The Ferengi delegation flanked each side of the conference table in the upper levels of Starbase 86. The hours had dragged on, and still they were no closer to a resolution. Captain Erill’Yun Mek struggled to keep his grimace from erupting into an outright yawn as DaiMon Brux launched into yet another shrill appeal for compensation, “But you can clearly see, Captain, Merek’s Amethyst was following a course along shipping lane 3-22-Gamma. This is well within the scope of the Federation security guarantee stipulated in the Federation-Ferengi Joint Declaration on shipping rights. I refer you to section five, subsection six-two of the-’
“Ops to Captain Mek.”
“Go ahead ops.”
“Commodore Tharc would like to see you in her ready room right away.”
An immediate sense of relief was quickly replaced by confusion, “What, now?”
“Confirmed, sir. I’ve been informed Commander Sorik will continue to handle the negotiations on your behalf.” Sure enough, at that moment a stern faced Vulcan entered the conference room.
“Standby, ops.” Mek closed the channel and rose from his seat, much to Brux’s dismay.
He thrust a PADD towards Sorik containing Starfleet’s official negotiating positions on the matter, “Have a scintillating afternoon, Commander.”
Sorik merely raised an eyebrow in response to Mek’s sarcasm, before seating himself.
“Hey! Do you have any idea how hard it is to source hupyrian beetle snuff on this side of the quadrant? We have contracts to fulfil! This is the stability of galactic commercial trade at stake here, Captain! Captain?!” The remonstrations of Brux and his obsequious retinue faded away as Mek shot out of the room and straight towards the nearest turbolift. He hadn’t had much of a chance to get a read on Commodore Tharc, but from what he had seen, he knew she was not one to call such a meeting for any trivial circumstance. Something wasn’t right. Something big.
It had been a while since Mek had made the journey up to the station’s command level. Most of his responsibilities were contained within the Task Force 86 Command Centre, and his involvement with the day to day operation of the base was limited. The corridors of this section of the base were bustling with report-bearing staff dashing between department offices. A few acknowledged Mek with a cursory nod as he exited the turbolift, but their gaze quickly zeroed in dead ahead once more, focusing on their destination and the next task at hand. He drifted across the deck towards , feeling like a visitor, or a forgotten relative that no one now quite had the time for.
He stepped into station ops. Starbase 86’s nerve centre was lit up. Tactical maps glowed blue against vertical transparent monitors. Ship movements, anomalies, space lanes and listening posts were all marked out as personnel of every department colour manned stations. No one smiled, joked, or even lazed about with coffee of any kind. Pallid, grim faces peered into readouts and yet more reports. Every so often, on the central command table, a new symbol would appear in a seemingly random location on the holo-projection of the entire Beta Quadrant that hovered above it. It shone a ghostly white light, accentuating the sunken shadows of concern cast across the senior staff’s faces as they looked on. The focus of their attention; the appearance at seemingly random intervals and random spacing of a single letter throughout the map. Mek squinted, his eyes not being what they used to be, and when the golden points of light came into focus his stomach hit the floor. Like the pox of a slowly spreading disease, the Quadrant was peppered with a symbol he was hoping never to have to see in his lifetime. The end of all things: Ω.
A nearby voice cut through his thoughts. “Captain Mek,” a staff adjutant Lieutenant approached him, weaving a path around the outside of the roughly circular room. She was followed by another Captain, a human much younger than Mek. The woman bore a stern expression, and as command level staff she had undoubtedly been briefed on the horror that now faced them both. The adjutant now stood between them, stating in a matter of fact way, “Sir, this is Captain Francesca Shilo, transferring in to assume the role of Task Force 86 Executive Officer.”
“Captain Shilo, yes…” Mek sounded distant for a moment, distracted by the gravity of the situation. Without further words, he reached out for a handshake. He had worked with humans for his entire career, and despite all that was happening, knew they placed a great deal of importance on an initial greeting.
Francesca hadn’t stepped on a Starbase in over four years due to her mission in the Delta Quadrant. She had received an urgent message requesting her transfer as an Executive Officer over Task Force 86. Some might see it as a step down, but actually it was a good promotion.
Her mind snapped back to the station which she was weaving through. She had been breaded on the newest development which sent chills up her spine. Omega was a problem and the fact that it couldn’t be discussed with anyone under command level added extra tension to an already volatile situation. The station was buzzing with activity like there was not problem in the world. “Poor souls if only they knew.” She thought.
Mero was stopped by a staff adjutant “Captain Shilo I presume?”
Francesca nodded “That’s correct I am here to report to the Task Force 86 Commanding Officer.
The adjutant nodded and gestured for Francesca to follow. As they made their way through the station they arrived in the Ops center. Francesca couldn’t help but notice the symbol that dotted the holographic map. It was way worse than what she was initially told.
She thought of some possible plans when she heard ““Sir, this is Captain Francesca Shilo, transferring in to assume the role of Task Force 86 Executive Officer.” She looked at Mek and shook his hand.
“A pleasure to meet you, Captain Mek. You seem preoccupied, is everything ok?”
“Your arrival’s the only thing I’ve got to be happy about right now, Captain Shilo.” Mek’s mouth barely moved as he formed the words, “That being said, I believe we’ll have to save the pleasantries for another time. No doubt you’re aware of… The situation.” He cast his eyes over to the holo-display.
The grave words ringed truer than anything that could’ve been mentioned in the current state of events. She nodded “I understand, Sir. There are way more important things to deal with at this time. I am well aware of the current…situation.” She knew that talking about the matter was confined to certain people and currently the room was full of unauthorized personnel.
She was immediately whisked away with Mek to an unknown location. She was just along for the ride currently.
The lights in the room were dimmed. Glasses of water sat at various levels of emptiness around the long oval table. The expansive window that ran along the length of the room offered a view of scattered stars, smeared on one side by the violet gaseous unfurlings of the Azure Nebula’s coreward tip.
Every notable command level flag and line officer this side of Raeya was present. Commodore Tharc sat, chairing the meeting from the far end of the oval. He brought up a hand, fingers spread, in a sweeping motion and gestured for Mek and Shilo to sit.
“Captain Mek and Captain Shilo, Task Force 86 command.” The Commodore announced to the group. The captains quickly found their name plates and seated themselves. Two PADDs had been left out for them, an omega symbol glowed blue across the front of each one. Beneath the ominous character read the words, “Omega Directive: Starbase 86 Containment Plan”. Mek glanced at it briefly before the Captain seated next to him leaned over.
After sitting down the ominous view of the Omega symbol Francesca was snapped back to reality by the voice of another Captain speaking to Mek.
“I hope Task Force 86 is up for some fun and games,” the human had well coiffed black hair which stood in stark contrast to his gleaming teeth as he smiled.
“Task Force 86 is up for getting this damned molecule cleaned up,” Mek scowled, “Captain…?”
“Eoin Haughey, Raeyan Sector command.”
Shilo smirked at the Captain’s reply before she heard a voice in her ear.
“Task Force 86 has been here awhile, but I don’t know you.” Yet another Captain to her right stated.
Shilo was not in the mood for small talk “Nor would you I just transferred here. I am Captain Francesca Shilo, the new TF 86 Executive Officer. And you?”
“Shannon Mclaughlin, Commodore’s Adjutant.”
“Hmmmmm, Task Force 86!” The unmistakably triumphant call of a Klingon warrior resonated from the walls of the meeting room, “Of the Fourth Fleet, no less. While you all might have given the House of D’Ghor a little more than they bargained for, it looks like this… Conundrum has you all quite confounded.”
Haughey looked like someone had stamped on his toe, “Oh we’re confounded? Tell me General Metraq, where exactly was the Klingon Twelfth Fleet when D’Ghor was storming across its ally’s border? And now it sounds like you’ve found a solution to containing the Omega molecule? Please, share your expertise General!”
The Klingon’s laugh was deep, hearty and from the belly, “Were it not for your government’s quite cowardly insistence on secrecy about this matter, perhaps we could have preempted this mess. Yes, Captain. But alas, here we are now scrambling to contain another Federation crisis. An avoidable one at that. If only you had thought of the practicalities instead of gallivanting around the galaxy researching anomaly after anomaly, provoking god-like beings or whatever it is you waste your time with.” He rolled his eyes, “Perhaps sharing this information before the situation became critical would have been prudent, Captain Haughey?”
“I fail to see how you can call this a ‘Federation crisis’ when it’s clearly affecting our whole damn side of the galaxy. Or maybe that’s just what you call it when you realise the problem’s not gonna get solved by blasting it with disruptors or waving a d’k tahg at it.”
Commodore Tharc was blithely amused by this back and forth, but in the interests of moving things along she grunted at them in a signal to shut up. She activated a holo display that rose from the centre of the table, similar to the one Mek had seen in ops. The golden specks of omega symbols were every bit as extensive as those on the previous map. In fact, it appeared to Mek as though yet more had popped up in the mere minutes since they had left the Starbase’s control room.
“Captains, General,” Tharc announced, “This is the worst case scenario. As I’m sure you’re aware, with this much Omega cropping up throughout the galaxy, our response teams are stretched to the breaking point.” She shifted uncomfortably in her seat, tapping a series of commands into the controls on the table in front of her. The map zoomed in to the TF86 area of operations. Federation space was highlighted blue, meeting the red Klingon border at a sharp angle to create the lawless vacuum of the Triangle. The map zoomed further, centering on a single omega symbol, surrounded by a purplish blue haze.
“I present to you our most pressing concern. On stardate 76597.6, the USS Kaybin detected traces of Omega coming from within the Azure Nebula.” The room’s occupants remained silent as they began to process the ramifications, “As of now, we have been unable to pinpoint the exact location of the molecule. Starfleet Command has impressed upon us the importance of finding it and neutralising the molecule before any other actor in the region. We have reason to believe several extra-governmental actors from within the Triangle may have interest, not to mention the Tal’Shiar and the Romulan Free State.”
Captain Mclaughlin continued the briefing seamlessly from across the table, “The vast area of space occupied by the nebula, along with extremely volatile gases and subspace interference means that, even with several starships deployed, it would take months for us to pinpoint the molecule.” It was Mclaughlin’s turn to punch up new information on the display. The hologram swept through to within the nebula itself, with nine wire mesh starships appearing in a 3×3 grid formation. “We’ve therefore developed a method by which nine starships can work together to comb the nebula. Calibrating their sensor harmonics on resonance frequency nine-nine-one-eight-six theta, we can position these ships as far as ten lightyears apart and still receive accurate data feedback.”
“Like running a giant magnet over the haystack to find the needle.” Haughey piped up.
“Exactly, Captain.” Tharc smiled, only patronising him a little, “The ships that will make up the sensor network are already en route. This still leaves the problem of someone else stumbling upon the molecule before we do. Captain Mek, Captain Shilo, Task Force 86 will mobilise every available ship to form a blockade around areas of Azure Nebula bordering Federation space, and along its border with the Triangle as far as Phesertia III. The Klingon Defence Force has agreed to police the other half of the border and areas that fall within the Klingon Empire’s territory.” She nodded towards General Metreq in thanks. “Captain Haughey, Raeyan Sector forces will form a rapid response force. Prepare to deploy and render assistance to any vessels in need as soon as possible. Again, the KDF will have one one of their own task forces stationed at Khitomer ready to go.”
Tharc rose from her seat, “We’re lucky to have this many resources sent our way for just one molecule. Starfleet and the Klingon High Command have designated this mission as priority one. We simply cannot risk the Omega molecule falling into any unscrupulous hands, and there are plenty of those in this neck of the woods. Any questions about the nature of the mission?” There a brief moment of silence, “No? Then you’re all dismissed.”