The old Situation Room in Starfleet Command was located on the ground floor. The designers intentionally included a series of picturesque, panoramic windows that looked out over San Francisco Bay towards the Golden Gate Bridge. Starfleet leadership at the time had felt that Earth, as the center of the Federation, would never be under serious threat again. Therefore, the pastoral views would have a calming effect on the men and women furiously working on the computer monitors and holoscreens displaying chaos and pandemonium in some far flung corner of the galaxy.
All of that came to an end in 2286 when an alien probe searching for an extinct species. A massive storm generated by the probe obliterated the famous windows and nearly destroyed the entire room. The probe's signal would have gone on to decimate the entire planet, save for a last minute deus ex machina provided by two time-traveling whales.
The Admiralty, no longer secure in the knowledge that Earth was untouchable, built a new command center located beneath the building's foundations and shielded from attack by 100 meters of California metamorphic rock. It was officially called, "The Starfleet Command Central Crisis Planning Center" or "SCCCPC" on building maps.
Desperate for a less tongue tying designation, the personnel who used it regularly nicknamed it "The George and Gracie Memorial Theatre" or "G and G" for short. No doubt, with a healthy sense of historical irony and gallows humor.
Both Borg incursions to Sector 001 had been met in this fifty meter diameter circular space filled with dynamic holoscreens, independent LCARS computer networking, redundant fusion power cells, ray shielded permacrete reinforced walls, and a life support system that could continue to function even if the atmosphere on the surface was toxic and unbreathable.
The new room had truly proven its value near the end of the Dominion War when a surprise Breen raid on Earth announced that species' entrance into the conflict. Through San Francisco received heavy damage, G and G had continued to function without interruption, planning and executing a military response that had prevented the casualties from being much, much worse.
Tigranian and the rest of his staff walked in through the fortified duranium blast doors. Each of them had a plastic "VISITOR" badge hanging from their black Starfleet uniform. Admiral Paris and Admiral Murphy were leaning over a table and studying a series of star charts while Admiral Yoshizaki briefed them.
"Dan!" Murphy said seeing the Pershing's crew walk in.
"We're here Gentlemen. What do you need?" Tigranian asked with a firm resolve in his voice. Annabeth stood next to him as they approached the table. Alex, Phil, Katie, and Scharr hung back, equally anxious to hear what the commotion was about.
Admiral Paris took a sharp breath in.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," he began as he steadied himself. "Twenty hours ago, a Cardassian State fleet crossed the border and engaged at least six Federation starships that we know of. At least one is destroyed. Probably more."
The Pershing's crew exchanged nervous glances. They knew that if the Cardassian State was attacking, it also meant total war with the Romulan Empire.
"Sir," Annabeth said. "We're prepared to immediately deploy with the relief force. However, from what we've seen before, I'm sure the Nelson can hold the enemy forces long enough for us to arrive."
The way Paris and Murphy grimaced at her statement, she and Tigranian immediately knew something was terribly wrong.
"Annabeth," Murphy said quietly. "The Nelson was one of the starships engaged. We've lost all contact with Captain Quan, and we're currently unsure if her ship even survived the attack."
"Oh my God," Alex muttered from the behind them.
"What's the situation on the Romulan border?" Tigranian asked.
"So far," Admiral Paris answered, "there has been no indication of any Romulan troop or naval deployments. We've sent three ships to join with Captain Tarn and the Nevsky to respond to any joint attack." It was obvious that everyone in the room was concerned the even the combined Federation and Klingon fleets wouldn't be able to beat back a coordinated assault from both the Cardassian State and their Romulan allies.
"Sir," Phil said speaking up. "Is this just a border incursion, or is this the big one?"
Normally, Admiral Paris would have dismissed such a question from a lieutenant. However, given the gravity of the situation, he actually answered honestly.
"Are you a religious man, Son?" Paris said averting his gaze back towards the star charts in front of him. Phil and Katie looked at each other. The pilot then looked towards Tigranian. His captain could only nod.
"I'm not a stranger to a church, Sir," Phil replied nervously.
"Then, I ask that you say a quiet prayer for all of us," Paris uttered, unable to meet Phil's eyes with his own.
"Sir," a technician at far console shouted from her station. "We're being hailed by the Shran."
"Onscreen," Murphy shouted in reply. A few moments later, Captain Zhe'vasda appeared three meters tall on the central holoscreen over their heads.
"Ladies and Gentlemen," she said as her antenna stood ramrod straight. "We've rendezvoused with the Sulu in the Tellar System. We also have the USS Trafalgar and the USS Kilimanjaro in our hasty task force. We're ready to move to Cardassia as soon as you give the word. We can link up with the Pershing at Bajor as well if you want us to move in together."
"That's what we're discussing now, Kivrana," Admiral Paris replied. "Daniel is right here."
Tigranian stepped into view of the holoscreen's two-way camera. He silently nodded. She replied with the same quiet gesture.
"Sir," Zhe'vasda continued. "I feel like the enemy objective has to be Cardassia Prime, but if they decided to hit any intermediate targets to try to split our forces, you can send either Dan or myself around the flanks and try to hit them from both angles. The Sulu can stay with the other starships as they screen her one system back and support with attack fighters as necessary."
"That's a solid plan, Sir," Tigranian said in agreement. "Admiral Murphy, you're the Federation Forces Cardassia Commander. You can put your flag on the Pershing and we can take you to link up with the task force. You can stay with us or transfer your command to the CIC on the Sulu with Captain Bennett."
"Just hold on," Paris said holding his hands up. "We're getting far too ahead of ourselves here. We're not even sure what kind of attack this is. The last thing we want is to rush headlong into a course of action without any intelligence supporting it."
"Sir," Tigranian said quietly. Yoshizaki was standing nearby, and he knew their history might weaken his point. "If we don't act quickly, we might not be able to react at all before the central Cardassian systems are occupied."
"Mr. Tigranian," Paris said calmly turning to face him. "What if this is a feint and the real offensive is coming from the Romulan border? We shift all our forces to the wrong side of the Quadrant and we leave ourselves completely vulnerable. Do you consider that to be an acceptable risk?"
"Admiral Yoshizaki," Tigranian said to the Chief of Intelligence. "Is there any evidence at all supporting that?"
She shook her head.
"We just don't know enough either way. I've got every analyst, collection asset, and HUMINT source working overtime, but we're getting nothing."
"Sir," Tigranian said to Paris as the other officers looked on. "I don't know if we have a choice if we want to honor our agreements with the Republic. We swore that we would protect them against any hostile acts by the Cardassian State."
"You have the luxury of looking in one direction at a time, Mr. Tigranian," Paris replied turning back towards the map table. "I do not. I will not commit anymore forces away from the Romulan Neutral Zone until we know the border is still secure. The lives of over three trillion Federation citizens may depend on it. Am I clear?"
"Yes Sir," Tigranian replied. Captain Zhe'vasda looked down at them from the holoscreen.
"Where do you want me, Sir?" she asked drumming her fingers on the side of her captain's chair.
Paris took a deep breath.
"Kivrana, I want you to take the Sulu and your other two starships and move to the Badlands. Do not exceed Warp 7 in case I need to turn you around. I'll hold Pershing and Nevsky at their current locations until the situation develops."
Her antennae curled, betraying her disdain at keeping their forces dispersed, but she kept her mouth shut.
Paris and the rest of the personnel in G and G didn't have to wait long.
"Sir," the communications technician spoke up again. "Receiving a transmission from Cardassian Space. It's Captain Quan on the Nelson."
"Patch her in," Paris said excitedly hoping for some answers.
The holoscreen split and Quan's face towered next to Zhe'vasda's.
"By Uzevah the Infinite, Shu Yin," Zhe'vasda said when she saw her fellow captain. "What happened?"
Quan's forehead was bruised, her uniform disheveled and spattered with blood. No one could tell if it was her's or one of her shipmates. The bridge of the Nelson was heavily damaged and red emergency lights still illuminated the deck. A bundle of scorched ODN conduit hung loosely from the ceiling directly behind her chair.
"The last twenty six-hours have been a little rough, but we're still in one piece…mostly," Quan finally managed to say.
"How many casualites?" Murphy asked nervously.
"On the Nelson, twelve dead and twenty three wounded. Doctor Jala has turned one of the cargo bays into a field hospital. We managed to warn off the USS Remagen and the USS Sarek before it was too late. They're alongside us now, damaged, but limping along like us. However, the Cardassians destroyed the Cumberland, Nimitz, and Ticonderoga ," she said woefully looking down at her feet. "We didn't have enough power for transporters and they didn't even have enough energy left to launch escape pods. No survivors."
"Captain Quan," Paris said trying to refocus the conversation on moving forward. "Just what the hell is going on?"
"We responded to a distress call from the Cumberland, Sir," Quan began still feeling the bite of her raw memories. "They were under attack from across the border. We were at Red Alert, shields up, weapons ready…there was no reason to expect we wouldn't be able to come out on top. That's when we saw them."
"Saw who?" Tigranian called up to the screen. He slammed his fists into the planning table in front of him angrily.
"There's four Cardassian scout ships travelling with the attacking fleet. They have some kind of subspace array mounted on their backs. I've seen this before," Quan said firmly. "It's the Breen Weapon."
"The Breen Weapon?" Murphy shouted incredulously. Every person in G and G turned and looked up the screen. "Every ship we have has an updated deflector array that's resistant to disruption energy."
"Well, apparently they found a way around it, Sir," Quan said gesturing to the destruction on her bridge. "It's not a projectile burst detonation anymore. It's a constant dampening field that protects their ships like an old castle moat. As soon as you get close enough to scan it, transport through it, or fire your weapons, your entire ship just shuts down.
Those sentry vessels allowed eight medium battlecruisers to breeze through the best Starfleet had to offer in less than ten minutes. The only thing that saved us was that we had enough ablative armor on the hull to withstand the pounding for a few extra minutes. We managed to decompress the main shuttlebay and blast ourselves just out of range. We then fired every maneuvering thruster we had to build up speed and run.
The cloaking device is still down, we're limited to Warp 3. We won't be back to full fighting strength until we get to a drydock. Luckily, the Cardies were so obsessed with heading on to their final objective, they left us behind and took off at Warp 8."
"Captain Tigranian may be right, Sir," Murphy said glancing over to Admiral Paris. "We might have to commit our forces to get them to Cardassia Prime in time. Figure out a new countermeasure en route. Otherwise, they'll be nothing left of the planet or the people to save."
Admiral Paris leaned forward on the table and steepled his fingers.
"Excuse me, Sir?" Quan said confused. "Did you say Cardassia Prime?"
"Where else would they be heading?" Zhe'vasda said from the bridge of the Shran. "The Cardassian State has been screaming for months that they will fight to reunify the old empire."
"Sir, we thought that a ship or sensor station would have warned you by now," Quan said, obviously concerned that she was going to have to break the bad news. "They're not on course for Cardassia. They're heading straight to Sector 001."
"EARTH!?" Annabeth shouted back at the screen.
"And every ship in Starfleet can't slow them down…" Laria put words to everyone's nightmarish epiphany.
"This could make the Borg incursion look like a border skirmish," Murphy said nearly choking on his words.
"Operations," Paris said looking over to a row of computer banks on the far side of the room. "Can you confirm Captain Quan's report?"
A lieutenant commander slowly rose to his feet and took a deep breath.
"We just did, Sir," he replied. "It is confirmed. Twelve Cardassian State vessels now being tracked by the Kinthathi Border Monitoring Station. They are on course to bypass the Bajoran frontier and will enter Federation space in less than six hours. They will arrive in the Sol System in 69 hours, 12 minutes at present course of speed."
The way the mood in the room dropped, he might as well been an executioner reading out a death sentence.
"Kivrana," Paris said solemnly looking up at the holoscreen. "How fast can you and your task force arrive in Earth orbit?"
"If we give it everything we have, we can back at Starbase 1 in 45 hours," she said as her antenna curled.
"Please pass the message to Captain Bennett on the Sulu," he said clenching his jaw. "If I have to make a solid wall of ships around this planet to safeguard the Federation capital, I will."
"We're on our way, Sir," Zhe'vasda said with a nod. "We'll see you soon."
"Understood," Paris said. "Shu Yin," he said turning to Quan. "Make your best speed to Bajor and regroup at DS9. Make whatever repairs you can and stay there. I will speak to the President and have the Diplomatic Corps contact the Bajoran government. If they declare their neutrality, you can wait out the conflict as their internees."
"Sir! We can get back in this fight!"
"I know, Captain," Paris said shaking his head. "If we are unable to find a new countermeasure to this weapon, you and the vessels with you might be the only starships left in the fleet in five days. If President Zife and the Council must do the unthinkable and surrender, the future of this nation might be up to you."
His bluntness surprised even Tigranian standing next to him.
"Yes Sir," she replied in shock. "Now I know how De Gaulle must have felt watching Germany punch through the Maginot Line."
"Trust the Bajorans, Shu Yin," Tigranian said. "They're stronger and more resourceful than you know," he said glancing over to Laria.
"I'll remember that, Dan," she said.
"You all have your orders," Paris said. "Now, get to it. Starfleet Command out."