<U.S.S. Republic, en route to Sutter's Moon>
“So, that's the plan.” Kim Roth repeated firmly. Any questions?” It was the typical way that she ended her briefings. An old habit she'd learned from her first cruise on a starship.
Talia Agathon; human, by way of Alpha Centauri, was brusque, direct, and efficient, and she ran her ship the same way. When Kim was a senior Lieutenant serving onboard the the Clemenceau, an Ambassador class cruiser nearing the end of her service life, Captain Agathon had served as the template that Kim would follow for most of her career. When she was faced with a tough decision, she'd ask herself: 'what would Agathon do?' and follow that course of action. In large measure, it had led to the right choices… though not necessarily the best outcome for Roth's career. One of Agathon's last pieces of advice to the young officer was to “Ask for questions. You don't have to answer them, but use it to make sure you have them on your side.” Since then, Kim had always asked for questions, so that everyone at the table felt heard.
As was usually the case, her call for questions was met with polite head shakes and firm looks. 'These are good people.' Kim thought. 'My people.'
The quiet in the room was interrupted by the soft hum of a counter-grav camera drone. It was small and USUALLY unobtrusive, but in this case, the polite silence of the moment made its presence obvious.
The drone belonged to Leah Warner. ISN reporter, former paramour of Republic's XO, and at present, officially appointed documentarian. She'd gotten the briefing all on film.
The job was simple enough: Get Republic to Sutter's Moon, use the ship's advanced sensors and particle projector pods, as well as some swiftly fabricated graviton anchors, thanks to Maria Pikita's engineering department, to counteract local gravimetric fluctuations, and stabilize the moon's orbit. Then, the science and engineering teams would begin using terraforming techniques to repair the damage being caused by said local stellar instability.
Leah Warner would film key parts of the operation itself, and then package the whole affair into a solid win for Starfleet, and the Federation. Something to quiet the nervous voices that had begun to grouse about President Kostya's antagonistic 'Home Rule' policies. Ms. Warner herself was observing the meeting from the far corner of the ready room, and quickly used her wrist-mounted control PADD to move the drone a discrete distance away.
Next to his Captain, Nat Hawk gave a sour look. “Right.” He said to the assembled crew. “We drop out of warp in 90 minutes…mark.” He looked to Pikita, who was dutifully checking details on her own PADD. “Pikita, I'll check in with you first, and then work my way up until we end with Astrometrics just before go time.” He said. “Dismissed.”
The rest of the staff in attendance pushed away from the briefing table and exited the room. Nat Hawk watch the staff go, with the notable exception of Chase Meridian, the ship's Diplomatic Officer, and then got up from his own chair before Kim Roth turned to him. “It's a big job, Hawk.” She said.
Hawk nodded in agreement. “True enough.” He agreed. “But the plan is solid, and if this was gonna happen anyway, we're on the right boat for it, Captain.”
Roth nodded. Her XO had a point. The previous Republic had been a Galaxy Class starship; still widely regarded as the “Queens of Starfleet”. Originally designed for a 30 year service life, the Galaxy class was designed for long-term exploration and first contact missions. Her scientific and engineering facilities were excellent, but there had been important strides made in astrometric engineering, material fabrication, and miniaturization since the Galaxy, Odyssey, and Enterprise-D had proven the efficacy of the class. Accordingly, though the Luna class starships were far smaller than the Galaxy class, they were far more suited to missions exactly like the one Republic was about to drop into. Her sensors were more precise and sensitive, and the replicator system could run longer, and cycle through projects faster than on other ships. Roth still preferred the larger classes she'd grown used to in her more recent postings, but she conceded that Hawk was correct. “Right place, right time, I suppose.”
“Yes, Sir.” Hawk agreed. “Pikita ran the numbers. If she says we're good, we're good.”
On the other side of Captain Roth, Chase Meridian suppressed a shudder. Though Maria Pikita was a competent, sometimes brilliant engineer, she was also the protégé of one Victor Virtus, who just a few weeks ago had effected a spectacular escape from Republic. On a bad day, Meridian could still smell marshmallow in the corridor. As Roth and the XO were confirming details, Meridian made her way to Leah Warner, who was now reviewing some of the footage she'd captured from the meeting.
“I hope you got everything you needed.” She offered the reporter in a polite tone.
“Nearly,” Warner said with a nod. “I could have used another angle for better coverage.” She observed. “But if I enhance the camera wobble a little bit, it will really sell the 'war correspondent' vibe I'm going for.”
“You'd rather be covering a war?” Meridian asked.
“Not really.” The reporter admitted, “though the pictures are usually more compelling, and the ratings are higher. War is good for business.”
“Spoken like a Ferengi.” Meridian quipped.
“Spoken like a reporter.” Warner corrected. “I've seen my share of tight situations.”
“Ah yes…” Meridian nodded. “You and the XO have a bit of a history.” She noted. “The 'Centurion Plague', I think you called it. Sounds like that was horrific.”
“I wouldn't want to repeat it, Ma'am.” Warner said. “But it WAS good for my career.”
“Not so good for you and Mr. Hawk?” She probed.
“Ancient history, Ma'am.” Warner said firmly. “You won't need to worry about the story. I know what I'm here to do. You and the crew will get a fair shake.”
“Of course we will, Miss Warner. Forgive me, I didn't mean anything by it.” Meridian stepped past the reporter and paused as the ready room doors opened. “If you need anything, don't hesitate to ask. Anytime.”
Warner turned to watch the political officer exit the room, and considered exactly what Republic's resident black shirt might be offering. She shook her head, tapped a few keys on her PADD, and set the drone to follow her back to her quarters.
<Starfleet Intelligence Hub. Location: CLASSIFIED. Present Day>
Sutek of Vulcan tapped the last few notes into his report and confirmed the latest data he'd received. “Note: Subject Virtus, Victor X. is confirmed aboard Deep Space Nine. Further surveillance warranted. Advise President Kostya against direct action at this time. Subject is still to be considered extremely dangerous.”
He affixed his unique key code to the report, and sent it on to the appropriate parties.
<Office of the President. United Federation of Planets. Geneva, Switzerland. Pan-Euro economic zone. Sol III>
“He did WHAT?!?” Vladimir Kristoff Kostya thundered. “How in whatever blue Hell you want to name is he not in a brig, awaiting a goddamned firing squad!?”
Oliver Rhymer winced as he watched the face of his most infamous client turn red with fury. There was no denying the fact that the re-emergence of one of the president's least favorite people would need to be handled delicately, but to Oliver's way of thinking, this should be nothing more than a blip, on a day when Kostya had much bigger things to consider.
“Relax, Kris.” Rhymer said. “It's no big deal.”
“He's a thief, a traitor, and an insubordinate dog!” Kostya shot back. “One that should have been put down a long time ago!”
Rhymer shook his head. “Kris. Trust me.” He said. “This is one you need to let go.”
At the far end of the table, Malia of Delta IV nodded in agreement. “Oliver's right, Mr. President.” she said. “No one knows or cares who this… Veritas…”
“Virtus!” Kostya shot back. “Victor Xavier Virtus.”
“Xavier?” she said, cocking an eyebrow. “Really?”
“Malia, please…” Rhymer prodded.
“This, 'Virtus', Mr. President, is NO ONE.” She said. “If you go after him, no matter how quietly, then people might start to wonder why.” She explained. “It's would be much better to let him fade into obscurity on DS9.”
“And THAT'S ANOTHER THING!” the president fumed again. “He's just… just… there! And that damned radical bitch doesn't even have him in the brig!”
At that, Malia felt her spine stiffen. She sat up, steepled her fingers in front of her, and spoke with icy firmness. “That 'radical bitch', Mr. President, is a hero of the Dominion War, and… to put it bluntly, sir, a folk-hero to the Bajoran people. You do NOT want to tangle with Kira Nerys.”
Kostya rolled his eyes.
“She's right, Kris.” He agreed. “Look, I know you're pissed, and I understand. I do. But our case is solid.” Rhymer leaned forward in the hopes of giving his case a bit more weight. “Right now, we know where Virtus is, and he's done us a favor. He can't leave the station.”
Kostya nodded as his temper cooled, and he began to see the pieces come together.
“Look. The case against him is easy enough. He stole Starfleet property, falsified records, and sabotaged multiple systems on Republic. All that's on the record.” Rhymer said. “We can get him through the normal extradition process.”
“But that will…” Kostya interrupted.
“Yes,” Malia picked up with a nod. “It WILL take time. But that's time we can use.” She nodded with a smile. “And by the time we do get Virtus in front of a Starfleet JAG panel, he'll probably be glad for the distraction. If he leaves the station, we've got him. If he stays, we have eyes on him.” Rhymer explained. “Virtus is off the board Sir. Best to leave him there.”
<Planet Garsol. Somewhere in the Delta Quadrant. Present Day>
“Is it in right?”
“How am I supposed to know?”
“Well don't look at me. I've never done this before.”
“Maybe you should have gone a little deeper?”
“I really can't. Besides, you can't force these things.”
“Don't be ridiculous. Force always works.”
Bah-Ki poked his head up over the next ridge and looked down to where John Carter and Dadjinn where arguing the finer points of horticulture. “Will you two please keep it down?” He asked. “Some of us are trying to contribute to the survival of the planet.”
“He's impossible!” Dadjinn shouted back.
“She's being stubborn!” John Carter retorted.
A moment later Bah-Ki trotted down the ridge to inspect the furrows the two former freedom-fighters were trying to carve into Garsol's unforgiving red soil. “You're both being ridiculous.” He said. “This ground is far too close to the mountains. It's too rocky to plant in.”
Dadjinn kicked at the dirt and looked back in the direction Bah-Ki had come from. “What are you talking about?” She asked. “this is the same dirt as you're working in.” She kicked the ground again, stirring up an arid, red, puff of dust.
Bah-ki moved a bit closer and the two of them began to argue as Carter quietly backed away. He circled around to the west and clambered up a different, nearby ridge. Carter held up a hand to shield his eyes from the sun, and looked at the valley below.
He smiled as he saw the beginnings of another settlement that the people he'd fought so hard for were beginning to build. While most of the surviving resistance still lived in the caves where the Garsolans had hidden from the fliers, they knew they couldn't stay there forever. What's more, now that the planet was no longer under aerial attack, they didn't want to. So, now the hard work of re-building the Garsolan civilization had begun, and John was having a hard time seeing himself in it.
It wasn't because of the natives. They were more than friendly, to say nothing of grateful to him. To them, he'd represented nothing less than an answer to their prayers. There was even a tendency, no matter how many times Carter would object, to call him 'The Warlord of Mars'. To most Garsolans, the fact that John was from such a far-off world was fascinating, and in the months since the fliers had finally been driven away, they would listen in rapt attention as he told stories of his previous life in Starfleet, where visiting dozens, if not hundreds of worlds in a lifetime was commonplace.
There was one particular time when one of the Garsolan children wondered what he was afraid of, because he kept moving all the time. “What will happen,” she asked, “when you can't move anymore?”
Now, as Carter reflected on that question again, he was terrified of the answer. He stood on the ridge for a long time, and watched as these people he'd fought for began the hard work of making something that would last. He realized how out of place he felt, and how much he desperately wanted to move on to his next adventure. Except… he couldn't go anywhere, and for the first time, that reality was beginning to sink in on him.
The sun was nearly below the horizon when Carter heard the shifting of sand and rock behind him. He kept his eyes on the horizon as Dadjinn came up behind him, and slipped her arm around his waist. “Hey…” she asked. “Where are you, Carter?”
John tilted his head. “I'm right here.”
“No,” Dadjinn shook her head. “No, you're not. Where did you go? Where are your thoughts?”
After a long silence, he spoke. “If I were… in that other life, I'd be moving on right now.”
“On to the next mission?”
“Usually, yeah.” He admitted. “That's just how it was in Starfleet. We never stayed around very long. Once the mission was over, there was always another one waiting.” He explained. “Another horizon to get to.”
There was a long pause as the two of them watched the sun disappear below the horizon. “It will get cold soon.” Dadjinn reminded Carter. “Don't stay out here too late.”
The fearsome warrior, who was herself finding it hard to adjust to her new existence, turned and headed back down the ridge. “You know where I'll be.”
<Sutter's World. Present Day>
“By the Prophets!” Cail Jarin cursed as he looked at his sensor repeater screen. “Look at that soup!” His surprise was well-warranted. A typical star like the one that held sway over Sutter's World, the largest of four moons in the system. The moon orbited a large, lifeless, mostly iron sphere. The star in this system however, was anything but typical.
Jarin didn't know precisely how, but his screen confirmed that there was a ridiculously high amount of background radiation in the system, which was making deciphering what was actually going on around Sutter's moon that much harder.
“Easy Mr. Cail.” Kim Roth cautioned from the center seat. “Give Astrometrics a chance to do their work.”
“Aye, Ma'am.” The Bajoran Ops Chief replied.
All the same, Roth admitted, at least to herself, that she was putting on a brave face. Since dropping out of warp, Republic had been forced to make numerous course corrections, and the ship had re-routed a substantial percentage of auxiliary power to the shield emitters to compensate for the surprising amount of charged particles the local star now throwing off. This was worse than the unexpected 'gravimetric shearing' the crew had been told to expect.
A few seconds later, information from Republic's advanced sensor suite routed through the Astrometrics lab, where Chief Science Officer T'mer Graq, had labored with a few other hand-picked officers, to 'cut to the chase', as Nat Hawk had said. Republic had access to more incoming information than anyone could use, thanks to her particularly versatile sensors, now the computers in Astrometrics, with a little help from software written by Graq's science team went to work, filtering out what the crew needed to perceive and react to from what they didn't. Thanks to their efficiency and creativity Cail Jarin's view of local space soon cleared up.
“Filters are in place Captain.” He confirmed. “Showing gravitational stresses on the viewer now.”
A complex series of over-lapping spheres, marked in blue, and force vectors, marked in red, showed the key points at which the orbit of Sutter's moon and the stronger gravimetrics from the star would dangerously intersect. Six bright orange blooms were then superimposed over the surface of Sutter's Moon on the viewer. These were the points where Maria Pikita's Engineering team, and Republic's robust industrial replicators would go to work.
From the XO's position on Roth's right, Nat Hawk engaged the comm.
“Showtime, Pikita.” Hawk said.
Already pushing them out the door, Sir.
Just after the initial briefing on Sutter's Moon, Maria Pikita and her engineers began brainstorming. The instability in the local star had cause a 'wobble' in the normally stable orbit of the moon. Pikita's first thought, naturally, had been to change the gravitational constant of the universe. She'd smiled inwardly at that, wondering if somewhere… wherever he was, Victor Virtus had just sat bolt upright, knowing that his protege was having chaotically dangerous thoughts. She liked to think 'The Chief', as she still considered Virtus was smiling at that too.
However, since neither she nor Republic had the power to solve this the easy way, they were going to have to settle for overly complicated. In this case, that meant replicating several gravitic anchor units; six in all, and placing them at precise locations in orbit around Sutter's Moon.
In practical application, gravitic anchors were used extensively by the Romulan Star Empire, and smaller galactic powers, to aid in the harvesting of exotic particles from powerful cosmic phenomena. The Romulans themselves had a penchant for collecting what they called 'Aer'measa', or super-mesons, which were integral to the construction of the forced quantum singularities which powered most ships of their star navy. Other races such as the Breen and Tholians use the particles in the manufacture of advanced alloys.
Here and now, the orbital gravimetric anchors would be beamed to the Titan class ship's fantail, and the shuttle deck would be depressurized. Using the ship's advanced multi-axial tractor beam array, each anchor would be towed and dropped to it's coordinates. The anchors would then be networked, and, in concert with the information gained from the Astrometrics and Stellar Cartography sections, would send out precisely modulated sub-atomic fields. These fields would effectively act as a sort of electromagnetic breakwater, to cancel out the erratic behavior of the system's star, and allow Sutter's Moon to slip into it's new, modified orbit. With the anchors now permanently in place, the moon's orbit should remain stable and unmolested by the system star.
True to her word, Pikita had already replicated and modified each anchor unit, and the personnel on the flight deck were now guiding them into place with powerful tractor beams.
Leah Warner had left her camera drone on the bridge, and was observing the mission to rescue Sutter's Moon from what she thought was the best seat in the house. Thanks to timely intervention from Chase Meridian, the reporter had been granted special access to the observation blister, normally off limits to civilians, which was part of the 'mission pod'; a design feature unique to the Titan class.
Most Federation starships had a saucer, or elliptical shaped primary hull which housed most crew quarters, command, and mission areas, and a secondary or 'engineering' hull which housed the warp core, dilithium matrix, EPS controls, and main engineering itself; structurally speaking, the largest single section of the ship.
On Titan class starships, there was a third area of the vessel; the Mission Pod. This was a small module mounted on the dorsal axis of the ship, above and behind the main bridge. It was similar to the large radomes on antique command and control aircraft from Earth's pre-warp past. By design, this pod could be swapped out depending on assignment, to mount a variety of different pieces of equipment. Some configurations mounted additional photon torpedo launchers or electronic warfare modules. In Republic's case, the mission pod contained additional sensor units which gave the ship a longer range, higher sensitivity, and better data resolution. All of which were vital in the crew's understanding and solving of the current crisis.
Leah had to agree to wear an EVA suit while in the mission pod's observation blister. This she gladly did, since it allowed her, and more importantly her hand-held tri-vid recorder to capture a bird's eye view of the rescue and recovery operation. From her vantage point, and from what she'd been able to gather from the briefing, everything was going as expected. Four of the six gravitic anchors had been towed into place.
Warner found herself awaiting the next step of the mission, which should have been the launch of several shuttle craft containing medical and engineering teams to help deal with medical emergencies, and damage to the various settlements on the moon which had occurred before Republic's arrival. As Leah panned her camera around the amazing view the observation blister afforded her, she noted that the shuttles hadn't yet launched. She as about to tap her comm badge and check in with the bridge, when her world began to spin!
“Confirmed, XO!” Cail Jarin shouted from the forward Ops position on the bridge. “Anchor five is out of alignment and not in sync. The others are stable and awaiting activation.“
“Can we correct from here?” Kim Roth asked.
Jarin shook his head. “Negative Captain. I get nothing from telemetry, and there's a red light on attitude control.”
“Dead in the water.” Nat Hawk spit. Then he found himself rising to his feet and stepping toward Lt. M'Roww, Republic's chief helmsman, and the pride of her Caitian litter.
Meanwhile, Kim Roth tapped her comm control. “Bridge to Pikita.”
“Anchor Five is down and unresponsive.” Roth summarized. “How fast can you get it back online?”
“Re-cycling the start-up sequence should do it, but we can't do that remotely. There's too much EM interference.
A few nervous seconds went by as Roth put the pieces together. “How close do we need to get?” Roth asked.
“As close as you can get us. I'll send a burst through the subspace transceiver. Reboot will take 15 seconds after that. Then, we'll know what to do next.”
“Carry on, ACE.” Roth said with a nod. Then she locked her gaze on the viewer. “You heard her, Hawk.”
“Yes, Ma'am.” The drawl came back. With a shake of his head, Nat Hawk corrected himself. “Yes, Captain.” Hawk leaned closer to M'Roww. “Time to get up close and personal Lieutenant.”
M'Roww's right eyebrow raised quizzically. “Sorry, Sir?”
“Nothin' like that, Nat scowled. “Come about hard as you can. We're gonna have to nudge that wayward bird into place.”
M'Roww began doing calculations in her head even as her fingers flew across the controls to pitch Republic into a steep, diving bank to the right. “Sir,” She advised. “With something that small, even with tractor beams we'll have to get…”
Hawk nodded. “Yep. Way too close.” He said. “That's why you're gonna do it.” His tone was firm and confident. “You're younger and faster than I am, and… much as I hate to admit it, you might even be prettier. Just show me what you can do.”
“Aye, Sir.” M'Roww answered in the affirmative.
Republic ducked and banked, doubling back on it's previous heading, and within seconds, the compact ship was bearing down on the malfunctioning satellite.
“Cutting impulse engines…mark. Continuing on RCS.” M'Roww tapped her consoles comm function. “Maria!” She called out. “Send it now!”
The timing could not have been better. Three meters before impact with gravitic anchor five, Republic's communications transceiver blazed into life, sending the signal which shocked the malfunctioning equipment back to life. M'Roww's touch on the flight controls was so light and precise that the only sign of collision was scuffing on the anchor's anti-meteorite coating. In a few seconds, the command routines on the satellite re-initialized, and the fault in the thruster package was cleared.
“All birds show green, Captain.” Cail Jarin said with a smile. “Field is intact and within spec.” Kim Roth gave a single curt nod to her XO. “Good work everyone.” She agreed. “Ops, please inform Dr. Cromwell that he and Devloch's away teams are cleared to begin planetary recovery and response operations, ASAP.”
“ASAP, Aye. Captain.”
“As you can clearly see from this real-time footage, despite a one-in-a-million malfunction, Republic's crew was able to respond in the finest tradition of Starfleet.” Leah Warner said to the studio anchor on the other end of the tri-vid feed. “As we speak, I'm happy to tell you that the orbit of Sutter's world has stabilized, and humanitarian relief and repairs are well underway. Reporting live, From U.S.S. Republic in the Alpha Quadrant, I'm Leah Warner, ISN.”
The view shifted from Warner's drone cam to the stoic visage of Kal Bronto, the Effrosian anchor for ISN's special coverage of the 'Sutter's Moon Crisis'. “And that's the way it is, tonight.” Bronto said calmly. “The citizens of Sutter's World, and of the entire United Federation of Planets can rest easy. Thanks to the vigilance of Starfleet, and the bold action of the Federation President, who personally ordered the rescue operation. I'm Kal Bronto. Good Night, and Good Luck.”
<UFP President's Residence. Somolensk, Russian commonwealth, Sol III.>
“Feed off.” Vladimir Kostya ordered his media controller. Obediently, the screen went black. After a moment sitting alone in the darkness Kostya spoke to no one in particular; save perhaps the voices in his own head. “Enjoy your bread and circuses.” He spat the words out. “I have work to do.”
There was another beat of cold silence before the UFP President spoke again. “Computer. Begin recording.”
“Effective this Stardate. Local reckoning November 23rd 2384. I am ordering all available vessels and personal to be re-assigned, per my authority as Commander in Chief of Starfleet, to carry out Operation: Righteous Endeavor. To whit, the immediate re-taking and holding in perpetuity, of the rightful Federation colony world of Cestus III.”
The computer beeped in acknowledgment.
.0027 seconds later. The order was transmitted, and the Federation was at war.