The Federation News Service showed white-haired, white-whiskered Ra'ghoratreii, the Efrosian President of the Federation, standing at a podium. The Federation Great Seal acted as the background. Spock could only watch with growing surprise.
"This scandal is a sad event for us all. We have been given a mandate by the peoples of the Federation to lead the Council through times both good and bad. The scandal indicates a failure to carry out that mandate. The continuation of this shameful chapter in Federation history would be a betrayal of the spirit of the Federation Charter. We need concord among the citizens of the Federation." Ra'ghor took his spectacles off as he paused in his speech. "That is why, as of twenty minutes ago, I have accepted the resignation of St. John Talbot from the office of Vice-President of the United Federation of Planets."
A murmur sounded off-screen as reporters and spectator reacted to this announcement.
"As per the Federation Charter, I will submit the nomination of Fleet Admiral William Toddman to the Federation Council as a replacement for St. John Talbot. To respect the spirit of the Federation Charter, Admiral Toddman will resign his commission in the Federation Starfleet. Thank you for your support, your patience and your understanding. That is all."
The viewscreen deactivated just as Ra'ghor turned to leave the press conference room. Spock was reeling from the revelations.
"You will agree, Spock," said Praetor Ael Saren Charvanek, smiling ferally, "that we now need each other just as our two worlds need each other in reunion."
San Francisco, Earth
Captain Bruce Finnegan said, "Say, Jim, now that ol' Bill is gonna be Vice-President, who's gonna be C-n-C?"
Chief of Starfleet Operations James Kirk shrugged. "I don't know. That's up to the Federation Council."
"Ok, Jim, I better get to the taxi service for your boy."
Once Finnegan was gone, Kirk returned to his work. But he paused for a long time to think. Whoever would be Commander-in-Chief of Starfleet would need to deal with the crises facing the Federation in tandem with the Palais.
He hoped that it would be easier from now on.
- - -
As the Excelsior's shields glowed brightly under the solar assault, the tractor beam reversed polarity, becoming a repulsor beam. The Majestic shot away from the Excelsior into the hyperspace window. Some of the stellar core fragments hit the Miranda-class ship, tearing off a warp nacelle. Her hull bent under the pressure of the impacts and the gravity turbulence. The whole ship glowed from the intense heat. The window closed the instant the Majestic was through it. But not before the liquid plasma spill became as water rushing from an open faucet.
The strength of the gravity turbulence jumped up. Lojur and Tiffe struggled together to keep the Excelsior stable.
"Get us out of here!"
Lojur executed Sulu's order almost before the captain was finished. The starship pivoted on its axis, aiming its bow back the way it came, and flew forth on impulse power, shields flaring against the spreading plasma and core fragments.
Tuvok said, "Hyperspace in this area is…" He faintly frowned. "…having a seizure for lack of a better description. It appears that our action has affected the star."
- - -
A Vorlon flotilla powered down the green energy crosshairs between the ships' arms. The Vorlons were scanning for two escaped Federation starships when they noticed that there was something wrong with the red giant star nearby.
The red star's surface seemed to convulse, pulsate and boil. The boiling action became massive and it began to throw off helium flashes. Flare activity increased exponentially.
The Vorlon commander decided it was time to leave the area. The massive mothership turned as it opened a jumppoint. Its companions, two light cruisers and the single squadron of fighters hurried into the orange-yellow jumppoint, followed by the mothership. The jumppoint closed behind the Vorlons, leaving the star alone with its fate.
The red giant star continued to violently throb and boil. Soon, each of the star's magnetic poles shot hot neutrino jets. They became large twin explosions as the star shed its outer layers. For the duration of a brief moment, the star's temperature quickly rose from red-hot to white-hot and beyond until it seemed to shine mostly with ultraviolet and x-ray light. This caused the star to become almost transparent as it shrunk for the briefest of moments, collapsing. The collapse instantly reversed into a brilliant explosion, plowing into the already expelled cooler gases, creating a light show that would drown out all of the stars in the sector.
The star had gone supernova.
AND NOW THE CONTINUATION OF SHADOWS AND DUST…
Federation News Service
A middle-aged looking man sat at a desk in front of a window that showed the night lights of San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge in the distance.
"Greetings. I am Tim Pennington of the Federation News Service. In the hundred and thirty-two years since the founding of the Federation, we have explored much of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants of the galaxy, establishing outposts, colonies, and gaining new members for the Federation Council. In all that time, we've discovered some of the wonders and terrors of the galaxy. None of these discoveries have made a greater impact on us than the rift formed at Starbase 10. Located near the Romulan Neutral Zone, the Quantum Rift, as it is sometimes called, has been a source of controversy as well as opportunities for new technologies and contacts, such as with the Centauri Republic, the Earth Alliance and the Minbari Federation."
Tim turned to face another camera, now looking worried. "It is not without its problems."
Behind him, the window became a huge map of a galactic region. Territories were marked out in colors. The map was centered on the cross-hairs labeled 'Quantum Rift' which was in between the Ventuki Conglomerate and the Centauri Republic. In another area of the map, a star blinked between the purple space of the Centauri Republic and the grey space of the Vorlon Empire, near the blue territory of the Minbari Federation.
"For example, the other universe accessible through the Quantum Rift may have influenced Spock of Vulcan to defect to the Romulan Empire. He has been indicted by Starfleet Command and the Federation Judicial Council in absentia. Furthermore, we have received reports of a star going supernova on the border of the Vorlon Empire. While supernovae are a natural phenomenon, this one is not. Insiders in the Palais de la Concorde informed the Federation News Service that Starfleet may be involved in creating this supernova."
The background behind Tim changed to show an image of Babylon 5. "Kosh, the Vorlon Ambassador at Babylon 5, has refused to be contacted. However, we were able to contact Londo Mollari, Ambassador for the Centauri Republic on the space station Babylon 5."
Tim and Babylon 5 vanished to be replaced by a view of Londo Mollari sitting in his quarters. The Centauri ambassador looked angry. "This is exactly the kind of behavior that endangers the very purpose of Babylon 5. We are supposed to find peaceful solutions to our problems! For your government to send starships to try and provoke the Vorlons like this is incredibly reckless and irresponsible. Ever since you came here, we've had nothing but problems from you. If you really want to nuke your own foot, it's not our problem. Still, to endanger our Republic with your behavior for no reason…."
"What do you mean?" asked an unseen reporter.
"This supernova has damaged our jumpgate at Zwiest. Jumpgates are extremely expensive! Fortunately, our ally, the Earth Alliance is working with the Republic to repair the gate."
"What about reports of your wars with neighboring worlds? Aren't these expensive?"
Londo archly responded, "Our affairs are not yours to discuss. Doesn't your Federation have a Prime Directive? Doesn't that law prohibit your Starfleet to interfere in other cultures?" He shook his head at what he obviously thought to be stupid. "The hypocrisy is amazing. You've helped Mars Colony against the Earth Alliance even though it's not your affair. Remember, the Centauri Republic has a mutual defense treaty with the Earth government."
Tim Pennington and the window overlooking the San Francisco Bay were back. "Ambassador Mollari mentioned our interference with the Earth Alliance's Mars Colony. Unlike our Confederated Martian Colonies, the EA's Mars Colony is officially under direct Earth rule and is undergoing its own version of the Martian Revolution. Captain Hikaru Sulu of the starship Excelsior installed Federation orbital defense satellites around that colony in defiance of the government and military of Earth Alliance President Morgan William Clark."
The anchorman turned back to the first camera.
"Since William Toddman has become the Vice-President of the Federation, the post of Fleet Admiral and Commander-in-Chief of Starfleet has been empty. In the first floor of the Palais de la Concorde in Paris, the Federation Council has convened to discuss who would replace Mr. Toddman as Fleet Admiral."
The view shifted to the Federation Council chamber in the first floor of the Palais in Paris. President Ra'ghor stood at the glass podium at the end of the rectangular council chamber while representatives from the Federation's member worlds sat in rows along the long sides of the chamber.
"As you all know," Ra'ghor said, "Vice-President William Toddman has resigned his commission in Starfleet. Starfleet is in need of a strong hand at the helm as Fleet Admiral and Commander-in-Chief. I hereby nominate for appointment to that position Admiral James Tiberius Kirk."
The councilors stirred and murmured among themselves in surprise.
Tim Pennington came back. "The discussion concerning the position of Fleet Admiral is ongoing. In related news, the Federation Council has not voted for a declaration of war against the Earth Alliance. That, however, may not prevent future skirmishes between EarthForce and Starfleet. The Federation News Service has received reports that the Starfleet blockade of Earth Alliance's Mars Colony continues to prevent EarthForce from reaching the Martian rebels…."
Sol System, Earth Alliance
Xavier Montoya, formerly military governor of Mars and now Provisional President of Mars, was being confronted by a beautiful blonde woman in a dress suit.
"An armada at the Asteroid Belt?" inquired Montoya tiredly.
"Composed of Omegas, Hyperions and Novas!" said the woman.
"You think they'll head here, Miss Halloran?"
The woman fumed at the provisional president. "Number One! Don't ever use my name. Number One!"
"What does it matter? We're free. Your organization doesn't have to hide anymore. We don't have to worry too much about EarthForce. The Federation orbital batteries will greet them."
Tessa Halloran bit back an angry retort. The blonde woman took a breath before patiently replying. "The platforms will fire on armed ships. But not unarmed ships. An assassin can still slip through and kill me or you. That is why it's imperative you don't ever use my name!" She looked through the window up at the dome obscuring the Martian sky. "We don't know if the platforms will protect us."
"We'll soon see," said Montoya. He was so tired.
Tessa sighed. "I'm going to put the bases, thunderbolt squadrons and laser sentries on alert. If EarthForce breaks through, MarsGuard will have its first test."
Montoya gave her a look. When Captain Sulu cut Mars off from Clark's forces, the Martian rebels managed to seize all EarthForce assets on the planet and established a planetary military force called MarsGuard. So if EarthForce managed to reach Mars, they'd face the Martian thunderbolts and laser sentries that would strike at them from planetside.
"You know…just in case."
He knew she meant in case the Federation weapon platforms didn't work as advertised.
Sol System, Earth Alliance
Jumppoints tore across the dark heavens of Mars orbit. A large EarthForce fleet came out of the jumppoints. It was an impressive collection of Omega, Nova and Hyperion warships. The fleet slowly divided into three wings of each class as it approached the first few orbital batteries that formed the outer rim of the Starfleet defense grid protecting Mars. The four dozen automated orbital weapon platforms holding the red planet in a protective cocoon were silent, dark and ominous.
One of the nine Omega destroyers took the lead in taking a closer look at the orbital batteries left by Captain Sulu after he forced a halt to Clark's bombing of Mars. The distant sun lit up the name EAS Acheron emblazoned on port side of the Omega, which was flanked by an escort of two Hyperions.
Aboard the Acheron and seated in its command chair, General Fontaine was frowning at the image of the weapon platforms on a large monitor. He said, "Don't look like much, do they?"
"No, sir," said Captain Elizabeth Lochley who was standing ramrod straight with hands clasped at her back. She stared straight ahead at the monitor showing the bulbous white orbital batteries.
Fontaine studied the image. His job was to smash through the defense grid established by Captain Sulu around Mars, go straight for the red planet, and open the way for General Franklin's troop transports waiting in hyperspace. He needed to test the Starfleet weaponry available in the platforms. General Fontaine flicked a switch on an armrest of his command chair, opening a channel. "This is fleet command. Vesta and Juno, launch fighters and assume point."
Starfury and Thunderbolt fighters swarmed out of the mouths of the two named Omega-class destroyers.
Captain Lochley read incoming information on her monitor and reported, "One thousand kilometers to optimum firing range. Pulse cannons standing by, ready to fire. Defense grid armed, ready to fire. Sir, do we load missile tubes?"
Fontaine leaned forward in his chair and steepled his hands in front of his face, still studying the image of the Federation batteries. "No. We'll see how we handle them first."
The stern-looking female captain gave a curt nod and went back to her task of monitoring the fleet's actions.
Captain Ellis Pierce watched as the furies fly out of the mouths of the Vesta and the Juno. The African-descent man put his upper body weight on an elbow on an armrest. Idly, he fingered his graying hair.
"Looks like we're in for it, Lieutenant."
The Hyperion's executive officer, Matthew Gideon, nodded. "Yes, sir. All reports on the Feds indicate incredibly advanced technology and powerful weaponry." The young lieutenant frowned as he remembered the destruction of his previous ship, the EAS Cerberus, which fell to a mysterious black ship. He wondered briefly whether a Federation starship could fight the black ship.
The captain looked up from his command chair at Gideon. He thought he knew what the lieutenant was thinking about. "You worried? Don't be. A show of force is required. If they know we're serious about their interferences, they'd have to talk to us or back off."
Gideon took a moment before saying, "Yes, sir." He knew that Captain Pierce would take his pause as indication of unvoiced doubts.
On a monitor, they could see the starfuries sweeping forward into the field of batteries. They fired their bolter guns at them. Shields effortlessly shrugged off the plasma bolts. Then phasers retaliated, eliminating several of the fighters and causing several more to spiral out of control.
Gideon cocked his head and raised an eyebrow. He was impressed by the very powerful weaponry and technology. He echoed Pierce's earlier statement, "Looks like we're in for it, sir."
Fontaine grunted at the sight of the Federation batteries swatting down the starfuries like flies. He opened the communication channel again. "This is fleet command. All ships, launch fighters."
Many squadrons of fighters swarmed from the Earth warships' mouths and made their runs into the Federation defense grid. General Fontaine looked up at Lochley with a questioning look.
The Acheron's captain knew what the general wanted to know. She took a quick glance at her monitor and said, "We've reached optimum firing range."
The general nodded and gave an order into the still-open channel: "Dreadnought group, advance to broadside range and open fire."
The Nova-class dreadnoughts labored to turn aside to bring the maximum number of their powerful cannons to bear. Once they were perpendicular to the edge of the battery field, they leaned only enough to have all of the cannons on either the topside or the bottom aimed at the weapon platforms while still allowing one side of the bottom or top cannons to make their locks. Novas were a terror in the Dilgar War and their saturation fire was such that they even scored hits in the Earth-Minbari War. The Minbari had learned to respect the Novas to the extent of making their destruction a priority in battles.
Now they would be tested against the military might of the United Federation of Planets, even if the targets were only automated weapon platforms. They chose targets, locked onto them and warned the starfuries in their fields of fire to move out of the way.
They opened fire with their oversized twin plasma cannons and particle beam guns.
The computers in the white bulbous Federation orbital batteries had detected the EarthForce fleet coming out of hyperspace and had been watching it with their subspace sensors. The directives given them was to shoot only armed ships and only if the ships came into the field of batteries as well as if the ships opened fire on them. Just as they did with the starfuries.
Shields on individual automated weapon platforms flared under the Novas' fire. In some, the computers drew more power from their fusion reactors to keep the shields shored up. They detected other ships in the EarthForce fleet advancing upon them with their weapons armed. The vessels, which the Federation computers recognized to be of the Omega- and Hyperion-classes, opened fire. Then, following their directives, the computers struck back.
The Federation orbital batteries let loose a massive barrage of firepower against the EarthForce armada in the form of phasers and photon torpedoes. Immediately, several EarthForce ships were damaged by the phaser beams and bolts.
The wave of photon torpedoes flew at the EarthForce ships whose interceptor grids were firing their own bolts. Some of the torpedoes exploded. Many of the explosions released photonic shockwaves which struck the nearby Earth ships, causing them to visibly shake under the assault. EarthForce did not know that the risk of photonic shockwaves was the reason Starfleet did not generally employ point defense tactics against photon torpedoes.
As the interceptor grids labored to shoot down the incoming torpedoes, they were overwhelmed by the torpedoes' speed, number and maneuverability. Antimatter annihilations scourged a lumbering Nova-class ship. Flames bloomed from its hulls as phasers from other batteries joined in the assault. The Nova returned fire with its plasma cannons, but another phaser assault caused the heavy warship to list as lights flickered onboard.
The EarthForce fleet continued to advance into the Federation defense grid and returned fire at the weapon platforms, but they failed to penetrate the Federation shields.
Lochley had to hold onto a rail as the Acheron rocked under enemy fire. "We're unable to break through their force shields!"
General Fontaine watched as the EAS Pollux opened with its main forward cannons, putting four bursts onto a battery even as it fired a series of photon torpedoes at it. The Pollux's lasers lashed again as explosions billowed out of part of the Omega destroyer's armor as the destroyer made its way past the battery. Phaser beams and bolts kept hitting it in a constant rain, causing its centrifugal section to visibly malfunction, slowing to a stuttering stop.
"Load missile tubes! All ships, fire at will! Repeat, fire at will!"
The Acheron rocked again as it took a hit and Fontaine had to grit his teeth against the rocking.
Captain Lochley shouted to be heard over the din of battle, "Vesta is coming about! Pollux and Heracles are hit but continue to fight! Juno, Nemesis and the Furies are advancing into the defense grid and engaging the batteries!" She gritted her teeth as her ship took another hit. "Tubes loaded and ready!"
Missiles armed with conventional warheads flew forth from open missile silos in the Acheron's sides. Several were shot down with phaser beams, but the others went through to detonate against shields which flared and glowed brightly. The weapon platforms weren't visibly damaged.
"Damn," whispered Fontaine. "Load the tubes with nukes!"
Lochley didn't bat an eyelash at the order. "Nukes loaded and ready, sir!"
Soon after the general gave his order, the battery field was alive with new brief suns. As the nuclear detonations faded, shields could be seen glowing around the batteries. Only a few showed some scorch marks.
Fontaine's face fell. "Damn. Damn."
Three of the Federation batteries cooperated in firing phasers at a Hyperion, causing it to tumble sideway before exploding. Other Hyperions rushed into the field of batteries, all guns and missiles firing. Federation shields, however, were difficult for the armada to overcome. A continuous phaser beam managed to drill straight through another Hyperion, putting it out of commission.
"That was the Aegean!" shouted Lieutenant Gideon. He then saw something on the viewing monitor that caused him to point. "Captain!"
Pierce turned around in time to watch the clearly heavily damaged Hyperion-class EAS Pournelle set its engines on full burn. As starfuries flew around in rapid evasive maneuvers while exchanging fire with the orbital batteries, the Pournelle rammed into one of the weapon platforms, overwhelming its shields and pushing it a short distance. The Earth ship's bow crumpled and the whole white-blue ship exploded. The platform soon followed suit by crumpling and shattering. Immediately, its ordinance of photon torpedoes ignited and detonated, creating a massive serial explosion that buffeted nearby ships, fighters and batteries. Those that were already damaged came apart at the pressure of the fiery shockwaves.
The swarms of starfuries continued to try and make their marks. Explosions and disabled fighters were all that resulted from their efforts.
Still, EarthForce advanced into the fire towards Mars.
As the EarthForce armada fired back at the orbital batteries and failed to penetrate their shields, General Fontaine grunted against his safety harnesses. Sparks fountained from a computer console as his Omega rocked violently as it absorbed enemy fire despite the interceptor grid's labor.
"We can't get through the force shields!" Lochley said again.
"Keep firing! We have to get through!"
On a monitor, Fontaine saw three Novas coordinate their plasma cannons onto a single weapon platform, causing it to lose shields and explode. But not before a storm of phasers took one of the offending ships out of the action.
Slamming a fist into an armrest, Fontaine shouted, "That's the way to do it! Tell the fleet to coordinate their attack on individual platforms!"
"I'm on it!"
The battle still raged. More ships fell in fiery deaths and still more tumbled under Federation fire. The EarthForce armada continued to lose more and more ships in the barrage from the orbital batteries, scoring only a few successful hits on the weapons platforms. Missiles, tipped with conventional and nuclear warheads, competed with photon torpedoes. Only the nukes managed to damage shields, but EarthForce's scanning technology was not designed to assess and analyze force shields. So the Earthers continued fighting and throwing all the weapons available in their arsenals at the Federation weapon platforms.
A wave of photon torpedoes slammed into General Fontaine's flagship. Voices came to him from all over the bridge.
"New hull breaches on decks two, three and four!"
"I've lost helm control!"
"Main power's offline!"
Lochley hissed. "The Juno's withdrawing from battle!"
The damaged Omega ship made a turn about as it hazardously opened a jumppoint. The jumppoint tore apart several Federation weapon platforms. The EAS Hyperion seized this moment to make a dive for the jumppoint, leaving the field of battle. The Juno then dove into hyperspace, engine thrusters visibly sputtering.
The Pollux, engines dark from demolition, but still advancing under its own momentum, laid two heavy hits on a weapon platform, which launched photon torpedoes straight into the ship's bow. One torpedo managed to fly right into the Pollux's mouth. The photon torpedoes' detonations took out the ship's entire front.
At the sight of the burning wreck of the Pollux, Fontaine urged the doomed ship's crew under his breath, "Get to the lifepods. Get to the lifepods."
The red light of a massive explosion played from the monitor focused on the Pollux. Fontaine pursed his lips in consternation. Lochley's next report was unnecessary:
"Pollux destroyed! Nemesis is taking severe damage and is requesting permission to withdraw."
Things were not much better on the bridge of the Acheron. Through the smoke, Fontaine could see an officer helping an injured crewman off the deck.
"General!" urged Lochley. "We're taking severe damage, too! What are your orders?"
The Acheron continued to rock under phaser fire. General Fontaine's knuckles whitened as he gripped the arms of his chair. An explosion on the bridge killed two of the officers. Lights and consoles began to go out. The general was a veteran of the Earth-Minbari War, a determined man and as loyal to the Earth Alliance Constitution as Captain Lochley, and by extension, to President Clark. But he was also not stupid. He knew that the battle was lost. He pressed the ship intercom button in a chair arm.
"Fleet command to all ships, retreat! Repeat, retreat!" Fontaine then switched channels. "Abandon ship! Abandon ship! All hands to the lifepods!"
An officer shouted over the din, "Sir! Are you sure? That'll leave us defenseless to those things!"
Fontaine looked at the officer who was nursing his left arm which was bent at an unnatural angle. "That damned Fed captain said the batteries wouldn't fire on unarmed vessels. It's time we find out if he was lying." With that, he clicked his harnesses open and stood up from his chair.
Soon enough, Lochley was helping Fontaine into a lifepod in which a dozen other officers were already cramped. The Acheron's female captain pushed the hatch close from within the lifepod, lifted a clear plastic housing a large button and banged on the button with a fist. There was a whoosh and a shake, and in the hatch's tiny window, they could see the Acheron as the pod shot away from it. Lochley never took her eyes off her dying ship. As their pod got further away, they could see other tiny lifepods flying away from the crippled ship unmolested, as well as other wreckage of broken ships and fighters. Phaser beams and bolts continued to rip apart the Acheron until it exploded, consuming two delayed lifepods.
The light of the explosion filled Elizabeth Lochley's face as it twisted in rage and hatred.
Montoya and Tessa were looking at a wall monitor which displayed a representation of the battle in orbit of Mars. They could see most of the surviving EarthForce ships moving to flee even as more died in the continuous phaser storm. The further ships began to vanish off the monitor, indicating that they've jumped into hyperspace.
"I believe I owe you an apology," said Tessa.
Montoya glanced at her. He appeared to be a little surprised. "You don't owe me an apology, Number One. The orbital weapon platforms worked as advertised." He became somber. "But the price is high. So high. These are fellow Humans dying out there."
The blonde woman watched the monitor stonily with steely eyes. "Not our fault. It's Clark paying the price."
President Montoya sighed. He would be glad when the civil war was over.
Palais de la Concorde
United Federation of Planets
Ra'ghoratreii, elbows on the presidential desk, rubbed his forehead. Being President of the Federation was an exciting job, but the excitement was the kind that induced headaches in the Efrosian man. One of his two stomachs gurgled slightly. He raised his head and pushed his long white hair back as he reached for the small bowl of Levithi nuts. Popping some of them into his mouth, he appreciated the oily taste of the nuts which grew only on his homeworld, Efros. The only Earth nut that could approximate the taste of Levithi was Macadamia, but Macadamia nuts lacked the oils required for Efrosian health.
Chewing the nuts, Ra'ghor wondered about the previous users of the desk. The desk was supposed to be made from the timber of the ancient seagoing ship Resolute. Its bigger brother was used by the Presidents of the United States before it was destroyed during the nuclear exchange in Earth's Third World War. This particular one came from the Buckingham Palace in London. Did the presidents, kings and queens who used the desk enjoy their jobs? Did the pre-Contact executives think that this desk would one day serve the executives of a vast interstellar realm?
After swallowing the chewed nuts, Ra'ghor sighed as he glanced down at the papers on his desk. His brilliant blue eyes were weak, as was the case for most Efrosians, so he had to put on a pair of glasses. He would have preferred someone read the reports out loud. Writing did not exist in Efrosian culture which was based on a musical language. Nevertheless as Federation President, he had to be proficient in reading and writing.
The intercom on his desk chirped for attention. The voice of his secretary said, "Mr. President, the Vice-President and the Admiral are here."
The headache refused to go away. Ra'ghor pulled open a drawer and picked up a small tube. He squeezed a pill out of the tube and popped it into his mouth. Almost immediately, he thought he could feel his headache going away.
Pressing a button in the intercom, Ra'ghor said, "Send them in."
One of the two side doors leading into the Presidential Office on the fifteenth floor of the French Third Empire style Palais opened, admitting William Toddman and James Kirk.
Ra'ghor stood up and smiled at the visitors. "Ah, Bill. Admiral Kirk. My congratulations on your promotion. I trust that all is well at Starfleet Headquarters?"
Kirk inclined his head in greeting and shrugged. "I'm settling in. May I speak freely, Mr. President?"
Ra'ghor smiled. "You may. That's the Fleet Admiral's job, isn't it? You're supposed to speak freely with your President."
He chuckled softly. "With all due respect, why me? Why make me the Fleet Admiral? I'm not saying I can't do it. I can. But you know in the past, I've always been reluctant about the admiralty. I would have thought he'd prefer being starship captain."
The President nodded as he gestured for Kirk and Toddman to take a seat in two of the plush chairs in the office. Sitting, Ra'ghor said, "Blame that on Bill. I'll be frank, Jim: I thought I would have nominated Admiral Androvar Drake but Bill persuaded me to go with you."
Toddman said, "We need heroes in these troubling times. Jim, I think you have finally realized that instead of a small starship of metal warping around the galaxy, you could think of the whole of Starfleet like a starship. The Enterprise is gone and the Enterprise-B is still in the Antares Ship Yards. You know it's time for new blood to come to the fore. Any doubt I had about you was banished by how keen you've been so far in your admiralty."
Kirk arched an eyebrow and nodded his acceptance. "Good."
Toddman leaned forward in his seat, signaling his need to speak. "Mr. President, it is because of 'these troubling times' that we've come to you. We need more security for the Federation."
"More security, Bill?"
"Yes, sir. We are in a state of war with both the Earth Alliance and the Centauri Republic, and there's the possibility of war with the Vorlon Empire, not to mention the Romulans."
The President frowned. "One: We are not at war." Ra'ghor then looked over his spectacles at Toddman and raised his eyebrows. "Two: The possibility of war with the Vorlon Empire is because of Starfleet, if Captain Sulu's report is to be believed. Three: We're still working through diplomatic channels to ease the tensions with the Romulan Empire. If we could make peace with the Klingons, we certainly could have peace with the Romulans."
Kirk said, "It is true that we're not at war. However, Starfleet is forced into a quasi-war with the Centauri and the Earthers. We have to deal with that. We've tried diplomacy and it has failed." He glanced over to Toddman. "Starfleet Tactical and Starfleet Intelligence believe that the Vorlons won't go to war. It's simply not in their modus operandi, as far as we know." He took a microtape from a pocket in her pants and stood to hand it across the desk to Ra'ghor. The President glanced at the solid colored square of portable data storage and looked back at Kirk as he continued speaking.
"I've prepared a report compiled by Starfleet Intelligence. Put simply, evidence has surfaced pointing to an alliance between the Shadows and certain elements within the Romulan, Centauri and Earth Alliance governments. Intelligence agents are working with an organization in the other universe known as the Anla'shok or the Rangers."
Toddman frowned. "I'm still not sure about having Starfleet Intelligence working so closely with a foreign agency." He turned to the President. "Still, this reinforces the reports I got of an alliance between the Romulans and the Centauri. As you may know, the Centauri are fighting the Narn Resistance which is itself allied with the Klingon Empire."
Ra'ghor looked as if he just ate a lemon. "Proxy wars."
"I hope that this doesn't spill over to our side, even if, as you say, we have a quasi-war with the Centauri. The Klingons are our allies." He raised a hand to his forehead, feeling the first whispers of a new headache. "What's your recommendation?"
Toddman exchanged a glance with Kirk and said, "Increase security for Starfleet. Bring in telepaths for surface scans of those entering sensitive areas. Sit on these intelligence reports. Do not officially acknowledge the existence of the Shadows."
"Telepaths?" Ra'ghor was not sure he liked the suggestion to use telepaths to scan people's minds. He sighed. "Very well. Only if the increased security is limited to Starfleet vessels and facilities. I won't have paranoia disrupting the people's lives and our lives in the Palais."
Kirk said, "What about sending starships to Starbase 10?"
Toddman shook his head in negation. "That would make the Romulans more paranoid than usual. Besides, an ion storm seems to be slowly developing in the sector. I would suggest we gather a fleet in the Laurentian System. Say it's for a war game. It's far enough from the Neutral Zone yet near enough to quickly reach the starbase if necessary."
The President nodded in agreement. "Very well. I'll contact the government of Laurent about permitting the ships in their system." He stood, signaling an end to the meeting.
Toddman and Kirk stood up. "Thank you, Mr. President," they said.
When the door closed behind the two Human men, Ra'ghor sat back down tiredly. He activated the intercom. "Get me a sign language interpreter. I need to contact the Laurentian government."
"Yes, Mr. President."
The last he heard of Laurent was that the colony of Deaf people was negotiating formal relations with the royal family of Ramatis III and the government of the Plaeties System.
The work of a President never ends. He swallowed another of the pills he kept in his desk.
Sausalito, California, Earth
United Federation of Planets
The lights of the New Cetacean Institute had been augmented with additional pinpoint lights strung around the institute's deck facing the San Francisco Bay. These lights were reflected in the water of the Bay, brightly imitating the twinkling stars in the night sky.
Well-dressed people mingled on the deck above the shore. Some of them wore the delta insignia, wine-red tunic and black pants of Starfleet. White-tuxedoed waiters carried trays of champagne in flutes and chocolate truffles made in the shape of sea creatures.
Leonard McCoy was one of those holding a half-empty champagne flute. He groused, "Why the hell are we here?"
His friend, Dr. Jabilo Geoffrey M'Benga smiled at Dr. McCoy's grousing. "It's a nice break from Starfleet Medical, isn't it? I, for one, appreciate the chance to get away from the Stanford Medical Center. Look over there." M'Benga gestured with his own flute of champagne.
The two doctors watched a Vulcan man pluck several chocolate truffles off a waiter's tray. Though he still had his Vulcan reserve, the doctors' sharp eyes could see the small tell-tale signs of slight intoxication. Where Humans got drunk with alcohol, Vulcans did with chocolate.
"As you can see, Leonard, even Vulcans need a break now and then."
McCoy scoffed. "Tell that to Spock! If I ever find that damned fool—!"
M'Benga was not smiling anymore. "He may have his reasons. I don't understand why he's gone to Romulus, but I honestly don't think he's a defector. You know Admiral Kirk. Mutiny is Jim's story even if he's Commander-in-Chief now. That may have influenced Spock."
"Ah!" M'Benga deliberately turned away and raised a hand. "Uhura!"
Uhura saw M'Benga and came through the throng of people with a young stately man on her arm. She was dressed in a voluminous red embroidered dress.
"Hello, gentlemen." Uhura gave a dazzling smile that made her seem younger than she was. She turned to the man at her arm. "Aaron, these are the doctors I was talking about. Dr. McCoy and Dr. M'Benga, this is Judge Aaron Satie."
McCoy arched an eyebrow in an unconscious imitation of Spock. Aaron Satie seemed rather young to be a judge. He briefly wondered if Satie was one of the judges who indicted Spock in absentia. He mentally shook off the notion. Aaron was far too young to be in either the Supreme Court or the Judicial Council.
Satie said with a smile, "If I didn't already have my eye on a certain lady, I'd be very taken with Miss Uhura."
McCoy smiled wryly. "You should have seen her dance on Nimbus III. Sure knocked the socks right off of those rebels."
M'Benga chuckled. "Wish I was there. Must be quite a sight, the way the doctor tells it."
Uhura lightly and playfully slapped M'Benga's shoulder. "I'm not doing it again. Not when I'm teaching at Starfleet Academy."
McCoy was confused. "Teaching…? I thought—?"
Uhura held a finger to her lips. Judge Satie didn't see the gesture.
Instantly, the doctor understood. Uhura's teaching position at the Academy was a cover for her job in Starfleet Intelligence. Suddenly, she seemed to recognize someone in the crowd.
The doctors and the judge turned to see an African-descent woman in the uniform of a Starfleet admiral. Admiral Margaret Sinclair-Alexander inclined her head in greeting.
Uhura swept a flute glass off of a waiter's tray and pressed it into Margaret's hand. "Madge, how are you? I trust all's well at Starfleet Command? Where's your wife?"
The admiral smiled her thanks. "Cynthia's inside with Admiral Nogura." She looked around at the party. "Too bad Dr. Taylor's not here to see this."
Dr. McCoy said, "Well, Gillian's busy, what with her being our ambassador to the Abbai."
"Must be fascinating for her. A sentient aquatic species working to build a new interstellar alliance?" Madge shook her head in wonder. "It's like being there at the founding of the Federation. I had hoped to meet her. I never did thank her allowing the whales, Georgie and Gracie, save Earth from the Cetacean Probe."
Judge Satie interjected with surprise and interest, "You were there?"
The admiral nodded. "I was captain of the Saratoga that time."
Satie stepped forward and offered his arm to Madge. "Thank you, Miss Uhura for the wonderful evening. I think it's the admiral's turn to show me around the institute."
When the judge and admiral were out of earshot, McCoy leaned conspiratorially toward M'Benga and Uhura, and raised his right hand onto the left side of his mouth. "It's hard to see that the judge has eyes only for his 'certain lady'."
The others chuckled. M'Benga excused himself to find a restroom for himself and vanished into the crowd.
"Now, Uhura, will you tell me what are we doing?" McCoy bounced on his feet in irritation. "Blast it, woman, I didn't ask for an invitation to no damned fancy party!"
"The best place to hide something is in plain sight and the best place to talk about secrets is in a loud place," Uhura said archly. Sighing, she added, "First they told me that life was complicated. Then, they told me that business was complicated. Finally, they told me that the government was complicated. But no amount of forewarning could have prepared me for Starfleet Intelligence Command."
McCoy rolled his eyes. "I never signed up to Starfleet for all this cloak and dagger stuff."
"I didn't, either," shot back Uhura. Softening, she said, "I have to say this before Dr. M'Benga comes back: I got information from Tim Pennington and—"
"Wait, wait, you getting tips from a reporter?"
The doctor clammed up. Uhura's use of his first name showed how important she thought this was. He nodded for her to continue.
"He's an editor, not a reporter. Sometimes the news, especially the Federation News Service, is a good source of information. There's little difference between reporters and agents, except that reporters shout their information from the rooftops."
McCoy had to smile at the image that conjured. The great editor, reporter and anchorman Tim Pennington standing on a rooftop and shouting himself hoarse into the night. If this was early 21st century Earth, it would be tantamount to Anderson Cooper, Barbara Walters or Christiane Amanpour doing the same thing.
"Anyway, the Earth Alliance failed to break Sulu's blockade around Mars Colony."
"Good," grunted McCoy. "Clark had it coming to him. Bombing civilians…what is he, a blasted idiot?"
"EarthGov has declared war on the Federation."
McCoy stared dumbfounded. "I take it back. Clark's the biggest idiot in the galaxy, worse than the likes of Adrik Thorsen!"
Uhura had to agree. "But this is a distraction we could do without. The Rangers contacted Gillian and Ambassador Miranda Jones about rumors of a conspiracy of Shadows in our universe."
McCoy bit his lower lip in consternation. He knew that this 'conspiracy of Shadows' had affected the Earth Alliance. He didn't want to say his thought out loud but he had to: "So you think that's what behind whatever's fishy about Starfleet lately?"
Uhura shrugged. "I don't know. It fits what Ambassador Sarek told Spock before he died."
"Spock said that there's a cancer inside Starfleet, that there's a pattern that could mean someone's moving chess pieces around in preparation for a takeover of key Federation sectors." McCoy's forehead creased with worry. "Think the Shadows are behind that?"
"I have no idea."
McCoy quaffed what champagne was left in his flute and quickly exchanged it for a full flute with a passing waiter. "Does Admiral Nogura know?"
"Yes. I talked with him just before meeting Judge Satie. Starfleet Command has already proposed increased security and the use of telepaths to the President. I don't know what more we can do about this."
"Isn't Starfleet Command compromised?"
"Possibly." Uhura clearly didn't like the thought. "Admiral Nogura's not called 'The Old Man' or even 'God Himself' for nothing. If anyone could do something about this, it's him."
Heihachiro Nogura had come out of retirement to become the Commander-in-Chief of Starfleet immediately after the Rittenhouse Scandal in 2270 before making way for Fleet Admiral Dai Mehkan in 2276. Nogura had successfully repaired Starfleet's reputation in the aftermath of that scandal, and remained in the Admiralty, assisting Fleet Admirals Robert Bennett, William Toddman and now James Kirk.
"I wonder…is the Farragut still here?"
Uhura knew that the doctor was referring to the ship's captain, Sean Bruce Finnegan. He was there at P'Jem when Spock met Ambassador Sarek and Captain Thelin of the Republic.
"Yes. It'll be leaving for Starbase 10 soon. He might be able to do something here."
"I hope so," McCoy hurriedly said, seeing M'Benga coming back.
Uhura nodded and sipped her champagne.
The Grand Palais was a large glass and iron exhibition hall built for the Paris Exposition of 1900. Today, it served as a palatial greenhouse holding exotic plants from worlds all across the Federation. The early morning sun peaked through the glass panels above as William Toddman walked through garden. So many different plants from Earth and alien homeworlds arranged pleasingly to show the diversity and unity of the Federation. He had finished his morning run along the River Seine and crossed the Alexander III Bridge to step into the Grand Palais for a leisurely walk.
He knew that he would be very busy in the coming days, so he took this chance to walk through the Starfleet gardens before walking to the Palais de la Concorde standing between the Petit Palais, the Place de la Concorde and the Avenue des Champs Élysées.
The thought of that seat of Federation government allowed work to intrude upon his mind. He wondered about the great Admiral Nogura. Nogura knew so much. He had a formidable air and had the ability to get the job done. But could he be trusted?
Toddman had heard whispered rumors of people inside Starfleet, a secret group that fought dirty to keep the Federation clean. He had privately investigated these rumors on his own when these rumors increased slightly immediately after the Lantaru Disaster in which a scientist trying to harness an ultimate power source failed, destroying a research station and subspace throughout the Lantaru Sector. The investigation had come to a dead end except that at one point, Lance Cartwright may have been connected to that secret group.
Perhaps he should try to get in touch with that secret group and work with them to preserve the Federation. He had heard similar whispered rumors of people like Admirals Aaron Stone, José Mendez, Robert Wesley, and Commodores Nick Silver and Phil Waterston working against that group. The most he could find out was that James Kirk worked with that anti-group cadre while he was still captain shortly after the Lantaru Disaster.
Admiral Kirk. Could he be trusted? Toddman shook his head. Of course, he could. He was James T. Kirk, for heaven's sake! He wouldn't have persuaded the President to nominate Kirk for the Fleet Admiralty if he didn't think that he was trustworthy.
Toddman shook his head again and smelled a tall flower. He wasn't about to let the bogeyman get to him.
A moment later, he heard a snap. Toddman turned around and peered into the foliage and shadows. When he came into the Grand Palais, he seemed to be alone. Not so, anymore. He wished he had a phaser with him.
The response came in the form of phased plasma bolts narrowly missing his chest and sizzling into the plants. Toddman bolted, running through the flower beds. Another twig snapped behind him and he looked behind.
The pursuer came into a soft beam of morning sunlight, bringing well known features into view.
Plasma bolts pierced William Toddman in the chest. Death took him even as his scream echoed.