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In Harm's Way - Part I by Epsilon Station

Part I - Part II - Part III - Part IV

 

Chapter One


Cardassian and Federation space
(based on Star Trek Star Charts
by Geoffrey Mandel)

Cardassian and Breen space

(based on Star Trek Star Charts
by Geoffrey Mandel)

Stardate: 55012.1; Earth Date 2377 AD

Admiral Alexandra Marie Selkirk stepped off the transporter pad and looked around the old and familiar setting of the Deep Space Nine-transporter room. It had been many years since she had seen this station, not since her return by the Dominion to the Federation in the earliest days of the coming war. She had commanded Starfleet's first organized expedition into the Gamma Quadrant over five years ago. She remembered those first terror stricken days as if they were only yesterday. She had led a taskforce of Starfleet ships into the Bajoran Wormhole and tried to establish a presence in the Gamma Quadrant. Her mission was to have been one of exploration. Almost immediately her ships had been set upon by the Dominion. She had lost the entire squadron. She herself had been captured and interrogated by the Dominion's agents. In a gesture that could have been only pure contempt, she had been returned to the Federation prior to the outbreak of hostilities, a broken woman.

Now over a year since the end of the fighting Starfleet and the Federation are still attempting to regain a semblance of normalcy. The Remus Incident and the aborted Romulan Civil War was the latest in the cascading fallout of the most devastating interstellar war in the history of the Federation and possibly the entire Alpha Quadrant. Diplomatic advantages the Romulans made with the Cardassians during the initial days following the end of the Dominion War were lost as if overnight due to the domestic turmoil at home in their home star system. The sputtering Romulan Civil War caused the Imperial forces occupying Cardassian space to withdraw, opening the door for renewed Federation contact and diplomacy. The sudden withdrawal of the Romulans back to their sovereign space weakened the Cardassians ability to defend their territory from Breen incursion along their common frontier. Breen warships sought retribution for their perceived betrayal by the Cardassians and the resulting collapse of their newly formed Dominion Alliance in the face of the weakened Federation Alliance. Many at Starfleet believed that a regional war with the Breen was inevitable and should be fought now while the fleet still had its combat resources consolidated and deployed in the region.

Alexandra Selkirk remembered when it was all so much easier, she had been a raw ensign once, like many of the Starfleet personnel now walking the halls of Deep Space Nine with her. Five decades ago it had been so much different. It had been just a decade since the Tomed Incident, the Federations last military encounter with the Romulans previous to this last Remus Incident. Starfleet still wore the military-cut uniforms of that legendary era, the nautical style maroon jacket and bloused pants. Starfleet had finally shaken the "cold-war" mentality that it had evolved under from constant confrontations with the Klingons and the Romulans during its earliest days. "Oh how innocent we all were in those days, before the Borg and the Dominion," she thought to herself. It has been the beginning of an era of consolidation for the Federation. Emphasis had shifted from rapid expansion to development of what had been explored. Those days had given rise to efforts like the designing and building of the Galaxy-class starship, ships of peace and colonization, not battleships like were now being designed and built.

"Ah...Colonel Kira, it is so glad to see you again." Admiral Selkirk extended her hand to meet the new commander of Deep Space Nine.

"Alexandra. It is good to see you again." The dark brown eyes of Kira Nerys warmed Selkirk's heart. "I am so pleased you were selected for this assignment. We will need your calm hand with this project. Especially with who the Romulans have sent to lead their expeditions."

Selkirk smiled broadly, "Nerys, it was the only logical choice, this soon after a political crisis, where else would they want him but in the Gamma Quadrant?" Both women laughed as Colonel Kira escorted Admiral Selkirk back to her station commander's office.

"The station hasn't changed a bit has it Nerys?" Selkirk commented as the two senior officers walked toward the central turbolift station. "It's still the odd but beautiful mix of Bajoran, Cardassian, and Federation culture."

"Oh it's changed, Alex, in many ways. I guess it's grown up, maybe with the guidance of the Prophets; it's even found its place in the galaxy. This old station remains a sad place with a bitter history. I can often hear the souls of the people that were lost here during its long life. Before they were Bajoran, but now I hear human, Klingon, Cardassian, yes and even Romulan voices now." Both the women stop and share a quiet moment of remembrance for Ben Sisko and the others that lost their lives during the Dominion War before entering the turbolift and heading to station operations.

Station Operations was buzzing with activity, but the energy was filled with excitement, not dread as it had been for the past couple of years. They were beginning a new project and you could tell it on the face of everyone from Colonel Kira to the newest Starfleet mission specialist. One thing that caught Selkirk's eye immediately was the dominance of Bajoran uniforms, only two people in the center wore Starfleet black. The two senior officers quickly traversed the circular route to the commander's office of the opposite side of the operations center. Upon entering the first thing that Selkirk noticed was the absence of Ben's starship models. Replacing them were Bajoran tapestries and musical instruments. Gone also were the official looking Starfleet issue office furniture. The office looked more like an apartment's setting room than the office of a space station commander.

Smiling broadly Selkirk offered, "I like it."

"Well when I realized just how much time I was going to have to spend in here I came up with this idea. Plus as much as loved that old desk Ben had I remembered that Ducat sat there also." Colonel Kira seated herself in a well-worn leather recliner that swiveled to a computer workstation installed just under the central portal dominating the outer wall.

"Understandable," offered Selkirk as she selected one of many varied but equally comfortable chairs to use. "Well Nerys what has Admiral Ross told you so far?"

Smiling that unique smile of her's Colonel Kira began, "Well Alex, I've been told that Starfleet is very interested in restarting the exploration of the Gamma Quadrant and that you have been selected to lead that effort. I also know that the Cardassians are to assist in an effort to rebuild their national esteem, and as a concession to the Romulans they will be permitted to participate in this endeavor too."

"You've been well briefed, I have just a little bit to add to that. Starfleet has informed me that my Romulan counterpart as you already know, is the infamous T'Cal, he is returning from Romulan space even as we speak. As you know he also was the original commander of their efforts in the Gamma Quadrant. His brilliant handling of the diplomacy following the liberation of Cardassia Prime also was given by the Romulan High Command as the other reason for his posting to this assignment."

"I was led to believe, Alex, that you will be negotiating with the Romulans here at Deep Space Nine as to the size and scale of this operation. It was not agreed upon at Starfleet Headquarters?" queried Colonel Kira.

"You're right, your intelligence network is very good. No due primarily to the strained relations between the Federation and the Romulans over the Remus Incident it was thought best if the negotiations were handled locally. Starfleet rightfully thought that this project would get washed under the table by the post-incident negotiations now going on because of the Remus military action against Earth." She stood and paced around Kira's spacious office, she stopped to touch a tapestry hanging on the wall. "No Starfleet has given me total control over this project. The command structure is focusing on the rebuilding of the Federation and Cardassia, and the de-escalation of the current tension between the Federation and the Romulans." Selkirk smiled and turned back to face Colonel Kira, "Not to mention the stabilizing support we are giving the Klingons now, Martok is not exactly the people's choice as Chancellor you know."

"I had heard that Worf and Martok were not warmly welcomed back on Qo'noS." Kira interjected.

"No Martok is a commoner that worked his way up through the ranks of the Klingon Defense Force, Worf is considered a traitor and puppet of the Federation by many. If it were not Picard's influence over the Emperor they probably would have been executed upon their arrival by the nobility," smiled Selkirk.

"Will there be a Klingon contingent on this project?" asked Colonel Kira.

"Probably not, I was told the Klingons are too busy with their own politics to worry about the reconstruction of Cardassia or the exploration of the other end of the galaxy," responded Selkirk.

"So what has Starfleet given you to work with? How many starships?" replied Kira.

"Basically I have an open purse. There are of course strategic considerations as far as ship deployments and personnel, but basically I've been told to establish a companion starbase to Deep Space Nine on the other side of the wormhole. And in the process of establishing that space station, explore the surrounding region establish contact with local civilizations."

"And keep an eye on the Dominion, and watch for any sign of the Borg," finished Kira.

"Exactly," smiled Selkirk.

"So how many starships?" asked Kira a second time.

"That unfortunately is to be negotiated with the distinguished representative of the Romulan Star Empire, my deputy commander of this project," grimaced Selkirk.

"Well from what I remember about the distinguished - your words Alex - representative of the Romulan Star Empire, you're going to have the largest fleet in Starfleet." Both women couldn't help but share a moment of laughter after that comment.

"What kind of station are you going to build on the other end of the wormhole?" smiled Kira.

"That hasn't been decided yet either. Initially we will probably use a standard Regula-class station temporarily, but I anticipate a need for a larger class station as the exploration matures. We may even contract that responsibility out to the Cardassians, their close proximity to Bajor would lend itself to the fast construction of the station. As you know, Betazed took a terrible beating during the war and is not capable of providing support to a project of this type at this time," explained Selkirk.

"Well if Betazed can not provide support to this project, what makes you think Cardassia can?" queried Kira.

"Cardassia is not just Cardassia Prime, Nerys, it's also the rest of their union. There are over a dozen worlds that were not as affected by the war as Cardassia Prime was. Granted, most of those resources will be need for the reclamation of their homeworld, but there is still a lot they can do toward this project because of their location. Besides, part of the reason to include them in this project is to get them looking outward again."

Colonel Kira continued her questioning "Who are the Cardassian's sending to head their delegation?"

"One of their new national heroes, the gul that commanded the Cardassian fleet that first arrived at their homeworld following its liberation. He is the one that negotiated with the Romulans and kept them at bay while the Central Command reorganized. Not a bad piece of diplomacy if you ask me. He probably saved us all from a military confrontation with the Romulans."

"What happened to him that he is being given this type of assignment now, I mean Cardassia is far from fully recovered. I would think if his leadership was that crucial during the Romulan occupation then he would be invaluable to them now." This so-called Cardassian savior intrigued Colonel Kira.

"There was a general strike called once the initial crisis was over in response to the annexation of the Cardassian Union by the Romulan Star Empire, benign as it was. Remember that Central Command and the Obsidian Order had been decimated by the Dominion in the final phase of the war. The military government was unable to resist the civilian revolt despite it being a non-violent demonstration. A continued military government simply had no support following the abuses of the Ducat and then Dominion regimes."

Colonel Kira interrupted, "Alex I know all that, what I do not know is who is this Cardassian Gul you're referring to?"

"Gul Jak'Karr, commander of the Second Order," answered Selkirk quietly. "Gul Jak'Karr commanded the Cardassian Second Order during the battle of Cardassia Prime. As he saw his comrades lives thrown away by the Dominion in futile attacks on Federation and Klingon formations he had a moment of clarity. As the senior Cardassian officer present, he ordered all surviving ships to break off and attack the Dominion ships waiting to exploit the sacrifice made by the Cardassians. It is said that his defection was the turning point of the Dominion War and contributed significantly to the allied victory. After the battle Jak'Karr found his beloved Union in ruins. The once proud Cardassian military had been reduced to nearly a third of it's original strength and the civilian population suffered on a catastrophic level from the devastation wrought by the retreating Dominion forces. At this same time the Romulans began to lay claims to the Union and move warships into Cardassian space to take advantage of the weakened state of the Union. Seeking to avoid becoming a conquered people, Jak'Karr entered into a careful alliance with the Romulans, promising to serve the Star Empire as a client state in return for significant aid in restoring the shattered Union. His decision to ally with the Romulans was met with much opposition. In his long time away from Cardassia Prime the civilian populace had gained much influence and with Central Command in ruins, they were able to take power. While Jak'Karr still had the majority of the military under his control he decided against bringing further devastation to his people in the form of a civil war and instead offered his services as a true son of the Cardassian Union."

Aboard the Romulan Warbird Shadow Walker

A brooding disappointed T'Cal Whix, hero of the Imperium, sat in his executive command chair watching the stars streaking by the main viewer of the starship's bridge. Yet another disappointment, another betrayal by the Imperial Senate, by the hands of his brothers and sisters that had squandered the might and power of the Star Empire. He had already been returning to the homeworld when word of the Reman insurgency had reached him. He had determined to lead a frontier starfleet to the twin systems of Romulus and Remus if the Praetorian Fleet had not put down the insurrection immediately. Instead the Imperial Senate and the Praetor had allowed the insurgents to leave Romulan space and attack the Federation core. Politically it had been brilliant, but diplomatically it had been a very risky gamble. Now the Romulan leadership as concessions to the Federation had squandered all his work on behalf of the Star Empire. His conquest of the Cardassian Union had been lost due to the politicians in the Imperial Senate. The Imperial Senate had renounced the Star Empire's claim to the Cardassian Union, and had released the territory to the provisional Cardassian civilian government in an effort to divert Federation economic and military action due to the Reman invasion of their space.

Wisely the Imperial Senate had ordered T'Cal to return to the Cardassian Union, to renegotiate the Romulan position within the former battle area. Had he returned to Romulus he may have used his considerable influence within the military to exact punishment of those who had squandered the Imperium's resources and power. Now he was ordered back to Bajor to meet with a Starfleet admiral to expand the so-called Alpha Quadrant Alliance into the Gamma Quadrant. He had led a mission into the Gamma Quadrant over five years ago, his fleet had been the vanguard of the Romulan defense against the approaching Dominion threat. Had he been listened to then how many lives would have been saved? His loyalty and honor had required him to serve the Star Empire for his entire career. Maybe it was time to take the leadership of the Imperium into his own hands.

His skillful negotiations had almost doubled the size of the Romulan Star Empire through diplomacy alone. T'Cal turned his gaze to the officers now manning his command bridge. They were all personally loyal to him and his family, as it had always been on his flagships during his long climb to the rank of admiral. As any master strategist, T'Cal had made a habit of studying his opponents. During his studies of human history, he had discovered a historical figure that he found he could identify with, an ancient human general and statesman. He had discovered a Roman named Julius Caesar. Like the ancient Caesar, T'Cal found himself serving an empire that did not seem to appreciate his efforts. An empire that preferred him to stay at a distance while in its service.

Stoically T'Cal resolved to continue in the service of the Star Empire; the Imperium was a cruel mistress but it was his mistress and deserving of his devotion. The Star Empire was cruel and hard, but worthy of his loyalty despite recent mismanagement by the current class of senators. T'Cal was proud of the achievements of the Romulan Star Empire. During the last one hundred years the empire had more than doubled its size, and struggled to gain political prestige equal to that of the Federation and the Klingon Empire. Arguably, the Romulans had saved the Alpha Quadrant by joining the Federation Alliance and turning the tide of the war. His instincts told him to return to the twin homeworlds and punish those responsible for threatening all he had obtained, literally handing it to the Federation as if a gift.

He, T'Cal Whix, had fought and defeated the Borg when they first approached Romulan space before their first assault on Earth, then again he had showed his prowess when he brought the Cardassian Union into the Imperial realm through annexation brought about by his superior statesmanship. He had been on his way to assume command of two Romulan starfleets that had been dispatched from the empire to support his efforts in the Cardassian Union. He had requested the reinforcements to provided support to the remnants of the Cardassian forces in their efforts to defend against Breen incursions. He had learned of the Reman coup d'état and their failed attempt to attack the Federation after reaching the waiting fleets near Orellius deep in Federation territory. The two fleets had been part of the Romulan expeditionary force sent to fight as part of the Federation Alliance during the Dominion War. They had been ordered to return to Imperial space, he and commandeered the two war fleets following his successful negotiations with the Cardassians.

Unfortunately the revolt of the Cardassian civilians against the lawful military government imposed by the commander of the Cardassian Second Order had succeeded. He had received word via subspace transmission from Romulan observes he had left with the Cardassian commander of the civilian revolt. T'Cal was surprised that his newly recruited ally had allowed the revolt to succeed. He had thought the Cardassian gul had fully understood the importance to the survival of the Cardassian Union the Romulans were. No other Alpha Quadrant political power had survived the Dominion War with its military as intact as the Romulans. The former allies of the Dominion, the Breen were located near the Cardassians. The Breen also had survived the war relatively whole with a formidable war fleet still active near Cardassian space.

The Romulan centurion snapped to attention slapping his right fist into his breast in the traditional salute. "Field Primus, the subspace transmission from the Imperial High Command has been received." Slowly T'Cal rose from his command chair, although he did not appear to be as advanced in age as he actually was, he sometimes moved in a manner that gave that closely guarded secret away. When out of earshot many of his political opponents claimed he had Vulcan blood diluting his honorable Romulan lineage. T'Cal actually hailed from a noble Romulan family, with a tradition of military service to the Star Empire. If the truth be known, he was an adopted war orphan taken as a trophy by his father from a pillaged Vulcan science ship lured into the Romulan Neutral Zone many years ago. Because of his obvious Vulcan heritage he was the brunt of jokes during his youth and adolescence from peers. This abusive treatment simply made him stronger and wiser. By the time he entered the service of the Star Empire, he had honed his skills to a fine edge.

He had used those skills effectively for the Empire for over six decades, first engaging the Federation along the infamous Neutral Zone. Then later he was transferred to the trailing provinces of the Star Empire where he continued to distinguish himself as a remarkable tactician and strategist. He subdued many colonial rebellions and expanded the borders he was charged with increasing the size and power of the Star Empire. Eventually he became engaged with his most fearsome foe, the Borg Collective. Deftly using the Romulan cloaking device to great advantage he was able to hold them at bay as they crossed Imperial space in their search for Sector 001 and the core of the Federation.

He was unable to fully participate in the Dominion War, by the time he crossed the Star Empire and reached the Dominion War operational area, the war had ended. As the senior officer in theater, he assumed the role of chief negotiator representing the Romulan Empire at the close of the war. He personally assumed the command of the Romulan expeditionary forces and convinced the surviving Cardassian leadership that an alliance with the Romulans was preferable to domination by the Federation or the Breen. One of the prerequisites of the Cardassians joining the Star Empire was the promised defense of the Cardassian Union from the Breen Confederacy. That promise had brought T'Cal to the two starfleets he was now leading toward Cardassia.

In addition to the obvious predominance of his Vulcan features, T'Cal's preference for the classical Romulan uniform from the time of his commissioning made him stand out among the younger officers wearing the modern Romulan uniform. "Thank you Centurion, I will take it in the wardroom."

"Yes Field Primus," the centurion remained at attention.

T'Cal entered the large wardroom and made his way to his command chair at the head of the table. Once seated he punched in his command code to activate the transmission from Romulus. The over-sized image of an elderly Romulan officer took shape on the large wall screen dominating the far side of the room.

The Cardassian Union Warship Secueva, Flagship of the Second Order

Gul Sakkatha stood looking at the tactical monitor before him. Much had changed in the last year. The Dominion had been defeated at the cost of the Cardassian Union. A year had done little to alter the scarred remains of the once vibrant planet now turning below the Secueva. Cardassia Prime, once the political center of the Cardassian Union. Now it was just a festering pot of disease and pestilence. Sakkatha looked up from the hemispherical console with a far away look, he was remembering the glorious past of his beloved Second Order. The military orders of Cardassia were brotherhoods unique to Cardassian culture. They were more than simple divisions of the national military, they were extended families, fraternal organizations that served as patrons to Cardassians as they strove to increase their personal power and prestige, two very important aspects of the Cardassian psyche, referred to as Vesala in the Cardassian tongue.

The Second Order had been recently commanded by Gul Dukat and then by Gul Demar during its waning days of influence over the fate of the Cardassian Union. The Second Order traditionally controlled the space surrounding Cardassia Prime to include the now despised Bajoran system. The Second Order's strength had laid in its charge to defend the Union from the aggressive Federation and its expansion toward Union space.

The occupation of Bajor had provided the Second Order with considerable Vesala during its years of occupation. When the Bajoran system was abandoned as part of an agreement with the Federation the Second Order resisted by increasing patrols of the Federation border and using harassment of Federation ships to complicate ongoing negotiations. It was no surprise to see the Second Order return to prominence in the Cardassian Central Command during the Dominion War.

The Order's long hostile relationship with the Federation served it well during the Dominion War. Initially the knowledge and expertise of the Second Order's senior leadership was sought out and used by the Dominion expeditionary forces. With Gul Dukat himself positioned as the head of state for the Cardassian Union during the war, the Second Order naturally became the defacto premiere military order of choice for the most advantageous assignments. This close proximity to the Dominion war machine had tremendous advantage information and intelligence wise. The Second Order's senior leadership saw the true and unmitigated nature of the Dominion and their objectives within the Alpha Quadrant despite the propaganda being released to the Cardassian people by the Dominion's Vorta bureaucrats.

When Gul Demar began the rebellion against the Dominion, it had been the Second Order that had taken up the standard of battle for the liberation of the Cardassian people. Because of their patriotism, the Second Order had been nearly decimated in the Battle of Cardassia Prime, the final engagement of the Dominion War. Now the task force of battered starships trailing the Secueva was all that was left of that once proud Military Order.

"Sakkatha, this is Jak'Karr. I am ready to return to the Secueva." Gul Sakkatha's commander and personal friend Gul Jak'Karr signaled his readiness to return to the flagship.

"Yes Legate Jak'Karr." Sakkatha turned to the operations officer and relayed the information for the officer in charge of the transporters to bring their commander back to the ship. After completing the relay of the order Sakkatha turned and departed for the command transport chamber to meet his friend.

Sakkatha watched as the amber energy stream reintegrated Legate Jak'Karr on the platform. The two men grasped arms and shook hands as if meeting for the first time in years even though it had only been hours. With unspoken communications both men turned and quickly headed for the command conference room just outside the transport chamber.

An exhausted Jak'Karr fell into one of the Spartan conference chairs ringing the table. "They agreed Sakkatha, the Federation envoy agreed with the proposal. They will respect our borders provided we do not rebuild the Central Command and adopt a civilian government for the Union."

"How does that affect our Order?" asked a concerned Sakkatha.

"The Federation has not expressly forbidden the reinstitution of the Military Orders, however the position of the Central Command as the national authority is contested. That fact is of little consequence at this time due to our losses at the hands of the Dominion. The Federation is willing to honor our borders, and to patrol the region between the Union and the Breen Confederacy to ensure our short term political survival."

Gul Sakkatha grunted indicating his disgust, "First we prostitute ourselves to the Romulans, now we roll over and lay prostrate before the Federation. How did we bring ourselves to this end? I almost prefer a clean death at the hands of the Breen."

Legate Jak'Karr stands and slams his hand on the table in anger, "The Cardassian people did not lead themselves to this end, Sakkatha, short sighted fools drugged by absolute power and an insane drive for personal glory did. The Detapa Council betrayed us by allowing it self to be subordinated by the Central Command and the Obsidian Order. The Obsidian Order and their devious ways are what corrupted our people and our culture. To betray our people now by a coward's death at the hands of a superior enemy just deepens the level of betrayal and makes the Second Order partners in those crimes."

Showing respect to his friend and commander, Gul Sakkatha returns to the original gist of the discussion, "The Detapa Council's management of the reclamation of Cardassia Prime is acceptable to the Federation envoy then sir?"

Jak'Karr cleared his throat and reseated himself before continuing, "As you know I re-instituted the Detapa Council almost immediately upon being able to focus on domestic issues following the near-invasion by the Romulans almost a year ago. Well today they debated the ending of martial law on Cardassia Prime. The Council believes that the continued military rule would be counter-productive to the continued healing of the population and the rehabilitation of the environment."

"The loss of over 800 million of our citizens on Cardassia Prime at the hands of the Dominion is what is counter-productive to our eventual healing Legate Jak'Karr," countered Sakkatha.

"I have not forgotten that fact, my friend. That is why I have taken an appointment to head the Cardassian Unions efforts to explore and colonize the Gamma Quadrant." Smiled the former provisional head of the Cardassian interim government.

"Sir?" stammered a surprised Gul Sakkatha.

"All of the Military Orders are weakened and dangerously under strength. Their recall to Cardassia Prime is allowing them all to reorganize and regroup. The Second is no exception; we too are far too weak to present a threat to anyone, much less the Breen. Even the Ferengi are now able to transit our borders at will. As the Military Orders heal and rearm they will reassert their leadership and assume their areas of traditional responsibility. Ours as you remember was our holding in the Bajor system, and the approaches from the Federation. Our position of authority will be greatly undermined in the new political reality of a strong and independent Bajor, that is a member of the Federation. To retrieve our Vesala we must look else where."

"Where Legate Jak'Karr, where will the Second Order look to regain its honor and glory?" questioned Gul Sakkatha.

"The Gamma Quadrant, the Gamma Quadrant is where the Second Order will rebuild its honor and claim its glory," smiled Legate Jak'Karr.

 

Chapter Two

Stardate: 55012.5; Earth Date 2377 AD - Neutral space near Bajor

The Romulan flotilla coasted from high warp to sublight while approaching the slowly turning deep space station. G'Tal's Hand, a Nestor-class repair tender, silently turned on its axis. Quietly ten heavy warships maneuvered in to position around the station. The G'Tal's Hand had been placed as a strategic resupply point for the Romulan fleet during the Dominion War near the Bajor system. Romulan ships were ordered to approach the station under cloak to avoid giving the station's position away. The smallest of the starships was the ancient V-30 Winged Defender-class cruiser, the Shadow Walker. The veteran starship had been Field Primus T'Cal Whix's flagship for nearly half the admiral's professional life.

The Shadow Walker's raptor-like profile stood out in comparison to the other warships of the flotilla. The Shadow Walker was almost twice as wide as it was long, with a wingspan of 293 meters. The command cruiser had a complement of 350 loyal Romulan soldiers that had been with T'Cal for a number of years. Following behind the smaller V-30 cruiser trailed four Z-1 Nova-class battleships including the Stormdancer, the Thunderlance, the Ancalagon, and the Vermanthrax. Each of the battleships were releasing their complements of N-8 Mandukam-class gunboats. Moving to the flanks of the battleship line were four D'deridex-class heavy warbirds. The Vera'Delaron and the Remus moved together like to dancers to the starboard side of the main battleline. The warbirds Direfalcon and Sunfalcon slid to protective positions on the port side.

The commander of the station scrambled from his personal quarters to the station's executive transport terminal. Since the end of the war the station had been isolated. The station had been established during the Dominion War as an adhoc logistics station. With the end of the war and the so-called Remus Incident Romulan ships in this region were rare, ten of the Star Empire's largest ships even more rare.

The commander adjusted his uniform; he pulled his belt buckle to center it. He wore the somber gray uniform of the Imperial Navy. He looked up as the electronic hum of the energized transporter began. He watched as the humanoid forms of four individuals began to reintegrate before him. Three men and a woman stood before him on the transporter pads. They were all wearing black uniforms that were cut in the current fashion. The commander's eyes quickly went to the rank insignia on the front male's uniform collar. He wore the insignia of a Fleet Commander or Admiral. The "Ar'nal" in the Romulan tongue, the First Among Equals or Primus.

"I am Primus T'Cal Whix. I am commandeering this station for the glory of the Romulan Empire," the obvious leader stepped quickly off the transport platform.

"Commander?" The station commander was unprepared for the newcomer's statement.

"I am commandeering this station commander, prepare for immediate movement. I will have one of my warships tow you." T'Cal calmly examines the expression on the station commander's face in the same way a technician examines a new piece of equipment, or the data displayed on a computer screen.

The station commander looked from the fleet commander's face to the others who had arrived with him. The tall slender elfin woman had moved to the side of the senior officer, her dark eyes hostile and cruel. The other senior officer also wore the insignia of a fleet commander. Two fleet commanders travelling together was not that unusual in the Romulan Star Navy, however these two had the look of professional combat officers, not staff officers and that was unusual.

Primus T'Cal smiled ever so slightly and turned to look in the direction the station commander was looking. "Let me introduce my senior staff commander." T'Cal indicates the older of the two male officers, "This is Legate Tal, he is my second in command and special representative of the Imperial Senate." Primus T'Cal then motions toward the younger of the men, "This is Tribune Ale'k Rav'nn, my chief of intelligence." Primus T'Cal then turned to the lithe female Romulan, "Centurion Illyana De'Vanus, the commanding officer of my personal flagship."

The station commander slams his right hand into his chest in the traditional Romulan salute. "It is an honor to serve you Admiral, and the Star Empire!"

Primus T'Cal smiled sardonically, "I see you have a full understanding of your situation Commander. Your command is now under my control. I have need of a mobile base, one that is already prepared for extended duration missions beyond the border of the frontier."

The base commander interrupted T'Cal to question, "Sir, you are not taking us back to the Star Empire?"

"No Commander, you are joining my company and leading the Romulan people into the Gamma Quadrant."

"Sir, that is not possible. I know that we were part of the original mission before the Dominion War to retrieve survivors of the failed Tal Shiar mission into the Gamma Quadrant, but much has changed since then. Since that time we have served the Praetor as a member of the Star Navy. We are no longer part of your Senatorial Fleet. We are scheduled to return to the Empire, sir!"

Primus T'Cal was unimpressed by the ranting of the station commander. "What has happened to our people that we should become as you, Commander?"

The station commander was taken back, "Sir? Sir, I serve the Empire."

"What is your current complement, Commander?" Primus T'Cal queried, the station commander replied that his current troop strength was slightly over one hundred personnel, approximately two-thirds of the stations full strength. "The station saw action during the war, Commander?"

"Yes sir, we were the primary repair site for units of the Tenth Star Command Fleet. We were ambushed twice by Jem'Hadar raiders during the course of the war."

"You are not the base commander that accompanied be originally to this region of space four years ago, what happened to Commander T'shael? Did he die honorably?"

"Yes sir, most honorably during the first Jem'Hadar raid." The commander was obviously growing more concerned as the discussion progressed.

Primus T'Cal stroked his chin as he considered the new development. "It is unfortunate that the same can not be said of you Commander." Primus T'Cal nodded his head ever so slightly. In an instant Tribune Ale'k Rav'nn stepped forward and extended his right arm drawing a thin razor quickly across the commander's neck before he could react. Green blood squirted from the slice as the station commander stood clutching his throat in utter disbelief and confusion. "Your loyalty to the state must never be questioned. If it is in question your value to the state is negligible and you become useless. There must never be a doubt about your loyalty and willingness to act. The penalty of such a breach by a senior officer is removal from command." T'Cal looked into the dying mans eyes, grabbing him by the shoulders to ensure he remained standing, "Commander, you have been relieved."

T'Cal Whix stepped back as the Romulan officer collapsed to the deck, the pool of green blood spreading. He then looked at his intelligence chief who was cleaning the paper-thin razor with a small silk cloth. "He has probably contaminated his command. I want this station ready to move within the day. Use whatever you need from the fleet."

Tribune Rav'nn replied without looking up from his work, "As you command my lord, this station will be ready when you are."

Primus T'Cal then turned to his flagship commander, "Centurion De'Vanus I want to return to the Shadow Walker." Quickly the female Romulan touched the Imperial insignia in the center of her black uniform harness to initiate ship to ship communications. Instantly the electronic warble of the transporter field began and all but Tribune Rav'nn were returned to the flagship.

Tribune Rav'nn replaced his razor in its sleeve sheath and smiled at the transporter technician standing at the station's transporter console. "Now where should we begin?"

Stardate: 55012.5 - Orbiting Cardassia Prime

The Cardassian battleship Hutet moved into synchronized orbit over the capital city of Cardassia. The Hutet was the largest starship built by any power during the waning year of the Dominion War. It was a beast by any description, nearly one and a half times the size of a Romulan D'deridex heavy warbird. The warship was an awesome display of Cardassian military prowess.

The Hutet was designed to act as the command and control ship for an entire fleet. The mammoth starship was nearly 1,500 meters long with a wingspan longer than a Galor-class cruiser. The battleship had three operational bridges or control centers, one to command the ship, one for the fleet command center, and a third just to direct and control the support ships and auxiliaries operating in close proximity to its hull.

Legate Jak'Karr sat at his stateroom window on board the Secueva pondering all that he had done in the last year, all that still lay before him. The Hutet had been kept at the Cardassian base in the Kora system, the home of the Central Command's officer academy. It had been recently ordered to move to the Cardassian homeworld. The order had been initially to use it for the reconstruction of the military support facilities in system. But with the hurried withdrawal of the Romulans in the face of their own internal problems, and the arrival of the Federation to fill the void, the presence of the Hutet was no longer deemed a smart move politically.

He thought to himself silently, "Actually the Federation is more of a threat to the order of things on Cardassia than the Romulans probably would have been, despite their insistence that the Union become a province of the Star Empire." Jak'Karr smiled to himself. No it had not been "their" insistence, it had been the insistence of the Romulan governor that had been sent to oversee the "rehabilitation" of the Cardassian Union following the end of the Dominion War.

"T'Cal Whix." Jak'Karr whispered to himself, "I wonder where you are, my old friend?"

The chime at his stateroom door brought him back to the moment, "Enter." He stood and moved to the center of the room. The door slid open and his second in command entered, Gul Sakkatha, commander of the Keldon-class heavy cruiser Secueva.

"The wallowing beast has arrived, Legate Jak'Karr, but for the life of me I do not see why you wanted this monstrosity added to our fleet sailing list."

Smiling Jak'Karr patted his friend and fellow Second Order officer on the heavily padded shoulder of his combat armor. "The agreement negotiated for our enterprise in the Gamma Quadrant was that the Federation would build the space station at the other end of the wormhole. We will need a base of operations. I do not want to weigh you or the Secueva down with that burden once we arrive in the operational area."

"You intend to maintain your staff and headquarters on the Secueva then, Legate Jak'Karr?" the look on Sakkatha's face implied his confusion.

"I have not decided yet, but I want the options available to me that the Hutet provides. Plus, and this is critical, I can sense already that there will be heavy pressure from the Federation envoy for the provisional Detapa Council to disarm, or at least reduce the military's size and influence during our reconstruction. If left here in the Alpha Quadrant the Hutet would surely be dismantled and scrapped. It was built using Dominion technology and construction methods, all that would be lost if it were destroyed, dismantled due to diplomatic pressures."

"Will the Federation, or the Bajoran Prophet aliens in the wormhole allow its passage into the Gamma Quadrant?" responded Sakkatha. "It is the single most powerful warship we have ever built."

"They will have no choice, I intend to move this fleet immediately. As soon as the Detapa Council relieves me of my command duties here at Cardassia Prime, I intend to move the fleet and the Hutet to Bajor. The Bajorans will not want our fleet of thirteen starships including the Hutet standing in their system long." Jak'Karr stepped to his pantry in his stateroom and returned with a bottle of kanar and two tumblers. "First I want you to see to the re-registration of the Hutet from being an assault ship to being an explorer, like the way Starfleet classifies its battleships. Then change its registry name to Makarov."

"Makarov?" repeated Sakkatha, "that sounds human?" Sakkatha accepted the large glass of kanar and gulped the thick pulpy liquid down.

"It is, it was the name of a prisoner, a Starfleet officer taken and interrogated during the war. She impressed me before her interrogation ended," returned Jak'Karr.

"You like these humans don't you?" queried Sakkatha.

"No, not particularly. I just want to send them a reminder of what we are capable of doing. I don't want the Federation envoy gloating too much over my departure from Cardassia Prime, or the fact that the Romulans have apparently lost their influence in Cardassian space with my departure."

Sakkatha smiled at his commander's comment, "Here is the information on the Hutet that you asked for." Sakkatha handed Jak'Karr a Cardassian padd. "If you hit the second button there is a copy of the approved sailing list."

Jak'Karr activated the padd and scanned the cover page's content quickly:

The Klingon blockade of Cardassia Prime inflicted severe damage to their military infrastructure and therefore their ability to wage war. Even more it injured deeply the fabled and deep-rooted Cardassian pride. Cardassia had always mandated an aggressive expansionist policy but never had a clear vision on how to accomplish it with the use of ships rather than stationary space stations such as Terok Nor. The mobility required to move from system to system was not possible with current Cardassian technology. However, a small and innovative group of Cardassian engineers had been working on designing a massive flagship in which Cardassia could effectively control distant systems and demoralize those who sought to strangle Cardassia's economic growth. But the problem in building this vessel was the lack of organization as much as the available resources, much of which had to be imported.

With the end of the blockade and the start of the Alliance with the Dominion the Cardassian shipyards started construction of what was to be the largest ship ever to be built in the Alpha Quadrant - the Hutet-class. Clearly a departure from the traditional Cardassian ship design, its enormous size reflected the ambitious desires of its makers. Described as a planetary assault ship, its primary role was to launch long-term moderate size assaults against moderately defended systems with little or no escort. That a Hutet could do this due to a new structural technology that could absorb hits from of all conventional weapons. In addition an innovative use of Dominion technology allowed the Hutet to quickly perform short term self-repair of battle damaged critical systems. To assist in its role of rebellion suppression the Hutet can maintain support for a small fleet of Class-1 and Class-2 ships. By far the most frightening weapon on the Hutet is the Big Wave Cannon, which is mounted on the forward array, which harness enough firepower to decimate entire continents.

"Very good, continue with our preparations. I would like to move the fleet to Bajor as soon as possible. My responsibilities to the Detapa Council will be concluded this afternoon. There should be no other administrative reasons we can not leave as soon as you have the fleet ready."

"Yes sir, I will see to the Hutet immediately, I mean the Cardassian Explorer Makarov." Sakkatha smiled as he sat the empty kanar glass on the counter near the door and turned to depart.

Jak'Karr reactivated the padd in his hand and scrolled to the list of ships in his new command:

Command Group:
Secueva (Keldon class heavy cruiser) Gul Sakkatha (Male)

Battle Group:
DeShal (Galor III class heavy cruiser) Gul Grovna (Female)
Herros (Galor II class heavy cruiser) Gul Paskit (Male)
Bastakar (Galor II heavy cruiser) Dal Othaman (Male)
Weregat (Galor II heavy cruiser) Dal Urtmare (Female)

Scout Group:
Kloy (Galor I destroyer) Dal Yurs'veer (Male)
Hamat (Hideki class scout) Dalin Torvil (Male)
Jenova (Hideki class scout) Dalin Orst (Male)
Rumaven (Hideki class Scout) Dalin Kur (Female)

Support Group:
Saervur (heavy transport) Glinn Jakot (Male)
Verok Meer (heavy transport) Glinn Curtava (Female)

Jak'Karr reseated himself at his worn chair near the window, he tossed his padd on the table beside it. He placed his heavily padded boot on the window seal and laid back in the old chair and returned to his contemplation of his personal future and the fate that lay ahead for his people. Was it truly time for him to go? He was leaving all that he held dear to him, his family, his country, to command in a distant land.

 

Chapter Three

All the welfare and adversity that come to man and other creatures come through the Seven and the Twelve. Twelve Signs of the Zodiac, as the Religion says, are the twelve commanders on the side of light; and the seven planets are said to be the seven commanders of the darkness. And the seven planets oppress all creation and deliver it over to death and all manner of evil: for the twelve signs of the Zodiac and the seven planets rule the fate of the world.
- The late Zoroastrian book, the Menok I Xrat

Do you know the ordinances of heaven?
Can you establish their rule on Earth?
- The Book of Job

Stardate: 55013.8 - Deep Space Nine, Bajor System

Admiral Selkirk stood next to the large oval portholes on the station's promenade deck. She quietly watched the Federation Galaxy-class starship USS Unification ease into its synchronous orbit a few hundred meters distant. The majestic lines of one of the Federation's largest starships continued to be one of the most impressive in the fleet inventory. Admiral Selkirk's gaze drifted between the large explorer to the executive courier that had brought her to Deep Space Nine from Starfleet Headquarters. The USS Daniel Kaiser was a Flying Dutchman-class fleet courier used to transport command staff between distance location within Federation space.

Admiral Selkirk turned and walked away from the large oval window toward the main transporter room. As she walked her communicator badge chirped indicating an incoming call for her. She tapped the Starfleet combadge on her tunic. She recognized Colonel Kira's voice.

"Admiral, Captain Isaac Paul of the Unification has indicated that he is preparing to transport over to the station."

"Thank you Colonel. I am on my way to the transporter room as we speak," returned Selkirk. "Colonel, please contact Captain Paul on the Unification and have him meet us here in your conference room." Admiral Selkirk made her way through the Bajoran civilians on the promenade deck toward the core of the station, the operations module. As she walked Selkirk noticed the faces and hand motions of the human and Bajorans engaging in routine activity. The small shop keepers selling their wares, technicians and crewmembers coming and going to their tasks. It had only been a few months, almost a year since the end of the Dominion War.

She had led an expedition into the Gamma Quadrant before the war. Her flotilla had been one of the first casualties of the looming conflict. She had been returned to the Federation by the Dominion after an exhaustive interrogation. After her return to the Alpha Quadrant she was returned to Starfleet Headquarters on Earth. During the war she had worked as part of the headquarters Klingon liaison staff. It had been an agonizing tour of duty, watching the mauling of Starfleet's operating forces, then the turn in the war and the final victory of the Federation Alliance at the Battle of Cardassia Prime. She had politicked hard to command the returning force to reenter the Gamma Quadrant. She personally needed to be present when Starfleet returned to the fringe of Dominion space.

Admiral Selkirk walked into the station conference room. She was the first one of the three senior officers to arrive. She again stepped to the large windows to look out into space. The fact that Deep Space Nine was built by the Cardassians and was now maintained by Starfleet for the Bajorans was very symbolic for the reconstruction that must now take place in the Alpha Quadrant. Selkirk moved from the window to one of the seats at the head of the large rectangular table.

The conference room pneumatic doors activated drawing Admiral Selkirk's attention toward them. Captain Isaac Paul of the Federation starship Unification walked in followed by an ushering Colonel Kira Nerys. The African-American captain had been posted to command the USS Unification while the starship had still been in the Mars naval construction yards at the Utopia Planitia Facilities. The USS Unification NCC-71959 was rushed through the final phases of its construction due to the Dominion War. The Unification served as a command and control vessel during the conflict with the Gamma Quadrant invaders. Captain Paul had been trained as a strategic operations officer and had served on the ill-fated USS Princeton prior to gaining command of the Unification. The Princeton had been a Starfleet surveillance ship that had been assigned to shadow the Borg cube-ship that had decimated a Starfleet task force at Wolf 359 in 2367. The Princeton had provided valuable intelligence on the Borg ship before being torn literally apart. Then Lieutenant Commander Paul had survived the destruction of the Princeton but many had not, only a small handful of survivors had been rescued after the battle. Paul had survived in deep space almost by sheer willpower alone, marooned in the floating derelict of the Niagara-class starship nearly a month until Starfleet had conducted a systematic search of the extensive remains of the battle area.

During the Dominion War Captain Paul and the USS Unification had served Starfleet well. The Galaxy-class starship is perhaps Starfleets most versatile space frame, at 642 meters in length and 42 decks deep it was a veritable mobile city in space. The Unification's complement was approximately 1,000 crewmembers, with up to 5,000 temporary personnel capable of coming aboard for extended periods of time and over 10,000 personnel could be carried in an evacuation situation, which had happened more than once during most of the war. Much of the space ordinarily set aside for passenger quarters, recreation facilities, scientific laboratories had been replaced by Spartan military quarters, training facilities, and communications and electronic warfare facilities. On more than one occasion the Unification had carried Starfleet Security rapid response troops to the battle front.

Captain Paul's strategic operations experience had played a vital role in the Unification's overall mission during the war. The Unification had acted as one of many tactical wing command ships during the conflict. The Unification had led a tactical reconnaissance wing attached to the Twenty-seventh Fleet (Mobile). The Twenty-seventh supported Starfleet operations against the Cardassians in and around the Badlands and Outpost Gamma 7. The Twenty-seventh fought one of the most forward-extended actions during the war conducting raids against the Cardassian Union planet of Septimus.

Admiral Selkirk selected the USS Unification specifically for the crew's operational experience so far from friendly support, and their knowledge of Dominion strategic operations. That experience would be essential for the success of Admiral Selkirk's Operation: Gateway. "Captain Paul, it's so good to finally meet you personally." Admiral Selkirk stood and extended her small hand.

"Thank you, Admiral. It's an honor to be selected for this assignment." The African-American's large hand engulfed Selkirk's small aged hand. Both senior officers smiled broadly as they took their seats.

"How was your passage past the Badlands, Captain?" interjected Colonel Kira, seating herself on the other side of the table opposite Captain Paul.

"Excellent Colonel, the Twenty-seventh has moved on to the Kobheeria system near Breen space. We departed the fleet and moved through the Cardassian Sector passing the Regulak and Pullock systems just a few days ago."

"Did you encounter any Cardassian spacecraft during your crossing of the Cardassian Sector?" continued Colonel Kira.

A serious Captain Paul replied, "There are five systems in the Cardassia Sector that are actual members of the Union: Pollock, Regulak, Monac, Tevak, and of course Cardassia Prime itself. The five systems are all located in the interior of the sector. There are inhabited independent systems named Atbar, Avenal, and Quinor located near the fringe of Cardassian space nearer to our Gamma 7-surveillance outpost. We were able to detect and monitor Cardassian commercial traffic moving from the two systems of Pullock and Regulak toward Cardassia Prime. They were scanned and determined to be carrying humanitarian aid to the capital world. We encountered no military ships, although the Cardassians are very adept at using the Badlands to conceal their movements."

"I agree Captain, I know from experience at how well Cardassian commanders use the plasma storms of the Badlands to hide their ships from detection," returned Colonel Kira.

"Well the Twenty-seventh got pretty good at navigating that maelstrom too. Although the Tzenkethi Coalition did not formally enter the war they did not take kindly to Starfleet starships straying into their territory. We often when moving the fleet skirted the edge of the Badlands rather than drawing the attention of the Tzenkethi," frowned Captain Paul.

"Were any ships engaged by the Tzenkethi, Captain?" queried Admiral Selkirk. "I was under the impression that the Tzenkethi had remained neutral during the war."

"No ma'am, they refrained from firing on our ships, but they often did shadow our ships transiting the region. That is one of the reasons I chose to bring the Unification through Cardassian space rather than taking the long way around the Badlands. At this point an exchange between Tzenkethi patrol ships is more probable than an exchange with a Cardassian."

Colonel Kira interrupted, "Have the Cardassians been that reduced to allow a Federation capital ship cross their central sector without challenge?"

Captain Paul smiled at Colonel Kira, "I think it is more a testament to the leadership of Legate Jak'Karr and his command of the adhoc Central Command. As you well know Colonel Kira the Cardassians are notoriously loyal to their commanders. During the Dominion War the pure charisma of the commanders kept the troops loyal to the Dominion despite intolerable treatment by the Dominion leadership."

"Vesala," stated Colonel Kira matter of factly.

"Pardon me Colonel?" queried Admiral Selkirk.

"Vesala is the Cardassian name for that charisma or influence that Captain Paul mentioned. It is power that the Cardassian leadership holds over its citizens," replied Colonel Kira.

"Legate Jak'Karr has done an admirable job of aiding his people in their most dire moment of need. He was scheduled to abdicate his political authority to the re-instituted Detapa Council. He is going to be the Cardassian commander for Operation Gateway."

Captain Paul is clearly surprised by this revelation, "I would think someone of Legate Jak'Karr's prestige would have remained in power during Cardassian reconstruction?"

"Legate Jak'Karr's popularity is the exact reason for his volunteering to lead the Cardassian mission. The Detapa Council would be living in his shadow if he remained in Cardassian space. The collapse of the Romulan mission to Cardassia, and the casualties suffered by the Federation limit the places he can continue to serve. He is too powerful to simply retire and live on Cardassia. "

"But the Breen Confederacy is still a threat to the peace for Cardassia, why does he not command a force patrolling the Breen Frontier?" Colonel Kira pointed out.

"The Twenty-seventh has taken on that responsibility Colonel," offered Captain Paul. "The Twenty-seventh is patrolling the sectors between the Breen and the Cardassians."

"Well, to our own business, Captain." Interrupted Admiral Selkirk. "Captain, I have been given command of Operation Gateway, Starfleet's plan for establishing an early warning capability in the Gamma Quadrant to monitor the Dominion. As you know when the war ended the Changeling that commanded the Dominion forces here in the Alpha Quadrant surrendered itself to Starfleet. However, the Changeling known as Odo returned to their homeworld. Since that point, even though there has been no hostilities there has also been no contact. Granted, nearly a year has passed since those events with no hostile acts by residue Dominion forces here in the Alpha Quadrant, or by Dominion forces in the Gamma Quadrant. Starfleet wants to establish a permanent base in the Gamma Quadrant to monitor the Dominion and serve as a command base for our own exploration."

"Does Starfleet expect the Dominion to become hostile again?" asked Captain Paul.

"No, but we do not want to be unprepared either" replied Admiral Selkirk. "The Dominion ruled the Gamma Quadrant ruthlessly for generation upon generation. I think they were stunned more than anything else that the Federation successfully attacked them directly more than anything else," pointed out Admiral Selkirk.

"They had never been directly threatened before during one of their conquests?" asked Captain Paul.

"That is the impression Starfleet Intelligence has following their review of the events that took place during the Battle of Cardassia Prime and the capture of the commanding Changeling by Colonel Kira." Admiral Selkirk deferred to Colonel Kira.

"The Changelings are a conceited people. Even in defeat the Changeling held contempt for the Solids," explained Colonel Kira.

"Captain Paul, I will command the expansion into the Gamma Quadrant from here on Deep Space Nine. You, sir, will be my forward commander operating on the Gamma Quadrant side of the Bajoran Wormhole."

"Will I command a tactical wing Admiral?"

"Yes, I will forward ships and materials to you from Deep Space Nine as we receive them, some of the resources I am forwarding will be Cardassian or Federation Alliance in nature."

"Federation Alliance Admiral?" interrupted Captain Paul.

"To project an image of political unity the other major Alpha Quadrant powers have been invited to participate, the Cardassians, the Klingons, and the Romulans."

"This should be interesting, all four of the major powers jointly trying to expand in to the Gamma Quadrant cooperatively. Admiral now that the common threat is gone so is the impetuous to continue to cooperate."

"Quite the contrary Captain, your close proximity to the Dominion in the Gamma Quadrant might be the very thing needed to stimulate continued cooperation," smiled back Admiral Selkirk. "There are four mobile fleets still remaining in this area Captain, as well as the Klingon Expeditionary Fleet. I want a tentative plan for how you will execute the initial move into the Gamma Quadrant on my desk as soon as possible."

"Aye-aye sir. Will the Unification enter the Gamma Quadrant alone initially?"

"I am not ordering you to take your ship alone through the Wormhole Captain, however the longer it takes the greater the possibility that we will have to allow the Cardassians or one of the other powers to lead the way." Selkirk's smile faded from her lips, "Consider the imagery of a single Federation explorer emerging from the Wormhole, versus a Cardassian or Klingon fleet popping out into their space. I think it would be better for the project for a Starfleet vessel to lead the way don't you?"

"I'll begin on the movement order immediately, Admiral." Captain Paul stood and extended his hand to the Admiral.

"Very well, Captain, I look forward to seeing your plan." Then she added, "Captain, its basically a foot race now you know. We've invited them all to come and play, but the first one on the court controls the ball."

"Yes ma'am, I know." With that Captain Isaac Paul departed the conference room and headed straight away back to his own starship to begin preparations.

Stardate: 55014.1 - Aboard the Imperial Romulan Warship Shadow Walker

Primus T'Cal stood next to the holographic wall image in his private ready room of his beloved Winged Defender-class cruiser, the Shadow Walker. Visually the room gave the appearance of standing in the middle of open space when the holographic projector was activated. From here Primus T'Cal could examine the details of any combat situation as if he were an omnipresent god, freely moving from one visual construct to another. Rooms with this capability were called holodecks or holosuites in the Federation. Now he stood stroking his chin with one hand; the other was casually placed in the small of his back. He considered the three-dimensional wall map before him. To him self he silently pondered, "Why is victory always stolen from me by fate, why am I always robbed the greatness that is mine?" His eyes traveled to the region of space on the map labeled as the Cardassian Union. Aloud he stated to the empty room, "I had you in my grasp. You belong to me and I will not let you dismiss your promises of loyalty to the Star Empire so easily. I will not so easily be discounted. Not on Cardassia, and certainly not on Romulus."

The door chime sounds announcing the arrival of his personal staff. He orders the door to open to allow them access then he ordered a conference table and chairs for the meeting. They instantly shimmered into existence as if magically. The entering officers paid no attention to this routine preparation by the Field Primus.

Legate Tal was the first to speak, "My lord, we have determined that there are additional stations still in this area that were brought forward during the Dominion War. " Legate Tal passed a computer display device to Primus T'Cal across the table. T'Cal read the following information:

Mobile Fleet Repair Station - Nestar-class (100% Operational) Bajor System
Invictus- This Station has just been re-instated into the Black Fleet after an attempt at being recalled by "political" factions within the Empire. Normally Unarmed it was fitted with plasma launcher pods and disrupter arrays By order of the Field Primus at the beginning of its deployment.

Romulan Defense Outpost - Aviary-class (100% Operational) Sector 45735
Thangorodrim- Was at edge of Breen space. Probably the major staging point for reconnaissance and monitoring of current Breen forces in the Area.

Romulan Defense Outpost - Aviary-class (100% Operational) Sector 45340 (?)
Nargothrond- may have been moved after the renegotiations of the Cardassian Annexation. Doubtful that it was left in Cardassian Galador II system, not with its full cloak and plasma capabilities. Most likely moved closer towards Bajor area to monitor Wormhole activity and to be used as a defensive base against possible BORG/DOMINION strikes using the Wormhole.

Tal Diann Monitoring Station - Aviary-class (100% Operational) Sector 45633
Baradur- This station was taken over by loyal Tal Diann personnel after the removal of the traitor Tal Shiar commander in Sector. This was located in the Badlands if I am not mistaken. It probably remains there being used as the major covert base in sector.

"Hmmm, I am pleased that these assets survived the war." T'Cal set the reading device on the table before him. He then stood and activated the holographic mapping program as he slowly walked around the table. The imagery that appeared in the hologram placed the spherical image of the Romulan Star Empire near where he had been seated. Federation space dominated the highest part of the hemispherical room. At the far end of the room lay Cardassian space and the Bajoran Wormhole. In a strong clear voice he ordered, "Display the locations of the four bases that are mentioned in Legate Tal's report." Four small dots flared in the vast openness of the hologram map.

The nearest station to the wormhole was the one mentioned as being in the Badlands. T'Cal noticed that one that had been in the Bajoran system had been moved to neutral space between the Federation and the Cardassian Union, near Tzenkethi Coalition space. The two defense outposts were located in their assigned positions near the Ferengi Alliance facing Breen Confederacy space. These later two stations provided needed communications links to the Romulan Star Empire.

T'Cal stood pondering the strategic deployment of the four stations he now had access too. He needed to leave the two defense outposts in place to ensure secure communications with the Imperial Senate on Romulus. These two bases also ensured a route of withdrawal if he had to fight his way back to Romulus around the coreward edge of the Federation. The logistics station that Ale'k Rav'nn was now clearing of disloyal traitors would be his most mobile base. The base in the Badlands was almost useless for surveillance due to the interference of its sensors by the plasma discharges, but it was an excellent staging area that had been used by the Tal Shiar during their short alliance with the Obsidian Order many years ago. The Tal Diann (military intelligence) had been repairing it and reinforcing it for his use as the governor of the Cardassian province of the Romulan Star Empire.

"My lord," the melodic voice of Commander Illyana De'Vanus broke Primus T'Cal Whix's train of thought, "The Black Fleet is approximately fifteen light-years from the Cardassian Union border. My navigator estimates that we can arrive in the Bajor system in two-five days once you give the command."

Returning to his chair T'Cal Whix swiveled to face Commander Illyana, "What is the status of the logistics station and Rav'nn?"

Legate Tal interjected, "Tribune Rav'nn has begun the station's preparations for being towed. He will be ready to move by morning."

"Excellent, the Tribune has never failed me or the Empire. Which ship will be tow the station Legate Tal?"

"I have not decided my lord, I await your advice," the older soldier bowed his head respectfully awaiting his superior's decision.

"Assign one of the warbirds." T'Cal shifted in his chair setting forward. "However, I want the four battleships ordered forward toward the Cardassian Union under cloak. Deploy the swarms before crossing into the Union. Order them not to engage anyone as we cross, I do want complete and accurate intelligence as we approach Bajor and Deep Space Nine. Legate Tal, establish a marshalling point near Bajor for the fleet to rendezvous before I proceed to Bajor. Have an intelligence briefing prepared for me following reconsolidating the fleet before I meet with the Starfleet admiral."

"As you command my lord." Tal replied stoically.

Stardate: 55014.5 - Cardassian Space, in route to Bajor

Legate Jak'Karr quietly entered the command bridge of the Secueva. He looked at his friend and long time executive officer and nodded. Gul Sakkatha walked over to his communications officer and tapped her on the shoulder. She reached a control on her console and activated it. Suddenly the battle stations alarm sounded. Within a few minutes more officers and senior crewmembers flooded into the warships command center.

Gul Sakkatha reached over and tapped a communications control switch. "This is an unscheduled exercise, set all weapons to minimal power settings, activate shields." Then turning to the senior operations officer and ordered, "Activate battle simulation program Makarov One." Immediately the main battle computer sent tactical information to the various command consoles throughout the fleet.

Slowly the twelve ships in Jak'Karr's fleet swung around and headed in a different direction. The two heavy Galor-class cruisers moved to run side by side, the DeShal took the portside, the Arkava taking the starboard flank. Fanning out to the rear of the two heavy Galors-class cruisers move the fleet's Hideki-class fighter-scout ships. Taking up flanking positions to the sides of the heavy Galors moved the three lighter Galors, the Herros, the Bastakar, and the Weregat. Finally the fleet transports Saervur and the Verok Meer fall in well to the rear. The flagship, the Keldon-class battleship Secueva accelerated to a wide flank position off to the starboard side of the fleet formation to observe the armada's maneuvering.

Legate Jak'Karr stepped toward the tactical console to observe the sensor readout. At the maximum tactical range the signature of the massive Hutet-class battleship moving toward the fleet at slow warp was detected. Jak'Karr looked toward Gul Sakkatha and nodded.

Gul Sakkatha leaned forward and tapped the communications console, "Break and attack."

 

Chapter Four

Stardate: 55014.5 - Cardassian Space, in route to Bajor

Legate Jak'Karr stepped toward the tactical console to observe the sensor readout. At the maximum tactical range the signature of the massive Hutet-class battleship moving toward the fleet at slow warp was detected. Jak'Karr looked toward Gul Sakkatha and nodded.

Gul Sakkatha leaned forward and tapped the communications console, "Break and attack."

On cue the Cardassian fleet broke each of the warships proceeding according to their fleet commander's battle plan that had been downloaded to their central computers just moments earlier. The Hutet-class battleship took immediate advantage of its more sophisticated Dominion engineered lateral sensors, fired its powered down massive 30-gigawatt dual disruptor wave cannons at a range of 300,000 kilometers. The first target of the Hutet's dual disruptor beams is the Galor-class heavy cruiser DeShal. The powered down disruptor beams splash against the approaching Galor's fully charged deflector shields, however the battle computers calculate damage data as if it were hit will all 25-gigawatts of energy. Instantly all the ships in the exercise exchange simulation data so that all participants can observe the results of the ships actions.

Legate Jak'Karr reads the incoming data as it appeared on his battle computer screen by his side. The DeShal's deflector shields absorbs the 25-gigawatts but are reduced in strength by 60% causing the ship's commander to veer off the attack. The second lead Galor opens fire immediately firing a salvo of spiral disruptor beams toward the newly renamed Hutet-class Makarov. Three of five golden-yellow 13-gigawatt beams rake the bull head-like bow of the Hutet; the remaining two goes wide above the ship. The powered down energy makes small splashes against the behemoth's shields. The battle computers race to calculate the simulated damage reporting to everyone that the battleship's shields are reduced by 20% of their full strength.

"Call off the attack!" orders Gul Sakkatha from his own command position.

"NO! Wait, I want to see how our new comrades react to this turn of events," interrupts Legate Jak'Karr.

Again the Makarov fires its weapons, this time releasing its secondary batteries of spiral-wave disruptors against the Arkava reducing its shields by 58% according to the battle computers. The third Galor, the Herros rushed in from the flank firing one single beam at the flank of the Hutet missing. Crossing from the opposite flank a fourth Galor sweeps by multi-firing a salvo of spiral wave disruptors. Only two of the five beams fired actual score hits on the battleship reducing its shields another 13%. The Makarov again multi-fires its spiral-wave disruptor batteries; three beams lash out toward the Arkava, only two impact the smaller ship's shields dropping them. The remaining two beams parallel together to strike the Herros as it crossed over the Makarov's fantail; one spiral-wave disruptor beam hits reducing the Herros' shield by 48%, the second one going wild.

Sakkatha moved to stand beside Jak'Karr, "The Hutet is holding its own sir. Look," Sakkatha pointed to the computer report on the Arkava, "That ship's shields are completely down."

"Indeed, one ship against six, impressive," echoed Legate Jak'Karr.

The Galor cruiser Weregat entered the fray firing a single full strength beam head on at the Hutet as it closed into the battle. The Makarov rotated only so slightly missing the beam allowing it to pass under it into the void. The Galor cruiser Bastakar approached riding in at the wing of the now wounded Arkava, unleashed its first attack firing its on single full power spiral-wave disruptor beam at the Makarov hitting the battleship amid ships on the starboard side. Sixty percent of the Makarov's total shield strength was now lost yet the battleship fought on in the simulation.

The Makarov fired its dual disruptor-wave bow canons on the Arkava. Legate Jak'Karr's computer screen instantly began spitting out data on the computer damage assigned to the Arkava. Fifty-gigawatts of energy is pictured ripping through the systems of the Arkava reducing the ship's overall operational capability a full 50%. Emergency warnings for the Arkava's life support systems, and engineering systems flash on Legate Jak'Karr's screen.

"Order the Arkava to withdraw." Jak'Karr relayed his order to Gul Sakkatha who immediately carried out his instructions.

The Herros swung around and opened fire on the aft end of the Makarov. The Herros used a second volley of multiple spiral-disruptor beams. The golden-yellow beams leaped from the Herros to strike the rear shields of the Hutet battleship. Four of the multiple beams splash the battleship's shield, one lone beam shot past into the void. The DeShal swung bow up and twisted to come around crossing above the Makarov passing bow to bow, as the Galor cruiser passed it raked the dorsal areas of the Hutet battleship. Three of the DeShal's disruptor beams hit the battleship's shields perpendicularly at full force, two of the beams glance off ineffectively.

Gul Sakkatha whispered to himself in awe, "Their shields are still holding."

"Not such a wallowing beast now it is, Gul Sakkatha?" smiled Legate Jak'Karr, his eyed locked on the data scrolling across his screen.

"It is holding its own against six of our cruisers Legate Jak'Karr. I defer to the battleship Makarov as the rightful Cardassian warship to serve you as your personal flagship."

Both men's eyes return to the tactical display and the scrolling data running down its side. Now the Makarov fired a multi-beam volley at the passing Weregat and the Bastakar. The Weregat luckily was missed as it passed the bow of the battleship. The Bastakar only took one hit from the three beams that were directed toward it. The single beam however degraded the ship's shield over 50%. The Makarov now acted like an enraged beast with a pack of carnivores nipping at its heels swung up and around coming around ninety degrees. The Makarov unleashed its dual wave-disruptor canon on the maneuvering Herros. One golden beam narrowly missed the Herros, the second struck the Galor cruiser nearly dropping its shields completely.

"Order the Herros to withdraw," commanded Legate Jak'Karr.

The DeShal ripped into the Makarov through the simulation with a single full power spiral-wave distruptor beam bursting the battleship's bubble shaped shield and slicing into the armored hull of the large starship along where the imbedded warp nacelle is located. Jak'Karr's computer screen alerted him to the simulated damage to the nacelle. The cruisers Bastakar and the Weregat now followed suit and fired multiple volleys at the now shield-less Makarov. Two of Bastakar's amber beams ripped into the battleships armored hull, severely damaging the ships shield generators and main deflector dish. The Weregat's attack is more successful with three of its beams hitting home damaging transporter systems and main deflector dish further.

The Makarov continued its arc reverses its course bringing it into the flanking cruisers that had just mauled the battleship's bow. The beast once again fired its dual wave-disruptor canons, only at two different cruisers, one beam missed again, but the second drove home dropping the cruiser's rear shield and exposing it to further fire. On Legate Jak'Karr's screen he watched the simulated damage report from the Bastakar, minimal damage but its shields were dropped, its hull armor absorbing the remaining energy. Then the Makarov fired its full spiral-wave disruptor secondary battery at the Bastakar. Five golden lances of disruptor energy leaped from the Makarov's emitters to strike blows against the Bastakar hull.

Legate Jak'Karr's screen flooded with new data coming in from the battle computer of the Bastakar, signaling damage to numerous ship-wide systems. Transporters, life support, warp power, more damage to life support, and finally the main deflector itself all scrolled down the legate's screen. The screen then flashed dramatically that the simulated Bastakar had just lost total hull integrity. Legate Jak'Karr signaled Gul Sakkatha to his side.

"Secure the fleet from the battle drill. I think we shall welcome the commander of the Makarov to our ranks Gul Sakkatha." Legate Jak'Karr stood and moved to the center of the command bridge, then he signaled the watching communications officer to open the communications link to the battleship Makarov. Legate Jak'Karr was shocked to see the face of his greatest rival's daughter materialize on the main viewing screen.

Stardate: 55014.5 - Quark's Bar, Deep Space Nine

The Klingon's belch drew the disapproving stares of every one in the establishment, except Quark who was hoping this Klingon could hold his liquor, and stay at the bar just long enough to spend a few more Federation credits. The burly warrior wiped his chin and mouth roughly with the sleeve of his Klingon Defense Force uniform. He sat the synthetic blood wine down on the bar top and swung around on the stool to survey the room. Earthers and Bajorans, two sides of the same blade as far as he was concerned. He mused to himself as he reached around for the swill that the Ferengi was passing off as blood wine; "At least the Bajorans knew how to fight." Despite working with the Earthers during the Dominion War, his respect for them as warriors had not grown.

Inwardly he was pleased though that the Starfleeters had brought back the tight brightly colored standard uniforms they had used before the war had started. The female humans looked very pleasing to him in them, much more so than in the subdued-jacketed wartime uniform. Once you got past their plain featureless faces, the humans were very pleasing to look at. The Klingon captain smiled his toothy grin to himself as he turned the mug of so-called blood wine up to finish. As if to announce the finishing of the drink as a warrior announces the death of a fellow Klingon, he released one final belch from deep in his belly.

He smiled broadly at all the plain faces frowning at him, then turning away quickly as if prolonged looks would invite his wrath. He slowly stepped down from the elevated bar toward the door across the room shoving empty chairs roughly away from him. As he approaches the door he spied a cluster of Starfleeters standing near the entrance, having just arrived. The humans were also surveying the room probably looking for a place to set themselves.

His smile growing larger he made his way toward the humans. One of the human females caught his eye, a dark raven hair female wearing the rank of lieutenant-senior grade. The amber color of her tight-fitting uniform indicated she was one of their support specialists. If he were lucky she would be one of their security specialists. He stepped past her companions and moved his right hand to touch her in a provocative way, one meant to stimulate her desire to mate. It did not work.

Lieutenant Nasreen Arrain had been raised in the mountainous regions of Iran in the region of Earth known as Southwestern Asia. She had many older brothers and sisters that had made her childhood physically challenging. She had developed into the independent, action oriented person most people in Starfleet seemed to be. If she had been a passive person she would never had worn the Starfleet uniform. As the Klingon monstrosity of a man stepped near her and raised his hand she immediately went into action.

Lieutenant Arrain stepped toward him grabbing his approaching hand and wrist, and then she twisted it with all her might away from his body. Lieutenant Arrain follows the Klingon's movement then adds to his momentum with her own to throw him on to the table before her. The large framed man hit the table hard then slide off onto the floor. Knowing that if the Klingon is able to gain the upper hand she faced serious injury the lieutenant moved quickly around the table.

Captain Freya quickly rolled to his front as he hit the floor; he looked up quickly and saw the legs of the human female moving around the table. Finally, he grinned to himself, some entertainment. He drew his legs underneath him and stood facing the woman. She stopped and drew her right hand above her left shoulder as if to strike at him. He smiled and quickly jabbed his closed fist striking her in nose. The stunned human stumbles backward, red blood squirting from her nose.

As the Klingon stepped forward he noticed the female's companions are moving toward both her and he. Another human in an amber uniform yelled and leaped across the table as if to tackle Captain Freya who side-stepped and guided the young man onto the next table behind him, the lad sliding across the table and onto the floor. Next human male was wearing the black jacket combat version of the Starfleet uniform, with a blue undershirt and gray shoulder padding. The young man stepped around the table and made a roundhouse swing at the Klingon captain.

Laughing loudly Captain Freya spin-turns into the punch bring an elbow to the jaw of the Earther sending him flying backward toward the bar entrance. Out of the corner of his eye Captain Freya saw the initial dark hair female rushing toward him with a raised bar chair. "Poor choice Lieutenant," he quipped as he lowered himself into a crouch to side kick the approaching threat.

Lieutenant Arrain quickly spun absorbing the impact of the Klingon's boot on her hip and threw her weight and momentum into swinging the chair low and up into her attacker's gleeful face. The momentum of the chair lifted Captain Freya up into the air and across the table behind him, landing on the now prone Lieutenant Senior Grade Kentaro Romero, chief tactical officer of the USS Unification. Enraged Lieutenant Arrain moved quickly around the table to strike at the downed Klingon again, blood continuing to flow from her injured nose.

Captain Freya landed on the top of the rising Earther lieutenant, driving him further under the table and into now abandoned chairs. He is very aware of the sound of the enraged female now chasing him around the tables. He quickly pulls his feet and knees up and pushes off with his hands backward rolling to a crouching position facing the charging young woman.

"FREEZE!" a human security specialist yelled from the entrance of the bar, his phaser pistol drawn and pointing at the Klingon. Another is beside him drawing his phaser. A third is kneeling to check the injuries of the downed science specialist he elbowed.

Taking advantage of the Klingon's distraction by the shout from the guard, Lieutenant Arrain swung with all her strength crashing the chair into the side of his head.

 

Chapter Five

Stardate: 55014.8 - USS Unification NCC-71959

The German accent of his first officer was thick only when things were going well. That had been one of the first mannerisms he had learned to identify during the course of the Dominion War. "Very well Mister Darmstadt, usher the captain in please."

Captain Paul looked up from his padd to the faces of his executive staff seated around the kidney bean shaped table of the command conference room just of the main bridge. His Science Officer sat in the current black jacketed standard class-C uniform. His broad Vulcan shoulders emphasized by the gray padding of the jacket. Lieutenant Commander Nevik had did not show the same disappointment with his assistant that the he had. Seated beside Mr. Nevik was Lieutenant Senior Grade Harry Williams, a brilliant researcher and bridge science officer. Lieutenant Williams had a large bandage taped across his nose by the ship's surgeon. Beside Lieutenant Williams sat the ship's Chief Engineer, Lieutenant Commander Declan Murphy, he was another North American like the Captain. Commander Murphy winced as he watched his assistant chief engineer and warp drive specialist, Lieutenant Senior Grade Nasreen Arrain adjusting her face bandages.

Captain Paul shook his head ever so slightly, then focused on his senior tactical officer, Lieutenant Senior Grade Kentaro Romero, wincing as he stretched his injured back. With frustration he looked to the far end of the table at the Klingon. Lieutenant Goran of Klingon Defense Force was part of his crew serving as a liaison officer and Chief of Security. Finally his gaze took him to Lieutenant Junior Grade Suelin Cato, his female Andorian flight operations officer for the Alpha Watch. Only she seemed attentive and ready to do his bidding setting in her red and back class-D flight suit. Everyone looked toward the pneumatic door behind him when it activated. Commander Darmstadt led the visiting Klingon captain into the conference room.

An almost jovial looking Klingon male smiled with his toothy grin and grasped Captain Paul's right hand, "I understand shaking hands is a time honored custom Captain, I am Captain Freya. I am representing Brigadier Wotan in this sector. Colonel Kira informed me that you were wanting to arrange a meeting with the Brigadier?" Then the glares of the Unification's senior staff caught his attention, "Ah Captain I see I have already met your staff." Then his eyes met the glare of Lieutenant Goran setting at the far end of the table from the Captain. "Well, most of them anyway."

Lieutenant Goran's immediate reply to Captain Freya was "I am sorry that I was not also there to 'meet' you".

Captain Paul stepped in, "Enough." Turning to Captain Freya, he motions for him to sit.

"We will come to that shortly. But Colonel Kira was correct. I am Captain Isaac Paul, and I am representing Admiral Selkirk."

Under his breath, Romero muttered "We call your Brigadier and raise you one Admiral," before disguising it as a painful wince when Darmstadt glared over at him.

Isaac Paul continued, "I will be convening a meeting for all four representatives of the Alliance, myself, yourself, and whoever the Romulans and Cardassians send. I would also be honored to meet the Brigadier. Before I do so however, I would like you to answer one question that I have; were I to touch a Klingon female, what would be the likely outcome?"

Captain Freya roared with laughter before answering, "Well it would depend on your endurance Captain."

Captain Freya walked boldly toward the junior Klingon officer setting at the far end of the table. The humans seated around the conference table braced themselves for what they believed would be a confrontation between two bullish Klingon males. Lieutenant Goran stood his chin extended and his fists clenched. Captain Freya stopped almost nose to nose with the younger warrior. Then suddenly both men broke into laughter and grasped hands in a brotherly fashion. Then to everyone's surprise both yelled and vigorously butted heads together. Both men staggered back a step or two.

"You are indeed lucky to have Goran with your crew Captain, he is well respected within the Tenth Fleet." A broadly grinning Captain Freya explained as he moved back to the head of the table and an astonished Captain Paul. "Do you know a Commander Erika Strong?"

"No I do not," Captain Paul motioned for Captain Freya to be seated beside him.

As the burly Klingon sat he continued talking, "She is a Starfleet officer assigned to the Brigadier during the Dominion War. She now serves both the Federation and the Empire as the executive officer of the Brigadier's flagship, a testament to the enduring bond our two peoples have with each other."

"Captain you continue to amaze me," smiled Captain Paul.

The Klingon returned the complement with a toothy grin, "Well let us continue in that fashion then. Reaching for a Klingon military broach-like device on his left upper arm, with an authoritative voice he ordered, "Decloak now!" To everyone's surprise as Captain Freya turned in his seat to look out the large conference room floor to ceiling windows, two Vor'cha-class assault cruisers decloaked above and behind the Unification. Turning back to face a stunned Captain Paul, "Sir may I present the flagship and escort of Brigadier Wotan, commander of the Tenth Deep Space Fleet."

Admiral Alexandra Selkirk sat behind her desk in her Flag Ready Room on board the USS Daniel Kaiser, a Flying Dutchman-class Starfleet executive courier now orbiting Deep Space Nine. The Kaiser had been here "flying office" since her return to Starfleet Headquarters after her recuperation. She had been held by the Dominion for a short time before their entry in force to the Alpha Quadrant and the resulting war. The Kaiser was only slightly larger than the USS Defiant, Deep Space Nine's permanently assigned escort. The crew of forty odd Starfleet and civilian personnel was her staff and was responsible for the planning and management of Operation Gateway. Eventually most of them would become the cadre for the Starfleet space station to be constructed in the Gamma Quadrant.

Admiral Selkirk reviewed the still forming table of organization being developed for the Starfleet contribution to the project. Project Gateway was technically being organized as a Mobile Fleet, a non-standard, temporary organization that was mission specific versus a permanently standing fleet with a dedicated area of responsibility. The heading on the data screen stated matter of factly, "43rd Fleet - Mobile." She smiled as she read the single ship name under the heading - "USS Unification NCC - 71959." She would have to do some politicking to change that, her mandate from Starfleet Headquarters was to use whatever local resources she could, of course the local admirals had a different understanding of what that actually meant. It was one thing to borrow a ship for a specific mission, but to transfer a ship's command and control permanently was something quite another.

The ship's intercom interrupted her reflections on command at the admiralty level, "Admiral, two Klingon Vor'cha-class assault cruisers have just decloaked behind the Unification! Should we go to Red Alert?" the nervous voice of the fleet courier nearly broke as he requested instructions.

"Negative Captain, keep us at Condition Green. Do not do anything provocative. Last time I check with Starfleet Command, the Klingons were our best allies." The Admiral tried very hard not to sound condescending as she instructed her subordinate commander. Admiral Selkirk activated her screen and directed the computer to show her the images of the two Klingon warships. Instantly the image of the two deceptively stubby Vor'cha cruisers appeared on her screen. "Vor'cha variants," she noted to herself, "fleet versions of the famous cruiser." She smiled and leaned back in her office chair. "Thank God for the Klingons. They are always ready and always on time."

Stardate: 55015.4 - Deep Space Nine

The fleet was growing, now four starships orbited the former Cardassian space station, two Klingon Vor'cha-class assault cruisers, a Galaxy-class exploration cruiser, and the USS Daniel Kaiser, a fleet courier. Operation Gateway was underway.

Brigadier Wotan stepped off the transporter pad and faced the frail looking human woman wearing a Starfleet admiral's uniform. "Admiral Selkirk I presume?"

"Welcome to Deep Space Nine, Brigadier, let me introduce Colonel Kira and Captain Paul, and of course you know Captain Freya." Admiral Selkirk indicated the three senior officers standing behind her. Brigadier Wotan grunted his recognition of the two then asked, "The Klingon High Command informs me you are planning a return mission to the Gamma Quadrant, I am to represent the Klingon Empire's interests in a Federation expansion into that quadrant."

Selkirk smiled, "Well then Brigadier, let us retire to one of the station's conference rooms and begin your briefing."

The medium build Brigadier Wotan stepped through the door first into the Cardassian designed conference room. "Ah this is the room in which the surrender of the Dominion Changeling occurred." Wotan walked around as if preparing to purchase the room for his personal quarters. "I was here, I stood right over there near the window. Your Admiral Ross, where is he now?"

"At Starfleet Command, he has been debriefing on the Dominion War since it ended," answered Selkirk as she followed him in. She went immediately to the head of the table and took her seat. Brigadier Wotan and Captain Freya took their seats on the outboard side of the table, Captain Paul and Colonel Kira the inboard side with their backs to the door.

"Tell me of your plan Admiral, what is it you intend to do?" Wotan began the meeting.

"Starfleet feels it is imperative to establish a presence in the Gamma Quadrant, for intelligence collection as well as diplomatic reasons. History has taught us that an enemy that is not defeated will come back to seek revenge or at least undermine the victor's interests unless the victor takes an interest in their reconstruction and recovery."

Colonel Kira interjected, "At the end of the Dominion War the Changeling Odo returned to the Great Link, the collective consciousness of the Changelings. He is just one perspective that has been blended with possibly millions of others. There is no guarantee that the majority of that consciousness accepted his perspective." Colonel Kira paused for a moment before continuing, "The Federation Alliance is the first power to defeat the Dominion as far as we know in their entire history. That defeat was facilitated by the Bajoran Prophets, or Wormhole Aliens as Starfleet likes to refer to them."

Admiral Selkirk retook the lead in the conversation, "Recent intelligence on the Borg provided to Starfleet from the returned USS Voyager indicates that their transwarp conduits extends over nearly half the galaxy. It may come down to a situation where the Federation, no the entire Alpha and Beta Quadrants, may need the Dominion to defend against the Borg Collective."

Brigadier Wotan openly laughed at Admiral Selkirk, "The Dominion fighting the Borg for us? Don't be absurd Admiral."

A determined Admiral Selkirk continued, "Be that as it may Brigadier, my orders are to establish a starbase on the other side of the Wormhole, establish contact with the Dominion, or at least begin collecting intelligence on them through the exploration of surrounding space."

Brigadier Wotan leaned back in his conference chair and intently looked at Admiral Selkirk before speaking; "It is a sound military mission strategically, what is your tactical plan?"

Admiral Selkirk turned to Captain Paul of the USS Unification, "Captain Paul will be my fleet captain during the initial phase of the operation."

"Brigadier," began Captain Paul, "I will take the Unification through the Wormhole and scout space immediately near the Gamma Quadrant event horizon. As you know the USS Defiant was able to explore some of the region before open hostilities began before the war."

"Yes, I read our Klingon intelligence reports." Interrupted Brigadier Wotan, "The last Galaxy-class cruiser to travel to the Gamma Quadrant was lost with all hands, including the women and children. All told I believe you lost two cruisers in the Gamma Quadrant."

"Actually more," interjected Admiral Selkirk, "I commanded a small task force that entered the Gamma Quadrant a few years ago, the mission details are classified. I lost the entire squadron. I was interrogated by the Dominion, even now the details of my capture are fuzzy even to me. My memory begins here at Deep Space Nine, I was returned to the Federation by the Dominion before hostilities began."

"Hmmm, well. You expect a hostile welcoming back then Admiral?" questioned Captain Freya fidgeting in his chair in obvious discomfort caused by the Admiral's disclosure.

"I am expecting to complete my mission and establish a starbase on the Gamma Quadrant side of the Wormhole," returned a determined Alexandra Selkirk.

"The Unification will conduct an initial reconnaissance around the Gamma Quadrant side of the Wormhole selecting a location for the station to be started. Admiral Selkirk will feed me personnel and materials from this side via follow-on starships."

Brigadier Wotan sat in contemplation considering what he had just been told. Finally he stood, "The Tenth Fleet will participate in your Operation Gateway. But I and only I will dictate in what capacity and in what numbers. For our assistance we claim rights to three-quarters of all resources claimed by the Alliance. We also will command the Gateway station, placing a garrison of our finest warriors to represent our shared interests. I also will establish my fleet forward headquarters here at Deep Space Nine, with a full company of warriors to augment the Bajoran militia already guarding the station."

Admiral Selkirk does not fully understand what the Brigadier has said, but Colonel Kira does. "Say that again Brigadier?" she queries.

"Ah," Wotan smiled at Kira; "Obviously 75% of all newly discovered worlds and resources should become the sovereign territory of the Klingon Empire. Obviously enemies of the Empire should not be allowed access to these new areas. That includes the Romulan and Cardassian "so called" empires. Obviously the access points to these new areas - both the Gamma and Alpha Quadrant sides should become sovereign Klingon territory."

Wotan then turned back to Admiral Selkirk, "Once all sides agree upon these main points, we can proceed with the actual negotiations for access through the Klingon wormhole."

Colonel Kira now stood matching Wotan glare for glare, "The Bajoran system as you well know is sovereign unto itself, not part of the Federation. We control access to this side of the Wormhole, not Starfleet. At least not until Bajor becomes a member of the Federation, which I fully support."

"Then Bajor and the Federation can bear the full brunt of the cost in personnel and material to construct this Gateway station Colonel." Wotan leaned heavily on the conference table toward Colonel Kira, "The Klingon Empire now sees the need to have its own eyes on the Gamma Quadrant side of the Wormhole. Do not interfere with Klingon warships passing through the Wormhole Colonel."

As Wotan and Captain Freya exited the conference room in obvious bad spirits Colonel Kira offered on final world of advice. "Brigadier," she waited for the rugged Klingons to turn to hear her final words, "May the Bajoran Prophets be with your crews as they travel through the Wormhole." Both Klingons exchanged cold glances with one and other before turning and entering the passageway beyond the pneumatic door.

Captain Paul is the first to offer something following Kira's frustrated collapse into her chair, "Well, that went well." Both women smiled as they looked at each other then at Captain Paul and they shared a round of tension releasing laughter.

 


Proceed to Part II

 

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