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Twenty-Four Hours Later

Trelka System: Federation Zone of Occupation, Cardassian Space

"We've completed our sensor scans of the entire sector," Laria said with a profound sadness in her voice. "It confirms the initial assessment of the Cardassian Patrol ships. Zero beacons, zero distress signals…and zero life signs. It appears there were no survivors from the Zephyr."

"All those people…" Alex said as her voice trailed off.

"We've recovered all the debris we could," Scharr said. "The pattern of the break-up is consistent with a rupture of the port anti-matter containment tank cause by an external breach from weapons fire."

"What type of weapons fire?" Phil said sharply.

"Residual ion patterns on the hull plating indicate Class II disruptors. A little obsolete for any modern military vessel, but still very common among civilian vessels, especially ones of ill-repute."

"It could be anyone," Annabeth said with frustration. "Ventaxians, Lissapians, Ferengi…"

"We all know who did this!" Tigranian suddenly shouted. "It's Devek. Despite everything we've done, he's still operating with total impunity."

"The only question I have, Sir…" Katie interjected, "…is what are we going to do about it?"

"What makes you think we'll be the ones who'll get to go after him?" Scharr said pointing his antennae towards her.

"Because I know the captain," Katie said turning back towards Tigranian.

"She's right, Sir," Annabeth chimed in. "You've had an awful lot of private communication with Starfleet Command in the past twenty-four hours."

"I didn't want to say anything until Admiral Paris and Admiral Murphy received confirmation from the President and the Council…"

"So they are planning something for us?" Phil said hopefully.

"We can't mount an operation against Devek until we know where he is," Tigranian said fighting back frustrated disgust.

"And just how do we do that?" Laria murmured. "We haven't gotten any intelligence of value in months.

Tigranian sighed. He knew he couldn't keep his senior staff out of the loop any longer.

"Starfleet Intelligence is proposing using 'enhanced interrogation techniques' against the slave broker we captured last month. However, they won't proceed without direct authorization from the President and the Chief Justice of the Federation Supreme Court."

"What?" Alex said leaning forward in her chair. "Are we talking about torture here?"

"I've heard their proposal," Tigranian said plaintively holding his hands in front of him. "Their techniques are not pleasant, but I believe they're not a direct violation of the Federation Charter."

"We're kinda getting into semantics here, aren't we?" Alex shot back. "Are we willing to start heading down a road that ignores the very values we're supposed to defend?"

"Over one hundred innocent people are dead, Alex!" Katie said. "I saw those slaves in the market that the broker was trying to sell to the highest bidder. What about their rights? What about the weapons and drugs Devek and his thugs are running through this sector every single day? Sure, we can stop a few of his ships, but not all of them! If we take him down…"

"Katie," Annabeth said holding up her hand. "No one is arguing that the galaxy wouldn't be a far better place without Devek in it, but the Federation has to tread very carefully here. Otherwise, we're no better than he is."

"May I speak freely here, Ma'am?" Katie asked Annabeth.

"Of course, Katie," Annabeth said turning towards her. "What's said in these briefings stays in these briefings."

"I've read about that kind of logic before from many nations across Earth and the Federation's history, and they all one thing in common…"

"And that is?" Alex asked incredulously.

"They don't exist anymore," Katie said plainly.

"I really want to hear what the captain's opinion is on this," Scharr said turning towards Tigranian.

"As a Starfleet officer, I have sworn an oath to defend the citizens of the United Federation of Planets with my life, but also to support the Federation Charter without question."

"Sir," Phil rubbing his eyes. "That might be the most political thing I've ever heard come out of your mouth. We know you. Don't mince words. What do you really think?"

Tigranian paused while he considered his next statement very carefully. He knew it would be unpopular with some in the room.

"Alex, I completely understand your fears, but I cannot and will not stand by while innocent Federation citizens are murdered and while women and children are sold into slavery, all for the greed and lust for power of one man. Attacking Starfleet vessels is one thing, but a civilian ship with no armaments and no protection…that was the act of an animal. bortaS bIr jablu'DI', reH QaQqu' nay'"

"Just what the hell does that mean?" Scharr asked.

"Revenge is a dish best served cold," Laria whispered looking down at her lap.

Alex sighed.

"Maybe I'm being na´ve," she said looking around the table. "But I joined Starfleet to save lives, not end them. Maybe, the suffering of the slave broker and the death of Devek will result in some greater good. Maybe it is worth the price. I don't know. I'm not a philosopher or a theologian." She sighed deeply but continued.

"Sir, I will carry out my orders and take part in any mission you give us. I trust you enough to know you wouldn't lead us into something immoral, but I would be remiss if I didn't answer your proverb with another one from Marcus Aurelius."

Tigranian nodded his assent silently.

"The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injury."

* * * *

Two more days passed. The Pershing remained in the Trelka system, waiting for a mission that might never come. The tension on board was palpable. The crew struggled between the competing desire to hunt down the perpetrators of the Zephyr massacre and the desire to run back to the gilded innocence of Federation Space, where such atrocities could easily be forgotten among the endless plenty and comforts.

Many of the Pershing's crew had been fighting without respite for over four years, and some were growing tired of it. The main thing that kept them going was the profound desire to spare their loved ones back in the blissful ignorance of home any more pain at the hands of the Federation's enemies.

Tigranian sat at the desk in his ready room reading a list of names on a PADD. His door chimed. He ignored it for a few seconds, hoping the person would walk away, but when it sounded again, he finally muttered the word, "Enter."

The doors parted and Annabeth walked in.

"What do you need, Number One?" he said not looking up at her.

"I need to make sure the commander of this ship is alright. I've barely seen you on the bridge since this whole thing started."

"I've been busy."

"L, is worried about you as well."

"She'll be fine. She's strong."

"I never said I was worried about her." Annabeth slowly made her way towards Tigranian's desk. She tried to catch of glimpse of his PADD but he kept trying to conceal it from her view. "What are you reading?"

"Don't worry about it."

"I do worry about it when it comes to you. I have to know what my captain is doing if I'm going to be an effective first officer."

"I thought we were past such doctrinal assertions, Annabeth," Tigranian said with a hint of annoyance.

"Apparently not, Dan."

Tigranian knew there was no point in keeping it from her. In truth, he felt more self-conscious than anything else. He knew she would have something to say. After a long sip of raktajino from the mug on his desk, he started reading aloud.

"Melanie Drexell: Thirty-two years old. Hydrological Engineer. Hometown: Tallahassee, Florida, Earth. Married to Tom Drexell, Microbiologist, also of Tallahassee. Two children: Richard: Age 8 and Jennifer: Age 5…"

Annabeth started rubbing her eyes.

"Jesus, Dan…"

"She wasn't Starfleet, Annabeth," Tigranian said placing the PADD back on his desk. "She had a comfortable civilian position on Earth monitoring the Gulf Desalinization Network, but she volunteered to join the Provincial Reconstruction team because and I quote, "I felt I had an obligation to help all sentient species improve their lives, not just those on my homeworld…"

"You can't do this to yourself, Sir. It's not your fault…"

"They were unarmed Annabeth. Our whole purpose out here, the whole reason a ship this powerful exists, was to protect people like them from harm, and we failed."

"Dozens of civilian vessels travel through the Occupation Zone every day. Unless the Zephyr was within our phaser range, how could we have stopped it?"

"By stopping those responsible before the attack happened. An honorable warrior protects those weaker than him."

Annabeth slammed her fists down on his desk.

"And what do you think you've been doing for almost a year? This ship and this crew have done more to safeguard this particular chunk of the ass-end of space than anyone else!"

"Apparently, it wasn't enough. We did fail, Annabeth. To repair our honor, we have to end this once and for all."

Before she could respond, the monitor on Tigranian's desk came to life with a bright red screen.

"The following is a Tier 1 Secure Transmission from Starfleet Command: Classified Top Secret. Verify that all personnel have appropriate clearance. When complete, confirm with retinal scan and security authorization code."

Tigranian looked up at Annabeth.

"Computer, lock doors," Tigranian looked at his screen. "Authorization: Tigranian Omega 3-6 Tango."

The monitor conducted a quick scan of his eyeball and the screen turned green.

"Authorization accepted."

Admiral Murphy's face appeared.

"You alone, Dan?" he asked with a solemn face.

"No, Annabeth's with me." She stepped around the desk and looked down at the monitor screen.

"Hello, Sir," she said with nod.

"It's good to see you, Annabeth. I'm glad you can hear this too."

"What's the update, Pete?"

"They broke him, Dan."

Annabeth and Tigranian exchanged a glance.

"Do we want to know how?" Tigranian asked softly.

"No, and I wouldn't tell if you did."

Annabeth shut her eyes briefly, but then focused again. It was done. There was no point in debating it now.

"Twenty minutes ago, the President signed Executive Order 28375-49 authorizing Starfleet Command to take any and all necessary means to bring Devek to justice for his attack on the Zephyr. He asked me to remind you specifically that no one who does not hold a Federation Security Clearance will know about this operation until after it is complete."

"I give you my word as a warrior that I will not involve the Klingons…"

"That's all I needed to hear, Dan."

"Sir," Annabeth asked nervously. "What if Devek is not willing to be brought to justice? I doubt we will be able to convince him to surrender."

"I say again, Commander Geist," Murphy said firmly. "Any and all necessary means. Devek will no longer be in a position to threaten Federation citizens or Federation allies again. Am I clear?"

"Yes Sir," Tigranian answered for his first officer.

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