Prologue – On the brink

 

James Sterling looked around the small lounge and nodded in response to the greetings of his officers. He eyed the replicator briefly, then turned to the large cabinet on the other side of the entrance. He filled a glass with his favorite Saurian brandy and sadly shook his head at the small rest of amber liquid remaining in the bottle. He would have to donate another bottle from his personal stock to the lounge soon.

Glass in hand Sterling made his way down the four steps leading to the small area that was the customary hangout of the San Marino’s senior officers. “Bob, Telgon, mind if I join you?”

“Not at all.” The San Marino’s chief engineer raised his glass at the captain and Telgon Vijayak looked up with a smile from the padd he had been studying.

James Sterling sank down on one of the two-seater sofas and noticed the background music for the first time. “Another evening with Oscar Peterson, what a surprise.” He let a sip of brandy wash down his throat before he winked at Bob Blackman.

James Sterling - Captain USS San Marino

“Hey, not my fault that you always stay on the bridge so long,” Blackman teasingly protested.

“True.” Captain Sterling’s foot started to wag with the rhythm and once again he marveled at the way Blackman had set up the sound system. Before he came down the steps Sterling hadn’t been able to hear the music, but that was just how he liked it. On the San Marino existed a tacit agreement that the first senior officer on the spot set the music for the ‘pit’, as some called it, while the first junior officer to arrive decided on the music for the upper level of the lounge. Bob Blackman always tried to be the first on the scene, to make use of his unspoken privilege.

“So, what are you two up to?”

Telgon had returned his attention to his padd, which he now turned around so the captain could get a look at it. “We were just discussing the results of the first round of presidential elections,” the Torothan replied. “But before you ask, there aren’t any surprises except that the Tellarite – Drog – didn’t make it into the next round.”

Sterling’s lips curled up in a wry smile. After working together for almost three years it was no surprise that his second officer knew precisely what he had almost asked. “So we are down to six candidates. Makes me wonder what will happen when the final round is over. That election could change everything for us.”

“Yes,” Bob Blackman agreed. “But it doesn’t explain why you changed your routine today. We expected you fifteen minutes ago.”

“I got a call from Starfleet HQ. You will hear it in tomorrow’s briefing anyway, so no harm telling you two right away.” He rolled another sip of brandy around his tongue before he continued. “Starfleet is sending the Valkyrie out here to help us keep an eye on the Cardassians. She should arrive in two weeks, give or take a day or two.”

Blackman whistled quietly. “Now that is a surprise, considering how quiet things have been around here the last month. But I sure wouldn’t mind getting a good look at the Valkyrie’s engines. That’s some state of the art engineering from all I’ve heard.”

“While I can understand Bob’s enthusiasm I am not certain I understand why Starfleet decided to assign the Valkyrie to our sector,” Telgon remarked. “The Maquis have gone into hiding again and the Cardassians have their hands full dealing with the Bajorans. For now this seems to be the quietest place along the Cardassian border, or does Starfleet expect that to change soon?”

Lieutenant Telgon Vijayak - Ops officer USS San Marino

Captain Sterling leaned back and rolled his glass between his palms for a few seconds. His Torothan ops officer had always displayed a grasp of tactical and strategic situations that went well beyond what his duties required. Sterling had always encouraged Lieutenant Vijayak to cultivate that interest, but now there was nothing he could do to enlighten his second officer.

“I have no idea what the admiralty thinks. All I’ve been told is that the Valkyrie is assigned to a patrol mission along the Cardassian border, but that she may not always be available to support us. Whatever HQ has in mind for the her, I doubt it’s just a routine border patrol, if there ever was such a thing.”

*****

“You know, I am not happy with our current mission.” Dar Enikal lowered himself into one of the ready room’s visitor chairs.

“Neither am I,” Tarin admitted. “I take it you don’t agree with the role of only observing without interfering we have been handed?”

“Not really. I wish we could do something about the Cardassian occupation of Bajor, but I know that we just don’t have the manpower for it. No, what I like the least is that we have been handed a mission that probes and patrols out of Trill could have done just as well.” Dar sighed and started to knead his neck. “That Starfleet sends us to the Bajor sector to show the flag could create too many unfounded hopes among the Bajorans and other people in the region. That’s what I don’t like – raising hopes, while there is little we can actually do.”

“Believe me, I dislike it as much as you do.” Tarin Veal rose from her seat and stepped to the replicator. “Anything for you?”

“The usual, please.” He ran his eyes across Tarin’s desk, and the padds strewn on it, without really seeing. She had asked him to her ready room for a reason and whatever it was, she had not seen fit to bring it up during the daily status meeting.

He took the cup she handed him and after a careful sip of his hot black coffee he asked, “That’s not all you dislike about this mission, is it?”

“No.” Tarin settled back in her chair and glanced at Commander Enikal over the rim of her cup. “Do you have any idea how many Bajorans are in Starfleet right now?”

Commander Enikal took a sharp breath. “Not many I guess. So this is all about Kevas, is it?”

“Not all of it, but he may have been quite important in landing us this mission.” Tarin put down her cup and rested her chin on her folded hands. “Right now there are eleven Bajorans in Starfleet. Before the Cardassians occupied Bajor again there have been over thirty, but most of them left Starfleet right after the Chaos War.”

“And Kevas is one of the few remaining.”

“Yes – Kevas.” Tarin took a sip of cocoa and looked down at the padds on her desk. One of them displayed a communiqué she had received a few hours ago from Starfleet Command. “How much do you know about him?”

“About as much as you I guess. I think I know him well as a person, but I know little about his past, apart from what’s in his personnel jacket. I take it that’s where our orders comes in?”

“Yes.” Tarin picked the offending padd from her desk and handed it to her first officer.

Dar Enikal glanced at the text, then studied it closely. “Oh crap. He always told us his parents did their part in aiding the resistance during the first Cardassian occupation, but this...” He handed the padd back and took a sip of coffee. After he had gathered his thoughts, Dar asked, “How reliable is this?”

“That’s the problem – we don’t know. It’s all rumors and guesswork. Kevas may have contacts around Bajor that could provide us with a lot of valuable intelligence, or so we thought. But now that this has come to light...” Captain Veal starred down at her orders with a disgust Dar Enikal wholeheartedly shared.

The Bolian hastened to down the rest of his still steaming coffee, as he struggled with a sudden urge to smash the cup against the nearest wall. “I can’t believe we are having this conversation. Just because his parents may – or may not – have made some rather bad choices we should no longer trust one of our crewmen? That’s... absurd.”

“I...” Tarin looked up and fell silent immediately. The dark purple veins standing out on Dar Enikal’s forehead and the anger painted on his face she had seen before, but that had been during the war, when all around them lives found a violent end and there had been nothing they could do about it.

Reaching for her cup and taking a sip of cocoa was all she could do while she tried to get over her surprise. At least Dar was too caught up in his own emotions to notice his captain’s reaction. “Why do you feel so strongly about this? Is this only about Kevas’s past or our orders?”

“No!” Commander Enikal put down his empty cup and his hand quivered under the strain self-control took on him. “No. Can you imagine what will happen if we find out this dossier is true?” He spit out the word like it was a venom he needed to get out of his system. “If it is true, Starfleet Intelligence will use Kevas – use him to get to his friends and family. It doesn’t matter if he ever did anything wrong or not, but they will drag him into their schemes. I trust him and he trusts us, but how would you like to see that trust betrayed for the so-called greater good?”

Tarin avoided his scowl by swiveling her chair around and staring out the window. The picture Dar had painted was a worst-case scenario, but that didn’t make it any less likely. ‘And he knows the security community better than I do. Perhaps I should talk this over with Commander Westmore.’

“You may have a point.”

“So, what will you do?” As suddenly as it had appeared the anger vanished from Commander Enikal’s voice, but the question still had an edge to it. ‘Faith – Courage – Hope,’ her mind repeated the Valkyrie’s motto. ‘But how can we have courage or hope if we don’t have faith in one another?’

“What I will do is try my best to provide Starfleet with all the intelligence they could wish for, but how I am going to do that I haven’t decided yet.” Tarin swiveled her chair back and pushed the padds on her desk aside. Resting her arms on the table she added: “We need more information, not just from Kevas, but every bit of intelligence we can get. Why don’t you and Commander Westmore try to find something more on the latest Cardassian and Maquis activities in the Bajor sector?”

“We’ll try.” Sensing the conversation was over for now, Commander Enikal rose and made for the door, but before he reached it he stopped and looked over his shoulder. Tarin had once again turned to the stars passing by outside the window. “Will you talk with Kevas about all this?”

“I will, once I have stomached the orders we have been handed.”

“And,” Tarin grimly said to herself after the door had closed on Commander Enikal, “once I have found a way to circumvent them the best I can.”

 

Prologue        Chapter 1        Chapter 2        Chapter 3

Chapter 4        Chapter 5        Chapter 6

Back to Navigation and Updates