The conference room, graciously volunteered by the station’s commander, afforded the captains a premium view of all of Intercept Group Four’s ships. Nimbus and Wyoming already were ensconced in their warp sleds while work was proceeding apace on Palomar and Enzmann. Together the quartet of ships would join Everest. The refitted Excelsior-class cruiser was the only surviving ship from the first IG-4.
The other five vessels had been lost in combat against the Kothlis’Ka, one of the species streaming out of the Delta Quadrant. IG-4 had tried failed to prevent the Kothlis’Ka Armada from proceeding on toward Romulan space.
Everest’s captain had refused to return home, but had acceded to Starfleet Command’s demand that she not take the Everest into Romulan territory. A Starfleet vessel anywhere near that infernal horde might trigger a hostile response from the Star Empire.
Command had also allowed the captain to send a warning to the Romulans, though so far neither she nor Command had received a reply, as far as Banti had heard. He suspected that Terrence’s rush to get back to the Romulan Neutral Zone was compelled by the oncoming Kothlis’Ka.
In the borrowed conference room, Captain Awokou held court with the captains of the taskforce he would lead into the Delta Quadrant.
He hated being one ship short for the new intercept group, but with the Satie Administration’s halt on starship construction and their new focus on unmanned warp combat vehicles, the Fleet was spread thin. Not only had a significant amount of men and materiel been thrown into Taskforce Vanguard, but there were still all the ongoing conflagrations that always demanded Starfleet’s time in addition to the standard missions of exploration.
“This business with the Kothlis’Ka is just ghastly,” Captain Blazek, of the Ambassador-class Palomar, shook his elongated, purple head. His bulbous, fire orange eyes blinked spasmodically as he contemplated the enormity of his own statement. “An entire group wiped out.”
“Not entirely,” admonished Captain Stiann, of the Cheyenne-class Wyoming. The brown-skinned Akaali’s skin coloration was darker than Banti’s. With her broad nostrils, full lips, and brown skin, Stiann could easily have passed for a member of Banti’s family, a daughter even, if not for the twin ridges bracing each side of her forehead and stopping just before they touched her eyebrows. “Everest survived,” she pointed out, “And she’s still ready to fight.”
“I think it was a mistake for Command not to recall Everest,” Commander Raul Gomes, of the Miranda-class Enzmann, spoke up. Despite his youthful square face, Gomes’s hair was steel gray. Gomes’s age made Banti wonder why he hadn’t reached a higher rank. Awokou suspected that the man’s long history in Starfleet Intelligence perhaps was the reason. Once he got to know the man, Banti thought he might ask him.
Usually Awokou brought his meetings to a close quickly after the main business had concluded, yet he was allowing this one to wind down naturally. He thought it would be a good thing for the captains to get to know each other better, especially before they all went into deep sleep. Who knew what situation awaited them once they were reawakened.
With a sense of gallows humor, he thought back to his recent return to the land of the living. Banti was still grappling with all of the changes the Federation had undergone in just two short years, as well as how he had changed.
Today he was far more amenable to sitting back and allowing his subordinates to speak their minds than he had been in the past. In fact, the idea that these were his subordinates felt odd to him, more so than it would have previously. They were his equals, all charged with bringing their crews home as safely as possible, and all nagged by the same fears and doubts.
“The pressures, the strains on that crew must be immense,” Gomes said. “I understand the need to tough it out, but can Everest’s crew be truly up to the task after such a harrowing ordeal?”
No one had a ready answer. They all knew that Gomes had been at Wolf 359, and had been one of the lucky survivors. He knew firsthand what it must have been like to fight and survive against an impossible foe.
“I guess we’ll find out soon enough,” was all Blazek could muster.
“There have been some positives,” Stiann pointed out, “There have been some successful contacts, remember the Concorde?” Participating in the refugee side of the undertaking, Captain Selmek had helped repatriate the species he had encountered.
“What about Erickson?” Blazek just had to point out. “Just think what might have happened if the Venturi or the Tholians had gotten their hands on that alien technology?” The Erickson had helped avert a near catastrophe after encountering aliens who possessed a polaric ion generator.
Banti was concerned about encountering such dangers as well, but he didn’t want to encourage Blazek’s pessimism. In the past Awokou might have considered it realism, but now, he wasn’t so sure of that.
“Neither the Tholians, nor the Venturi succeeded,” Stiann said. “I think you are worrying too much. I’m surprised that you signed on for this journey at all.”
“I didn’t,” Blazek replied, quieting the room. “There was a hole that needed filling and I follow orders.”
“Speaking of following orders,” Banti said, only slightly regretting his next words. “I have another engagement to attend to. Please remain if you wish to do so.” He got up from his seat.
He had been so engrossed in the conversation that he had forgotten his dinner date with his wife. While Terrence could blow off Rozi Awokou, Banti had long ago learned that was not the best course of action.
“Plans for dinner I take it?” Gomes asked, grinning. “I wouldn’t be late if I were you sir. Take it from a divorced man.”
Awokou paused and glared at the man. “How did you know I was meeting my wife?” He thought back to Gomes’s Starfleet Intelligence career with some disquiet.
Gomes shrugged, “I know that look sir. It’s a look that many a man has got when they are afraid they have displeased or about to displease their wives.”
Stiann chuckled at that and the tension broke. Banti allowed the tension in his shoulders to ease. “Very apt Commander,” Awokou nodded. “Perhaps we can all meet for dinner, aboard Nimbus, before we set out for the Delta Quadrant?”
There were accommodating nods around the table. Awokou managed a smile. “I will have my first officer make the arrangements.” He looked at each of his fellow captains before leaving, his eyes lingering a bit too long on the still smiling Gomes. Once dinner was over with Rozi tonight, Awokou planned to burn some of his capital to check more thoroughly into Gomes’s background.
Internally, Banti had just gone to blue alert.