The Ready Room was covered in PADDs, each one containing relevant reports from the Deneb Sector. She hadn’t gotten much sleep last night, not after the news broke about return of their greatest nemesis, and Fleet Admiral Reyes had spent the whole diligently pouring over every last piece of information she could get her hands on related to the developing situation along their trailing coreward border in the Alpha Quadrant.
Federation colonies from Nasera to Izar to Sevury had fallen. Numerous ships from Task Group 514 were no longer responding. And the rapid surge of Dominion and Breen ships and manpower was astonishing. The veteran of the Dominion War was certain, beyond any doubt, this wasn’t a mere border skirmish as described on the Federation News Network. These were not a handful of leftover Dominion ships repurposed by the Breen as some in Starfleet claimed. That was all lunacy in the face of the fact that Jem’Hadar legions now prowled the streets of so many once-free worlds across the Deneb sector.
A wall-mounted terminal flickered to life, drawing the admiral from her thoughts. On the screen was the seal of Fourth Fleet Command. This was the call Reyes had been waiting for. A younger officer might have straightened her collar, adjusted her pips, or cleaned up the mess of PADDs littering the office, but Reyes did none of that. She simply walked over to the terminal and accepted the call from the Task Force 93 Commanding Officer.
Aboard the USS Verity, Commodore Imya Jori sat at her desk waiting for the person on the other end to pick up, thoughts running through her head as she’d never had to give orders to a higher ranking officer before. A few seconds later, the viewscreen came to life with the face of Fleet Admiral Reyes.
“Good afternoon Admiral,” Jori offered with a soft smile as she adjusted a slight bit in her chair. “Hopefully I am not interrupting anything important.”
“Not one bit Commodore. I’ve been waiting for your call ever since news of the Dominion reached us. We’re itching to get in the fight. Where are we headed?” Reyes asked, getting straight to the point. It wasn’t that she wasn’t friendly or didn’t want to get to know the Commodore, but her proclivity towards niceties was overcome by a hunger to strike back at an enemy that was now rampaging across their space.
“Right,” Jori replied. The admiral was clearly getting straight to business, which was fine by her. Tapping her console, Jori sent Reyes an information file over the encrypted carrier wave. “The Nasera system has fallen into Dominion hands,” Jori began, before taking a breath. “I am sending the Polaris to retake Nasera II as it is vital to our ongoing efforts.”
“Nasera… if I recall correctly, one of our oldest colonies in the Deneb sector, and an industrial powerhouse,” Reyes mused, recalling a report she’d read earlier stating it had been one of the first colonies to fall in the Dominion blitzkrieg. That same report also suggested that the Dominion had gained control of Nasera II’s substantial planetary defense infrastructure, and that a not insignificant fleet of Dominion ships still lingered in orbit. “I read the sitrep earlier. The Dominion is pretty dug in there. Tell me there’s more to this than than just ramming my boat into that fortress on a suicide mission?”
“There is,” Jori began with a bit of a pause. “A small number of other Fourth Fleet ships will link up with you en route, but we need a flag officer to lead the assault wing,” Jori responded as she sat there looking at her.
“By a small number, I assume you mean not enough to easily overwhelm the Dominion fleet and the planetary defense system?” Reyes probed, her tactician mind already hard at work thinking through how this would go down. Depending on the disposition of the ships joining them, they might be able to outflank the Dominion ships; however, the planetary defense network was a wholly different problem. You couldn’t outflank dozens of orbital batteries encircling the entire surface of the planet, spaced equidistantly in high geocentric orbit. They’d been designed to defend against Breen aggression after the war, but now they’d pose quite a challenge to those who’d originally put them there.
“Starfleet Intelligence recommends a covert operation to disable the planetary defense network before you go in for the counterassault,” explained Jori. She had read the Polaris’ manifest and knew Reyes had officers well-suited for a covert action like this.
“That could certainly be arranged.” Reyes’ mind went straight to Commander Lewis, who would finally have something to do. Most days, the former spook just stalked the corridors looking for ghosts while the Polaris charted nebulas and explored ancient ruins. “Would a covert ops team expect any support on the ground if we can get them inserted?”
“There are no sanctioned activities that we know of on the ground, and the Jem’Hadar are keeping very close watch over the populace,” Jori responded with a sigh, knowing it wasn’t the answer Reyes’ was hoping for.
“We’ll find a way, Commodore,” Reyes assured her colleague calmly, sensing the regret Jori must have felt at the lack of information she had. The TFCO had probably been asked the same sorts of questions a dozen times over today, each by a CO hoping to get a clear picture of the battlefield, and each time, Jori had probably lacked the information to sufficiently answer their questions. It was why they called it the fog of war. “Don’t worry about us, seriously. We will free Nasera and then hit you up for our next target.” Reyes offered a meek smile.
For a moment, there was silence. Both flag officers had enough experience to know it wouldn’t be that easy. It was unlikely that the USS Polaris and her sister ships would all return intact and without casualties.
Changing the subject, not letting the awkward silence fester too long, Reyes then asked: “How’s everyone at Fourth Fleet Command holding up?” She’d once sat where they now sat, and she remembered what it felt like to carry the weight of the galaxy’s survival on your shoulders. She didn’t envy them. She much preferred to be out among the stars or, in times like these, down in the trenches. But she could certainly feel for them and the hard choices they had to make, especially as many were old friends.
“I can’t really speak for the others,” Jori replied as she looked at the admiral with a heavy sigh. “I was never a part of the Dominion War, but I had family members who were. Never would I have thought we’d be facing them again,” Jori replied somberly.
“We have one big advantage this time,” Reyes offered optimistically. “We remember how we beat them, while the Lost Fleet has no memory of how we won.”
The Breen may have shared what they knew with the Lost Fleet, but that wasn’t the same as if the new arrivals had spent the intervening two decades analyzing what went wrong last time, and how the tides had turned against them. Instead, the Lost Fleet were soldiers out of time, using decades old technology, and fighting with decades old knowledge. That gave Starfleet an edge. But the Dominion of the seventies was still a very hostile and lethal force.
“That doesn’t make the task before us any less daunting though,” Fleet Admiral Reyes continued, her expression darkening, emotion carrying through every word. “Not every officer you order to the line this week will come home alive. If you’re not already at peace with that fact, make peace with it now, before the caskets start arriving. Otherwise, this war will eat you alive.” She didn’t mince her words. The TFCO needed to understand what lay before them.
Jori let out a huge sigh, though louder then she really had wanted to. “I know,” she simply replied as she didn’t have much else to respond at that very moment. Thoughts running through her mind, officers she was ordering into the fight against an enemy they had fought once before. She knew that not everyone would make it home.
Sighs and platitudes didn’t cut it for Reyes. She wouldn’t let her colleague off that easily. “But do you really know, Commodore?” Reyes asked pointedly, flipping the script on the Trill officer who was, at least on paper, her boss. “You were a cadet last time we asked our sailors to go into battle against the Jem’Hadar.” In fact, Jori hadn’t even gotten her first command until the early nineties after Starfleet had already closed in on itself. “This will not be like our skirmish with the hunters of D’Ghor, nor the echoes of T’kon or the Century Storm. Those were child’s play. The Dominion is ruthless, a force truly rivaled only by the Borg.” Thankfully, all indications were that this was just the Lost Fleet, and they’d not been joined by the Dominion of today, but she could only hope it stayed that way. It had taken the great powers of two quadrants to repel the full might of the Dominion last time, and it had scarred Allison Reyes for life.
Jori looked at her counterpart with a raised eyebrow, caught off-guard by the Admiral’s swift change in tenor. The Commodore chose her next words carefully: “You really think I am so naive to believe there won’t be lives lost? I might have been a cadet during the time of the Dominion War, but that doesn’t mean this is going to be any different just because we know how to defeat them.” Jori’s tone had shifted, notably different from the more pleasant one she’d had earlier. “I think about that with every call, with every order I have to give to these commanders under my command,” Jori admitted as she sat there looking at the woman on the screen.
They’d finally gotten to where Reyes had wanted to get, where she could offer some advice to the younger officer.
“If you take anything from our conversation Commodore, take this,” Fleet Admiral Reyes urged with gravity and deep sincerity. “Make peace with the fact that the orders you give must be given, and that those who lay down their lives do so to safeguard all we hold dear. Choose the missions wisely but keep sending them. Do not question yourself when the body bags start piling up, for if you balk at continuing the fight then, all those sacrifices, including possibly my very own, will be in vain. These young officers may not fully understand what you are asking of them as you send them to war – many of them have never seen more than a dust up with local raiders – but know that I do understand, and that I go willingly for it is necessary.”
All was said that needed to be said. They had their orders. Now it was time to get on with it.