Sade Williams, Bruce Mankins and Terik were all in their usual seats. However the chair next to the Vulcan cadet was auspiciously empty.
Tweed Jacket decided to start anyway. “Following yesterday’s loses, Nyx wants a number of options for a counter-attack, including a broad, multi-pronged assault plan that will hit the most possible targets at the same time.”
“So they hit us and we hit them and then they hit us back only for us to hit them again,” said Mankins in his usually dejected tone. “Pray tell, where exactly does it end?”
“It ends, Mister Mankins, when the Talarians have completely retreated from all our territories.”
He looked the liaison directly in the eye. “And what happens if they don’t?”
“Starfleet has already mobilized the Sixth Fleet to repel the incursion. It might take some time to have the entire fleet assembled but once we do, the Talarians will be stopped and driven back. But the longer we wait, the longer we stay on the defensive, the more lives will be lost.”
“We have observed the Talarians using significantly advanced shields and weaponry since this conflict has begun, possibly obtained through Orion sources,” said the Vulcan. “Repelling this incursion may require a greater effort than previous military engagements with the Talarians.”
“Even more reason to provide Nyx with the options she is looking for,” said Tweed Jacket.
The doors to the room opened and Rhory stepped inside. He barely looked at anyone, didn’t say as much as a word, but simply walked straight over to his chair and sat.
The liaison took only a moment to acknowledge the younger man’s arrival and then activated the table-top screen, once again littering the display with dozens of potential targets. “We’re calling it Operation Lightning Strike and it is designed to take away the majority of Talarian supply and war supporting facilities along the border.”
“How many targets are we talking about?” Williams asked.
has been joined by three other starships, increasing our total to twenty-two UWCVs within the operational theater,” Tweed said.
“Jeez, that’s gotta be enough firepower to go to war with the Borg,” Mankins said.
“Other teams are working from intelligence procured by the Border Service to coordinate a strike with conventional starships against a target in the Hedakas system,” the man in the tweed jacket said. “Lightning Strike is designed to keep the Talarians busy and with any luck, we’ll end this war in one final sweep.”
“Because luck has been squarely on our side so far,” mumbled Mankins.
The handler ignored him. “We need at least six targets. Nyx would prefer eight.”
“Six?” said Williams. “We’ve never had to pick that many before,” she added and looked down at the screen. “I can see about two or three we were pretty certain about. But six is going to be tricky.”
“You all studied over two dozen targets over the last two weeks,” said Tweed. “I know for a fact that you had over half a dozen valid target since earlier this week.”
“I suggest we commence by sorting all targets into categories,” said the Vulcan. “Targets which we are certain are valid; those where we are not and those we should rule out entirely.”
The suggestion was quickly taken onboard and while their handler stepped back, the analysts began to swipe targets back and forth on the screen, keeping them within the three groups.
Rhory was the only one who didn’t get involved. He watched carefully, listened to everything that was said but offered little to no insights himself and hardly even touched the screen.
After about five hours of discussions and analyses, they had four targets in the confirmed category with twice as many in the second.
Tweed Jacket who had stepped out at some point during the process, returned with four cups of raktajinos
but than quickly shook his head when he saw their progress. “We have to do better than that. Nyx will not be happy with so few targets.”
Mankins reached for a Klingon coffee and leaned back in his chair. “There are simply too many variables. Remember variables? Those pesky little things that got hundreds of Talarian kids killed. We just can’t be certain of the others. We don’t have enough data.”
The handler looked at Rhory.
“Yes we do,” said the cadet and leaned forward, dragging a previously unconfirmed target into the first category. “Echelon Outpost in the Jerix system is a valid military target.”
Williams shook her head. “There is a twenty percent chance of civilians on the outpost.”
Rhory quickly brought up another report. “HUMINT from stardate 51421 confirmed operational orders to remove all civilians from that outpost before stardate 52234. There are an additional two reports which confirm this, including an intercepted communiqué from Talarian Military Command on stardate 52245.”
Terik raised an eyebrow. “Those are valid intelligence reports.”
“Alright, so we’ve got five targets,” said Mankins. “Good enough?”
But Tweed Jacket shook his head.
Rhory was at it again. “The starship construction yard in the Bologus cluster,” he said and added it to the valid category. “Civilian starship construction ceased at this facility three weeks ago according to multiple intercepted messages. Officer training facility on the second moon of Erix IV will have only a token civilian staff according to two deep-cover intelligence assets. The factory complex on Wrex III is manufacturing both weapons and starship parts which we have established through long-range scans of various transport vessels which frequent the facility. The refueling outpost in the Quara asteroid belt is the largest in the sector. We already had that confirmed and the orbital defensive satellites around Unx IX are undergoing maintenance for another forty-eight hours at least.”
“Now wait a minute,” said Williams. “You’re right about most of these but we also know that the Quara station is operated by a mostly civilian crew and the factories on Wrex III are fairly close to heavily populated areas. Collateral damage could be significant.”
“Well, VIRGIN, likes all these targets,” said the handler after referring to the padd.
“I’m starting to think that your super-AI just likes to bomb the hell out of anything. That thing would agree to blow up the Palais de la Concorde if we suggested it,” Mankins said angrily.
“There is logical reasoning to support strikes on all these targets,” said Terik. “However, as we only required to recommend six choices, it would be best to removed Wrex III and Quara station. We should be able to eliminate another two to achieve the requested number.”
All heads turned to Rhory who had since stood and walked over to the windows were he was looking towards the mighty peaks of nearby Kilimanjaro, the largest mountain range on the continent. “Hit them all.”
“You can’t be serious,” Mankins said.
Rhory turned. “Dead serious. We won’t be able to avoid collateral damage, even if we restrict ourselves to just four targets, statistically there is no way to avoid it. However, the more targets we go after the better the chance we give the other mission to succeed. The harder we hit them now, the greater the probability that the Talarians will be unwilling or unable to keep up this incursion. This strike may end the war. It’s worth it.”
Tweed Jacket nodded. “That makes sense to me,” he said and looked at the others in the room.
The Vulcan spoke first. “I concur.”
Mankins uttered a heavy sigh. “I really hate this job. Worst thing is, the kid is right. God help us, he’s right.”
Sade Williams had her eyes sharply focused on the young cadet by the window, almost as if she didn’t recognize him any longer. Then she nodded so lightly, it was almost not perceivable at all. “I agree.”
Tweed Jacket smirked. “I have a feeling so will Nyx,” he said. “Well done, people,” he added but regarded Rhory more than the others before he left the room.
* * *
Rhory had feared that sleep wouldn’t come easy that night and he remained right. As much as she tried to keep his mind off the decisions they had made, it always went back to the images of those children who had been killed after the military school had been hit.
He understood that he would have to live with that now, that it would never really go away. And truly, once your feet were already wet, what was the point of trying to keep the rest of your body dry. He had crossed a line somewhere and it was too late to go back now.
His intentions were pure after all. Stop the aggressors and fight back at any cost. Millions of people in those border colonies’ and in Starfleet depended on him and people like him to make the difficult decisions to keep them safe.
And what happened if he wasn’t strong enough, if they were not committed enough to their defense? What would the Romulans or the Breen think? If it was so easy to hurt the Federation, how long would it be until they made their move against them?
All of the Federation depended on him and he was determined not to fail them.
But none of that helped him sleep that night.
When he came down into the living room in the morning, his parents were already up and watching the latest news reports.
His father was agitated. “I cannot believe this,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like that. We practically went to all-out war, striking indiscriminately against every target in sight like an angry and wounded animal lashing out at anything around it.”
“Those were all military targets, Vince,” said Kerra, but even the Starfleet captain didn’t sound as convinced as she had days earlier, as if she had grown tried of defending decisions she could no longer justify.
“They’re still counting the casualties,” he shot back angrily. “One of those damned unmanned platforms was shot down over a populated area, killing hundreds, I’m sure.”
“But it’s over,” offered his wife. “After this the Talarians will be unable to hold on to the territory they’ve gained. They’ll have no choice but to pull back.”
“Right,” said Vincent. “Well, congratulations then. We’ve won. But at what cost? How many did we have to kill to make this happen? And what if next time killing a school full of kids and a few military targets is not enough? Tell me, where does it end? There use to be a sense of moral superiority within Starfleet and the Federation. The firm belief that there were lines we would never cross, even if our enemies did. We had ideals once that we could rally around so that we could make sure we would never become that what we feared most. But with no more ideals, with no more moral prerogative where do we draw the line? Today it’s a school, tomorrow a city, and next time, what? We’ll blow up an entire planet to stop an invading army? How about a star? Because that’s exactly where this is going.”
Kerra Owens had nothing to say to that.
On his way to the door, Rhory quietly mumbled something neither of his parents could make out.
His mother turned to him before he had a chance to slip out of the house. “What did you say, Rhory?”
He turned around and looked them both over for a moment, a sad little smile decorating his lips. “We do what we must to survive,” he said and left for Africa. His dreams of once becoming a starship captain like his famous cousin had since faded away and died along with those Talarian children he had helped kill. After all he had a gift to see what others could not. And the future of the Federation depended on him using it where it would do the most good.
It was his moral responsibility.
Anything less would have been unconscionable.
- - END - -