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The Romulan War: Calling The Shots

The war with the Romulans continues to rage and the burden of leadership is heavy on Fleet Captain Burton's shoulders.

Calling The Shots – Prologue

Lake District, Cumbria, United Kingdom, Earth
Sunday, May 1st, 2157

Driving up the small country lane, Lloyd Burton started to grin as he saw his destination ahead of him. 

“Nicole, we’re here.” He spoke softly to his companion sat next to him. 

Blinking a few times, Nicole Levesque took in a deep breath as she looked at her

husband and then ahead of them. She copied his smile. 

Driving up in their electric SUV, they were making their way to the one place they were excited to be escaping to. Their new home. Though it was not new to them, it had been several months since they had been able to visit it. Between their work and raising four very energetic children, they rarely had time for themselves. 

Looking over her left shoulder at their four children, she saw them all napping as she had. All of them were peaceful. It was a rare scene, and it was something they both appreciated when it happened. Turning back around, Nicole looked at Lloyd. “Driving up was a great idea,” she whispered. 

“Why?” Lloyd questioned before he pampered into his mirror and saw the same sight his wife had just seen. His grin reappeared. “And you wanted to organise a shuttle to bring us.”

Rolling her eyes, Nicole admitted that he was right. “Let’s just hope peace remains when you pull up.”

“I bet it won’t,” He returned.

Slowly their vehicle approached the gated driveway. The automatic entrance picked up the remote sensor and opened in time for them to enter. Gradually they pulled up the drive and came to a calm halt just by the front door. Their home was a converted six-bedroom farmhouse that had been built in the early twenty-first century and had survived the Third World War intact. It sat by one of the many lakes and had huge grasslands around them. Furthermore, it had a smaller converted barn that allowed them to house guests. It was currently nighttime, so both buildings were lit up by the low-level ground lighting that was dotted around the edges. 

After turning off the engine, Lloyd looked over his left shoulder at his four children and smiled. All of them were small and young. He loved being a father, and a wave of gratitude overwhelmed him. For the next two weeks he, Nicole and their children would spend time in their new home as a family. Though they had their jobs and their war was still going on, taking a break to be with each other was something they desperately needed. 

“Dadda, we here?” spoke a small voice.

Lloyd smiled and looked at one of his sons, “Yes, Jacky Bear, we are but keep quiet, so you don’t wake up your brothers and sister.” He whispered and placed his right index finger to his mouth.

Their eldest son out of the triplets, Jack Burton-Levesque, smirked in his car seat with excitement and repeated the same action his father did. The two-year-old was too smart for his age sometimes and was certainly the cheekiest out of them. Beside him sat his youngest sister, nine-month-old Maddie. Behind them in their car seats and still asleep were Mikey and Tommy.  

After getting out of their car, Nicole proceeded to open the front door with Jack at her side and Mikey in her arms while Lloyd carried Tommy and Maddie. 

Walking into the living room, which was a long room with several sofas and armchairs (all in red tartan patterns) with a beautiful open fire at one end, the happy family were finally home. Against one wall was a grandfather clock, which was gifted to the couple by Lloyd’s mother after their wedding. Next to it was a flight of stairs to the bedroom upstairs. 

“It’s late; shall I get these four to bed while you see if you can crack open a bottle of wine?” Lloyd suggested as he headed for the stairs.

Liking that idea, Nicole agreed with a nod. “Sounds like a plan. I’ll whip some food up.”

“Amazing!” Lloyd said as he carried the two he had up to the bedrooms on the first floor.  

Half an hour later and after getting his sons to sleep in their shared bedroom, as well as, putting his baby daughter into her crib and switching the baby monitor on, Lloyd returned downstairs. Walking across the living room and into the open-planned kitchen, he found his wife playing some country music while she was cooking something. 

“You’ve changed,” Nicole indicated as she passed him a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and resumed stirring what looked like pasta. 

Looking down at his more casual attire, Lloyd nodded before taking the glass. “Yeah, Maddie puked down on me while I was burping her.” 

Nicole chuckled at hearing that recount. “She certainly takes after her namesake in keeping you on your toes.”

“Oh, I’m sure her aunt is watching over her and whispering ideas into her tiny ears,” Lloyd said with a smile as he referred to his sister before placing the baby monitor down on the breakfast bar. “What are you cooking?” 

“Simple pasta with tomato and herb,” She answered. “Did Jack go to bed?”

“After the eighth time of asking me to read him another story,” Lloyd shared as he sipped on his glass of wine. “Again, I’m sure his namesake is encouraging him to push my buttons.”

“Hey, Jack Conrad did not push either of our buttons.” Nicole pointed out. “The only buttons he was good at pushing were those that belonged to Challenger’s helm.”

“Yeah, true,” Lloyd admitted. Noticing his wife had put some crisps into a bowl, he helped himself to it. “So, I just want to check that you’re okay with Alex staying with us at the end of next week?” 

Rolling her eyes, Nicole shook her head at her husband. She couldn’t believe he was checking with her again. “Yes!” She insisted. “I know how much he loves spending time with the children, and he is their godfather.” 

“Thanks, Nic, you’re the best,” Burton said as he leant across the bar and planted a kiss on her cheek. 

“Yeah, yeah, Fleet Captain Burton, don’t think you can get around me that easily!” She remarked with a smirk. “Now, go lay the table.”

“Aye, Captain Levesque!” Burton responded as he jumped off his stall and stopped as he heard his daughter starting to whimper on the baby monitor. “Duty calls!” He said as he headed back upstairs to help settle little Maddie back down to sleep.

Calling The Shots – One

Challenger NX-03, Denobula Triaxa system, Beta Quadrant
Tuesday, February 8th, 2157


“Continuing to emit distress calls on all frequencies, captain.” 

Fleet Captain Burton looked over at the newly promoted lieutenant junior grade who was sitting at the communications station. Tanisha Avery. She was concentrating on what they were sending out and who may respond. With one finger pressed against her earpiece and her eyes almost squinted, Avery was focussed and able to ignore everything else that was happening around her. Pushing a stray lock of her black hair out of her face, she was unfazed by her commanding officer continuing to check on their status. 

“Bridge to engineering, status?” Burton asked his chief engineer after tapping on the intercom built into his chair’s arms. Around him, his crew were moving at a fast pace, something they had come used to in the past two years. The war had changed them all. There were no more casual walks from one station to another. Everyone had to be quick on their feet. Ready to react at a moment’s notice. They were a well-oiled fighting machine. 

“Captain, we’re still venting plasma,” responded Lieutenant Masuko. “We should be lighting up someone’s sensors like a Christmas tree. Anyone within a few million kilometres should know where we are, and that we are stuck.”

“Understood, lieutenant,” Burton said before closing the channel. He turned to his armoury officer, “Rachele, where are we with weapons and defence?”

“Our entire weapons array is offline, and hull plating is at forty-seven per cent.” Cortez shared. 

The proximity alarm then went off, which caught Burton’s attention to turn his chair towards his science officer. Cooper was bent over, glaring into the scope behind his station. “Captain, we have company. The last three Romulan Birds-of-Prey we’ve been hunting. They’ll be in weapon’s range in seventeen seconds.”

“Tactical alert!” Burton ordered, and automatically the bridge darkened and changed the entire mood across the ship. Challenger, after almost a year from gaining its refit to the Columbia-class, was now preparing for a fight for its existence. “Number One, are we in position?”

Commander Rodham nodded. “We are, sir, however, the minerals in the nearest and largest asteroid are refracting our sensors.”

“Then you’ll need to use your own sensors, Number One,” Burton said with a smirk, “Begin evasive manoeuvres.”

 Slowly but surely, the Challenger began a sequence of movements to evade the incoming enemy; while still venting streams of plasma from both nacelles. 

“Here they come!” announced Cooper.

Hitting the intercom one more time, Burton spoke to his crew. “All hands, brace for impact!”

Like a flock of eager, hungry vultures, the three Romulan ships approached their target and opened fire. Bolts of plasma energy escaped their forward disruptors and hit several times on the Earth ship. Onboard the crew had belted themselves into their seats and held on tightly to whatever they could grip as Commander Rodham pushed the ship into a spin on its axis to avoid as much of the incoming fire and slowed the ship’s impulse engines down. 

“Hull plating is down to thirty-eight per cent!” shouted Cortez over the commotion. 

As the Romulan ships flew above them unexpectedly several ships appeared at high speeds out from behind the asteroid belt. Leading the pack was the NV-class starship, Voyager along with three other Daedalus-class ships, all opened fire with their phase cannons and multiple spreads of photonic torpedoes lit up the distance between them and the enemy vessels. 

“The calvary has arrived!” Rodham declared with a slight joy in his tone.

“And not a moment too soon,” Burton said smirking. “Full power to hull plating and impulse engines, bring the entire weapon’s array online and lock a target!”

“Target locked!” Cortez announced.

“Fire!” Burton commanded. 

Challenger’s nacelles stopped leaking plasma, just as its systems were fully restored to become the full fledge fighting machine it was. While the rest of the Earth vessels engaged two of the birds of prey, Challenger aimed its weapons at the one who was attempting to flank Voyager. After a salvo of torpedoes was fired and a barrage from the pulse phase cannons was unleashed, the enemy vessel was no more. Ripped into a ball of flame, the three ships were extinguished within a blink of an eye. None of them saw the trap that Burton had laid out. None of them saw the brutality that Starfleet would take to defend themselves and their allies. 

“Sir, we’re being hailed by Voyager,” reported Avery as she looked over her shoulder at her superior.

Standing up and walking to be behind his helm and navigator, Burton placed both hands on the back of their chairs. “Open a channel, Tanisha,” He ordered his communications officer. 

The viewscreen changed to show the image of a man sitting in the centre chair in the centre of Voyager’s bridge. He almost looked similar to Burton. Short dark brown hair, a short beard and an almost youthful appearance. Captain Austin Bishop grinned at his superior before speaking. “Nice plan, sir. I’m surprised the Romulans fell for it.”

“They’re too egoistical in not being able to stand for us giving them a whooping here at Denobula,” Burton replied. “But thanks for having our backs.”

“Anytime,” Bishop stated with a nod. “We’re not detecting any more Romulans in the region. Do you think we’re done here?”

“Possibly,” Burton answered. “However, I don’t want to be too eager to leave. Let’s head back to Denobula and ensure Premier Nerlox is happy with our work.”

“Understood,” Bishop said. “First one there gets the first round in, yeah?”

“I’m certain you only challenge us to such things to get a rise from my first officer!” Burton said, looking at Rodham.

“I’m always trying to get a rise out of him,” Bishop said with a wink aimed at Rodham before closing the channel.

Noticing his first officer blushing at the captain’s remarks, Burton chuckled before turning to his navigator. “Rosa, please make sure we find a quicker course to Denobula than Voyager and the others.”

“Aye, sir,” Sandoval replied in her thick Mexican accent. In a few seconds, she plotted their course and shared it with Rodham. The ship then made its way towards the Denobulan homeworld.

Burton was still chuckling at the banter on his bridge; he returned to his chair and sat down before ordering them to get underway at their fastest sublight speeds. As soon as they were underway, Burton paused for a moment to look around the bridge. In the last two years since he took command of the vessel so much had changed. So many people had moved through in the first year, but now things felt more stable. Though the ship may have changed, including the layout of the bridge, Challenger had become home to him and so many others. The wider helm station, which included a separate navigation console, was part of the new upgrades that Starfleet had issued over a year ago. In response to further counter-measures against the Romulan telepresence capturing device, Starfleet had installed several independent systems to prevent total loss of control. One of them was separating the ship’s flight controls; someone had to plot the ship’s course while the helm piloted the vessel. Though it was confusing at first to get used to, somehow both Rodham and Sandoval had made it work. The two friends had proven too many times over the last year they were an impressive team together. That said, everyone had become an impressive team. 

Tapping the intercom button in the left arm of his chair, Burton called down to his doctor. “Bridge to sickbay, report doctor.”

“Seven injured, captain, none of them are serious, and I’m happy to say there are no fatalities this time,” Ben-Ami answered. 

Relieved to hear that, Burton confirmed acknowledgement with his third officer before closing the channel. “Cooper,” He said, grabbing the attention of his chief science officer and second officer. “Anything else out there?”

Walker had returned to looking at his scope, another thing that Starfleet had updated with its own independent subsystem. The ship’s sensors were enhanced to see further afield but were not linked to other systems. It meant that Walker spent more time peering into the scope and seeing what was out there. Looking up, he spun around in his chair and returned to the main station for one more final check from the sensor grid they had established on the outer edge of the system. “Nothing, captain. I think we may have finally removed the Romulan threat.”

“Does that mean we’ve successfully driven the Romulans from Denobulan space?” Cortez checked.

“I’d like to run further scans and do a few more patrols, but it may appear we have been successful,” Burton said with some confidence. He had known in the past not to declare victory so quickly, nevertheless, everything was looking like they had achieved their objectives. 

The Denobulan Campaign had been their hardest mission to date. The Romulans had overwhelmed the Denobulan military and had set up a blockade around their home system. Cutting the Denobulans out of reach and contact with everyone else, the Romulans attempted to force the Denobulans to surrender without invading them. Starfleet analysts had theorised that the Romulans did not have the manpower or resolve to occupy the Denobulans, but knew by removing them as a trading partner with the United Earth Commonwealth, they could prevent valuable materials and goods from being exchanged between both nation-states. It would impact the war effort. Setting up minefields, a large flotilla of ships patrolling the region and an extensive sensor net, the Romulans were thirsty to choke the Denobulans. However, after weeks of work, Starfleet had assembled a large fleet to take out the Romulans to free the Denobulans. Elements from that armada had remained behind to tackle the remaining enemy instalments and vessels. Only the day before had Challenger been able to destroy the last minefield. However, three enemy vessels had evaded them. Now that was all history. So they hoped. 

“Rosa, how long until we arrive in orbit of Denobula?” Burton asked.

His navigator looked down at her console and then over her right shoulder at Burton. “Just over an hour and a half.”

Standing up, Burton told Rodham that the bridge was his as he headed to his office to begin preparing his report for Starfleet Command. Entering his ready room, Burton unbuttoned the top button of his black undershirt before unzipping his jumpsuit uniform. The ready room had also changed since the ship’s refit. There was a door to the right of the room as you entered that led to a small personal bathroom. A long black sofa sat opposite the entrance with the long wide frame of images of every ship named Challenger hung above it. The window had also been stretched out, giving more natural light (when it was there) to enter the office. The corner desk had remained, and Burton hadn’t allowed his chair to be changed. He had become accustomed to the one he had since the ship had launched. Flopping down onto the sofa, he noticed a stack of computer tablets was sitting on top of the compact side table next to the settee. Behind them was a kettle, a teapot and a few mugs. His own touch, as he found drinking tea was a regular thing to help him get through the war. Yeoman Harris had always ensured it was kept full, as well as keeping all the extras needed to make the captain’s favourite beverage and many other hot drinks that he may offer guests. 

Yawning, Burton went to pick up the first tablet but stopped himself in mid-action as out of the corner of his eye, a picture caught his attention. It sat on his desk and was recent. Walking over to his desk, he picked up the framed photo and instantly smiled. It was of his family. Sitting comfortably in their new home on the first day they moved in was his wife, four young children and him. He hated being so far away from them all. They had yet to be able to spend any quality time together as a family since buying their new home. That would change soon, he hoped. 

The door chime went off, and Burton told his visitor to come in as he placed the frame down. Rodham walked in. 

“Missing the family?” The first officer asked. 

Burton nodded. “What do you have?” He asked, motioning to the tablet in Rodham’s hands. 

Handing it over, Rodham explained its contents. “We’ve just heard from Luis. He and his company of MACOs were able to destroy the Romulan moon base. They’re on their way back to the ship in the shuttlepods.” 

“More good news,” Burton smirked as he read the summary from his MACO detachment commander. “Did they encounter any resistance?”

“None; he reports that the entire mission was a textbook operation,” Rodham replied. “So, are we declaring victory?”

Passing the device back to Rodham, Burton winced. “Let’s launch a series of probes to double-check, and when we reconvene in orbit of Denobula, I want patrols sent out. If within forty-eight hours we see no more Romulans, then I think we can say we’ve done our job.”

“A wise precaution,” Rodham agreed before stumbling through his next question. “Shall I liaise with Captain Bishop and the others to work out suitable patrol routes?”

Burton smirked. “Alex, for goodness sake, would you stop beating around the bush and ask the man out.”

Noticing the change in tone between them, no longer Captain and First Officer but just friends, Rodham dropped his shoulders. “I-I-I don’t feel comfortable being that forward with Bishop.”

“Why not? Isn’t he your type of guy?” Burton inquired. “Tall, smart, genuine, and slightly cheeky.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to date him, Lloyd?” 

Raising his left hand up, Burton pointed to the ring around his third finger. “Can’t, I’m happily married,” He replied. “And don’t give me any nonsense about him being a captain. You’ve been offered command of a ship of your own, so it’s not as if you two are not on the same page career-wise.”

Exhaling loudly, Rodham gave in. “Okay, I suppose you’re right.”

“And Michael would have wanted you to move on. He’d want you to be happy again. You’re not disrespecting his memory by exploring what may be.” Burton added. 

“Fine, fine,” Rodham said raising both hands to Burton. “I’ll work on it.”

“It’s time to make first contact,” Burton said with a wink.

Before Rodham could respond, the intercom went off, and it was Avery’s voice. “Bridge to the captain.”  

Tapping on the intercom panel built into his desk, Burton answered. “Go ahead, lieutenant.”

“Sir, Premier Nerlox is hailing us; he wants to speak with you at once.”

“Patch him in,” Burton responded as he sat up straight in his chair, pulled his zip back up and did his collar back together. The main screen on his desk switched from its standby mode to one showing the face of the Denobulan leader. “Premier Nerlox, thank you for calling us.”

“Fleet Captain Burton, I’ve just heard that your efforts have been fruitful, and once again, you and your crew are a hero to my people,” Nerlox said with an extremely long grin. 

“We’re happy to help our Denobulan brothers and sisters,” Burton said diplomatically. “We’re planning to undertake further checks, but once they are complete, I am sure we can say the Romulan threat has gone from your space.”

“I’m pleased to hear that, captain; we have a lot to rebuild,” Nerlox stated.

“Indeed, and we will be here to help you with that. In fact, I heard from our allies in the coalition before our last engagement. The Vulcan and Andorian governments are sending ships to further help bolster your defences while the Tellarites and Kreetassans are preparing relief convoys.” 

“Of which we appreciate so much,” Nerlox said with a respectful bow of his head. “Though our fleet may have been wiped out by the Romulans, we won’t stand by and allow their aggression to go untested.”

“Am I hearing what I think I am hearing, Premier?” Burton said, looking to Rodham and then back to the Denobulan man before him. 

Nerlox nodded. “You are, I know it’s been almost two years since Challenger visited my world to convince us to join the coalition, but I can tell you now my people are prepared to join and support Earth with its war effort.”

Leaning back into his chair, Burton smirked at hearing that news. Maybe victory was at hand.

Calling The Shots – Two

Challenger NX-03, Denobula Triaxa system, Beta Quadrant
Tuesday, February 8th, 2157

“Shuttlepod One to Challenger, requesting permission to dock.” Lieutenant (JG) Hathaway asked in her thick Scottish accent after flipping the communication switch.

“Permission granted Shuttlepod One, proceed to launch bay one with Shuttlepod Two. Welcome home weary fighters!” answered Lieutenant (JG) Tanisha Avery. 

“Thanks, Tanisha,” Hathaway replied before closing the channel with another flip of the switch. 

“Now that’s an impressive sight to see,” spoke Captain Luis Trummler from behind Hathaway.

The pilot looked over her left shoulder to see the MACO commander creeping forward to see the image before them. The Columbia-class starship was just ahead of them and was slowing down to allow them to dock. She shook her head and rolled her eyes at Trommler’s words before replying. “I will never understand what you guys see in a ship that makes you get all weak at the knees when you see it from the outside. Rupesh is the same.”

Mentioning her husband, Trommler chuckled. “My first sergeant has taste,” He stated before returning to his seat. 

“In starships or women?” Hathaway countered back as she started to slow their shuttlepod down. They weren’t the only shuttle in use right now. Three others were following them in towards Challenger while other shuttlepods carrying other MACO units were heading to the other ships in the task force. 

Hearing that question caused Liam Jenkins to pipe up. “Do not answer that question, sir.”

“Sergeant Jenkins is right,” First Lieutenant Alder advised her commander. “Or if you do, just make sure you are certain you want to be responsible for a domestic on board the ship, sir.” 

Trommler looked at his deputy and then at the sergeant. “Do I hear a sense of worry from my right-hand woman and my specialist lead?”

“Seriously, sir, it’s not worth you even trying to answer it. You’ll place yourself and Gunnery Sergeant Iyer in the biggest ditch,” Jenkins retorted. “Plus, you may put the entire unit in jeopardy by not keeping Angela sweet next time we need a pick-up.”

“Liam, you are wise beyond your years, my friend,” Hathaway stated. “However, Captain Trommler is not wiggling himself out of this one.”

“Well, obviously, the answer is women,” Trommler said after a second before quickly adding an addendum. “Though I should say, woman, as he only has eyes for one particular woman in his life.” He smiled sweetly at Hathaway.

  Hathaway burst out laughing at hearing the German soldier make that remark. “Oh, Luis, you are full of bullshit, but I love it!” She looked over her shoulder at Jenkins and Alder. “Don’t worry guys, he’s saved you from having to beg another pilot for a ride home.”

“Ouch, Angie, I thought our common sisterhood would ensure I get a free pass on whatever crap Luis shares,” Alder said in a mocking distressed way.

“Aye, that’s true. I take it back,” the pilot said, still grinning before carrying on. “And don’t worry, Liam, you married to a fellow lieutenant keeps you in the good books.”

More laughter filled the cramped shuttlepod with both Jenkins and Alder thanking Hathaway for her thoughts on the matter at hand.

“Hey, both Tanisha and I have been dating for over eighteen months, do I not get some consideration for that?” Trommler mockingly protested. 

Hathaway considered it for a second and then shook her head. “No, as you’ve not put a ring on it yet!”

Sighing heavily at hearing that, Trommler slumped into his chair. “Hey, there’s a war on. I’ve been busy.”

“That’s a poor excuse, sir,” Jenkins stated. “I’m married after only a few months of knowing Niall, and Angela and Rupesh got married after a year of dating. Plus the captain married within two years.”

“Yeah, yeah, don’t start with me telling me about the boom in weddings since the war started,” Trommler deflected. “Anyway, Tanisha has said she doesn’t want to get married, yet. With her recent promotion and us having our hands full with our jobs, it’s been hard to talk about it.”

“Just don’t leave it too long,” Hathaway advised. “Or you’ll become the only bachelor on Challenger.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Trommler asked as the shuttlepod jolted as it connected to the telescoping arm.

“Well, a good number of people have coupled up,” Hathaway said. “I hear our newly promoted Lance Corporal, who’s sitting quietly at the back, has been seen sharing a meal with a certain young Russian science officer in the mess hall.”

Hearing his rank be mentioned, Lance Corporal Harvey Rafterty looked up from staring down at the deck plating and was about to protest when Jenkins jumped in for him.

“Hey, leave Harvey out of this,” Jenkins said, showing that he had the corporal’s back.

“Ooo, do I sense you know something, Liam?” Hathaway teased.

Shaking his head, Liam just placed his arm around Rafterty who was next to him and answered the pilot. “No, just protecting my little brother here.”

Rafterty chuckled at Jenkins. “Thanks, Liam, but I don’t need my big brother to defend me against a rumour.”

“I’m always here for you little bro,” Jenkins said with a smirk. “Even when you get your foot stuck in a hole!”

Rafferty laughed at that incident before responding. “Like I’m there for you when you get your butt stuck in an access tunnel!”

“Hey, I’ve told you before it was my backpack that got stuck!” Jenkins responded in defence.

Alder now chimed in. “Yeah, yeah, Liam. We all know it was your rear end that was stuck.”

“You weren’t the one who had to push it to get him out of there, ma’am.” Rafterty reminded his superior which caused more laughter. 

“And that’s why we’re bros, and we need to stick together,” Jenkins stated. 

“Aye, sir,” Jenkins said with a mocking salute. 

The banter between the MACOs came to a gradual end as their shuttlepod eventually docked, and the launch bay doors were closed. The green light above them went off to say the bay was repressurized for them to exit their vehicle. 

“Well, however much it is nice to hear how much Harvey has touched Liam’s derrière, ladies and gentlemen, we are finally home. Please ensure you depart the craft in an orderly fashion, and remember to take all your belongings with you,” Hathaway stated.

“Thank you as always Angie,” Trommler said as the MACOs started to climb out of the shuttlepod. 

Hathaway flipped the last of the switches to turn the shuttlepod off and looked at the MACO leader. “Anytime Luis,” She said with a smirk. “Even if you do you think my husband likes the Challenger more than me.”

“I’m never going to live that down, am I?” Trommler asked the group.

“No!” They all said in unison before laughing more as they exited the vehicle. 

Everyone moved along to the locker room to deposit their belongings so that the quartermaster could run checks to make sure all of it worked plus no alien substance was on them that would damage them later or make others ill. Once they had done this, they all went through the decontamination scanner to ensure none of them was bringing back a lethal microbe, virus or bacteria themselves. Operating the scanner was Lieutenant (JG) Stewart. 

“Luis, Liam and Harvey, you need to go to the decon chamber,” Stewart ordered over the intercom on the other side of the room. He stood in the control room and was looking over the results of the scanner. A window between them and he allowed them to see one another with protection.

“Problem?” Trommler asked Challenger’s senior nursing officer. 

Stewart nodded. “Yeah, I’m detecting that all three of you have been exposed to a protocystian spore.” 

“Is it fatal?” Trommler questioned, sounding a bit worried. 

“I don’t think so, but I’ll get Doctor Payne to double-check. Get yourselves into the chamber and away from the others and I’ll be back with the results.” Stewart stated.

All three MACO men nodded and proceeded as they were told. Before Trommler entered the chamber, he ordered Alder to get started on their after-action report. Moments later and Stewart returned with Hillary Payne. The doctor appeared with the nurse.

“Hey fellas,” She said over the intercom and through the viewport. “Did you guys encounter anything on the moon that the others didn’t?”

Trommler, Jenkins and Rafterty looked at each other before Jenkins realised something. “We were the only ones to enter that empty dark room.”

“You mean that broom closet?” Trommler asked.

“Liam is right, for the rest of the time we were all together,” Rafterty pointed out.   

“It may have been more than a broom closet,” Payne suggested, “but it’s nothing to worry about. We can treat it.”

“I’m loading the appropriate decon gel into compartment B,” Stewart announced. “You’ll need to spend a few hours in there.”

“How long?” Jenkins asked his husband.

“At least eight, maybe ten.”

“You best cancel our dinner plans then!” Jenkins suggested to Stewart.

“Don’t worry Liam, I’ve heard all about your plans, I’ll join Niall so the food doesn’t go to waste!” Payne cheekily stated.

“Right, come on guys. Let’s get Niall’s special goo on us before one of us mutates into an alien lizard or something,” Trommler stated as he started to strip down into his underwear. “And the quicker we apply it, the quicker we can get out of here!”

“That’s fine with me sir, as long as I don’t have to touch Liam’s butt with it!” Rafterty jokingly said. 

“Hey, no one touches my husband’s rear without my consent!” Stewart told them over the intercom. “And it’s not my goo. It’s Starfleet Medical goo!” The nurse paused as he noticed them all cracking up with more laughter. “Now, seriously get in the decon chamber before you turn into lizards!”

“Aye, sir!” Jenkins said with a wink to his husband as he pulled his shirt off and started to undo his trousers.

“Call us if you need anything!” Payne added before both she and Stewart closed the window and the intercom, giving the three men some privacy. 

Entering the large decon chamber, all three men were only in their trunks now. Rafferty had headed over to the compartment and pulled out the gel that Stewart had sent them. Opening the tin, he sniffed it. “Smells like mint,” He remarked before pushing it under Jenkins’ nose. 

“Nah, smells more like lavender,” Jenkins stated as he stuck his fingers into it and then proceeded to rub his arms and chest with it. 

Trommler took some gel and started on his legs. “Nein, it smells more like chocolate.”

“Just don’t eat it, sir,” Rafterty advised as he proceeded to rub the gel across his stomach. 

“Or lick it off one of us!” Jenkins added as he finished his front and then put some more gel on his fingers. He offered to do Trommler’s back while Rafterty did his. 

“It’s cold, whatever it is,” Trommler noted as Jenkins rubbed his neck, shoulders and back with it. 

Once they were all covered in the gel, the three MACOs sat down on the bench while the ultraviolet radiation did its work. 

“You know Hillary said we could call them for anything?” Trommler asked aloud. 

Jenkins and Rafterty had both closed their eyes once they had sat down. Jenkins opened his eye a bit to look at Trommler. “What are you thinking, Luis?”

“Music, beer and some snacks would be great right now!” Trommler answered.

“I agree,” Rafterty stated.

The intercom then went off and the voice of Doctor Ben-Ami followed. “Gentlemen, my sickbay isn’t a five-star hotel with twenty-four-hour room service, I’m afraid.”  

 “You can’t blame us for trying!” Trommler replied to the chief medical officer.

“I can’t,” Ben-Ami admitted. “Just try to relax and let the decon chamber do its work. We’ll let you know how you’re getting on in a couple of hours. Sickbay out!”

“Liam, are you sure you can’t get Niall to sneak something in for us?” Trommler whispered.

“Absolutely not,” Jenkins replied. “I’m not having him face the wrath of our chief medical officer.”

“Fair enough,” Trommler sighed before closing his eyes and leaning his back against the wall of the decon chamber. “Do you know what, I think this may be the first time since the war started I’ve been forced to relax?”

“Normally you need to be quiet to do that, Luis,” Jenkins stated.

“I’m not sure the captain knows how to be quiet,” Rafferty said as he adjusted himself, sitting between his two superiors. “No offensive, sir.”

“None was taken,” Trommler replied, “and if I do fall asleep, don’t be upset that I snore or talk in my sleep.”

“Oh great!” Jenkins moaned before closing his eyes again.

“It definitely smells like chocolate,” Trommler said after a few seconds of silence.

“Lavender,” Jenkins argued back.

“Mint!” Rafferty stated with further conviction before all three men burst out into laughter like a group of naughty school kids.

Calling The Shots – Three

Challenger NX-03, Denobula Triaxa system, Beta Quadrant
Wednesday, February 9th, 2157

The conference room had been set up for the impromptu summit with Premier Nerlox and his staff to discuss his intentions to bring Denobula into the war effort. Petty Officer Harris had just organised the room under the captain’s request. He had set up name cards for those attending, refreshments on the side and an array of computer tablets. Looking up and down the room, he was pleased with what he had prepared when the doors opened allowing Lieutenant Avery to step in. 

“How’s it going, Jamie?” She asked. 

Spreading his arms out to present the room to her, the captain’s yeoman was confident in what he arranged. “Already, ma’am,” Harris replied.

Rolling her eyes with a smirk as she looked at the room, Avery reminded Harris to stop referring to her as ma’am. “Jamie, I’ve told you before it makes me sound a lot older than I am.”

“You’re my superior,” He reminded her. 

She sighed and knew she couldn’t argue against that point. “I know, but we’ve served together for over two years, and when the captain needs support, especially with diplomatic matters, we’ve always been teamed up to deliver for him. We can call each other by our first names when it’s just us.”

“Understood,” Harris replied with a slight pause, “Tanisha.”

She grinned at that. “Thank you, Jamie.” Avery took one more look around the room. Being the protocol officer (as well as the chief communications officer) gave her extra responsibilities to ensure they followed not only their own rules and regs but she was to be aware of the customs and other traditions of others. “I suppose we don’t have any scented candles on board?” She asked. 

Harris shook his head. “Not that I’m aware of. Why?”

“Premier Nerlox likes them,” She responded. “Apparently, he said to the captain a couple of years ago that they help ‘clear the air’.” 

“Ah, wait,” Harris said as he picked up his tablet and quickly flicked through it. “One of the gifts that he gave the captain on our last visit-” The yeoman paused in mid-speech as he scrolled through the device. “Ah, yes!” He turned it around to show the screen to Avery. “The premier gave him a candle, and it’s in storage locker seventeen.”

“Then go get it, Jamie. It’d be a big thing if we have it out and lit!” Avery insisted. 

Harris nodded as he quickly left the room to retrieve the item in question. 

The arrival of Premier Nerlox’s personal transport from the planet below allowed the crew to put on a bit of pomp and circumstance. Burton had insisted that the ‘red carpet’ was rolled out for their VIP. As such, the MACOs had arrived in their formal attire to act as honour guards while the entire senior staff were wearing their dress uniforms. The moment the airlock started to unseal, Ensign Theo Metaxas played the boatswain’s whistle to signal the arrival of the Denobulan leader. Everyone stood to attention instantly. 

The airlock swooshed to one side, and Premier Nerlox stepped through with his entourage.

“Premier Nerlox, welcome aboard Challenger,” Burton said with a friendly smile as he stepped forward. He extended his hand as a peaceful gesture, though human, it was surprisingly received by Nerlox.

 Nerlox’s huge grin appeared as he stepped towards his host. “Thank you, Fleet Captain Burton; it is an honour to visit your prestige vessel.” The premier, like most male Denobulans, was not too keen on too much touching but accepted the captain’s hand in the friendship it was offered. Nerlox was like most Denobulan middle-aged men. Dark-coloured hair that was almost curly and combed backwards. He had bright blue eyes and held his hands behind his back after shaking the captain’s hand. Wearing a simple dark khaki shirt under a similarly coloured suit jacket with matching trousers, he held himself up in a strong posture. Nerlox had greeted the crew to his homeworld over two years ago on their first mission. Back then they were hosting Earth’s Foreign Secretary and other delegates from the Coalition of Planets in a final bid to attempt to convince the Denobulan government to join the signing ceremony of the Coalition Compact. Nevertheless, thanks to Romulan interference via the Orion Syndicate and other matters, the Denobulans declined the offer after its citizens voted in a referendum. Now they stood on the precipice of all of that changing and the Denobulan Fellowship Republic joining the war effort. 

“Let me introduce my senior staff to you,” Burton said as he turned to Rodham and the others standing behind him against the bulkheads. 

Once the meet and greets had concluded (which also included Nerlox introducing members of his own staff) Burton led the group that would be meeting down the corridor of E deck towards the conference room. 

Challenger is certainly an impressive vessel, captain,” Nerlox stated as they walked side by side. “Especially since she has been upgraded.”

Smiling in gratitude for the comment, Burton looked at the Denobulan politician. “Thank you, Mister Premier, we’re very happy with the updates to the ship as well.” 

As they approached the door to the main conference room, Sergeants Iyer and Jenkins stood on guard on either side of it. Burton pressed a button to open the door and then gestured for Nerlox to enter first. Following behind him, immediately Nerlox was greeted by the scent of the burning candle in the centre of the long rectangular table. 

“Is that auldarberry, I can smell?” He asked as he approached the table and looked at the candle. 

“Indeed it is, sir,” Harris said from the other side of the table. 

“Premier Nerlox, this is my yeoman, Petty Officer Jamie Harris,” Burton said, introducing the young enlisted man. “He has prepared the room for us to meet comfortably.”

Nerlox bowed his head slightly to the yeoman before speaking. “Your attention to detail is appreciated, Mister Harris.”

“Anything to make your visit a pleasurable one, Mister Premier,” Harris said politely. “Lieutenant Avery and I remembered you gave the candle to the captain as a gift and we felt it would be appropriate for the occasion.”

“To clear the air before we discuss matters at hand,” Nerlox checked. “A very thoughtful gesture.”

“Shall we begin?” Burton suggested as he indicated towards everyone in taking their seats. On one side, Burton sat in the middle with Rodham to his right, Avery to his left while Trommler sat beside her and Cortez by Rodham. Though protocol didn’t require the presence of his chief armoury officer and MACO detachment unit commander, seeing as they were discussing the war, their input into discussions around military matters would be welcome. On the other side, Nerlox said with his staff and aides. Harris took the chair at the head of the table, normally, where Burton would sit during briefings, as he took notes of their discussions. 

Nerlox started the talk. “I know this meeting will be overshadowed once further delegates from your government and representatives from the coalition arrive, however, Fleet Captain Burton, as the liberators of Denobula, I felt we owed you the right to begin discussing our proposal.”

Sitting up straight in his chair, remaining calm and composed, Burton responded. “We appreciate the gesture, sir. However, it was a joint effort by everyone in the task force we led to help remove the Romulan threat from your system.”

“And your honourable actions will go down in Denobulan history for generations to come,” Nerlox assured his host. “However, I would like to,” He paused as he considered his words, “I believe the phrase you humans use is to ‘test the waters’ with you?”

Intrigued by what the Denobulan leader had in mind, Burton signalled for him to proceed with his presentation. 

Nerlox nodded to his defence minister, who passed a data chip to Harris. “Mister Harris, if you would please load that into your display systems.” 

Harris checked with Burton first, who gave a gentle nod to proceed. Once the device was inserted, the large wall monitors on either side of the room came to life as did the smaller tri-set of monitors on the table. It showed a map of the Denobulan system. Nerlox began his presentation, “As you know captain, the Romulans were ruthless in decimating our fleet to defend our homeworld. Though we have the odd transports and freighters, we have no shipyards, no defence stations and nothing to prevent the Romulans or any other outsides from launching a full-scale invasion of the Denobulan Triaxa system.”

“It has become common in Romulan tactics to remove those they see as a threat to their expansion to become easy targets,” Lieutenant Cortez commented. 

“There’s no thinking behind their brutality either,” Rodham added. “By removing your military and placing the blockade around your system, as they did, they were making you an easy target. Most likely to deal with at a later stage.”

“My military analysts believe the same, commander,” Nerlox responded. “What they didn’t expect was they didn’t crush the spirit of the Denobulan people,” He looked to Burton. “We are self-sufficient people, it’s a matter we are proud of, but we do well when we trade with others. That said, we no longer have the infrastructure to do that.”

“As my first officer said,” Burton said, “they wanted to make you an easy target.”

“Well, we’re hoping to prevent that,” Nerlox stated as he placed both hands clasped together on the table before them. “In return for my people’s pledge to join the war effort, which will include the Denobulan Infantry joining forces with Starfleet and Earth’s other military organisations, we are asking for the United Earth Commonwealth to consider helping us in rebuilding what we lost. With Earth’s assistance, we believe we can construct new shipyards, rebuild our fleet and join the fighting.”

“And the Denobulan people will agree to the signing of the Coalition Compact?” Avery tested, especially as she knew what had happened last time certain promises were exchanged between Denobula and the Coalition of Planets.

“My people will hold a referendum the day after tomorrow, but current polls show that nine in ten of my people agree to join the war effort with Earth. Those who don’t only want to delay it until we are in a better fighting position. The Denobulan Fellowship Forum has already initially passed my resolution to make these offerings to Earth.”

“What about our other allies? The Vulcans? Andorians? Tellarites?” Burton asked. 

Nerlox took in a deep breath before answering. “Though we intend on joining the coalition, we see our main alliance existing between Earth and Denobula. Similar to the  Kreetassans.”

“The Kreetassans have recently signed the compact, making them allies with everyone else. Why Earth?” Burton asked, sounding more insisted. 

“Without sparking a diplomatic incident with those others,” Nerlox started, “we are not fools when we see what is happening with the war effort. Earth is leading it.”

“That is mainly down to the fact-” Trommler started but was stopped by the premier waving his hand.

“Please, Captain Trommler, do not insult our intelligence,” Nerlox replied diplomatically. “We know that the others have had to rebuild their fleets to develop countermeasures to the Romulan telepresence-capturing device, even though it was this ship that removed that as a significant threat. Furthermore, your own people have shown the resilience to see this conflict through to the end.”

“Our commitment to safeguarding our freedoms and liberties is on the line here, Mister Premier. Though the Romulans started this war, why wouldn’t we want to secure a victory from our perspective?” Cortez was mildly challenging the Denobulan man to see what he was truly trying to say to them. 

“And that is a noble aspiration, lieutenant; however, the political setup is quite clear. The Vulcan Confederacy is still reeling from its people dealing with the true teachings of Surak being revealed to them; it’s transformed their society. Though they are less inclined to interfere with other governments, many of their people have stopped serving the Vulcan High Command. They have a manpower shortage with what fleet was left after they dealt with the devastating Romulan attack against a bulk of their fleet stationed in the Merak system.” Norlex stated.

“And what of the Andorians and Tellarites?” Burton quizzed. 

“Again, the attack on Docana and the commitment to such a large force left Chancellor Margerit in the position to count on Starfleet to assist in removing the Malurian-Nausican presence. Furthermore, the Andorian Imperial Guard has been forced to fortify their borders. While trying to protect what they can, their scientists work on methods to implement the countermeasures your people provided them with over two years ago.” Nerlox responded. “The United Planets of Tellar is in a similar position. The Romulans have heavily damaged their key trading routes with other races like the Rigelians, Saurians and Coridanites. The only factor in keeping all of those civilisations from falling is Earth. It is the key to all of our survival.”

After hearing his mini-speech about their assessment of local powers, Burton took a sip of water from the glass in front of him. He placed it back down and looked at the Denobulan leader. “So by Earth helping you rebuild what you’ve lost, you believe your involvement in the war will greatly help us?”

“I believe so, captain,” Nerlox said sincerely. “A set of joint operations, where my people provide as much open assistance, means we can help you not only deal with the Romulan threat but also gain back what we lost. We believe within two of your Earth years, we would have at least eighty per cent of our infrastructure back to support your fleets further.”

“Wow,” Rodham said, sounding so surprised to hear that statistic.

“Wow, indeed,” Burton agreed.  He leant forward. “Let me guess, you’re hoping I’d make a recommendation to my superiors by hearing all of this earlier?”

“I would hope so,” Nerlox admitted. 

Leaning back, Burton nodded. “Let’s hear more of what you’re thinking.”

Voyager NV-03, Denobula Triaxa system, Beta Quadrant

“And that’s it?” Bishop questioned from across the table. 

Rodham nodded. “Pretty much it.”

“Wow,” Bishop stated before he broke the prawn cracker in his hand in half and stuffed one segment into his mouth. He chewed on it for a few seconds as he considered what Rodham had told him. 

Both men were sitting in the smaller captain’s private mess on board Voyager, enjoying a dinner that they finally agreed to have. Both of them were not in uniform, instead, both wore smart casual clothing. Rodham was wearing a black roll-neck with navy trousers while Bishop wore a grey short-sleeved shirt (showing off his biceps) with black jeans. 

Rodham had been ordered to brief Bishop about the meeting with the Denobulan leadership from earlier on that day. After liaising with Voyager’s captain over patrol routes the previous evening, Rodham had picked up the courage to see if Bishop was interested in grabbing a drink together. Eager to see where things went with Challenger’s first officer, Bishop had countered back with a different proposal: dinner and a movie. They had yet to get to the latter, but at the moment sharing a meal together in quite an intimate setting seemed like the right start in exploring what could be something more.

“Your chef is amazing,” Rodham commented as he ate some more egg-fried rice. “Though Montana is just as good.”

“Thanks, but I cooked it myself,” Bishop replied as he picked up his glass of iced tea and took a sip. 

Rodham looked up at Bishop. “You’re kidding, right?” 

Shaking his head, Bishop placed his glass down. “Chef Malik is great, but having him cook our dinner it’s not the first impression I wanted to make.”

Blushing at hearing that, Rodham finished his mouthful before replying. “Then you’re an impressive cook.”

Bishop smirked. His dimples were showing through his beard. “Thanks.” He picked up his knife and fork. “So tell me about how the meeting ended.”

Rodham took his napkin and dabbed his mouth before answering. “Basically, the premier really wants to see a number of joint operations happening between us and them. In return for sharing the manpower, he hopes it would offset Earth’s commitment to rebuilding what Denobula lost. He compared their recovery to the same one that Kreetassa had to do over a year ago, again something that we provided help with.”

“There’s no comparison there,” Bishop replied in between a bite of sweet and sour chicken. “The Romulans didn’t besiege the Democratic Union of Kreetassa. They inflicted heavy damage, yes, but most of what was left, we only helped the Kreetassans in repairing and rebuilding. Thanks to the efforts of Endeavour and Poseidon, within six months they were back up and running. They were able to contribute, and still do, to the war effort.”

“Premier Nerlox knows that, but another part of his offer includes the sharing of significant scientific knowledge, research into long-range weaponry and an agreement for Starfleet to set up a number of refineries on the moons of one of their outer gas giants. It’s bigger than Jupiter and they have resources like deuterium that would help with our supplies.” Rodham explained. “Plus he is prepared to open up business operations for the Earth Cargo Service to establish trading ports and repair facilities too. In return, they assist with Denobula’s trading requirements while their freight services are rebuilt.”

“I don’t know, it seems like a lot of effort on our part,” Bishop stated. “What does, Lloyd think about it?”

“He hasn’t shared his thoughts yet, he told the premier he would take the proposal under consideration,” Rodham answered. “He hasn’t informed Starfleet yet. I think he will wait for the arrival of the delegation to share this.”

“Makes sense, we don’t want to be screaming to the galaxy what the Denobulans are suggesting and it gives a big invite to the Romulans to attack again,” Bishop remarked. “How’s the prawn toast?”

“Delicious,” Rodham replied with a small mouthful of it. “Plus, I’m not convinced that the others in the coalition will be happy they’re being excluded from the deal.”

“Didn’t you say the Jarok and Avenkerev, are bringing their respective delegations?” Bishop checked.

Rodham nodded. “Yeah, I’m hoping that Commanders T’Plau and Anthi can be relied upon to help ease any issues.”

“And the Tellarites are coming in with the Earth delegation on the Tarawa?” Bishop asked next.

“Yeah, under the escort of the Lachlan and Medway,” replied Rodham. “Which makes me think if they are keeping it classified who is coming and they’re coming in with that amount of firepower, it’s someone big.”

“Prime Minister Samuels?” Bishop guessed.

“Maybe,” Rodham said. “Or more likely it’s Secretary Campbell. She has a strong relationship with Nerlox, being the former Earth ambassador to Denobula and close friends with him.”

“Well I think that’s enough shop talk,” Bishop said. “Unless there’s anything else you need to brief me about?”

Rodham shook his head. 

“Good, because I’ve got a dessert you’re going to die for,” Bishop explained with a smirk. 

“Hand-made by yourself?” Rodham checked.

“Absolutely,” Bishop chuckled. “Though, Chef Malik may have given me a few pointers.”

“Then warn sickbay they may need to resuscitate me shortly!” Rodham said with a wink.

Bishop flirted back straight away. “Don’t worry, I’ll be happy to give you mouth-to-mouth if it’s needed!”

Calling The Shots – Four

Challenger NX-03, Denobula Triaxa system, Beta Quadrant
Friday, February 25th, 2157

“Captain’s starlog, February twenty-fifth, twenty-one-fifty-seven. This morning’s patrol encountered a Romulan scout on the far edges of the Denobulan Triaxa system. Challenger and Voyager made quick work out of it, however, I fear the Romulans will return in greater numbers. Though relief operations continue on Denobula, it will be months until we can properly fortify this system to ensure its security and safety. As such, I am consulting with Starfleet Command over the long-term plans.”

“Captain, I don’t know what else to say,” Fleet Admiral Moira Hathaway said from the personal comfort of her office in San Francisco. “Without knowing in full detail what Premier Nerlox and his administration have in mind, the only thing I can say is we hold the line at Denobula.”

Standing in Challenger’s command centre, Burton had his arms crossed against his chest and looked at Captain Bishop beside him, before catching a look from several others in the room. All of them thinking but not saying the same thing. The Starfleet Commander-in-Chief’s words weren’t helpful. 

“As I said in my first after-action report, ma’am, I’d prefer not to share that detail over subspace,” Burton replied.

“A wise precaution, Lloyd,” Hathaway replied. “Nevertheless, you will receive some reinforcements in the coming days.”

“How long until the relief force arrives, ma’am?” Bishop asked, sounding ballsy with their direct superior.

She smirked at him. The much older woman paused before replying. The years of service to Starfleet and the UESPA were etched across her face, but the stress of the war made the wrinkles under her eyes deeper and her hair whiter. “I’d prefer not to share the detail over subspace, captain.”

“So we hold the line,” Burton repeated her earlier phrase.

“Exactly,” Hathaway confirmed. “It won’t be long, I promise. In the meantime, I wish to inform you that I am making changes to the chain of command and that a new commander, who will be responsible for the fleet will now be your go-to person.” She pushed a button and a new screen appeared beside the admiral’s window with an unfamiliar face. “Everyone, please meet our new Chief of Starfleet Operations, Rear Admiral Rhonda Fuller.” Hathaway introduced. 

“Admiral?” Burton asked the new member to their chat. He sounded surprised and a few seconds later had a huge grin plastered across his face. A sense of joy at Fuller’s introduction had washed over Challenger‘s skipper. 

“It’s good to see you too, Lloyd,” Fuller responded with a similar smirk. “It’s been too long.”

Rodham, like everyone else in the room, was slightly confused by how their captain knew their new superior. “You know each other?” He asked.

Burton nodded several times. “The admiral served as the first officer on the Charlton. Her departure, just over eight years ago to take command of her own ship, allowed me the chance to step up into the second officer spot.” 

Fuller confirmed the captain’s story. She had thick straight black hair with a few odd streaks of bronze highlights. In her early fifties, she had a beautiful, reassuring smile. She appeared like she was someone who cared about those she led. Her brown eyes twinkled too. “Who knew eight years ago we would find ourselves here, hey Lloyd?”

“Indeed,” Burton said, still smirking before he changed his demeanour to be more respectful, “ma’am,” he added at the end.

“There’ll be plenty of time for you to reconnect. In the meantime, you will receive further operational orders over the Denobulan campaign from Admiral Fuller,” Hathaway said, breaking up the mini-reunion. “Once the delegation arrives, I want you to fully support their lead to ensure that whatever is discussed can only help towards the war effort.”

“Understood, admiral,” Burton said after clearing his throat and being more professional.

Hathaway gave a brief nod before she closed the channel at her end. Fuller’s image then took over the entire large viewscreen in the command centre. “I’ll keep this brief as I’ve sent further orders with the first officer of the Tarawa to personally hand deliver to you, Lloyd,” Fuller shared. “But as the fleet admiral said, maintaining the defensive posture you’ve established at Denobula will be vital for further missions.”

“Further missions, ma’am?” Bishop asked, stepping forward to be noticed.

“Ah, Captain Bishop, my apologies,” Fuller said, almost begging for forgiveness for not acknowledging the other captain in the room. “Suffice to say, reclaiming the Denobulan space for the Denobulas gives us a clearer shot of giving the Romulans a more bloody nose than they’re prepared for. By positioning our forces in the Denobulan system, we’re in a better position to strike back.”

“No disrespect here intended, ma’am, but we’ve beaten their entire force in this region. Surely, you’re not expecting them to go on the offensive, again and so soon?” Bishop questioned.

“Didn’t you guys destroy one of their scouts this morning?” Fuller rhetorically asked before carrying on. “We can’t predict anything when it comes to the Romulans, that’s why we need to keep our options open and keep them on their toes,” Fuller changed her tone to a sterner one. “Is that clear, captain?”

“Crystal clear,” Bishop acknowledged.

Nodding appreciation for the captain not questioning their plans anymore, the new Chief of Starfleet Operations proceeded to close the conversation. “Once you have your orders and we can secure our transmissions, we’ll speak soon. Until then, good hunting gentlemen. Fuller out.”

Once she was gone, Commander Rodham turned to the rest of the group. “That conversation was as helpful as a chocolate teapot.”

“Agreed,” Ben-Ami said from the back of the room. The doctor stepped forward to join the others who were grouped a lot closer in the centre. “Until Starfleet hears properly what the Denobulans are proposing, anything they want us to do against our enemy may not need to happen or something completely unexpected could change whatever the admirals are planning.”

Walker agreed as he uncrossed his arms. “And not knowing when the Tarawa will arrive, makes no sense. There has to be someone so important onboard her that they want to keep their identity a secret for now.” 

“That’s most definitely what’s happening,” Burton agreed as he rubbed his beard around his chin.  

“So what are our orders, captain?” Bishop asked Burton as he placed his hands behind his back.

Pacing the room for a few seconds, Burton considered their next move. “We’ll carry on as planned,” He said with conviction. “I want us to work on finishing that sensor net around the system and if possible having it online before the Tarawa arrives.”

“And patrols?” Bishop asked.

“We’ll keep them up,” Burton answered with a confident nod before looking at Ben-Ami, “and providing the relief support too.”

Showing her gratitude for that move, the doctor explained her position on it. “I know the Denobulans will appreciate whatever help we can provide, with such a huge population on one continent, Denobula doesn’t quite have the space to help so many people all at the same time. However, I’m pleased to report that their emergency services are properly deployed now along with other governmental agencies to respond to those who need them. As a result, there’s not much left for us to help with. We have a few critical patients left on Challenger and some of the other ships in the task force who can return to the main hospital facilities in the Denobulan capital.” 

“See to their safe return, Kefira,” Burton instructed her. She nodded in acknowledgement.

“In the meantime, don’t you have a speech to finish writing to present to the Denobulan Fellowship Forum?” Rodham reminded Burton.

Burton sighed. “Yeah, I suppose I should finish preparing for that.”

“I suspect someone was hoping they would be replaced by whoever is leading this delegation?” Bishop checked with a smirk at Burton. “You can’t get out of it, sir. The Denobulan people love you too much.”

“Don’t remind me, Austin.” Burton sighed heavily before he decided to change the subject. “Okay everyone, if we have nothing else to discuss. Let’s get to work.”

They all chuckled at his attempt to swiftly move away from the subject of his celebrity status among the Denobulans, but they were interrupted by the chime whistle going off on the intercom. Sandoval’s voice followed and she sounded extremely worried as she spoke. “Bridge to Fleet Captain Burton.”

Tapping the nearest communication panel, the captain replied. “Go ahead, Rosa,”

“Sorry for the interruption, sir, but a small contingent of vessels have just dropped out of warp,” Sandoval announced. “With their weapons hot.”

“Starfleet?” Burton asked, alarmed that the Tarawa would come into range in such a position. The others had all frozen near to him to listen into the conversation.

“No, sir, it’s a group of Antaran ships,” Sandoval replied.

Burton grumbled to himself. He knew of the past relationship between the Antarans and Denobulans. Surely after almost two hundred years had passed, they weren’t prepared to start things up again. “Take us to tactical alert, inform Premier Nerlox and recall every ship in the task group to rendezvous with us. I’ll be there shortly.” 

“Aye, sir,” Sandoval said before the channel was closed.

“Why would the Antarans make such a bold move against the Denobulans now?” Bishop asked aloud. 

“Their bitter rival has just been thrashed to pieces, there would be little resistance. Why not kick them while they’re down?” Burton replied as he motioned for them all to move to get to their stations just as the ship went to tactical alert. 

Moments later, Burton, Rodham and Walker entered the bridge via the lift (Ben-Ami had returned to sickbay while Bishop had used the transporter to return to Voyager). “Report,” the captain asked as he walked to meet with Sandoval in the centre of the bridge.

His navigation officer and officer-of-the-watch stood up from his chair and updated him with the latest. “We’ve got forty-seven Antaran vessels approaching us at high impulse. They’re not responding to our hails.”

“Take your station, commander,” Burton instructed her as he looked at the main screen to evaluate the incoming fleet. He was having flashbacks to when they visited Delta IV two years ago and the Carreons attacked them in a similar fashion. “Lieutenant Avery, open a channel on all subspace frequencies.”

Avery nodded as she tapped away at the communications channel. Once she was ready she turned and gave the captain a thumb’s up to say she was ready for him.

Staying standing in the middle of the room, Burton cleared his throat before speaking. “Attention Antaran fleet, this is Fleet Captain Lloyd Burton, commanding officer of the starship Challenger. We represent the United Earth Commonwealth and the Coalition of Planets. You have entered Denobulan space without permission. Please respond.”

There was no response and Avery just shook her head as she listened carefully into her earpiece.

Burton gave it a few more seconds before speaking up again. “Unless you’re not aware, the United Earth Commonwealth is in active negotiations with the Denobulan Fellowship Republic with military assistants, so if you do not respond, we will take your silence as an act of aggression and any vessel attempting to make orbit will be fired upon.”

Avery shook her head again after a second. 

Burton turned to Cortez, “Charge phase cannons, load all torpedo launchers. Get a weapon’s lock.”

The armoury chief just nodded as she did as she was told. Burton went on to order his first officer to move them into weapon’s range and to have the rest of their small fleet follow them. 

“Tactical analysis, Rachele,” Burton asked, as they approached the Antaran fleet.

Cortez started an intense scan. Seconds later she started to get readings on them. “I would say only two or three would be a strong match against us, sir. However, the other ships aren’t that powerful. Big, but I’m detecting many weapon ports on them. Dense hull plating. A lot of life forms too. Looks like most of their ships have plenty of cargo holds too.”

“An invasion force?” Walker asked aloud. “Could those be troop transports?”

Burton shrugged at that idea, “Maybe,” He said as he scratched his beard and then suddenly it dawned on him what could be happening here. “Cooper, quickly check your scans of their vessels. Are they under telepresence control?”

Pushing his chair around to use the scope, the chief science officer leant forward as he looked closely at what the ship’s sensors were saying. 

Meanwhile, Rodham peered over his shoulder. “Gut instinct?” He asked, knowing Burton wasn’t going to take any chances with what they had learnt from past experiences. 

Burton looked down at his first officer. “Experience has taught me to suspect the Romulans would do anything to destabilise everyone else for their advantage,” He answered. “Why not start up a war between two old rivals to keep them out of helping us?”

“Sir, we’re being hailed,” Avery shared, interrupting the conversation between the commanding officer and first officer. 

“About time they replied to me, put the Antaran leader up,” Burton ordered.

She shook her head. “No, sir, it’s not from the Antarans, but it’s Premier Nerlox.”

Confused by the sudden call by the Denobulan leader, Burton was about to order his communications officer to put him up when Walker delayed him. 

“Sir,” He said as he turned back away from the scope and faced towards the centre of the bridge in his swivel chair again. “I’m not detecting any telepresence signals around the Antaran ships or any other factor we’re aware of that would indicate it being used against them. They have full control of their vessels.”

Still mystified by what was happening, Burton turned to Avery. “Put Premier Nerlox up.” 

Avery hit the button to answer the hail before transferring it to the main viewer.

“Premier Nerlox,” Burton greeted the Denobulan man. “I’m assuming this call is about the Antaran fleet?”

Nerlox’s huge grin crept across his face before he answered. “It is, captain,” He replied. “I have wonderful news, the Antarans have agreed to join us in our negotiations to become allies with Earth.”

Bafflement returned to the captain as he tried to make sense of what he was just told. “I’m sorry, sir, I don’t think I quite understand.”

“It’s quite simple really, the Antarans are concerned about their security, and have offered to help us and in return, we will help them secure an alliance with you.” 

Stunned to hear that, Burton walked back two paces and almost collapsed into his chair. “The Antarans want to join us as allies?”

“They do,” Nerlox affirmed. “Is that a problem?”

“No, I was just not expecting to hear you say that,” Burton responded. “And their fleet, is purely here to help out with relief efforts?”

“We know your forces are spread thin, but for a short amount of time, these merchants have agreed to provide us with supplies and resources. Those ships carry volunteers on board who are here to help us,” Nerlox stated.

“Then why didn’t they respond to my opening hail?” Burton asked. “Also, aren’t your people going to have an issue with the Antarans, of all people, providing aid?”

“We don’t have the luxury of turning down help from outsiders, captain, especially with those we once feared and saw as sworn enemies,” Nerlox replied. “And they didn’t reply as they are here under the personal invite of my government.”

“Very well, we’ll stand down and be here if you need anything,” Burton responded.

Nerlox smiled again before closing the channel.

“That’s the second chocolate teapot of the day,” Rodham remarked a second after the Denobulan leader had gone.

“It certainly was, Number One,” Burton agreed. “It certainly was.”

Call The Shots – Five

Denobula Triaxa system, Beta Quadrant
Sunday, February 27th, 2157

“And being the first non-Denboulan to address your esteemed body is quite a noteworthy accomplishment and something I am very honoured to be doing. With this in mind, I look forward to seeing this new chapter that both of our people will be taking shoulder-to-shoulder.” Burton paused as the various representatives in the Denboulan delegation clapped and cheered at his statement. He had been pre-warned that this would happen if they found any of his points worthy of applause. Once they had died down, he continued. “This is a momentous time for the Denobulan people, a new era is on the horizon, and one I am pleased to say includes you taking further steps in forming a strong, peaceful relationship with your Antaran neighbours. I have seen the spirit of the Denobulan people survive so much ordeal recently. A famous Earth playwright was famous for many of his quotes, including one that I feel is appropriate here: ‘to be or not to be, that is the question’. Your people choose to be, to continue to live, to continue to survive, to continue to rebuild. I am confident what is rising from the ashes of the Romulan invasion of your homeworld will be a more prosperous and successful future for you and your families. This region will have stability, and we will forge this new future together.”

After finishing his speech, Burton received a standing ovation from the Denobulan politicians. He waved from the podium that he had spoken to everyone around the room. He looked down at the crew that had joined him, all of whom had sat in the front row with Premier Nerlox. They took were busy clapping and cheering him on. He noticed that Rodham was listening to Avery, who was whispering something to him in his ear. Rodham’s expression changed as she finished telling him whatever it was. The first officer had gone from grinning with pride at Burton’s speech to one with a surprised but serious expression. Stepping off the podium, Nerlox shooked the captain’s hand as several members of the Denobulan press moved forward. They quickly grabbed images of the two leaders grinning and shaking hands to show off their new level of unity. Burton appreciated the moment with Nerlox before he waded through the crowd towards his crew.

“Problem?” He asked Rodham.

Rodham shrugged his shoulders. “Depends how you’ll take it.” 


“The Tarawa and the rest of the relief effort have just arrived in the system,” Rodham shared. “And we know who is on board.”

Burton looked at his first officer with an expression of wanting to know who, and straight away, when Rodham explained who it was, Burton gave out a huge sigh. 

Now he knew why his superiors had kept it a secret.

Challenger NX-03

The atmosphere in the crew lounge was electrifying, with everyone either cheering on for their captain as he finished his speech. The live recording of his address to the Denobulan government had been screened almost across the entire ship. A special gathering had been organised by Chef Lawson for those off duty to see it while the evening meal was shared. 

“You have to hand it to the captain; if he lacks anything, he doesn’t lack the presence to deliver a rousing address,” Senior Chief Dubois said as they watched Burton come off the podium. 

The senior enlisted officer sat on one of the larger circular tables among others who had joined her to eat their meal while the giant screen that had been set up in the mess hall a couple of years ago was activated.  Nodding in agreement with her, Ro-fa Ben-Ami picked up her coffee mug and shared her thoughts on the matter.

“He has certainly refined that skill since taking command of Challenger,” She said confidently. 

“The captain should consider running for election at the end of the war,” Ensign Dalton suggested. The young science officer was sitting opposite both Dubois and Ben-Ami. “He’d probably be elected for being a war hero.”

“My money is on the captain wanting to focus on something else once this war is over,” Masuko said after placing her iced tea down. 

Dalton looked at her with an inquisitive expression. “What do you mean, lieutenant?” 

“His family,” The chief engineer answered as she dabbed her mouth carefully. “I think he will take early retirement to be with Captain Levesque or take a job on Earth to be with them.”

“I can’t imagine him being away from the Challenger,” Habiba noted beside Masuko. “He’s put so much into the ship and this crew over these last two years.”

“Family changes you,” Dubois stated. “Especially when you have a young one.”

“Do you think you and Antoine will ever leave the service, chief?” Masuko asked.

Shrugging, Dubois wobbled her head. “I’d imagine so; we almost did when he was injured back on Denver. I think I would like to be able to return home and put my feet up and enjoy an early retirement.”

“Like the captain, I can’t imagine you not being here, Ghislaine,” Habiba said as she took a bite of the rice on her spoon. 

“You never know, Martha; you may be reassigned to Enterprise next week.” Masuko joked. 

“I’m not sure the universe is ready for that!” Habiba remarked with a smirk. “The last two years have changed us, but we’ve grown closer as a unit. I just can’t comprehend what the next two years will bring to us.”

“I suppose you’re right, we’ve been one of the fortunate ships that haven’t lost many, and we’ve finally found our groove that works,” Dalton agreed. 

“All good things must come to an end,” Dubois stated. “But hopefully not too soon.” 

Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Commander Walker with Lieutenant Cortez behind him. “Kefira, Sakura, with me. Now!” 

Surprised to hear the second officer and chief science officer be so direct, both senior officers complied and gave their pardons to the others. Then, they got up and followed the commander and lieutenant out of the mess hall.

 “What’s happened, Cooper?” Ben-Ami asked as they fell into line behind Walker. 

“The Tarawa has just dropped out of warp, and their captain has told us that we’ve got a delegation transporting over,” He answered. “With the captain and others on the planet below, we must pull out of the stops.”

“Why? Who is it?” Masuko asked.

Walker stopped in his pace and turned to them. “The President of Earth.”

Pushing the door access panel, Lieutenant Stewart stepped into his private cabin and was immediately confronted by the darkness. Surprised by this, his gut instinct was to turn to the light switch by the entrance, but he paused as he saw the flickering of candles in the middle of the room. Then, grinning at the sight before him, he found his husband lying across the floor (which had various blankets and pillows) with what looked like a rose between his teeth. Liam held a cheeky and proud smirk as he lay on his side, wearing only his undergarments. The smell of his strong aftershave, which Niall adored, was present in the room. Even the environmental controls couldn’t get rid of that fragrance. 

Bursting out in complete laughter at the scene before him, Niall shook his head at the stupid attempt by Liam to be romantic as he finished his double shift. “What on Earth are you doing, Liam Jenkins?”

“That’s Sergeant Liam Jenkins,” He replied with a mouthful full and emphasising his rank. “And to answer your question,” He pulled the rose out of his mouth and stood up, “making a romantic gesture towards my gorgeous husband.” He stepped forward and gave him the rose before cupping Niall’s cheek and kissing him passionately. 

After a few seconds of being close, Niall stopped for fresh air. “This is very romantic,” He chuckled, “and entirely sexy, but I am exhausted from my double shift and extremely hungry.”

Liam’s eyes seemed to come more to life as he turned around and bent down to pick up the small picnic basket that sat on the floor. “Never fear, Chef Lawson to the rescue. She has prepared us with food to enjoy the evening with.” He revealed its contents to his husband. “Now, does that give you the energy to enjoy all of this?”

Shaking his head at the room’s state and the gesture his husband was putting across, Niall couldn’t believe how lucky he was. “You’ve thought of everything,” He said.

“Absolutely,” Liam responded as he put the basket down and placed his arms around Niall’s neck. “So why don’t we get this jumpsuit off, and I can give you a massage to help you relax before we enjoy this incredible food.”

Sighing heavily, the Challenger’s senior nurse nodded in agreement. “That sounds amazing, but I really could do with a shower first.”

“That’s fine,” Jenkins said, still trying to keep the seductive tone going as he started to unzip his husband’s uniform. “I can give you a massage in the shower.”

“Oh, now that sounds very enticing, Sergeant Jenkins.”

“My pleasure, Lieutenant Stewart.”

The two men started to kiss again when the intercom went off, and the voice of Commander Walker followed. “Walker to Jenkins, report to transporter bay one on the double with a full honour guard.”

Pulling away from his husband after hearing that, Jenkins pouted at hearing those orders. He tapped the nearest intercom unit and replied he would be there immediately. Then, turning back to his husband, he affirmed he would return as quickly as possible. “Do not eat any of those treats!” He added before dashing to the door.

“LIAM!” Stewart called after him.

Turning around as soon as the door opened, Jenkins looked at his husband, “What, babe?”

Stewart pointed at his husband, “I’m pretty certain Commander Walker would appreciate you wore more than just your underwear!” 

Jenkins looked down at his attire and soon realised he was only wearing his boxer-short and immediately blushed. Stepping back into his quarters, he ran to the other side to quickly put his uniform on. 

Walking down the corridor with Harris and several others behind her, Lieutenant Commander Sandoval carried a long, rolled-up red carpet under her left arm. 

“You honestly believe the president expects to see this out, ma’am?” Harris checked as he helped with carrying on the lengthy rug.

 She nodded, “Yes and either way, it’s protocol. You should know that, Jamie.”

“I do, but we are at tactical alert and in the middle of a warzone,” Harris reminded her.

“Protocol still remains,” She insisted as they approached the transporter bay.

Approaching from the other end of the corridor, the rest of the remaining senior staff were almost there. Sandoval quickly instructed those helping her to put the carpet down and arranged it in front of the transporter pad.

“Time?” Walker asked, with a worried tone to his voice.

Cortez looked down at the central console, which showed the ship’s internal chronometer. “It’s been eight minutes since we got the hail.”

Straightening himself up, Walker shook his head. “I can’t believe the captain isn’t here to do this.”

“Keep calm, Cooper,” Ben-Ami reminded him in a whisper. “You can do this.”

Walker nodded in appreciation. The MACO honour guard then arrived with Jenkins in the lead. For the first time since he had known the young soldier, Jenkins’ hair was not gelled backwards or to one side. Instead, he looked like he had quickly combed it to one side. With the other MACOs on the planetside, providing a bodyguard detail for the captain, Jenkins was the next highest-ranking detachment member available.

“Liam, are you all good to go?” Walker asked him.

“Yes, sir.” He answered. 

Sandoval finished pushing the rug down before standing up straight. “Remind me to suggest to the captain that we just keep a rug near every entrance to the ship in storage. Carting one of those around is no fun.”

“Noted,” Walker said before turning to Masuko, who was now operating the transporter controls. “Is she ready to beam over?”

The chief engineer nodded. 

“And why is the president using the transporter and not docking with us?” Ben-Ami asked to anyone in earshot.

“Something to do with wanting to experience it for the first time outside of the Sol system,” Cortez shared. 

“Energise,” Walker ordered after a sigh. 

The transporter came to life as several figures materialised on the platform before them. Once the process was complete, the form of President Lydia Littlejohn stood in the middle of her party. Littlejohn was a tall woman who wore a maroon skirt suit and a similar coloured blouse underneath. She tugged on her jacket’s ends before smiling at those waiting for her. When the boatswain’s whistle went off, she looked at the Challenger crew. 

“Madam President, welcome aboard Challenger,” Walker said, trying to sound confident. “I’m-”

“Commander Cooper Walker, second officer and chief science officer,” Littlejohn said, still grinning as she extended her hand towards him. “I memorised your entire senior staff on the journey here. I hope we didn’t put too much pressure on you to prepare for after our unexpected arrival.” 

Shaking her hand, Walker shook his head. “No, not at all, ma’am.” 

“And please don’t worry; we saw your captain’s speech as we entered the system. I’m not expecting him to be here immediately to greet us,” Littlejohn assured them. Then, she turned to the others that were with her. “I believe you know most of them.” 

“Actually, Commander Walker wasn’t on the Challenger the last time I visited,” Foreign Secretary Madilyn Campbell said as she joined the president by her side. The taller woman wore a black and white chequered pants suit with a white blouse. “Nevertheless, it is great to be back on Challenger,” Earth’s foreign secretary stepped forward to greet the rest of the senior staff assembled along with the president. 

The rest of the group consisted of a mixture of their staff and protection detail, except for one other. 

President Littlejohn turned back to her entourage with Walker beside her. “And, I believe you know the new first officer and chief engineer of the Tarawa.

Walker nodded. “Commander Roman Burton, I’m certain your brother would be happy to see you.”

Roman Burton smirked. “Oh, I’m sure he will, but I am also here to share your new orders from Rear Admiral Fuller with him and you all.”

Walker looked at Ben-Ami and then back to the captain’s younger brother before looking back to the president. “I’m sure he will be pleased to hear that, but I believe he would like to report the latest developments we’ve had to deal with while we waited for your arrival.”

“Nothing that will affect the Denobulans joining the war effort, I hope?” Campbell asked.

Wincing slightly, the chief science officer felt uncomfortable being the one to share the news. “We don’t believe so, but there is a matter that may complicate it.”

“Well, that’s why we are here to help sort anything out,” Littlejohn said confidently. “This is a key step in our diplomatic efforts with the Denobulans.”

Before he had the chance to share the news about the Antarans, though he was sure the president was curious by the captain’s remarks about them in his speech, Walker was saved by the arrival of his superior. 

“Madam President, Madam Secretary,” Fleet Captain Burton said as he briskly walked towards them from the same end Sandoval had walked down only moments ago with the red carpet. With him were those that had accompanied him to Denobula. “This is a delightful surprise.” He paused as he saw Roman. “And I see you’ve brought my brother too.”

“He brought us,” Littlejohn corrected Lloyd. “But thank you for getting back here so quickly. I was expecting you to still be with Premier Nerlox.”

“I told him our relief efforts had arrived, and I needed to oversee such matters; I didn’t tell him who was in the convoy, though,” Lloyd explained. “And as my fine second officer was about to share, we have much to discuss.”

“Then let’s get down to business,” the president insisted. 

“Follow me, ma’am,” Burton said with a smile as he led everyone that needed to hear what he had to share down the corridor and towards the briefing room.  

Once they were gone, those that remained behind sighed with relief. Trommler, who had accompanied the captain down to the planet, turned to Jenkins. “Liam, how much aftershave have you got on? And why is your hair so flat?”

Initially, Jenkins hesitated to share a complete response. “It’s a long story, sir. I was engaged with another matter when the call came in.”

“Well, I suppose you can return to whatever you were doing,” Trommler said, dismissing the MACO honour guard as he followed in the captain’s wake. “Or should I say who?”

Jenkins paused and went bright red in embarrassment. “Yes, sir.”

Trommler chuckled. “Give Niall my regards.”

“Aye, sir,” Jenkins said as he led the other MACOs out of the corridor and away from the commotion that had just taken place.

Call The Shots – Six

Challenger NX-03
Monday, February 28th, 2157

“You could have told me,” Lloyd stated as he picked up his glass of orange juice. 

“I apologise,” Roman said after finishing his mouthful of scrambled egg. 

The two brothers had met for breakfast after spending most of the day before in a long meeting with the Earth delegation led by President Littlejohn. It ended with Roman briefing his brother on his latest orders from Rear Admiral Fuller. Though Lloyd had no issues with the orders themself, it did cause him more of a headache. More than he really needed right now. 

“I know they weren’t good news, Lloyd, but you don’t need to shoot the messenger,” Roman added.

Lloyd placed his juice down. “I’m sorry; I’m not annoyed with you.”

“Just the war,” Roman stated. 

“Yeah,” Lloyd admitted. “And especially if this agreement with the Denobulans goes ahead. It will put us on the back foot for another two years while we hold the line.”

“Is that a bad thing?” Roman questioned. “It gives us time to rebuild and expand the coalition.”

“It also gives the Romulans time to rebuild,” Lloyd countered. 

“Which are the same arguments you shared with the president,” Roman reminded him. “And it’s another good reason for these orders to go ahead.”

Lloyd grumbled as he cut the bacon up on his plate. 

His brother chuckled. “Am I sensing a bit of jealousy here, Lloyd?”

“No,” was the snapped response from his older brother. “It’s just I’ve not been on the Challenger during a mission.”

Roman rolled his eyes. He knew his brother had become protective of his command in the last few years, but he never knew something like this would bruise his ego and pride. 

Lloyd had been ordered to join the diplomatic delegation in a bold attempt to ensure the Denobulan treaty went ahead. While he did that, Challenger (along with other ships) would launch a counter-offensive to a possible Romulan forward operation base in the Qualor system. 

“Have you packed your bags, and are they ready to head to the Tarawa?” Roman asked. 

Nodding once, Lloyd explained that Harris (his yeoman) had organised everything and had even offered to join him on his diplomatic adventure, which he had turned down. “I had to tell him that Alex would need him more than me,” Lloyd added. 

“So you really are flying solo,” Roman remarked as he cut up a hash brown. “Seriously though, Lloyd, do you honestly think the Challenger won’t return safely without you?”

“Oh, I have every faith and confidence in my crew to do well, but it’s just the not knowing who will return safely while I’m not here,” Lloyd said. “I feel like I am abandoning them.”

That had hit the spot right there and then. Roman understood that for his brother, he was not used to losing control and handing it over to someone else when it came to his crew and his ship. “Lloyd, you have spent over two years developing this crew. They know what to do. Alex is one hell of a leader. You don’t need to worry, plus he has Bishop and the others in the battle group to rely upon. They’ll be back before you know it.”

“I hope you’re right, Roman,” Lloyd said as he shoved some bacon into his mouth. 

Sitting alone in the command centre, Cortez was sipping on her second mug of coffee that morning while reviewing everything they had on the Qualor system and this apparent Romulan base they were going off to remove. They didn’t know much about it besides the multiple Romulan warp trails emanating from there; they would need to do reconnaissance to see where the base was and then build a plan of action. However, she wouldn’t allow the ship to go into battle without preparing a few things up her sleeve. The last two years, between her and Fleet Captain Burton, they always had something ready. After being told he wouldn’t lead them into battle, she knew it rested on her shoulders to devise their smart tactics. 

The doors to the command centre opened, and she looked over her right shoulder to see who was joining her. Holding a similar steaming mug of coffee, like the one she had, was Lieutenant Masuko. Smiling at the chief engineer, Cortez welcomed her friend into the small room. Over the last few years, like many on the Challenger’s senior staff, they had all grown close and trusted one another. They had been in the thick of it together on many occasions. 

“I heard through the grapevine you were here trying to come up with a plan of attack,” Masuko said as she pulled out one of the spinning chairs and popped herself into it. “Can I help?”

Cortez nodded with a sigh, “I’m trying to work out how we defeat this apparent base without knowing anything about it.”

“We’ve been here before,” Masuko reminded Cortez, “The liberation of Calder Two comes to mind.”

Cortez nodded in agreement. “Sure, but we knew more about the Calder system thanks to the Vulcans.”

“So, what do we know about the Qualor system?” Masuko asked before sipping on her mug.

Appreciating the fresh pair of eyes on her dilemma, Cortez described to her friend what she had (which wasn’t much). “It sits close to the Argelius Sector, which was mapped by Enterprise back in twenty-one-fifty-one. We’ve not had any probes near it or other ships since.”

Masuko turned to her friend. “Are you talking about official records?”

“Yeah?” Cortez answered with a confused frown etched across her face. “What do you mean by that?”

“Expand your search to include non-Starfleet and non-Coalition data. Who knows, a freighter or some dodgy black market trader may have passed by before the war started?” Masuko suggested. 

 Considering the idea for a second, Cortez accessed the civilian database stored in the computer banks and was pleased to see that the engineer’s hunch was worth exploring. “Well, would you look at that? A Tellarite merchant has visited the system. The second planet is Minshara-class with at least one moon.”

“That’s a start; is there anything else we could use to cover our entrance?” Masuko asked.

“There are several asteroid belts,” Cortez replied. 

“Oh, maybe we could pull off that trick we used to liberate Docana?” Masuko proposed. “Take a shuttle in, pilot through the asteroids and then do some recon behind the larger rocks, perhaps land on one close enough to get enough data to see what the Romulans are up to.”

“That’s not a bad idea, Sakura,” Cortez said with a smirk. “You want to swap jobs?”

“You know how to keep a plasma injector from blowing up?” Masuko checked.

Cortez chuckled. “Yeah, fair point.” She looked over the data one more time. “It’s a starting point, but we still need some more tricks.”

“Sensor echo displacement beacons,” Masuko stated as she got out of her chair and typed something into one of the free consoles. “I read about something Starbase One has been testing as part of its defences,” She loaded up a few records on the main screen. “They’ve been deploying these modified probes to emit a false warp profile. On long-range sensors,  it looks like an enemy vessel, and it’s not until they reach them to use short-range scans do they realise it’s a decoy. It’s something they picked up from the Tellarites.”

“Can we replicate the technology with what we have on Challenger?” Cortez asked.

“I think so,” Masuko said. “One good thing about these beacons is that they can generate interference at a short range. If we can convince Commander Walker to let us modify enough of our probes, then it could blind the Romulans long enough for us to get in and do some damage.”

“That sounds like music to my ears,” Cortez said with a smirk. “Let me speak to the commander. Do you mind drawing up the specs for these beacons?”

“It will be my pleasure, Rachele!” Masuko stated, mirroring her grin as she watched the chief armoury officer leave the command centre with a slight bounce in her step.

The moment the shuttlepod was adequately engaged with the docking clamp and the rear hatch was opened, Kefira Ben-Ami was more than happy to be back home on Challenger. Stepping out of the launch bay with her deputy behind her, the two women went through the decon scanner to ensure they had not brought back any harmful microbes. After getting the all-clear, they headed straight to the locker room. Their MACO guards made their way down towards their barracks, leaving the two doctors to sort themselves out privately.

“Permission to say something that may be out of line, Ro-fa?” Payne asked her superior.

The senior doctor, who was now sitting on one of the benches in the middle of the locker room, nodded at Payne. “Sure, what’s on your mind Hillary?”

“Is it me, or are our relief efforts feeling pointless?” Payne asked. 

“With the Denobulans?” Ben-Ami checked.

Payne nodded as she changed her boots. “Since the Antarans arrived, do we really need to continue to offer our help?” 

 “People have died down there, Hillary. Are you really questioning who we give help to?” Ben-Ami asked. 

“I’m not giving up my Hippocratic Oath,” Payne assured the senior doctor, “and with us expected to be leaving to chase down this Romulan base, I just don’t understand why we’re continuing to help out?”

“I get what you’re saying,” Ben-Ami agreed. “However, our efforts may appear minimal compared to what the Antarans are providing, but our presence continues to prove that we take our relationship with the Denobulans seriously.”

“You’re starting to sound like President Littlejohn,” Payne remarked.

Ben-Ami chuckled at that. “Maybe, but a good doctor does not turn away a patient or those they know need their help. So, until we leave, we carry on.”

Payne nodded. “I understand,” She finished changing into her own civilian attire as she was finally off duty, just like Ben-Ami. “Do we go and check on Niall to make sure he isn’t burnt sickbay down?”

“Ben-Ami to sickbay,” The chief medical officer agreed with Payne’s idea, went to the nearby communication panel, and tapped it. 

“Go ahead, ma’am,” Stewart answered. “And welcome back!”

“Thanks, Niall,” Ben-Ami said. “Hillary wanted us to check in to ensure everything is ship-shape with sickbay. You haven’t broken anything, have you?”

“All is fine, and no, nothing is broken!” Stewart replied. “It’s been dead quiet while you both have been away. I’ve finished our inventory updates and restocked our supply cabinets.”

“Wow, you must have been bored,” Payne spoke up.

“You wouldn’t believe it,” He said. 

“Great, then why don’t you join us in the mess hall for a quick something to eat before we both hit the sack?” Ben-Ami proposed. She and Payne had been on Denobula for almost twelve hours now, and both were tired. With Stewart covering sickbay, both women would head home to their respective quarters to enjoy some well-deserved rest.

“Sounds like a plan to me, and I hear Chef Lawson has some freshly made chocolate eclairs!” Stewart said with excitement. 

“How do you know that?” Ben-Ami quizzed the nurse.

“Liam told me he reckons that Niall has bugged the galley,” Payne stated. 

“Anything my husband tells you about my intelligence network on the ship should be taken as hearsay! I’ll see you both in ten minutes!” Stewart protested before he closed the channel. 

Both women chuckled some more as they finished putting their items away in their lockers. Ben-Ami paused as she considered Payne’s earlier thoughts. Were the Antarans truly providing more than they were, and would that be an issue for the captain’s upcoming negotiations? Or was it purely their attempt at helping where they could? Either way, she knew she would brief him. 

Commander Cooper Walker strode into the gymnasium of the Challenger NX-03 and spotted Commander Alex Rodham lifting weights. “Hey, Alex!” he called out with a friendly wave. “How’s it going?”

Rodham was in the midst of a strenuous workout, his muscles bulging with effort as he lifted the weights. He responded to Walker’s greeting, his voice slightly strained but still friendly, indicating that he was in top physical condition and working hard to maintain it. “It’s going well,” he replied with a slight grunt. “Just trying to remain in top physical condition.”

Walker ambled over to Rodham and started to inquire about his latest romantic relationship with Captain Austin Bishop. “So, how’s it going with Bishop?” he asked with a grin, eager to hear the latest news.

Rodham rolled his eyes, sensing the playful nature of his friend’s question. “It’s going fine,” he replied, his tone neutral. “We’re taking things slow.”

Walker chuckled. “Taking things slow, huh? That’s not what I heard.”

Rodham gave Walker a sidelong glance, his expression quizzical. “What did you hear?”

Walker leaned in, his voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper. “I heard you two were making out in the supply closet.”

Rodham shook his head, his eyes twinkling with amusement. “You’re full of it, Cooper.”

Walker laughed. “I’m just messing with you, man. But seriously, how are things going?”

Rodham sighed, his shoulders slumping slightly. “They’re going well. We’re still getting to know each other.”

Walker nodded. “That’s cool. I’m happy for you.”

“Thanks, it’s just weird; you know, ever since Michael’s death, I never thought I would see anyone.” Rodham shared.

“That’s understandable; you and Michael were joined at the hip. Just enjoy what Bishop can offer you.” Walker said with a wink and an even wider grin. 

They both took a brief respite from their conversation to discuss their upcoming mission to attack the Romulan base in the Qualor system. Both men spoke about how strange it would be not having Fleet Captain Burton in command of the Challenger and how it would fall to Rodham to lead the ship during the operation.

“I don’t know if I’m ready for this,” Rodham admitted, his voice tinged with uncertainty as he picked up a weight again and lifted it.

Walker offered a reassuring pat on his friend’s back. “You’ll do great, man. Just remember to trust your instincts and your crew. Plus, you’ll have a fantastic acting first officer by your side!”

Rodham paused, lifting the waits as he smiled. “Thanks, Cooper. I appreciate it.”

They resumed lifting weights, discussing their mission and how they could ensure its success. As they continued their conversation, Commander Walker brought up the upcoming battle against the Romulans. “So, what’s our plan for the battle?” he asked.

“I’ve already had a request from Sakura about creating some decoy beacons.”

Commander Rodham took a deep breath before responding. “Well, that’s one more trick to have up our sleeve.” He paused his workout. “I’ve been studying the battle strategy of the Romulans for the last few days now, and I’ve got a general idea of what to expect. However, we must ensure our approach is flexible enough to adapt to unexpected developments. I just think they will have something we’re not prepared for.”

Walker nodded in agreement. “That’s a good point. I know Rachele wants to do some recon of the system. But, with all of the skirmishes we’ve had lately, we also need to ensure our weapons and hull plating are in top shape. We don’t want any surprises in the middle of trying to take out a Romulan Bird-of-Prey.”

Rodham added, “We also need to work closely with our allies, with Commander T’Paul joining us; her support will be crucial in our success.”

The two men continued brainstorming and discussing their battle plan while carrying on with their workout. They knew that the stakes were high and that the battle against the Romulans would be a defining moment in their careers. They planned to use the element of surprise to gain the upper hand, but they also knew that the Romulans were a formidable enemy who wouldn’t be easily defeated. 

“If you do well here, then who knows, Starfleet may promote you to captain,” Walker suggested as he gestured for them to head to the punching bag nearby. 

Rodham agreed with the change in their workout; he picked up his water bottle and took a few large sips. “I’ve told you before I am not interested in the centre chair.”

“You may not have a choice in the matter, Alex,” Cooper stated

And for the first time, Rodham considered the words of the chief science officer for a moment. He hadn’t genuinely thought Starfleet would slap that fourth pip onto him without his consent. They had given Bishop a battlefield promotion after almost the entire crew of Voyager had been lost during the Battle of Sol. Many officers had been promoted sooner in their careers due to the war effort. “We’ll see,” Rodham remarked before picking up the boxing gloves off the nearby shelf and getting himself ready to punch some more of his frustration into the bag before him. This would probably be the last time he had a chance to use the gym before Burton left, and he temporarily took command of Challenger

Call The Shots – Seven

Tarawa NR-03
Tuesday, March 1st, 2157

Boarding the Tarawa, one of Earth’s heavy cruisers, Fleet Captain Burton was expecting to see the latest design styles coming out of Earth. Instead, he was slightly disappointed. He knew the history of the Yorktown-class ship was not an uneasy one – though Starfleet and the UESPA were not keen on building a ship designed to be a deterrence from hostile forces, the Xindi Conflict and now the war with the Romulans made her class very much needed. Though armed to the teeth with an impressive weapons array, the Tarawa wasn’t as fast or agile compared to Challenger. It didn’t surprise him that Starfleet wasn’t focussing on building more of these ships for now. The war effort required them to upgrade their fleet; for now, most of those still active shipyards were refitting and building the Daedalus-class at an impressive rate. For four years, Burton had served on the Charlton, one of the new Daedalus ships, and had first-hand experience of its durability and ability to keep up with the newer classes inspired by the NX Project. 

One thing that impressed Burton was how brighter and almost warmer the corridors on the Tarawa felt compared to the Challenger’s cold, blue and silver metallics hallways. The mixture of light ochre and white for a colour scheme on the walls and a simple grey carpet ran throughout the ship. It was very glamorous for a ship that was designed to defend the home core territories of the Earth Commonwealth. After enjoying breakfast with his brother, with his new skipper (Captain Ava Knapp), he returned to his quarters to prepare for the opening talks with the Denobulans, Antarans and the other delegates. Now, one of the Tarawa’s stewards escorted him to his meeting. They walked down one of the corridors, and as they passed several long viewports, he could see Denobula below them. Beside them were the ships sent by their coalition partners and the Antaran relief force. The Tarawa (along with its two escorts) were the only remaining Earth ships in the Denobulan system. Challenger had left with the others to undertake their operation to remove the Romulans from the nearby Qualor system. Thinking about the Challenger far away from him caused a knot in his gut. He silently prayed they would return to him safely and in one piece. 

“Here you are, sir,” announced the steward as they approached a single door, and he opened it by pressing the keypad to the right of it. 

Thanking the aid, Burton stepped into the room and was pleased that most delegates were there. Most of them were mingling around the edges of the room. The meeting room was larger than the Challenger’s and ready for peace talks. It was sleek and modern, with several monitors built into the walls. The lighting was adjustable to create the perfect atmosphere for negotiations, and the walls were soundproof to ensure privacy. The chairs were comfortable and adjustable, and a large circular table was in the centre of the room. A main display was mounted on one wall, with multiple screens for further video conferencing. The room also had advanced translation software, allowing for seamless communication between parties speaking different languages. Overall, it was an ideal space for peaceful discussions and diplomatic negotiations. Impressed that this would be where they first started to talk about the possibility of expanding the Coalition of Planets Compact, Burton moved across to join the Earth delegation. 

“Good Morning, Madam President, Madam Secretary,” He said politely to Littlejohn and Campbell. The two women wore similar formal wear.

“Fleet Captain Burton, did you sleep well?” Littlejohn asked as she sipped on her coffee. She had been holding on to it when he had entered the room. 

“The vibrations from the Tarawa’s warp core are a lot calmer than those on Challenger, it was weird at first, but I eventually dropped off,” Burton admitted. 

Foreign Secretary Campbell agreed with his assessment of the ship’s power systems. “I must agree, the Tarawa’s inertial dampeners must be more powerful than other ships I have been on.”

“So, how are we playing this today? Burton asked as he gestured towards the Denobulan and Antaran delegations.

Littlejohn answered him. “I want us to listen first to Premier Nerlox’s proposals and see if we can guide them towards Coalition membership.”

“Is a direct alliance with us off the tables?” Burton whispered. 

Campbell answered that question. “It hasn’t made the Vulcans, Andorians or Tellarites happy.”

Burton sighed. He hated politics. He just knew such a thing wouldn’t have been popular with their allies. “I see Ambassador Soron came with Commander T’Plau; perhaps I could speak with her to gauge his initial thoughts?”

Campbell scoffed at that. The taller woman shook her head. “I wouldn’t bother here, captain.” She took a sip from her coffee cup. “I tried last night with Soron; he is against Earth and Denobula formalising a military alliance. He believes the Coalition Compact is becoming the Earth Alliance Treaty instead.”

“Which is understandable,” Littlejohn stated. “Those who are interested in joining the war effort have come to us directly and not the Vulcan Confederacy or the Andorian Empire.”

“It must kill the Vulcans that after centuries of interstellar flight and contact with so many species, they have to take a backseat to Earth,” Burton commented. “Let me at least say hello T’Plau; I may find something else, we don’t know.”

“Good luck,” Secretary Campbell said, unconvinced that Burton could get further.

Excusing himself from the two women, he moved across the room and greeted T’Plau, his former chief armoury officer, with the typical Vulcan ‘V’ hand salute. “Greetings, Commander T’Plau and Ambassador Soron.”

T’Plau, impressed by Burton’s acknowledgement of her customs, greeted him with the same gesture. “Fleet Captain Burton, it is agreeable to see you.” 

“Likewise, commander,” Burton said in a cordial matter; he turned to Soron. “Ambassador, I am pleased the Vulcan Confederacy has joined us for these discussions.”

Soron bowed his head towards Burton. Though their history was brief, they always had a level of respect ever since Burton and the Challenger had worked with him to aid the development talks around the Coalition’s creation. Soron, like most typical male Vulcan ambassadors. Soron had a lean and athletic build, with sharp, angular features and an intense gaze that conveyed an air of intellectual superiority. He wore the robes of a Vulcan ambassador that expressed his many years of experience in the diplomacy field. His greying hair was short and neatly trimmed, which complimented his calm demeanour. Soron was like most Vulcan politicians – always reflecting his work back to Vulcan philosophy of logic and reason above all else. He projected an aura of quiet confidence and authority, which would typically inspire trust and respect from those he engaged with. However, that was not the case now. He didn’t look pleased to be playing the second chair to this number with the Denobulans and Antarans.  

“Fleet Captain Burton, I am intrigued to understand why your presence in these negotiations is required,” Soron stated flatly. 

Knowing the ambassador was known for his casual bluntness, Burton resisted the urge to snap. “As the leader who helped liberate Denobulan from the Romula siege, and someone who has a close link with the Denobulan population, my presence is only to enhance our discussions with our possible future allies.”

“Your allies, not ours,” Soron corrected him.

“Anyone who is an ally of Earth is an ally to Vulcan, Andoria, Tellar Prime and anyone else we have such treaties with,” Burton reminded the older man. “Your presence here is a testimony to our century-old relationship. You are our partners, and working together to achieve the outcomes we want to work on is vital to our shared futures.”

Soron’s right eyebrow rose slowly as he listened to Burton. “We shall see.”

“I believe the ambassador may have some concerns over the Denobulan’s position to wish to open formal talks with only Earth,” T’Plau added. 

“A logical concern,” Burton replied, appreciating T’Plau’s intervention. “However, I hope we either work together to convince the Denobulan government otherwise and bring them into the Coalition.”

“And if we fail, then what?” Soron questioned.

“Then, as I said, an ally of Earth is an ally of Vulcan,” Burton repeated. “It’s not as if Denobula and Vulcan are at war with each other. Both of your governments have shared a long history of peaceful cooperation. This should not change anything.”

“We shall see,” Soron said before excusing himself from them both. 

Burton turned to T’Plau. “It’s good to see you; how are you doing?” He asked quietly.

“Well, thank you, captain. And yourself and the rest of the Challenger crew?” She responded.

“All fine for now,” He sighed as he watched Soron move across the room towards the Andorian delegation. “Would I be out of line if I asked what the contingencies are if Denobulan refuses to join the Coalition and pursues its intention with an alliance with Earth?”

“Are you asking me if I am aware of what my government will do?” T’Plau checked.

Burton nodded.

T’Plau turned her head so Soron and others could not hear her. “Nothing.”

“Nothing?” Burton echoed in an almost whisper. 

She nodded. “For now, however, I cannot imagine the Coalition remaining intact. The Andorian and Tellarite governments are not fully content with the status quo.”

“Earth feels the same way,” Burton assured her. “Without our combined fleets fighting this war, it is taking its toll on our forces more.”

“More than ours?” She questioned.

Burton paused before he answered. Slightly frustrated that she would throw that out against him. “The Vulcan, Andorian and Tellarite forces suffered extensive losses, and there’s no denying that, T’Plau, but even now, with countermeasures in place, it will still be down to Starfleet to hold the line and drive the Romulans back. We are barely surviving, so can you blame us for seeking alliances with others like the Kreetassans and now the Denobulans?”

“What about the trade talks with the Rigelians or the Coridanites? We are aware that Earth is trying to expand its sphere of influence,” T’Plau stated. “Can you blame the likes of Ambassador Soron for being sceptical over your intentions?”

“None of us will come out of this war smelling like roses, T’Plau,” Burton countered before he realised she wouldn’t have understood that idiom. “If there’s going to be a lasting peace at the end, then we all must work together.”

“So does that justify exploring relations with others that are not friendly with the Confederacy of Vulcan?” T’Plau asked, her own eyebrow now popping up.

Confused by that, Burton asked for clarity. “What does that mean?”

“I would advise you to speak to your leaders, captain, before you join the negotiation table. Ask them about the diplomatic gestures made to the Arkonians, the Kantare, the Xyrillians, the Paragrans, the Vissians and the Axanar.” T’Plau advised.

“And? So what if we are? Are we not following the same example set out by our Vulcan allies in making peaceful rapport with others?” Burton countered back. He had no knowledge if what she was saying was correct, but either way, it wouldn’t affect how he would go into these talks. “And do you honestly believe the Romulans will stop with us?”

T’Plau turned to him. “It’s not me that you need to convince.” She looked over her shoulder towards Soron and the other diplomats in the room. 

He sighed and thanked her for her counsel. She bowed her head gently before leaving his side to join Soron. 

Walking across to the opposite end of the room, he made his way to where there were refreshments. He picked up a glass and poured some water into it.

“Any luck?” Secretary Campbell asked as she approached him from the side.

Burton turned to her and shook his head gently. “Unfortunately not. However, I think I know why they’re not completely happy with us.”


Burton took a sip from his glass of water. “Our recent diplomatic overtures to others may not have helped.”

Campbell rolled her eyes. “Can you blame us for trying?”

“Honestly?” Burton replied. “No, so I take it the list of races that T’Plau shared with me is true?”

“Most likely and possibly more,” Campbell confessed. “That said, we don’t get the Vulcans or the others to vet our foreign policy.”

“I’m not questioning it, Madam Secretary, but the Coalition is meant to be our biggest foreign effort; surely keeping our closest allies happy is vital?” Burton asked. 

“It is, but it’s not working in our favour, is it?” Campbell remarked.

Surprised to hear her say that, Burton was taken aback by her tone and words. “What does that mean? You were one of the strongest supporters for the Coalition when it was being proposed.” 

“I was, but when we’ve tried to enforce the whole mantra that ‘an attack on one is an attack on all’, hasn’t actually worked in our favour,” Campbell said. “The fact our allies have been spying on one other for decades and copying each other’s technology hasn’t helped, and the fact the Romulans have turned that against them to almost decimate their military capabilities. Well, let’s just say can you blame us for searching for others to help us?”

He was about to respond when Burton stopped himself. He considered her point for a moment, and he came to the same conclusion as her. “I get it, I do.”

“That’s not to say we don’t want to see the Coalition work because once they can rebuild their forces that withstand the Romulan telepresence capturing device, then I can assure you we will be pushing for them to be back on the frontlines with our forces. In the meantime, we must do whatever it takes to hold the line and ensure the Romulans don’t get anywhere else.” Campbell said with conviction. She dropped her voice, “So when I say we need to do whatever it takes to bring the Denobulans and Antarans to our side, I mean it when I say whatever it takes. Is that understood, captain?”

Burton considered her point before nodding. “I do, ma’am.”

“Thank you, Lloyd; I don’t like it as much as you don’t, but for now, it’s necessary.” The Foreign Secretary picked up a glass of water for herself. “And who knows, perhaps having Earth leading on galactic peace wouldn’t be such a bad thing.” She said before sipping on the water like Burton had just done. 

At that point, Burton ran out of time as Premier Nerlox arrived with his delegation and those representing the Antarans. 

“Friends!” The Denobulan leader exclaimed, “It is good to see you all. Shall we start?” He gestured for them to take their seats and introduced everyone around the table. Nerlox would chair the meeting as he was the one who had called for them to all meet. President Littlejohn had offered the venue to host it on the Tarawa as a neutral location for all sides.  

After almost an hour into the talks and the Denobulans and Antarans had shared their proposals with everyone. Seated next to President Littlejohn on her left, Burton had found himself beginning to fidget in his seat. Nerlox had just suggested they took a recess before continuing when Ambassador Kora jym Gouth interrupted him.

“Premier, I do not believe taking a break now would be appropriate,” The Tellarite woman argued. “You and Emissary Retar cannot expect us to take your suggestions seriously?”

The Denobulan leader turned to Emissary Fintab Retar, the Antaran lead representative. The two men appeared slightly annoyed at Gouth’s interruption. Though she had served almost two years as the Tellarite ambassador to Earth and the defacto representative for her people for the Coalition, she was not one to mince her words. Gouth always got to the point. 

“Do elaborate, Madam Ambassador,” Nerlox invited. 

Gouth sat up in her chair, her fellow aide beside her doing the same. “Your suggestion of a treaty only benefits Denobula, Antaras and Earth. I do not see what Tellar gains?”

“Or Andoria,” added Ambassador Vinithnel sh’Prenni (also known as Vinith). The Andorian woman was tall and graceful, with long, flowing hair the colour of ice. Her skin was a pale blue, almost translucent in the light. When she moved, she did so with quiet confidence, her movements precise and deliberate. Her eyes were a piercing shade of green and seemed to hold an intelligence far beyond her years. Despite her imposing presence, she had a gentle nature and was known for her kindness and compassion. However, those traits were slowly slipping away due to her shared frustration with her Tellarite counterpart. She sat next to Commander Anthi, from the Avenkerev, beside Vinith. She had remained silent so far. 

“You can see, Premier, that my colleagues and I are no fools – we can see what your two people want, and however much we applaud you both for finding common ground to bring true peace to both of your people, what you propose places our worlds at a disadvantage,” Soron remarked. “We do not see the logic in you only negotiating with our human allies and not us?”

Littlejohn then spoke up. “Perhaps, we should take that break and consider what has been said. The premier and emissary may wish to reflect on what you have all raised.”

“No,” Premier Nerlox said.

Everyone was surprised to hear that from the Denobulan leader.

Emissary Retar then spoke up. “I concur with the Premier.”  Retar had short brown hair pushed back away from his V-shaped forehead ridge. “There is no need to reflect on what our colleagues have shared.”

Campbell, like others, was surprised. “Can you then elaborate?”

“We knew that this would be how you would all react,” Nerlox said, speaking towards Gouth, Soron and Vinith. “But can you blame us for seeking out support with Earth?”

“Whatever you’re implying, Premier, it sounds almost like an insult to our people,” Vinith stated.

“I agree,” Gouth said with a firm nod. “The United Worlds of Tellar will not favour the Denobulan or Antaran governments favourable.”

“What would you do?” Nerlox challenged. “Because from where we are standing, all three of your nations are in shambles.”

“How dare you!” Vinith protested.

“Where is the logic in insulting our governments, sir?” Soron asked. 

“We’re not insulting you,” Retar answered, “It’s a known fact that none of you is in a position to make a difference to our worlds; the only credible power in the region is the United Earth Commonwealth.”

At that point, everyone looked at the three humans in the room. Littlejohn attempted to divert the attention away from Earth and back to the discussions at hand. “This isn’t about Earth right now.”

“It is,” Nerlox replied, “I’m sorry to be so blunt, Madam President, but it is time your allies hear it.”

“Is that really necessary?” Burton posed. “The enemy is the Romulans, not each other. If we go down this road, we will lose so much that many have sacrificed so much for.”

“Though your words are wise, Fleet Captain Burton,” Nerlox remarked, “I feel it is important we deal with the awkwardness in the room.” He turned back to the other three ambassadors. “Your paranoia for one another has caused you all to spy on one another, to copy each other in technology, to ensure you can surpass each other. Your superior smugness is what caused all three of your nations to fall victim to the Romulan telepresence-capturing technology. Though your fleets have been brave, their builders have let those who have fought on them down. Now you have had to turn to the one ally you originally looked down upon. Earth.” He pointed at Littlejohn, Campbell and Burton. “They will be our saviours, and it’s time you admitted to that.”

Soron stood up. “We will not sit here and listen to these slurs.”

“Mister Ambassador, though Premier Nerlox’s words may come across as insulting, it would be wise for us to listen,” T’Plau recommended to her superior. She turned to the other two. “For the sake of the cooperation that all of our governments, we should understand why the Denoubulan and Antarans wish to be associated with Earth than our worlds, for now.”

Gouth grumbled. “Soron, sit yourself down; Commander T’Plau has a point.” She looked at Vinith. “Vinith, Nerlox is right.”

The Andorian woman sighed heavily. “Perhaps, but I can’t see why they don’t want to consider membership into the Coalition.”

“Because your Coalition isn’t what it should be,” Nerlox said. “When we were invited to Earth two years ago to explore it, the purpose was to unite our worlds against any common foes, to share knowledge and trade with one another. Instead, the opposite has happened, and even with the Kreetassans joining, you still haven’t achieved what you intended at the start.” 

“The Coalition would have collapsed if it hadn’t been for Earth and its attempts to maintain it,” Retar stated. “We are well aware that the Vulcan government convinced the Andorian and Tellarite governments to withdraw their full support to the treaty you all signed.”

“That is not the truth,” Soron countered.

“Perhaps not the full truth,” Nerlox stated. “But with the Vulcan High Command retreating to its own borders, no longer engaging in its pre-war involvement with other species, well, let’s just say it set a precedent that the Andorian Imperial Guard and Tellarite Space Command easily followed.”

“Especially when their forces were heavily defeated at the Battle of Altair,” Retar added. 

“Okay, enough!” Littlejohn said; she now stood up. “Bashing each other isn’t going to get us anywhere.”

“I agree,” Soron concurred.

“Indeed,” Gouth said.

Vinith nodded. “The president is right.”

Everyone now looked at Nerlox and Retar. Nerlox sighed.

“It was never our intention to bash anyone,” The Denobulan premier said, emphasising his use of Littlejohn’s words, “But after being under a Romulan siege for such a long time, can you blame us for wanting to secure our future?”

“No one can, Premier,” spoke Commander Anthi for the first time. The Andorian commander sat up in her chair. “And what you’ve said is absolutely true.”

Vinith looked at Anthi. “Commander, your input isn’t helping.”

“Maybe not,” Anthi admitted, “but speaking as someone who has been working with Fleet Captain Burton and Commander T’Plau, near the frontlines, I can honestly say what Premier Nerlox and Emissary Retar are saying is the absolute truth. Our governments have failed to keep to our promises when we signed the Coalition Compact.”

“Commander Anthi is correct,” T’Plau said, supporting her counterpart. “Even the Coalition officer exchange program has almost failed. I have witnessed the likes of Challenger lead on numerous fronts to prevent the Romulans from gaining an advantage over us all. Even when Earth was attacked by the Romulans, this did not force humanity to retreat within their space.”

“So if anyone is to blame here, it is us for not following the pink skins,” Anthi stated with a smirk, looking at Burton. 

Burton chuckled at Anthi, “If those of us who have been on the frontlines can see this, then surely there must be space for us to be able to find a way forward together.”

“With Earth leading?” Soron questioned.

“With Earth leading,” Gouth confirmed. “We don’t have much choice, Soron, do we? Nerlox and Retar are right; when we were squabbling, we should have been working together.”

Vinith nodded. “Perhaps there is some truth here to acknowledge.”

“There’s an old Earth saying: You can’t have your cake and eat it,” Burton said, “Well, perhaps we can have our cake and eat it?” 

“What do you have in mind, captain?” Nerlox asked. 

“Both the Denobulan and Antaran people want an ever-lasting peace meditated by Earth, then fine, we’ll do that, but you also allow our allies to be observers and advisors for us. Then once we have signed that, what you want from us, we look at how our allies can support us in providing you with it.” Burton suggested.

 “That’s a fair compromise to ensure everyone remains involved,” Littlejohn said, appreciating the captain’s idea. “We can’t beat the Romulans alone, even if Earth leads.”

 “And when everyone’s militaries are back to full capacity, we will finish what we’ve started,” Campbell added.

“And makes the Romulans realise they are no match for any of us,” Anthi added.

“Indeed,” T’Plau agreed. 

“What about the other species that Earth has enticed to join the cause?” Gouth asked.

“We replicate the same approach with them,” Burton replied. “For our alliance to work, they must see we stand together. Our strength comes from us working shoulder-to-shoulder.”

For the first time, everyone in the room agreed with that approach. Though reluctantly, from some, progress was made.

“Now we take a break,” Littlejohn said. 

Again everyone agreed with that idea.