Star Trek: New Horizons Season 6, Episode 8 (Casus Belli) by captaintigranian
Summary: The United Federation of Planets and the Romulus Pact mobilize for all out war. As the Klingon Empire and the Republic of Cardassia both decide to stay out of the fighting, Tigranian and Laria watch helplessly as their old friends are sent on a suicide mission.
Categories: Expanded Universes Characters: None
Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama, Family, Friendship, Romance
Warnings: Adult Language, Adult Situations, Character Death, Violence
Challenges: None
Series: Star Trek: New Horizons
Chapters: 7 Completed: Yes Word count: 10293 Read: 5972 Published: 02 Jul 2018 Updated: 02 Jul 2018

1. Chapter 1 by captaintigranian

2. Chapter 2 by captaintigranian

3. Chapter 3 by captaintigranian

4. Chapter 4 by captaintigranian

5. Chapter 5 by captaintigranian

6. Chapter 6 by captaintigranian

7. Chapter 7 by captaintigranian

Chapter 1 by captaintigranian
Palais de la Concorde: Paris, Earth

Stardate: 54526.1

President Bacco sat her desk. She clandestinely steadied herself by gripping its edge until her knuckles turned white. To her right stood Admiral Paris, the Starfleet Chief of Operations, and Admiral Yoshizaki, the head of Starfleet Intelligence. To her left was Doctor Gunei Ravot, the head of the Intergalactic Red Cross, and Simol Boit, the Federation's new Diplomatic Secretary.

"Please Ambassador Zell," Bacco said to the two other men standing on her office carpet. "You must give us a reasonable amount of time to evacuate."

"This matter is not up for debate, Madame President," the envoy from the Cardassian State replied curtly. "For over three years, the Federation has been illegally occupying Celdis Prime. Isn't that enough time?"

"We were unaware that the Celdis System was within your borders," Boit explained. "Besides, your government never lodged a complaint until now."

"Because we never had recourse too until now," Zell countered. "However, our Romulan allies have bravely stepped forward to defend the interests of the Cardassian State." He gestured to the Romulan diplomat at his side.

"That is correct," Ambassador Soces said with a nod. "The Star Empire will no longer stand idly by while the Federation uses its influence to abuse Cardassia. You yourself, Madame, made it one of your campaign promises to leave the Republic in peace. If you were serious, why change your mind now?"

Bacco turned to glance at Paris and Yoshizaki before turning back to face Zell and Soces.

"It is still the intention of the United Federation of Planets to withdraw from Cardassia. However, it will be a responsible and measured withdrawal. I will not place any civilians in jeopardy!"

"Place civilians in jeopardy?" Zell said condescendingly. "To what civilians do you refer?"

"Doctor Ravot," Bacco said indicating the head of the Red Cross.

"Ambassadors," he began, "The Intergalactic Red Cross has 450 civilian aid workers on Celdis Prime caring for over 3500 people who have no place else to go. You can't possibly expect us to evacuate that many people within the time frame you have given us."

"We can make an agreement," Bacco said trying to appease them. "I've run the numbers with my staff. With just one additional week, we can get all our people off Celdis Prime and rectify this situation peacefully."

"This is not a negotiation!" Zell said even more firmly. "We both know you will have no issues evacuating the 450 Red Cross workers within our allotted time span. As for the 3500 Cardassians, they were our citizens to begin with. They are also wanted for the crime of violating our emigration laws. Leave them to us. Consider it your administration's first act of good will to set the stage for peace talks."

Bacco balled her fists. Goodwill gesture or not, she was not going down in history as the president who willfully turned almost four thousand people over to labor camps and possible execution.

"I'm not evacuating Celdis Prime without them."

"Very well," Zell answered. "However, whether your people are there or not is irrelevant. The Cardassian State will seize the Celdis System in four days."

"And the Romulus Pact will not be held responsible for the consequences if we are required to use force. You have been warned," Soces added.

The two men turned and left without another word. Once they were gone, Bacco buried her head in her hands.

"Admiral Paris," she asked. "Is there any way we can clear the system of all personnel within the next ninety-six hours?"

He looked over to Doctor Ravot.

"Moving the people is not the issue," Paris replied. "It's their condition that is the problem."

"Explain please," Bacco demanded.

"Madame President," Ravot interjected. "Most of the civilians that are still on Celdis are there because they barely survived fleeing the Cardassian State. Many have advanced cases of malnutrition, medical issues, or require levels of quarantine a standard starship simply cannot provide on the necessary scale."

"What do you need from us?" she asked.

"At least three full-sized hospital ships," Ravot answered.

"Admiral?" Bacco said turning back to Paris.

"At maximum warp, it would take six days to assemble those ships at Celdis," he said with a deep breath.

"What about the Republic of Cardassia or the Klingons?" Bacco said to Secretary Boit. "Can they help?"

"Neither nation possesses any kind of ship even remotely close to our hospital vessels," he said. "We asked if they could at least provide some kind of transport augmented with medical personnel. However…" he trailed off.

"However…" Bacco said leaning towards him.

"However, they state that since they are no longer bound by the Khitomer Accords, in the event of hostilities, their concern is safeguarding the integrity of the rest of the Republic. They will not sacrifice their ships to protect a Federation facility."

"Jesus Christ," Bacco muttered.

"Madame President," Paris said. "Admiral Yoshizaki and I have some options we would like to discuss in private…"

Bacco sat back in her chair.

"Doctor Ravot, will you please excuse us?"

"Of course," he said. Once he was out of the room, Bacco spoke:

"Secretary Boit, I want you to keep working every diplomatic angle you can. The Cardassian fleet is held together on a wing and a prayer, but the Klingons must have something. I would like for us to get out of this without firing a shot."

"Yes Ma'am," he said. "However their assistance seems very unlikely since Ambassador Worf resigned in protest of our new policies and returned to Starfleet," Boit continued while casting a frustrated glance towards Paris. "He was quite upset when he had to deliver your executive order to Chancellor Martok. He is his adopted brother after all."

"Right, I forgot about that detail before I sent them," Bacco said rubbing her temples. "As for Starfleet, what are your options?"

Paris looked at Yoshizaki. She produced a small holoprojector and placed it on the president's desk. It projected the latest intelligence analysis of the Romulan and Cardassian State fleet mobilizations.

"To put it simply Madame President," Yoshizaki began, "The Romulus Pact is readying itself for a full scale war. Our sensor nets have detected at least thirty-eight Romulan warbirds and fifty-four Cardassian State cruisers assembling five lightyears from Celdis Prime. The Romulans are also mobilizing another seventy-three warbirds six lightyears from the Neutral Zone along with ninety-one ground legions. This is their ENTIRE available combat power. The only thing left will be the reservists and security forces guarding infrastructure."

"They're going to hit us on two fronts at once," Bacco said as the pit of her stomach dropped. It was the absolute worst case scenario.

"It does appear that way, yes," Yoshizaki replied.

"Why? Why would they do all this for one planet with less than 5000 people on it?" the president asked. "It doesn't make any sense."

Yoshizaki shifted nervously. Paris cleared his throat.

"Madame President," the intelligence chief continued, "we have an operative at a high level in the Romulan government. He was able to pass us information about a Continuing Committee meeting that occurred a little over 72 hours ago. The proconsul believes that you will back down now that you no longer have support of the Klingons and the Republic of Cardassia. Once we have retreated within our borders, they will have overwhelming forces and take back Cardassia one planet at a time."

Bacco was speechless. She didn't know whether to sit silently in defeat or shout out in rage. All she wanted to do as president was strengthen the Federation and bring peace to the quadrant. Instead, her idealism was being used against her by an opponent that always seemed two steps ahead in the game. It was infuriating.

"And there's no chance of the Republic or Klingon Empire sending any ships to help us?"

"Admiral Murphy and his staff are lobbying the Joint Assistance Force Council as we speak," Paris said, "but it looks like we'll be on our own."

"Can you stop the Romulans on two fronts?" Bacco asked desperately.

"Not as it stands now," Paris said. "Our forces are spread too thin across the Fed and the Republic. Our computer simulations keep ending the same way. We can save one side of our border but not both." He briefly paused. "However, there is one simulation we've run that gives us at least a chance of success."

He nodded to Yoshizaki. The holoprojector changed to read:

OPERATION ROCK OF THE MARNE

"Rock of the Marne?" Bacco asked.

"In April of 1918, the ancient nation state of Germany attempted to seize Paris with a last desperate offensive during Earth's First World War," Yoshizaki explained. "One division under General John J. Pershing held the entire German army on the Marne River. It was said they stood 'like a Rock on the Marne.' They saved this city from invasion and secured the outcome of the war."

"I'm guessing this has something to do with our battlestarships?" Bacco sighed.

"Yes Ma'am," Paris said. "Two of the Pershings are already in Cardassian Space. The other three are the only starships in the fleet than can sustain warp 9.98 long enough to reach the MDL in time. If I put all five at Celdis Prime and redeploy every single other starship we have to secure the Federation borders, we may have a chance."

"Five starships against a hundred Romulan and Cardassian heavy cruisers?" Boit said in disbelief.

"They'll be outnumbered almost twenty to one," Paris said, "but they're the only ships we have even remotely designed for it."

"And the computer simulations say that this plan has the best chance of success?" Bacco asked.

"The success rate averages at around twenty-five percent," Yoshizaki answered somberly, "but that's double digits over everything else we run."

Bacco shut her eyes before rising to her feet. She walked over to the windows and stared out at the Paris skyline.

"I was elected to protect the people of the Federation," she began slowly. "But if the Federation just hands innocents directly to a totalitarian state, we will have lost everything we claim to stand for." Bacco turned back around. "Redeploy the fleets to our borders, but send the battlestarships to Celdis," the president ordered. "And God be with all the Pershing crews…"
Chapter 2 by captaintigranian
Cardassia Prime: Republic of Cardassia

Admiral Murphy and Vice-Admiral Mukwotho stood at attention in front of the Joint Assistance Forces conference room. Only two weeks before, they had a seat as equals at the table. Now, because of the Federation's withdrawal from the alliance, they were begging Legate Dyoldas and Lord Daniel for help. It was absolutely humiliating.

The legate betrayed no emotion has he prepared to make a statement. Tigranian, however, continued to shift uncomfortably in his seat. The last time he and Admiral Murphy had been in a situation like this, the roles had been reversed. It ended with him losing his commission in Starfleet and his friendship with Murphy. However, Tigranian took no joy in this moment. In fact, it was worse than he could have imagined. Lord Torlek had told him that the Klingon Empire would support any decision that the Republic of Cardassia made in the matter. Now, the fate of Celdis Prime and Starfleet rested in the words about to spoken by Dyoldas.

The Cardassian balled his fist and rested it on the table in front of him.

"Admiral Murphy," he began, "I have consulted with both Prime Minister Garak and the Detapa Council in regards to the Federation's request for military assistance. They agree that the Cardassian State's demand to turn over Celdis Prime is outrageous…" he paused. "They will not cede the system to the Romulus Pact. However they will not defend it either."

Murphy and Mukwotho both looked shocked.

"With respect, Legate," Murphy replied, "how is that any different than presenting them the Celdis System with a bow tied around it? Without a combined defense, the Romulus Pact will simply invade your territory and take what it wants at the cost of almost five hundred aid workers and over three-thousand innocent Cardassian lives."

"What choice did your government leave us, Admiral?" Dyoldas angrily shouted back. "Without the Federation, the Republic and the Klingon Empire do not have enough ships to safeguard the rest of our territory. If we commit our fleets to Celdis, then the Cardassian State will have nothing between it and Cardassia Prime." Dyoldas stopped to rub his eyes. "This is a dark day for both our nations, but don't blame us. This catastrophe is on you and your politicians. If you weren't willing to sacrifice those Red Cross workers, than you shouldn't have announced a military withdrawal from Cardassia!"

Murphy turned to Tigranian.

"And what about the Klingon Empire, Lord Daniel?" he asked. "You won't commit any forces either?"

Tigranian gritted his teeth and swallowed his disgust.

"My government has made it clear we are here to support our Cardassian allies," Tigranian said. "If the Cardassian Republic will not commit its forces, neither will we."

"Even to defend the lives of unarmed civilians?" Murphy said in a less than subtle dig at Tigranian's honor. The jenSa' shut his eyes and took a deep breath.

"The official stance of Chancellor Martok and the High Council is that if the Federation wishes to stand alone, than you will stand alone," he answered. The words cut through Murphy like a dull blade.

Commander Richey ran into the room and straight towards Murphy. She leaned over and whispered something into his ear. His eyes grew wide. He turned to Mukwotho and nodded. She nodded back.

"Your position is clear, Gentlemen," Murphy said suddenly facing back to Tigranian and Dyoldas. "I appreciate your honesty," he said with curt bluntness. "However, I have just been informed that President Bacco has approved a plan to retain Celdis Prime until evacuations can be completed within the next seven days. Commander Richey here will forward you the details once they are worked out. However, be advised there will be significant Federation starship movement in and out of the Republic along approved transit routes for the next forty-eight hours.

I will also be departing the planet to take charge of our assembling task force. Please forward any concerns to Vice-Admiral Mukwotho." Murphy turned to leave, gesturing for Mukwotho and Richey to follow him. "If you'll excuse me, we have a lot of work to do."

The three Starfleet officers began walking away.

"Admiral Murphy," Dyoldas said sharply. Murphy paused and glanced over his shoulder. "You understand that any increase in Federation starship numbers within Republic space must be directly approved by Prime Minister Garak."

"Yes I do, Legate," Murphy replied with quiet reserve. "However, you may inform the prime minister that there will be no increase. In fact, the number of starships in Cardassian space will be reduced to only five. Good day."

Murphy and his staff left the room.

"Only five?" Dyoldas said in disbelief to Tigranian. "The Federation can't seriously expect to hold Celdis against a full assault with only five ships?"

"I don't think they do, Legate…" Tigranian said leaning forward onto to the table and steepling his fingers, "but it will be a fight worthy of story and song."

The Imperial jenSa' didn't have to think very hard to figure out which five ships the admiral was talking about. That meant Murphy, Annabeth, and the entire crew of his old ship would soon be flying into the jaws of the enemy with impossible odds against them.

"May Kahless guide you all to glory," Tigranian whispered under his breath. "Qapla', Sons and Daughters of Starfleet."
Chapter 3 by captaintigranian
Daxos System: Romulan Frontier

The second moon of Daxos IV was barely Class M. During winter months, it was dark for at least twenty-two of the day's twenty-six hours and temperatures could plummet to nearly forty degrees below centigrade. During the long days of summer, however, it could be considered near the fringes of comfort. Though Romulan colonists never took to the low gravity and frigid climate, a Yridian mining concern saw the opportunity for profit. The company leased the moon from the Star Empire to harvest its considerable stores of flontium ore. Flontium was completely useless to the Romulans, but Yridians used it as everything from a food additive to laundry detergent.

Every day, the Yridian miners would pour out the mineshafts carved deep into the mountains and flow into the small settlement to spend their hard earned latinum at one of a few choice establishments. The most popular was a bar and gentleman's club called, "The Snowball." It was run by an older woman everyone just called Mama Traxi. No one knew exactly why Mama Traxi first came to Daxos or even how long she had been there. However, everyone knew exactly why she was called "Mama." She looked after the "The Snowball's" staff of twenty dancing girls like they were her own children. Unlike most clubs in the Romulan Empire, not a single one was enslaved. Each woman was an entrepreneur here to make some hard currency before returning to whatever place she came from. Not even the most drunken, lecherous miner was stupid enough to lay a hand on one of Mama's girls. Even if they were, Mama kept an automatic disruptor rifle under the bar and knew how to use it. The most popular theory about Mama Traxi was that she used to be a dancing girl herself. It was partially correct. She was once one. She also used to be a slave.

Forty years earlier, a Romulan nobleman named Trallian took pity on Traxi. He saw her master beat her senseless after a less than enthusiastic performance in a bar on Boshun III. Trallian purchased her freedom on the spot with only the money in his wallet. For him, it was a small act of kindness. For her, it changed the stars. She would be always grateful to that man, and when he suddenly appeared and asked for help, she couldn't refuse.

Two of Mama's girls took the small stage of "The Snowball" to warm up the crowd before the evening rush. The sudden cheer from the Yridians drowned out the sound of the small subspace terminal besides the bar. Mama Traxi looked over and saw a message from "Yridian Hospitality Incorporated." Her eyes rolled and she immediately copied the message to an old PADD. She knew very well that "Yridian Hospitality Incorporated" was a front company that dealt exclusively with Romulan ales grown on the estate of her secret benefactor. On the surface, it was a simple invoice for a shipment of 100 bottles of Romulan Ale. However, there was something else hidden underneath the lines of digital code. She didn't know how to read it and she didn't want to know.

"Flora!" Mama Traxi said to another one of her girls leaning against the bar. "Take care of things up here. I gotta go down and get another case of Takarian mead from the cellar.

"No problem, Mama," Flora said stepping behind the bar. Traxi then headed down a rickety flight of steps. In the dark basement, she made out the silhouette of an Orion female. However, the green-skinned woman didn't look anything like a typical lodubyaln. She wore combat fatigue bottoms and a striped tank top. She rested her Klingon disruptor rifle across her shoulder as she smoked a hand rolled cigarette of noxious local tobacco.

"Now I'm going to get it," the Orion said sarcastically rolling her eyes.

"You know I don't like you smoking down here, Valaa," Mama Traxi said. "There's a lot of bottles down here that tend to catch on fire."

"Can I tell you a secret?" Valaa replied barely above a whisper. Traxi nodded. "I don't give a shit…"

Mama Traxi couldn't help but laugh. She truly admired Valaa and would have happily offered her a position as one of her girls, but pragmatism overcame compassion in this case. Traxi knew that very few men would pay money to watch a woman dance whose back and shoulders were covered with thick, white scars made by years of Romulan whippings. The ones that would were not ones that were welcome in Mama's establishment. Valaa always wore her thick black hair down, but there simply was no way to hide the aftermath of her abuse. She used to try but after turning her shame to rage she wore her scars with pride.

Valaa had come to the Romulan Empire in the hold of an Orion slave ship at age thirteen. For eight years she suffered as the private play thing of a very rich Romulan industrialist who enjoyed causing her pain for his pleasure. Then, Rellas came to her colony. Valaa's Romulan master originally protested when she said she was leaving, but quickly dropped his objections when she shoved a knife into the pervert's gut and watched with a wry smile as he bled to death. Now, she was one of Rellas' best fighters.

"What do you want, Mama?" Valaa asked as she put her cigarette out on the concrete floor.

"A message for your boss," Traxi said handing her the PADD. Valaa took it and rose to her feet. "What no tip for the messanger?" Mama added with a grin.

"Here's a tip: go back upstairs," Valaa said haughtily.

"Touch, touchy," Traxi said grabbing a box of mead and returning to the bar. Valaa turned towards the wall. She placed her palm against a particular brick which recognized her DNA signature and deactivated the holographic door. Valaa stepped out of the cellar and into an abandoned mineshaft that now served as Rellas' military headquarters. He had learned his lesson after the catastrophe at the Pomparath Nebula. There were no civilians here to take care of or get hurt. Mama Traxi always arranged for the Yridians to smuggle the innocents safely out of the Star Empire in the holds of their ore carriers in exchange for a percentage of the weapons and explosives captured in Rellas' raids. It was as advantageous deal for both parties.

Valaa walked past several dozen fighters. Some were cleaning their weapons. Others were eating rations out of foil packets. A few were sampling a barrel of home brew they just cracked open.

"Hey Tarko," Valaa said as she walked past, "save some of that swill for me."

"You got it, Val," the muscular Boranid said with a nod.

Valaa continued down a side corridor until she emerged in a larger chamber. Several individuals were standing around a map table speaking with one another. The man in the middle was a tall, blue Gralluscan.

"Hey Bossman," the Orion said interrupting their huddle. "You got another message from whoever the hell it is you get messages from."

"Thank you Valaa," Rellas said taking the PADD.

"Now, I'm going to get drunk," the Orion said turning and leaving. Rellas shook his head as he entered the proper decryption code. Instantly, the invoice transformed into lines of written text.

"What does Trallian say now?" Esrak asked. The yellow-furred Sarcassan had been with Rellas' ever since the rebel returned to the Romulan Empire. Now that Mama Traxi had safely gotten his daughter back to their home planet, Esrak proudly served as Rellas' second in command.

The Gralluscan gripped the sides of the PADD.

"Qu'vatlh, this message is almost two days old," Rellas muttered angrily. "Those lazy Yridians sat on it too long before retransmitting."

"They have to be careful," Esrak countered. "If the messages are too close together the Tal Shiar could get suspicious."

"Still," Rellas answered. "We now have to find a way to strike in the Syrcanis belt in less than four days. The pointed-ears are planning something big which means we have to plan big too."

"That's right along the Federation Neutral Zone. What could possibly be in the Syrcanis belt?" Esrak asked. Rellas finally looked over at him.

"The best chance we have to finally bring this whole damned country to its knees."
Chapter 4 by captaintigranian
Lakarian City: Cardassia Prime, Republic of Cardassia

Stardate: 54526.3

Subspace radio was a miracle that allowed for near instantaneous communication across hundreds of lightyears. It also meant that Laria's parents could guilt her in real time from across the galaxy. She sat on a couch in the jenSa's palace with a PADD while her mother and father shouted in their living room on Gault.

"Laria-ga-ne," Lanassa yelled at her in Bajoran. "We have been in the Federation for twenty years and never seen such chaos. Politicians are always screaming on the holoscreen, Starfleet is flying back and forth from one side of the country to the other, and the Romulans are always threatening to fight over the smallest thing. I don't want to live like this anymore."

"Mama," Laria replied equally frustrated. "I know it's bad but leaving the Federation now is a terrible idea."

"Why?" Lanassa countered. "We can't even see you anymore."

"What do you mean you can't see me? We're talking to each other right now."

"Do not get smart with me, Child," Lanassa warned. "You know what I mean. You cannot visit us so we should come to you!"

"Mama, I said no."

"Do not speak that way to your mother!" Jion jumped in. "You already broke her heart by moving to Cardassia. Prophets preserve our crazy daughter."

"Dade," Laria replied. "Your daughter lives in a palace on Cardassia. Besides, we both know that your…past…makes it impossible for you to ever come to Cardassia. If their police ever found out what you both did back on Bajor…"

"Then we will move to the Klingon Empire to be with you," Jion said.

"Everything you own is tied to the farm. You've already run once in your lives. I don't want you to run again. You both worked too hard to make a home on Gault just to give it up now." Laria said.

"We started over with nothing before," Lanassa said proudly. "We can do it again."

"Mama, we both know you're not as young as you used to be. If you moved to the Klingon Empire where would you live? What would you do? They still use money."

"Daniel's family has a million acres on Qo'noS," Jion said. "You're telling me that Torlek couldn't give forty or fifty of them to an old kava farmer?"

"I don't think Klingons have a taste for kava, Dade," Laria said rubbing her eyes.

"They will develop one once they taste mine!" Jion shouted.

"Enough!" Laria shouted right back. "You will not give up the farm and you will not move to Qo'noS. That's the end of it."

"Who is this girl who speaks to us this way?" Jion replied very angrily. "She is certainly not the daughter we raised to respect her elders and the ways of her people…"

"Because I'm not a little girl skipping to school with a juice box anymore, Dade," Laria said. "I am a wife, a warrior, and a noblewoman of the Klingon Empire." Laria paused to look over at the wall rug of Mount Yanalit given to her by Colonel Kira. "But I am also a farmer's daughter, a Bajoran woman who is proud of her heritage, and someone who loves her parents from the bottom of her heart.

I walk with the Prophets as you do, and everything in my heart tells me that things will be better if you stay where you are. Please, I'm asking you just to listen to me for once."

Lanassa reached out and took Jion's hand.

"We know you are not a little girl anymore Laria-ga-ne," her mother began. "but it is so hard for us to just sit here while you face danger every day. You are the light in our lives and the reason we left Bajor in the first place. Nothing matters if we lose you and Daniel. We pray to the Prophets every day and night to watch over you, but the way the galaxy is going, we just don't know if they hear us anymore."

Laria shut her eyes to fight back tears. In her mind's eye she remembered the caring female Prophet who came to her in a vision during the blood combat. She had wondered why the Holy One had taken the form of her mother. Now, she understood why.

Laria wiped her eyes and took a deep breath.

"They hear you, Mama," she said trying to steady her breathing. "Believe me they do. They are with me always just as you are."

The confidence in her voice finally assuaged her parents.

"Very well, my beloved child," Jion said. "If tell us to stay, we will stay."

"Da hachee'el, Dade," Laria replied gratefully.

"Prophets watch over you, Laria-ga-ne," Lanassa added. "Yisa kezza shad les lave."

Laria kissed her fingers and placed them against the screen.

"I love you both too," she said smiling. Her parents both nodded as she disconnected the transmission. Laria gathered her thoughts for a few moments before standing up and walking out to the balcony. Tigranian leaned against the sandstone railing and watched the sunset glisten off the waves of the Kriil Ocean.

"How are Jion and Lanassa doing?" he asked as his wife leaned on the railing next him.

"They're scared. Just like the rest of the galaxy right now." Laria turned to him. "So the Klingons really aren't going to do anything to help Starfleet? They're just going to let the Federation sacrifice the Pershings in a futile battle?" she said angrily. Tigranian turned to her.

"No battle for the right reasons is futile, my love," he replied. "Besides, President Bacco directly attacked the pride and prestige of the empire. Chancellor Martok and the High Council didn't take it very well…"

"Oh to hell with Klingon pride, Daniel!" Laria shouted. "This isn't some disagreement about trade tariffs or mineral rights. This is about people's lives: Annabeth, Katie, Phil, Scharr, T'les, Katan, even Murphy! These are people we love! These are people we say are our family!" She turned back towards the waves with disgust. "Bajorans say family comes before anything else. I guess you disagree."

"The government is making this a matter of honor. It doesn't matter what I think."

"Doesn't it?" Laria replied. "I thought Torlek said you were the voice of all Klingon forces in Cardassia when he appointed you Imperial jenSa'? You're the one always quoting Klingon proverbs. What happened to 'nItebSuvnISDevwI'?"

"A leader must stand alone," Tigranian said before rubbing his forehead in frustration. "What do you expect me to do, Laria?"

"Exactly what I told you before, Daniel," she said firmly, "what's right."

"And that is?" he asked.

"I think it's long overdue that the Klingon Empire repays the Federation for Narendra III."

Tigranian instantly understood.
Chapter 5 by captaintigranian
Imperial Romulan Forward Logistical Base 37: Syrcanis Belt, Romulan Star Empire

Stardate: 54526.3

"Citizens!" The Tal Shiar political officer said holding a PADD in his hand and speaking into a microphone. His voice echoed above the chaotic cacophony sounding along the length of the cavernous harbor deck. The pressurized compartment was larger than the size of most towns across the Star Empire. "I read you now a letter written by a Romulan mother to her last surviving son now serving on the Cardassian border:

Samiyo, my child, though my heart aches that you must fight so far away from home and family, I know that it is for our motherland! Your older brothers shed their green blood in the valiant struggle against the Dominion. Now, it is time for you to match their sacrifice in service of our noble and proud nation! Victory! This is the cry of our Romulan race! Victory! This is the cry of our people!

The ten thousand workers running back and forth through stacked pallets of heavy ordnance and pressurized tanks of warp coolant mostly ignored him. It was not out of lack of patriotism. It was because it was far too easy to get maimed or killed doing this kind of dangerous work. However, the brave officers and sailors of the Imperial Navy relied on them to do it. Without fuel or ammunition, the fleet was useless. Without the fleet, the ordnance workers were useless. Everyone knew their jobs and their purpose.

The chief ordnance sub-commander in charge of the north wing hadn't slept in three days. Stubble covered his chin and his eyes were green and bloodshot. However, he had a job to do. Forty-eight hours before, deuterium tankers and ammunition tenders arrived carrying every bit of the reserve left in the Imperial Romulan fleet's stockpiles. Yesterday, the fleet arrived. At first, he had only expected one or perhaps two Battle Wings. No, this was the entire fleet left in Romulan space. It was then he knew that this alert was for real. His superiors had trusted this base with the care of the whole Romulan military and he would not let them down even if it killed him.

"Sir!" a centurion in a grease covered uniform screamed from a two platforms away. "We have completed purging Bay 12 and all loading crews report ready. However, the pressure in the deuterium lines is down more than half! We don't enough fuel to get the pumps back to peak efficiency!"

"I don't care if we have to electrolyze our drinking water to make more hydrogen!" The sub-commander shouted back. "These men and women might be going into action in service to the motherland. When they do, it will be with full tanks! Am I understood?"

"Yes Sir!" the centurion shouted back.

"Get the crews to attention and then bring the Taronok in! We're running behind. We have less than two days to get through all those ships out there!"

"Yes Sir!" the centurion shouted back.

Klaxons suddenly sounded across the area. The centurion's voice boomed through a set of loudspeakers.

"Attention! Attention! Hazardous operations are commencing in Bay 12. Force fields are activating and bay is depressurizing. All non-essential personnel clear levels four and five immediately. Loading crews at the ready! Imperial Romulan Warbird Taronok is now entering Bay 12…"

Team leaders shouted at a mixture of Romulan lower enlisted crewman and slaves conscripted from nearby planets for this surge operation. Eight hundred individuals ran forward and took positions next to pre-staged hoverpallets of explosives, crates of lubrication containers, and pre-sorted bins of urgently needed repair parts. As the sub-commander watched, he was torn on the inside. Though he was grateful to the High Command on Romulus for ensuring that the fleet was receiving a full combat load of supplies prior to staging on the Neutral Zone, he was also terrified. State secret or not, this was everything they had. There would be no reserves left if quick victory wasn't achieved.

More klaxons sounded.

The two bay doors made of green polyduranium were each over a square kilometer in size. They slowly separated and raw sunlight from the vacuum of space suddenly surrounded the waiting personnel. Holding station a hundred meters outside was one of the sights that the sub-commander truly felt was one of the most beautiful in the galaxy: the fearsome visage of a D'Deridex warbird.

Mooring tractor beams activated and began pulling the behemoth into the drydock. A D'Deridex was twice the size of a Federation Galaxy class starship. The beak-like head section entered through the bay doors. The sub-commander marveled as the sunlight glistened off the fifty-meter wide, platinum plated figurehead crowning the warship's forecastle. It was the glorious symbol of their empire…his empire. The screaming raptor clutched the twin planets Romulus and Remus in her talons. Above her outstretched wings in Romulan script was the motto of the State:

"IMPERIUM ETHH D'DERIDEXIUM"

"EMPIRE AND MILITARY MIGHT"

For the hundredth time in as many hours, the sight of the Taronok entering his bay made him quietly promise to himself, "I will not fail my country. Not now, not ever."

The warbird slowly calm to a halt as the mooring beams engaged. Then, two heavy deuterium fuel lines hanging from articulated booms extended and attached to ports on the warbird's belly.

"Hard dock complete. Fueling lines attached!" the centurion yelled.

"Commence deuterium transfer, 5000 liters per minute," the sub-commander replied taking a place next to a force field where he could monitor the whole operation from above. "Watch for blow back. With the pressure this low, it could cause some of the fuel to spontaneously vaporize in the holding tanks. One mistake and the entire system could go up in flames!"

"Aye Sir!" the centurion replied.

"Loading crews!" the sub-commander said turning to another team of centurions. "Extend service tunnels and begin ordnance upload."

"Aye Sir!" the team leaders replied in unison. The sub-commander's haggard face betrayed no emotion but inside he was so proud of his men and women. They had rehearsed for battle operations like this constantly for over two years. Now, they were executing this dangerous dance flawlessly.

Six extendable gantries extended from the sides of the bay and attached themselves to airlocks at the various access points across the warbird's hull. The airlocks on both sides of the tunnels unsealed and twenty sailors from the Taronok rushed out towards the loading docks. They started screaming orders to the shore crews which hoverpallet went to which hold.

A junior petty officer wearing a red reflective vest over his gray tunic approached one of the team leaders.

"I need four pallets of MK VIII plasma torpedoes in Forward Hold Alpha One! Follow me!"

"Roger!" one of the ordnance team leaders replied. "Slaves!" he shouted at a group of miserable looking individuals standing next to his station. "Get on the hoverpallets and follow the petty officer!"

"Yes Master!" the laborers from six different species shouted as they began pushing the heavy metal tubes towards one of the access tunnels.

"Hey, You sub-Romulan moron!" the team leader shouted at one of the slaves pushing on the black casings. "Be careful when you push that anti-grav unit! That's a pallet of plasma torpedoes, not stem bolts!"

"Yes Master," the yellow-eyed Gralluscan replied humbly from underneath a grey hood. He complied and kept moving towards the Taronok's hold. The team leader ignored him and went back to supervising another loading group.

As Rellas passed through the tunnel, he held back a smile. Twenty other bays just like this one held warbirds receiving their supplies. He looked out towards space knowing that fifty other ships were staged like Argor Fowls in a row awaiting their turn for upload. It seemed that Trallian wasn't exaggerating. This target was better than anything in his wildest dreams…
Chapter 6 by captaintigranian
In Orbit of Celdis Prime: Military Demarcation Line, Republic of Cardassia

Stardate: 54526.5

"Everyone down here is terrified out of their minds," Zhenia said to her father. The old Andorian sat in his quarters staring at his daughter's worried face on the terminal. Scharr's antennae curled forward. They nearly pulled away from his skull as they desperately wanted to touch hers to offer some comfort. Silently, he cursed the stars that Zhenia had to be one of the 450 Intergalactic Red Cross aid workers they would be fighting to defend.

"I know, Snowflake," he said softly. "But we're right here and we're not going to let anything happen to you. I promise. We're not going anywhere."

She smiled back at him. Zhenia wasn't sure if her father had called for her benefit or his.

"I never feel safer than when I have you close by Dad," she said forcing a smile. "But we're holding on. We've got the people who can move into the emergency bunkers, but there's a lot of sick and wounded that can't go underground. If any fire hits the hospital or the refugee center…"

"Hey listen to me," Scharr said firmly. "You've got five battlestarships right over your head. Just keep doing Uzaveh's good work down there like always. You won't even know that anything's wrong. Those hospital ships are coming as fast as their stubby little nacelles can carry them. They'll be here before you know it."

Zhenia pursed her lips together and nodded her head. She wanted more than anything to believe him, but the warning the Red Cross had sent them also included an estimated size of the Romulus Pact fleet that was coming. She knew enough about starship combat to understand that the odds weren't good.

"Dad," she said seriously. "I want you to know I spoke to Brett on subspace when you arrived in orbit yesterday. He asked me to marry him if we both make it through this. I said yes."

Scharr went quiet and sat back in his chair. Brett Hawkins was the platoon commander of the Pershing's marine detachment and, despite his best efforts, his daughter's boyfriend. Apparently, he was her fiancÚ now. Finally, Zhenia couldn't take his silence anymore.

"Are you angry?" she asked with concern.

"No actually," he said with an eerie calm. Her antennae went completely straight with surprise. "I know," he continued. "I'm as surprised as you are. Despite my best efforts to scare the marine off, he's a good kid who treats you right. I'm very happy for you, Snowflake, and you're both gonna make it through this just fine."

"Thank you, Dad," she said with a smile.

"I just hope my grandkids look a lot more like their mother and a lot less like their pinkskin father though," Scharr said unable to resist getting a dig in against his future son-in-law.

"Dad, I know it's hard for you, but could you please stop referring to Brett as a pinkskin?"

"Why?" Scharr asked shrugging his shoulders. "He is one."

Zhenia rolled her eyes at his last statement, but suddenly she started laughing. It brought a smile to her father's face.

"What's so funny?" he asked.

"Just a crazy memory that popped in my head. Do you remember when I was seven years old and you took me and Isiraa to that crappy petting zoo outside of town and Isi was too damn scared to go near any of the animals?"

"By Uzaveh," Scharr said with a chuckle. "Our first 'daddy-daughter' day…I had forgotten about that."

"Yeah," Zhenia said still laughing, "Isi spent the entire afternoon glued to your leg and I wanted to get up close with everything."

"Yup," Scharr said running his hand along the side of the screen, "and then you absolutely threw a total fit when you wanted to ride the miniature Alicorne but I said you were too small."

"But I kept screaming until you finally gave up and let me try…"

"And within three seconds, he bucked you off. You fell onto the snow and just cried your little eyes out…"

Now both of them were laughing out loud.

"And all the other parents were judging you so hard. You finally bought me a Vithi ice cone just to shut me up."

"That worked," Scharr said pointing at the screen. "You stopped crying as soon as you started licking it."

"True…" Zhenia said shaking her head.

"But you know what you did when we had our next 'daddy-daughter' there and we brought Shis?" Scharr asked. "You were a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, and you rode that miniature Alicorne like you had been in the saddle your whole life."

"Yeah," Zhenia replied. "I also seem to remember asking you if I could get one for my next birthday. Never did…" she said furrowing her eyebrows at the screen.

He immediately changed the subject. "The point is, Snowflake, you weren't afraid and you got right back up on that animal. That's what I've always loved so much about you…you're so brave."

Suddenly, Zhenia looked a little forlorn.

"What's wrong, little hybor?" he asked.

"Isi might have always been the scared one, but she's back safe on Andoria right now instead of being out here making you miserable…" Zhenia said softly. "I'm so sorry, Dad."

Suddenly, Scharr reared his shoulders back.

"You have NOTHING to be sorry for, Baby," he said. "You are out here doingwhat you think is right just like me. I am more proud of you than you can believe."

"Attention, this is the captain," Annabeth's voice suddenly echoed through the ship's intercom. "All senior staff report to the wardroom."

"Go," Zhenia said sternly. "Like you said, I'll be fine down here."

"Call me tomorrow," Scharr said.

"I will," Zhenia replied feigning confidence. They dared not say it aloud, but both were unsure if either of them would still be alive by then. "I love you, Daddy. On our next 'daddy-daughter' day we get to bring little Ryth for the first time…" she said leaning forward and touching the tips of her antennae to her screen.

"Yes we do. I love you too, Snowflake," he said placing his antennae on his terminal to meet hers. Without another word, she disconnected the transmission.

"Uzaveh, the Infinite, Protector of the Universe, Guardian of our ancestors," Scharr prayed quietly under his breath. "Watch over my family in your loving arms…"

Then, the Pershing's chief engineer rose to his feet, adjusted his uniform, and put on his best professional scowl. Then, he marched straight out into the corridor.

****

Scharr was the last of the Pershing's officers to arrive at the wardroom. He immediately noticed that five extra seats had been set at the table. The captain's chair at its head had also been reserved for someone else. While the rest of the staff sat silently, Annabeth stood at the window and stared out into space. The Andorian walked over to her side.

"Wow," Scharr said quietly. "That's a beautiful sight: all five sisters together for the first time. I just wish it could have been under different circumstances…"

Annabeth only nodded. The other four Pershing class battlestarships: Nelson, Nevsky, Shran, and Houston, all sailed in tight formation by their side. The silhouette of Celdis Prime was beautiful as the rays from the system's star bathed them in bright light.

"How is Zhenia doing?" Annabeth asked not taking her eyes away from the window.

"She's holding on," Scharr replied. "She's strong."

"Like her father…" Annabeth said. Scharr chuckled.

"Stronger than her father." He looked down and saw her holding a holophoto in her hand. It was of Alex smiling with Max in her arms.

"Did you get a hold of them?" Scharr asked.

"Yes," Annabeth replied. "I ended the transmission with, 'till we meet again.' It was the same thing my father said to my mother and me before he left on the Rutledge for Setlik III…" Annabeth breathed in sharply and buried her face in her hands. She didn't want her crew to see tears in their captain's eyes now. She thought she had to be their rock, but suddenly she felt a soft touch on her shoulder.

"Ma'am," Scharr said with genuine caring in his voice, "you will see them again. In this life or the next, you will see them again."

"What if I don't believe in the next life, Tren?" she said turning to face him. "What if I lost my faith a long time ago at the same time a little girl lost her father?"

"I think that by the end of this day, there's going to be a lot more believers all around," he replied. He held out his hand. "Ma'am, it's been a privilege serving under you."

She nodded and shook hands back.

"With you as well, Mr. Scharr."

He then took his seat at the table. Annabeth wiped her eyes, steadied herself, and then walked over to the doors. A few moments later, they opened.

"Admiral on Deck!" Captain Geist shouted loud enough to shake the bulkheads. The staff snapped to attention as Murphy entered. He was followed by Captain Quan of the Nelson, Captain Tarn of the Nevsky, Captain Zhe'vasda of the Shran, and Captain Soloth of the Houston. As Quan and Soloth passed Annabeth, both flashed her a slightly derisive look. Annabeth ignored them and remained rigidly at attention.

"As you were," Murphy said walking up to the head of the table. "Please take your seats."

Annabeth walked over to a chair to the left of Admiral Murphy and took a seat across from the other Pershing captains. The rest of her staff sat down as well.

"I want to thank the crew of the Pershing for hosting this meeting of Task Force Marne," Murphy began. "Lady Blackjack will be my flagship for this operation. Captain Quan," Murphy said turning to the CO of the Nelson seated to his right. "As the next senior commander, in the event that Pershing is destroyed is disabled, you will assume command of the task force from the Nelson, followed by Captain Tarn, and then Captain Zhe'vasda. Is that understood?"

"Yes Sir!" all five captains replied together.

"Captain Soloth," Murphy said turning to the Vulcan next. "If you find yourself alone, you do not retreat. You hold until you have to abandon ship. Am I clear?"

"Yes Sir," the Vulcan replied with his trademark dispassionate tone. It was the same one that made Annabeth's skin crawl back when she commanded the Venture. Murphy noticed her shift slightly in her seat as he spoke.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," the Admiral continued, "beyond that the plan is quite simple. We keep ourselves between the Romulus Pact and Celdis Prime until those hospital ships arrive in two days. Then, we complete the evacuation and get the hell out of here. That is it. The other powers may have given up on this planet, but we haven't."

He still noticed the cold feelings between his subordinate commanders around the table. It irked him even more. They were about to be thrust into a situation where their lives would all depend on each other. It was time for them to start acting like it.

"You know," Murphy said, "I grew up in a small town in upstate New York: a tiny place barely big enough to be on a map huddled in the Adirondacks…"

His sudden shift of subject grabbed everyone's attention.

"But the fact that it was so far out in the boonies had a real advantage: every night when I went out into my backyard, I could see all the stars with perfect clarity." Murphy smiled as he remembered. "During the summer, I would just lie in the grass and star up at the blackness. I always wondered who was up there. Today, I have my answer: it was all of you.

I look around this table and I see the many faces of our Federation: Human, Vulcan, Coridanite, Andorian, Trill, Betazoid. On these five ships," he said pointing out the window, "we have officers and crew from all 152 member worlds and beyond." He paused to rub his jaw.

"We volunteered to defend the men and women on those worlds no matter the circumstances. Sometimes they are grateful for it. Sometimes they are not. However, our oath remains unchanged.

Its sacred words unite us in our calling and they especially hold true today. We are here and we are going to be bold. It's time to put aside whatever bullshit is in our pasts: politics, conflict, rivalries…As of this moment, it is all a memory. It does not matter anymore," he said making firm eye contact with every officer around the table.

"Today, we are one task force, one Starfleet, and one Federation," he continued. "We stand together so that children who look up at the sky tonight on Earth, Vulcan, Coridan, Andoria, Trillius Prime, or Betazed can still dream of what's out there and believe that one day they'll travel to all those little points of light like I did, and I assume as you did too. Otherwise, you wouldn't be sitting in this room right now."

Murphy took a deep breath.

"No matter who you are," he continued, "we all have someone that we think of when we think of home: a wife, a husband, father, mother, son, daughter, sister, brother…" he paused again. "…or even just a lost friend. They may be on another planet or they may be in this room. Today let that person in your thoughts be your Federation. Fight for them, because today we fight for all our Federations."

The room was silent for a few tense moments. Without warning, Soloth pushed back from the table and walked around it to Annabeth. Then, he held out his hand.

"To our Federation," he said respectfully. Annabeth stood up and grabbed his wrist.

"To our Federation," she replied proudly. Quan stood up next, walked over, and placed her palm over their hands.

"To the Federation."

Next came Tarn and Zhe'vasda's hands.

"To the Federation!" they said together.

Annabeth's crew rose from their seats and added their hands to the pile.

"To the Federation!" they shouted in unison.

Finally, it was Admiral Murphy's turn to rise. Then, he actually managed to laugh.

"What's so funny, Sir?" Annabeth asked.

"Two people are missing today," Murphy said regaining his composure. "And that's my fault," he said. However, if one of them were here, I think I know exactly what he'd say: "Today is a good day to die…" Murphy placed his hand on top of everyone else's.

They all stood together for a moment of quiet unity. Then, before they released from each other's grasp, Murphy led them in the culmination of that sacred oath:

"To explore strange new worlds…"

"TO EXPLORE STRANGE NEW WORLDS," they all repeated.

"To seek out new life and new civilizations…"

"TO SEEK OUT NEW LIFE AND NEW CIVILIZATIONS."

"To boldly go where no one has gone before!"

"TO BOLDLY GO WHERE NO ONE HAS GONE BEFORE!"

"Who are we?" Murphy shouted at the top of his lungs.

"STARFLEET!"

"Who are we?" Murphy shouted again.

"STARFLEET!"

"WHO ARE WE?"

"STARFLEET! GO BOLDLY!" They all shouted as they pulled back their hands.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," Admiral Murphy said standing tall. "Today, we show the galaxy who we are. Take your stations."
Chapter 7 by captaintigranian
The other captains returned to their ships. Murphy joined Annabeth on the bridge of the Pershing. Then, the agonizing wait began.

Annabeth and Daredevil sat in their chairs while Murphy slowly paced back and forth across the bridge. Phil kept the helm perfectly level. As the pilot of the flagship, the other battlestarships were relying on him to keep them all in formation. Katie stood at Tactical ready to arm defensive systems and weapons at a moment's notice. Adamson kept the sensor array constantly scanning, He knew it was up to him to detect the enemy fleets as soon as they were within range. Katan was a few decks below. His sickbay was ready to receive any and all casualties. Scharr and T'les stood down in engineering next to the pulsing warp core. They knew it would be their critical responsibility to keep power and damage control going even under the most hellish conditions.

Finally after two hours, Adamson's console chirped to life. Everyone looked over with bated breath to her the news.

"Admiral," Adamson said looking up from his console. "Incoming warp signatures at 273 Mark 115. Fifty-four Cardassian State Galor class cruisers."

"Dead ahead," Murphy said glancing over at Annabeth.

"Right where we expected them to be," she replied softly.

Murphy walked to the center of the bridge. "Onscreen," he ordered.

Out in space, the bridge crew watched dozens of white flashes emerge from warp just on the other side of the Military Demarcation Line. The sheer size of the Cardassian fleet made them all draw in a deep breath. The manta ray shaped vessels with their bright yellow hulls stood silhouetted against the blackness. They were arranged in textbook combat formation, ready for action.

"The lead ship is hailing, Sir," Katie said from Tactical.

"Let's see what they have to say," Murphy replied. "Open a channel."

The viewscreen changed to the image of a very confident looking Cardassian State legate. The bright, gilded sash across his armor glistened next to his giant badge of office. He seemed completely at east as he rested against the back of his chair. Murphy instantly recognized him from the intelligence packet provided by Admiral Yoshizaki.

"I am Legate Nessatt Resked, Commander of the People's Navy of the Cardassian State," the man said with the demeanor of one who already felt they won the game.

"And I am Admiral Peter Murphy of Federation Task Force: Marne," Murphy replied trying to portray an equal level of self-assurance. "Legate Resked, your fleet is welcome to remain on your side of the MDL. However, if you so much as blink in the wrong direction of Celdis Prime, I will order my ships to open fire."

Resked burst out laughing.

"Enough games, Admiral," he replied. "We both know that you are now on our side of the MDL and you are alone. Only because I have respect for your suicidal level of bravery, I'll give your task force one final chance to depart the Celdis System without turning you all to radioactive ash."

"There are over three thousand innocent people down on that planet," Murphy said keeping his cool. "I'm not going to let you hurt them. It's that simple."

"Those people are no longer the Federation's concern." Resked spit back on him. "Even if you could actually protect them, they are criminals and traitors who betrayed the principles of the Cardassian State by fleeing our community without permission."

"To betray your principles would mean that your country actually had principles," Murphy said. "They came to us begging for safety and freedom, and that's exactly what I'm going to give them."

Resked's face twisted into a scowl and he cocked his head to the side.

"I was going to authorize my men to take the survivors of your doomed expedition as prisoners," he said, "but since you choose to insult us, every single man and woman in your fleet will be dead by the time the sun sets on Celdis Prime."

Murphy grinned right back at the legate's face.

"I faced a Borg cube on my home planet's front doorstep back in '73," Murphy said crossing his arms. "If you think the fifty rusted-out pieces of Dominion War surplus garbage you have in front of me makes me sweat, you're wrong."

"Well then Admiral," Resked said. "I guess I will have to try a little harder to be intimidating." The Cardassian nodded to someone off screen.

Instantly, the alarms on both Katie's and Adamson's consoles went haywire. Directly above Resked's fleet, forty Romulan D'Deridex warbirds dropped their cloaking shields and shimmered into the visible. Instantly, the forward weapons arrays of the Romulan-Cardassian fleet charged to life. The combined green and yellow glow was so bright it blotted out the stars behind them.

"Sir!" Adamson shouted. "They've armed all offensive systems and raised shields."

The hearts of everyone on the Pershing's bridge nearly pounded out of their chests. Their entire forward field of view was completely filled from horizon to horizon with warships. Each one had their weapons trained directly at them.

"One last chance, Admiral!" Resked shouted. "Your deaths would be pointless. The Republic won't fight for this planet. Neither will the Klingons. Do you think the Federation actually cares what you do here? Your own government sent you to this rock to die just to assuage their own guilt at abandoning the galaxy!"

He leaned forward and moderated his hostile tone.

"As a sign of the Cardassian State's mercy, if you surrender now I'll even let you rescue the Red Cross workers before you leave. The Federation never cared about Cardassian lives before. Why bother to start now?

However, if you refuse, we will destroy you. All those lives will be lost for nothing. The choice is yours."

Every pair of eyes on the bridge turned to Murphy. The admiral briefly looked down to compose himself. His eyes caught the glint of the comm badge on his chest. Murphy's mind suddenly flashed back to the court room on Cardassia Prime three months before. He remembered the pain and shame on Tigranian's face when he told the captain that he would never get to wear the symbol of Starfleet again. He also remembered the look of defeat as Tigranian pulled it off for the last time. At last he understood what his old friend must have gone through in that moment…

"I'm waiting for an answer, Admiral!" Resked shouted through the viewscreen. "My patience won't last forever."

Murphy looked back up. He gripped the hem of his uniform jacket and pulled it tight. Then, he cleared his throat and turned to Tactical.

"Lieutenant Lexington," he said trying to keep his voice steady. "Open a channel to the task force…"

Annabeth and Daredevil looked up at Murphy in disbelief. It seemed as if he was about to bow to all of the legate's demands. Resked grinned from ear to ear and dropped back into his seat.

"Channel open, Sir…" Katie struggled to get the words out.

"All ships, this is Freedom 6. Respond in sequence," Murphy called out.

"Blackjack 6," Annabeth said from behind him. "Standing By."

"Victory 6: standing by," Quan answered.

"Motherland 6: standing by," Tarn said.

"Ice-Ax 6: standing by," Zhe'vasda replied.

"Lone Star 6: standing by," Soloth said.

After a final pause, the admiral looked straight into Resked's eyes and threw his shoulders back.

"Red Alert!" Murphy commanded. "All hands to battle stations!"

TO BE CONTINUED
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