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Part of Challenger: The Romulan War: Calling The Shots

Call The Shots – Seven

Tarawa NR-03
Tuesday, March 1st, 2157
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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.”

“Oh?”

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.