“Helm, come to a full stop.”
“Full stop, aye, sir.”
Owens shot Akinola a sidelong look. “What are you doing?
But Bluefin’s skipper didn’t respond, instead he kept his eyes on the view screen which had been split in half to reveal the full scope of their latest quandary; the forward view on the left showing two Preserver vessels moving in to intercept; the aft view on the right displayed the two Guardian vessels closing in to catch up with Bluefin.
“Between a rock and hard place,” mumbled Akinola.
“So what? You think the best plan of action is to just sit here and wait for everyone to converge on our position?”
Akinola turned towards Owens. “If you have a better idea, by all means, don’t keep it all to yourself.”
That brought him up short and he glanced back towards the view screen, wrecking his brain to come up with a solution to their impending dilemma.
“Sir, both sets of ships have come to a stop as well, staying put at approximately two-hundred thousand kilometers from our present position,” said the Vulcan operations officer.
Akinola nodded but said nothing.
An entire minute of silence passed on the bridge, during which absolutely nothing happened.
“What are they waiting for?” said Owens.
“Probably trying to figure out what to do about this situation. Just like us.”
“This is ridiculous.”
“For once, I agree,” said Akinola. “Lieutenant T’Ser, open a channel.”
The Vulcan turned her head. “To which ship?”
Akinola thought for a moment. “All of them.”
She nodded. “Channel open.”
“Attention, this is Captain Joseph Akinola of the USS Bluefin. With me is Captain Michael Owens of the Eagle.”
Owens didn’t appreciate that he had shared that information and let him know with an icy glare which went entirely ignored.
“We clearly find ourselves at an impasse here. I propose a parley on Bluefin under the Aldebaran Accords. I will guarantee the safety of every captain while onboard of my ship and nobody shall open fire until the parley is concluded.”
T’Ser shook her head; there had been no response.
“The alternative is we all start shooting and go back to trying to kill each other. Or we can actually attempt to find common ground which I know for a fact we all share, even if we have done our damndest to forget this over the last few years. Enough people have already died in this senseless conflict. Let’s try to deescalate for once. We used to be good at doing that kind of thing once upon a time.”
When after another few seconds there still hadn’t been a response, Owens shook his head. “This is pointless,” he whispered.
T’Ser’s ops station came to life with multiple beeps, causing her to crack a smile. “We’re getting multiple responses,” she said and looked up at her captain. “They have agreed to the terms.”
“I’ll be damned,” said Owens before he glanced back at Akinola. “You better get some of that amazing coffee served up. We’ll need more than speeches to avoid this turning into a bloodbath.”
They had assembled in Bluefin’s wardroom not long after, Glover and Donners sitting on the far left hand side of the table while Sandhurst and Aubrey had taken the chairs on the opposite side. Akinola and Owens sat in the middle.
The tension in the room was palpable.
Donners still had the same murderous look in her eyes she’d shown when she had actually tried to kill him less than an hour earlier. Sandhurst and Aubrey did not look particularly happy with Owens either, even though Sandhurst seemed to reserve most of his scorn for Terrence Glover at the other side of the table, with the other man looking just as unhappy of being in the same room with him.
Two armed guards had been positioned at the door and Owens quickly came to understand that their real purpose was likely to ensure the occupants in this room didn’t try to rip each other to shreds.
“Fifteen minutes,” said Glover. “Fifteen minutes is all I’m willing to give this imbecilic meeting to hear out your justification for assaulting a Guardian world, none I’m convinced are excusable, before we return to our ships and we put an end to this for good.”
“Jesus, Terrence,” said Sandhurst with a dramatic eye role. “We haven’t even sat down yet and tasted the coffee before you start posturing? How about you shut up for once and let the reasonable people talk?”
“You are lucky I’m even willing to entertain this joke of a parlay, because you would be the first one I come after. And you know what? The galaxy would thank me for getting rid of you.”
“Alright, people,” said Akinola before Sandhurst could fire back. “Let’s at least try and see if we can resolve this in way that will not lead to more deaths—“
“More deaths?” Donners said, looking confused. “I thought we’ve behaved rather civilly until now.”
Owens shot her an angry look. “Civilly? Is that what you call it?”
“Oh please, don’t play the injured party here, Michael. If I had wanted you dead, you’d already be dead. I am not that lousy of a shot. And I would have been more than justified to take you out. You were the intruder after all.”
“And I’m sure that would have been a convenient excuse,” he said.
Donners simply smirked.
“I want to know what is going on here,” said Aubrey and looked at Akinola and then Owens. “Who are you working for?”
“Same people as you,” said Owens.
“Doesn’t look like it from where I’m sitting. From over here you look a lot like a traitor.”
Donners shook her head. “He’s no traitor.”
Owens turned to look at her, surprised to hear her offer something other than scorn for him for a change.
“Stabbing his friends in the back is simply what he does. Can’t help himself.”
“None of this is getting us anywhere,” said Akinola, barely able to hide is increasing frustration.
“Isn’t it?” said Sandhurst and focused in on the man sitting opposite him, at the far end of the table. “Or is this exactly going according to your plan, Terrence?”
“What the hell are you talking about now?”
“You knew coming into this that you were outgunned and overpowered if you were to take us on. The only reason you agreed to the parlay was to stall for time. Who are you hoping to pull your fat out of the fire? Schwarzkopf and Heracles? Maybe Orion? As far as the latter is concerned, I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.”
Glover hit the table with such force, some of the coffee in his cup spilled onto the surface. “I don’t need any help to take you out, Sandy. Happy to go right here, right now, in fact. Just you and me.”
It was Donners who put a calming hand onto his shoulder. “Calm down, Terrence,” she said. “He’s just goading you,” she fixed Sandhurst with a piercing glare. “What’s this bad news about Orion?”
But Sandhurst realized he had said too much, and none of the other captains spoke either.
“What happened to Captain Reihyn and his ship?” Donners demanded, her tone now razor-sharp.
“She was destroyed,” said Aubrey finally.
“What?” Glover was clearly beside himself. “You finally did it, you became a mass murderer for your insipid little cause,” he said, keeping his eyes on Sandhurst but then directing his fury towards Akinola. “And these are the people you decided to align yourself with? You are as rotten as Owens.”
“It’s not that simple,” said Akinola meekly.
“Sounds pretty black and white to me,” said Glover and stood. “I think this meeting is over.”
“Sit down, Terrence,” said Sandhurst sharply.
“Why don’t you come over here and make me?”
“Orion was destroyed by Tazla Star who blatantly violated the Aldebaran Accords and will have to answer for her crimes,” said Aubrey. “The destruction of the Orion was not sanctioned by Starfleet Command or any member of this task force.”
“Right,” said Glover. “And I’m sure you did everything you could to stop her, did you?”
Aubrey shook his head. “I would have, if I had been given the chance.”
“Listen,” said Owens. “The fact is Star is out of control and will do anything to achieve her objective, and as we have already seen, she’ll have no compunction to kill whoever gets in her way. Her target is located directly underneath a busy city. If we don’t do something quickly, the loss of Orion and her crew will be but a prelude to the civilian death toll she may cause.”
Aubrey nodded slowly. “I agree that she needs to be stopped. But I don’t disagree with the mission. The Alpha Weapon needs to be destroyed.”
“What if its not a weapon?”
All eyes turned towards Owens.
“If not a weapon than what is it?” said Glover who had sat down again, his rage over what he’d learned having passed, at least for now.
“According to my brother, he and Frobisher have been developing a dark-matter transporter,” he said. “I don’t know the details but I believe him. I don’t think he’s working on a super-weapon. It’s not something he’d do.”
“This makes no sense,” said Aubrey. “All this over a transporter?”
“For all we know it could still be used as a weapon. Maybe it is able to beam troops from one side to the quadrant to the other. The Guardians could use it to teleport a strike team into the middle of Paris, San Francisco or the Nyberrite homeworld,” said Sandhurst, keeping his eyes on Glover, making it clear that he didn’t put something like this past the man.
“You’re right,” said Owens. “We don’t know anything about this. Which means we’re working with flawed intelligence here. I don’t know about you, but I’m not willing to risk any more lives based on hypotheticals. We need to find Star and stop her.”
“That won’t be easy,” said Aubrey. “Last time we spoke to her she ordered us to abandon the mission and dropped off sensors shortly thereafter.”
“She keeps doing that,” added Sandhurst.
“Gibraltar has the ability to find her again,” said Owens.
“Bridge to Captain.”
Akinola glanced towards the ceiling upon hearing his first officer’s voice. “Go ahead, T’Ser.”
“Sir, sensors have just detected a small fleet of ships approaching Panea. They will reach orbit in less than thirty-five minutes.”
The occupants in the wardroom turned to look at each other with suspicion upon hearing the news.
“Guardians or Preservers, Lieutenant?” Akinola asked.
“Neither, sir. It’s the Nyberrites.”
“Godddammit,” said Owens.
Glover jumped to his feet. “We make our stand, right now, right here.”
Owens shook his head. “That’s insane. We’ll start a war.”
“If the Nyberrites are here because they think we are harboring an super weapon, we might already be past that point,” said Donners. “And if they actually find one on Panea, there won’t be any turning back at all.”
“I hate to say it but she has a point,” said Aubrey.
But Owens shook his head. “We’re not going to start a war because of a hypothetical chance that they might find something that may or may not even exist.”
“You were the one who wanted to avoid civilian casualties. You know how the Nyberrites operate. You are worried about Star putting lives at risk? The Nyberrites will wipe Panea off the face of the galaxy just to make a point. Grow a godddamned backbone, Michael. For once in your life,” Donners said with unbridled indignation evident on both her face and in her tone.
Glover headed for the exit. “I’m done with this. Any second we stay in here debating this is a second they get closer to Panea. We’ll move to intercept their fleet. You do whatever you want and pray you can live with your decision.”
Donners shot Owens a scornful, parting glare before she quickly followed Glover.
The room fell quiet for a brief moment. Then Aubrey stood. “It’s the only play.”
Owens shook his head. “No, it’s not.”
“I rue the day that I agree with Glover on anything,” said Sandhurst, “but I’m not going to let them destroy an entire world of Federation citizens. Guardians or otherwise.”
Aubrey and Sandhurst exited the wardrobe in a hurry, leaving just Owens and Akinola.
“And I will not stand by and let them go into battle alone,” said Akinola.
Owens nodded. “Of course you’re not. But first get a message to Eagle to join us as quickly as possible. At maximum speed she should be able to get back here from her hiding spot before the Nyberrite fleet reaches Panea.”
But Akinola looked skeptical.
“You get your crew back and another ship to hold off the Nyberrites,” he said and then looked out of the viewports into empty space. “And with any luck we haven’t thrown the entire quadrant into another intergalactic war before the day is over.”