The admirals stride into the office of the President of the United Federation of Planets in phalanx formation, each with their shoulders squared and a veritable salad of ribbons and medals pinned to their chest. If they bothered to look behind themselves, they would see the spy leaning against the wall opposite the bay window overlooking Paris. But they don't. It is, the spy muses, a very Starfleet perspective -- and a very human one -- to only look forward.
"Madam President," Edward Jellico, Head of Starfleet Operations, says.
The President, an Aenar woman by the name Tahllian, nods. "Be seated."
They all do so.
Jellico went straight to the point. "Madam President, the Hobus Situation is at a critical juncture. We've known about the possibility of a Hobus supernova for weeks now. If we are to relieve the Romulan Empire in time, we need to deploy the Jellyfish within the next eight hours. Otherwise both Romulus and Remus will be engulfed in the Hobus supernova's shockwave."
"I am well aware that this situation is time critical, Admiral," she says, staring straight ahead from her seat at the desk, her blind eyes not focusing on anyone or anything. In the back of his brain, the spy feels the tingle of his anti-telepathy nanomachines warding off the President's casual touch. The President is trying to gauge the mood of the room. Understandable, considering her next words. "However, I am not convinced that it is in the Federation's interest to relieve the Romulan Empire."
Her statement sent a ripple of visible discomfort through the assorted admirals. "Madam President," Jellico says, "we're talking about billions of lives."
"Yes. We are." The President leans forward, folding her hands together on the top of her desk. "However, I am reminded of that peculiar Vulcan adage -- 'the needs of the many'..."
"I'm afraid I don't understand, Madam President. If we allow the destruction of Romulus, the Empire will descend on the Federation like wolves. They'll know we could have averted the destruction of their homeworld -- it's not like we can let Hobus destroy the Federation as well! We have to use the Red Matter at some point, and the sooner the better for all involved!"
She shakes her head. "Section 31 disagrees."
And like that, the admirals finally look behind themselves. Jellico keeps his aged face composed. The other admirals are less... predisposed to the spy's presence, and not merely due to his employment in the cloak and dagger field. Despite his long and distinguished career, the spy's rank insignia only marks him as a full lieutenant. He will never be promoted, not after his personal background had come to light. It would send the wrong message, politically. He had long ago made peace with that fact. Rank, after all, was a pittance compared to the privilege of defending one's ideals.
The spy leans off the wall, standing at casual attention. "Admiral Jellico. Sirs. Madam President."
"The head of Section 31," the President explains, "has information that will change your perspective on the situation, Admiral."
"I sincerely doubt that, ma'am."
The spy steps forward, each movement slow and deliberate. He extends a black gloved hand to Jellico, offering him a datapad. "I think you'll find this most informative, sir. It was retrieved by one of our operatives within the Tal Shiar."
Jellico scans the document before looking up. "This is the Dominion's plan for the invasion of Romulus."
"Yes and no. This is the plan for an invasion of Romulus, but it was not devised by the Dominion. We designed it."
Jellico gets it. The spy can see it in his eyes. "Who's 'we'? Section 31?"
"Actually, no. Section 31 considered such a scenario but decided the operation was far too risky to chance. It was, however, independently conceived of and executed by a Starfleet captain you are all familiar with -- Benjamin Sisko."
The spy relays the story to them. During the darkest days of the Dominion War, right after the conquest of Betazed, Captain Sisko of Deep Space Nine contacted a personal acquaintance, a Cardassian exile and former Obsidian Order operative by the name of Garak, for help. The Federation-Klingon Alliance was losing the war, and the only hope they had of beating the Dominion was to bring the then-neutral Romulans into the war. Together the two of them used illicit resources to create a near-perfect forgery -- a stolen data rod containing the Dominion's plan for the invasion of Romulus. The rod would then be passed off to a visiting high-ranking Romulan senator, who would in turn use the data rod as evidence to bring his people into the war on the Federation's side.
Only, before he could, the senator figured out the data rod was a fake.
"But then again," the spy says, "the rod was never expected to stand up to scrutiny. Instead the flaws in the data rod would be explained away as damage resulting from the destruction of the senator's shuttlecraft. Destruction caused by the bomb planted aboard it."
Jellico is appalled. "You're saying that the Federation was involved in the assassination of Senator Vreenak?"
"Directly, yes, though not intentionally. However, such semantics don't matter to the Romulans. It's still an act of war -- one which means our allies, even the Klingons, won't fight alongside us when the Romulans attack." When, not if.
The admirals are stunned, more so when the President confirms the story. "It's true. What's worse, however, is that they already know. They've known since shortly after they declared war on the Dominion. However, because they were forced to be our allies by the war, they were unable to press their advantage immediately. The instability of the Shinzon Crisis delayed matters some, but now... now the Empire is back on its feet."
The spy holds out a new datapad. "The Romulans are beginning construction of a war machine. The keels of six Scimitar-class warbirds have already been laid on the Reman planetside shipyards. Moreover, unlike the prototype destroyed by the Enterprise, these ships are being outfitted with reverse-engineered Borg technology."
"My God," whispers one of the admirals to the side.
"Our best intelligence indicates at least twenty more are planned within the next eighteen months." The spy lets that last bombshell sink in. "There can only be one purpose to this construction -- an invasion fleet, one capable of penetrating deep into Federation territory. Yes, we might possibly be able to repel such a force, especially if we begin an immediate crash upgrade program of all Defiant-class vessels with transphasic torpedoes and ablative generators, but I don't need to remind anyone here of the catastrophic cost even if we were to win."
Jellico glances askew at the spy. "We have Section 31's word, but do we have any independent confirmation of this supposed invasion?"
The President nods. "The intelligence is sound, Admiral."
"This is... this is monstrous." Jellico stares down at the floor, and, incidentally, the blue and white Seal of the Office of the President of the United Federation of Planets. "We'll be murdering billions to cover up the murder of one man."
"Yes," the spy says softly, "but it's that or hundreds of billions more will die in the resulting war."
"How can... how can we be sure this plan will prevent the war? Surely the Romulan Senate will escape. They'll know the truth about Vreenak."
"But not about the fact we knew about Hobus ahead of time," the spy counters. "Besides, we've planned for such a contingency. Upon the destruction of Romulus, a convoy of Starfleet hospital ships will arrive to assist any survivors of Romulus. Government officials will be located and dealt with."
Jellico growls, "Dealt with how?"
The office is silent for the longest time. All the admirals have drawn back into themselves, weighing the odds of a Second Earth-Romulan War. By the sourness of their expressions, the spy knows they're reaching the same conclusion he and Section 31's other analysts had weeks ago: too many lives, too many resources, too much blood in the water for the Federation's other enemies to resist.
"If Earth were destroyed," Jellico asks the spy as well as himself, "would the Federation survive?"
The spy resists the urge to smile. Even Jellico asking the question means he's opening up to the plan. "Planet Paradise -- Earth -- is just a symbol. If Earth or Vulcan or Andoria were destroyed, the Federation would endure."
He flinches and glares at the spy. "On behalf of the human race, sir, I would beg to differ."
The spy shakes his head. "IDIC, not racial unity, is the Federation's strength. But what are, say, the Klingons without Qo'nos? Even today, the Cardassians sink what little wealth their economy generates into restoring the homeworld. If we let Romulus and Remus be destroyed -- as well as, incidentally, over sixty-three percent of the Romulan's shipyard capacity -- the Empire will splinter into competing power factions. It will take years for a coherent, stable, unity government to emerge. Decades more for the Empire's manufacturing base to recover to contemporary levels."
"I need to know," asks the President, "with all this information in mind, should we forewarn Romulus of the Hobus supernova -- yes or no?"
The admirals are silent. Then, one by one, they voice their opinion. "No," says Jellico, echoing his comrades. "God help us all, but 'no'."
Once the brass has slunk out of the office, the spy walks up to the President. "Is there something else?" she asks.
"I... hesitated to mention this during the meeting, Madam President, but there's another Vulcan saying you should keep in mind in the coming days."
"One man can change the course of history."
And the President looks at him. He knows she's blind, but the sight of those milky white orbs locking onto him sends a shiver down the spy's spine. "Yes," she says coolly, "that's quite true. Just look at Benjamin Sisko." She averts her eyes. "You're dismissed."
He snaps a salute. "Ma'am."
The spy leaves the President's office through the side door. No one sees him exit, just as no one saw him enter. An unregistered transporter beams him out of Paris, then routes his signal through multiple relays in orbits around the Earth, confounding the efforts of anyone trying to trace his beamout.
When the world resolves back into a coherent reality, the spy finds himself standing in a standard public transporter platform in Audubon Park, New Orleans. Casually, he walks out with the rest of the commuters, peeling off his black leather gloves as he goes.
A decade ago, he would have found the idea of wearing such gloves abhorrent. A decade ago, he had stopped a genocide, not planned one. He had been young, then; obsessed with bringing down Section 31 from within. The spy knows some quip about the conflict between reality and ideals is in order, but he just feels too damn tired.
He shortly arrives at his destination, Sisko's Creole Kitchen, and an old friend greets him. "Julian!" Jake Sisko hugs him. "You're just in time. Grandpa is just about to bring everything out."
He sniffs the air. "It smells wonderful, Jake." A woman walks out of the next room. Julian Bashir smiles. "Korena! How are you?" He takes her hand and kisses it. "It's been ages."
"We've been good," she says, taking Jake's hand in her own. Turning to Jake, she says, "Well, aren't you going to offer him a drink?"
Jake stares at her for a second, confused, before he remembers. "Ah!" He snaps his fingers. "You'll love this, Doc. My publisher sent me a case of the good stuff to commemorate my new book." Bashir follows the happy couple into the dining room. The smell of good cooking intensifies. Joseph Sisko is there as well, ladling gumbo into the four bowls set around the table.
"Mister Sisko." Julian smiles.
"Now, what have I told you, young man? It's Joseph. Lord knows it's not that hard to say."
"Of course." Jake presses a cool glass into his hand. Julian Bashir looks down at it. The liquid is a cool blue. Romulan ale. Of course. Of course.
"2352," Jake explains. "It's supposed to be a very good year."
Julian allows himself to stare into his reflection in the delicate blue ale for two more seconds, then looks up. "To family," he says. They all raise their glasses in a toast.
The alcohol burns his throat all the way down.
"2352," he chokes out. "A very good year indeed."
Elim Garak: [Rolling his eyes] The eternal optimist!
Dr. Julian Bashir: Guilty as charged.
Elim Garak: How sad. I must tell you, I'm disappointed at hearing you mouth the usual platitudes of peace and friendship regarding an implacable foe like the Romulans. But, I live in hope that one day, you'll come to see this universe for what it truly is, rather than what you'd wish it to be.
Dr. Julian Bashir: Then I shall endeavor to become more cynical with each passing day. Look gift horses squarely in the mouth, and find clouds in every silver lining.
Elim Garak: [Smiling] If only you meant it.
-Star Trek: Deep Space Nine -- "Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges"