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Palais de la Concorde: Paris, Earth

Stardate: 54526.1

President Bacco sat her desk. She clandestinely steadied herself by gripping its edge until her knuckles turned white. To her right stood Admiral Paris, the Starfleet Chief of Operations, and Admiral Yoshizaki, the head of Starfleet Intelligence. To her left was Doctor Gunei Ravot, the head of the Intergalactic Red Cross, and Simol Boit, the Federation's new Diplomatic Secretary.

"Please Ambassador Zell," Bacco said to the two other men standing on her office carpet. "You must give us a reasonable amount of time to evacuate."

"This matter is not up for debate, Madame President," the envoy from the Cardassian State replied curtly. "For over three years, the Federation has been illegally occupying Celdis Prime. Isn't that enough time?"

"We were unaware that the Celdis System was within your borders," Boit explained. "Besides, your government never lodged a complaint until now."

"Because we never had recourse too until now," Zell countered. "However, our Romulan allies have bravely stepped forward to defend the interests of the Cardassian State." He gestured to the Romulan diplomat at his side.

"That is correct," Ambassador Soces said with a nod. "The Star Empire will no longer stand idly by while the Federation uses its influence to abuse Cardassia. You yourself, Madame, made it one of your campaign promises to leave the Republic in peace. If you were serious, why change your mind now?"

Bacco turned to glance at Paris and Yoshizaki before turning back to face Zell and Soces.

"It is still the intention of the United Federation of Planets to withdraw from Cardassia. However, it will be a responsible and measured withdrawal. I will not place any civilians in jeopardy!"

"Place civilians in jeopardy?" Zell said condescendingly. "To what civilians do you refer?"

"Doctor Ravot," Bacco said indicating the head of the Red Cross.

"Ambassadors," he began, "The Intergalactic Red Cross has 450 civilian aid workers on Celdis Prime caring for over 3500 people who have no place else to go. You can't possibly expect us to evacuate that many people within the time frame you have given us."

"We can make an agreement," Bacco said trying to appease them. "I've run the numbers with my staff. With just one additional week, we can get all our people off Celdis Prime and rectify this situation peacefully."

"This is not a negotiation!" Zell said even more firmly. "We both know you will have no issues evacuating the 450 Red Cross workers within our allotted time span. As for the 3500 Cardassians, they were our citizens to begin with. They are also wanted for the crime of violating our emigration laws. Leave them to us. Consider it your administration's first act of good will to set the stage for peace talks."

Bacco balled her fists. Goodwill gesture or not, she was not going down in history as the president who willfully turned almost four thousand people over to labor camps and possible execution.

"I'm not evacuating Celdis Prime without them."

"Very well," Zell answered. "However, whether your people are there or not is irrelevant. The Cardassian State will seize the Celdis System in four days."

"And the Romulus Pact will not be held responsible for the consequences if we are required to use force. You have been warned," Soces added.

The two men turned and left without another word. Once they were gone, Bacco buried her head in her hands.

"Admiral Paris," she asked. "Is there any way we can clear the system of all personnel within the next ninety-six hours?"

He looked over to Doctor Ravot.

"Moving the people is not the issue," Paris replied. "It's their condition that is the problem."

"Explain please," Bacco demanded.

"Madame President," Ravot interjected. "Most of the civilians that are still on Celdis are there because they barely survived fleeing the Cardassian State. Many have advanced cases of malnutrition, medical issues, or require levels of quarantine a standard starship simply cannot provide on the necessary scale."

"What do you need from us?" she asked.

"At least three full-sized hospital ships," Ravot answered.

"Admiral?" Bacco said turning back to Paris.

"At maximum warp, it would take six days to assemble those ships at Celdis," he said with a deep breath.

"What about the Republic of Cardassia or the Klingons?" Bacco said to Secretary Boit. "Can they help?"

"Neither nation possesses any kind of ship even remotely close to our hospital vessels," he said. "We asked if they could at least provide some kind of transport augmented with medical personnel. However…" he trailed off.

"However…" Bacco said leaning towards him.

"However, they state that since they are no longer bound by the Khitomer Accords, in the event of hostilities, their concern is safeguarding the integrity of the rest of the Republic. They will not sacrifice their ships to protect a Federation facility."

"Jesus Christ," Bacco muttered.

"Madame President," Paris said. "Admiral Yoshizaki and I have some options we would like to discuss in private…"

Bacco sat back in her chair.

"Doctor Ravot, will you please excuse us?"

"Of course," he said. Once he was out of the room, Bacco spoke:

"Secretary Boit, I want you to keep working every diplomatic angle you can. The Cardassian fleet is held together on a wing and a prayer, but the Klingons must have something. I would like for us to get out of this without firing a shot."

"Yes Ma'am," he said. "However their assistance seems very unlikely since Ambassador Worf resigned in protest of our new policies and returned to Starfleet," Boit continued while casting a frustrated glance towards Paris. "He was quite upset when he had to deliver your executive order to Chancellor Martok. He is his adopted brother after all."

"Right, I forgot about that detail before I sent them," Bacco said rubbing her temples. "As for Starfleet, what are your options?"

Paris looked at Yoshizaki. She produced a small holoprojector and placed it on the president's desk. It projected the latest intelligence analysis of the Romulan and Cardassian State fleet mobilizations.

"To put it simply Madame President," Yoshizaki began, "The Romulus Pact is readying itself for a full scale war. Our sensor nets have detected at least thirty-eight Romulan warbirds and fifty-four Cardassian State cruisers assembling five lightyears from Celdis Prime. The Romulans are also mobilizing another seventy-three warbirds six lightyears from the Neutral Zone along with ninety-one ground legions. This is their ENTIRE available combat power. The only thing left will be the reservists and security forces guarding infrastructure."

"They're going to hit us on two fronts at once," Bacco said as the pit of her stomach dropped. It was the absolute worst case scenario.

"It does appear that way, yes," Yoshizaki replied.

"Why? Why would they do all this for one planet with less than 5000 people on it?" the president asked. "It doesn't make any sense."

Yoshizaki shifted nervously. Paris cleared his throat.

"Madame President," the intelligence chief continued, "we have an operative at a high level in the Romulan government. He was able to pass us information about a Continuing Committee meeting that occurred a little over 72 hours ago. The proconsul believes that you will back down now that you no longer have support of the Klingons and the Republic of Cardassia. Once we have retreated within our borders, they will have overwhelming forces and take back Cardassia one planet at a time."

Bacco was speechless. She didn't know whether to sit silently in defeat or shout out in rage. All she wanted to do as president was strengthen the Federation and bring peace to the quadrant. Instead, her idealism was being used against her by an opponent that always seemed two steps ahead in the game. It was infuriating.

"And there's no chance of the Republic or Klingon Empire sending any ships to help us?"

"Admiral Murphy and his staff are lobbying the Joint Assistance Force Council as we speak," Paris said, "but it looks like we'll be on our own."

"Can you stop the Romulans on two fronts?" Bacco asked desperately.

"Not as it stands now," Paris said. "Our forces are spread too thin across the Fed and the Republic. Our computer simulations keep ending the same way. We can save one side of our border but not both." He briefly paused. "However, there is one simulation we've run that gives us at least a chance of success."

He nodded to Yoshizaki. The holoprojector changed to read:

OPERATION ROCK OF THE MARNE

"Rock of the Marne?" Bacco asked.

"In April of 1918, the ancient nation state of Germany attempted to seize Paris with a last desperate offensive during Earth's First World War," Yoshizaki explained. "One division under General John J. Pershing held the entire German army on the Marne River. It was said they stood 'like a Rock on the Marne.' They saved this city from invasion and secured the outcome of the war."

"I'm guessing this has something to do with our battlestarships?" Bacco sighed.

"Yes Ma'am," Paris said. "Two of the Pershings are already in Cardassian Space. The other three are the only starships in the fleet than can sustain warp 9.98 long enough to reach the MDL in time. If I put all five at Celdis Prime and redeploy every single other starship we have to secure the Federation borders, we may have a chance."

"Five starships against a hundred Romulan and Cardassian heavy cruisers?" Boit said in disbelief.

"They'll be outnumbered almost twenty to one," Paris said, "but they're the only ships we have even remotely designed for it."

"And the computer simulations say that this plan has the best chance of success?" Bacco asked.

"The success rate averages at around twenty-five percent," Yoshizaki answered somberly, "but that's double digits over everything else we run."

Bacco shut her eyes before rising to her feet. She walked over to the windows and stared out at the Paris skyline.

"I was elected to protect the people of the Federation," she began slowly. "But if the Federation just hands innocents directly to a totalitarian state, we will have lost everything we claim to stand for." Bacco turned back around. "Redeploy the fleets to our borders, but send the battlestarships to Celdis," the president ordered. "And God be with all the Pershing crews…"


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