrose and Blazer and paintings of the various namesakes of the Sheffield, there was also an impressive collection of books. Hawkins was nothing if not a prolific bookworm.

The Ready Room was also one place where Hawkins could let his formality slide a little and relax his guard. As he sat back in his chair, Hawkins wore his more relaxed "Bomber Jacket" uniform. He had just put down his prized copy of H.G. Wells' "The War of the Worlds" and was sharing a cup of tea with his X.O., Commander Ilani. The Deltan First Officer and Hawkins had many one-to-one meetings, this was a part of being at the top of the chain-of-command. This first mission had raised a lot of questions.

Ilani put her cup down on the desk.

"So you are convinced that there is more going on here than face value suggests?" she asked.

"More than ever. And you know it." It always amused Hawkins when people asked questions they already knew the answers to. Ilani, being fro a Starfleet Intelligence (S.I.) background, was prone to probing and looking at the results. It was probably an unconscious hangover from those classified years.

The door chimed.


Lieutenant Commander S'sana entered the room and sat down next to Ilani. "Not too late I hope?"

"Not at all." Hawkins gestured at the tea on the desk.

Ilani poured S'sana a fresh cup of tea, before the meeting recommenced.

"Now that the three of us are together, I think we need to compare notes on this first mission. We all know," Hawkins noted with a smirk "that this mission is known in the scuttlebutt as 'Hawkins' Folly'. This first part of our voyage has illustrated clearly that there is truth in the theory that there are more influences in the Beta Quadrant than just the Romulans and Klingons.

"Our sponsors for this mission include: Starfleet Intelligence, Starfleet Security and the Federation Science Council, to name but three. This trio of sponsorship alone shows a belief in high places that there was some truth in this theory. The assignment of the two of you to this ship was as a result of the shared belief by Vice Admiral Hudson.

"Commander Ilani, your assignment here has many benefits. You served on the Emden and Courageous, performing a similar mission to the one we are on now. A comparison between those missions and our data should prove insightful."

Hawkins continued the meeting whilst at the back of his mind his thoughts turned to address Lieutenant Commander S'sana. The Second Officer and Operations Manager was the left hand woman of the command structure. Ilani had brought S'sana aboard the Sheffield S'sana had found it hard to come to terms with her nature. It was this nature that had shaped S'sana's career so far and it was also her unique nature that had brought her to the Sheffield. There was more to S'sana than all but the people in the room knew. Captain Hawkins had been in a situation in the Venus Club. S'sana had appeared at an advantageous moment and had used some apparent influence to gain Hawkins his freedom. Hawkins talked next in the meeting about the observations the team had made on this mission, deliberately leaving the topic of S'sana until last.

The meeting covered the meetings with Talbot, and the revelations about the death of Ambassador Koord. Next was the meetings in the Venus Bar with the Klingon and Romulan representatives. These meetings had not been overly fruitful, but then there was much to be said about the words that were left unspoken and the acts of certain individuals around them. These meetings had been off-the-record and aimed at finding out about the people themselves as much as it was to find answers to questions. Ilani's observations were enlightening about her powerful intelligence and extensive knowledge. She was able to being together information that was on occasions so divergent.

"The Ch'ramaki must be our next focus, Captain. The Klingons blatantly covered up that the assassin of Koord was a non-Klingon. The Ch'ramaki revelation has many aspects that do not feel right. I have dealt with the Klingons on many occasions and the Ch'ramaki, although aggrieved, do not have the resources to have pulled this off. There is more to this than we are seeing. I have my intelligence team working on this right now."

The final piece of the puzzle to ponder was the Orion factor. This was always going to be the hardest part of Nimbus III to examine. This was where S'sana came into the mission. Ilani knew this and that is why she brought S'sana aboard.

"Finally, we come to the Orion presence on Nimbus III. When I was approached about this mission, whilst on the Courageous, I had to decide how to get answers from the Orion Syndicate - an organisation we know who execute spies and informers as an example." Ilani turned to S'sana. "You agreed to return to your home and see what you could learn."

"..apparently you discovered a few home truths. I was a witness to a glimmer of the truth. Jaanz has more influence on Nimbus III than even Starfleet Intelligence have ever suspected." Hawkins added.

S'sana finished her drink. This was very personal to her. Ilani could sense the maelstrom of emotion welling up in S'sana. A subtle hand on the shoulder and concentration helped S'sana's maelstrom to subside. Homecoming was always a revelation, but for S'sana it had given her a glimpse of the life she had left behind, the life she had denied herself and an alternative possibility of the future.

"It wasn't until we arrived in the Nimbus System that my original briefing on the Courageous came back to me. I had buried my past. Buried it, you understand? now you wanted me to do the one thing I hadn't had the courage to do in twenty-five years - to go home and face the family I walked away from, friends I turned my back on and a path I chose not to follow. You wanted me to go back and face all of those things."

S'sana hadn't looked either of the others in the eyes as she gave her report. This had been haunting for her for some time - and had given her sleepless nights as the trips to sickbay had proved.

"Try to relax, Commander. Go on." Ilani could sense the raw emotions bubbling under the surface, barely concealed under the mask of professionalism.

S'sana had been recruited by Ilani in much the usual manner that Starfleet Intelligence recruited their agents. It was because of Starfleet Intelligence that S'sana had managed to gain entry into Starfleet Academy, despite some questionable scores on her psyche profiling concerning her Romulan emotionality. S.I. could see the possible benefits of S'sana being in the fleet. Besides, her scores for pure intellect and emotional intelligence were exceptional. Starfleet Intelligence arranged for some 'additional training' on her emotion and waited in the wings. S'sana had been recruited by Ilani to be a double agent - to go to Nimbus III as a daughter looking to rediscover her roots, whilst learning about the Orion Syndicate. Her honesty about being in Starfleet was a gamble, but S'sana was good. very good.

"How do you think a half-Romulan, half-Orion from a non-Federation world passed so easily into the Academy? Did you think the recommendations of a Starfleet Captain would open all the doors for you? You wanted to change your life through Starfleet and now Starfleet simply wants to learn from you to protect that ideal you sought. You rejected your heritage but it is because of people you know who haven't rejected that path that now threaten the Federation. We need your help."

S'sana remembered Ilani's speech on the Courageous, appealing to S'sana's loyalty to the uniform and working on her decision to reject her past. Starfleet Intelligence had ensured S'sana had goten what she wanted - Federation citizenship and a place on the officer Training Program at Starfleet Academy. A chance at a new start and a new life. S'sana had to then prove herself at the Academy, which she did with honours - graduating in the top quarter of her class. What Starfleet Intelligence now wanted S'sana to do was to protect that very ideal she had escaped to join. This wasn't about betraying old friends, it was about protecting her new ones. Starfleet had been good to S'sana and she had built herself a career. She was now a Second Officer. This was just a small repayment in kind, a mission just like the others. A mission for answers, for the truth. She just didn't fully realise there was personal truth involved as well.

S'sana continued where she left off, her emotions back in control with Ilani's subtle help. "It was strange being home again among people I hadn't seen in a quarter of a century. I've seen things I never saw before. I have a different perspective now. There is an underground market on Nimbus III. Being back brought memories to the surface which I had buried along with my past. Jaanz is a big part of things, but I cannot yet prove how. Even my mother was part of this blackmarket system."

S'sana poured herself some more tea. She let the cup steam as she recalled what she had seen, before sipping on the tea and continuing. Tea really did help. Those crazy human notions had a grain of truth in them. Rather like her past.

"It turned out that old friends are now a part of the system. They let me know that Jaanz's club was the place to go for some action. I figured you would go there and get yourself into trouble. Seems I was right. I also remembered Jaanz always liked me and in Orion society you could use the human expression that 'it is the women who wear the trousers'. I figured Jaanz would listen to me. It worked. Afterwards, I managed to talk to Jaanz and I get the feeling he wants to speak to me more about the past, and maybe the future. Ilani and I are working on an opening to find out more."

"It is best to take it slowly, to avoid suspicion." added Ilani. "We are fortunate that Jaanz has an interest in S'sana. From what S'sana has spoken of, there is more going on here than first impressions suggest.."

"..and then we have Talbot and the Klingons with their secrets. The Romulans, too. It seems everyone has a secret on Nimbus III and no one is what they appear to be." noted Hawkins.

"You can say that again." added S'sana.

I think we have sufficient information to be getting on with. We also have the first pieces of the puzzle, but no idea how they fit together yet. We will come back to Nimbus III when we are ready. Until then, carry on with the Jaanz link and the Ch'ramaki lead. we'll be back this way again and then - checkmate."

Chapter 29: Breathing Room

The Venus Club was the location of many business deals. Most of them were monitored by the Orion running the club, Vikstaad Jaanz. This was not a concern of the Klingon representative, nor of his guest. The Orion might overhear what was said, might get forewarning of what was to come, but he would be bled and skinned like an animal before he told anyone.

Commander K'thruud had rid himself of that annoying human and was now ready to talk to his guest. It had been odd how the human had known about his history. Perhaps he was a spy? or perhaps he was Starfleet? No matter. He was gone from sight now and the background noise from the club would sabotage any attempts for spying devices to listen in.

K'thruud's guest arrived. A tall, muscular klingons with insignia and markings on his uniform to denote a warship commander of the imperial klingon defence force. The guest had a long mane of black hair, matched only by the fire in his eyes. 'Are you sure this is a wise place for us to talk, Commander? It seems that even you get harrassed by humans here'. The last note was said with more than a subtle hint of derision.

'Remember your place, commander. Your family has spent decades earning its honour back, do not hasten the demise of your House, again'.

The guest seemed to lose a little of his bravado at this painful reminder.

K'thruud handed the new arrival a data chip. 'This is your new assignment. You are to proceed to the Nirophia sector. We have learned that the Federation are sending a small task force there to secure the sector for their own purposes. The Chancellor and the High Council agree that this is unacceptable. We need resources to revive the empire after the decades of disaster of Praxis and Azetbur. You are to locate the resources the empire needs and secure the worlds first. The Federation Council, as weak as it always is, will have to bow down to interstellar law and allow us the rights to the worlds'.

'What about honour? You promised my House honour once more?'

A shrewd smile formed on K'thruud's face. 'You will have all the honour you need. It is neutral space - nothing will stop you from fighting our enemies and gaining intelligence for us to retake the Hydran sector. It is justa question of time. Kaarg wants the empire to be great again, and we will not allow the Federation to get in the way of this'.

K'thruud and his guest drank bloodwine into the early hours before the guest rose to leave. He checked his armour to ensure the data disc was still there. It was. Satisfaction filled his heart for the first time in a long time. It had been generations since his family had honour. It was now his turn to regain the family titles on the High Council. This would be his mission. The D-7 he had was old and delapidated, but the crew was loyal to his House and to him.

The Commander had allies, yes. They had a lower profile these days, frightened off by that show of strength last year. No matter. This would be the time for him to achieve his goals. Alone if needs be. Once more his family honour would be restored, once more - Kahless willing - they would have a seat on the High Council. Once more the empire would speak aloud the name of the House of Karax.

Chapter LY3


Social Sciences department, Deck Three, U.S.S. Sheffield.

Lieutenant Commander Judith Peers walked over to the workplace where Specialist Asmund Thorirsson was working hard on the initial sociological study of the Lyran Star Empire. Her face was one of concentration as she brought two mugs of steaming tea over with her, both of them in white mugs branded with the U.S.S. Sheffield.

“Here you go,” Peers said, depositing the mug next to the workstation, “how’s the study going? Have you looked at the general social mechanisms of Lyran society?”

“I have been entering the data that you gave me, ma’am. There’s quite a bit of it.”

Peers nodded with a slight smile “Well there’s some really good information fresh in from the Fearless that could help you sharpen up your scattergrams.”

The svelte officer looked at the displays which had taken over many of the screens. She flicked her blonde hair back into place unconsciously as she studied what the screens were saying.

“Not bad, not bad at all, Specialist.”

“Thanks Ma’am.”

The Lyran political system was a feudal one, with counts running the systems and dukes running the duchies. Each count raised taxes from the trade that their system achieved, with a set amount going to the duke and the leftover profits going to the count and his family. The Dukes, counts and their families were all closely related by blood, creating a stratified society of nobility with commoners beneath them.

Corruption and nepotism was rife with the Lyrans, finances were often siphoned off to fund estates and luxury holiday retreats whilst the general populace made do with much less. The counts did their best to keep the populace content with acts of generosity and public holidays, whilst calling on them to fight for whatever cause the duke’s need required. Loyalty was to the count and the duke; this was often a subscription to fight whatever power games the duke was playing in order to curry favour with the royal court.

Unrest was something that was always a fear with the counts and dukes, especially after the Dark Star County revolted and killed their count and his family. Count Zehrk was more corrupt than most, the administrators who ran the county- but who were not members of the count’s family- lost their patience with the rot within their leadership. They conspired to get the count and his family all together for the annual holiday and then killed them all. With all the family dead, including the children, there could be no successor to resume the corruption. This became the Lyran Democratic Republic.

The Lyran Democratic Republic was described as having much in common with the Holy Roman Empire: where the latter was neither holy nor Roman, the Lyran Democratic Republic was described as being neither democratic nor a republic. The LDR was formed when the Dark Star County broke away from the Enemy’s Blood duchy to form the DDSC or Democratic Dark Star County. This entity was led by a Chairman instead of a duke and this bold individual was named Chairman Mithau.

The declaration of independence was made possible only by a combination of factors: the DDSC weakened the then overly-powerful Enemy’s Blood duchy and the Emperor-king supported the levelling of the playing field for the other duchies. With the Royal warrant protecting it and the support of the other dukes, the DDSC became an entity that survived because it was useful.

After the Hydrans declared themselves liberated, the Lyran Democratic Republic was used as a neutral port for both the repair of ships and exchange of prisoners. There was even a brief skirmish with the Klingons, although this was later played down by both sides.

What Specialist Thorirsson found astounding was that this Republic, although run essentially as a dictatorship with a supporting committee was more stable than the surrounding feudal Star Empire. Although the LDR had only the minimal port facilities of an average county of the Lyrans, the independent neutral status that it enjoyed attracted the Orion syndicate to do ‘trade’, rumour having it that Orion firepower assisted the LDR during the brief Klingon issue.

The Lyran Democratic Republic was now facing a potential turning point, according to the initial reports that were being fed from the Fearless that was currently at Demorak. The warships of the republic were now all thirty years old or more and had been upgraded time and again. There was now a need for new ships to breathe new life into the Republic.

The approach by Chairman Miow for a visit by the Fearless was a sign that the Republic was growing in confidence and was branching out in their diplomatic relations. Captain Sheltarah zh’Corithan had gained quite a reputation after being in command of the Fearless for the last few years. Along with the Hood and the Albion, the Fearless was driving the Federation diplomatic efforts forward in the region; this was a positive side-effect of the cessation of hostilities with the Romulans and a general pause in conflict on the Federation borders.

Specialist Thorirsson read down the report, from the science team and Captain Tarah of the Fearless, with interest. Chairman Miow was proposing a reciprocal visit with the LDR flagship Democracy. This huge command cruiser had been seen as more of a white elephant gained from repairing a Lyran ship previously. The ship had been expensive and there were rumours of technical difficulties. A port visit from this capital ship would be quite a coup for the republic.

As far as Asmund saw it, the LDR had three options: to expand, to reunify with the Star Empire or to stay independent with new, smaller ships to replace the current fleet. The question is: which choice do they make?

Demorak: home world of the Lyran Democratic Republic.

The word to summarise the landscape of the capital city was: grey. Grey thermocrete buildings with regularly spaced grey banners hanging outside, swaying gently in the wind with the crest of the Lyran Democratic republic at the base of each banner, the universally recognised yellow sun with a red bar horizontally bisecting it.

At ground level there were posters with inspirational and political messages on them, to encourage patriotism to the LDR and Chairman Miow’s visage presided over the city. Central to the city was the headquarters of the Council of Ministers which had just been visited by the crew of the U.S.S. Fearless. The building was an imposing edifice of modernity, shining in the sun, yet still in keeping with the grey surroundings.

Chairman Miow looked out from the penthouse office that was his; Miow’s slicked-back fur gleamed in the sunlight as he was lost in his thoughts. Behind him, senior members of the Council of Ministers were gathered in their matching grey uniforms, lending the room the air of a corporate meeting from Earth in the 1980s. All of the subordinate committee members stood respectfully in silence as the chairman gathered his thoughts. The Fearless had left orbit in what was, by diplomatic standards, a hurry.

“I have gathered you all here to discuss a matter in private that must never be debated in public or on record: the continued existence of the Lyran Democratic Republic. The visit by the Federation today has shown that we have recognition beyond the borders of our Lyran brethren, but a decision must be made, and made soon, on where to take the republic from here. The meeting to discuss the next five year plan is not long away and we must be to tell our comrades how we are to lead them. Our warships are aging and we risk stagnation if we do nothing.”

The Chairman looked around the room, meeting the gaze of all of the other council members, each one breaking the look in deference.

“Do you propose military action, Chairman?” The head of the military broke the silence.

“Certainly not! Virtually all of the other duchies of the Star Empire support our continued existence. Military action would only serve to alienate us from them. What we need to win is a war of ideology- one that we are well positioned to win, given the constant in-fighting by our neighbours.”

The head of LDR internal security took this as his cue to speak.

“We do indeed have allies outside of the republic, many of whom would seem to be interested in our correct philosophy of democracy, rather than outdated feudalism. We could use our assets in the Star Empire to sound out which counties have people who share our policy of modernity and progress- and are prepared to sacrifice their counts and their successors to achieve true freedom.”

All in the room were reminded of the sacrifices that their predecessors had made in breaking away from the rule of nobility; they knew by heart the locations and numbers of dead Lyrans that washed the streets with their blood. Revolutions were seldom bloodless; history had shown that the Lyran power plays often used the common people as pawns; the revolution was the expression of the people rejecting this abuse. On Earth the Marxist followers such as Lenin led the Russian common people against the Tsar and bourgeoisies, Mithau and the other revolutionaries followed in this same spirit on their own world.

“The Hidden Dagger County may have been unsuccessful in freeing themselves the last time we attempted to aid a neighbour in revolution, but I feel that the next time we will all be victorious- and it will only take one other county to change to democracy to encourage the others to follow.”

Miow spoke of the last time a propaganda campaign had been attempted; the Democratic Dark Star County had attempted to engineer a coup in the neighbouring Hidden Dagger County, the attempt being unsuccessful. Duke Larkahn of the Enemy’s Blood duchy had been enraged by the attempt- and fearful of the consequences of success- and had declared war on the renegade DDSC.

The head of the secret service bowed his head in agreement, not wishing to point out that had the Home world and Silver Moon fleets had not intervened to keep the balance of power, the DDSC would have been retaken by the Enemy’s Blood fleet and the Duke’s son installed as successor to the dead Count.

“The Orion Syndicate could be beneficial with regards to our warships,” the head of the military said, “we could see if our mutual friends could ‘acquire’ some of the blueprints and armaments that our ships need to be modernised – or even designs for new ships.”

“What we really need is a shipyard capable of constructing larger ships,” One of the other ministers added, suggesting an action that was done on Earth in the mid-20th Century when the Japanese constructed the battleships Yamato and Musashi in total secrecy.

“A trade agreement of our own with the other Lyran duchies, the Federation or even the Hydrans could allow us to construct our own warships without the need for black-market deals whose debts we could not repay,” suggested the Minister of Trade.

The Minister for the Military shook his head in disagreement, “We attempted to appease the other dukes and counts when we first attained our freedom. We gave away our ships and kept a mere police force- look where that left us. We should look to have a fleet to match our own needs and aspiration, not to keep our neighbours quiet.”

The Chairman interrupted: “The philosophies of Mithau suggest that we use every tool at our disposal to spread the message of democracy to the rest of the Star Empire. The other Dukes have disregarded this as wishful thinking and idealism- it is our duty to show their people the benefits of progressiveness. The nobility has never been able to accept the common Lyran can run a county, let alone more efficiently than under the current feudal system.”

Miow reminded the others about the Little Grey Book which had started the revolution so many years before. The book contained the democratic philosophies which forged the republic and the failings of the old feudal system. The Chairman had been a thinker, finding sympathies amongst the military hierarchy. They had attempted to show Duke Larkahn that it was ‘business as usual’ after overthrowing the Count and his family, but it all had ended in a political stand-off. Now was the time to consider ways to break the deadlock.

“The visit of the Federation was a wise decision,” added the Minister for Foreign Relations, “it is their shared belief in democracy that has buoyed our spirits in dark times. With their material support we could show the other duchies what can be achieved through unity and a shared vision- just look how their aid supported the Klingons.”

Miow looked at the assembled ministers.

“Our way forward seems decided then- we need to explore the options of expanding the philosophy of democracy, stabilise our neighbours and look to see if we can expand our shipyard and fleet.”

The group then walked over to a miniature of the capital city, replete with new mega structures to muse over the future of their republic.

Chapter 30: Debriefing

'Drop your hand. Sit down. Make yourself comfortable. We want to know everything you discussed with the human'.

Caithlin Dar had been in the service of the romulan diplomatic corp for 25 years. Things had changed recently and this was one of the changes. She was used to meeting with subcommanders, commanders and even the odd admiral. Now it was very different. The usual colours for the sashes were reds or blues, but the interregator wore a sash of black. He was Tal Shiar.

The Tal Shiar were the intelligance arm of the Romulan Star Empire and were feared throughout the Beta Quadrant. One of the terms of remaining with access external to that of the empire was to be permenantly shadowed by the Tal Shiar. After meetings with high level Federation members or Starfleet officers, it was usual for the Tal Shiar to debrief her on what was said or done. Dar could almost say that she was used to the procedure, only that wasn't quite the truth. The Tal Shiar weren't aversed to using threats to friendsd and family in order to get the truth from an individual, or to get compliance. When Dar was younger and more niaive she was used to being open, hoping for a better future. Now it was just a case of carrying out what the senate felt was in the interests of the empire - and no more. Anything out of the perameters set by the senate could result in a trip back to Romulus for re-education.

'We know that you had a meeting with the Starfleet captain from the U.S.S. Sheffield. What was he after?'

'He was trying to find out what it was like to be the only romulan official outside of the empire'.

The monotone interrogator continued. 'And what did you tell him?'

'Nothing. I side-tracked the issue by asking him what it was like to be a human in the neutral zone'.

If this had any influence on the interogator behind the bright light in Dar's face, he showed no outward sign of it. 'We know the Federation ship is on a sociological mission to the Nirophia sector. Did the starfleet captain mention any further details of his mission?'

'He did not even confirm that he was in Starfleet, although I put him off-guard by showing that we know already who he is'.

'You drank romulan ale with the Starfleet captain. In the eyes of some that would be seen as fratanising with the enemy'.

Dar deflected the barb effortlessly. 'I was attempting to see how green this commander was. As it turns out I discovered the Starfleet commander has a knowledge of romulan ales, and a tolerance for drinking them. Perhaps he isn't as green as your records maybe show'.

'He is a social scientist in a captain's uniform, no more. Doubtless he has transgressed the laws of his own Federation to sample our ales, that doesn't give him insight'. After putting down Hawkins in a sentence, the interogator continued business. 'Did the starfleet captain probe you on your mission on Nimbus?'

'He made a feeble attempt at confirming the change in power in the senate. I said that I have little dealing with the senate from out here'.

'You told him you have no plans to leave this colony'.

This point unnerved Dar. 'As far as I am aware...'

'It is not your place to second guess the senate, Ambassador Dar. You are our presence here on this colony, nothing more'.

The debriefing in Dar's quarters went on for more than two hours, cvering every sentence exchanged, every nuance. Dar was more and more unnerved by these Tal Shiar meetings. Ever since Tomed they had increased in intensity to paranoid levels. The senate did not want anything escaping from the empire out into the public realm of the Federation - or any other government for that matter.

In a secluded section of the Romulan embassy on Nimbus III, the Tal Shiar interogator reported to his superiors on a secure encrypted channel. The screen was blank with just the Tal Shiar emblem on the screen. Security for the paranoid.

'The Starfleet captain knows nothing'. concluded the interogator. 'He is an interesting subject, certainly one which we need to pay more attention to than we have. Now that we know he knows nothing we can continue unhindered...'

Chapter 31: Keeping Secrets

The giant form of Vikstaad Jaanz consulted his viewscreen. The mysterious caller on the other end deciding to conceal their identity through scramblers and audio only. The call was one that Jaanz had expected since Hawkins and his crew arrived on the planet and stirred up the inhabitants. Starfleet occasionally had poked its head into Jaanz's business, but never to this degree before. Never with this much risk attached. Vikstaad's minder stood in the corner of the plush room, overlooking his master.

Jaanz stepped out from behind his giant desk. The desk was surprisingly clear of clutter, but Jaanz was nothing if not a meticulous businessman. Clutter meant that vital business documents could be lost, and Jaanz was not in the habit of losing business. Vikstaad was wearing a rich suit, one that his frame almost seemed to burst out from. It was unusual for an Orion to be seen so flagrantly wearing wealth, but this was his home, his lair. Here Jaanz could be what he really was. Rich.

Despite the size of the room, which was palatial, Jaanz more than filled it with his presence. Vikstaad had been in business for decades, and knew what poverty was. He also knew what business was, and thus learned what wealth was. Jaanz had little time for lazy individuals, liars or blaggers. Unless it suited his needs. What Jaanz certainly didn't like was whiners. The person on the link to him now was a whiner, but also his most important business partner. Jaanz maintained his professional, calm demeanour. He needed to simply calm the nerves of his business partner. The rest was under control.

'Don't be concerned by Hawkins'. Vikstaad enthused at the screen to the unknown recipient. 'I have the situation with him and his friends under control'.

'They might start asking questions that could expose things. They asked me questions that could have led to some awkward answers. His first officer is a deltan, she could know'.

'Don't be worrying about his first officer, or the rest of his crew. I have the situation in hand. I have my sources. Hawkins knows nothing. He doesn't know anything substantial about S'sana or about our arrangement. If he comes back to Nimbus, I will handle it. I doubt he will'.

Jaanz ended the call. Starfleeters. If there was anything in the universe he had come to dislike it was Starfleet. They had captured and imprisoned many of his friends and family - this cost him plenty of business. He would have to be careful if they weren't going to cost him even more.

Jaanz knew he had to be careful around S'sana. She didn't know about her past, or she didn't realise her past. That she had come back to this planet was a complication. That she was on Hawkins' ship was a further complication, and potentially an opportunity. Jaanz knew he couldn't trust her. He hadn't been able to trust her mother fully, and the same caution would have to be exercised with the daughter. She showed herslef to be intelligent and cunning today - too cunning for her own good. he would have to watch her closely.

This Captain Hawkins knew a little about Vikstaad's empire, he thought. Hawkins might even guess more from the instincts of his First Officer, but it wouldn't lead them out here unless someone else spoke out. Jaanz immediately thought of his last caller. Perhaps there would have to be an 'accident' in order to keep the arrangement secret. Jaanz had taken decades to build his empire up to its present size. No one really knew the extent of his empire, and Jaanz just wanted to keep it that way. He sat back in his leather chair and reclined his massive green bulk, swivelling to stare out of the window to make plans on how to keep ahead.

Outside to the window, the seas crashed against the rocky cliffs as the plant worked away tirelessly. The sea was turbulent, the waves tipped with foam as the wind whipped it up against the rocks. There was something about the sea air that pleased Jaanz, cleared his lungs, got the city filth from out of his system so he could concentrate on business. Seabirds screeched and wheeled away from the window as the noise of the pumps and purification equipment drowned out the birds calls. The equipment was rusty and dated, but it still worked. And that was all that Jaanz needed...

Epilogue: Gambits and agendas

Chancellor Kaarg was pleased. The Ferasan ambassador had arrived on Nimbus III and provoked the kind of distraction that he wanted. Good. The more they are worried about the Ferasan, the less they will pay attention to what I am doing here.

The Chancellor’s thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of General Klaa, the Chief of Staff.

"You sent for me, Chancellor".

Kaarg turned around to face the General. The time was right.

"Prepare the fleet for combat. Ready the Flagship for my arrival."

"Destination, Chancellor?"

"The Hydran sector."


Paradise City, Klingon sector.

The Ferasan ambassador entered their new chambers, ducking and squeezing through the doorway. The door, like the rest of the room, was not designed for the massive form of a Ferasan. The room had Klingon functionality to it. No matter, thought Prel-ambassador, I will soon have this place feeling like the chambers of a Ferasan of my status.

Presently the tabletop computer bleeped, Prel-ambassador immediately went to respond to the communiqué he had been expecting.

"I see you have arrived; those are the quarters the Klingons have given you?"

"Yes. They have been courteous and used my presence to maximum effect to unnerve the humans and Romulans. The Klingons have provided me with communications equipment and computers to allow me a full diplomatic presence here."

"Was the room bugged?"

"No. Their honour dictates I be afforded privacy as an ally. I did find bugs from one of the other races, but I was able to neutralise it with false sound recordings." Prel-ambassador couldn’t hide the satisfaction from his voice.

"Good. Have you broken their codes yet?"

"I have full access to their systems."

"And they are not aware you have done this?" The voice sounded pleased.

"No. We are now ready to proceed to the second phase."


Gornar, the home world of the Gorn Hegemony.

The sands blew across the desert as they had for countless centuries; the sun relentlessly heated the air until it seared the lungs. The Royal Palace looked out over the desert where countless Gorn had proved their accession to maturity. The planet had a feel of the desert areas of Earth such as the Gobi, crossed with Death Valley and the surface of Venus. A human would soon wither in the heat; the reptilian Gorn thrived in such conditions.

The Gorn monarch looked out through the shimmering air onto the First City , the population milling about like ants from his raised perspective. The monarch wore a headdress of gold and jewels in bands, giving him the look of a cross between a king cobra and Tutankhamen. The scant clothing that the monarch wore was highlighted with gold and markings of his status as leader of the ruling clan of the Gorn.

The Gorn had historically had strained relations with the Federation; their first contact at Cestus III had set the tone for misunderstanding and distrust. The Gorn had since allowed the Federation colony to remain but had made it plain they did not expect further incursions into their space. Sightings of Gorn ships had been scarce but not unknown. Diplomatic relations had been established in the seventies, easing the tensions and allowing a channel for discussions.

The aide came into the room, flanked by two royal guards. The aide bowed respectfully before delivering his report.

"As expected, the Klingons have despatched their ships to the Hydran border, Excellency."

"All is proceeding according to plan. Send our scout ships now."

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