Captain’s Log, Stardate 74782. I have been called down to Starbase 310 to attend a meeting with other Captains of vessels currently operating in the area. My guess is that the decision has been made to form an expeditionary task force to address the rampant piracy in the area surrounding Empok Nor. While I have my own opinions about this, I still agree that something should be done about the threat looming over a large swath of space and the innocent lives who have been thus far left to their fate.
Captain Jonathan Bastin sat in a large briefing room dominated by men and women sharing his own rank and position. Some of the faces were more familiar than others, and the general tone of the space prior to the meeting’s start was amicable. The occupants who knew one another well enough were quietly trading theories for what the contents of the meeting might be, where they might be deployed to, and with whom as their leading commander.
Bastin, for his part, was sitting next to the only person for whom he had any real connection with, Captain Lisa Gibson. The two of them were sharing a bit of light banter, though the topic of their conversation was centered mostly around catching up since their last posting together rather than anything that may or may not have brought them to the table they were seated at. When the Admiral in charge of the meeting finally walked into the room, the occupants stood out of courtesy, waiting silently for the woman to take her seat before they all sat back down. Bastin couldn’t help but note that the Admiral had chosen a seat just to the other side of Captain Gibson, even though there had been several other seats much closer to the entrance she’d used.
“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate you all coming here on such short notice,” the Rear Admiral began, “For those of you I haven’t met before, I am Rear Admiral Shrome Zh’rialahr, and I head up Tactical Operations in this part of the Quadrant. We have received a great deal of information recently that has enabled my team to pinpoint the location of a particularly troublesome band of renegades and pirates. It is for this reason that you have been called in.”
A murmur rippled through the room upon the revelation of the actual circumstances that had brought most of the Captains to the table. A few, like Bastin himself, already knew that this was the likely impetus for the group being assembled which showed quite plainly by their unimpressed reaction to the information.
Not waiting for the room to come back to order after her reveal, Admiral Zh’rialahr activated the holographic display embedded in the table and brought up the stellar map of the sector in question. The planet on which Starbase 310 was located served as the center point for the map, with a large patch of the map dotted with crimson dots. The fuzzy blue boundary that was visibly dividing parts of the display was assumed to be the border between the Federation and Cardassian space, and almost all of the dots resided on the Cardassian side.
“The cluster of red is the area in which our sources have confirmed pirate activity to be at its greatest. Countless vessels, both Federation and Cardassian, have been preyed upon in the area and some have been lost to their nefarious undertakings. It has been decided by both the Federation and the Cardassian Union that this group needs to be eliminated,” the Andorian said, looking at each Captain in the room in turn to gauge their reactions.
Some of the men and women looked displeased by the choice of words. From what Bastin could recall of them, they were all relatively recent promotees who had never really faced a situation where violence was the only recourse and not the final one. The faces that didn’t show much in the way of emotion were the Captains who had spent many long years out on the fringes of the Federation where the lines weren’t so clear and where encounters were just as likely to go south as not. And then there was Bastin himself, who couldn’t help but look melancholy despite having already taken the lives of a fair few of the pirates in question. While he accepted that there wasn’t any reasoning with them, he was disappointed that any group of people could have fallen so far that the only manner in which they could be dealt with was that of violent extermination.
“This is not a mission conceived in haste,” Admiral Zh’rialahr said after taking a moment to get a feel for the temperaments of the people in the room, “Several Starfleet vessels have already made contact with these raiders and it has been proven without question that they have no desire to see reason or abandon their violent lifestyle. They’ve succumbed to their basest urges and have left any shred of decency to rot. No one will mourn their passing, and neither should you lament your role in helping them along.”
The woman’s statement inspired several passionate moral objections, leading to a brief but ultimately pointless debate. Bastin glossed over during the furverent back and forth between the incised officers and the Admiral who had given them a dose of hard reality. If someone hadn’t mentioned him by name, he might have stayed lost in his own world far longer.
“What do you think, Captain Bastin? You’re the career diplomat in the room. Do you think what the Admiral is proposing is in keeping with the traditions of the Federation?” one of the Captains opposed to the idea called out. It took the man a few seconds to process what had been asked of him, then a few moments of silence pervaded the room as he considered his reply.
“I’m not sure that’s the right question to ask in this situation…” Bastin said finally, “The people we’re talking about fall well outside of the scope of who the Federation really had in mind when any of our laws and regulations were drafted. Most of them have taken the lives of our own citizenry without fear of repercussions or reprisal simply because they were doing it on the wrong side of a line we arbitrarily drew on a map. If we want to use our own rules as a metric, then anyone who decides to leave the safety of our arbitrary lines accepts that they may die without ever having their deaths answered for.”
Perplexed looks and shocked murmurs pervaded the cluster of officers who had thought Bastin would lend his voice to their cause given his background. To find that he was so willing to throw it all to the wayside over something as innocuous as a border on a map stunned them.
“How can you even say that? We’re talking about launching a campaign to kill people,” another one of the Captains spoke up.
Bastin couldn’t help but sigh in exasperation, “This is no different than any war the Federation has ever been a part of. Simply because we aren’t dealing with a political entity while we take lives doesn’t mean we aren’t still visiting violence upon living beings. The fact of the matter is, the pirates who are hiding out just over the border feel safe because they believe that the Federation is filled with nothing but Captains like yourselves who believe that the letter of the regulations is a binding document that should never be bent or ignored even if it means making the Quadrant even a slightly better place.”
“They are betting on the fact that we won’t cross that border, that we will adhere to our dogmatic belief in the sanctity of all sentient life, and that the only time they are in any danger of reprisal is when they attack our ships directly… and even then that hasn’t seemed to stop them lately as my ship has been waylaid by no fewer than a dozen pirate ships in the last few months. They continue to prey upon the weak and the innocent because they know the Federation isn’t going to go out of its way to hunt them down because it might be morally objectionable. And until we show them that they aren’t safe, that we aren’t simply going to preach an ideal of peace without the claws it takes to defend them, more raids will occur and more lives will be lost,” Bastin concluded with a frown.
The room was eerily silent as everyone in it digested the words he’d spoken. Even the officers who hadn’t spoken out against the plan had something to consider after he’d gone on a bit of a tirade. Admiral Zh’rialahr seemed to be the only person in the room that wasn’t outright shocked by his outburst.
“Well spoken, Captain Bastin… well spoken indeed,” the Admiral said with a proud smirk, “And his words carry a great deal of weight to them despite his former career path. Actually… perhaps they are so powerful because of his previous background. If someone who has championed peace between a number of worlds can look at this situation and make the call that there is no recourse but to trade blows with these vagrants, then there shouldn’t be a man or woman amongst you who could raise a suitable objection to it.”
Side glances and dower expressions dominated the room, but no one had the will to raise an objection. Bastin felt a sharp pang of regret at that moment over having shattered several people’s idealized vision of the Federation and what it stood for. Admiral Zh’rialahr allowed the silence to hang in the air for a few moments before returning to the plan ahead of them.
“We have been allocated the use of a Manticore-class vessel to act as the task force command vessel. Sadly, the ship itself just came out of her shakedown cruise so she doesn’t have a commanding officer to speak of. Under normal circumstances, someone like myself would take nominal command of the ship until the mission is complete. That, however, is not what will be taking place this time around,” the Andorian said before turning to look straight at Captain Bastin, “Your tenure aboard the Argonaut was extended due to some… unusual circumstances, was it not, Captain?”
“It was…” Bastin nodded hesitantly.
“You are also in charge of another mission here in the sector that grants you some latitude in which to operate, correct?”
Again the man couldn’t help but pause before nodding his head in response to the question, a tingling sensation prickling the back of his neck as if he was walking right into a trap that he had no way to avoid.
“Excellent…” the Andorian smiled, her eyes taking on the look of a hunter who had finally found their prey, “You will take over command of the USS Hydra and lead this mission from the frontlines as the senior most Captain here.”
“Uh huh…” Bastin said in disbelief over just how quickly the decision had been made.
“Starfleet will allow you to transfer the majority of your senior officers, as it would be much harder to secure people you might be comfortable working with on a vessel fresh out of shakedown. The Argonaut should be in good hands with the officers you leave behind,” the Admiral said as if the entire situation had nothing to do with her.
“I see,” Bastin muttered weakly as he tried to process all of the sudden information that had been thrown at him in rapid succession.
“I will send you the mission details later today, Captain. For now, please transfer your effects and your personnel to the Hydra and prepare your new ship for departure. I suggest the rest of you also return to your own vessels and prepare to move out on Captain Bastin’s order,” Admiral Zh’rialahr with a finality in her voice that left no room for debate or questions.
“Congratulations, Jon,” Captain Gibson leaned over and whispered into her friend’s ear, “I’m sorry I couldn’t warn you before the Admiral sprang this on you.”
Captain Bastin gave a weak note of laughter as his mind reeled at just how much had been dumped on his lap. If he had regretted opening his mouth earlier, he almost certainly regretted showing up for the meeting thanks to the wild twists he’d just gone through. It was a good while before he finally picked himself up out of his chair to return to the ship that wasn’t actually his anymore.