Star Trek: Sigils and Unions (Alternate) “Cardassian Sunrise” 2258—Three months after the destruction of Vulcan USS Enterprise “This is a breaking news alert,” declared FNS anchor Ephrexi, the gravity of the moment writ large on her once-cheerful Denobulan features—for these days, those words usually heralded nothing good. “We have just received confirmation of the rumors we’ve been hearing for the past week—sources in Paris tell us that the anticipated mutual defense pact has been signed early this morning, San Francisco time—” Spock switched off the viewscreen as an emotion he could not name roiled through his body. It is eminently logical, he reminded himself in spite of his visceral reaction to the news…though these days, as much as he schooled his reactions through Vulcan discipline, he made no effort to pretend they weren’t there—for this, too, was his heritage and though it might seem to run counter to his burning desire to keep the culture and traditions of Vulcan alive, he utterly refused to let go: as for Kohlinar…someone else would have to carry that burden. Not him. Not ever. Smelling blood in the water after the destruction of Vulcan and the concurrent losses in the Laurentian system, the Klingons and the Romulans native to their own time had escalated their aggression against the Federation to unprecedented levels short of a full-scale assault. With the personnel, fleet, and industrial losses, not to mention the horrific blow to the Federation’s morale following the attack of the Narada, it was becoming increasingly difficult to keep these hostile powers at bay. Worse yet…there was still a twenty-five year gap in the Narada’s twenty-third century travels as yet unaccounted for. Had Nero really, as he had suggested, lain low for twenty-five years between his initial emergence and the Genocide of Vulcan, as the attack was now being called? Or had he been in contact with the Romulans of this time? What might they know now of the galaxy thus far still unexplored, or of technologies to come? What might they know about Federation weaknesses of this period, with the benefit of historians’ analyses from 150 years later? And had Nero shared the secret of the weapon that had consumed Vulcan? Clearly the Romulans and the Klingons were massing for an attack. That much was obvious, even if it remained unknown whether they were simply emboldened by Nero’s strike or in possession of knowledge beyond this century. Therefore the new defense pact was, for the time being and perhaps even beyond, a mutually beneficial arrangement for both powers, neither of which had any love for the idea of unchecked Klingon and Romulan aggression—especially if, as logic suggested, the two empires allied with each other in hopes of conquering the Federation and dividing the spoils. And the second signatory to the pact…they would doubtless fall next, for they had already had their own encounters with the Klingons and Romulans, which had surely whet the appetites of the two empires for their blood as well as the Federation’s. But that didn’t blunt the sting of what had just happened, however much the survival of both powers depended on the alliance: Rojan…Qinaul…the dissidents…and this was to be their new partner in defense and perhaps long-term ally, if the politicians did what he expected. So much for high principles. And the most illogical thought popped into his mind—pure human bitterness: And look where our vaunted principles and precepts got us: 11,347 survivors—and in what direction shall that number trend? Given the Vulcan reproductive cycle and the hard facts of genetics…this might not even be a viable gene pool if every man and woman proved capable of reproducing at every possible mating cycle up to the point where they could still care effectively for the resulting children. We should have expanded, Spock thought. We should never have put all of our eggs in one basket, as Kirk would say. Our insularity was ultimately the death of us all—or at least the death of six billion, should our race propagate sufficiently to remain viable. As for them…their world had practically forced them to it. So like humanity…the blow, if their homeworld were destroyed, would be devastating—but they would survive. And that was what the Federation needed now, loathe as Spock was to admit it. Survivors. 2234—One year after the attack on the USS Kelvin Shuttlecraft Jarvis, departing from the USS Challenger Captain ch’Maashan’s antennae focused intently on the young man seated before him. But to his credit, the fresh-out-of-the-Academy officer did not shrink back under the warrior’s forbidding gaze. “Ensign…I cannot emphasize enough the need for secrecy regarding everything you see and hear from this point forward: as far as any of us are concerned, Ambassador Sarek never left Federation space. And no formal contact between our peoples has ever occurred…and especially not on the level it’s about to occur.” “Yes, sir.” Ensign Christopher Pike reinforced his acknowledgment with a solemn nod as he strapped himself in for departure. ch’Maashan had shared the dossier Intelligence Director Reed had prepared on these people, and if everything in the report held true—it was blatantly apparent as to why. Up until three years ago, they’d been little more than a rumor upon the lips of the Vulcans…known, apparently, all the way back to the twenty-second century, but never deigning to make formal contact with the upstart power that, if the expansion of both powers continued along its projected pattern, would eventually find itself right in their backyard. Then a Federation free-spacer had made contact. Then another, and another. Last year the Federation had been on the edge of outlawing all such forays on the grounds that trade with the draconian regime would constitute a tacit endorsement of its harsh policies. But unknown to the populace or even Starfleet at large, after the attack on the USS Kelvin by an impossibly advanced adversary that had identified himself as Romulan, certain policies at the highest and most closemouthed levels of Federation government had begun to change. The embargo never went into place, though Starfleet made it eminently clear that any spacer that got himself in trouble on the other side of the border was on his own. And under Starfleet’s officially blind eye, the trade routes were already emerging, even though three years on it was still only the most daring merchant spacers that actually ventured into their space. The hope, as the dossier indicated, was that these informal contacts might facilitate future goodwill—or at least tolerance—from the paranoid, dictatorial junta in case the need arose to call upon it someday. The gargantuan Romulan vessel hadn’t been heard from again since the Kelvin’s sacrifice. Some of Starfleet’s elite dared to hope it had been destroyed. But others, including Ensign Pike, remained doubtful. In his research for his dissertation, he’d viewed the last download of the Kelvin’s bridge video recorder, received by the evacuating shuttles just seconds before the starship’s destruction, as well as the footage from every shuttle available. There was no doubt Robau and Kirk had saved the lives of his crew. But the fate of the Romulan vessel itself…Pike hadn’t written that into his paper—it was far from certainty, and furthermore, his focus had been on Robau’s and Kirk’s coolheadedness and courage in the face of death, what in their lives and careers had brought them to that point, their decision-making processes, and how Starfleet might seek to cultivate such qualities in the upcoming generations. But to him, the alien behemoth’s damage patterns just hadn’t pointed conclusively to the Romulans’ demise. Whether that meant it was still out there somewhere, Pike wasn’t sure. He lacked the information, as a mere ensign, to make that call—but as his fellow away team members chatted amongst themselves, he remained silent just like the Vulcan ambassador, taking in all the information he could on the people amongst whom he would soon find himself. Thirty minutes or so into the shuttle’s journey, an authoritarian voice crackled over the comms. Pike immediately set down the report he’d been reading, his eyes darting over to the viewscreen, which was on transparent tactical mode: ahead lay the field of stars and in it, three alien vessels of a strange, desert-beige, shaped and segmented not unlike a creature of Earth’s Permian deep. They mean business, Pike thought to himself, a distinct pit settling at the bottom of his stomach. Furtively consulting the relevant chapter in the dossier he determined that was a trio of top-of-the-line Verkoun-class attack cruisers. Overlaying the tactical display was the face of the lead ship’s commander. Dark brown eyes glared distrustfully at Captain ch’Maashan from under a set of heavy, scaled ridges in a shape not unlike fishing hooks—or those of a Denobulan. But there the resemblance ended. Reptilian, scaled ridges warred visually with the thick slicked-back black hair and hominid eyes, teeth, and basic facial features. But above all, it was the flared ridges that flowed down from neck to shoulder, prominently displayed by the forbidding grey and black armor, marked with gold script and tailored to his physique, that truly signaled to Ensign Pike that this man was truly alien. Gold rank insignia adorned each of the armored half-sleeves of the cuirass: two small vertically-oriented bars cut through by a horizontal bar…something like a hybrid between a cross and a division sign. “Shuttlecraft Jarvis,” the grey-skinned commander ordered, making a concerted effort to mask his difficulty pronouncing the foreign name but still not preventing the ‘j’ from emerging as a rather serpentine hiss, “this is Gul Tamrak of the Cardassian warship Adometar. You will come to a complete stop immediately, lower your shields, disable all jamming fields and sensors masks, and prepare to be scanned prior to clearance into Cardassian space. Following clearance, you will maintain course and speed with the escort group at all times; you will receive further instructions upon arrival at Cardassia Prime.” At least they’re not demanding we ride the rest of the way in confinement in their shuttlebay, Pike observed, though he wisely remained quiet while ch’Maashan spoke. “Gul Tamrak,” the Andorian smoothly replied, “Ambassador Sarek and I wish to thank you on behalf of the United Federation of Planets for your hospitality and concern for our safety.” Riiiiight, Pike silently commented—then sternly warned himself to reserve judgment. Such was not befitting of a Starfleet officer, especially when based on a visceral reaction to another species’ external features. He tapped a few commands on the pilot’s console. “You should find everything in order, and we await your navigational data whenever you’re ready.” “Acknowledged,” came Tamrak’s terse reply. “Prepare to receive course and speed following the completion of security and contraband scans.” The Cardassian cut the channel without a further word—and just like that, all conversation aboard the shuttle ceased. Five Starfleet officers, one ambassador, and the draconian might of the Cardassian Union. Yes, the free-spacers had all returned alive as far as anyone knew, but just what had they gotten themselves into?