"Captain's Personal Log: Stardate 54512.7. I hate dog and pony shows: a choreographed event where men and women in uniform are trotted out to put on a show for someone else. The Pershing has arrived at the Caleb System to be present for the launch of our next sister ship, the USS Houston. This will be the first Pershing class commissioning with the media present, so Captain Quan from the Nelson, Captain Tarn from the Nevsky, and Captain Zhe'vasda from the Shran will all be there right next to me.
Despite the Federation being a hair's breath away from full blown war with the Romulus Pact, it was decided the our place was not on our bridges, but in front of the cameras to show 'solidarity and confidence' in front of the cameras, whatever that means.
To make things even better, the new captain selected to command the Houston is an old colleague of mine. Hopefully, he doesn't hold a grudge…"
Annabeth made her way to the stands in the pressurized section of the "Caleb IV Construction Slipway Number 3." The brand new battlestarship, USS Houston, gleamed in her berth just beyond the transparent aluminum observation windows. It was the same location where she had participated in the launch of the Pershing almost two and half years before. This time, she would only be a witness to the festivities from a seated place of honor. Despite all that, she hated being here. It was yet another reminder that some very important people in her life were no longer present.
The stands were loaded to capacity with visiting dignitaries and very important guests. All were dressed in their best and they laughed and joked with each other like it was merely another fancy picnic or luncheon. It was a far cry from the relatively secret launch of 'Lady Blackjack' during the final days of the war.
An usher in dress uniform led her towards her designated spot. She glanced over to the platform where the senior staff of the Houston stood at parade rest awaiting the start of the ceremony. Over the ceremonial stage hung three banners: the flag of the Federation, the Starfleet colors, and a long black banner emblazoned with the crest of the Caleb IV "Skunkworks" shipyards and the words:
WELCOME TO THE FLEET
ON TIME AND READY TO GO!
Off in a corner, a ceremonial brass band was playing away at a series of bombastic military marches as Annabeth saw the other Pershing class captains already in their chairs. She was the last to arrive.
"Annabeth!" Belan Tarn, the Coridanite captain of the Nevsky said rising to his feet. "It's good to see you. We were hoping that you'd make it in time."
"Sorry," she said shaking her head. "The Pershing was delayed a little getting through the Secarius nebula last night."
"Really?" Shu Yin Quan, captain of the Nelson, said raising an eyebrow. "I thought it was just because you hated coming to these things."
"It's nice to see you too, Shu Yin," Annabeth said fighting the urge to roll her eyes. She picked up an old-fashioned paper tri-fold program that had been placed in her chair and sat down. "Hey, Kivrana," Annabeth said to Captain Zhe'vasda.
"Annabeth," the Andorian said with nod of her head and curl of antennae. "So, you know this guy?" she continued with a gesture towards the Vulcan captain at the head of the Houston's crew.
"Unfortunately yes," Annabeth muttered after clearing her throat.
"I sense there's a story there," Tarn said with a chuckle.
"His name is Soloth," Annabeth answered. "He was my first officer during my short tenure on the Venture. Last time I saw him, he was standing in the conference room on Starbase 10 as they stripped me of command. He had just finished testifying why he believed I was not fit to be a leader in Starfleet."
"By Uzaveh the Infinite," Zhe'vasda said as she burst out laughing. "This is going to be fun."
"Speaking of fond memories," Quan interjected. "I just got back from a fun little jaunt to the Leminora System with your old boss…"
Annabeth clenched her jaw. She knew Quan liked her even less than she liked Tigranian.
"I'm aware…" Annabeth said keeping her eyes on the stage to their front.
"I'm surprised you didn't immediately ask me about him," Quan said. Tarn and Zhe'vasda both turned their heads to gauge Annabeth's response.
"I didn't need to," Annabeth said turning to Quan. "I heard that Lord Daniel achieved an amazing victory over the Cardassian State while Starfleet personnel present only shut up and colored."
Tarn and Zhe'vasda's faces both contorted into smirks as they turned to watch Quan's reaction. She merely grumbled and looked back down at her program.
The resulting awkwardness didn't last long. The news media began to make a commotion so loud it overpowered the music from the band. The reporters and their camera crews rushed over to the railing separating the crowd from the VIP seating as Admiral Paris, Admiral Murphy, and a surprise guest walked towards their chairs.
"Lord Torlek…" Annabeth muttered.
"Well, this just keeps getting more and more interesting," Zhe'vasda said with a grin. "I wish someone was selling popcorn."
The reporters pushed their microphones towards the delegation and began screaming questions.
"Governor Torlek! Does the Klingon Empire have a statement on Councilor Vanna's official inquiry into Klingon influence in the Federation?"
"Does the Klingon Empire also want to terminate the Treaty of Alliance?"
Torlek stoically ignored the questions until one reporter dove over the barricade and shoved a microphone directly in front of his chest:
"Did the Klingon Empire pressure Starfleet to advance the career of Daniel Tigranian?"
Torlek immediately stopped and turned his head towards the offending newsman.
"In the Klingon Empire, when a member of the press insults the honor a noble family without evidence, we send them to the dilithium mines on Rura Penthe for a slow death," he said with an angry expression that made the reporter leap back behind the barrier. Paris immediately jumped between Torlek and the media. The admiral held up his hands trying to calm things down.
"I believe what Lord Torlek meant to say is that there was absolutely no pressure placed on Starfleet by the Klingons to put Daniel Tigranian in command of the Pershing," Paris explained with a nervous smile. "However, we will cooperate with the investigation of the Federation Council to the fullest possible extent. Thank you for being here and please enjoy the ceremony."
"Admiral Paris! Admiral Paris!" the other reporters started shouting as the admiral led Torlek and Murphy towards their seats.
"Pete," Paris said looking towards Murphy. "Maybe you should go ahead and start the ceremony."
"Yes Sir," Murphy replied with a glance towards Torlek who appeared to have no qualms about publicly threatening the life of a member of the Federation News Service. As Murphy walked towards Soloth standing on the platform, Paris leaned towards Torlek and whispered:
"Governor Torlek, the entire reason I invited you to this ceremony is to show that the alliance between our governments is still functional and strong. That comment did not help things."
"You are afraid of them:" Torlek said gesturing to the reporters with his head, "a group of ravenous muckrakers who scream falsehoods into cameras to feel powerful." The Klingon sneered with disgust.
"Freedom of the Press is one of the most sacred traditions on which the United Federation is founded," Paris replied while trying to appear calm for the cameras watching their every move. "It is what makes our government accountable and functional. It is how our people stay informed of the truth."
"The truth?" Torlek asked a bit surprised. "How are your people so sure it's the truth if there is no penalty for telling lies?"
"You simply don't understand…" Paris muttered with exasperation.
"Perhaps not," Torlek replied. "But I'm not sure you do either, Admiral."
Paris didn't have a chance to respond. Murphy walked up onto the platform and gestured to Captain Soloth.
"Detachment!" the Vulcan shouted snapping rigidly straight. "Attention!"
The assembled ranks obeyed and the commissioning ceremony began.
"Admirals, Allied leaders, Starfleet officers, Ladies, and Gentlemen," the polished, clear voice of an announcer boomed over a set of loudspeakers. "Please take your seats as we begin the ceremony to welcome the newest ship of Starfleet, the USS Houston, into active service of the Federation…"