“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.”