Among the deepest black, the shimmer of the starship dropping out of warp illuminated her curves for only a moment before the darkness consumed it again. Only the running lights of the U.S.S. Endeavour gave away the Federation presence, the first to arrive in the proverbial ‘middle of nowhere’. It for that specific reason this spot had been chosen. No observers, no unwanted witnesses.
“Captain, we’ve reached the rendezvous coordinates.”
Daniel Lohnes narrowed his eyes, trying to see if he could even squint hard enough to see the nearest star, to no avail. “Understood. Commander, please ensure the conference room has been prepared. Bridge to Admiral Musato, we are on station.”
Vartris departed the command center as the delegate acknowledged and started his way to their meeting point. Which, to Daniel’s extent of knowledge, was all that he knew of the Endeavour’s part in this. Who they were meeting and why, he could only guess.
“Captain, Klingon cruiser decloaking off the port bow. They are requesting to come aboard with a small delegation.” Close enough to smile at them, the Negh’Var battlecruiser gave an emerald menace to the area. But the Klingons are our closest allies, even more than the New Republic. Why meet them out here?
As if summoned by his thoughts, his crew alerted him to the incoming hyperspace wave, which materialized into something much smaller than expected. One Nebulon-B frigate thundered into view, with one X-Wing and one B-Wing on either side. The larger ship held its ground, practically staring the Starfleet vessel down, the fighters came around to dock in her hanger. Well, the X-Wing is probably General Antilles, but I would’ve expected something larger if they had another commander coming…
Much to his surprise, the next ship to drop out of warp was Cardassian. The warship placed itself along the starboard side of Endeavour, but still back a bit in case an expedient retreat was needed. Though even at distance, the Galor-class cruiser still bore unmatched hull plates and singed wings to mark its service in the Dominion War, and a statement on the status of the severely weakened Cardassia. If they’re here, then this must be serious. How many ships can they even spare?
Whatever concern that Capt. Lohnes had on the war-weary has quickly silenced when the last attendee arrived, blackened hull as dark as the void around them and menacing wings like talons, ready to pounce on them all. It had never been in Romulan nature to acknowledge the superiority of another, let alone a subservient race within their own border. But the Scimitar-class Warbird was an engineering feat in any society. It was also completely unexpected to even be in attendance, and that fact began to spark an uncomfortable thought train in the Captain’s mind.
The voice of his Bajoran first officer and friend brought Daniel back to reality for a moment, “Well, it’s packed meeting room to be sure. I wouldn’t want to be the poor scribe in there trying to keep notes.”
“Tell me about it. Please tell me you had any and every sharp object removed from the deck.”
Vartris smiled slightly, “And everything heavier than five kilos. I think we could be here a while.”
“Agreed. I just hope something good comes out of there…”
Several decks below, gathered around a long table with no corners, they had arrived one and two at a time. Admiral Musato came with only one assistant, Commander Harm, from Starfleet Operations. It had been the Admiral’s conception to call this meeting and summon the parties involved, a process which had taken weeks just on its own. Time that the Federation had paid for in lives and territory lost.
Just as their carriers were arranged in space, so sat the representatives of the major powers. Fleet General Kri’bok of the Klingon Imperial Fleet and one of his squadron captains. Generals Shri Neremboh and Wedge Antilles of the New Republic Navy and Starfighter commands, Gul Polmr and his assembly from the New Cardassian Union and Admiral Stavmir for the Romulan Navy. The room was silent, even as they each arrived, though the shared looks of surprise and discomfort shared among represented parties spoke volumes on where each stood. With each new member at the table, trust had waned and uncertainty rose.
“First and foremost, I want to thank you all for agreeing to meet in such an isolated sector. It was understood as imperative by Starfleet Command to maintain a degree of secrecy to this meeting, as it concerns an enemy that every member at this table has been attacked by in recent month; Admiral Celerian and the Imperial Ninth Fleet.”
As Musato expected, there wasn’t much reaction from the group yet, though Polmr posed the obvious, “And what is it you wish to gain from this little council? Some sharing of secrets?”
“Only if the need presents itself, Gul. What Starfleet and I seek to open is the possibility of joint operations against Celerian, taking the fight to him for a change. For some of us, this is already a reality, for others, this may be new ground.”
Stavmir leaned back in her seat slightly, “A very human problem, I think. I understand his forces drove straight into your Sol system. I imagine you should be getting used to that by now, after the Borg and the Breen did the same.”
“Perhaps, but only the Imperials have benefited from using Romulan cloaking technology, meaning you’ve already lost at least one ship. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve even bothered to check your recent losses, with so many to count.” Kri’bok countered, his subordinate smiling.
The Romulan stared lasers at her Klingon counterpart, but did not counter the point. Instead, Shri leaned forward, cat-like paws clenching slightly in concern, “In the interests of this meeting, we are willing to share what we have uncovered in terms of the Ninth Fleet…”
“Provided there aren’t any more Fed spooks behind those doors,” Wedge added with a grimace, recent memories still sour on the pilot’s tongue.
Musato sighed, “I can assure you, General, those were the actions of a rouge unit and unsanctioned by the Federation Council. Such units and missions have been disbanded and will not be reinstated in the future.”
Antilles nodded, but did not unclench the fist on his leg. Neremboh at least accepted the Admiral’s offer and continued, “Very well then. What we know so far is quite ‘ordinary’ as far as Imperial expansion goes. Celerian and the Ninth Fleet have become a rallying point for the Empire, and has enjoyed an extensive measure of support. We know that they have been probing the borders of each party gathered here, and have so far been successful on most fronts. To date, the New Republic has at least slowed their advance in the Outer Rim and silenced several of their intelligence operations. Still, their resounding victory at Iscaria Two, plus this recent attack on Utopia Planitia has pointed to a level of ingenuity that doesn’t exist in normal Imperial doctrine.”
The very mention of a crushing Klingon defeat made Kri’bok slam his fist into the table, “Had our forces been prepared for such a dishonorable opponent, the outcome would have been far different. This foe is as cunning as he is deceitful. It would be only fitting to respond in kind by decimating his bases and resource chains.”
“We have some insight into that,” Musato began, bringing to life the holographic display in the center of the table, “We’ve manage to pinpoint the home port of the Emperor’s Breath, his command ship, based on data gathered by the U.S.S. Artemis. The Prash’guthali System.”
By celestial terms, the arrangement of planets, asteroids and cosmic anomalies made the system a hazard to say the least. Unlike Earth, which had an asteroid belt to serve as a ring of protection, Prash’guthal was surrounded, separating the inner five planets from the outer five. Whatever way in or out looked like it had been carved out, and probably couldn’t be guaranteed as safe from day to day. In order to get the nineteen kilometers of a Super Star Destroyer in or out, a very clear gate had been constructed above the pole of the fourth planet, marked by two defense platforms and a launch hanger for TIE fighters.
“Impressive,” Kri’bok noted, “he hides his forces under the blanket of space, risking their own destruction for safety.”
“Indeed, a valuable find from a Federation spy ship,” Stavmir added almost with a smile, for she knew it would inject another point between the Federation and the New Republic. “And tell us, what became of your defected ship?”
Musato grit his teeth for only a moment, then collected himself. It was a point that had to come up eventually, he knew. But he had hoped to smoothly introduce it later, not add even more tension to the meeting. “The U.S.S. St. Petersburg was last noted by the Artemis in the Vawarc system and as not been located since that operation concluded.”
“Wait, you said defected? As in, willingly joined Celerian?” Shri questioned with some alarm. “And you wonder how they made it all the way to your home system?”
“As far as we can tell, the captain of the St. Petersburg had been planning this since Union occurred. He carefully stacked his crew with as many supports as he could, and murdered all non-human and disloyal officers upon defection. There was no way we could’ve stopped them when this happened. But all Starfleet ships have orders to engage the St. Petersburg if encountered. Disable it if possible, destroy it if necessary,” Cdr. Harm finally spoke, setting most parties back in their chairs.
“And I presume the rest of us gathered here can enjoy the same declaration?” the Cardassian probed, to which Admiral Musato nodded. “Defectors no longer enjoy the protection of the Federation.”
An answer which at least satisfied the Klingon and New Republic representatives. With a look, Antilles produced his own data pad and began plugging data into the projection. “We’ve looked at this system as well with our own special forces, and its home to more than just the Emperor’s Breath.” With a few more taps, dozens of new symbols and structures flooded the map. “Outside of the major Imperial fleet manufactures, this is one of the largest fleetyards we’ve seen. Celerian has enough construction and maintenance capacity here to keep his primary fleet running within system. At any time, there are at least two Star Destroyers always in system on patrol, with two more in the neighboring systems. That, plus the Golan platforms and orbital hangers, we’re looking at a few hundred fighters, and no less than thirty larger ships at any moment.”
“No one party at this table could likely face this bastion alone, nor should we,” Musato began opening his hands in a gesture of peace, “and we may be benefiting from critical timing.” A few more buttons pushed, and the Super Star Destroyer appeared, in system and in pieces. “Thanks to the Artemis, we believe that Celerian has sent his flagship into an unexpected refit cycle. This means it will be out of commission for the next few weeks at least. If we can assemble a strike force rapidly enough, we may be able to deal a massive blow to Imperial expansion.”
There was a beat to the conversation as everyone processed that information. Finally, it was the Romulan who spoke first, “You may be more right than you realize, as well as the criticality of the timing of this attack.” The hologram changed again with Romulan symbols, translated after a moment into Basic. “In addition to the flagship, our operatives have uncovered at least three other Star Destroyers currently in drydock for complete overhaul. We believe each of them is being refit for a specific mission set.” Stavmir highlighted three outlying symbols orbiting the second planet and continued, “one of these, codenamed Ion Blaze, is being customized to carry only ion cannons and heavy ionic pulse launcher turrets. This would pose a grave concern for any ship using either a matter-antimatter reactor or other reaction-based drive system.”
Musato turned to Harm, who was grimacing openly, meaning they both understood what that meant. This Destroyer was being specifically built against Starfleet, the Klingons, the Cardassians and the Romulans. Suddenly, the main threat in the system was shifting from the largest vessel within it.
Stavmir enlarged the second Destroyer, marked as Stellar Dagger. “The second special project is being converted for mass fleet engagement, as marked by removal of its hanger bay and ground troops in favor of quantum torpedo launchers and stores as well as reinforced armor. Additionally, a backup shield generator is being added inside the structure, under the command tower.”
Shri tried his best not to tap his quickly protruding claws on the table, as General Antilles quickly scribed every note and detail he could on a pad. The Romulan delegate seemed to pause for a moment, as if to savor the weight of her report. “The final battleship, Deathgiver, may be the most dangerous. Like its sister ship I just mentioned, it also is having its ground force complement removed. We believe this is to make room for the necessary scientists and components to house and launch up to a dozen Genesis devices.”
Whatever activity was going on in the room suddenly stopped.
“You’re joking,” began the Cardassian, which Stavmir quickly silenced, “The Tal Shiar does not jest on intelligence matters.”
“I thought the Federation banned such technology and buried it.” Kri’bok growled at the table, recalling a much more dangerous time in history between most of the table.
“We did, I can assure you. No research of any sort has been conducted by Starfleet on the Genesis project, or any such planetary-altering processes.” Musato defended. “This tells me that Imperial Intelligence has been more successful in a short time than any other organization at this table, including the Tal Shiar, New Republic Intelligence, or the Obsidian Order. If the Ninth Fleet were to add these ships into their main force, no one here would be safe. And given Celerain’s preference for high-profile ambush attacks over cost of forces…,”
“You think he’ll come after another capital world.” Polmr finished, a point that the Starfleet representatives both nodded to.
“Initial votes would be Cardassia,” Stavmir announced, making the Gul almost leap from his seat, “You dare insinuate that this Imperial madman would strike us first?!”
Shri and Wedge remained silent for now, each with their own ideas. The Klingon General was far less so, “It would be another in the line of dishonorable moves, to attack the weakest opponent. Perhaps he’ll strike Romulus first, to remind you of your place.”
Now Stavmir turned to growl at the meeting, “Ours is not the place you should be concerned with, varool.”
“Alright, that’s enough!” Musato boomed though the room, snatching everyone’s attention from insulting each other. “Whoever is the most likely target of this threat is irrelevant. The reality is, we are all in significant danger now. The Ninth Fleet is resourceful, adaptive, and has access to technology that no one here is ready to combat alone. We cannot let Celerian continue strengthening his forces.”
After a moment, Polmr was first to ask, “How soon are we to undertake such a mission?”
Finally, the progress we need! Musato thought before gesturing for the data pad Cdr. Harm had been holding the entire time. “We’re gathering elements from the 5th, 6th and 7th fleets now. In roughly one week, we’ll have over a hundred starships mustered for this operation.”
The Klingons were next, “Our Krin’mr Battle Group will proudly join the battle. This will double what the Federation has committed, as we are ready to bring a swift end to this. It will be a glorious battle!”
Wedge and Shri exchanged glances again, then Antilles offered, “Our Second Fleet will be recalled and positioned to commit to this operation. Seven days, and things will be set. Rogue Squadron will lead the fighter force.”
Gul Polmr slumped down in his chair slightly, these numbers were quickly becoming more staggering than what the Cardassian people could afford to spare. “Our shipyards at Torros III have recently been recommissioned expanded. In seven days, we can provide…thirty warships.”
“Impressive, more than what I assessed you had left,” the Romulan jabbed, which Musato silenced with a raised hand. “And what does the Romulan Navy think of this?”
Furrowing her brow, Stavmir produced her own pad. “In addition to my vessel, we are prepared to commit the Ninety-Ninth Assault Wing. Fifty Warbirds.”
In any other case, this was a stammering figure to comprehend. Almost four hundred capital ships and another two hundred starfighters were now pledged to assault a single system, more than any single battle of the Dominion War. All against one man, all because of the threat of one ambition and purpose.
I only hope it’s enough Musato pondered to himself. “Then we have an accord. The Federation moves to record this as the first operation of the Joint Union Task Force fleet, barring any objections.” He could see clenching and glowering from the Romulans and Cardassians, as he expected, but no counters were raised.
“Very well then. I have arranged the Endeavour’s holodecks to be opened and secured to begin any needed mission planning if we wish. Otherwise, I would urge each represented party to prepare for the worst-case scenario. We have to be ready to count on each other for support, only together will we curb the Imperial threat and bring some semblance of peace back to the galaxies. Most importantly, I want to thank you all for being willing to come together in the face of this great threat.”
So, this is the start of the culmination of multiple story paths, which I’ve always pictured as leading toward a moment like this. If the enemy of my enemy is my friend, shouldn’t the enemy of everyone make friends of us all? Only time will tell.
I hope you all enjoy.