“Matt, come on in,” Josiah said as he stood from behind his desk in Star Fleet Headquarters. Two other men—Commodore Jurood and a Vulcan dressed in civilian clothing—also stood.
“Admiral, Commodore,” Matt said as he shook their hands, and then he turned to face the civilian.
“Ambassador Sepak,” the Vulcan said, bowing his head gracefully—he kept his hands firmly ensconced within the voluminous sleeves of his robes.
“Ambassador,” Matt replied.
Josiah sat, followed the other three men in turn, and he turned a wry smile upon his old friend. “I understand Richard Kessler was livid that he was bested even once by a ship as old as Republic
“Rick was . . . irate at falling for my trick, to be sure. But he was only courteous and gracious towards my ship and crew.”
“There are some members of the Admiralty, Captain Dahlgren,” the Andorian said with his antennae twitching, “who believe that the loss and the draw should be declared void in light of you using full-strength tractors in the first engagement—and then reversing the polarity and using them as repulsors in the fifth. My congratulations on that; you kept deflecting McHale
’s torpedoes just far enough to generate a miss. Even though my understanding is that Admiral Grantham is not pleased at having to replace your ship’s tractors because of the stresses you put on them at Mars.”
“Technically, Commodore, tractor beams are not weapons—and the rules of the engagement only stated that weapons were to be powered down to minimum levels. Tractors are equipment and tools, not weapons.”
“Many also feel that your use of such techniques is far too similar to what the Borg routinely accomplish. And they are also concerned that such use of a device not intended as a weapon might spur research into the militarization of tractor-repulsor units. I, of course,” the Andorian said, pointing at his own chest, “am not one of those detractors.”
“Certainly, the Borg was the first major opponent we’ve encountered that use tractors in combat on a routine basis—and their tractors are far more powerful than any in Star Fleet. But we have adopted other species tactics before—take the wolfpacks
- and Saber
-class ships that we deployed in the Dominion War. That was nothing more than adopting the old Klingon idea of three smaller ships ganging up on a larger, more cumbersome vessel and worrying it to death.”
“Oh, I quite agree, and so too do many of the officers in this building. But there are some who do not, Captain Dahlgren. And those few have no great love for either you or Republic
; they would see you fail even if it costs Star Fleet a ship we can ill afford to lose.”
Josiah shook his head. “Zak will talk your ear off with HQ gossip, Matt, if you give him the slightest opportunity—and he no doubt wants to discuss your tactical innovations at length. But that is not why I asked you to beam down here from Spacedock. When can Republic
Matt frowned. “Admiral Grantham assured me that his yard-workers will finish installing the new tractors by Thursday, and complete our full gripe list on Friday. It was my understanding that we would have at least two weeks of down-time, though—I’ve been pushing my people hard and wanted to give them some time with their families on planet.”
“No, those plans have changed. Zak, see if you can light a fire under Grantham and get Republic
pushed to the top of the list—I want you underway in 24 hours, if possible. What do you know about the Lorsham?”
“Lorsham? I’ve never heard of them.”
The Vulcan leaned forward slightly. “Not surprising, Captain. They are a race of being who inhabit a system they call Hak’ta-thor; their word for Home. It is G-class star located in The Cauldron.”
Matt nodded. The Cauldron, he knew about. It was a dark nebula, rife with thick clouds of dust and debris—and one not too far distance from the core of the Federation worlds. The hazards it presented to navigation had not allowed for ships to pass through that of region of space until only a few decades ago, when improved deflector systems from the Galaxy
program began to be distributed among the ships of the Fleet. He looked down as he dredged up the memories of old journals and he finally nodded.
“The Lorsham and another race—the Kraal?—inhabit two systems within the Cauldron, correct?”
The Vulcan nodded his approval. “Yes. Both races have developed warp drives, but where the Lorsham were friendly and eager for outside contact, the Kraal are isolationists and very, very territorial. Both species declined joining the Federation, although the Lorsham response was far more restrained. But now it appears that the Kraal have invaded and overrun several Lorsham colonies—and the Lorsham have asked for Federation assistance.”
“The Federation Council has asked that I mediate the dispute, Captain. And I require immediate transport.”
Matt nodded his understanding. “Had there been a threat assessment on the Kraal, Admiral?”
“Unfortunately, Matt, there hasn’t been. It just wasn’t on Star Fleet’s list of priorities—but they are more technologically advanced than the Lorsham. Not that it requires a great deal to be more advanced than the Lorsham—their best ships are roughly comparable to the old Daedalus
-class of the 22nd century.”
“The Kraal are a different story, however: Hera
made first contact back in 2361, she reported their vessels were armed with both disruptors and photon torpedoes, and well shielded—technologies that were not available at the time for the Daedalus
The Ambassador held up a hand. “It matters not. We shall be talking with the Lorsham and the Kraal, not fighting them. Your vessel is only present to deliver me and my and staff, Captain Dahlgren. The Council has no intention of getting involved in yet another war at this time.”
“I’ll have quarters prepared for you and your staff at once, Ambassador,” Matt responded. Although, I don’t think your intentions are going to matter a hill of beans if the Kraal don’t want
to negotiate, he thought but didn’t say.
Josiah stood, quickly followed by Matt, Jurood, and Sepak. “In that case, Matt, I’ll let you get to it. Don’t worry about Grantham—he’ll get your ship ready on time. Good hunting, Captain.”
Matt sat with his eyes closed, as he listened to the last chorus of Loch Lomond
. No instruments of wood or brass or strings; just voices blending perfectly together to form the ultimate expression of music. He lifted the crystal glass on the side table to his lips, taking a sip of the twenty-four year single-malt scotch whiskey—no synthehol, this!—before setting it back down on the table. As the voices crescendoed to the final strains, his comm badge beeped.
“Computer, pause playback.”
The music immediately stopped.
“Dahlgren,” Matt said as he tapped the device.
“Lieutenant Commander Biddle, Sir. The communication channel you requested is now open
“Thank you, Miss Biddle. Transfer it down here to my quarters, please.”
Matt slowly stood and—ignoring the cane—took a few fumbling steps over his desk, where he sat down and opened the monitor. He pressed a series of icons and the screen blanked, and then an image appeared of a teenaged woman, the reflection of a newly rising sun shining off the lake and the mountains he could clearly see through the windows behind her.
She smiled. “Dad!” she squealed. “Amy, Sarah, it’s Dad!” she yelled.
“Hi, Cass,” Matt said to his oldest daughter. “How are you doing, sweetheart?”
“Oh fine. Did you get the recording? Have you heard that we’re going to Paris and we get to perform at Notre Dame!”
“I heard, baby. Congratulations—I know you’ve worked hard for this, and yes, I got the recordings—all of them. In fact, I was just listening to Loch Lomond
—I think the tenor was a bit flat.”
“Oh, Daddy,” she shook her head, still grinning, but then the grin faded and her face fell. “You aren’t going to be able to be there, are you?”
“I’m sorry, Cass, but I’ve got orders to leave the system in just a few hours from now. I don’t know when I’ll be back at Earth—but promise me you’ll get Amy and Sarah to record it and send it to me via sub-space.”
A faint voice came across the screen, and Matt’s heart lurched when he heard his ex-wife. “Cassandra, who is calling at this hour?”
“Mom, it’s Dad! Can you get Amy and Sarah!”
His daughter turned back to the comm and gave Matt a half-hearted smile. “You want to speak to Mom?”
Matt just shook his head. “No, just tell her I called and that I hope she’s well.” Besides, he thought, I don’t need an argument this morning.
“I understand—about Notre Dame, Daddy. Is your ship what you thought she would be?”
“Good. You need a woman in your life again,” his eldest said with a grin. Suddenly, there was an ear-piercing shriek, and his other two daughters came running into the field of view.
“DADDY!” screamed the youngest, Sarah, a girl of only ten. Amy, his middle child and half-way grown at thirteen just smiled her breath-taking smile at him. She was the quiet one.
“Hey, girls. I just called to see you.”
“You’re going to space, aren’t you?” asked Amy.
“I am sunshine.”
She nodded. “You be more careful this time,” she said very firmly.
“I will. I’ve sent your presents to your Mother, girls. She’ll have them for your birthdays, if I am not back on Earth by then. But I want letters every week, you get me?”
“WE GET YOU, SIR!” all three of the girls shouted back smiling.
“Ok, I’ve got to go, babies.”
“WAIT!” hollered Sarah as she ran into another room, Amy and Cassandra shaking their heads. Matt waited until she got back and deposited a most displeased cat—her golden fur stripped with darker patterns and dots—right in front of the monitor.
“See how BIG Jinx has got!”
“Oh, she has, hasn’t she,” Matt said with a chuckle. The cat cocked her ears when she heard Matt’s voice and turned to look at the screen, pawing the monitor. “MEOW. MEOW.”
“She’s saying she misses you, Daddy!” Sarah cried, lifting one of the cats forepaws and waving. “We all miss you.”
“Miss you too, girls. Every week. And if you need to speak to me, you call that number at Star Fleet, and they will patch you through to me.” And if not, there will be HELL to pay, he thought.
“Bye, babies, I’ve got to go now. I just wanted to see you again before I ship out.”
One by one, the girls said bye, and then screen blanked, replaced by Star Fleet’s insignia. And Matt slowly closed the monitor, before he limped back to his chair, and lifted the glass of scotch.
“Computer: restart recording.”
“By yon bonnie banks and by yon bonnie braes
. . .”