Timeframe: Stardate 58844.2 (Three years ago)
Location: IRV Darkwing, near Epsilon Draconis, Reman Neutral Zone
“You're sure we have to go through the storm?” Charvanek t'Rllaillieu asked, leaning forward in her scout ship's command chair. Strictly speaking of course, the ship wasn't hers, but, for the time being, she was in command. This was another function of the elusive Romulan concept of “mnhei'sahe”.
Though generally understood by the wider galaxy to mean 'honor', those who still adhered to the belief knew that it was far more complicated. Nonetheless, it was in service of this 'honor' that Darkwing's captain had temporarily given his post, and that of his helmsman, to Charvanek and her son, despite the lunacy of their mission. Darkwing's captain was doing “what was necessary”. His mnhei'sahe.
At Darkwing's helm station, Shen t'Rllaillieu cocked his eyebrow. “Do you want to get there or not? Uh… Captain.” Shen shook his head, forgetting for a moment that he was on a Romulan military vessel, not the deck of the Tranquility. There were people around him who would gladly show him out an airlock, for far less then not showing his captain, mother or not, the respect due her station.
Looking at the screen, Charvanek nodded grimly. “I would prefer to, yes.” She said flatly.
“Then we have to go through the storm.” Shen clarified. “Going around would make the timetable for the mission useless. Assuming the intelligence was correct in the first place.”
Charvanek set her gaze on the forward viewer. “In we go then.”
The charged particles that made up an ion storm typically made warp travel impossible, and eddies and currents within the storm made relativistic travel almost as dangerous. Crossing the threshold of the storm the crew of the Darkwing braced themselves. While they were jostled and buffeted, no one on the bridge seemed worse for wear, and for the moment, the ship's systems stayed green.
Over the groans of stressed metal and other noise, Shen shouted for his captain's attention. “Captain! Sensor contact! Dead Ahead!”
Rather than call for the image to be displayed, Charvanek keyed a control on the arm of her chair and showed it herself. On the ship's main viewer, a wide field of debris was also at the mercy of the ion storm. “Hmm, big.” She commented. “Identify.”
“Debris indicates a Confederate design, Captain,” a young officer named Kiska explained. “No sign of log buoy or data recorders.”
“Good luck finding those in this feldercarb.” Shen cursed, even as he caused the ship to dip and weave, avoiding what at one time must have been the ship's port warp assembly.
“Did the storm destroy them?” Charvanek asked.
Kiska shook her head, her single tight braid of brown hair slipping over her left shoulder as she moved. “Doubtful, Captain. This much mass indicates an ore hauler or some other commercial ship. Even if she stopped dead, this storm is Force Two at best. No threat to something that big.”
“Hmm.” Charvanek's voice was grim. “Pirates, then?”
Again, Kiska shook her head in the negative. “The ore might have been valuable once processed, but not in it's raw state. Why would they bother?”
There was an odd flash of movement on the screen as Shen was again forced to pitch the scout ship down and to port. Though no one could see it, there was a smile on his face. Then he spoke up. “Did anyone else see that?”
Kiska brought her head up from the sensor display, her face screwed into a look of disapproval. “It's an ION STORM.” She quipped. “There's nothing to see.”
“Thought I made out a hull number…Captain.” Eventually, Shen thought, he'd remember to add the honorific.
Charvanek leaned back in her chair, confident enough in her son's piloting skill. Her fingers flew across her own chair display. On the small screen, she called up the visible light data from Darkwing's sensors. As Kiska had observed, the details to the naked eye were indeed few and far between. Washes of tachyons and flashes of other charged particles within the storm obscured whatever might have been out there.
And then, there it was, just as Shen had observed. A piece of hull plating with visible markings. '…erty NCC-421…'
'Raptors eyes!' Charvanek thought silently. 'The boy is sharp as ever.' The Captain smiled. “Well spotted Shen,” she commented. “A Confederate ship it is. Freighter, most likely. Noted and logged.”
Kiska lifted her head again, this time looking over her shoulder, back to the Captain. “With respect, Commander…” her voice trailed off.
“Speak, Navigator.” The Commander said firmly.
“Shouldn't we… tell someone?”
The Commander almost smiled. 'Refreshing.' She thought again. 'The girl clearly means to do the right thing. So naive.' She cleared her throat. “In a different time, perhaps,” the Commander commented. “But this mission, this SHIP isn't officially here, and I'm not inclined to do the Confederation any more favors in this lifetime.”
Kiska did her best to hide her disappointment at the rebuke, as her commander's need to stay focused on their clandestine mission was understandable. After all, there had been no distress call, no sign of live crew, and no evidence of involvement by the Reman Alliance. However, pretending that good relations with Starfleet could be maintained while pretending it wasn't their problem didn't sit well in her stomach.
“Commander,” Kiska swiveled back around to face her captain. “Starfleet Listening Post Morena is only one sector away. Using a tight-beam tachyon encryption signal, we could report our findings to them without jeopardizing our mission. We can stay cloaked.”
Charvanek held back a momentary flash of anger at the impudence of her navigator. But then, she reminded herself of two things. First, it was her job to consider the opinions of her subordinates even if she disagreed with them. Second, good relations with the Royal Confederation of Planets was extremely important to the Romulan resistance movement, even if it meant taking a calculated risk to impart what could possibly be important information to a potential ally. As much as she hated to admit it to herself, in the wider scheme of things they needed Starfleet support in their struggle against the Reman government. Especially now.
“Very well,” she raised an eyebrow, careful to betray just enough annoyance to her subordinate so that she knew she was walking a thin line. “Send your message. Make it short, and then let us move on.”
Timeframe: Present Day
Location: Main Bridge, HMS Republic (Luna Class)
As the wounded starship plowed through space at low warp, the mood on the bridge of the Republic was quiet and somber. With Kim Roth-Dorian dead, Victor Virtus was now the ranking officer. Nat Hawk had picked the perfect time for shore leave, as nearly 200 of Republic's crew met their maker two days later, casualties of a fierce attack by the Xenoborg; the cybernetic offshoot of genetically-modified Kafarians originating from the New Dawn internment camp on Rigel Seven. Now, two weeks after their invasion across fifty Confederate worlds, not to mention dozens of other planets aligned with the Klingons, Remans, and Cardassians, the Xenoborg were decimating Starfleet, and putting the entire galaxy at risk of extinction.
It had been three years since Starfleet prevented what might had been a catastrophic attack on Confederate planets by an offshoot element of the now defunct Orion Syndicate from Farius Prime. Had Romulan agents not tipped off Starfleet Merchant Marine Command that one of their ore fleets had been wiped out by rogue Orion freighters illegally crossing the border, that day would have ended differently. Possibly with more than a dozen Confederate worlds set ablaze by antimatter-infused ore freighters. As it happened, the breach in Starfleet security was caught in the nick of time, by none other than their very own Captain Sir Douglas Forrest, assistant viceroy to the Ministry of Intelligence.
However, that victory now seemed moot.
The Kafarian hybrids captured aboard the Orion freighters during the Starfleet police action three years ago were an ethical dilemma. No one in Starfleet knew what to do with the genetic abominations at the time. They were bred by Prince Shavis of the New Dawn movement to serve two purposes: First, to breed; and second, to gruesomely kill their prey. Everyone at parliament were against executing them for humanitarian reasons So, Starfleet was forced to inter them alive at the penal colony on Rigel Seven. At some point during their internment, they had mutated into nightmarish swarms of Borg-like drones, possibly the result of an uncharted downing of a Borg scout ship some years earlier. Now that the Kafarian mutants had the enhancements of Borg technology to augment their physiology, they continued their genetic programming and set upon their human captors like piranhas on a bloody slab of beef. They fled their penal colony half a month ago, spawning at a geometric rate and killing every humanoid on every planet they came across. Like wildfire, they were upon the planets of the Confederation before anyone had a chance to form a cohesive response.
“Steady as she goes, ensign,” Vic ordered calmly from the command chair to the ensign in operations gold who manned the helm. “Keep us on course.” He was engrossed in reading the text from a PADD as he gave the order.
“Aye aye, First Lor… I mean, captain…”
Vic smiled without looking up from the PADD. He knew that this was the young ensign's first shift ever at the helm, usually being assigned as a specialist in engineering. Obviously, she was more familiar with Vic's position as the First Lord of the Engines, and not the ship's skipper. But, with the Republic in the condition that she was in — a skeleton crew and half of her systems smashed or destroyed — every crewman took up double duties in different departments.
As if being slowly dredged up from a muddy cesspool, the grinding moan of an approaching turbolift reverberated around the bridge. With the stop guards clanking shut, the barely-functioning doors yawned opened, and then only partially. Scanners and screens across the refuse-strewn bridge continued to flicker on and off as Leon Cromwell swore several profanities while prying the lift doors further open so as to allow him egress. Successful, he paused to straighten his mauled uniform tunic, lightly splattered with dried blood from tending patients earlier that morning. With a sigh and a shake of his head, he kicked aside a piece of plastiform blocking his path to the first officer's chair situated next to Victor Virtus.
For his part, Vic looked up from the PADD and eyed Leon somewhat suspiciously as he sat down in the XO chair. The encounter earlier that day with the alternate-universe Leon took Vic by surprise, and while he had known for years about the existence of the USS Republic in an alternate dimension, he shared his research and theories with no one, save one person. Unfortunately, that person's exact whereabouts were currently unknown.
“All patients are stable and recovering,” Leon reported, flopping into the chair. “If we manage to get to a starbase in the next few days, I don't think we'll lose any more.”
Vic accepted Leon's verbal report with a nod before resuming his reading of the PADD in his hand.
“O say can you see, by the dawn's early light,” he whispered to himself.
“Come again?” Leon inquired.
With a sigh, Vic looked up from the PADD towards the ceiling.
“Leon, what do you know of Earth naval history?”
“That's a rather vague question. Can you be more specific?”
“On that? Not really,” Vic chuckled. “So let me put it another way: Ever wonder what would have happened if the Vulcans, Andorians, and Tellarites never came together to help create the Royal Confederation of Planets back in 2161?”
“I suppose the Remans would have taken over the whole quadrant. Why?”
“As a constitutional monarchy, the Confederation could easily be misconstrued as being non-democratic.”
“That's been brought up before,” Leon dismissed. “By thousands of previous cultures we've encounter among the stars. But in the end, it never proves to have any merit.”
“Why do you think that is?” Vic asked objectively. “Why do you think other cultures are willing to accept our form of government?”
With a shrug, Leon explained what he felt was axiom on the subject. “We still have an elected parliament, we still have an elected prime minister. The only non-democratic part of the Confederation is the Queen, but she stands primarily as our icon of virtue.”
“You don't think that's problematic to the efficient functioning of an expansive interstellar government?”
“Why would it? The Queen represents everything that brings the Confederation together. Her lineage is a mix of at least eight founder species of the Confederation, including the House of Windsor, the House of T'Pau, and the House of Shras.”
Leon's explanation was well-rehearsed, as every child in the Confederation learns why the Queen remains a venerable part of the interstellar union. However, Vic was hoping for a more objective point of view from his friend.
“Yes,” Vic agreed. “But the human part of her is strictly British, which represents a long line of monarchs going back to Earth's first century. Ever wonder what the Confederation would be like without British blood? Which nation state would have represented Confederate values before first contact with the Vulcans?”
Leon was at a loss. Everyone knew that British rule on Earth was the very basis for modern human civilization. “Again,” he asked, this time with a touch of annoyance. “Can you be more specific?”
“Okay,” he relented. “I will. Consider Old Earth, circa 1956,” he began, shaking the PADD in his hand for emphasis. “Ever since France and Israel became part of the British Commonwealth during the Suez Campaigns, the future seat of Earth's global economic and military power were all but certain.”
“So what?” Leon queried. “Are you saying that without the British Commonwealth, that something like — say, the old Soviet Union of Old Earth would have focused their 'cold war' on some other adversary?”
Vic wasn't necessarily intending to invoke Earth's pre-unification history, but the 20th century political conflict Leon spoke of was an excellent starting point for the discussion.
“Well, let's say that the Commonwealth's pacification of Egypt in 1956 failed,” he postulated. “The British Empire was in decline back then, and all it would have taken was one military defeat for the Empire to have been dissolved.”
Leon shuttered at the thought. “I don't know,” he replied with skepticism. “I would think the Crown would have survived the Soviet Union despite such a defeat.”
“But without control of Egypt and the Suez Canal,” he tapped on the PADD before continuing. “Global fossil fuel commerce would not have shifted towards the British Commonwealth in the latter half of the 20th century. What nation state do you think would have filled the vacuum?”
“Perhaps a founding member of the Eastern Coalition?” the doctor surmised. “Maybe China?”
Vic leaned closer to Leon, hoping to glean his interest. “How about the United States of America?”
“What are you talking about?” retorted a confused Leon. “The United States WAS a member of the Commonwealth!”
“You're forgetting your history, Leon,” chided Vic with a wave of his finger. “The United States was a sovereign state, separate from the Crown until the British economic bailout of 2025 forced them to merge their economy with the Commonwealth.”
“Yeah,” Leon looked forward towards the main screen, twisting his palm upward to emphasize the futility of the argument. “But by then, their military forces were already integrated with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization…”
“…Which didn't come under full British rule until the following year,” Vic completed the thought while again referencing the PADD. “In 2026.”
“Right,” Leon agreed. “That was the start of World War Three. But by then, the United States was already under British economic influence.”
“That was due primarily to the Great Recession of 2008,” corrected Vic, again emphasizing the PADD. “The United States economy didn't start falling apart until after then, hastened by the Cascadia Tsunami of 2022.”
“What's your point, Vic?” Leon turned back towards his friend with vexation. “What are you getting at? Why this history lesson?”
“Don't you see? The economy of the United States was strong and independent back during the Suez Campaigns in 1956,” continued Vic. “Had those campaigns failed, the Crown might have lost their influence over the rest of the British-Franco Empire, and the United States was the only other democratic nation state with the ability to counter the Soviet threat. Don't forget, it was the United States that produced the first atomic weapon, not Britain. If it were not for them, World War Two might not have ended in 1945, and likely with a much different outcome.”
“And it was the United States that first sent humans to the Moon, too,” countered Leon. “But that doesn't necessarily mean their sole cultural influence would have survived World War Three as the rest of the British Commonwealth did.”
“You have to understand,” Vic explained. “After the war ended in 2053, six hundred million humans were dead, and most of the planet's major cities and governments were in ruins. Who's to say that if the United States had wielded more influence in the world before the war, that its cultural edifice wouldn't have become the norm afterwards instead of the Crown?”
“What would have been the difference?” Leon countered. “The cultures of the United States and Britain were nearly one and the same in the mid-21st century! They were in the same Commonwealth! Same hemisphere! They even spoke the same language! I can't imagine it would be very much different.”
“Except,” Vic countered pointedly. “That the United States had no monarch. It was a constitutional democracy. Like over half of the planets that have joined the Confederation since Stardate 0.0. The Queen would never have been part of the government, if she existed at all.”
“The Royal Confederation of Planets WITHOUT the Queen?” Leon exclaimed. “Ridiculous.”
“Suit yourself,” Vic shrugged. “It could very easily have happened, though. Without the Queen, who knows if 'Her Majesty's Spaceship' Republic would have ever cruised the space lanes under such a title.”
Leon crossed his arms and shook his head. “You're starting to worry me, Vic.”
Without further discussion, Vic resumed his silent pondering, confident that the Leon Cromwell sitting next to him was HIS Leon, and not the alternate Leon from the USS Republic. Still, as he stared blankly at the warp-induced starlines on the main monitor, Victor Virtus couldn't help but wonder which version of John Carter was with the Romulan underground movement at this very moment, obsessed with opening a singularity to the galactic core. Why? What was he trying to accomplish? How could he be so indifferent to calamity that had befallen the Confederation?
The questions slid by as numerous as the starlines in front of him, but all lacking answers. If Her Majesty's fleet was still intact and viable, chances are that they were massing at Wolf 359 in a final defense posture for Earth. A fitting locale, as it was the same place where Starfleet had made a final stand on stardate 44002 against the first Borg invasion of the Confederation. Now, as a more menacing, swarm-like version of cybernetic insectoids bore down on the heart of human existence, the same ominous feelings of helplessness came too. As he continued to read his PADD, one main question lingered at the back of his mind: would they too be able to survive until the dawn's early light?
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OOC: For historical reference: <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/6261885.stm>