The Chain Unbound

Prologue

'The Last Day of the Emerald Chain'

He didn't expect a bomb like this to drop in the middle of the Emerald Chain's congress chambers.

The suspicions came a week prior when Emerald Chain leadership made a general summons for all sector capos, planetary governors, fleet admirals, and business leaders with voting power to convene, and in person, immediately.

It was the demand for all combat-capable vessels under the possession of each voting power were to load up with as much dilithium as everyone can spare and mustered at the congressional planet.

At first nobody questioned the long-anticipated summons.

It was no secret the Emerald Chain was operating with dwindling resources, leaving the Federation as the only other source, protected their paramilitary 'exploratory arm', Starfleet. Wars were fought between the free merchantile alliance and the greedy, heavy-handed socialist utopians for the last of these resources, including the last dilithium stocks that survived The Burn. The sham peace that followed was a cold war which chafed the hawkish factions. The calm's breaking was inevitable as The Chain's leaders operated with less and less dilithium resources in hand.

As a governor of the Eta Eridani Confederation, a multi-planetary political entity bound to The Chain for decades, he knew better the state of their resources than most any citizen. He knew The Chain was running low on dilithium, his own planets stocks of the precious energy-generating crystal were almost depleted, and every member of The Chain were in the same situation. The scarcity, severe even after months of tightening control from the central government, was a threat to The Chain's survival.

Compounding their troubles, the Utopian's influence was spreading well outside of the Chain's projections of their available resources or power projection potential. Speculation was wild. Did Starfleet have some new exotic space travel technology? An alternative energy source? A previously undiscovered stash of dilithium? The rumors were strong enough for the Emerald Chain's minister, Osyraa, to follow up.

There were counter-rumors of a revised peace accord or even a resource-sharing alliance in the works, but then why all the starships, including his flagship, the Hundredth Meridian?

The order to convene came with heavy implication Osyraa found something, something Starfleet didn't want to give up. One last gamble. The time to act had to be so, the Governor reasoned, though without a unified plan and shared resources there wouldn't be much to gamble with.

So, he hoped, The Chain had a plan, and they were to announce it today.

A resplendently robed Orion, who most certainly wasn't Osyraa, took the minister's seat and made his announcements.

"Ladies, gentlemen, and non-binary peoples of the Congress of the Emerald Chain, it is with great regret that I must inform you... Minister Osyraa is dead, slain during negotiations with Federation's Starflleet!"

It gave the Governor some pause. Osyraa, dead? She was legendary for her political mastery, second only to her use of brutality to suppress opponents and keep the vassal states of The Chain in line. To hear about her death left a dreadful twinge in his heart, then a wash of relief.

In life she was as unpopular as she was effective. In death, she would be the spark.

"Well ding dong! The witch is dead! Then it's war!" The Eta Eridani Governor's heart leapt. "That dictatorial bitch died and we're going to war! Finally! We'll have some real change in The Chain and crush those socialist Feddie bastards in the bargain!"

He wasn't the only one in the crowd. The Orion and Andorian representatives were already shouting for war, then the humans, and soon every representative's voiced a chaotic cry for blood until the unified chant of 'War! War! War!' rattled the congress seats and reverberated through its walls.

The Governor almost got swept up in the fervor, until out of the corner of his eye he saw regulators come out of the exits. Maybe they were joining the display of patriotism? Then why were they helmeted and armed?

It didn't feel right, and the Governor wasn't the only one to snap out of the chanting and watch, confused, as the regulators took on power stances and kept their hands close to their slung rifles.

The announcer shouted over the din, "We will have war! We promise! The Federation brought The Burn onto us. They will have their reckoning and WE WILL EVENTUALLY BE THE ONES TO DELIVER IT!"

"Eventually?" The Governor considered the Speaker's words more carefully. More representatives of the Chain were slowly realizing that something was amiss. Heads darted from the speaker's growing retinue of regular guards and the sealed-off exits. The Eta Eridani Governor looked to Xindi Insectoid next to him, officially his assistant, unofficially his bodyguard. Years of experience as a regulator themself, the Xindi's antennae rose and twitched out of heightened awareness. They had one hand close to the Governor's shoulder, and the other in the folds of their suit jacket.

His bodyguard was always armed, despite rules against bringing weapons into the congressional chambers. Almost everyone swore on The Chain charter they didn't so much as bring a jam spreader to the congressional chambers, but enforcing the rule among libertarians and capitalists was as effective as preaching abstinence to tribbles. The Governor saw a Ferengi representative nervously play with his belt, the buckle formed like a handle, and the belt a corded metal substance reminiscent of their power whips.

No matter how the representatives armed themselves, it wouldn't stop the more heavily armed regulators from turning the congressional floor into a charnel house.

The Speaker's confidence grew, but so did the edge in his voice, lending to it a foreboding quality. "Osyraa's mission was to not only sustain our current operations, but to extend the reach of the Chain and secure our future. Unfortunately, regret to inform you all her mission failed, and as a result there will be no exotic propulsion systems, no alternate energy source to end our dependence on dilithium, and no fresh supplies of dilithium for the foreseeable future."

The confusion on the congressional floor grew. The war chants died down. Now there were angry shouts, some aimed at the speaker demanding explanations, the others shouting for their fellow representatives to be quiet. Rather than bring order to the floor, more bickering followed. The Speaker hammered the gavel, demanding silence.

The Governor whispered to his bodyguard, "Have they blocked our personal transporters?"

The Xindi Insectoid nodded affirmative, keeping silent.

"Not good. Stand by to secure our exit. Neutralize nearby regulators on my word."

Compound eyes scanned the room. A click uttered from their tongue, Xindi Insectoid for 'Affirmative!'.

His Xindi-Insectoid bodyguard was the best latinum could afford, anyone's latinum. They raised the odds of their survival considerably, barring a stray energy bolt to the face from the rapidly unravelling congressional floor. The Governor sense of needing their well-compensated services grew as more representatives were shouting their disbelief, their indigence, and for some, their patriotism.

The Speaker, far from finished, swallowed and braced himself at the podium, his confidence deflated as he was further besieged by questions. His eyes avoided the belligerent audience and his throat choked on his own nervousness.

His words came out slowly, hesitantly. "With our current resources and consumption, we can only operate the Emerald Chain for a total of six months. In wartime conditions, with our current fleet strength, only two months. Our projections have us initially winning systems, but unless we draw the Federation into a decisive battle, which is now impossible thanks to Osyraa's failure, there's no way to end the war decisively before our dilithium runs out. Therefore, we will not be conducting a new offensive against Starfleet."

"THEN WHAT DID WE BRING OUR SHIPS HERE FOR?!" Shouted the Brikar representative, rage in the glow of his crystalline eyes.

The gavel cracked down again, only the silence didn't return. Giving up any pretense of restoring order, the Speaker continue his speech, growling spite at an increasingly hostile audience. "You have all been gathered here because The Chain requires your resources. Don't act innocent with me! I know you all have been hoarding! Do you think for a second you all could get away with it? THEREFORE, I also regret to inform you that as of this moment, all strategic resources, including raw construction materials, petrochemicals, programmable matter, and all dilithium reserves, as well as the facilities vital to the maintenance of The Chain's economic system, are NATIONALIZED, with raw resources redistributed to the capitol to further guarantee our survival! And if you all been holding out by hiding away vital strategic resources on your own planets, LIKE I KNEW YOU ALL WOULD, I hereby revoke your rights to property as guaranteed by the Charter of The Emerald Chain, as per article..."

"And that's why he brought the regulators." The Chain's orders to bring all the fleets in, with each area's available dilithium reserves made sense. There was no plan for war. They wanted to steal as much dilithium as they could and weaken all the other power blocks. All to ensure the central government lived and had the power to keep its vassal states down.

The Governor might have done it himself in the Speaker's position, still would if Eta Eridani's situation didn't improve, but knew such a demand not only reeked of the enemy utopian's socialist methods, but would go down as so unreasonable no sane representative could accept it on principle.

Unless they had disruptor rifles pointed at their heads.

Even then, the Eta Eridani governor knew his fellow representatives. The thought of impoverishing their own territories for the sake of a central government was repugnant to many of them, some because it threatened their own power and stability, and others because they literally had nothing left.

A few more even romanticized martyrdom for their own sense of liberty.

While the idea was appealing, the Governor felt himself more pragmatic than his rhetorically charged colleagues. He had to think about the survival of the Eta Eridani Confederation, already considered when he left half his reserves back home and off the books thanks to some creative accounting. Survival wasn't guaranteed, not while being a hostage of his own government.

He needed a plan to ensure the Eta Eridani Confederation's survival, not only from his own government, but from every other vassal state who was now voicing their disapproval to an increasingly flustered Speaker.

First, he needed out of the congressional chambers alive. Representatives argued with each other. There were some shoving and shouting. One threw a wild haymaker and missed. The regulators were tensing up, some even aiming their weapons at the troublemakers. The chaos was brewing. Their time was running out.

"May have to move sooner. Wait for my cue." The Governor whispered to his bodyguard.

The Xindi Insectoid bodyguard nodded. Their hand went off his shoulder and to another fold in their suit.

He found his cue when the human leader of the Badlands Raiders stood up on his seat and shouted to the speaker, "Mister Speaker, I have come to a decision, already pre-determined by my constituents. In order to ensure the survival of my planets, and in protest over the violation of the principles of our charter, to which we all signed and agreed to, and in objection to the heavy-handed manner in which the government stomps over all over our liberties, we have decided to secede from The Emerald Chain! We're leaving, and we beg anyone with a love for freedom to follow us! As for the rest, YOU CAN LICK OUR COLLECTIVE..."

The Speaker pointed to the Badlands delegation. Regulators trained rifles and advanced to capture the troublemaker.

All the Badlandian representatives pulled weapons. One even had a subcompact phaser rifle. How that got past regulator security was academic as the rebel delegates were cut down within seconds by regulator disruptor fire.

A regulator went down, a ball of electricity catching him in the chest, dropping his body in jolting spasms. The ferengi representative's belt was in his hands, crackling an arc of electricity.

The Brikar representative punched his neighbor, a well-known Orion slaver, full in the face, his rocky fist leaving nothing but mangled pulp.

"NOW!" The Eta Eridani Governor ducked under the stadium seating. He rose through the ranks as an effective administrator and clever accountant. He was no fighter and didn't feel like being one today.

Besides, that's what his bodyguard was for, and they enjoyed the role.

Their compound eyes tracked wildly diverging targets to their far right, the Speaker and his regulator guards, and regulators at the nearest exit on their far left. Their arms snapped out from the folds of their suit holding two silver pistols. A squeeze of the trigger and their twin weapons hissed, then roared, catching the regulators, busy firing indiscriminately at the congressional floor, completely by surprise.

The flechettes of their Xindi-made pistols spat out at such murderous volume, propelled to supersonic speeds by an ingenious regenerating bio-matter propellant. Not only were the weapons undetectable by conventional energy weapon scanners, their dense carbon-matrix slivers easily cut through the regulator's protective suits. The regulators at the nearest exit, trading fire with the ferengi while fending off a trio of dk'tahg armed Klingons, got sawn in half.

Regulators surrounding the podium dropped under the hail of fire. The guards rushing the speaker out of the chambers fell to neat, bleeding holes in their backs. The speaker himself took a flechette round to the head, a tiny hole between the eyes, and a massive exit wound out the back of his head, splattering on the Seal of The Emerald Chain.

As the regulators lost control, the congressional chamber was a cauldron of violent fistfights and firefights, as loyalists, rebels, and the opportunistic fought for their survival, hid to avoid random death, or mobbed the exits and meet their end under regulator disruptor fire.

The remains of a regulator, one cut down by his bodyguard's pistols, tumbled down the steps and landed next to the Eta Eridani Governor.

He saw the intact tricom badge and had a thought. Would the regulators scramble transporters without first ensuring they could use their own?

And imagined, what with more regulators feeding themselves into the riot, what was left unprotected.

"Kai'a'li! Hang on!" The Governor snatched the regulator's badge, jumped up, and hung onto the Xindi's waist.

Slapping the badge once and thinking of his destination, both the governor and the bodyguard teleported out of the congressional chambers.

And right into a room with a bank of servers.

And two surprised regulator guards.

Kai'a'li didn't hesitate to kick a toe spike through one regulator's chest while the other took a flechette round under his chin and out the top of his head.

The bodies barely dropped before Kai'a'li series of clicks vocalized into a computer rendition of Chain Common. "I can deactivate the transporter inhibitors, but this is not the ideal location to do so."

"But you can do it, right?"

Kai'a'li plucked two metal buttons from her suit and slotted them into their flechette pistols. The Governor marveled at the Xindi-Insectoid's smooth motions, and the way they cleverly concealed their reloads. "Yes Governor, but why? Would the regulator watch facility be more ideal?"

"Not for my intentions, my dear friend." The Governor flung open cabinets until, smiling at his find, he grabbed a fist-sized databank in each hand. He ran to the console and slotted the first databank in. He explained as his fingers navigated the computer's operating system. "Osyraa was pursuing ways to keep The Chain alive, which means addressing our energy crisis by any means. The details of her mission will be in the congressional archives. If we're to keep Eta Eridani alive, we must have a continuation of government, legitimacy to any claims, and the information to pick up where Osyraa left off. So I'm taking the whole archive with me."

Kai'a'li bent over the communications console and hacked away at the security network. They spoke as they worked. "Substantial reward, for significant risk. Do not be long. The microts increase your chance of harm."

The first databank filled. The Governor slotted another and transferred thousands of yottaquads of data from the quantum server network. "We're well past that, friend. Right now we're as screwed as the rest of The Chain, broken as it is. It's every power block, every warlord, every petty dictator for themselves. With these documents, Eta Eridani may have a fighting chance."

"I have breached the security network. Shutting down transporter inhibitors."

"Good. And another lesson in politics for you." He snatched the last databank and ran to the communications console. "Nothing fosters good will with your future allies quite like saving their lives." He smacked the transmit button. "This is Governor Leonidas Van-Der-Puls Hawksley of the Eta Eridani Confederation. We are breaking from The Chain. As our first act of sedition, we've deactivated the transport inhibitors. Good luck everyone and keep liberty's light shining on. Hawksley out."

Kai'a'li clicked a sound of a Xindi indignant. "I suppose I should thank you for guarantying my continued employment?"

"Yes, but not as my bodyguard, chief regulator Kai'a'li."

Their head arched back as she vocalized a click of surprise. "I did not expect a field promotion. Thank you! At least that's what I'll say if we survive this chaos."

"We will, providing O'Key has everything under control on the Meridian." Governor Hawksley discarded the stolen regulator tricom and tapped his badge twice.

Instantly materializing himself and Kai'a'li to the bridge of the Hundreth Meridian, to a bridge in chaos. The viewscreen showed the darting forms of shuttles and ships scattering in all directions, some blazing at targets, identify friend or foe transponders largely ignored. One shot rattled the Meridian, but not its Orion captain, calm if slightly flustered, in the starship melee.

"Report." Demanded the Governor.

Captain O'key, visibly relieved to see The Governor alive, began his report. "Our own people surrounded us and demanded our surrender the second congress convened, Sir. Some captains took exception to that, and now it's a smeggin' free-for-all! We lost the Phantom Power, and the Fifty Mission Cap suffered damaged, but we're both warp capable and ready to leave on your command."

Governor Hawksley grimaced at the loss of the Phantom Power. It was a tiny, pre-Burn corvette, but any loss in his eyes was a terrible waste.

But the two ships he had over congress, Cap the frigate, and his flagship, the battlecruiser Meridian, would be lost soon if they didn't rejoin his two remaining light cruisers, Bobcaygeon and Little Bones.

He wanted to thank Captain O'Key for his foresight in allowing the light cruisers to lag behind, citing 'engine troubles'. Without them, Eta Eridani had only a few corvettes and courier vessels for protection.

And all he had to secure his own future.

"The Chain is broken. It's time to leave. Set a course back home, Admiral O'key."

"All ships, back home, warp seven, engage!" The newly promoted Admiral ordered. The Meridian jumped to warp immediately. Once jumped out of danger, O'key asked, "Wait, The Chain is broken? And what is this Admiral O'key nonsense? Do you even have that authority, Sir?"

Governor Hawksley chuckled. "We're about to live through interesting times, Admiral. Only people with authority now are the ones who take it."

"So it's settled." O'key slumped in the captain's chair. He removed his officer's cap and wiped his brow. Years of service to The Chain, and to Eta Eridani's contribution to the fleet, the war of loyalties played out plainly on the newly-minted admiral's face. "It really is broken. Suppose I should have seen it coming. But still..."

"Yes my old friend. I'm afraid The Chain really is broken, this time for good." Governor Hawksley eyes fixated on the stars streaking past the viewscreen. His ship, his people, passing an ocean of stars, several of those lights were the distant suns of his Eta Eridani Confederation.

And all waiting for his guidance.

The Federation's utopian ideals weren't strong enough to survive The Burn, so they barely kept alive. The Emerald Chain's merchantile capitalism couldn't keep its ideals intact while suffering scarcity, so they compromised those ideals.

He knew a change was coming. Somehow Starfleet triumphed, the Federation was on the rise again, but history proved how fragile alliances were in the face of disaster. The Chain was further proof once sundered, and time was running out to take a piece of the power.

Therefore, it was, in Governor Hawksley's thinking, his responsibility to find another way. For his people, his planets, and himself, before he lost the chance forever.

"But worry not my friends. We'll not only survive it's breaking. We'll be the ones in power."

An Emerald Chain invigilator, driven and pulled by history.

An EDF beat cop, the reluctant protector.

And an agent of the V'shar, uncertain about the future.

Joined by chance, hunted by the ambitious.

And bound together by an artifact of forbidden power.

The Emerald Chain is broken. The Federation is reborn.

It's a new age. Change is coming fast.

Will they survive to see it? Be consumed by the old order?

Or will the power they hold destroy everything?

Coming soon.