Star Trek Deneva - Episode VIII - The Beckoning Darkness by John Berkeley
The Beckoning Darkness
"Captain's Personal Log, stardate 89326.9, U.S.S. -"
Holkham sighed. The letters had come automatically. "Computer, erase last three letters." He tried again.
"Captain James Holkham reporting from aboard starbase C209. It is now two weeks since the destruction of the Juno, Paron's execution, and Riannah's being shot. I cannot think of a more awful set of circumstances. Riannah and Dax are still in the starbase's hospital. They are both now stable, although they are still both on life support. Dax has needed a spine replacement and emergency nervous system regeneration. Riannah has needed emergency lung repair and a heart transplant. Doctor Lewis, the optician who comforted me on the morning of the attack, has kept me posted on their condition, which has improved steadily over the past few weeks.
Jannisson has ordered that the old crew of the Juno are to take a personnel transport straight to the Catalan System, the location of the Andarios shipyards, to inspect the construction work of the new Juno. He says that our interim assignment is waiting there as well, and we are to fly her back to C209 and take a month's shore leave before returning for our next assignment.
The whole crew is disconsolate with the loss of our ship. No-one was aboard her when she was destroyed, so we did not lose anybody, although the fifty-three crewmembers killed in our battle with Paron have yet to be replaced.
We are due to leave for the Catalan System with Admiral Jannisson within the hour, so I shall sign off."
Observation Lounge, Deck 14, S.S. Perriman, Stardate 89326.9
Holkham sat, with his senior officers about him, in the forward lounge of the transport Perriman. Starbase C209 lay receding behind them, and ahead lay the Islamorada carrier group, Grand Admiral Jannisson's vast supercarrier hanging in the void just off the starboard bow.
The ships were all surrounded by a shimmering tunnel of rippling blue, white and orange light - a hyperwarp conduit. Evidently, Jannisson thought that by getting the crew of the Juno to their new ship as soon as possible, he would minimise the pain of the loss of its predecessor.
As Holkham watched, in fact, the white flare ahead of the lead ship grew, flashed and the conduit vanished. Coming towards them very fast indeed was a large, red, rocky planet girdled by a ring of large asteroids. Cutting the view diagonally in two was a large asteroid belt. The Catalan System's star was just appearing behind the limb of the planet, which Holkham now realised must be Catalan IV - the asteroid belt was the location of the shipyard.
As the asteroids neared, they slowed, and the shipyards, which were built into several extremely large asteroids, came into view. The central station was built into an asteroid of colossal proportions, and jutting out from it at regular intervals were the ends of ship construction berths, like the one Juno herself had been launched from so many months ago.
Jannisson joined the senior staff in the Perriman's tiny shuttlebay, and they boarded the observation shuttle he had used to board the transport. The wide, many-windowed shuttle took off again, and left the squat, angular Perriman, and long, graceful Islamorada and her escorts far behind.
Jannisson talked to them about the new Juno en route, explaining how much of her had been completed; how much had been done, and what was left to do to her.
And then, the runabout rounded the lip of one of the berths, and they caught their first glimpse of the new Juno.
Holkham was reminded painfully of the countless times he had visited the old Juno when she, too, had been under construction. About a third of the ship's hull plating had been added, leaving a substantial part of the ship un-covered, along the front and port sides. Even from a distance of a few kilometres, Holkham could see into the ship's interior, and the vast conical form of the interior of the navigational deflector was easily visible. The starboard nacelle looked almost complete, and workbees - tiny yellow dots - were manoeuvring plates of transparent aluminium into place over the nacelle's exposed warp coils.
They were approaching the ship from the top, looking down on her, so the face presented was a dorsal-forward-port view.
"She looks almost complete." Said Kelos.
"Ah, no." said Jannisson. "Helmsman, take us to have a look at her belly." He commanded the ensign piloting the shuttle.
They went into a slow dive, and as they approached the ship, Holkham could see what Jannisson had meant.
What Holkham had taken to be hull plating was, in fact, bare decks and bulkheads, forming a latticework of horizontal and vertical surfaces. There were large holes here and there where equipment still had to be inserted - the top of the command hull had many large holes - there was one at the top, near the back, for the bridge module, a large cylindrical one for the computer core, and a long flat one near the front for the ship's upper sensor array. At the back, there was a very large hole indeed - Holkham assumed it was for the main impulse engines.
And then, they were looking at the ship side-on. Holkham drew breath. Quite suddenly, at around deck forty-five, the lattice like decking just ended. Miami-class ships had sixty-four decks, and where deck sixty-five should have been, was the ship's huge and massively strong keel beam.
The bottom of the ship ought to have been gently rounded, but the decks stopped. And, arcing below the bottom-most deck, leaving a space of almost forty metres, was the ship's massive keel, a solid beam of metal forming a curve below the last deck. Stretching up at regular intervals, like ribs, were more beams, defining how the ship's armour plating would lie when, in a few months, it was added.
"They had a big problem with the keel." Jannisson explained. "Ships are built from the bottom-up, but after a few months, the original keel began to decay. A colony of Tolian Microbes was found on it, and the whole keel had to be removed."
"What-" began M'Gila.
"Vacuum-dwelling, radiation-loving single-celled lifeforms that live by ingesting dense metal and reducing it to organic elements." Recited Sonak, answering her un-finished question.
"Of course, with all the alloys and radiation to be found in a shipyard, they thrived. Said Jannisson, rubbing his many chins with a hand. "All the original decks, from sixty-four to fifty-three had to be removed and destroyed. The new keel was added last month, while she was still called the 'Salerno'. The equipment will be added over the next months, and after that, once she's been tested, she'll be all yours.
"Now," said Jannisson, clapping his hands together loudly and rubbing them, "how would you like to be the first members of your crew to set foot on your new ship?"
Main Shuttlebay, U.S.S. Juno (ex. Salerno), Construction Dock 14, Andarios Fleet Yards
Holkham reached the door at the same time as Jannisson.
He stopped, gesturing ahead of him with a hand. "After you, sir."
But Jannisson shook his head, sending his jowls quivering madly. "No, captain." He rumbled. "I want you to be the first to step aboard your new command."
Holkham could not refuse. "Thankyou, sir." He said, quietly, and walked down the ramp.
He was sure that the moment he stepped onto the Juno's virgin deck, something would happen - some new feeling would engulf him.
But it was exactly the same as walking on the shuttle ramp. The feeling was the same. Then, he realised he was walking on his ship. His ship. His new home. He looked about him.
The shuttlebay was devoid of shuttles and fighters, workbees and runabouts. The only shuttle in the bay was their own. Most of the deck had not been put in yet; the exposed pipes, circuits, conduits, gravity nets and panels reflected and twinkled between the struts that would have held the deck up. There was a roughly-defined walkway leading from where he stood to a door in the far wall, and enough decking had been put in place to allow a shuttle enough room to land. Other than that, the floor was uncovered. Much of the ship seemed to be like that.
The tiers, ranked above his head, which would ordinarily have held fighters and shuttles, were empty, most of them still not covered; some still not complete.
He turned, and looked out of the open shuttlebay doors. Stars twinkled, asteroids turned lazily where they orbited the planet, which glowed a dull red on its night side. In the foreground were a few asteroids that had installations in them, and, not too far away, was a free-standing construction berth. Inside its skeletal, angular frame was a ship, no bigger than the Juno, but of a completely different design.
"Admiral Jannisson, sir, which ship is that?" he indicated the curious ship moored in her berth.
"Ah. Yes. That, captain, is the USS Aleutian. She's an experimental ship. She's due to be launched in a few days, and I have something special in store for her."
It struck Holkham as curious that Jannisson would mention this, but, not wanting to pry into the business of a Grand Admiral, he nodded submissively, and allowed Jannisson to escort them around their new ship.
Main Hospital, Starbase C209, Stardate 89326.11
"Easy, ma'am. That's it. Can you sit up?"
"I - I think so."
The nurse adjusted the pillows, and, gasping with the pain, Riannah Trealor managed to prop herself into a sitting position.
"How are you feeling?"
"Like my mind's being dragged out of thick treacle." Said Trealor, wincing.
The nurse exchanged a significant look with the doctor standing at the foot of Trealor's bed.
"Well, admiral, if you're well enough to make similes like that, then I know you're feeling better." He said, smiling slightly.
"What do you remember?" asked a woman sitting by Trealor's bed. The admiral hadn't noticed her before - she was a small Bajoran woman wearing a purple uniform and commander's pips.
"I was watching the sunrise with Dax. I remember watching the first sun come up, and then, when the second one rose, the light was stronger than usual. When the light had receded, Dax was lying on the floor." She caught her breath, and winced. "How is she?"
"She's fine. What else do you remember? It's important you tell me."
"I remember turning to see who had shot her, and then a blast of pain and nothing."
The purple-shirted woman straightened in her chair, obviously disappointed.
Trealor frowned. "What?"
"I hoped you might have got a glimpse of your attacker."
Trealor shook her head. "All I remember is looking around and seeing nothing - except the Andorian palm. The blast that got me seemed to come right out of the wall." She frowned at the memory.
"It all happened so quickly I must not have noticed them."
"Or they were cloaked." Muttered the Bajoran woman. She rose. "Thankyou, ma'am."
"If you don't mind my asking, commander, why did you ask?"
"Admiral Vessan ordered an investigation. He wants to get as much information as possible before reporting to Grand Admiral Jannisson."
"Commander Marel, I must ask you to leave now." Said the doctor. "The admiral has just regained consciousness - she needs calm and quiet."
"Right. Thankyou, admiral. I shall return, doctor, to ask Dax if she remembers anything."
"She won't." said Trealor. "She didn't have a chance to turn."
The Bajoran woman sighed. "I know that. But we've got to try everything. I hope you recover soon, admiral."
And she strode out of the doors. The moment she left, the doctor and nurse descended on the admiral.
"How does it feel, ma'am?"
Guest Suite 2-47, Central Command Station, Andarios Fleet Yards, Stardate 89327.4
"He's WHAT?" asked M'Gila, springing up from her chair.
"M'Gila, calm down!" said Barek, surprised.
"He's given us the Aleutian." Repeated Kelos. "We're to board her tomorrow and fly her back to C209 with a skeleton crew. The Juno's crew'll join her there, and when Dax is fit, we'll begin our next assignment."
"Which gives us approximately four days of shore leave." Muttered Laren, mutinously.
"It certainly seems most illogical not to give us a longer recovery period." Observed Sonak.
"It's damned ridiculous." Said Barek.
The doors opened, and Holkham walked in. Instantly, M'Gila, Bashir, Laren, Kell and Barek descended upon him. Only Sonak and Kelos remained seated.
"Sir! Have you heard what Jannisson's done?"
"He's given us the Aleutian!"
"And only four days' shore leave!"
"Is it true?"
"All RIGHT!" shouted Holkham a hand raised. "I have some good news. Now sit down, everyone, and please shut up - I've got a headache."
"What's the news, sir?" asked Kelos.
"Riannah - sorry - Admiral Trealor - regained consciousness this morning. I got a message from Dr. Lewis, saying she's much better and should be out of bed by the time we return to the starbase. Dax is improving, too, although she's not woken up, yet. We'll have a first officer again within a month, however."
"A month?" asked Kell.
"Well, for serious wounds like that, it takes Trill longer to heal." Said Bashir, thoughtfully. "Dax will need time to recover from the shock - as will Jadzia."
"I hope that sorts out your shore leave problem." Said Holkham, shooting a hard look at M'Gila, who nodded.
"Why has Jannisson given us the Aleutian?" asked Kell.
"He says that Starfleet needs a crew of our experience in the field before the new Juno is complete. He says that we've been given the ship temporarily, while her proper crew is assembled. We'll be her shakedown crew, and we'll hand over to her real crew in two months, when the new Juno is launched."
Briefing Room 2; Free Orbit Facility Alpha; Andarios Fleet Yards, Stardate 89328.5
"The Aleutian is Starfleet's newest weapon with which to combat the Banthar. She sports twelve ion torpedo cannons, nine assault phasers, fourteen phaser arrays, sixty-one pulse phaser turrets, a stargun, and three of Starfleet's most destructive projectile weapons to date." Jannisson pressed a button on the screen he stood beside.
Upon the screen there appeared a diagram of a long, thin device that had a large amount of machinery at one end and a long tube at the other.
"This is an enlarged, modified ion torpedo cannon. It is designed... to launch these." He tapped the screen again, and the modified cannon was replaced with a streamlined, evil-looking projectile with three fins towards the back.
"This, ladies and gentlemen, is Starfleet's most destructive ship-mounted weapon to date. It carries a multi-layered quantum filament warhead laced with antineutrons. Behind that are no less than three capsules, each containing 3 grams of antideuterium." The screen switched to a computerised demonstration of one being launched. The projectile flared in the bottom-right before shooting slowly away from the firing ship, false light spikes dancing and flickering around it.
"This torpedo, upon detonation, will create an explosion large enough to take out most starships. In that explosion, there will be three consecutive shockwaves of antimatter that could, in theory, annihilate a fleet." The torpedo on the screen flared, and a brilliant ball of light filled the screen for an instant, leaving a faint imprint of concentric pale halos against the stars. Jannisson drew himself up. "This, ladies and gentlemen, is the nova torpedo. Over twenty times as powerful as the ion torpedo, and not that much bigger."
"Just one torpedo could..."
"Take out an entire fleet, yes, Lieutenant, that is just what I said."
"Sir, do these weapons not contravene the Algeron Treaty of 2312? That quite clearly stipulates that no Starfleet weapon shall equal or exceed -"
"Commander Sonak, that treaty is well over a hundred and fifty years old. The Presiding Table of the Federation Council, after consideration, decided to green-light the nova torpedo project, seeing it as our only real hope of putting an end to the war with the Banthar." Jannisson deflated slightly.
"Now, once your shore leave is over, the Aleutian will become a key asset to Starfleet, and form a crucial part of the forward fleet. The Aleutian will therefore join Admiral Calnen and his fleet."
Holkham jumped violently.
"You all right captain?" Jannisson asked.
"Did you say Admiral Calnen, sir?"
"I did. There is only one Fleet Admiral Calnen in Starfleet, I take it..?"
"Of course. Sorry, sir."
Jannisson nodded, glanced at Holkham and continued with their briefing. But Holkham was only half listening. Calnen. Tobias Edward Calnen.
Holkham had thought he was shot of the man for good. But fate had a cruel sense of humour, he decided.
For Calnen had been Holkham's captain aboard the Matriarch. Embittered by a painful history with the ship, Calnen worked tirelessly and with a fearful drive, to see that ship destroyed, and so too everything that reminded him of that past.
Calnen had known Holkham and Trealor's fathers. Richard Holkham and Aryon Trealor, inseparable friends from before the academy, had both served under Calnen, who blamed them for the loss of his wife's ship. Continuing the vendetta on their children, James Holkham and Riannah Trealor had had a difficult time under Calnen's command.
And now he was to command Holkham again.
It took him a few seconds to realise that everyone else was getting up to leave.
"Jim, wait one moment, please." Jannisson called, from the front.
"Sir?" Holkham joined him at the podium.
Jannisson sighed. "I don't quite know how to phrase this. I had a message from Fleet Tactical Operations earlier today. Jim, this information is classified, so do not discuss it with anyone."
"What about Ria- Admiral Trealor?"
"She's fine, but no-one else, Jim. I have some interesting news. Take a seat, why don't you?"
They sat down in the front row.
"Jim, President Izumo is going to announce his retirement any day now." Holkham stared. "When he does, it'll trigger a general election. Now, you know how tense the situation with Trillian has been lately. Trill is one of the most powerful Federation member worlds, and problems with Trillian mean problems indeed."
"Well, the Symbiosis Commission and the Royal Guard, as you know, are beginning to manifest themselves in the form of one of the biggest pains-in-the-ass for a long time. If there is a general election, the Symbiosis Commission is bound to put up a candidate, who is... like..."
"Like Paron?" Holkham asked.
Jannisson nodded. "The Commission has the potential to turn Trillian into the most powerful Federation member state - potentially, as in, in a hundred years or so, more powerful than Earth. Now, while most people really don't have much of a problem with that, they do have a problem with the way the Commission has been going on. And we've got intelligence - all highly classified - showing that the activities of the Commission for the past few hundred years go entirely against everything the Federation stands for, and following the attacks on Dax, Trealor and the Juno, more extreme factions have been manifesting themselves as well. In a nutshell, Jim, what we have is a massively powerful organisation that is corrupt at its core, but which also could, possibly, turn into a grave threat to the stability of the Federation. And with the Banthar on our doorstep - only three systems away from the Terran Wormhole - we cannot afford instability. And with a presidential election coming, too."
Holkham nodded, letting the words sink in. "What do tac-ops want, sir?"
"Ah, yes. Well, the situation in Trillian System has been getting progressively worse, and so at the next excuse we get, we're going to send in the USS Ark Royal with an investigation team, to try and de-fuse the situation. I'd like you to join the investigation team."
Holkham nodded - and then realised something.
"Sir, isn't Riannah's father in command of the Ark Royal?"
"Fleet Admiral Aryon Trealor specifically asked for you, Dax and er... the other Admiral Trealor."
"This means that you'll miss the party with the Aleutian. If both you and your first officer go, that means that your second officer will have command of the Aleutian until you finish your work aboard the Ark Royal."
Holkham nodded again. "When do we leave?"
Guest Suite 2-47; Free Orbit Facility Alpha; Andarios Fleet Yards, Stardate 89328.5
Catalan IV glowed, brooding, dull and red, with it's single parent star hanging just above its limb. Its necklace of asteroids girdled the distant world, as it turned on its tilted axis. The Andarios Belt stretched away seemingly in every direction; the larger asteroids of the shipyards hanging motionless in the void, while, in the distance, the more turbulent inner reaches of the belt raged; great chunks of rock hurtling past at different speeds in their own orbits.
Behind the scene, almost entirely drowned out by the star's glow, the galactic plane, a great river of molten light and dark, stretched across the scene.
But the scene was imperfect. The window was slightly dusty, and the whole scene was dominated by the faint reflection of a tall, dark-hared man standing in front of it. One hand was resting on the right-hand part of the window's frame, while the other hung motionless at his side, as Captain James Holkham stood, head bowed in thought, oblivious of the spectacle before him.
His combadge chirped. "Kelos to Holkham."
Reluctantly, Holkham tapped his combadge. "Holkham here."
"Sir, we've received a communiqué from C209. Commander Dax has regained consciousness - we thought you'd like to know."
"Right. Thankyou, Varin. Did they say anything else?"
"Okay. Holkham out."
Holkham sighed. What he needed; what he really needed was someone to talk to. A close friend. Immediately, he thought of Riannah, and then of Dax; but both were dozens of light-years away. The others of his command crew - all were friends, yes, but did he want to burden them with his troubles?
He felt alone. Even more so, given that his conversation with Jannisson had revealed that Riannah had not even mentioned her work with Starfleet Intelligence. She hadn't even thought to tell him the truth. *She might have been ordered not to* he thought. Even so, the thought that she might keep it from him was unbearable. The fact that it probably wasn't any of his business made him feel worse for wanting to know.
The asteroids tumbled languidly in their orbits, basking in the light from the star; the planet turned slowly about its axis in the far distance, and lights from ships and shuttles shone among the rocks. And Jim Holkham, lost in thought, saw none of it.
Starship USS Aleutian; Free Orbit Dock 34B, Special Operations Partition; Andarios Fleet Yards, Stardate 89329.4
"Coming on-line now, sir. Fusion reactors at 43% and rising."
"Warp core priming and standing by to commit power up."
"Mr. Kelos, how about shields?"
"All emitters at maximum normal charge."
"All phaser banks charged or charging; torpedo cannon one through four primed; estimate complete transition to red alert within twenty seconds of order."
"All modules working at nominal capacity."
"Sir!" M'Gila turned round, her hand at her ear. "We're being hailed."
The screen flicked to a view of a large-ish control centre.
"Aleutian, this is Space Traffic Control. You have permission to begin the undocking process."
"Thankyou, control. Aleutian out." M'Gila cut the channel as Holkham finished.
"Mr. Laren, manoeuvring thrusters, if you please."
"Aye, sir. Thrusters at station keeping."
"Sonak, withdraw gantries one through five."
"Aye, sir. Gantries are withdrawing along the port side."
"Starboard gantries, Mr. Elson."
"Aye, captain. Gantries six through ten are retracting."
"Excellent. Mr. Laren, take her out; one-eighth manoeuvring thrusters."
Slowly, the grey-blue form of the U.S.S. Aleutian slid smoothly from its spindly housing.
"Command section is clear."
"Sir, fusion reactors are at cruising capacity."
"We are away, sir. Both nacelles are clear of the dock."
"Mr. Laren, engage impulse engines."
On the screen, the vast and sleek form of the Islamorada spat a point of blue light, flaring and dancing with false light spikes.
"Sir, the bridge crew of the USS Islamorada have sent their congratulations."
The distant ion torpedo exploded with a small flash.
"Sir, Space Traffic Control on secure channel."
"Aleutian, you have permission to leave the shipyard facility. Have a good maiden voyage."
"Thankyou, control, we'll do our best. Aleutian out. Lieutenant Laren, lay in a course for the New Deneva system. And prepare to engage warp."
"Engineering to bridge."
Holkham tapped his combadge. "Bridge here, Mr. Barek."
"All engines working at normal levels, sir."
"Excellent. Everything okay down there, commander?"
"You could say that again, sir. She's a good ship, this one."
"Right. Bridge out."
"We're clear of the Andarios Belt, sir." Laren said, from the helm console.
"The president of Catalan III has sent his congratulations, sir." M'Gila called from somewhere to Holkham's right.
"Send our thanks, M'Gila. Lieutenant Laren, standby to enter warp."
"Aye, sir. Ready to enter warp drive on your mark."
Thomas Jannisson watched the Aleutian jump to warp, and sighed with the weight of the world about him. Sending his silent regards to Holkham, he rose from his chair, and looked out over the bridge. Someday, he hoped, he might just see that aspiring young captain again.
"Captain's Personal Log, stardate 89329.6, U.S.S. Aleutian, Captain James Holkham commanding. Four hours ago, we launched from the Andarios shipyards, and are now heading for C209 at warp eight, expecting to arrive there some time within the next few hours. I can say, for the first time in a long while, that I'm actually quite happy. The Aleutian is a very sleek ship, although it is almost too clean and sterile for my tastes. Its designers seem to have liked the colour blue rather a lot, and, no matter how hard I try, I cannot shake the feeling that this ship was designed for war, rather than for exploration, like the Juno.
The crew is rather edgy, and I think the change of scene has something to do with that - I think the stark difference of the Aleutian to what came before was rather a culture shock for them.
The latest report from C209 states that Riannah and Dax are making good recoveries, although it seems likely that Dax - that is to say, Jadzia - will never fully recover. Despite these setbacks, I am looking forward to the next few weeks. I'm apprehensive about this secret operation that Jannisson spoke to me about, although I suppose only time will reveal what time has in store for me. God, I'm looking forward to seeing Riannah again."
Main Command Centre, Starbase C209, New Deneva system, Stardate 89329.9
"Sir, there's a large starship approaching this system."
Commodore Xingjiang turned.
"Its IFF says it's the USS Aleutian, but there aren't any records of a USS Aleutian on file."
Xingjiang snorted. "Don't let that worry you, ensign. It's Holkham returning. Tell them to dock in bay C."
The ensign frowned, but nodded submissively under Xingjiang's stare.
Deep in space, there was a rippling blast of light, resolving into the stately form of the starship Aleutian. On the nearby planet, the new speck of light caught the eye of a farmer, who, dismissing it as another one of *those spaceships*, returned to his crops and his herd.
High above that planet, it attracted greater interest. People manning sensor stations frowned and watched it, while those watching from the starbase's promenade pointed and looked at the second Starfleet ship they had seen since lunch.
And, from an expansive office nestled in the station's upper tower, someone else glanced up, frowned - and then smiled.
Wincing slightly as she rose, Admiral Riannah Trealor walked to her office window to watch as the small form of the Aleutian flew across her line of sight, to vanish beneath the limb of the massive space station.
Admiral's Office, Starship U.S.S. Islamorada, New Deneva System, Stardate 89361.5
"Come. Ah, Admiral, Captain. Take a seat."
Trealor and Holkham sat done on the sofa facing Jannisson's desk.
"Yes, thankyou, sir."
"Excellent. I'll come to the point. The USS Ark Royal is preparing to leave from Timor Station. You will be taking a fast transport runabout through the wormhole tomorrow morning, which will take you straight to the Ark Royal from Earth.
Right. Well, I can now tell you what you will do while you're part of the investigation. Your objectives, simply, are to intelligence-gather in the Symbiosis Commission and glean enough data and material to prove that they have been engaging in illegal activities. Also, you will be gathering intelligence on the rebellious element of the Commission, which Paron worked for. Your third objective will be to determine who is behind the recent acts of terrorism that have been going on throughout Trill-held space."
"You two and Commander Dax will board the runabout Severn, which is currently docked in Main Docking Bay B. All clear?"
"Now, I will be in contact with Dax and will give her the same briefing. I want all three of you to remember the importance of this mission. You will be part of the official Starfleet investigation into the recent terrorist atrocities, so you will be under the overall command of Fleet Admiral Aryon Trealor and his team. All right?"
Taking their cue from Jannisson, Trealor and Holkham rose.
"In that case, you're dismissed. Godspeed."
"Thankyou, sir." Trealor said as they left.
Jannisson waved the comment away. "Don't speak too soon, Fleet Admiral. And good luck!" he called after them, as they walked out.
The door slid shut behind them. "You'll need it." He muttered.
Vermillion Palace, Pareel, Trillian (Trillian IV), Trillian System
The doors opened, and the maid showed the young man in. He saluted the moment he laid eyes on the man standing by the great arched windows.
"Thankyou, that will be all." the older man said to the maid, who left. He walked over to the young guest. "Your name and rank, my man?"
"Post Captain Zaril Sukan, captain of the Royal Naval frigate Ferin Sha."
"Sukan? You are the fourth host..?"
"Fifth, your majesty." the young man, although respectful, had a faint hint of modest self-assurance about him.
"They say you are a good captain, Sukan. Your Initiate record indicates you are a formidable tactician. I read your report on Commander Dax with interest."
"I am in need of your services - and of your ship - again, captain. As you know, the uprising in Thuella is only a taste of what is to come if we do not nip the Insurgency in the bud. So the great plan must be stepped up. Kahn's followers are proving a menace, and with her words, she spreads the Insurgency as a virus. She must be silenced."
"Yes, your majesty."
"I want you to dispose of her. You know where she is, I trust?"
"I do, your imperial majesty."
"And I trust the necessary preparations have been made aboard the Ferin Sha?"
"They have, your imperial majesty."
"Then proceed. But be thorough. Leave one alive, and you give the Insurgents a hero; kill only her and you give the Insurgents a martyr. The report from the Navy will say that you were on a training exercise."
"Thankyou, your majesty."
"Then go, captain. Oh- and Sukan?"
"Not a word. To anyone."
Transport S.V. Jadaan, High Orbit over Sulan-Re (Trillian XI), Trillian System,
"This is the transport Jadaan, do you copy? Sorry, sir. I can't get through."
The captain frowned. The vast, ringed, iron-grey gas giant on the screen was the last outpost of the Trillian system; the solitary guardian at the edge of the system. From over its limb, a small group of fighters had appeared, angling straight for the lone transport.
"Sir! I'm getting an energy spike - they're arming weapons!"
"Red alert! Comms officer, what is the nearest Royal Naval ship?"
"The Ferin Sha. Shall I open a channel?"
"Ferin Sha, this is the Space Vessel Jadaan, operating out of Timor Station, Alphard System. We are carrying a number of important dignitaries, and there are a number of fighter craft inbound on our position. They aren't responding and have charged weapons. Can you assist us?"
"Jadaan, this is HMS Ferin Sha operating out of Pareel Station. We are aware of the incoming fighters. Do not worry, we shall reach you shortly."
"Thankyou, Ferin Sha. Jadaan out."
"Helm, standby to jump to warp if I give the word. We might need to get out of here if it gets too hot."
"Sir, those fighters have launched a round of torpedoes!"
"Evasive manoeuvres! Try and shoot them down."
High over the uncaring orb of Sulan-Re, the lumbering transport painstakingly turned and soared away from the five brilliant white points of light, as twin jets of fiery light lanced out from points on its rear.
"Two hits on the torpedoes. Three left."
"All power to aft shields."
"Sir, the Ferin Sha is warping in!"
The Jadaan shot through space, while, not so far behind, a chevron of fighters screamed after it. An angular Trill frigate lay some distance away, approaching at speed; the Ferin Sha.
"Sir, the Ferin Sha is charging weapons."
"Excelle-" the captain was cut short by a violent impact.
"Two of the five torpedoes hit our rear shield, sir. Aft shields at 23%." The tactical officer shouted.
"The Ferin Sha is firi-"
There came a terrific crash, the lights burned out, and a console exploded.
The captain punched a button on his armrest. "Dammit, Ferin Sha, watch your fire! You just hit us!"
The reply came back, "we know."
The frigate was poised against the stars, and the captain watched, disbelieving, as a blazing column of light burst from its prow, lancing across the heavens, directly towards him. The captain cowered behind his raised arms as the second volley split the Jadaan cleanly in two, shattering the bridge module and throwing up a great fan of debris that splashed harmlessly against the shields of the fighters. The charred hulk of the freighter blew apart, smaller explosions blossoming across the stricken ship.
The Ferin Sha fired a couple of rounds into the derelict, and jettisoned the Romulan weapons module, which was destroyed by a blast of phaser fire from its main batteries. The fighters formed up and landed in the shuttlebay, before the ship turned and vanished into warp, leaving nothing but the shattered wreck of the freighter, and the steely, frigid gas giant in the void.
Crouching in an escape pod, two women cowered; the only living souls for thousands of miles.
The captain of the Ferin Sha sent a mission report back to Trillian, and the four-word response came back almost at once. The significance of the words took a while to settle in, but once they had, the captain nodded grimly, and gazed out at the stars.
So, it has begun.
Suite 373, level 0927, Starbase C209, New Deneva System, Stardate 89361.9
"Priority message for Commander Jadzia Dax." The computer said, tonelessly.
Dax woke, suddenly. Careful not to wake Julian, she crossed to the computer screen, and read the text upon it.
She read it again.
From: Prelate Fenris, Palace of the Sovereign, Pareel City, Trillian
to: Commander Dax, Starbase C209, New Deneva IV
'It is my sad duty to inform you of the destruction of the starship S.V. Jadaan and the death of her crew and passengers. Among those killed was the symbiont Kahn, whom records show you to have known. I offer my condolences, and share in your grief at the loss of one so highly respected. Ever your servant, Prelate Tian Fenris, Office of the Commissioner, the Royal Palace, Pareel. Ever in the Service of the Sovereign.'
Numb, Jadzia walked to a chair by the window, and sat down, gazing out at the stars. So Kahn was dead. Dax's friend, mentor, and, in a past life, when Dax occupied a man's body, Kahn had occupied the body of his wife. Dax found herself crying.
Admiral's Quarters, Starbase C209, Stardate 89362.1
The noise woke both of them. Sitting up, Holkham looked around.
The computer beeped again. "Admiral Trealor, incoming message from Starfleet Command."
He felt Trealor rise next to him, and walk over to the console. There was a distant beep as she touched it.
There was silence. He sat up.
"Are you alright, Riannah?"
She swallowed. "Read this."
So, bemused, Holkham rose, too.
Priority one message for: Admiral Riannah Trealor
From: Appointments Office, Starfleet Command
Subject: Your field appointment
As you will no doubt be aware, all provisional, field, and temporary appointments and promotions are subject to review after a period of nine months. Your recent field appointment as Fleet Admiral of the Deneva Fleet came up for review by the board yesterday, and we regret to inform you that your field promotion to Fleet Admiral is hereby rescinded. However, your performance in that capacity has been noted as exceptional, so instead of demotion back to Rear Admiral, you will be instated to the rank of full Admiral. The position of Fleet Admiral, Deneva Fleet, is to henceforth be filled by Admiral Josiah Tamlyn.
Commander Camillo Giovanni, Fleet Appointments Board.
Holkham looked fearfully at Trealor, who straightened up slowly.
"I'm going to go for a walk." She said, flatly.
He reached for her. "Riannah..."
"No, Jim. Seriously. I'm going to go for a walk. I'll be back soon."
Three minutes later, Holkham sank back down onto the bed.
"Those bastards." He spat.
In a small civilian runabout a few kilometres away, the sunlight from the two Denevan suns streamed into the cockpit, where a harsh-faced, grey-haired woman listened. She wore a white admiral's uniform, and the delicate line of spots from her temples made it clear she was a southerner.
She pushed a button on the console before her.
"Jarmalon to Fenris. You'll be interested in this."
Vermillion Palace, Pareel, Trillian
"May I join you, son?" Sovereign Arcalon asked.
Tarin looked up. "Certainly, father."
"What are you reading?"
The prince always read. Unlike his older brother, he had always read. His joining with the Karos symbiont had served only to fuel his fervour for information, so, anything in the library from law to physics was read. The PADD he had on his lap had a small thumbnail picture of someone gesticulating forcefully, although the sovereign couldn't see who it was.
"It's Governor Kahn's last speech at Alphard IV."
The sovereign sighed distastefully and took the PADD. He scanned it, and shut it off.
"Father! I hadn't finished."
"You shouldn't read her lies, son. They serve only to undermine what we have built. She is trying to stir up rebellion. You should know this - you're second in line for the throne!"
The sovereign rose and leant on the rail that stood before one of the great arched windows. The ancient city of Pareel stretched out before him, with the massive, forested Peak of Maroth behind it.
The sovereign sighed.
"She has always been a menace. Indeed, I have just given the order for her speeches to be consigned to the vault at Sheon."
"You did what?"
"It is my responsibility as Sovereign, Tarin, to protect the people from her... malcontent. It is people like her that will destroy us all unless they are stopped."
"She is very highly respected, and just as popular, particularly with the Unjoined-"
"Whose perspective is somewhat limited by their short lives and can very easily be swayed. Surely you know this?"
"But what do we know of their perspective? We know nothing of it - the joining process begins virtually the moment we can walk. Besides, ignoring the values of so many can only lead to strife, surely?"
The sovereign drew breath to answer, but at that moment, a maidservant entered.
She bowed. "My sovereign, Prince Chasuben and Prelate Fenris are here."
The sovereign turned to the prince.
"My son, you must leave us." Tarin's mouth opened in protest. "No, my son. Not now. Please."
Mutinously, Tarin rose, nodding in acknowledgement as Fenris and Chasuben walked in. Fenris, an elderly but incredibly sharp man with a bald pate and a great mane of white hair, was dressed simply in a long, flowing white robe, and walked with his head high. He nodded in greeting to Tarin as he passed, but Chasuben acted as if he wasn't there. Tarin walked past his older brother without a backward glance, and into the hall.
"Sit down, Fenris. My son." Arcalon said, gesturing to the wide chairs.
"Your imperial majesty, we have important news. Secret news." Fenris glanced at the maidservant.
"That will be all. My thanks." Arcalon said, to the maid.
"Very good, your majesty. I shall wait outside." She left.
The moment the doors closed behind her.
"That's better." Fenris said, relaxing. "Your majesty, our news is excellent. Three hours ago, the transport SV Jadaan reported she was under attack. By the time the Ferin Sha arrived, she had been destroyed. There were no survivors."
"This is a mixed blessing you bring me, Fenris."
"With respect, sir, that was not all."
Fenris sighed, his expression worsening. "Starfleet considers this the seventh terrorist attack in this system in the past two weeks, and the forty-fifth in the past three months..."
Fenris swallowed. "The Ark Royal carrier group is preparing to leave Timor Station. The carrier will have a group of investigators aboard, with the goal of apprehending the terrorists."
Arcalon ran a hand over his face. "What do we know about the Ark Royal?"
"Her name is taken from an illustrious line of warships from the Earth nation of Brit-"
"I do not care about the name, man! What sort of ship is she? Is she alone?"
"She's a Sheridan-class fast carrier, with two Sagittarius-class destroyer escorts: the Arlington and the Vittorio Veneto. She's a powerful ship, capable of taking on a third of the Royal Navy at once."
"How long do we have until she leaves?"
"At present, we have two days, and then a further three until she arrives."
Arcalon rose, sighing. "The Royal Navy is being weakened every day by human legislation. This is distressing news, Fenris."
"The death of Kahn is surely a good thing, sovereign?"
"The insurgency could claim her as a martyr. Do we know who destroyed the Jadaan?"
"Do you want the official truth or the real truth?"
Arcalon sighed. "Tell me the worst, Fenris. After all, that's what I pay you for."
"It was destroyed by the Ferin Sha, using a Romulan weapons module that was destroyed by the frigate after the freighter had been destroyed."
Arcalon's expression cleared. "Brilliant!"
"So we can leave the Ark Royal to root out the insurgency while we can work to destroy it from the inside out." Fenris concluded.
"Cut off the snake's tail. Just behind the head. Brilliant, Fenris. Now," he indicated to a crystal bottle, "a drink?"
Fenris shook his head, and Chasuben declined, too. The Sovereign nodded. "Very well. What do we know of the investigators?"
"A mixed group - mostly civilian police and some Starfleet."
"Tell me of the Starfleet members."
Fenris frowned. "They mostly seem to be rather unremarkable. However, foremost among them are four people whose names you will know."
Fenris' face worked. "I don't know whether you want to know this, sovereign."
Arcalon rose, and went over to the window again. "Tell me, Fenris."
"You will be aware that, a few months ago, a Starfleet admiral was shot aboard the New Deneva starbase?"
"Standing next to her was Jadzia Dax. She was shot as well."
"Why are you telling me this, Fenris?" Arcalon asked, dreading the answer.
"Admiral Riannah Trealor is the daughter of the admiral whose flag is aboard the Ark Royal. Fleet Admiral Aryon Trealor. He has ensured that Dax, his daughter, and his daughter's flagship's captain, are on the investigation team. By now they will be en-route to Timor Station."
Arcalon's reflection became suddenly terrible. Fenris closed his eyes.
"I want names, Fenris." Arcalon said, his voice suddenly sharp.
"The four investigators I am concerned about are Aryon and Riannah Trealor, Dax, obviously, and a human captain - James Holkham."
"Captain of the USS Juno?" Chasuben asked.
Fenris shot him a warning look.
"Yes, your highness."
"But the Juno was destroyed by Paron..." Arcalon mused. "Very well, Fenris. We have five days' grace. In that time, we must ensure that Starfleet does not dig too deep. I believe you know what to do."
|Last modified: 29 Aug 2018