Commander Dylan North couldn’t believe that the fight on the inside was more important than the one on the outside right now. “Permission to speak freely sir?” He asked through clenched teeth, his eyes being drawn every few seconds to the viewer which was lighting up with energy discharges and the too frequent explosions.
Captain Larpek barely acknowledged him; his eyes riveted also the carnage on the main screen. “Permission denied,” he crisply replied. The purplish-blue Benzite captain gripped his chair tightly with webbed hands, the barbells hanging from each side of his face twitching with each new image of destruction. The Eleventh Fleet, charged with protecting the Benzar System, had been decimated by wave after wave of Dominion forces. The first officer had sat back in nearly dazed horror after hearing reports that the Dominion had bypassed the Benzar Defense Perimeter.
Surely the 11th would be able to hold the line, but North had never seen so many starships or so many people intent to kill him, and slaughter they had. North blessedly hadn’t been at Wolf 359, but the scenes of burnt out hulls and oceans of ship fragments reminded him of the Federation News Service reports he had seen.
And now it was happening all again. The Dominion had devastated the 12th Fleet in the Tyra System and now they had waylaid another entire fleet, over a hundred starships and countless lives all lost to these butchers. Now the helm officer moved the ship as ably as he could through the debris field, one step away from the wolves on their heels.
The first officer leaned over even more in his chair, his lips close enough to the man’s ear that only the Vulcans on the bridge could hear them. “You can’t go through with this,” he rasped, “We have orders.” The bridge rocked as a spiral disruptor blast battered their shields.
The uptight Benzite almost laughed, the sound coming out as a terse grunt. The younger man finally turned to him, his dark eyes boring into him. “What orders? There’s no one left to give them. Fleet Captain Walker died on the Monarch five minutes ago.”
North grimaced, the image flashing through his mind. It seemed like the implosion of that grand Sovereign-class vessel had been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The few surviving ships had started to break formation, scrambling anywhere to escape the Cardassians and Jem’Hadar.
“The planetary leaders are back on Benzar, as are the Birthing Technicians, not to mention the Federation ambassador,” Larpek said, “We’re leaving this abattoir and going back to evacuate them before it’s too late.” While the captain spoke, he subconsciously fingered the small polished black stone hanging from his neck.
North knew enough about Benzite culture to know that a pledge stone signified marriage. The first officer also knew that Larpek’s wife was one of the Birthing Technicians. Another inconvenient memory of his wife, thankfully safe on Betazed, flickered through his mind. Wouldn’t he disregard orders to, to save her?
Feeling hypocritical, North said, “Sir, I-I can’t allow you to do that. I know this is about saving your wife as much as it is about rescuing the Benzite leadership.”
Larpek didn’t bat an eye. “It is,” he nodded, “The Dominion has won this battle, but the victory will not be complete until they have our best political and scientific minds for whatever nefarious purposes they might devise.”
“Our orders are to remain here, to give no quarter, to fight to the last,” North said, paraphrasing a florid Fleet Captain Walker. “We can’t overturn orders for personal feelings.”
“Mr. North for the short time we have worked together, I think you know that I am a stickler for protocol,” Larpek’s smile was grim. “But in this instance the personal matches with the critical, so we are going to Benzar.”
"We just can't run from a fight sir, no matter how hopeless it might appear." North expressed, finally giving voice to what had been twisting his stomach in knots. "I will lodge a formal protest," he threatened.
“Do what you feel is necessary,” Larpek replied, unfazed. “If you do not feel you can continue to perform your duties because of this impasse...”
North shifted his jaw, his expression hardening. “I’m not going to sit this one out. You’re going to need me, this crew as well. We’ll settle up after.”
“Excellent,” Larpek said, turning away from him. “Helm, change course,” he ordered. “Best speed to Benzar.”
Admiral Samson Glover gently kicked back the bed sheet so that the nocturnal wind could cool his sweat slickened skin. T’Prell shivered beside him and wrapped the blood green cover around her bare olive shoulders. She pursed her lips in annoyance and Samson smiled. “Still cold natured I see?”
“I was birthed and raised on a desert planet, you know?” T’Prell said, “This one.”
“A lovely one it is,” his grin grew larger, “But not as lovely as you.” His Vulcan lover arched a black eye brow.
“Oh please, Sam you were never good with come on lines,” T’Prell groaned.
“But yet, somehow, here we are,” the admiral chuckled.
“Yeah,” T’Prell said, joining in him in a laugh. “Who would’ve thought it?”
“I know, but you know how we are, off again, on again, a never ending cycle,” Glover surmised.
“I am glad we are on again, in spite of everything,” T’Prell replied. The wattage of the admiral’s grin dimmed.
“Let’s not argue on my last night here T’Prell,” his admonition sounded more like a plea.
“Samson, I’m sorry,” T’Prell paused as she turned around to face him, resting her upper body on a propped elbow. Her body tensed and Samson sighed. He knew her body language well enough to know that a fight was brewing. He girded himself for the fireworks. He propped himself on both elbows. Oblivious, T’Prell continued, “But you know how I feel about this mission, and you know I feel even worse not being a part of it.”
“You know I could get in trouble for telling you, it is classified,” Samson grumbled.
“No, it’s so black that it is totally off the books,” T’Prell frowned. “And you know what that means, if you get caught, you’re totally on your own.”
“I will endeavor not to get caught then,” the admiral chuckled but T’Prell didn’t get the joke.
“I’m serious Samson,” T’Prell pressed. “I’m a member of the V’Shar. I like cloak and dagger games as much as the next person, but even this goes beyond the pale for me. What Logan is proposing could start a war, and even worse, could tarnish the Federation’s reputation for transparency and democracy at the worst possible time. We’re still recovering from the Dominion War, there are billions of beings across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, who still feel lost, left behind, are still trying to make sense of it all. We need to be that beacon for them, we have to be that light.”
Samson grunted. “Now, who’s being the idealistic one?” T’Prell glared at him. “Listen T’Prell, I hate to say it, but the war did change us. It changed me. It turned my son into a hollowed shell and my daughter-in-law into an amputee. And I got off lucky. The Dominion wreaked so much destruction and devastation that I would be remiss in my duties if I ever allowed a threat of that scale to emerge again.”
“The Romulans suffered catastrophic losses too and they are dealing with incipient revolts from their subjects, they are not that threat, and neither are Federation citizens.”
Samson recoiled as if T’Prell had physically struck him. T’Prell didn’t relent. “Sam, I just can’t believe you signed off on continued blood screenings on all starbases and outposts. You were one of the main opponents of that tactic from the onset. I remembered how rankled you were when Conrad Haas instituted it over your head on Deep Space 5.”
“That was a life time ago, millions of years ago,” Samson said, a sour taste in his mouth. “As head of Starfleet Security, I thought it was the best thing to do. Not all the guns from the war have fallen silent, as evidenced by the Cardassian militants and even that Changeling that had infiltrated the Klingon Defense Force a few months ago.”
“Yes, the Changeling that helped save your son from some of those militants,” T’Prell pointed out.
“One good Changeling,” Samson rolled his eyes. “Okay, that’s two counting Odo. Am I supposed to think there aren’t some bad ones out there, smarting that they were defeated by a bunch of solids? I can’t take that risk, and I wouldn’t imperil anyone under my watch. But you don’t have to worry about that anymore; I’m not Security chief anymore.”
“You resigned to go on this insane mission,” T’Prell replied. “Subverting a plebiscite on Benzar? Using terroristic tactics? What happened to you?”
“What happened to you?” Samson shot up in bed, his eyes flashing, his nostrils flaring. “You’ve done much worse, but I never judged you because I trusted that you knew the difference between right and wrong and if you felt extreme tactics were necessary, then they were.”
“Sam, I-,” T’Prell began.
“No,” he shook his head furiously. “No,” he said. He swiveled around and planted his feet on the hard, plasma rock floor. He hunched his shoulders and stared into the floor’s obsidian depths.
“Samson,” T’Prell said, more forcefully. She placed a hand on his shoulder. He thought about shrugging it off, but left it alone. “Sam, listen, I didn’t mean to accuse…”
“Save it T’Prell,” he gently eased her hand off him and stood up. He turned around to glance at her, “I’ve got some things I need to wrap up anyway. I know my way out.”
“No Sam,” T’Prell slid out of bed, leaving the sheet behind. Her nakedness, glimmering in the moonlight coming in from the room’s slanted windows, took his breath away, but he tried not to keep her from seeing it. He turned away. “Please Sam; let’s not end things on a sour note. Come back to bed,” she offered.
He sighed, his chest caving in, as his resistance weakened. He turned back to her and grabbed her arms. Samson pulled her close and kissed her with a passion he hadn’t felt in years, an abandon that he had never unleashed on her before. Pushing her away from him, the former admiral said, “How about I take a rain check? It’ll give me more incentive to get back in one piece.”
Two Days Later…
Presidential Chief of Staff Garth Logan watched the last of the Corvallen freighter’s warp trail dissipate, from the window port of his own personal spacecraft, before he made his call. He had been fortunate that Admiral Shanthi had wasted no time in leaving, heading back to her job at Starfleet Administration. If she had stayed much longer her absence might arouse suspicion and he was glad that the woman was sufficiently paranoid and guilt-plagued to not want to spend time at the location of perhaps her blackest deed in defense of the Federation.
Though Logan was perhaps even more in a fishbowl than Shanthi, he had the readymade excuse of traveling in support of President Santiago’s reelection. From Verex III, he would make a short jaunt to Aaamazzara and then on to Cygnus VII, to shore up lagging support from Santiago’s home planet. It would be a disaster if Santiago’s own planet turned against him.
Logan would do his best to coax skittish and dispirited supporters to hold firm, but actually he could care less. The Federation Council, Starfleet Command, the Federation Presidency itself, they were all mere trappings, shadow puppets to the true masters pulling the strings. A light blinked on his console. He smiled before activating it.
In a shocking loss of control, the smile dropped immediately in surprise. The stocky Andorian woman, an admiral’s bar on her collar, grinned savagely in response. “Weren’t expecting me Mr. Logan, or shall I say Agent Laurent?” Calling him by his birth name caused the man to wince. Though the room was sound proofed and had been tripled check by him personally, he was still concerned that his ruse might be discovered at any moment.
The real Garth Logan had been liquidated and replaced years ago, and he had assumed the man’s identity on occasion, and it had become nearly a permanent assignment once the section needed an inside man in Santiago’s camp once he began making moves toward the presidency.
“How might I assist you Visala?” He asked, not acknowledging the woman’s rank, or her superior status in the section. Now the Andorian glowered at him.
“You really thought you could do an end run around me?” She asked. “What are you trying to prove?”
Logan shrugged casually, “I was doing nothing of the sort. The Directorate wanted the Iconian probe, and Special Affairs and Investigations had it very closely under wraps. I knew that Admiral Shanthi could be a vital asset in removing it from Special Affairs’ clutches, but that she would only trust an unassailable sort like Admiral Glover with it. This way, it’s out in the open and Section 31 can procure it more easily.”
“At the expense of the careful planning and cultivating of anti-Romulan forces on Benzar?” Visala’s tone was derisive. “We could’ve have achieved both ends. If you had given me enough time to establish myself.” The Andorian had recently been promoted to and installed on the Deputy Chief’s staff. “Unleashing that probe on Benzar is too unpredictable. It might result in an outcome not to our advantage.”
“Santiago needs a victory, something to prop up his campaign,” Logan replied evenly. Santiago’s rival, former Admiral Norah Satie was proving quite resilient as a campaigner, and the Directorate had so far been unable to penetrate deeply within her campaign. “Not only can we get the Iconian probe, we can observe it in action on Benzar, and watch the Romulans overreact. The Benzites will come back to us in droves, Santiago’s policies will be vindicated, and it will still leave the Romulans with their Reman problem, and no easy way to pass them off to the Benzites or to us. Hopefully both the Romulans and Remans will devour each other.”
“This had better not fail,” Visala warned, her twin antennae circling the white shock of her hair like serpents.
“The Directorate signed off on this,” Logan said, with a smirk. The woman huffed. Her hands were tied. Logan had went around her, above her, and made her look ineffectual to boot. He had created a formidable enemy in the Andorian admiral, but at the moment he didn’t care. He basked in his supposed triumph. “Did you just call only to threaten me?”
“Bah,” Visala snorted before disconnecting the link. Logan leaned back in his seat and chuckled. Before the sound of his last laugh faded, the console blinked again.
“Here we go,” Logan said, certain it was the person he really wanted to talk to. He pressed the flashing light and an aristocratic Romulan looked back at him.
“Has the package departed?” The austere Romulan asked, without preamble.
“Of course,” Logan replied curtly, all business on the outside. But inside, he danced a jig. Finally, his revenge was close at hand.