Chapter 7

Stardate 4104.09

April, 2253

Office of the President of the United Federation of Planets, Paris, Earth.

President Alohk Ixan sat at his desk going through the morning reports. Lately, there always seemed to be more information than he could possibly go through in a single sitting. As President, he was used to receiving updates from Colonial Operations Command, trade negotiations between various planets, new Federation member applications, successful and unsuccessful first contact missions, various diplomatic issues, and other such things that befitted a man in his position as President. However, since the beginning of the hostilities with the Klingon Empire, he was now privy to all of the casualty reports, losses of Federation held territory, war communications, losses and victories during battles, and supply and vessel transfers of all types.

While it was completely possible—and permissible—to allow others in the chain of command to handle some of the less glorious portions of his administration, Alohk felt a great sense of satisfaction in knowing everything that was happening on the front lines as they happened—or at least as much as he could glean from those same reports that took so long to travel the great distances from the front lines all the way back to Starfleet Headquarters on Earth. With the increase in Klingon activities along those same lines of conflict, the number of reports seemed to have doubled in quantity in the last two months.

As far as Starfleet Intelligence could discern, the Federation was currently holding their own against the invading Klingon forces. For every planetary system that was lost to the enemy, another one was either recaptured or was taken directly from the hands of the Empire. And, for every Starfleet vessel that was either damaged or destroyed beyond repair, the intrepid commanders in Starfleet were taking out choice targets of their own. In fact, Starfleet appeared to be capturing more enemy vessels than the Klingon's had been in the last six months, or so the reports from Starfleet Intelligence were purporting. The wealth of knowledge that Starfleet Intelligence had learned from those exploits was—by all accounts—the reason for the current stalemate, but it still wasn't enough to turn the tide, and Alohk knew it. President Ixan had made a personal note to form a comity, charged with seeking out the best and brightest engineering and technical minds in Starfleet, and placing them in a position where they could extract as much information from the captured enemy technology as possible, then turn that information into useful tactical data.

There has to be a way to break this deadlock.

It was widely reported that the Klingon's still outnumbered their Starfleet counterparts by a margin of nearly three-to-one on almost every front. Starfleet captain's, however, seemed to have gotten their feet firmly wet with regards to battle tactics and fleet maneuvers, which the Klingon's appeared to sorely lack. Alohk was now waiting on the final reports to come in from Starfleet Commander in Chief, Fleet Admiral John Murdock, and the recently promoted Admiral Kory Woodrolf of Starfleet Intelligence.

Alohk ran his lithe hands through a crop of silvery hair in the brief respite between official meetings he was holding with various heads of state. It was never wise to ever let anyone see you sweat—and this was especially true if you were the distinguished leader of the United Federation of Planets. In truth, Alohk was exhausted, both physically and mentally. He had found that sleep, whenever the time afforded him to catch up on such a luxury, often evaded him like an Orion pirate in a dense asteroid field. When he closed his eyes during those respites, he found himself longing for the lush green valleys and endless pink skies of his home planet, Deneva. He remembered with fondness the rich herbal teas his grandmother would make for him after a long day of toiling on his parent's farm under the warmth of the primary star of the Beta Darius system. His current supply of that tea was now running out, and President Ixan had found an almost palatable replacement in a Human refreshment called coffee. He had found the taste entirely too bitter for his liking at first, but he had also discovered its wonderful ability to allow him to appear in full command of his faculties and ready to take on any challenges he was faced with, should the need arise to quickly do so. A fresh warm cup was waiting for his hand as the last of his memoires faded behind the next message that began to scroll across his desktop terminal.

The President sipped at his steaming cup as his receptionist signaled from the waiting room that the heads of Starfleet had arrived. Without responding verbally to her signal, Alohk reached a tired finger to the admittance button and pressed the flashing yellow beacon on his desk that would automatically open his office doors to the two men that were waiting to speak to him. The admiral's walked briskly into the room before the beautiful oak doors had finished parting and stood at attention in front of the President's desk.

Alohk waved a hand frivolously at two plush chairs that had been placed in front of his desk. "Please, gentleman. Let's not stand on too much formality. Please be seated."

"Thank you, Mr. President." Admiral Murdock replied with a curt nod of his closely cropped gray hair.

Alhok's bright blue eyes turned quickly to the head of Starfleet Intelligence. "Admiral Woodrolf, congratulations on your recent promotion."

Cory Woodrolf's lips formed into a thin line that curled at the ends into a half smile. "Thank you, sir."

"Of course, Admiral. You're intelligence during this conflict is serving us exceedingly well. You are to be commended on your efforts."

"Thank you, sir. I only wish we could be using it to gain some real footing in this war."

Fleet Admiral Murdock's eyes went to Woodrolf in a sideways glance. "It's better than losing it, Admiral."

"Very true," President Ixan added. "Along those lines, I have to say that the reports coming in from The Triangle are the most promising of all of the intelligence I've seen lately."

Woodrolf was slightly shocked by the Presidents statement, and he instantly tried to hide that fact from his face. He really has his finger on the pulse of things around here. I didn't even know that information was on his desk yet! "You mean… the reports coming in from the Enterprise, sir?"

"To put it succinctly, yes." The President said with a quick nod. "Captain Pike is one of our best and brightest officers, and the Enterprise is performing exceptionally well under his command. The intelligence he's gathered from our operatives in that region is cause enough for praise on multiple fronts. I also understand he's formed several new contacts in the area as well."

Admiral Woodrolf coughed slightly as he tried to clear his throat, straightening in the plush green leather chair. "Yes, sir. Captain Pike has used these new sources to from dozens of new leads in the area. His investigation has been… "Cory looked for the right words from Murdock, but was only given a blank stare in response. "…thorough," Woodrolf said after a long moment. "We're preparing to dispatch another vessel to relive him."

"To relive him?" The Alohk asked in confusion. "But, they are doing so well?"

"Yes, Mr. President," Murdock quickly injected. "The Enterprise has been on station for over eighteen months. Starfleet Command feels it's time for her to come home. Captain Pike needs a formal debriefing and the ship itself is scheduled to undergo a brief dry dock period before we can send her back out."

Woodrolf took this as his queue to begin speaking again. "We have a deep cover team ready to pick up where the Enterprise is leaving off. The ship we're sending in is heavily disguised as a merchant freighter. We feel that they'll be able to perform even more successful covert operations than a Federation heavy cruiser."

President Ixan steeped his fingers on his desk and was contemplating the weight of their words. "And the Enterprise will remain near the front lines after her refit, yes?"

"Yes, sir. In a manner of speaking." Woodrolf continued cautiously.

"Oh? Please explain."

Woodrolf shifted uncomfortably in his chair. "While this information is exceedingly preliminary, Starfleet Intelligence is beginning to believe that the Constitution-class starships aren't ready to be placed fully under the auspices of Military Operations Command."

The President's eyebrows went up in surprise. "That's definitely news to me, Admiral. What's this information based on?"

Fleet Admiral Murdock stepped in efficiently. "Sir, it's all very preliminary at this point. We're still gathering all of the data from our units on the front lines. We have several Constitution-class ships near the warzone currently, they're performing within specifications, and we have no immediate plans to… recall the class at this time. Rest assured, sir, that if and when the time comes to make a decision of this magnitude, you'll already have all of the answers to the questions that are probably on your mind right now."

This answer seemed, for the moment, to quell the Presidents curiosity.

Admiral Woodrolf piped in before the President could voice another concern. "However, once the Enterprise is ready and her new personnel have checked aboard, she'll be stationed near the Rigel system."

Alohk looked to his fingers, nodded slowly, and spoke without looking to the men. "Indeed. Rigel is probably the most important sector we can attempt to protect from further Klingon incursions," He lifted his head and looked to Murdock. "We're still on shaky ground with the Orions, and the last thing we need is a repeat of incidents that will hamper our dilithium shipments." The President folded his hands into his lap as he continued. "Speaking of Pike's personnel transfers, I understand that the brilliant young science officer who led our forces safely out of the Delgon Expanse has requested a transfer to Galaxy Exploration Command."

"Well… it wasn't entirely safely," Murdock said furrowing his brows. "We lost nearly a dozen command cruisers in the engagement, with a handful more being severely damaged."

Ixan nodded, nearly cutting the Admiral off when he began to speak. "None the less, Admiral, we need inventive young people like this serving at the top positions in the fleet near critical locations inside Federation territory. And, it would seem to me that the Rigel system is our most crucial asset at this time."

"Yes, sir." Murdock said flatly.

"I'd like to see this Lieutenant Spock transferred to the Enterprise as soon as the ship returns to port."

"I believe he's a lieutenant junior-grade, Mr. President." Woodrolf corrected Alohk, but then instantly regretted the comment.

"Not any more." Ixan replied sharply. "As I've been looking over this young man's Starfleet Record, I think he'd be an excellent choice for the lead science officer position on the ship. It seems to me that keeping him at his current post would be a tremendous waste of his abilities. Of course, I will respect Captain Pike's judgment in this matter. You will please handle all of the details of the transfer, Admiral Murdock."

"Absolutely, sir." Murdock replied with a nod, entering the information into an electronic data pad in his lap.

"And Admiral Woodrolf, I'd like to see the official deposition of Captain Pike myself as soon as it becomes available. In fact, I'd like to view the debriefing live, if possible. See if we can set up a secure subspace communications link from Starbase 10 directly back here to Earth."

The President also knows about the experimental long-range subspace repeaters? He'd have too in order to make a request like that. Someone in Intelligence is going to have to learn to keep their mouth shut. "Of course, sir. I'll take care of it personally."

"Very good. What else do you gentlemen have to report?"

For the next hour the two Starfleet admiral's conferred with President Ixan about the state of affairs between the Federation and the Klingon forces. They updated him on the most recent sub-space communications they had each received, the personnel and property losses, and the overall battle plans for the next phase of the engagement. While Ixan was aware of a great number of these details, there were tidbits of knowledge that he could only learn from asking the admiralty directly.

"Sir," Woodrolf began casually. "There is one final note to report. Starfleet Intelligence has sufficient evidence to suspect that the Klingon's are going to force a major engagement somewhere near Starbase 23 in the next several weeks."

President Ixan's eyes narrowed. "Based on the Intelligence reports you've been given me, this doesn't come as a big surprise. I had hoped that this was going to another false alarm by the Klingon's, but it seems now that they are really looking for a fight. This is your final assessment as well, Admiral?" Alohk asked, turning to Murdock.

Murdock looked to Woodrolf, and then back to the President. "It is, sir. We have several squadrons of cruisers, destroyers, and frigates converging on are area of space five parsecs from Starbase 23. We've dubbed this staging area Sector 23-H."

"How many ships will be there once the fleet is assembled?" The President asked, steeping his fingers to his chin.

"If all goes well between the various commands, we will be looking at a combined fleet total of two-hundred and twenty-five starships of varying classes. We've assigned them the designation of the 11th Strategic Squadron."

"And who has been placed in overall command of the 11th?"

"Rear Admiral Everett, sir." Murdock replied.

"Pearson Everett? The commandant of Starfleet Academy?" Alohk asked in near astonishment.

"The same," Woodrolf said with a smile. "He transferred back into the fleet last year after his tour at the academy was complete."

"Well," President Ixan replied with a chuckle. "Based on what I've heard of his reputation, I'd say it looks like those Klingon's will be in for one hell of a fight. What kind of resistance is Admiral Everett looking to face in that sector?"

Woodrolf looked to Murdock, pursed his lips, and then glanced back at the President. "From what Starfleet Intelligence has learned, the numbers look to be almost even, with the Klingon's holding a slight advantage. They will have roughly two-hundred and ninety ships at their disposal. However, Intelligence has learned that a vast majority of those ships will be destroyers and light cruisers."

"I think Admiral Everett will be able to control the situation adequately, sir," Murdock said with a slight smile as he folded one of his legs over the other. "Our combined forces will be made mostly of both heavy and light cruisers, with a smattering of destroyers and frigates to augment them."

"I see," President Ixan said as he nodded in approval. "Keep me posted on anything either of you men hear about this engagement. I want to be privy to the information as soon as it comes in and not a moment later. This signifies a major push by the Klingon's to get a key foothold in our territory, and I don't want to waste this opportunity to push them back—and back hard."

"Yes, sir." the two Admiral's said in unison, then sat quietly for a half minute.

"Excellent," The President moved from behind his desk to refill his empty coffee mug. "If there's nothing more, gentlemen, you are dismissed."

"* * * * *"

Stardate 4105.10

May, 2253

Dearest Emily,

I was certainly glad when I got that letter from you this evening. It took nearly six days for it to reach me here by sub-space, but of course it had to come by the way of a relay station near Findesa, and the word is that the communication staff on the station has to go through every letter line-by-line to make sure that they don't contain any classified material.

I'll try to answer some of the questions that you asked me in your last message in the order you asked them, if I'm able. I think I told you in my last communication what kind of work I'm doing now on the ship. I don't know why they move me so much. A job with the science department in Starfleet is just like any other job I held outside of the service, except that we get state of the art equipment here and no one bats an eyelash about requisitioning for anything else we might need. You see, the science department here on the Portsmouth takes up almost the entire deck, and they have more than three dozen officers and specialists, then there all of the science staff heads and then, finally, the senior science officer himself.

No. I have never, as of yet, been onto a Starbase, and it looks as though I may not get on one for a long time to come. The senior officer in charge here says we'll be out in space for at least another month anyway. But you can never tell what will happen.

I have made friends everywhere I have been stationed on ship. There are some mighty fine fellows in Starfleet. I even met a guy from Berkley. He says he's known my dad ever since pops was just a kid. His name is Charley Bradley. I really wanted to get to know him better, but then we were sent to different departments on the ship. As such, I've now lost all my old friends to personnel shuffling. I was sent to deflector control alone. I have made a few new friends here and everything is a lot better now, but they can't take the place of my old friends in the life science's department.

You asked about our living conditions. Well, we eat in a large dining hall which looks like it's as long as a city block long. We all line up at the replicator bins in single file and, as you pass along them, you help yourself to whatever the ship's stores have programmed in at that moment. It's just cafeteria style dining, much like the atmospheric station on Marcos II was those many months ago. When you're done getting what you want you sit down anywhere and, well, you know what comes next. We sleep in two man staterooms, where we each share one computer terminal and a sonic shower. There is a nice gymnasium and I've heard rumors of a bowling alley on deck nine. I'm going to look into that one tomorrow. Lights are out at 21:30 for most of the crew in order to conserve power.

No, I haven't heard from Uncle Joe in a long time. I've written him twice since I was stationed aboard ship, but haven't heard from him since. Do you know what's going on?

No, I don't have a gold stripe on my sleeve yet. Even though I'm one step up from an ensign, I'm still considered a junior lieutenant. Someday soon I hope to have that solid gold braid around my cuffs. I'm sure it'll be here in due time. Thanks for the congratulatory words, though. It warms my heart to know how proud you are of me.

I am really glad that your folks are moving into town, and I am sorry you can't go swimming next Sunday. I've gone swimming several times in the ships pool, but it's just not the same as those beautiful warm oceans on Marcos. It'll be nice to have your folks closer, and I'm glad you won't be so lonely. I hope you do learn to pilot that new skimmer your parent's bought! How exciting for you. I can't imagine my girl not knowing how to pilot her way to the grocery store. With all of the credits I've been putting aside, I'm sure we can buy one of our own when I get back.

I just noticed this on the back of that last letter you sent. You said that this is the third letter that I've received since I have been on board, and the other was a card? No, that isn't right at all. This is the second one, two letters and one card. I'll check the message logs in the ships computer and verify it, but I'm sure I'm right. I'd hate to think I missed a message from you.

We linked up with the U.S.S. Darion yesterday. That's Jason Bradford's ship, remember? Man, I haven't seen that guy since we were both cadets at the Academy. I hear he's made full lieutenant and has a pretty important position on his ship. Then again, he's on a cruiser and I'm only on a destroyer. That being said, there are a lot more opportunities to get ahead when you have a full captain in command and not a run-of-the-mill commander like we do.

Say, I had quite a time the other night. We had an accident in defector control. One of the back-up conduits overheated and melted, causing the secondary systems to go into full power mode. There were only two guys down there, as I was off duty at the time. The first man was okay, but the second got some serious burns on his arms from trying to secure the ruptured panel. They took him to sickbay and I was told recently that he'll be out of commission for awhile. I feel bad for the guy, but it also vaulted me into his position as second officer in charge of deflector control. While the title may sound impressive, it really isn't that big of a deal. I still have a senior officer over me, and he has the science officer over him. Maybe now there's a chance Commander Atwell will notice me, but I'm not holding my breath. It'd be nice to go on a landing party sometime, or even get asked into a meeting with the senior staff, but I think those are probably just pipedreams at the moment.

There isn't much else going on right now. We know that we are gearing up for something big, but everyone is being really hush-hush about the whole thing. I've been told to standby (get ready for the inevitable) to do double shifts in deflector control and I've been asked to make some special modifications to the long-range sensors in anticipation. I suppose I could write more about it, but I know it'd just be censored out of this communication by the time you get it. As it is, you may not get this message in its entirety.

I hope to hear back from you soon. I know it will take at least six days for this message to get to you, and just as long to get back if you respond as soon as you get it. Please remember that I don't expect you to. I know you're busy, and I hate asking more of you than you can give right now. Just know that your words, whether they come in message format or in a pre-recorded message (which I love the most) all mean the world to me. They help me through the rough times and the long hours of boredom.

I promise to write more next time.

All My Love,

Charles

"* * * * *"

Stardate 4105.12

May, 2253

Captain pike leveled his eyes at the image of Starbase 10 looming on the view screen. The large mushroom shaped central disk, bulky enough to hold a half dozen starships, was surrounded by a ring of six sphere shaped docking bays, each of which were capable of swallowing two Constitution-class vessels with plenty of space to spare. The top of the central disk was allocated to a complex of navigational and communications arrays, with the lower half of the dock used for parts replication and tooling.

"Space Dock 5, you have control." Pike said as the enormous outer doors of the fifth sphere opened to display their contents, a single Bonhomme Richard-class medium cruiser looking the worse for wear. Looking at her from the stern view, Pike could tell her impulse deck was smashed, the port warp nacelle was completely missing, and the hanger bay clamshell doors were torn from their tracks and dangling below the secondary hull.

"Roger, Enterprise. Control established. Welcome to Starbase 10." The surprisingly soothing voice of the female dock controller said.

"Enterprise confirms, Starbase." Captain Pike replied into the speaker in the armrest of his chair as he leaned into the soft leather of his chair.

The U.S.S. Enterprise slowly guided through the great space doors as they slid into their respective alcoves on either side of Starbase 10's outer most docking pod. As the starship passed slowly by a large rectangular outcropping inside the sphere, a structure that served as some of the stations administrative and communications office spaces, several onlookers had gathered at the large transparent aluminum windows that looked out into the great expanse of the docking sphere at the majestic starship Enterprise and watched intently as she passed by.

In the last several months, not a day had gone by when some starship, destroyer, frigate, or support craft was entering or leaving one of the outer space dock structures. Sometimes the vessels would come in for just a few days, taking on supplies and new crewmembers, only to leave just as quickly to head back out to the front line of the war or—hopefully—more propitious ports of call. Sometimes the ships coming in would just barely make it in under their own power, with streaking back lines across their hulls denoting the furious battles they had encountered, while other ships—or hulks—that were seemingly devoid of life, would be slowly towed in by any number of the stations assigned tug ships, as if they were in a funeral procession. Pike wondered to himself just how the Enterprise's dock-mate had made it here. Where did she fall on that list?

The Enterprise herself currently represented a mix of the two former descriptions. While she was fully capable of performing her own docking maneuvers, she was by no means as pristine as the day she had sailed from her construction piers hovering in space high over San Francisco bay. Several of the onlookers at the Starbase's windows, both Starfleet and civilian alike, pointed at the large vessel across the hundred or so meters of open space that separated them from the starship. They spoke in hushed whispers at the obvious impact damage the Enterprise had on the underside of her primary and secondary hulls. The occasional child would ask their parents the meaning of the discolored plates that covered damage on her warp pylons or her ventral neck support structure. 'Battle damage', the parents would whisper. 'Those plates are only temporary. They are just like the band-aids that mommy puts on your cuts. The ship will be as good as new soon.'

As the great starship came to a slow halt inside docking pod 5, a large cylindrical gantry way extended out from the station and contacted with the docking hatch on the port side of the Enterprise's primary hull, followed by two smaller transparent ones that joined with the ships secondary hull. Within minutes the onlookers at the large windows could see people and equipment moving back and forth to the weary starship, giving the appearance that she vessel was receiving a monolithic transfusion of life regenerating materials as the dock workers fastidiously began the much needed repairs.

As the ships system began their power-down procedures, the color slowly faded from the glowing red caps of the warp nacelles, getting dimmer by the second until they were almost as gray as the nacelles themselves. Some of the interior lights in the hull went dark and a few others went on. Finally, the blinking red, green, and white running lights that denoted a ship in the service of Starfleet winked in unison one final time before they were silently extinguished.