Chapter 27

U.S.S. Aldrin

Sector 015

18:09 Hours, February 8th, 2380

Stardate 57105.891583

 

Clark stood at the head of the briefing room table, awkwardly holding small saucer and teacup. He smirked as he glanced down at the steaming hot cup of transparent red liquid. Jensen stood behind and to the side of Clark, absently staring at the gray armor panel that blocked the view outside the bank of tall windows to their right. A lone PADD sat in the center of the table, barely illuminated by the dim auxiliary lighting.

The harmonic quantum hum of the transporter drew their attention forward to the four columns of azure transporter energy that had appeared at the far end of the table near the door down to the bridge. The beams quickly coalesced into four Starfleet officers. Flanked by two security officers with phaser rifles at the ready were two icons and legends of Starfleet: the Enterprise’s chief engineer Lieutenant Commander Geordi La Forge and Captain Jean-Luc Picard. La Forge’s short-cropped black hair had begun to gray slightly around the temples, a change only noticeable thanks to his brown skin, though his bright blue vision-granting ocular implants in place of his damaged corneas and irises were more likely to draw attention. Picard’s angular face was beginning to show his age, though he still exuded an imposing command presence.

Clark smiled and offered forward the cup and saucer, “Tea, Earl Grey, hot.”

Picard didn’t return the smile, “Captain Clark, you have five minutes to explain what the hell is going on.”

Clark stepped forward and set the teacup on the glass briefing room table. He grabbed onto the back of his chair, “We need to speak to you alone.”

“Anything you need to say to me you can say to Mr. La Forge,” Picard said. He turned to the phaser-wielding officer to his side, “Lieutenant, Ensign, wait outside.” The two guards quietly stepped back from Picard and La Forge, walking out through the door behind them.

“Are you familiar with Project Eagle Two?” Clark asked after the door closed. He took a few steps away from the head of the table, walking along the armor-covered windows.

“Admiral Janeway and I both pushed aggressively for Starfleet to investigate possible implementations for the 25th century technology she brought back with Voyager,” Picard said. “I am very familiar with Eagle Two.”

“Do you know Admiral Steven Russell?” Clark asked.

Picard’s eyes followed Clark as he slowly walked forward, “He was my first officer when I was assigned to the Antares. A good man.”

Jensen spoke up, “We have evidence that he’s been replaced with a changeling.”

“Five years ago,” Clark said. “He’s manipulated Eagle Two to deliver this technology,” he pointed at the armor outside the window, “Into the hands of DM factions that want to restart the war. He sent us into a Jem’Hadar fleet in the Gamma Quadrant, he sent the Columbia to stop us, and then the Fifth Fleet to destroy us. I’ve lost two hundred twenty six officers.” Clark stopped about two meters from the senior captain.

Picard’s brow creased as he stared into Clark’s unwavering eyes. “David, I’ll take that tea now.” Jensen picked up the cup and saucer and walked them over to Picard, who accepted the drink with a cordial nod, “So what’s the plan now?”

Jensen sighed, “We were on our way to Earth to arrest Russell before he could do any more damage, but that’s not going to happen now.”

La Forge spoke up, “For what it’s worth, you almost made it. You were unlucky enough to be the randomly selected diagnostic target for a sensor station. If it hadn’t been for that you probably would have gotten all the way to Sol without raising any alarms.”

“By the word of the…” Jensen threw up her arms and walked away from the table, “I knew we’d done better than that!”

Picard smirked briefly and then turned back to Clark, “I want to assist you, but I’m going to need to see your evidence first.” He took a sip of the tea.

“Of course.” Clark took a few steps and leaned over the table to grab the PADD. He handed it to Picard, “First-hand footage of the Founder replacing Russell and the Dominion’s far-too-extensive history and profile on the admiral, among other things.”

Picard set down the tea and turned on the PADD, caught off guard by the statement, “The replacement was caught on camera?”

“The Dominion surrender ceremony,” Clark said.

“Ah,” La Forge nodded, “The polaron flash.”

Clark pointed at the PADD, “Triggered by a cloaked Jem’Hadar attack ship.”

“This just keeps getting better,” La Forge said, rolling his eyes.

Picard handed the PADD back to Clark and picked up his tea, “How can the Enterprise help?”

“That graviton pulse really wrecked the ship,” Clark said. “We can’t even retract the armor.”

Looking over the edge of his teacup, Picard wryly asked, “Does young Captain Clark require a lift?”

“Are you going to make me beg?” Clark sighed.

After taking a long sip of the tea, Picard set the cup back on the briefing room table and smiled, “Come on, Captain, let’s go.”

La Forge took a step forward, “If I may, that hijack code that you used to shut down our weapons?”

Jensen grinned, holding her hands behind her back, “That was me.”

“Commander,” La Forge held up his hands in front of him as if he were about to clap and enthusiastically declared, “That was genius!”

“I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeves,” Jensen said, still smiling.

Clark clapped a hand on La Forge’s shoulder, “You two can exchange notes later; we’ve got to go.”

La Forge smiled broadly, “I’ll be calling you, Commander.”

Clark held back a bit while Picard and La Forge exited. Jensen bounded up to him, grabbed the sides of his head with both hands, and kissed him. La Forge stopped just past the doorway and looked back, laughing, “Captain, I wish you and Doctor Crusher had these two as an example back on the D.”

Picard stepped back to look through the doorway and shrugged, “We got there eventually.”

Jensen leaned back from Clark, “I could say something really clichéd right now.”

“Not in front of Picard,” Clark groaned.

Picard laughed, “Don’t mind me.”

Jensen’s grin faded, “Two hundred twenty six.”

Clark nodded and repeated, “Two hundred twenty six.”

Jensen pushed him away, “Go kill the bastard.”

Clark’s serious expression was betrayed by a slight sly smirk as he stepped back. Following after Picard and La Forge, he tapped his combadge, “Clark to Cochrane, meet me in Transporter Room One.”

 

Office of the President, Palais de la Concorde

Paris, France

Earth, Sol System, Sector 001

18:24 Hours (03:24 local time), February 8th, 2380

Stardate 56106.920834

 

The heavy wood door into the administrative area of the Office of the President opened, drawing Ak’telKi’s attention up from the large PADD she held in front of her on the desk. One of the President’s assistants, a young male Grazerite, leaned through the opening, “Madam President, Admiral Ross to see you.” The sparkling lights of late night Paris shone through the window behind the president’s desk.

Ak’telKi set down the PADD, “He’s not on today’s schedule, right? It’s Saturday, right?”

“It is early Saturday, and no, the Admiral is not scheduled for today,” the assistant said. “He says it’s urgent.” He stifled a yawn, covering his mouth with his hand.

“He’s the Starfleet Liaison to the President,” she said. “If Ross says it’s urgent, then it’s clearly urgent. Send him in.” The Grazerite stepped back and a second later Admiral Ross strode through, carrying a PADD of his own. Ak’telKi stood, leaning on her arms straightened against her desk, “Kartesh!”

The assistant stepped back through the doorway, “Madam President?”

“I have the Ferengi ambassador at 0800,” Ak’telKi said. “Push him back to 0900, and please inform my husband I’ll be late to breakfast.”

“Yes ma’am,” the assistant disappeared, closing the door behind him.

Ross walked up to the desk, extending his right hand to Ak’telKi, “Madam President, how is the First Gentlemen doing?”

Ak’telKi took his hand and shook, “I can guarantee he’s not happy I’m working this late, again. He’s been planning a day for our anniversary, which I’ve had to reschedule twice already.” She released Ross’s hand, “What’s so urgent that you had to transport over to Paris to deliver the news in person?”

The Admiral handed her the PADD and took a deep breath, “We found the Aldrin.”

Her head snapped up from the PADD and her antennae straightened out, “Where?”

“They’re in the Alpha Quadrant,” Ross said. “We’re still trying to piece together the complete picture, but it appears they returned this morning and set a course towards Earth at high warp.”

“Why am I hearing about this from you and not Russell?” She looked back down at the PADD and swiped through the logs displayed.

“Actually, that’s why I came to you,” Ross walked away from the desk. “Communications was only able to recover partial records of the transmissions, but it appears that Russell sent the Fifth Fleet’s Galaxy wing to intercept the Aldrin in Sector 015. Sensor readings from Trill indicate that the Aldrin detonated one of its cores, but the subspace interference has obscured further scans. We don’t have a clear reading on the Galaxy wing or the Aldrin.”

Ak’telKi dropped the PADD onto the desk, “When did this happen?”

“In the last hour.”

“Have you been able to contact the Aldrin?”

Ross shook his head, “They’re either not receiving or not responding to our hails.”

Ak’telKi walked out from behind the desk, “They took out an entire Galaxy wing with one ship?” She held a hand out to her side, “Never mind that, why would Russell send that Galaxy wing after the Aldrin?”

“He covered his tracks quite well, deleting all of his logs as they were created,” Ross said. “We’re still reconstructing the transmissions, but it looks like he said the Aldrin was under hostile command.”

The president’s shoulders dropped, “Is it?”

Ross sighed, “I honestly don’t know.” He looked at the presidential portraits hanging on the walls. “If Russell actually believes the Aldrin is under enemy control, he’s not following standard procedure.”

“If?” Ak’telKi questioned.

“Frankly, his behavior is ringing too many alarm bells for me,” Ross said.

“Have you spoken to him?” she said, looking out the window at the city.

The admiral stepped up to her side, holding his hands behind his back, “Not since this morning.”

“He’s been playing the fool,” Ak’telKi growled. “When he’s really been playing us the fools.” Her antennae pointed sharply forward.

“But to what end?”

Ak’telKi looked up at Ross, “That’s why I gave you that extra star, Admiral. Put together as much as you can by tomorrow morning; I’ll confront him myself.”

“I’m not sure that’s wise,” Ross cautioned. “If he’s not incompetent, then I don’t know his intentions, where his loyalties lie, or why. As my mother-in-law so very much likes to tell me, ‘you can’t know what doesn’t want to be known’.”

“She sounds like a wise woman.”

Ross rolled his eyes, “She’s an eternal pain in my ass, ma’am.”

Ak’telKi laughed and then continued. “I will be at Starfleet Command at noon tomorrow. Get together as much as you can, and I’ll get either Russell’s resignation or throw him in the brig myself.”

“Will there be anything else, ma’am?” Ross asked.

“You didn’t happen to bring any coffee with you?” Ak’telKi asked optimistically.

“No,” Ross furrowed his brow as he looked down at the Andorian, “Do you ever sleep?”

She stepped back from the window, “On rare occasion, yes.” Walking back behind her desk and picking up the PADD brought by Ross, Ak’telKi said, “I’ll see you tomorrow, Bill.”

“Goodnight, Madam President.” Ross quietly walked out of the office as Ak’telKi slowly sat in her chair, turning on the tablet.