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In Orbit of Celdis Prime: Military Demarcation Line, Republic of Cardassia

Stardate: 54526.5

"Everyone down here is terrified out of their minds," Zhenia said to her father. The old Andorian sat in his quarters staring at his daughter's worried face on the terminal. Scharr's antennae curled forward. They nearly pulled away from his skull as they desperately wanted to touch hers to offer some comfort. Silently, he cursed the stars that Zhenia had to be one of the 450 Intergalactic Red Cross aid workers they would be fighting to defend.

"I know, Snowflake," he said softly. "But we're right here and we're not going to let anything happen to you. I promise. We're not going anywhere."

She smiled back at him. Zhenia wasn't sure if her father had called for her benefit or his.

"I never feel safer than when I have you close by Dad," she said forcing a smile. "But we're holding on. We've got the people who can move into the emergency bunkers, but there's a lot of sick and wounded that can't go underground. If any fire hits the hospital or the refugee center…"

"Hey listen to me," Scharr said firmly. "You've got five battlestarships right over your head. Just keep doing Uzaveh's good work down there like always. You won't even know that anything's wrong. Those hospital ships are coming as fast as their stubby little nacelles can carry them. They'll be here before you know it."

Zhenia pursed her lips together and nodded her head. She wanted more than anything to believe him, but the warning the Red Cross had sent them also included an estimated size of the Romulus Pact fleet that was coming. She knew enough about starship combat to understand that the odds weren't good.

"Dad," she said seriously. "I want you to know I spoke to Brett on subspace when you arrived in orbit yesterday. He asked me to marry him if we both make it through this. I said yes."

Scharr went quiet and sat back in his chair. Brett Hawkins was the platoon commander of the Pershing's marine detachment and, despite his best efforts, his daughter's boyfriend. Apparently, he was her fiancÚ now. Finally, Zhenia couldn't take his silence anymore.

"Are you angry?" she asked with concern.

"No actually," he said with an eerie calm. Her antennae went completely straight with surprise. "I know," he continued. "I'm as surprised as you are. Despite my best efforts to scare the marine off, he's a good kid who treats you right. I'm very happy for you, Snowflake, and you're both gonna make it through this just fine."

"Thank you, Dad," she said with a smile.

"I just hope my grandkids look a lot more like their mother and a lot less like their pinkskin father though," Scharr said unable to resist getting a dig in against his future son-in-law.

"Dad, I know it's hard for you, but could you please stop referring to Brett as a pinkskin?"

"Why?" Scharr asked shrugging his shoulders. "He is one."

Zhenia rolled her eyes at his last statement, but suddenly she started laughing. It brought a smile to her father's face.

"What's so funny?" he asked.

"Just a crazy memory that popped in my head. Do you remember when I was seven years old and you took me and Isiraa to that crappy petting zoo outside of town and Isi was too damn scared to go near any of the animals?"

"By Uzaveh," Scharr said with a chuckle. "Our first 'daddy-daughter' day…I had forgotten about that."

"Yeah," Zhenia said still laughing, "Isi spent the entire afternoon glued to your leg and I wanted to get up close with everything."

"Yup," Scharr said running his hand along the side of the screen, "and then you absolutely threw a total fit when you wanted to ride the miniature Alicorne but I said you were too small."

"But I kept screaming until you finally gave up and let me try…"

"And within three seconds, he bucked you off. You fell onto the snow and just cried your little eyes out…"

Now both of them were laughing out loud.

"And all the other parents were judging you so hard. You finally bought me a Vithi ice cone just to shut me up."

"That worked," Scharr said pointing at the screen. "You stopped crying as soon as you started licking it."

"True…" Zhenia said shaking her head.

"But you know what you did when we had our next 'daddy-daughter' there and we brought Shis?" Scharr asked. "You were a little bit bigger, a little bit stronger, and you rode that miniature Alicorne like you had been in the saddle your whole life."

"Yeah," Zhenia replied. "I also seem to remember asking you if I could get one for my next birthday. Never did…" she said furrowing her eyebrows at the screen.

He immediately changed the subject. "The point is, Snowflake, you weren't afraid and you got right back up on that animal. That's what I've always loved so much about you…you're so brave."

Suddenly, Zhenia looked a little forlorn.

"What's wrong, little hybor?" he asked.

"Isi might have always been the scared one, but she's back safe on Andoria right now instead of being out here making you miserable…" Zhenia said softly. "I'm so sorry, Dad."

Suddenly, Scharr reared his shoulders back.

"You have NOTHING to be sorry for, Baby," he said. "You are out here doingwhat you think is right just like me. I am more proud of you than you can believe."

"Attention, this is the captain," Annabeth's voice suddenly echoed through the ship's intercom. "All senior staff report to the wardroom."

"Go," Zhenia said sternly. "Like you said, I'll be fine down here."

"Call me tomorrow," Scharr said.

"I will," Zhenia replied feigning confidence. They dared not say it aloud, but both were unsure if either of them would still be alive by then. "I love you, Daddy. On our next 'daddy-daughter' day we get to bring little Ryth for the first time…" she said leaning forward and touching the tips of her antennae to her screen.

"Yes we do. I love you too, Snowflake," he said placing his antennae on his terminal to meet hers. Without another word, she disconnected the transmission.

"Uzaveh, the Infinite, Protector of the Universe, Guardian of our ancestors," Scharr prayed quietly under his breath. "Watch over my family in your loving arms…"

Then, the Pershing's chief engineer rose to his feet, adjusted his uniform, and put on his best professional scowl. Then, he marched straight out into the corridor.

****

Scharr was the last of the Pershing's officers to arrive at the wardroom. He immediately noticed that five extra seats had been set at the table. The captain's chair at its head had also been reserved for someone else. While the rest of the staff sat silently, Annabeth stood at the window and stared out into space. The Andorian walked over to her side.

"Wow," Scharr said quietly. "That's a beautiful sight: all five sisters together for the first time. I just wish it could have been under different circumstances…"

Annabeth only nodded. The other four Pershing class battlestarships: Nelson, Nevsky, Shran, and Houston, all sailed in tight formation by their side. The silhouette of Celdis Prime was beautiful as the rays from the system's star bathed them in bright light.

"How is Zhenia doing?" Annabeth asked not taking her eyes away from the window.

"She's holding on," Scharr replied. "She's strong."

"Like her father…" Annabeth said. Scharr chuckled.

"Stronger than her father." He looked down and saw her holding a holophoto in her hand. It was of Alex smiling with Max in her arms.

"Did you get a hold of them?" Scharr asked.

"Yes," Annabeth replied. "I ended the transmission with, 'till we meet again.' It was the same thing my father said to my mother and me before he left on the Rutledge for Setlik III…" Annabeth breathed in sharply and buried her face in her hands. She didn't want her crew to see tears in their captain's eyes now. She thought she had to be their rock, but suddenly she felt a soft touch on her shoulder.

"Ma'am," Scharr said with genuine caring in his voice, "you will see them again. In this life or the next, you will see them again."

"What if I don't believe in the next life, Tren?" she said turning to face him. "What if I lost my faith a long time ago at the same time a little girl lost her father?"

"I think that by the end of this day, there's going to be a lot more believers all around," he replied. He held out his hand. "Ma'am, it's been a privilege serving under you."

She nodded and shook hands back.

"With you as well, Mr. Scharr."

He then took his seat at the table. Annabeth wiped her eyes, steadied herself, and then walked over to the doors. A few moments later, they opened.

"Admiral on Deck!" Captain Geist shouted loud enough to shake the bulkheads. The staff snapped to attention as Murphy entered. He was followed by Captain Quan of the Nelson, Captain Tarn of the Nevsky, Captain Zhe'vasda of the Shran, and Captain Soloth of the Houston. As Quan and Soloth passed Annabeth, both flashed her a slightly derisive look. Annabeth ignored them and remained rigidly at attention.

"As you were," Murphy said walking up to the head of the table. "Please take your seats."

Annabeth walked over to a chair to the left of Admiral Murphy and took a seat across from the other Pershing captains. The rest of her staff sat down as well.

"I want to thank the crew of the Pershing for hosting this meeting of Task Force Marne," Murphy began. "Lady Blackjack will be my flagship for this operation. Captain Quan," Murphy said turning to the CO of the Nelson seated to his right. "As the next senior commander, in the event that Pershing is destroyed is disabled, you will assume command of the task force from the Nelson, followed by Captain Tarn, and then Captain Zhe'vasda. Is that understood?"

"Yes Sir!" all five captains replied together.

"Captain Soloth," Murphy said turning to the Vulcan next. "If you find yourself alone, you do not retreat. You hold until you have to abandon ship. Am I clear?"

"Yes Sir," the Vulcan replied with his trademark dispassionate tone. It was the same one that made Annabeth's skin crawl back when she commanded the Venture. Murphy noticed her shift slightly in her seat as he spoke.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," the Admiral continued, "beyond that the plan is quite simple. We keep ourselves between the Romulus Pact and Celdis Prime until those hospital ships arrive in two days. Then, we complete the evacuation and get the hell out of here. That is it. The other powers may have given up on this planet, but we haven't."

He still noticed the cold feelings between his subordinate commanders around the table. It irked him even more. They were about to be thrust into a situation where their lives would all depend on each other. It was time for them to start acting like it.

"You know," Murphy said, "I grew up in a small town in upstate New York: a tiny place barely big enough to be on a map huddled in the Adirondacks…"

His sudden shift of subject grabbed everyone's attention.

"But the fact that it was so far out in the boonies had a real advantage: every night when I went out into my backyard, I could see all the stars with perfect clarity." Murphy smiled as he remembered. "During the summer, I would just lie in the grass and star up at the blackness. I always wondered who was up there. Today, I have my answer: it was all of you.

I look around this table and I see the many faces of our Federation: Human, Vulcan, Coridanite, Andorian, Trill, Betazoid. On these five ships," he said pointing out the window, "we have officers and crew from all 152 member worlds and beyond." He paused to rub his jaw.

"We volunteered to defend the men and women on those worlds no matter the circumstances. Sometimes they are grateful for it. Sometimes they are not. However, our oath remains unchanged.

Its sacred words unite us in our calling and they especially hold true today. We are here and we are going to be bold. It's time to put aside whatever bullshit is in our pasts: politics, conflict, rivalries…As of this moment, it is all a memory. It does not matter anymore," he said making firm eye contact with every officer around the table.

"Today, we are one task force, one Starfleet, and one Federation," he continued. "We stand together so that children who look up at the sky tonight on Earth, Vulcan, Coridan, Andoria, Trillius Prime, or Betazed can still dream of what's out there and believe that one day they'll travel to all those little points of light like I did, and I assume as you did too. Otherwise, you wouldn't be sitting in this room right now."

Murphy took a deep breath.

"No matter who you are," he continued, "we all have someone that we think of when we think of home: a wife, a husband, father, mother, son, daughter, sister, brother…" he paused again. "…or even just a lost friend. They may be on another planet or they may be in this room. Today let that person in your thoughts be your Federation. Fight for them, because today we fight for all our Federations."

The room was silent for a few tense moments. Without warning, Soloth pushed back from the table and walked around it to Annabeth. Then, he held out his hand.

"To our Federation," he said respectfully. Annabeth stood up and grabbed his wrist.

"To our Federation," she replied proudly. Quan stood up next, walked over, and placed her palm over their hands.

"To the Federation."

Next came Tarn and Zhe'vasda's hands.

"To the Federation!" they said together.

Annabeth's crew rose from their seats and added their hands to the pile.

"To the Federation!" they shouted in unison.

Finally, it was Admiral Murphy's turn to rise. Then, he actually managed to laugh.

"What's so funny, Sir?" Annabeth asked.

"Two people are missing today," Murphy said regaining his composure. "And that's my fault," he said. However, if one of them were here, I think I know exactly what he'd say: "Today is a good day to die…" Murphy placed his hand on top of everyone else's.

They all stood together for a moment of quiet unity. Then, before they released from each other's grasp, Murphy led them in the culmination of that sacred oath:

"To explore strange new worlds…"

"TO EXPLORE STRANGE NEW WORLDS," they all repeated.

"To seek out new life and new civilizations…"

"TO SEEK OUT NEW LIFE AND NEW CIVILIZATIONS."

"To boldly go where no one has gone before!"

"TO BOLDLY GO WHERE NO ONE HAS GONE BEFORE!"

"Who are we?" Murphy shouted at the top of his lungs.

"STARFLEET!"

"Who are we?" Murphy shouted again.

"STARFLEET!"

"WHO ARE WE?"

"STARFLEET! GO BOLDLY!" They all shouted as they pulled back their hands.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," Admiral Murphy said standing tall. "Today, we show the galaxy who we are. Take your stations."


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