In Orbit of Planet Terra Prime
Admiral Jean-Luc Picard sat in his ready room aboard the flagship of the Seventh Fleet, formerly of the Federation Starfleet. Now...well, now it was just the fleet. Twenty seven ships, four of which were ships of the line, all in this distant solar system nearly three million light-years from home. Were they still a part of Starfleet? Hard to say. Did Starfleet still exist?
Picard glanced out of the ready room window at the star that the Seventh Fleet now called home. Interesting. If he were back home, on Earth, the light he was now seeing would not be visible for another three million years. If he had been able to see Sol from his vantage point, he would have been seeing light that emanated from the star long before the dawn of civilization. Long before.
Data would have been able to give him the exact figures. But Data was not here.
The Seventh Fleet had arrived in M-33 three years ago, after the fall of Earth. Picard remembered the final battle well. Starfleet and their erstwhile Klingon allies had fought hard, destroying most of the Cardassian attack wings before simply being overwhelmed by waves of Jem'Hadar cruisers. The Mars Defense Perimeter had performed admirably, but once it had been broken it was all over for Earth. Picard had attempted to defy Admiral Leyton's order to retreat, but it had been Riker who had convinced him to go, to follow the tattered Federation Alliance forces out of the system as Earth fell to the conquering Dominion.
Riker. He was not here either.
After Andoria and the final collapse of the Federation government, the recently promoted Admiral Picard was ordered by Starfleet Command to initiate Project Longshot. In the event of the Federation's collapse, Starfleet had ordered several contingency plans be set in motion. Project Longshot was just one such plan, and it was just that--a long shot. No one knew if Wesley Crusher could (or would) help evacuate a fleet out of the galaxy, and no one knew where they would end up if he did.
Still, Picard had initiated Longshot on schedule, as ordered. Contacting young Crusher had proven a simple task; it was convincing him to help that had taken a great deal of effort. Picard remembered being frequently irritated with the boy all those years ago, back when he was merely human and a youngster obsessed with sitting in the captain's chair. Now, he was to be the instrument of their salvation.
But Crusher had nearly balked at the idea of interfering in the affairs of lesser races. He had not said as much, but Picard knew what he had meant. The powerful always regarded the weak with condescension. It took an impassioned speech from Picard to convince the boy-god that saving the Seventh Fleet would be one last way to fulfill his duties as a former Starfleet officer--and, Picard recalled guiltily, he had not failed to mention that it would be a way to atone for the fatal actions that had nearly gotten Crusher drummed out of the fleet some years before. But it had only been by invoking the name of the late Jack Crusher--Wesley's father and Picard's best and most trusted friend--that the powerful young man had agreed to help. It was a low-handed tactic, but entirely necessary. Picard still found a small part of himself regretting what he had said, however. Old habits die hard.
So with the young Traveler's help, the ships of the beleaguered Seventh Fleet had prepared to use the same method that had sent the U.S.S. Enterprise-D
careening off to the edge of the universe.
But as the final preparations were set into motion, Dominion forces entered the nebula in which the fleet was hiding. Dozens of Jem'Hadar ships appeared on thirty-seven Federation starships' viewscreens, and they were completely uninterested in negotiation.
Picard had desperately hoped the fleet could have made it out of the galaxy before the Dominion had located them, but alas. With steely resolve, he ordered ten ships to engage the Dominion forces as the other twenty-seven made a run for it. It was the only strategy that made sense. Twenty-three ships were packed full of civilians, refugees from Earth and other occupied worlds; Picard figured he could spare four ships of the line to protect them once they evacuated from the Milky Way. The rest would have to stay and fight in order to cover their retreat.
Even then he had known that once those ships broke off to engage the Jem’Hadar, they would not be leaving the galaxy with the rest of the fleet. Attacking the Jem’Hadar was not a winning proposition, but a maneuver to gain time. A pity, Picard thought as he reflected back on the battle. It would have been extremely beneficial to have all thirty-seven ships present here in M-33, where nothing was known and everything was unfamiliar.
Admiral Picard had given the order to engage the enemy on the bridge of the U.S.S. Venture
, his Galaxy-
class personal flagship. He had fully intended that his former command, the U.S.S Enterprise-E
, be part of the four escort vessels leaving the galaxy. So he was surprised when, seconds after giving the order, he received a hail from the Enterprise.
The face of Captain William Riker, his former first office and new commander of the Enterprise
, appeared on the Venture
’s viewscreen. “Admiral,” Riker said urgently. “The Sentinel
is experiencing issues with their main phaser relay. We have to take it out of the attack formation.”
Picard shook his head. “No, Number One. Alert the Sentinel
to join the attack formation and bring the Enterprise
“Admiral,” Riker interrupted. “The Sentinel
is the only other Sovereign-
class ship in the fleet. Without its firepower, we may not be able to cover your retreat.”
“What do your propose, Captain?” Picard snapped. “That we send the Enterprise
in its place?”
“Yes sir, and quickly.”
“No,” Picard said flatly. “I need the Enterprise
when we leave the galaxy. I—“
“Jean-Luc,” Riker said gently. Picard fell silent. “This is the only way we can make Project Longshot work, and you know it.”
Picard would have liked to have called a conference with his senior staff to discuss this turn of events. A meeting of the minds could have produced a better solution. But time was a luxury he simply no longer had.
“I—very well, Number One.” He turned to the Venture
’s communications officer. “Lieutenant Jones, alert the Sentinel
to fall in line with the escort vessels .”
Riker nodded and moved to end the communication. But Picard held up a hand. “Will—wait.”
Riker met Picard’s gaze. “Yes, Admiral?”
Picard could not help but notice the lump forming in his throat. “Good luck, Number One. It was an…honor to serve with you.”
Riker grinned. “I wouldn’t have traded it for anything, Admiral. Now get out of here while we show the Jem’Hadar what this ship can do.”
Picard smiled wanly and Riker cut the transmission.
“Crusher to Bridge,” Picard’s communicator chirped.
“Go ahead, Wesley.” Picard rubbed his temple as he contemplated a now even more uncertain future.
“Cap—I mean, Admiral, we’re ready to begin. I’d just like to put a little more space between us and—“
“Incoming Jem’Hadar attack cruisers!” Lieutenant Polk, the tactical officer, shouted. “Bearing 9847.2!”
“We’ll try our best, Mr. Crusher, Picard out.” Picard sat down in the command chair. It wasn’t a good sign that some Jem’Hadar had already made it past the Starfleet attack wing. “Initiate tactical plan Picard-Alpha-Gamma. Have the other ships fall into line.” He glanced down at his chair PADD. “Wait until the Jem’Hadar are within visual range.”
“Aye, sir,” Polk replied. “Ten seconds until visual range.”
“Picard to Engineering.”
“Go ahead, Admiral.”
“Commander Gomez, I’m going to need more power to the forward phaser relays. Can we spare the—“
“Inadvisable, Admiral,” Crusher cut in. “I need as much power as I can get.”
“The enemy is within visual range,” Polk reported.
“Fire aft photon torpedoes,” Picard ordered. The bridge shook as the ship took a direct hit.
“Shields holding,” Polk said. “The Sentinel
has taken heavy damage in its engineering section. The—“
“Target the lead Jem’Hadar ship,” Picard interjected. “Attack pattern Picard-Zeta-Three.”
“Ready phasers, sir.”
fired five short bursts of phaser fire aimed squarely at the engineering section of the Jem’Hadar cruiser. It exploded in a huge ball of flame and plasma.
“One down,” Picard muttered. “Picard to Crusher, how long until we can initiate the jump?”
Crusher sounded woozy. “At current speed….three minutes.”
The ship shook again as the surviving enemy cruisers lashed out against the Starfleet vessels.
“Shields down to seventy-eight percent,” Polk cried out. “Heavy casualties on Deck Eight through Thirteen.”
“Fire at will, Lieutenant.” The communications officer screamed as her console exploded in flames. Picard looked over at the young woman. Her neck was twisted far too abnormally; she was dead.
“Direct hit! Shields down to sixty-one percent.” Polk continued to fire the ship’s weapons. The Sentinel
is reporting their phaser banks are inoperable, Admiral. The Lexington
and the Chekov
are—“ Polk was suddenly knocked backwards by a power surge.
Picard got up and ran quickly to the Tactical station, leaving an ensign to check on the injured Polk. “Helm, set course 7651 mark 0501. Bring us around hard to port. Engage!”
maneuvered and faced a Jem’Hadar cruiser head-on. Picard concentrated fire on the enemy’s forward hull. The Jem’Hadar cruiser blossomed into a fiery cloud of destruction.
“Picard to Engineering!”
“Just give us one more minute, Admiral,” Gomez cried over the comm system. “We’re that close.”
Picard grimaced as the final Jem’Hadar cruiser began concentrating its fire on the Sentinel
and the Lexington
. Behind him, an ensign cried out, “Seven more Jem’Hadar cruisers have broken through the line, Admiral! They’re headed straight for us!”
Failure? Now? When they were so close? He stared at the tactical screen, suddenly wishing Data were present. “Helm, move the formation in tighter and prepare for warp bubble initiation.” If they could just hold out for thirty more seconds—
But the Jem’Hadar were suddenly upon them, like raging jackals. Lethal energy beams struck several of the Federation ships.
“Engineering! This needs to happen NOW!”
“Fifteen seconds, Admiral!” Gomez’s voice cracked. “Give us—“
The ship rocked violently as the Venture
took three direct hits. The shields were down to thirty-nine percent. “Helm!” Picard shouted. “Set course 62—“
Picard looked up in shock as his ship, the Enterprise
, swooped out of nowhere and engaged the Jem’Hadar vessels. The powerful vessel drew the fire of the Jem’Hadar as the rest of the fleet moved further out of the nebula.
“Bridge, we’re Initiating the warp bubble!” Gomez shouted over the comm. “Ready enhanced warp drive in 3…2…1…”
Picard watched as the Enterprise
took a brutal beating from the enemy vessels. “Thank you, Will,” he whispered. “Godspeed.”
And in the blink of an eye, twenty-seven Starfleet vessels winked out of existence and left the galaxy forever.
Above Terra Prime, the M-class world where the refugees of the Seventh Fleet intended to make their new home, Admiral Jean-Luc Picard ordered a cup of tea from the replicator and reflected on his new life. So much had changed. So little was known about the dangers of this region of space…but so little was known about the possible wonders, too. He looked around his ready room of his flagship, the recently rechristened U.S.S. Enterprise.
The name must live on. The dream, the ideals that constituted the United Federation of Planets must live on.
He peered out at the unfamiliar constellations dotting the skies around him. Hopefully, one day, the descendants of this ragtag fleet could find out what was out there, resume Starfleet’s mission of peaceful exploration, and rebuild what had been lost.
But for now, safety and building a new home were the priorities. And like a good Starfleet officer, Picard was going to rise to the challenge…whether Starfleet still existed or not.