Chapter 32

Office of the President, Palais de la Concorde

Paris, France

Earth, Sol System, Sector 001

06:04 Hours (14:04 local time), February 21st, 2380

Stardate 57140.035164

 

Clark and Vorik stood side-by-side at attention in the center of the President’s office. They wore the red double-breasted Starfleet dress uniform, each with a several medals hanging off of short ribbons pinned over the left side of their chests, just below their combadges. In addition to the Starfleet awards, Clark wore a segmented flamed copper aiguillette bearing the three-pointed emblem of the Klingon Empire over his left shoulder.

Behind and to their sides stood a collection of Federation officials and Starfleet officers, including a few admirals and Federation Council members. In front of Clark and Vorik stood Ak’telKi, wearing a high-collared light gray suit, her Grazerite aide, and Admiral Ross, also wearing his red dress uniform with about a dozen more medals than Clark or Vorik and several awards from the Klingons, Romulans, and Cardassians.

Clark’s heart pounded rapidly as Ross read from a PADD, “Lieutenant Commander Vorik has distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and bravery above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Chief Engineering Officer of the U.S.S. Aldrin in connection with combat operations against enemy forces from Stardate 57901 to Stardate 57108. In the course of operations, Lieutenant Commander Vorik escaped enemy confinement, coordinated the rescue of the Aldrin’s crew from imprisonment and certain death, and secured from the enemy highly sensitive technologies of the Federation and Starfleet, all while severely wounded from having engaged the enemy in hand-to-hand combat. Lieutenant Vorik’s gallant actions directly saved three hundred sixty eight Starfleet officers from certain death and contributed to preventing the outbreak of renewed interstellar hostilities. For conspicuous gallantry and bravery at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty, Lieutenant Commander Vorik is hereby awarded the Christopher Pike Medal of Valor. Signed, Ak’telKi, President, United Federation of Planets, Stardate 57140.”

The Grazerite opened a flat wooden box on the desk behind him, picked it up, and presented it to Ak’telKi. She put both hands into the box and pulled out a five-centimeter matte gold disc suspended from a fifty-centimeter silk neck ribbon that was striped along its length dark red, gold, and dark blue. The gold disc was etched on the front with a relief portrait of former Starfleet Fleet Captain Christopher Pike, with the words “Sic semper tyrannis” inscribed in a ring along the edge.

Ak’telKi held the medal out in front of her and took a few steps forward to Vorik. Vorik bowed slightly, allowing Ak’telKi to reach over his head and drape the medal around his neck. She gently positioned it over the white collar of his uniform and patted him on the shoulder. As Vorik stood, she smiled at him, “Congratulations, Lieutenant Commander.” The room broke into applause for several seconds before Ak’telKi held up a silencing hand and returned to her position in front of her desk.

Ross looked back down at his PADD and began reading, “Captain David Josiah Clark has distinguished himself by acts of gallantry and bravery above and beyond the call of duty while serving as Captain of the U.S.S. Aldrin in connection with combat operations against enemy forces from Stardate 57901 to Stardate 57108. In the course of operations, Captain Clark escaped enemy confinement, coordinated the rescue of the Aldrin’s crew from imprisonment and certain death, engaged and destroyed an overwhelming enemy force, and exposed and neutralized an enemy infiltration at the highest ranks of Starfleet. Captain Clark’s gallant actions directly saved three hundred sixty eight Starfleet officers from certain death and contributed to preventing the outbreak of renewed interstellar hostilities. For conspicuous gallantry and bravery at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty, Captain David Josiah Clark is hereby awarded the Christopher Pike Medal of Valor. Signed, Ak’telKi, President, United Federation of Planets, Stardate 57140.”

Ak’telKi removed a second ribbon-suspended medal from a case and walked it over to Clark. He bowed and the president slipped the ribbon over his head. With a pat on his shoulder, Clark straightened back up and the office again burst into applause as she said, “Congratulations, Captain.” Ak’telKi took a few steps back and joined the clapping, smiling broadly at the two decorated officers in front of her.

Clark turned and took Vorik’s hand in his. He said just loud enough for Vorik to hear, “Vorik, congratulations.”

Vorik nodded curtly, “To you as well, Captain.”

As the applause died down, Ak’telKi said, “Normally the awarding of the Medal of Valor has a bit more pomp and circumstance to it, but given the clandestine and classified nature of the actions and events described in these citations, we have to be a bit more low key. Gentlemen, I’m afraid that after you leave here you’re going to have to stash those medals in the back of a desk drawer and not mention them until the public is ready to hear about your heroics.”

Ross added, “You and several of your fellow crewmates will be awarded the Star Cross for what is public. It’s the least we can do.”

“There’s also a Presidential Unit Citation for the Aldrin crew coming,” Ak’telKi said. “But you didn’t hear that from me, because we never had this conversation.”

Clark chuckled, “Yes, Ma’am.”

She pushed off from the desk, “Congratulations again, gentlemen. You’ve made us all proud.” As the officials along the wall moved in and started conversing amongst themselves, Ak’telKi walked up to Clark, “Captain, how are the repairs progressing?”

“Quite well, Ma’am,” Clark said. “We’ll be ready to begin warp validation trials in three weeks.”

She nodded and smiled slightly, “Glad to hear it. What we’re doing with the Aldrin is very important to the future of Starfleet. I’m not planning on deploying the new tech across the fleet, but knowing that it works for when we will need it is very reassuring.”

“When we need it?” Clark questioned suspiciously.

Before Ak’telKi could answer, a towering dark-skinned Human man with long gray hair stepped up to her side and said in a rich, deep voice, “Madam President, it’s good to see you on your feet.” He smiled at Clark and extended a hand, “Captain, I don’t believe we’ve met. Councilor Ismaa’eel Mazibuko, representative on the Federation Council from Earth.” He extended a hand to Clark.

Clark smiled and took the hand. He tried to avoid wincing at Mazibuko’s crushing grip, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Councilor.”

Ak’telKi cast a quick and subtle look of contempt at Mazibuko, and then forced a smile, “Councilor, Captain, if you’ll excuse me.”

Mazibuko nodded graciously, “Of course, Madam President.” As Ak’telKi stepped away, Mazibuko released Clark’s hand and pointed at the medal hanging over his chest, “It’s a shame you won’t be able to show that thing off.”

Clark looked down at the medal and sighed, “There’s a lot of weight to it. I’m not sure I’d want to bring it out that often, considering how…” he trailed off as he looked back up.

“How many people died?” Mazibuko said, attempting to finish Clark’s sentence.

“Among other factors,” Clark said.

“If you ask me,” Mazibuko said, stepping forward so he stood close to Clark and could lower his voice so only he could hear, “Far too many people died for you to get that medal.”

Clark moved to step back, but Mazibuko draped an arm across his back and grabbed onto his shoulder. Clark shifted uncomfortably, “I’m not exactly comfortable with the number either.”

Mazibuko laughed and gently shook Clark’s shoulder, feigning amusement. He smiled as he whispered to Clark, “Captain, this whole Project Eagle Two deal is going to go down as the biggest mistake Ak’telKi’s made, and she’s had some whoppers. Starfleet should have thrown the Voyager into the Sun with those damn torpedoes and armor as soon as they realized what they had.”

“With all due respect, Councilor, we live in uncertain times–” Clark began to protest.

Before Clark could finish his argument, Mazibuko nodded, “Yes, Captain, uncertain times. And by playing around with weapons we’re not supposed to have for decades, Starfleet is making these times even more uncertain. You saw what a disgruntled Changeling was willing to do to get his hands on the Aldrin. Now imagine the Tholians or the Romulans figure out what we’re doing. How about the Klingons?” He hooked a finger under the copper Klingon aiguillette on Clark’s shoulder, “The Klingons would quite literally kill to get their hands on transphasic torpedoes.” Mazibuko added a mock hiss to his voice, sounding convincingly Klingon, and gestured widely in front of Clark, “For the glory of the Empire.”

Clark shifted enough to break out of Mazibuko’s embrace, “These decisions are above my grade, Sir. You should take your concerns up with Starfleet Command.”

Mazibuko patted Clark on the shoulder and grinned, “You’re lucky Eagle Two is the president’s little pet project. If it were up to me you wouldn’t still be wearing this uniform, let alone the Pike Medal.”

“I suppose I am lucky,” Clark said, struggling to keep the rising feeling of defiance from his voice. “We’re all lucky we were able to thwart Laas’s and Russell’s plans. The Aldrin was just an excuse; they acted hastily. They could still be biding their time, sowing discord and mistrust in the Alpha Quadrant while they take their time to prepare in secret.”

“I’m sure that’s of great comfort to the two hundred twenty six mothers and fathers that lost their children,” Mazibuko sneered. He picked up the medal from Clark’s chest, “You’re right, it’s heavy. Heavy with contrition.” He read the inscription around the edge, “Sic semper tyrannis.”

Clark translated from the Latin, “Thus always to tyrants.”

“Brutus.” Mazibuko released the medal, letting it fall against Clark’s chest, “Ask yourself this, Captain: just who is the tyrant here?” He grinned again as he walked away from Clark.

Clark shook his head, still trying to process the interaction. Ak’telKi stepped up to his side, “I’ve never liked him.”

He looked down at her, “I can’t say he left a good taste in my mouth either.”

She laughed softly, “Don’t worry, Captain, he only hates you because of the uniform you wear. He hates me for a dozen other reasons, mostly political. Some personal.”

“Remind me to never get into politics,” Clark groaned.

“I don’t know Captain,” Ak’telKi said wryly, “I saw how you handled those reporters in San Francisco. You might do well in politics.”

“Would you believe I joined Starfleet to be an engineer?” Clark queried.

Ak’telKi nodded, “I can believe that. There are two types of good politicians: those that are born to politics and embrace it–”

Clark interjected, “Like yourself.”

“Exactly. And those that are born with it and, as the Klingons say, have power thrust upon them.”

“You’ll forgive me for not jumping at a chance to beg voters to let me spend my days with people like Mazibuko,” Clark laughed.

Ak’telKi echoed the laugh, “The universe has a plan for you, Captain. All you have to do is listen.” Clark looked back down to her with a puzzled look, prompting additional laughter, “I don’t think the universe wants to pluck you out of the command chair just yet, David.” She looked over to the wide wooden desk in front of them, with a sunny Paris beyond, “Though… I wouldn’t be surprised to see you in that chair someday.”

Clark stared at the desk for a few seconds before remarking, “Madam President, I think I’ll leave the governing to you.”

“That Klingon proverb,” Ak’telKi said, walking around to the other side of the desk. “It begins ‘great men do not seek power’.” She planted her hands on the polished desktop and smiled mischievously at Clark.

 

U.S.S. Aldrin, Spacedock Four

Utopia Planitia Fleet Yards

Mars, Sol System, Sector 001

15:00 Hours, February 27th, 2380

Stardate 57157.4453551

 

Clark stood back towards the closed rear doors of the shuttlebay, watching the formation of nearly six hundred Starfleet officers in front of him. Jensen stood facing the grid of officers, looking out at nearly as many new faces as there were familiar ones. She called out, “Company, atten-tion!” The officers all snapped to attention, the sound of their heels coming together in near unison echoing in the large shuttlebay. Jensen crisply executed an about-face and announced, “Sir, the company is formed.”

With a deep breath, Clark walked up to her. He was thankful it was just the crew in the shuttlebay; it’d taken several hours to convince the public affairs office to tell the press they wouldn’t be invited to cover this address, in spite of all the attention the Aldrin’s story had captured. It was just Clark and the replenished crew; no press, no politicians, no admirals. Clark stopped a meter in front of Jensen, who promptly and sharply saluted. He quickly returned the salute, and then dropped his hand, with Jensen following a moment later. She turned to the left and walked away, taking Clark’s vacated position by the space doors.

“Stand at ease,” Clark ordered. The formation relaxed, spreading their legs to shoulder width and holding their hands behind their backs. He stepped out from his position at the front of the officers, “Good afternoon. For the two hundred of you that I haven’t yet met, I’m Captain David Clark, commander of the Aldrin. Three weeks ago we lost two hundred twenty six of Starfleet’s finest officers from this ship. Three hundred sixty eight survived to stop the outbreak of interstellar war.” He stopped in line with the edge of the formation, “It fills me with immense pride in this crew to know that all three hundred sixty eight elected not just to stay in Starfleet, but to stay on board the Aldrin. What this ship – this crew – went through would have been enough to break mere mortals. But here you all are,” Clark smiled, “And here this ship still is.

“I don’t know how much attention you’ve been paying to the media, but they’ve turned this into a circus. Words like ‘blunder’ and ‘failure’ and ‘disaster’ are being thrown about like they’re nothing. But I know the truth,” Clark started to pace towards the other side of the formation. He pointed a hand at the officers, “You all know the truth. You know that three hundred sixty eight determined and courageous officers fought off the Dominion and stopped a war that would have killed tens of millions more. I thought that four years ago was the end of war; now I’m not so sure. But I know that whatever comes, this is the ship and this is the crew that I want with me.

“To all of those new to the Aldrin, welcome aboard.” Clark stopped near the center of the formation, “I know some of you have been briefed on just what the deal is with this ship; the rest of you will find out soon enough. You’re joining a fine, no,” he couldn’t help but smile, “A fantastic crew. A tough crew. A crew that’s grown up and grown together fast. Both I and Commander Jensen will have high expectations of you, though I have no doubt you’ll be able to live up to them. You are Starfleet officers, after all.

“Starfleet Command expects us to be underway in a month. We’ve got our work cut out for us – the Aldrin is still in need of patching, and there’s a lot of training to be done before we can leave drydock. I wish I could tell you where we’ll be going; as soon as I know, you’ll know. This is Starfleet, and we have one of – if not the – most advanced ships in the fleet here, so don’t be surprised if it’s to someplace you’ve never heard of.” Clark grinned again, “Ladies and gentlemen, the adventure is just beginning.”