“The planet Cait has no intention of joining the Federation, and we certainly have no interest in your cause, or for that matter, in the cause of your rival faction,” Ambassador M’Raat spoke emphatically, sitting in one of the chairs around the briefing table in the starship Heracles’ observation lounge, his cat-like slit pupils focusing on Commodore Mel Schwarzkopf first, to make sure his point had been unmistakable, before he let his glance wander across the faces of the other two Starfleet officers present as well.
Terrance Glover shot fellow captain Amaya Donners an annoyed look, which she quickly reciprocated, before he turned back towards the vermilion-furred ambassador. “I don’t believe you and your people have fully considered your options. Or should I say, the consequences of rash decisions?”
“Is this a threat, Captain?”
Glover smirked. “Not at all. I just want to make certain that you have the full picture.”
But the tall Caitian wasn’t easily intimidated and turned back to look at the most senior Starfleet officer in the room. “Is this what your new Federation has come to, Commodore? Bullies and strong-hand tactics? Is that what you are hoping to rebuild?”
“These are dangerous times, Mister Ambassador,” Schwarzkopf said. “And to be quiet frank, you’d be a fool not to see that. Do you think the Nyberrites care one whiff about the Caitian people? Do you really think they will come to your help when you need it the most? All the Nyberrites care about are the Nyberrites, and if that means one planet has to suffer for the good of the whole, than that is exactly what will happen under their leadership. And their influence is spreading daily, like a disease. Like the Borg once did.”
The mention of the cyborg race brought M’Raat up short, clearly the memory of the unrelenting and desperate war still far too fresh in his memory, even after four years. His hesitation didn’t last very long however. “I know about Betazed and I will not let that happen to my people.”
“This won’t be another Betazed,” said Donners sharply, as if she had grown bored of that argument. “Things are different now. We are more organized, stronger, more determined.”
But M’Raat shook his head. “And still fractured. From what I hear this other Federation, the Preservers—or whatever the hells you call them, are much more powerful.”
“We have the superior numbers,” Glover quickly said. “It is only a matter of time until we will work out our—differences, and face the Nyberrites as a united front. The question you have to ask yourself, Ambassador, is if you want Cait to be part of the future or of the past. Because, make no mistake, you will need to choose a side.”
M’Raat glanced towards the large windows of the observation lounge, allowing him a magnificent view of his blue-green world below before his focus returned to the three Starfleet officers. “You are fighting amongst yourselves and expect my people to take the risk of betting our future that you will be victorious?” he shook his head again. “I’m sorry, the stakes are simply far too high. Cait will remain neutral in this conflict.”
Schwarzkopf left his chair so suddenly, it even surprised Terrence Glover for just a moment. “I urge you to reconsider this decision, Mister Ambassador. I urge you to think very carefully about what it may mean for your people and for the galaxy as a whole. Change is coming and there is no more room for anyone to stay on the sidelines.”
The commodore’s intensity stunned M’Raat into silence for a brief moment. “I think—I think I would like to return to the surface now.”
Glover spoke before Schwarzkopf could, the man was clearly far too agitated to be trusted to make another reasonable argument. “Naturally, if that is your wish. You are after all our guest.”
“I am not si sure I felt like one,” he said, shooting a dark look at the still glowering commodore.
“Bridge to observation lounge. Commodore, we have multiple ships inbound.”
It took Schwarzkopf a few seconds to collect himself again, before he finally tore his eyes off M’Raat and looked towards the ceiling instead. “Who is it?”
“Four Starfleet ships, Commodore. Preservers.”
“Just what we needed,” said Donners and left her chair, already heading towards the doors.
Glover was equally annoyed and promptly followed her to head for the transporter room and to return to his ship as quickly as possible, the ambassador already forgotten.
He had so hoped to avoid a fight today.
“We are now entering the Trill system, sir,” said Ensign Srena, Eagle’s Andorian helm officer.
Michael Owens nodded. “Drop out of warp. Set condition red across the ship, all hands to report to battle stations.”
Chief security officer José Carlos promptly acknowledged. “Condition red throughout the ship, sir.”
And with that the previously yellow flashing alert panels all over the bridge turned a dark, ominous red, preparing the bridge crew for imminent battle.
Owens stood from his chair. “Who’ve we got?”
“Three ships around Cait, sir,” said Lieutenant Stanmore from ops. “Heracles, Cuffe and Agamemnon. They have detected us and are raising shields and breaking orbit.”
“It had to be her.”
“Sir?” Stanmore said.
“Never mind, Lieutenant.”
“Sir, I have Captain Sandhurst on a secure channel,” said Carlos.
Owens nodded. “Pipe him through.”
Not a moment later, Donald Sandhurst, captain of the recently commissioned, brand-new Luna-class Gibraltar appeared on a large inset in the top left corner of the main screen, Cait and the scrambling, opposing fleet remaining visible in the background.
“Looks like they brought out the big guns. Heracles in their flagship, commanded by none other than Commodore Melvin Schwarzkopf. Not just a hothead but pretty much the poster figure of everything wrong with the Guardians.”
“I know of Schwarzkopf,” Owens said. “He could be a problem.”
“Not as much as Glover on the Cuffe. Sorry to say that I knew the man much better than I cared for in the old days. He’s aggressive and unpredictable. If it comes to it, I say we take him out first. Don’t know much about Agamemnon and Donners.”
“Better that way, trust me.”
The other captain offered a little smile. “Sounds like somebody else here’s got history. Not the pleasant kind, I take it. Or maybe not all unpleasant?”
“We’ll approach in standard formation,” said Owens, ignoring the Sandhurst’s, last comments altogether. “We’ve got numbers on our side today. If we can talk them into withdrawing, good. If not, I want to make sure they leave here broken and bloodied. What they are doing, it has to stop, one way or another.”
He nodded sharply. “Couldn’t agree more. Sandhurst out.”
“Mister Carlos, signal the task force to spread out in standard attack formation. I want Sutherland and Independence to protect our flanks. Let’s not give them a chance to turn our advantage.”
“Yes, sir, signaling the task force now.”
“Captain, we are being hailed by the Heracles,” Stanmore said.
Owens took a brief moment to collect his thoughts before tugging down on his maroon uniform tunic. “Let’s hear what they have to say then.”
The image shifted to reveal Schwarzkopf, standing in the middle of his bridge, very much like Owens himself. However, differently to his crew, Schwarzkopf and his officers wore a different variation of the Starfleet uniform, one with mostly wine-red or mustard-yellow shoulders on their otherwise black tunics instead of the traditional black shouldered and department-colored jackets Owens wore. Even their combadges had a slightly different design, still featuring the prominent Starfleet delta, but theirs sat on a rectangular back instead of an oval. What wasn’t any different however was the phaser strapped to his hip, something that had long since become common practice in either Starfleet.
“Commodore Schwarzkopf, you and your vessels are in violation of Federation Council Directive two-ten as well as Starfleet General Order ninty-five and are hereby instructed to immediately leave this sector or face the consequences.”
“Let’s spare ourselves the little games, Captain, we both know that I don’t recognize your authority or that of what you pretentiously refer to as the Federation Council. “
“Yes, and I care little about what you do or do not recognize. You have thirty seconds to comply.”
“Tell me Captain, doesn’t it become tiring to be the Nyberrite’s lap dog?”
“I suppose not any more than recklessly inciting worlds to fight battles they cannot win. Does the Betazed dictionary still show your picture against the word imbecile?”
Schwarzkopf offered a dry laugh. “I’d rather be called that and fight against injustice then hide myself away in a hole like you and your Preservers.”
“Wisdom is to know when to fight. But then that something you clearly do not posses,” he said and nodded. “But very well, if it is a fight that you so desperately crave, I’ll give you a fight. Owens out.” He promptly activated his ship-to-ship channel by stabbing a button on his armrest, and connecting him instantly with the rest of the task force. “Donald, I want you to focus on Cuffe, seeing that you know her captain best. We’ll focus on Agamemnon. The rest will engage Heracles.” He didn’t wait for a response, confident that the other captains would follow his instructions. “Attack pattern Kappa-Nine. The use of primary weapons is authorized. Eagle out.”
He then turned to look towards Carlos at the tactical station. “Target Agamemnon’s offensive and defensive systems, but limit your fire, I want to give them a chance to withdraw once she realizes the pointlessness of it all.”
The Hispanic officer offered a sharp nod in response.
Stanmore in the meantime shook his head. “They do want that fight, sir. Coming right at us.”
“I shouldn’t be surprised, she never did know when to quit.”
The view screen ahead of him changed to combat mode as the default view of the approaching starships shifted upwards with the lower half of the screen displaying a tactical map of the system and the location of all combatants. The four blue deltas representing the task force quickly split up to concentrate on their designated targets, symbolized by red deltas.
Donners on the Agamemnon clearly didn’t take well to Eagle coming after her and quickly unleashed a barrage of phaser fire. Owens held on to the armrests of his chair as the bridge around him trembled under the impact.
“Multiple direct hits,” Carlos said. “Shields holding at eighty-nine percent.”
He nodded with a smirk. “Return fire, all available banks.”
Owens watched with satisfaction as Agamemnon was taking a beating, her shields flaring heavily under the barrage even while she turned away to carry out evasive maneuvers.
“Their shields are down to sixty-nine percent, some damage to her primary hull.”
“Keep at it,” he said as he studied her projected course on the tactical viewer. “Let’s not giver her the chance to catch her breath. I’d rather finish this quickly.”
The results were more of the same, the other ship’s shield struggling to protect the hull from the powerful energy blasts while her return fire was mostly absorb by Eagle’s shields, demonstrating the Guardian’s technological advantages over their rival.
He activated a ship-to-ship channel with the other vessel through his armrest controls. “This is foolish even for you, Maya. Know when you are beat and get out of here before this gets uglier than it has to.”
“You mean like what happened last week when you nearly destroyed Pytheas? Three crewmen died that day. That blood is on your hands.”
“They had every chance to withdraw, the same chance I am offering you now. Besides, you don’t want to start comparing body counts.”
“You know what your problem is, Michael. You are just too damned overconfident. It’s going to be your downfall one day.”
He watched Agamemnon turning sharply. “Maybe. But today’s not—“
“Multiple torpedoes incoming!” Carlos barked.
Of course by then he had seen them too. “Damn you, Maya.” He cut the link. “Srena, emergency evasive, full impulse.”
Owens and the rest of the crew had to literally hang on to their stations as Eagle performed a severe turn at breakneck speed, pushing the inertial dampeners past their limits.
It was not enough to avoid all the torpedoes.
“Brace for impact.”
Owens was pushed back into his chair as two projectiles smashed into their shields, causing him to feel the hits all the way down to his bone marrow.
“So much for the Aldebaran Accords,” he said angrily before shooting a dark look at his tactical officer. “Jose, return fire, quantum torpedoes, one set.”
Carlos hesitated for just a moment, and perhaps a more experienced and dedicated first officer would have raised an objection in the old days. But as far as Michael Owens was concerned, those were long behind them. As was the time for moderation. “They asked for this. Fire!”
On the screen, Owens watched as the two azure missiles streaked through space, both finding their target, impacting against Agamemnon’s shields at the stern of her saucer. The shields flared only briefly this time before disappearing entirely. The damage was significant as not a moment later her starboard impulse engine erupted with fire which was quickly doused by the vacuum of space, and then died.
“You’re making me do this, Maya,” he said to nobody. He glanced down at the tactical view to get a picture of the state of the battle. It looked as if Sandhurst and Glover were going at it with nearly the same ferocity, for now the newer Luna-class ship with the advantage. Heracles was holding her own against Sutherland and Independence, meaning that he needed to finish this quickly to add Eagle’s firepower to the rest of the task force.
“Multiple new contacts, sir, three-four-three mark ten. Counting at least eight vessels,” said Lance Stanmore. “They came out of nowhere.”
Owens doubted that very much, and he was angry for allowing his crew to get blindsided like this, but he decided that there would be time for disciplinary measures later. “On screen.”
The upper part of the viewer switched to an aft view to show the new players on the board. They appeared to be a mixed group of starships, none having much in common with the others and all powerful in their own right. Worst though, none were Starfleet. None were on his side.
“Nyberrites,” said Srena, even if there was no need to put that into words at this stage, not with a Romulan Warbird, a Breen Destroyer, a Klingon Vor’cha cruiser and two massive Nyberrite Lawgivers staring them in the face.
He noticed a call coming in from Gibraltar and activated the link. “Looks like this party is over,” said Sandhurst.
“I was hoping to avoid something like this.”
“No point crying over spilled milk now—Looks like they’re sending a general hail. How very typical.”
Owens nodded. “Of course they are,” he said and opened a second channel.
“Attention Federation starships, this is the Nyberrite vessel Pillar of Justice, you are hereby ordered to dispersed from this system immediately.”
It didn’t take long for Commodore Schwarzkopf to respond. “We—by this I mean the Guardians of the Federation of Planets—are here on a diplomatic mission to the Caitian homeworld. You have no cause to ask for our removal.”
“Your presences here—of your so called faction or any Federation vessels or personnel is neither requested nor welcomed by the Cait government which is under Nyberrite protection. If you do not comply you will force our hand.”
Owens quickly opened a secure line to Heracles. “Schwarzkopf, don’t be an idiot for once. Listen to them and get out of here.”
The commodore’s enraged face appeared on the top right corner of the screen. “We can take them together. This could be where we make our stand against their aggression. Join us in taking back the Federation.”
But Owens shook his head. “That is insane. All you will achieve is needless death, just as you always do. This is not the way.”
At that Schwarzkopf laughed. “You are an even bigger coward than I thought. You are all too happy to go after your own people, but as soon as anyone with a bigger stick shows up, you run away.”
“It’s called tactical thinking, Commodore, I suggest you try it some day. You want to throw away your lives and in the process declare war on the Nyberrites and lose what little of the Federation you keep clinging to, be my guest. But we won’t be party to this. In fact I came here to avoid that very possibility. But if you insist on acting like a fool, you’re on your own.” He disconnected the line. “Josè, signal the task force to withdraw. Srena, get us out of her, warp six.”
The orders were swiftly acknowledged and Eagle and the rest of the task force left Cait, the Guardians and the Nyberrites behind but not without keeping long-range sensors peeled at the potentially explosive situation unfolding.
Owens prayed that Schwarzkopf and his misguided comrades would not be hot-headed enough to light a fuse that would blow up into their faces and thereby destabilizing an already precarious status quo.
He uttered a heavy sigh of relief when he realized that the better part of valor ultimately won out when Heracles, Cuffe and Agamemnon departed as well.
He knew the consolation he felt would be fleeting. As far as he was concerned, it was only a matter of time until someone, somewhere, pushed things just a little bit too far.
And then it would be just like the Borg all over again.