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You Can't Go Home Again

<Office of the President of the United Federation of Planets. Geneva, Switzerland. European Commonwealth. Sol III. Present day.>

“You’re out of your God Damned mind, Maxwell!” Oliver Rhymer shouted. His face was redder than usual as he pounded his fist on the table for good measure.

Across the table from him, Ben Maxwell, former starship captain, and now special advisor to President Vladimir Kostya sat back with his arms draped casually across his belly looking every bit as self-satisfied as he felt. “I can’t help it if you’re a coward, Oliver.” Maxwell said coolly, not even bothering to raise his voice. “Then again, you never served, so, I’m not sure your opinion counts for much around this table.”

Rhymer chuckled to himself, then pressed his hands against the cool surface of the table and leaned in closer to his adversary. “You’re right, Mr. Maxwell.” He said, adding some emphasis to the civilian title he’d just used. “I’ve never been in Starfleet, and I won’t pretend to know what it’s like to fight a war. But let me tell you what happens if we do what you suggest, and set our sights on the Cardasians, again.”

Before he continued, the litigator looked toward Kostya to gauge how much room he had. Kostya and Maxwell were friends after all. In fact, it was the president’s involvement back when he was just a Rear Admiral that had led to Ben Maxwell's early release, following his destruction of Cardasian assets in the Cuellar system, when he commanded the U.S.S. Phoenix. If not for that, Maxwell would surely still be in jail. Maxwell was indeed a keen tactical observer of people, but when it came to the 'Cardies' or 'Spoonheads' as he sometimes called them when he thought no one could hear, Maxwell had a parsecs wide blind spot.

In some ways, Oliver Rhymer knew this day would come. He'd known it when he saw the plans for the Star Lance program that eventually became Apollo. An unstoppable weapon in the hands of an ambitious man like Vladimir Kostya had been bad enough. Kostya, though, could be reasoned with, and had always had an innate sense of when he'd over-played a hand. Kostya didn't have anything resembling a conscience, but he did have a titanic ego, and that's what Oliver Rhymer had been able to use as he helped engineer Kostya's rise to political power. Rhymer knew that 'Vlad the Impaler' hated losing more than anything else, and that fear had kept the Hawks in Kostya's orbit from being able to talk him into some of the most dangerous, and truth be told, vile things imaginable. Now that Apollo was operational though, and the Gorn campaign had been a runaway success, such as it was, Oliver wondered if Kostya, like Maxwell, was beginning to feel unbeatable.

“Going after Cardassia means not just them, but the Breen, and the Dominion, and who knows how many other minor powers in the Gamma Quadrant.” He said. “Yes, Apollo is powerful. Yes, it's nearly impossible to counter, and yes, it has allowed this administration to exact a pound of flesh from the Gorn Hegemony that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.” Again, he looked at Kostya. “But it's not perfect.” Rhymer cautioned. “Only a handful of ships can deploy it, and we have to be very… selective… about the Captians we entrust it to. “One wrong move, one wrong PERSON, and…”

“So we'll build more!” Maxwell retorted. “For God's sake Kris, they DESERVE IT!” He said, looking to Kostya for validation. He didn't find any.

Rhymer took advantage of the momentary silence. “One wrong move, and we'll start losing assets we can't afford.” Oliver said. “And once our enemies, Hell, even some of our friends see that we can lose, public support for our military expansion will start to slack.” He said, matter of factly. “Once that happens, this whole square dance gets a lot harder to call, and YOU, Mr. Maxwell will end up right back in prison, if not worse. We all will.” A few beats of silence passed before Rhymer sat back into his chair. Then the president spoke.

“You're right, Ben.” Kostya said. “They DO deserve it.”

“Thank You!” Maxwell added, with a smile.

“But Oliver has a point.” Kostya continued. “We can't take on an enemy as large as the Dominion…yet.”

The word hung in the air, and Oliver Rhymer felt his blood run cold. “There will come a time when the Cardasians will indeed pay for what they cost you, and the rest of us who fought not just them, but the Dominion too. I promise, Ben.” He said firmly. “But there are practical things to consider. Once we've dealt with the Gorn, and sent a few other strategic messages to the rest of the Beta Quadrant, then, we'll move on.” He explained. “First things first, though.” He added. “We wipe the Gorn from the face of the Galaxy, and make sure they can never threaten anyone again.” Kostya said determinedly. “Trust me, Ben.”

Maxwell nodded, and after a few more moments of silence, Kostya pushed his chair back from the table and stood. “I think that's enough for today, gentlemen.” He said, as he headed for the door. “I want to make sure and catch Malia's press briefing.”

“Yes, Mr. President.” They both said in unison, as they stood out of courtesy. But even after Kostya was gone, neither man wanted to be the first to leave.

<Federation Diplomatic Offices. Paris, France European Commonwealth, Sol III. Present Day.>

Malia of Delta IV stood resolutely behind her podium and looked out at the crowd of reporters, writers, muckrakers and sycophants before her. She’d been given an official statement from the President’s office concerning the controversial decision to press further into Gorn territory. Protocol dictated that she read it to the press corps. However, she also knew that the copy had leaked, courtesy of a subspace burst transmission to Jack Warner, so at this point, reading the document would be redundant. ‘No.’ she thought to herself as she straightened up, arching her back just slightly. ‘Better to get right to the matter’. She tapped a few commands into the PADD that was set at the podium and then spoke. “I’m sure by now that you’ve read the President’s statement.” She said bluntly, taking a moment to scan the crowd for a few nods that confirmed her suspicions. “In that case, lets get straight to the questions.” The buzz of chatter that had settled into the press hall erupted into a cacophony of shouts. The statuesque Deltan winced as she was aurally assaulted. A moment later she held up a hand and pointed at Carl Andermani.

The tall, thin, blonde humanoid cut an impressive figure in his well-tailored, but not too expensive suit. Everyone in the room knew why he’d been picked first. Andermani was a stringer for Trans-Stellar News. A new addition to the media ecosystem of the alpha and beta quadrants, TSN was run by the Angosian Protectorate. Following that world’s brief civil war and the rise of an autocratic oligarchy, TSN was created to both soften the image of Angosians to their neighbours, and to curry favour with whomever was politically expedient at the time. Since the start of the Kostya administration, the Angosians, and TSN in particular, acted as useful surrogates to advance friendly points of view to Kostya’s own authoritarian tendencies, and also served as ‘independent’ observers who could essentially whitewash a story that Kostya’s cabinet knew would be controversial. Andermani straightened the hem of his suit coat before he spoke. “Secretary, what do you say to the charges some have made that the announced incursion into the Gorn Hegemony’s interior is unnecessary?” He asked. “Some people are saying that your planned action amounts to genocide against the Gorn, and are demanding a cease fire, since the surrender of the Gorn military.” He couldn’t help the smug, self-satisfied look that settled onto his face when he was through.

“Thank You for bringing that up, Mr. Andermani.” Malia answered. “The President has heard these comments, and frankly, we reject out of hand that gross mischaracterisation of our actions against the Gorn.” She explained. “For the record…” Her tone was firm, and she waited for a beat before continuing. “Every one of the targets we have engaged during our defence of Federation territory, INCLUDING the retaking of Cestus III, which the Federation has had claim over for nearly two hundred years… every one of those targets was military and strategically important in nature. Their military has surrendered, but their people have not.” She waited for another moment and scanned the crowd. “There are no 'civilians' among the Gorn.” She said. “It simply isn't in their nature.” Again, the woman paused, partially for effect, and partially to make sure that she chose her words carefully. “As for a ceasefire?” She asked rhetorically. “There will be none.” Her tone was clear and cold, and seemed to cut the air like steel. “President Kostya is now and will ALWAYS be adamant that protecting Federation citizens wherever they are, as well as the territorial integrity of the UFP is his highest priority.” She said. “It would be a dereliction of duty not to press the advantage while our forces have it.” She explained. “A strong and decisive end to the threat posed to the entire quadrant by the Gorn would, in our view, lead to a safer outcome in the future.” After a moment, she continued. “Were we to pause now, and allow the Gorn to retreat to their inner colonies, then nothing would stop them from doing this again in, say, a dozen years or so.” She said, her tone becoming more and more strident. “We owe it to the lives of federation children yet unborn to keep them safe. Containing the Gorn was a mistake that past administrations made. The president is determined to end the threat of the Gorn once and for all, so that they will never menace any of their neighbours again.”

Malia’s empathic powers told her that her words had the desired effect. A current of excitement was rippling through the crowd, and she could feel an icy undercurrent of fear in about half the room as well. 'Good.' she thought. 'They know we mean it.'

After a long moment a calm, but strident voice broke Malia's command of the room. “So President Kostya is fine with the extermination of an entire culture because of a war HE started?” The question caused a rush of whispers in the room as those in the front of the room whipped their heads around to see who spoke. Standing in the back of the room was a Bajoran female in her mid forties. Her hair was shoulder length, and fell down in loose waves that gave her a sense of motion even while standing still. Like many Bajorans, she had an ornate earring and three gold strands adorning her right ear. Her frame was solid, but not over-muscled, and she stood like a woman who was used to carrying whatever she had to for however long.

At the podium, Malia blinked in genuine surprise. The speaker wasn't a reporter. Her name was Sito Aryn, and she was a diplomatic attaché to the Bajoran Consulate on Earth. 'Curious' Malia thought. 'That she should turn up here just now.' Malia's face took on a comfortable expression as she prepared to play affable hostess. “I'm Sorry, Miss…Sito, is it?” She asked. The Bajoran nodded. “This briefing is open to credentialed press only. Diplomatic briefings aren't due for another hour.”

“At which point the die will be cast, and the Gorn will be facing extinction.” Sito said firmly. Then she looked around at the assembled reporters. “You see what they're doing here, don't you?” She asked. “They're using the mask of 'security' and the threat of some 'future menace' to legitimize war crimes.” As she spoke, several reporters engaged their recorders and began tapping notes into PADDS.

“Really now, that's a bit melodramatic, don't you think?” Malia countered.

“Is it?” Sito shot back. “Not to the Gorn.” She said. “There are reports all over the Beta Quadrant that you've specifically targeted fleeing ships, and those who were trying to surrender. Contrary to your pretty speech just now.” She said. “Or did you not incinerate the Talgat Shipyards two days ago?” Sito asked.

“As I said.” Malia confirmed. “A legitimate military target.”

“Romulan intelligence confirms the presence of two crèche ships using the shipyard for evacuation.” She said. “You're murdering children. Deliberately.” Sito said with remarkable self-assurance. Sito looked around the room at the assembled reporters. “Check your sources.” She said. “Look into the Chimera, Hydra, Gorgon…”

Malia felt her blood run cold as Sito Aryn began naming ships that had actively deployed Apollo. She gripped the sides of the podium and barely managed to let keep the look of shock and rage off of her face. “Miss Sito, leaving aside the pure speculation and dubious reliability of Romulan intelligence, I need to caution you about the release of sensitive information that you may have.”

“I don't work for you, or the Federation.” Aryn said. “But I'll tell you this much.” She added. “I fought the Cardasians my ENTIRE life, and I know a war crime when I see it.”

A chorus of questions rose up from the crowd of reporters to both Malia and Sito Aryn, and the Bajoran couldn't help but smile at the anarchy she'd unleashed. Rather than engage individual questions, or try to address the room, Malia simply stabbed a control on her PADD, and the media feed to the press event went dark.

<U.S.S. Republic nee Asgard, in orbit around Garsol. Present Day>

=/\= Strategic Operations Officer's Log. Blake St. John, acting SO2.

It's been a long, and complicated afternoon since we brought John Carter back onboard the ship. Unfortunately, it seems that was the easy part, and our trip home may be more complicated than originally suspected. Clayborne, Yezbeck, and Blimpy have put their collective heads together, and believe me, that's not a sentence I ever thought I would say out loud. They all agree that using the geodesic fold again would pose too great a risk to the ship and us.

I won't pretend to understand why, but there's a complication because of the specific stellar conditions needed to make the fold work. Instead, after some colourful debate, we've elected to bring the Garsolan scientist Zharon onboard to discuss using the same device that brought Carter here to get us back to the Beta Quadrant. I was briefly concerned that there might be some conflict with the Prime Directive in bringing the native onboard. But as Forrest pointed out, “At this point, what difference would it make?”

The Garsolan was very enthusiastic, and insists that he can safely get us back. Not only that, but if we can find a way to tie the ship's sensors into Zharon's machinery, he seems confident that we could even pick our destination. That's a tactical advantage that the Geodesic Fold doesn't give us, and was a big factor in getting myself and the team onboard with the current version of the plan to get back home. If it works, we'll be in great shape. If it doesn't? Well, then no one will ever read this anyway.

Side note: I'd never met John Carter before, but I know people who have. They're not exaggerating. I've only known him for about 20 minutes, and I'd follow him anywhere. Forrest is adamant that Carter take command, but he's having none of it. Most ship commanders I've known jump back in the chair as soon as their feet hit deck plates, but Carter doesn't seem to need, or want the position. Still, he's carrying himself as though he knows exactly what to do, and isn't afraid of anything; which matches the stories I've heard. On the other hand, if I'd liberated a planet from swarms of monsters with a single phaser and an alien amazon, I guess I'd feel pretty confident too.

==S02 Log. Addendum.==

My people are just about done making the adjustments. Blimpy modified a tricorder and Carter's antique communicator to act as a kind of computer patch between the ship's sensors and the mechanical interface Zharon's wormhole device used for plotting coordinates. If you can call it that. The plan is for the Garsolan device to generate a wormhole that will take us from here to Nimbus III.

Carter and Forrest both seem to think it's out of the way enough that no one will pay attention to us, and Forrest can still get any intel he might need. They've got a point. Nimbus III is a hole in the ass end of space. It's worse than Zegema Beach. It is however close enough to civilization that we can go our separate ways, or maybe fight a civil war against Starfleet. That's not high on my list of things to do today. Then again, neither is folding space-time to make our return trip all but instantaneously.

Next stop, the Planet of Galactic Peace. God help us all. =/\=

<Starfleet Operations Command Headquarters. New Orleans, Sol III. Present Day.>

Jean-Luc Picard sat uncomfortably behind his desk and frowned at the screens in front of him. When Kaito Fakunaku had 'promoted' him to admiral, on the condition that he take a logistical assignment, Picard knew it was to get him out of the way. After some long discussions with Guinan and his former Enterprise colleagues, he'd agreed to take the assignment, feeling that he would be in a better position to do SOMETHING from inside Starfleet, rather than mounting a rebellion from outside.

Picard grimaced as he thought of his face off with Matthew Dougherty and the forced relocation of the Baku some years ago. Some of the more strident members of Starfleet had called that an insurrection. Admittedly, they were technically correct; Picard and his crew had acted against orders, but Picard knew then, and maintained to this day, that those orders had been illegal, and immoral, and he was therefore not bound to obey them. That was only a handful of years ago, and yet it seemed that so much had changed. He wondered how many of the so-called Hawks, who seemed almost fanatically loyal to President Kostya over and above any other duty they might have, would gladly execute illegal orders because the president asked them to. Picard paused a moment as he realized that he'd counted on his former Enterprise crew to do exactly that. The former starship captain felt a chill run through him as he wondered how short the distance from hero to traitor might actually be.

Picard was jolted out of his troubling thoughts by the door chime. “Come.” He said firmly.

Raffaela Musiker, a rather nervous lieutenant in operations gold entered the room. She had sharp features, caramel coloured skin and bright brown eyes that at this moment, were a little too wide. Her hair was a barely controlled mass of tightly wound curls currently pulled back into a regulation ponytail, though the curls seemed to erupt behind the lieutenant's head like a supernova. She stepped into Picard's office and nodded, handing the newly minted admiral a PADD. “Lieutenant Raffaela Musiker reporting as ordered, Admiral.” She said in a crisp tone.

Picard took the PADD and raised an eyebrow. “Ordered?” Picard said quizzically. “Ordered by whom…” He paused to check the number of pips on the young officer's collar. “Lieutenant?”

“By me.” Came a voice from the now open hatchway. Kathryn Janeway was leaning against the doorway, sipping coffee out of her favourite tumbler. “You need a staff, and Raffi needs an opportunity.” She said. The young officer nodded, but still looked a little sheepish. “Consider this your official 'Welcome to the Admiralty'.”

Picard was dubious, but tried to remain graceful. Kathryn Janeway was younger than him by about 25 years, and while they had been colleagues as starship captains, their careers had gone in very different directions. Picard had loved being on the frontier. Being a starship captain felt like a natural fit, and, truth be told, he enjoyed being away from the watchful eye of the flag staff. Since it's earliest days, Starfleet had been built on exploration and pushing the frontier of human knowledge and experience. In practice there would be dozens of ships hundreds of light years away from any central authority. Picard had learned to thrive with that autonomy. On the occasion that he would have a meeting with an admiral, he often found himself relieved when the Enterprise's next assignment would take him far away from what he all too often regarded as the interference of the admiralty.

By contrast, Kathryn Janeway, like the scientist she was at heart, worked hard to understand the system she was in. To her way of thinking, it afforded her a measure of agility when she was navigating the various challenges of the Delta Quadrant while she tried to bring the U.S.S. Voyager home. In short, she was an 'insider', and as such, had jumped at the chance to become an admiral when it was offered. Something Picard had resisted for years until Fakunaku had forced his hand. Just now, Kathryn could see the consternation on the newer admiral's face. She sipped her coffee and cast a glance at Musiker. “Go ahead and get settled in, Raffi.” She said. “I'm taking Admiral Picard to lunch.”

Picard let out a soft sigh and set down the PADD that Raffi had given him. He felt resigned that Janeway would not take no for an answer. In fact, he suspected she rarely did. “Only a fool fights in a burning house, Admiral Janeway.” He said, holding his hands up in surrender.

She gave him a dismissive wave and an easy smile. “Oh, come on, it's not as bad as all that.” She offered. “And for God's sake, call me Kathryn.” She said. “If we stood on ceremony around here, we'd spend so much time mentioning titles, ranks, and heaven knows what else that we'd never get anything done. And make no mistake, Jean-Luc. We have a lot of work to do.”

Picard tilted his head, still trying to puzzle out exactly how much more Janeway knew than he did in this particular case. “Do we?” He asked, stepping closer to the door.

Janeway stepped aside to make room for Picard to pass by. “Indeed.” She said as her eyebrow arched. “Oh, and before I forget, Pam Crockover sends her regards. She and I have been working closely together these last few years.”

Picard nodded at the mention of his old friend's name and some of the pieces began to fall into place. Crockover was well-known as the leader of the “Doves”, a faction in Starfleet that had opposed Vladimir Kostya since he'd first slithered his way into a flag position. The fact that Crockover and Janeway were on the same side changed things considerably. Picard nodded, his mind shifting around the idea that he wouldn't be taking on Kaito Fakunaku, and potentially the rest of Kostya's “Hawks” on his own. “Ah, dear Pamela.” Picard said with an air of affection. “In that case, I'd say lunch is definitely in order.” Picard looked over his shoulder as the two flag officers stepped through the hatch. “Thank you, Raffi.” He said easily. “Please hold my calls, and do see to Livingston.” He tilted his head to indicate the lionfish who was swimming lazily in sizeable enclosure built into the wall of Picard's office. The fish was one of the few artefacts from the Enterprise-D that had followed Picard everywhere he went.

“Um. Right. Sure. Of course, Admiral.” The lieutenant said nervously. The door shut with a soft hiss. Musiker let out a moan mixed with stress and exhaustion as her shoulders finally dropped. She gave herself a shake, set her hands on her hips, and then turned to look at Livingston. “Nice to meet you, Buddy.” She said to the fish. “Tell me… just how screwed am I?”

Livingston made no response.

<Starfleet Intelligence Communications Hub. Location: CLASSIFIED. Present Day.>

Sutek of Vulcan regarded the information on his screens with the cold, precise eye that a Kholinar Master would approve of. He scanned the data slowly and methodically before speaking. “Computer. Replay sensor and telemetry files from U.S.S. Ganymede”. The computer chimed in response and the requested images before him jolted back into motion.

On his screen, Sutek could see the Akira class escort U.S.S. Manticore, one of the handful of vessels that deployed Apollo, swinging gracefully into the frame. Its tractor emitters glowing as the agile ship towed the modified Iconian gateway that acted as the “lens” of Apollo into position for a killing stroke. Manticore had already swooped into the system, using it's considerable armaments to disable the ships fleeing from the Talgat shipyards. The targets for this pass were two large craft the size of freighters or haulers. They lacked the box-like, planar shape of most Gorn warships. These large vessels were far more graceful, almost artfully crafted compared to the brutish, blocky composition of the Hegemony's navy. Two of these large craft were trapped in the durasteel lattice work the the shipyard's work frame. Even if their warp cores were energized, forming a warp field was impossible.

A green line of code in Sutek's field of vision confirmed what the sensors of U.S.S. Manticore also knew. These were crèche ships. Enormous mobile incubators which held within them the very future of the Gorn species. Once the Gorn perfected space flight and warp travel, the decision was made to move their ancestral breeding grounds to space, so that the broodlings and their caregivers could follow the expanding frontier of the Hegemony. Given the relatively short maturation cycle of a Gorn (less than five years, as opposed to the decades that it took most hominids) this had proved both tactically sound and culturally useful. Now however, with Starfleet's seemingly miraculous ability to strike from anywhere without warning, the Gorn, as a civilization could be wiped out in minutes. Which was after all the plan.

Sutek suppressed a smile as he watched the fiery stellar lances of energy rake across the unshielded hulls of both ships. In a few seconds it was over. The Talgat shipyards were a wreck, and an entire generation of Gorn yet to be were exterminated. Sutek dutifully logged the information and sensor data as having come from the U.S.S. Ganymede, a Luna class destroyer that had been paired with U.S.S. Manticore to act as an early warning and command and control platform, as indeed other Luna class ships had been since the outbreak of hostilities. Sutek locked his workstation and gave the matter no more thought. He had other things to plan.

What the Vulcan spymaster didn't know; couldn't know, was that unlike the crew onboard the Akira class ships that deployed Apollo, who had been hand picked by Sutek, Fakunaku, and other highly-placed Hawks specifically for their loyalty to the president and his cause, the Luna class ships had been pressed from the fleet at large, and as such, their crews had not all been so meticulously vetted. Sutek had no idea that Commander Casey Tanaka, Executive Officer of the U.S.S. Ganymede, had made a copy of the sensor data of the attack. She'd been appropriately horrified, and made arrangements for the genocidal genie to be let out of the bottle.

<Planetary Assembly, Alpha Centauri. Present Day.>

Althea Cochrane, the Chair of the Planetary Assembly was gritting her teeth so hard her face hurt. She looked at each of her colleagues in turn. They were seated at a round table in one of the larger meeting rooms of Government Plaza. Some faces were grim. Some were shocked. But all had been moved by what they'd just watched. Mark Tierney looked to his right and addressed his fellow councilman, Hiro Tanaka. “You're sure this is real, Hiro?” He asked again. “This isn't fake, or a simulation, or…”

“I already TOLD YOU, Mark.” The older councilman shot back. “My youngest daughter is the First Officer on a starship. The U.S.S. Ganymede.” He repeated. “I got this from her today, through an encoded channel. Her encryption key is all over it. It's real.”

Tierney felt his blood run cold. This was hard, irrefutable evidence of war crimes, committed by Starfleet personnel, on civilian members of a star nation who's forces had already surrendered. It was textbook, and so blatant it bordered on the ridiculous. “What…what do we do?” He asked the assembly. “We can't go against the fleet. I mean, it's Starfleet for shit's sake. All of us depend on them for… Good Lord.”

There were a few seconds of heavy silence as Althea Cochrane cleared her throat. “We're the first out of system Earth colony.” She said. “Our charter demands that we respect the rights of all sentient beings.” Her voice was as solid as duranium. “The first ships that came here did so because they were determined NOT to repeat the mistakes of Earth's past.” A few more long moments passed before she spoke again. “I know what I WANT to do.” She said. “But… this will have to be unanimous.” She added ominously. She banged her gavel on the table so hard, the ceremonial mallet almost broke. “The chair entertains a motion to meet in “Committee of the Whole'”.

The motion was proposed, seconded, and passed unanimously. Then the internal recorders were shut off.

<Location: Captain's Ready Room, Deck 1, USS Republic (Luna Class), in orbit of Nimbus III. Present Day, Stardate 62094.3, 1600 hours ship time>

As rare as they are, Argelian kitsunes are remarkably similar in physiology to medium-sized Earth rodents such as squirrels and marmots, possessing a furred body and tufted ears, along with whiskered muzzles containing large incisors perfected for gnawing on fruits and nuts. Their hind legs are longer and more powerful than their fore limbs, with the latter possessing tiny hand-like appendages and a developed thumb, giving them versatility for grasping and climbing. Technically classified as marsupials, Argelian kitsunes have a lower body temperature and metabolism than their mammalian counterparts, exhibiting more streamlined and graceful movements rather than being hyperactive and twitchy. In the end, it is their eyes that are the most remarkable, and which set them apart from nearly all other creatures of their size and form. Bearing a pair of red, incandescent visual organs on either side of the head, these marvels of evolution are finely tuned structures enabling near omni-directional sensing, providing an ability to see from the near-ultraviolet, through visible light, and up through the near-infrared region of the EM spectrum. Colloquially dubbed a “birds-to-bats” visio-acuity, these denizens of the planet Argelius II set themselves apart when it comes to perceptiveness and clarity of vision.

However, it was Leon Cromwell who was questioning the limits of this perceptiveness, hypothesizing that there was some level of emotional transference as he and Smoke – Captain Roth-Dorian's familial companion – sat staring at one another from across the captain's desk in her ready room. The seated doctor was leaning into the desk with his head resting on top of his arms, and his eyes locked into a fixed gaze into the marsupial's glowing ruby oculi. In return, Smoke twitched is nose with interest all throughout the non-offensive stand-off.

“He doesn't seem ready to tear me apart,” the doctor finally remarked to Reittan Tolkath, the counselor-turned-diplomatic officer who sat on the couch nearby. He was concerned that the small marsupial was going to have issues due to the adversarial nature of Roth's departure.

“Actually, he's fairly fond of you,” remarked the Vulcan/Betazoid lieutenant commander. “I don't perceive any ill-will from him at all. He seems quite intelligent, and cognizant of everything going on around him.”

“Can he feel our emotional states?”

“Absolutely,” Reittan commented.  “Argelian kitsunes are well known for their empathic abilities.  I wouldn't rule out clairvoyance or telepathic contact either.”

Leon broke off his staring contest long enough to cast his first officer a sceptical glance that suggested he didn't believe in any of those things, but stopped short of voicing it.

“I'd like to get him back to Roth somehow,” he turned back toward the tranquilly-idle creature.  “But don't see how I can do that anytime soon.”

“It's interesting,” Reittan suggested tangentially.  “Every time Roth is mentioned by us in conversation, I sense a twinge of worry in him.”

“About getting back to her?”

“No,” he postulated.  “More like worry FOR Roth, as if there's something that's been bugging him about Roth for a very long time, but can't do anything about.”

“Well they obviously have been bonded for many years,” Leon surmised.  “If they're emotionally linked, then he might be picking up on something that no one else can.”

“Either way, I think you have nothing to worry about from this little guy,” Reittan concluded.  “I sense no hostile intent, and as long as you make sure he gets enough celery, I think he's content to wait it out until he can be reunited with the captain.”

Leon nodded and got up from the desk, reopening the circular transparent door on the wall-mounted terrarium behind him.  As if being cued, Smoke sat up on his hind legs, twitched his tufted tail a few times while sniffing the air, and scurried from the desktop to the floor, then up the wall into his flora-filled home where Leon offered him a small green stick of his favourite treat.  As Smoke dug into the succulent morsel, Leon carefully closed the door.

“If you say so,” Leon relented.  “I've only got you and Lieutenant Graq aboard with any Vulcanian or Betazoid talents, and with Graq's Klingon ancestry clouding all but his most basic empathic abilities, you're really the only one I can count on to inform me of the crew's emotional state.  Which reminds me…”  Leon turned back around and took his seat behind the desk once again.  “How's Miss Warner?”

“I've finished my analysis, and there's no doubt in my mind any more,” Reittan explained soberly.  “She's being manipulated on a subconscious level.  I don't know how or why, but there's an influence in her psyche coming from an outside source, and her personality is intertwined with it.  It's hard to tell where the influence stops and where her real personality begins.”

The revelation didn't seem to surprise either of them.

“How long?” Leon asked of the duration, knowing that she must have been like this for an extended period.

“Months,” the thirty-something half-Betazoid replied.  “Maybe years.”

“How do we fix it?”

“I'm not sure,” he admitted while leaning back into the couch and bringing a knuckle to his chin in thought.  “Normally, I'd suggest a full mind-meld at a Vulcan treatment centre, but we're not in a position to do that any time soon.  The only thing I can think of to help separate her personality from the influence is through therapeutic anti-psychotic drugs, which really falls more into your profession than mine.”

“Well,” Leon also leaned back into his chair, striking a similar thoughtful pose as Reittan.  “I might be able to induce a dissociative state with zetaproprion,” he admitted with dubiousness.  “But, that's a little drastic.  I might try something more subtle, possibly a good old-fashioned psilocybin-derivative.  However, even if we do that, what's to say she'll be able to break free of the influence?”

“There's no guarantee,” he admitted. “But I'll be there to mediate for her, however long it takes.”

“Okay,” agreed Leon.  “But, I'd feel better if we had some sort of consent; by her, or possibly her family.  We really don't need to add mental torture to our list of current transgressions.”

“I'll keep working with her on that,” Reittan nodded.  “As angry as she is right now, she's also mentally exhausted, and being restricted to quarters isn't helping.  If I can get her to see the logic of a clinical resolution, I'll be able to sign off on a consent agreement in my log.”

“The sooner the better,” the doctor-turned-captain made a hint towards a declarative order.  “In the mean time, what's the status of our new mission pod?”

“For being here only a week, we've made a lot of progress,” Reittan reported in a more chipper tone.  “The superstructure and exterior hull are now in place as of 1400 hours.  The real trick will be outfitting the rest of the sensory equipment and quantum torpedo hardware.  Without the benefit of a Starfleet repair dock, we're looking at well into next month before we can even begin testing any new systems, to say nothing of getting long range sensors back online.”

Leon dropped his head in defeat.

“I suppose that gives us some time to let things die down a little,” he tried to put a positive spin on it.  “But, it would be nice to be able to tie back in to the subspace communications network instead of being limited to just ship-to-ground and ship-to-ship.”

“We're looking at at least two weeks before long range subspace traffic can be received again,” Reittan explained.  “Until then, it's whoever wants to give us access to a civilian communications terminal down on Nimbus.  Considering how the mayor greeted us, we're lucky he didn't call anyone from the Federation to tell them we're here.”

“Just keep those supplies flowing to him from the CFI replicator,” Leon ordered.  “As long as we keep that going, they'll keep their mouths shut.  Besides, the only thing we'll get on the civilian comm channels right now is whatever the Interstellar News Service WANTS people to see…”

The two officers didn't need to talk any more on that subject, as they both knew that they were in agreement regarding the status of the current newsfeeds coming out of the Federation.  Propaganda regarding the incursion into Gorn space was as thick as molasses in winter, and there was no telling what level of disinformation that citizens were receiving nowadays.  Neither Leon nor Reittan were eager to find out.

As if to break their sombre mood, the comm system precipitously awakened them from their troubled thoughts.

=/\= “Bridge to Captain.” =/\=

Leon pressed a button the desk.

“Cromwell here.  Go ahead.”

=/\= “Sir, short range sensors are picking up a region of faint nuclear vibrations in high orbit of Nimbus Three.” =/\=

“Is it naturally-occurring?”

=/\= “We don't think so, sir.  Lieutenant Graq is analysing now.” =/\=

“We'll be right there…”

<Location: Main Bridge, Deck 1, USS Republic (Luna Class), in orbit of Nimbus III>

“Report,” came the crisp order as Doctor Leon Cromwell and Counsellor Tolkath emerged from the ready room into the the main control complex.

M'Roww, the tawny feline ensign with command red piping on her gray-and-black uniform, stood up from the command chair and turned her attention to the senior officers.  Her golden eyes yielded some apprehensiveness, but maintained the disciplined demeanour of a resolute Starfleet officer.

“The field of instability is growing,” she explained, her left ear twitching in response to an audible chirp from one of the engineering stations.  “Sensors indicate it's an artificial anomaly, but we can't localize the source.”

“Mister Graq,” Leon turned to the half-Klingon/half-Vulcan science officer at the rear sensor station.  “Analysis.”

As the doctor and counsellor strode towards the chairs on the command platform, they relieved M'Roww to resume her duties as chief helmsman while the sciences lieutenant responded without turning his attention away from his sensor screen.

“The nuclear vibrations appear to increasing in frequency and energy, and have expanded to a volumetric sphere of over a half kilometre in diameter.  If I had to postulate, an inter-dimensional shift is taking place, though it does not conform to any known space-time technology than I'm familiar with.  It's as if a large piece of the space-time continuum is folding back in on itself, linking two locations of the universe together into one area.”

“I'm reading mass, captain,” warned Cail Jarin, the Bajoran junior lieutenant at the Ops console.  “A construct of almost five million metric tons is emerging from the phenomena.”

“Red Alert!” shouted Leon as he took his seat in the command chair, causing klaxons to blare and red-tracer lights to illuminate throughout the ship.  “Raise shields!”

“What's the nature of the construct, lieutenant?” commander Tolkath asked as he took his seat next to Leon.  “Is it a Borg cube?”

“Negative,” Graq explained.  “The Borg use transwarp conduits to traverse subspace.  This is an inverted inter-dimensional portal consistent with the Elway Theorem, only it's vastly bigger than what the theorem has postulated to be possible.  It would take the energy of a star to generate the forces necessary to fold space like this!”

“Getting readings on the construct now, captain,” Jarin added.  “It appears to be a vessel of Federation design.”

“On screen!”

As ordered, Lieutenant Jarin switched the forward viewer to observe the phenomena in real time.  With the entire bridge crew watching on, a brief yet blinding white light zig-zagged across the screen, and before their eyes, the enormous hull of a Galaxy Class starship blinked into existence in front of them.  There was no mistaking the pearlescent metallic plates interlaced across the hull, nor the evenly-spaced lighted viewports, nor the blinking navigational strobes.  As the transponder signals came in, Leon's face contorted into a pale, flabbergasted expression as Jarin read off the registry:

“NCC-76241…” he announced.  “USS Republic…”

“They are hailing us,” the petty officer at the tactical console informed everyone.

The doctor slowly stood up in disbelief, as if seeing a ghost ship from his past.  Remaining transfixed on the viewer, the silence on the bridge was palpable as everyone looked to their captain for the next order.

“Put them on the screen,” Leon finally was able to expel the words from his lips.

A moment later, the familiar scene of a Galaxy class bridge filled the viewer. Though it was clear that this particular vessel had been extensively modified. On the screen, Leon could make out nearly a dozen uniformed personnel, though interestingly, all of them were outfitted in operations gold rather than the different colours of various departments. Even more curious to Leon was the presence of what looked like an Exo-comp holding steady over one of the rear science stations.

Leon scanned the faces and recognized a few, though he couldn't recall all their names just now. That was until he saw the bearded, dishevelled countenance of Dr. Saal Yezbeck. He was seated to the right of the centre seat. A position normally reserved for the First officer. Leon rose to his feet. “Saal?” He said in amazement.

“Hello, Leon.” He said, as though he'd just come back from a quick trip to the corner store. “Long time no see.” he added with a sheepish grin.

Cromwell's surprise was so total that it took him a few seconds to process who was sitting in the command position on the bridge. Doug Forrest, late of Starfleet Intelligence, and Republic's resident Black Shirt was seated at the centre of the screen. “Nice to see you too, Doctor.” Forrest offered. “I seem to recall that we owe you a shuttle craft.” the operative added nonchalantly. “We picked up a few odds and ends along the way.” He quipped. “I hope you don't mind.”

Leon sat back down and steepled his fingers in front of himself, still puzzled by the scene that was unfolding before him. “Mind isn't the word, exactly, Forrest.” He said. “But you ARE just about the last person I expected to see here.” Cromwell glanced to his right and noted the look of concentration on Graq's face as the science officer was pouring over the sensor data regarding the Galaxy class starship's arrival. “Maybe you can settle something for my Science Officer here.” He said, nodding in Graq's direction. “Did you engineer some kind of Einstein Rosen Bridge? And how is it that you actually made it to this system of all places, let alone in what looks to be a resurrection of our old ship?” The fact that he was interacting with perhaps the most secretively deviceful member of his Republic Eight comrades probably explained why Leon wasn't more incredulous at the circumstances of their reunion.

Forrest shook his head. “It's complicated.” Forrest answered. He paused to stroke his chin and scan the Luna class vessel's bridge. “I can't help but notice that neither Captain Roth, nor Mr. Hawk are present on your bridge, Doctor.” He observed. “Did you misplace your XO?”

Cromwell felt himself scowl in frustration. 'Back no more than two minutes and he's his usual cryptic smart ass self.' Cromwell thought. What he SAID was: “As you say, Forrest, it's 'complicated'.”

“My dear Doctor. You have no idea.” the black shirt said.

At that moment, the turbolift to the Galaxy class bridge opened, and a dead man, wearing a maroon uniform nearly 200 years out of date stepped into view. His dark hair was long, and a bit shaggy. To say nothing of the rough looking beard he sported, but the swagger was all too familiar, and the eye patch left no doubt. There on the screen, literally bigger than life, was John Thelonious Carter. And he was very much alive. He stopped mid-stride when he saw Leon's face on the screen.

Before Carter could speak, there were gasps on Republic's bridge and Cromwell shot to his feet. “Son of a bitch!”


CMDR John Carter
Former XO
USS Republic, NCC-76241


LTCR Leon Cromwell, MD, PhD
Commanding Officer
USS Republic, NCC-81371

current_story/you_can_t_go_home_again.txt · Last modified: 2023/12/09 03:24 by cromwell