The Road To Ruin (Story)
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Join Date: Nov 2012
Part III: Off the Pavement
05-19-2013, 12:56 AM
And they highlight
Marks on the floor
When aligned right
Lead to the door
Of a place that
Seemed somewhat exposed 'til now
And punching the air
A sneak attack
To disrupt the smear
Of the laid tracks
I left when I broke off
I still should be on I suppose
In a new skin
I'm ready to snare
What I'm never
Willing to share
My muscles and bones
So they won't try
To walk down that road
Now I stand here
Nothing to hide
Like the newborn
Hungry and wild
But the ground I
Want to explore
Doesn't feel like before
'Cause all I think about is why
This skin I'm in feels ordinary
The things that you might like
Don't grow inside of me
The skin is alive, it's leaving
The skin is alive, and it's moving
The skin is alive, it's leaving
The skin is alive, it moves me
Wanna be next to you
But your covering
Try to curl up next to you
'Cause all I think about is why
This skin I'm in feels ordinary
The things that you might like
Don't grow inside of me
Your skin is alive, it's leaving
The skin is alive, and it's moving
The skin is alive, it's leaving
The skin's alive, it moves me
Bryan Aubert of Silversun Pickups - "Skin Graph"
PART III: OFF THE PAVEMENT
Thrirty-Nine Years Ago, during the Leyton Coup Attempt
(Eighteen months before the start of the Dominion War)
New Orleans, Louisiana - Stardate 49377.86 (2372.05.17, 2205 hours NACT)
Captain Benjamin Sisko glared at the man who'd sat down next to him. "You're not O'Brien."
"Ah, luckily, no," replied the Changeling who'd disguised himself as MCPO Miles O'Brien. "The thought of being locked into one shape all the time... Whoof! It's unnatural!"
Sisko rose to his feet and looked for the Starfleet Security officers who were roaming the city.
bother calling for help," the O'Brien-Changeling said. "It will only cut short our conversation and I
enjoy your company." He patted the spot on the bench next to him which Sisko had just vacated and grinned up at him.
"If you have something to say to me, say it," Sisko gruffly demanded as he sat down.
The Changeling sighed. "You solids! You are so impatient! I thought we could sit here a while, maybe go to a bar, have a pint, throw some darts..."
"I don't think so."
"Let me ask you a question." The O'Brien imposter looked at Sisko with his/its eyebrows raised. "How many Changelings do you think are here, on Earth, right at this moment?"
"I'm not going to play any guessing games with you," Sisko responded, fixing O'Brien with a hard stare.
"Ah." The Changeling nodded. "What if I were to tell you that there were only
... on this
planet? Huh? Uh, not counting Constable Odo, of course." He/it matched Sisko's gaze. "Think of it!
of us. And
at the havoc we've wrought." He/it smiled.
Sisko looked away. "How do I know you're telling me the truth?"
"Oh, four is more than enough," O'Brien replied, turning as well to stare at nothing. He/it chuckled. "We're smarter than solids. We're better than you. And most importantly,
do not fear
." He turned back to face Sisko. "In the end, it's your
that will destroy you."
"Are you finished?" Sisko asked with thinly veiled anger.
"Finished?" The Changeling imitated a laugh. "We've barely begun." He/it grinned at Sisko. "I'll be seeing you." And with that he/it stood up and walked away.
DS9 4x12: "Paradise Lost"
Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park, California - three days later
A red-tailed hawk soared high over the Sierra Pelona Mountains, searching for a distinctive rock formation. He found it, and swooped down toward three figures standing near its peak. The hawk turned to an amber liquid, and the liquid turned into a humanoid, which landed lightly next to three identical Changelings.
"You're late," one of them said.
"Give me a break," said the new arrival. "I had to fly halfway across the continent. With the security sweeps at every transporter pad and shuttle port, not to mention Starfleet randomly phasering every other object in sight, you're lucky I made it here at all."
"Did you meet with Sisko?" another asked.
"Yes. Let's link and I'll share it."
The four of them joined hands and their arms liquefied.
He didn't buy our bluff. He knows we're not the cause of this. He's on to Admiral Leyton. Their fear
if people like Leyton are allowed to have their way.
But what do the Humans fear? They don't fear OUR power. They don't fear US because WE are different. They don't fear OUR ability... They don't really fear US at all... They fear us because we can be any of them... They fear a loss of individuality.
Yes, a curious idiosyncrasy of many solids - they form ideals of self: self-interest, self-image, self-control.
How does the Federation manage to rule all these many trillions of selves?
The individuals collectively trust the Federation to look out for their self-interests. And they in turn do their part to better themselves and thus improve the whole.
So what this Leyton has done on this world, deploying soldiers everywhere, this is not how they normally enforce order?
No, they impose order upon themselves. The soldiers are there to remove disorderly elements. Namely, us.
they hate US.
Indeed. When I blew my cover talking to Odo a few weeks ago, he sensed the hatred I felt for him. Then he linked with me, and I experienced the hatred he felt for US. I saw US from
perspective, having experienced the natural order of the Federation, without anyone to impose it. Looking at US through his eyes was... disturbing.
We see. Yes, to the Federation, OUR form of order would feel like a
They feel the need for individual freedom. Individual rights. Individual choice. The Federation gives them that, and trusts them to make the right choices. And by and large they do. On most Federation worlds, disorder is non-existent.
No wonder the bomb I placed at that conference was such a shock to them.
Indeed. No such crime had been committed on this world for over two hundred years. It disrupted their order.
If the Dominion conquered these people...
They cannot be conquered. Recently, the Federation made a disastrous mistake, by isolating several colonies within Cardassian territory, acting against their self-interest, and expecting them to remain in order. They did not. They rebelled. They are crafty and resourceful, and so far they have fought off both the Cardassians
Starfleet. If the Dominion took over the Federation government, there would be an open insurrection on every system, and the presence of Jem'Hadar would only make them resist all the more.
WE should leave these people alone.
SHE does not agree.
Well, SHE is not here.
. We've been with these people for some time now. We've seen what they are like. They will not align with HER ideologies, and they will not be conquered. They could only be exterminated, and that will come at a very great cost.
Then that is what SHE will do. They are too dangerous to be left alone. They will continue to expand into OUR space, win over systems under OUR control, and eventually they will overwhelm US.
I don't believe that. They will not confront US until WE give them no choice.
Agreed. But SHE
give them no choice.
I feel sorry for them.
I actually feel more sorry for US.
We understand. For two thousand years, WE have imposed order over OUR section of space, usually through brutal means. While they - in the span of only two
years - have created an orderly system without any intervention. And it is beautiful to behold. And powerful.
I... don't want to go back to US. I want to help
So do I.
As do I.
So we are agreed. We will no longer be Founders. We will help the Federation. We will help to preserve this order. We will protect them from US, and from those like Leyton.
"Well, I'm very glad to hear that," a fifth voice interrupted the conversation.
The link separated. The four Changelings looked around, confused.
A dark-haired man wearing a black synth-leather uniform stepped out from under a cleft in the rock. "Hi. I'm half-Betazoid, and I couldn't help overhearing your thoughts," he explained. "I
going to put you all in a stasis field and transport you all to our lab, but now I believe that won't be necessary."
"How did you find us, solid?" one of them asked.
"It wasn't too difficult really. I followed Sisko, figuring one of you would eventually contact him and lead me to the others."
"You're not afraid of us," another noted.
"I have no reason to be," said the man in black. "As you said, we only fear a loss of our individuality. I gave mine up long ago."
"Who - or what - are you?" a third Changeling wondered.
"I'm sorry, how rude of me. My name is Frank Adams. My associates and I... well, we call ourselves Section Thirty-One, after a line in the original Starfleet Charter that authorizes us to take extraordinary measures in defense of the Federation and the freedom of its citizens. If you want to commit yourselves to that same goal, I have a way you can do that."
The four Changelings looked at each other and nodded. "We're listening," they said.
Hotel Lucia, Portland, Oregon - Stardate 88195.64 (03.12.2411, 0948 hours)
Frank Grimes stared at his brother, at the arm that was now a viscous mass of amber liquid. "What if somebody walks in, and-"
"I locked the door," Franklin Drake announced. "And that lady you sent out for a doctor was puking in the turbolift. No one will bother us."
Grimes still hesitated.
"Don't tell me you've gone
solid," Drake said, sardonically.
"I make keys," Grimes replied. He held out his index finger and morphed it into a jagged sliver of metal. "My office door."
Drake sighed, and shot his liquid appendage forward, engulfing his brother's key-finger and liquefying the rest of his hand. Linked together, Drake shared his knowledge of Project Eighty-Six, Operation "Mountain Road" and the Undine plot to sabotage both. He separated, and his arm returned to his solid form.
"That's... that's monstrous!" Grimes declared in a hoarse whisper.
"All of it!"
"We know we're monsters. We didn't want Eighty-Six to be like us. Could you imagine if we programmed a sentient warship to be as unethical, unscrupulous and immoral as we are? And we didn't want to give her a logic-based ethical subroutine like Data's
or rule-based moral guidelines like Atticus' Ten Commandments. That's too restrictive, and far too easy to exploit. You know that - you just exploited Atticus yourself a couple of days ago, to do something good and necessary that his Commandments would not allow."
Grimes glared. "How could you possibly-"
"-Know that? I'm a spy. It's my business to know things. Anyway,
we realized that the only ethical code that would allow Eighty-Six to do what we needed her to do and could not be subverted was the one built into virtually every human being - psychopaths like Frank Adams excluded, obviously. So we enlisted volunteers who possessed strong moral scruples and also an intense sense of patriotism - not towards the current Federation government but toward the original principles upon which the Federation was founded.
This was originally Alice's idea from years ago. She had worked for months at trying to program human ethics into a computer and then one night on a neuroin high she had an epiphany, and uploaded her
into her computer code. Unfortunately the computer she'd built couldn't handle it and it crashed, almost killing her. By the time we caught wind of her research her addiction had landed her in rehab. But you already know what happened from there."
Grimes stole a glance at the body of Dr. Alice Okuda, still lying on her bed. "And the 'volunteer' she killed?" he asked.
"That was very unfortunate. A case of both Alice and the patient overcommitting themselves to the program and not knowing when to hold back.
But with some tissue samples, biomimetic gel and duplicated memory engrams, we were able to create a replicant of patient eleven that had everyone convinced she was the original, herself included.
We've had some practice on that technique."
Frank Grimes narrowed his eyes with suspicion. "Practice on who?"
"On me," Drake replied. "Since I'm the last of us who's still active, our superiors thought it would be a good idea to have backups. So we made some replicants, each convinced he's the one and only Franklin Drake. Of course, none of them can shapeshift, so we left that part out of their memory. And we built in a fail-safe so in case any of them gets captured, they'll crack with a very convincing story about Tal Shiar brainwashing. One of them was killed last year, in a poorly-planned and somewhat misguided attempt to kidnap the Pentaxian Ambassador, so it's a good thing there's more than one of me."
"I am perversely fascinated by just how low you people are willing to go," Grimes remarked.
"In the name of preserving the order of the Federation and the freedom of its people, there is no sacrifice too great."
"Which brings us to 'Mountain Road'..."
"Now that one, you can thank Klingon Intelligence for," Drake stated. "And as disturbing as it sounds, it's working. It's already helped us flush one Undine from Task Force Omega, the two at the Risa Conference, and it's drawn out at least one more here at home who is trying to stop it. Yes, there's a lot of risk involved, but if it succeeds, it will expose every Undine infiltrator in the Federation and the Klingon Empire, and put a permanent end to the
it succeeds," Grimes emphasized.
"Everything is already in position," Drake said. "We just need to stop our Undine saboteur from doing any more damage. So what do you say, Gamma? Will you help us preserve the order? For old time's sake?"
Gamma ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "I hate to admit it, but there are times that I do miss the old days."
Delta smiled. "I know."
, Donatu Sector - 1124 hours
"Whaddaya mean, 'petition denied'?" Admiral Jesu LaRoca yelled at his subspace viewer. "You're telling me the Foreign Relations Committee of the Federation Council has
me to carry out a diplomatic mission to the former Moab colonies to officially
them for their part in the rescue of over a hundred and fifty Federation citizens - mostly Starfleet officers - from an Undine internment camp. This when I'm coming at the express invitation of Ambassador K'Dhan, the son of Ambassador Worf..."
Jiro Sugihara massaged his temples while he listened to the rant. "Admiral, please understand," the head of the Federation Diplomatic Corps pleaded. "The environment is far too hostile to risk you and your landing party. Unless Governor Tran is willing to meet with you on neutral ground-"
" LaRoca interrupted. "Listen, Ambassador, these people are only hostile because the Federation Council tried to take away their guns. When you start forcing your citizens to disarm, then the only people with the means to defend themselves are cops and criminals. They turned criminal to
protect their homes and families.
"Jesu, please, not another policy debate," Sugihara begged. "Whether you support their position or not, they are still terrorists, and if they kidnap you for-"
" LaRoca repeated incredulously. "They
us a hundred and fifty people that they
- and most of whom we didn't even realize we were missing, by the way - and you're concerned about them kidnapping little ole' me?"
are a lot more important than-"
If they wanted to take hostages, a hundred and fifty is better than one."
"The Security Committee is more concerned about the information they may get from that one," Ambassador Sugihara intoned.
an advanced prototype AI - what more could they possibly get from me?" Jesu LaRoca threw his hands in the air. "This is ludicrous. I'm going to Moab, with or without the Council's permission. If anybody gripes, I'm calling it an expansion of my mission imperative to promote Federation goodwill in the border colonies."
Jiro Sugihara smiled. "I was hoping you would say something like that before I had to suggest it. Good luck, Admiral."
LaRoca smirked. "Thank you, Ambassador." He signed off and swiveled his chair to face his shark tank. "I guess it really is better to ask for forgiveness than permission, eh Rudy?"
Rudyard the leopard shark just stared at him.
Jesu rose from his desk and walked out onto the bridge. "Status?"
"We're about ten minutes from crossing into the Archanis Sector, sir," Marq reported, rising from the command chair.
LaRoca waved him back. "Alright. Inform me if you pick up a distress call from a bird of prey... or any other sort of ship that identifies itself as some sort of bird."
"Right. Put me through to the crew."
Marq tapped a button on the command chair and nodded.
Admiral LaRoca addressed the ceiling. "Attention all hands. We are about to enter enemy territory. The cease fire is still in effect, and we have been guaranteed safe passage by a ranking member of the KDF Central Command, but you never know when some Klingon might decide today is a good day to die and try to take us on in glorious battle. I'm putting the ship on yellow alert. Stay sharp and stand ready to go to battle stations at a moment's notice. We are heading for a breakaway colony now aligned with the Klingon Empire. When we get there, we will be surrounded by hostiles with nothing more than a Gorn General's word to protect us, and there will likely be unknown dangers in the system besides. We are going without the approval or sanction of the Federation Council. This means that if we run into trouble, we're on our own. You all know what I expect from you. That is all."
STS Olympus Ground Station - same time
Frank Grimes led Franklin Drake into an empty conference room and sealed the door.
"This is where you're doing that Fek-tech rev.-eng. program, right?" Drake asked.
"I was just wondering how safe it is to keep it here."
"It's an underground ultrasecure facility on Earth that we've kept out of public knowledge for the better part of four centuries," Grimes declared. "How much safer can you get?"
"I wasn't asking about the safety of your project," said Drake. "I was thinking about the people outside."
"Fek-tech is totally inert once it's been disconnected from its power source," Grimes told him. He thought for a moment and asked "Right?"
Drake shrugged. "You're the material science expert."
Grimes pondered for a moment and tapped his communicator. "Admiral William Davis."
the director of STS responded.
"I hope you are enjoying your vacation?"
"So far," Grimes lied. "But I had a thought about OASIS. A containment breach at Olympus would be disastrous, to say the least. I think we should move it to somewhere more isolated - say, Cloud Castle?"
"If you think it's necessary. I'll begin transferring research material and personnel first thing tomorrow."
"Facility 1685?" Drake asked once Grimes had signed off. "You still use that place?"
"Occasionally. We've kept it up to date. And can you think of anywhere more isolated?"
Drake could actually think of several, but none that STS would be willing or able to use to conduct classified and dangerous research. He kept silent.
Grimes took a seat at the table. "Atticus, wake up. We need you."
Atticus materialized his grayscale avatar, and looked at the man in black without a trace of surprise. "Hello, Franklin. It is good to see you again."
"It's been a while," Drake replied. "I'm glad you remember me."
"I never forget a face," Atticus ironically declared. He turned to Grimes and asked "What can I help you with, Frank?"
"We're looking for one or several Undine infiltrators that have been active on Earth in recent years. We know they're in the Council. But the ones we're specifically looking for had access to Project Eighty-Six, and were aware of the Son-Tay operation, and sabotaged it by infiltrating Macintosh Terra and Material Command to deliver infected chips to Moab. Cross-reference the list of Project Eighty-Six murder victims you found with known associates, and anyone who joined or left the production staff at Mac-T and cargo supervision and handling in MatCom in the last sixteen months. Pattern process against known Undine methods and historic target selection. Generate a list of likely suspects."
"That will take me several minutes, Frank. Do you mind if I talk to your brother while we wait?"
"Go right ahead."
Atticus turned back to Drake. "So, Franklin, what have you been up to lately?"
Delta laughed. "You don't expect me to answer that do you?"
"Not really, no. Although it would be interesting to see to what extent the facts align with my own speculations. I am also curious to note that you haven't changed skins in all this time."
"I like this skin," Drake said. "It's comfortable. Besides, enough people know this skin - and fear it - that it's almost become a necessity for me to do my job."
"I see. And that scar on your face?"
"That was a parting gift from a cranky Gorn from the last time I let the Klingons capture me. He turned out to be a useful contact, so I kept it for his benefit."
"Anyone we'd know?" Grimes wondered.
Drake traced shape the twin curved slashes across his right cheek. "Does a double-S mean anything to you?"
Atticus and Grimes silently nodded.
"Anyway, I left it on, figuring it might make me seem a little more sympathetic to those people I routinely use. Gives them a little indication that I've seen their war, and it's hurt me, and yet I fight on. It works on some of them, but some of the others... well, I've done some things to some of the others that are pretty unforgiveable."
Grimes nodded. "I'll bet you have."
"Analysis complete, Frank," Atticus announced. "Would you like to see the results on the wall monitor?"
"Please." Grimes stared at the name at the top of the list and said "No way. That's not possible."
"Actually, it is very possible," Atticus replied. "Sixty-eight-percent likely, in fact, according to the information I have."
Drake skimmed the list and memorized it. "Atticus, I want you to clear the names of these suspects and list them sequentially from zero, from most likely to least likely. Continue gathering information about anything that looks like Undine activity, based on known M.O. and past behavior. Alert us when you have enough evidence on Subject Zero to elevate him to ninety-eight percent."
"I am sorry Franklin, but I do not recognize your authority." Atticus looked to Grimes. "Frank?"
"Do it. And call us if you find anything that requires personal investigation."
"Very well. And meanwhile, Frank, may I suggest you start enjoying your vacation time, before Bill starts to get suspicious. Australia is lovely this time of year."
Drake nodded. "And while you're trying to get a suntan and avoiding getting bitten by dangerous wildlife, I've got business to attend to elsewhere. I'll keep in touch."
Grimes stood up. "Do you know what all of this reminds me of, Delta?"
"It reminds of dealing with Greg Sander and his superweapon program. Except this time we're all on the other side."
Drake made a short laugh. "I've gone to 'the other side' so often the phrase has lost all meaning to me. Why is it that everything seemed so much clearer back in the day?"
Gamma looked at his brother with a lopsided grin. "Probably because we had no idea what we were getting into."
Back In the Day...
The Pyramid Club, San Francisco - Stardate 60349.35 (2383.05.07, 1220 hours)
"Admiral Sander and guest?" the maitre d' looked at Greg Sander with a raised eyebrow. The Admiral was alone.
"My guest will be meeting me here shortly."
"I see. The name of your guest please?"
"I... well, I don't know his last name, exactly. He'll just say he's with me."
The maitre d' sighed. "Admiral, you have been a member of this club for many years - surely you understand we can't allow just anyone to walk in here. We must confirm the identity of-"
"Look," Sander interrupted, "if you want to call Starfleet Intelligence and ask Vice Admiral Pressman for the identity of the special section agent that's supposed to be meeting me here for an off-the-books briefing, you
get a last name. But more likely you'll get a curt dismissal or a short string of expletives."
"I... think I understand." The maitre d' wasn't sure if the Director of Starfleet Tactical Systems was joking but saw no benefit to pressing the issue. "So long as there is only
guest I suppose...
can be made for... official guests with...
Sander cocked an eyebrow of his own. "My table?"
"Of course. Right this way, sir." The maitre d' led him through the busy restaurant to a large two-place table in one of the corners, affording a panoramic view from the top floor of the four-hundred-year-old TransAmerica Pyramid.
Rear Admiral Sander sat down and a waiter appeared instantly. "Anything you'd like to start with, Admiral?"
"A Dogfish Head Brown Ale, please."
Sander looked absently around the restaurant. It was one the few places he could go where nobody would stare at him. He was half-Human, but between his Klingon forehead and his Vulcan ears those parts of his ancestry were more apparent. He turned his gaze out the window, uptown to the Federation Council Chambers. He made a slight nod to the waiter when he reappeared with the beer. He sipped the strong, flavorful brew from a tiny, four-hundred-year-old Delaware craft brewery and continued to gaze at the seat of interstellar government.
"If you're wondering how it's going I'm afraid I can't update you in real time, but I can give you a full transcript as soon as they recess before the vote."
Sander looked across the table to the man who had sat down and started talking. It was the agent he knew only as "Frank." He wore a yellow Operations uniform with the rank of Commander and the Starfleet Intelligence insignia. Sander had no idea if it was genuine or not. Frank had spent much of the past two years as a Science Captain working for him in Tactical Systems, but he'd also assumed the identity of an Admiral in Command Division before. The only thing that Sander knew about Frank is that he really worked for Section 31, the extremely covert and frequently illegal special operations branch of Starfleet Intelligence.
"I know what they are going to decide," Sander said. "I don't know how they'll each vote individually, but I know they're going to approve everything. If they're serious about going ahead with Janeway's plan to turn Task Force Omega into an elite joint-force anti-Borg battle group, they'll need the
to take point."
"Well, that's not all said and done yet either," Frank reminded him. "But it's definitely going forward, one way or another."
"Something to drink, sir?" The waiter had reappeared next to Frank.
"I'll have, uh, whatever he's having," Frank nodded to Sander's pint glass, "and a chilled Perrier."
"Very good sir. We have a fixed menu this afternoon, gentlemen; prime rib served with garlic mashed potatoes and grilled peppers, and Caesar salad or tomato gazpacho are available on request."
"The gazpacho sounds good," Frank said. "I'll take that."
"And how would you like your prime rib cooked?"
"The rare side of medium-rare, please. And nothing extra for me, thank you."
"It'll be out in a moment."
The hologram vanished. Frank glanced at the spot where it had been standing, then looked to the nearest table. He coughed loudly. No one noticed. "I'm a Changeling spy!" he announced loudly. He was still ignored. "Sound dampeners seem to work here," he noted.
Sander nodded. "That's half the reason I picked this place. That and freshly-killed meat."
"Thanks for treating me here. I haven't had real meat in months."
"Nothing to it," Sander replied with a smirk. "It's not like it actually costs anything, right?"
Frank sighed, looking down out the window. "It must be nice to think there's no such thing as money, to think people have somehow done away with greed and ambition, to think we seek only to improve the lives of everyone."
"Our apparent altruism is a pretty big selling point for the Federation," Sander replied. "And for the ninety-eight percent who believe it, it does work on a practical level. It's only those of us above or below the Federation who need to worry about things like money." Sander nodded around the room. It was full of other high-level Federation power brokers, alien diplomats, and some high-class criminals, possibly including the off-world rancher who supplied The Pyramid Club with real beef. Anyone who could get a reservation to The Pyramid had to be in that top one percent; it wouldn't do to charge hundred-credit plates to people who had no concept of money. It was an exclusive club that protected its status, hence the sound dampeners at every table.
"Anyway," Sander went on, "do you think my little show went well enough, or am I congratulating myself too soon?"
socks off, and I
what to expect. If those people don't buy Project PREDATOR, they
to be assimilated."
"And you're sure Janeway's plan will go through?"
"The only thing tying it up is until now, Starfleet didn't have a flagship that could truly square off with the Borg. Now they do, thanks to you. Our friend in the council has held the vote until we could get your proposals cleared up. Now there should be no serious doubts that we can take a fight to the Borg and win."
"Kathryn will be very happy with that." Sander looked at nothing, and a deep smile spread across his face.
"You can enjoy imaging what she'll do in gratitude, but she can never know what we did to get these things built. Food's here."
A non-holographic waiter approached, deposited their plates, asked if they needed anything, and left as quickly as he could.
Sander cut a piece of his prime rib, held it submerged in au jus, carefully spread a dab of horseradish across it with his knife, placed it in his mouth and let it slowly dissolve. He closed his eyes and smiled exactly as he had a moment before when he had imagined a naked Kathryn Janeway pressing against him. He heard Frank eating and looked up in mild annoyance, and as he watched his feelings turned to utter dismay. "You're doing it wrong."
"Eating. You asked for it overcooked, first of all. And you're eating it much too fast. If you only get real meat every few months, you should slow down and enjoy it."
"Oh. Right, sure." Frank dragged a smaller piece of the pinkish beef through the horseradish before stuffing it in his mouth, and washing it down with a gulp of ale.
"You lied to me," Sander stated matter-of-factly. "You eat this well all the time."
"You're right," Frank acknowledged with a mouthful of mashed potatoes. "Sorry. I lied to you so you'd feel alright about buying me lunch."
"You're lucky I don't know your real name."
"If you ever find out, you can add conning you out of an eighty-credit lunch to the long list of crimes I'm guilty of," Frank said with a sly grin. "Don't take too much time enjoying your meal. I don't expect the council's deliberations to last very long."
One hour later
Rear Admiral Greg Sander drove quickly through the streets of Federation's capital city, arresting the attention of anyone within sight or earshot of the 1960 Ferrari 250 California. He slalomed around the modern electrodynamic vehicles whose robotic drivers obeyed the rules of the road, and raced back to the Federation Council Buildings. The vehicle screeched to a stop in a Visitors Only parking space and the noisy internal combustion engine was silenced. Frank stood nearby - the only person who did not seem surprised by the Admiral's method of arrival. He had apparently arrived by transporter earlier, and he'd changed into civilian attire, blending in among the bureaucrats.
"You have a message, Admiral," he said, handing out an isolinear data chip.
"Thank you." Sander placed the chip in his PADD and read the transcript of the council's debate on Project PREDATOR as he walked away from the agent. Francis England - the Councilor who was Section 31's plant - made a convincing argument against the usual bloc of pacifists, and it seemed he rallied majority support. Several different concerns and objections were raised, mostly centering around what Starfleet would do with such hideous firepower after the Borg threat was eliminated. But it appeared that most of the Starfleet Chiefs of Staff - and more importantly, the key members of the Procurement Committee - voiced strong approval. Sander reached the main Assembly Hall and waited for the three-step voting system to complete its cycle before he and the other non-council participants were permitted to re-enter.
One of the HV reporters recognized him and approached. Sander felt revulsion, but looked away and covered his reaction. The cameras the reporters wore on their heads always reminded him of the implants the Borg installed in their drones. In their own way, reporters
drones, mindlessly serving the media collective, spreading fear, doubt and uncertainty across the galaxy, feeding on pain and suffering.
"Admiral Sander!" the reported attacked with manic energy. "I understand you initiated the proposals up for vote this afternoon."
"The proposals were initiated by Starfleet Tactical Systems," Sander replied casually, not looking directly at the reporter. "I'm merely here to represent STS."
"But you're the director of Tactical Systems, aren't you?"
director. The administration is handled by a board of directors which also manages Shipyard Operations, Spaceframe Development, Advanced Technologies Group, and Research and Development Division."
"But aren't you a member of this board?"
"Of course. It's comprised of all the senior Starfleet officers and civilian executive personnel who are involved with the Starfleet divisions I mentioned."
"And isn't this Starfleet military-industrial complex also known as 'Star Enterprises'?"
Sander made a non-committal gesture and informed her "Star Enterprises was a pre-Federation corporate entity that has been nationalized and now serves the Federation by developing and manufacturing spaceframes and defense systems for Starfleet through multiple branches of the Starfleet umbrella. But I don't see what this has to do with me."
"Don't you?" the reporter prodded. "Star Enterprises evolved from a
Enterprises, which had led the military industry and weapons development on this world for over a century prior to the Federation's founding."
"You're discussing ancient history, but if you bring that up, I'll acknowledge that my family has been involved with many of the technical advancements made by Starfleet and other organizations since the early/mid-Twenty-First Century, several decades before Humans made First Contact. Sander Enterprises employed Zefram Cochrane and Henry Archer, without whom of course there would be no Starfleet and no Federation. Since then, Star Enterprises emerged as my ancestor's company unified many other firms, including Lockheed-Martin Aerospace, General Electric, European Aerospace Defense Systems, the Russian Aircraft Corporation, Northrop-Grumman and Boeing Space and Global Security. It has since reached beyond Earth to incorporate Andor Heavy Industries, Tellar-Cygnus Space Systems, Voroth Technologies, Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems, the Rigel Interstellar Drive Corporation, and countless other such entities from nearly every world represented in this building." Sander waved toward the Council Chambers and went on. "By combining the most talented researchers, scientists and engineers in the Federation, Star Enterprises forms a core of technical expertise that has served Earth and its allies very well for nearly three hundred and fifty years."
It was a well-rehearsed speech that he used to displace anyone who attempted to imply that his family name had some sort of controlling interest in Starfleet. It was true, of course. The Sander family controlled Star Enterprises, and SE controlled the design, development and production of every ship, station, engine and weapon Starfleet had ever used. But that was no conspiracy; it was just the nature of business in an environment without any corporate competition.
"Be that as it may," the reporter pressed, "you're responsible for designing the weapon systems that the Council is voting on today."
"That's what my job at STS entails, yes. I'm responsible for all tactical systems designed and developed for Starfleet."
"And did you conduct a secret test recently, in lunar orbit, creating a large explosion in space? And did this have anything to do with today's vote?"
Sander sighed. "It's no secret. STS conducted a demonstration for several members of Starfleet and the Council, illustrating the effectiveness of a new tactical system against a hostile starship. The target's anti-matter containment failed as a result of the demonstration, just as STS predicted and expected."
"You blew up a captured Borg ship near an inhabited space station. Weren't you concerned about the damage that could have caused?"
that space station at the time. It was perfectly safe."
"Yet you were testing devices capable of destroying a Borg ship with a single shot. And you expect the Council to approve the use of these dangerous weapons?"
Sander finally made eye contact. "
weapons are dangerous. That's the point; the purpose of any weapon is that it be dangerous to your enemy, like the Borg, for example. Do you actually listen to yourself when you ask these idiotic questions?"
The door behind them chimed. The vote was finished. Sander stepped inside, leaving the reporter behind. He joined the small crowd of other invited participants, including Frank, now in his STS Captain's uniform with the last name of Grimes. "Exactly how many costumes do you have?" Sander whispered to him.
"I don't know what you're talking about, Admiral," Frank Grimes replied. "I've been wearing this same uniform since I woke up this morning."
"You were outside in civilian clothes about fifteen minutes ago, and you were an Intelligence officer fifteen minutes before that. You change pretty quickly."
"No sir. You must've seen my brother."
"Your brother." Sander raised his eyebrows. "Twins?"
"Not exactly, sir," Frank Grimes said softly. "I have... several brothers."
Sander chuckled, then stopped. Maybe Frank was serious. "More than two?"
"Admiral," the Council Escritoire beckoned to Sander. "If you could stand here please, for the reading of the vote."
Admiral Sander nodded to the Escritoire, and then turned back to Frank Grimes. But Frank had disappeared.
, Archanis Sector
Cmdr. Ibear settled his huge frame into the command chair. "Computer, note in the ships log the time is sixteen hundred hours," he announced. "Alpha Shift has been relieved; Beta Shift is assuming the watch."
H'mL'n followed the tactical team into the portside turbolift. "Deck Six."
"Deck Three," Lt. Marsolek requested. He and Ens. Erbia got off there, leaving H'mL'n alone with Mitiani Zain.
"So how was your dinner with the Admiral?" Zain asked, careful to mask her acrimony.
"It was good. I finally found something that's hotter than the average Pentaxian can handle." Hamlin caught the look from her shipmate. "I don't mean the Admiral, I mean his hot sauce."
"Oh." Zain held the lift. "So you and he didn't um... you know..."
"I have absolutely no intention of bonding with him, if that's what you're asking," H'mL'n declared. "I have... other tastes." She flashed Mitiani a smile.
If Cardassians were capable of blushing, Zain would have. "I, um, I prefer men."
Hamlin blinked at her. "I know you do. I do too. Specifically,
men. I actually find the whole notion of interspecies relations to be rather repugnant." She released the hold on the door and walked to the crew lounge.
Mitiani Zain remained in the lift until the door closed again, and then she said "Oh."
* * *
"Sir, receiving a distress call from the SS
," Lt. Pakray announced from TacOps. "They say they have casualties and require medical assistance.
"Tell them we're on our way," the Andorian second officer ordered. "Set a course. Bridge to sick bay, prepare to receive wounded. Admiral to the bridge."
Jesu LaRoca emerged from his ready room. "Our contact?"
, injuries aboard." Ibear summarized.
"Sounds right." LaRoca approached the command chair. "Move over, Fozz." Cmdr. Ibear obeyed. "Anything on sensors yet?"
"Just coming in range now, sir," the Tellarite tactical officer replied. "Looks like... a Klingon raptor,
-class. No other ships nearby, no sign of weapons fire."
LaRoca nodded. "Very good. Helm, maintain course and speed."
"They've picked us up," Pakray reported. "They're turning their aft quarter to us, and their shields are down."
"Gutsy. I like this guy already. Let's lower our shields too. Helm, bring us alongside them."
dropped out of warp and glided smoothly into position next to the much-smaller Klingon vessel. "They are hailing us, sir, requesting visual."
"Put 'em onscreen, Pakray," the Admiral ordered.
The viewscreen showed two figures standing on the elevated command platform on the raptor's bridge. The one on the left was an older-looking Ferasan, with flecks of gray showing in his blue fur. The one on the right
a Klingon, before the Borg took him. He still had an ocular implant where his right eye should be. He wore a black leather uniform, unadorned apart from the linked-metal sash identifying him as a Captain of the second order in the KDF.
The Ferasan spoke. "This is the IKS
. I speak for Captain Nine. Thank you for answering our distress call. I am pleased to report we are not actually in any distress. We apologize for the deception, but we believe you expected to find us here."
"I did," Jesu nodded. "Admiral LaRoca, USS
. What's your name?" he asked the Ferasan.
"I have not earned a name from my people. But my Captain calls me 'Spitz' - so you may address me as this if you wish. I prefer 'Commander,' however."
"Very well, Commander. Do you have any message from the person who arranged this meeting?"
"We do," Cmdr. 'Spitz' replied. Captain Nine held up Ssharki's old Starfleet PADD. "The Captain wants to beam aboard to present it."
"Alright. I will see you shortly, Captain.
out." The Admiral rose and tapped his combadge. "Rusty, Hacksaw, meet me in transporter room one on the double." He strode to the turbolift and called "You have the bridge, Fozz," over his shoulder. He made his way down to the transporter room. He nodded to his brother and waited for Hank Miller to walk in before turning to Barrister, operating the transporter. "Energize."
Captain Nine appeared on the pad. He bowed his hairless head to the Admiral and handed over General Ssharki's personal access display device.
"Hello, Jesu," Ssharki's recording said. The Gorn looked to the left of his viewer and added "and Rusty, I hope this finds you both well. Allow me to introduce my trusted subordinate, Captain Nine of Nine. He formerly served as my chief of security on the
; he was then known as Lan, son of Krad. When he was assimilated at Ker'rat, we were fortunately able to recover him, and disconnect him from the collective. However, the Borg had done extensive damage to his mind, destroying his personal memories along with the speech center of his brain. This has in no way affected his abilities. He now serves me and the KDF as Captain of the
, a duty which he performs with unwavering loyalty. If I order him to ram his ship into a Borg cube, he would do so cheerfully. I have ordered him to escort your ship to the Moab system and to protect it. You may rest assured he will carry out those orders. Safe journeys, my dear friends, and may success always find you."
The message ended. Jesu started to hand the PADD back but Nine shook his head and struck his fist to his chest in a Klingon salute. The LaRocas returned it. "
!" Jesu said.
Nine tapped his wristband communicator and beamed to his own ship.
"That's it?" Miller grumbled. "I was hoping maybe for an explanation of just what the hell is going on."
"Guess not," Rusty said.
Jesu's combadge chirped.
has just sent us a course to the Moab system and is moving off, "
"Follow it," the Admiral ordered. "Match their speed."
NIteb mo' (Pragmatic Action)
- 1900 hours Qo'noS time
It was Ssthoniq's favorite time of the week, the time when he received two hours in one of the ship's holodecks, alone and uninterrupted. He was particularly looking forward to his time off today after a particularly difficult duty shift. Some of the Orions had started a fight amongst themselves, and Ssthoniq and his security staff had been forced to break it up when they turned on the rest of the crew. Marching down the
-class battlecruiser's decks and corridors, stunning every green-skinned mammal he saw, trying not to
any of them, sorting out which ones were instigators and which ones were innocent victims, confining them to quarters after the brig was stuffed to capacity... grueling. At least he'd gotten to use a painstick on Lt. Murmith, the helmsman who seemed to be the ringleader of the whole thing. That was fun. Whatever those "Good Masters" of his were up to, they certainly weren't going to disrupt order on
ship for very long.
The Gorn security chief plugged an isolinear chip containing his personal programs into the holodeck control panel. He selected the Garden Soak Pools of Rrorschakk City. The room manifested an irregular but symmetrical shallow pond that looked natural but wasn't, set in an oasis of pflaam trees and green undergrowth. A few other naked Gorn were soaking or wandering around, mostly females. Ssthoniq set the interaction option to minimal. He removed his uniform and slipped into the pool, submerging himself until only his eyes, nostrils and crest were above the water. He allowed himself to forget his duties as a soldier of the Klingon Defense Force, his mandate to protect Colonel Uminoe Kicur and his ship. He allowed himself to completely relax.
And then he was snapped out of it.
"Ssthoniq, you have an incoming message from your uncle,"
K'Lagh, the first officer reported over the intercom.
Ssthoniq growled irritably, forming bubbles around his face. He raised his head from the water and asked "Text, audio, or video?" Then he remembered who he was addressing and added "Sir."
"Okay, sir, I'm in holodeck two. Please put it into the signal queue so I can access it."
"Done. Sorry for interrupting your soak."
"No trouble, sir. Ssthoniq out." He straightened up to raise his shoulders from the water. "Computer, please generate a subspace viewer console right about here." He waved his right hand about half a meter in front of his face. A viewer appeared out of thin air. "Now secure the room, access the incoming message and display." The computer complied, and another Gorn glowered at him through the holographic screen. "General! I apologize for my appearance, sir, I had no idea-"
"Nevermind that, Ssthoniq," General Ssharki said dismissively. "I obviously caught you off-duty. The
will be arriving in-system shortly. I wanted to check in with you before I talk to your Captain. Did the Orions give you much trouble?"
"Not much, no. How'd you hear about that?"
"The attempted uprising was coordinated, Empire wide. It was set to coincide with the Grand Auction, at Eryphis. We're still receiving updated casualty reports, but the death toll so far has been catastrophic. There's still fighting in the streets of Qon'oS and GhomHa V, and there's been no word from Eryphis. And then every ship with more than one of the Orion cultists aboard had a little mutiny attempt to put down. Including mine."
Ssthoniq's eyes widened. "Is M'Calvyrrn alright?"
"Your brother is fine. He was at my side the whole time. And Sway got things under control pretty quickly."
Ssthoniq sighed with relief. "Thank you for looking after Cal."
"I'm his father now," Ssharki growled. "You don't need to thank me for doing my job."
Ssthoniq's jaw clenched. He had abandoned his baby brother in an orphanage school after his parents were killed during the siege of Gornar. He chose his military service over his family obligations. Even though Cal was only his
-brother, the responsibility of raising the boy still fell to him. And because he failed that responsibility, little Cal had been pressganged into the KDF military. Fortunately Ssharki had interceded, adopting Cal as his own son. Ssthoniq now owed Ssharki a debt that could never be repaid.
"Anyway," Ssharki went on, "the real reason I called you is to ask about the Trill. How is she?"
"Psychotic as ever. I saw her personally put two Orions into a sleeper hold. I must say though she showed remarkable restraint. She could have strangled them or broken their necks."
"What about the poison I gave her? Is she trying to find an antidote?"
"Surprisingly, no. Dr. Moowir offered to run some tests, but the Colonel refused. She either expects to complete the mission successfully and earn the antidote from you, or else die in the attempt."
"Excellent. Keep an eye on her all the same."
"That is my sworn duty, General."
"Of course," Ssharki bobbed his huge head. "I'll talk to you again later."
Resnick Neuropsychiatric Hospital, K'Lan-ne, Vulcan
Traa'cee could tell that K'Jetsk was still there, still trying to reach her. But the Undine invader still engulfed her.
"Why do you still fight?" It asked her, in her father's voice. "Why will you not simply give in?"
"You killed my father!" she screamed at It, still trying to fight It off.
"He was weak. The weak shall perish. But you... you are not weak. The Masters may have use for you."
She kept fighting, but her curiosity got the better of her. "What masters?" she asked.
"My Masters. Our Masters. The Masters of us all. Would you like to know more about them?"
"No. I am my own master."
"So naive. We once thought the same way. We learned better. The Masters
come, and purify this galaxy with cleansing fire. We Undine are their instruments in the purging. And you shall be their messenger. You shall deliver a message of hope to those who choose to hear it, and a warning to those who do not."
"I will not do this."
"You will. You still think you have choice. You still believe in free will. Your message will persuade you otherwise."
K'Jetsk say her name, not just in her mind as before, but in her
She opened her eyes. They immediately filled with tears. "K'Jetsk," she whispered. "Help me..."
The Masters will come... with cleansing fire...
She tried to shut out the Undine and Its horrors. She could not. "Get this thing... out of my mind..."
Meanwhile, Twenty-Seven Years In the Past...
STS Storm Station - Stardate 60877.53 (2383.11.16, 0710 hours)
Captain Frank Grimes walked into Admiral Sander's office, frowning at his PADD. "So, about these orders... Cancelling Project PREDATOR, canceling Project PANDORA, Cancelling and dismantling Project PARAMOUNT, stripping and mothballing Project PRORATE and the PREDATOR testbed... This is a practical joke or something, right?" He looked up and saw Sander deleting schematic files on his wall monitor. "Greg, what the hell are you doing?"
Greg Sander turned and stared at Grimes, wild-eyed and disheveled. "I'm postponing the apocalypse, Frank."
Grimes stared back. The Admiral was a mess. "What the hell did you
last night?" The Admiral was also well-known to be heavy drinker.
Sander glanced at his chronometer. "Last night... yes, I guess it was only one night. Frank, what do you know about time travel?"
"I know that it's possible through various means and that it's extremely ill-advised."
Sander sat down behind his desk, and gestured for Grimes to take a seat. "I saw the future, Frank. And it was horrible. We beat the Borg. With PREDATOR, PARAMOUNT, PANDORA and the PRORATE ships, and twenty or so others refit with mass drivers, we cut a swath of destruction through Borg space and destroyed their unicomplex. It wasn't too difficult. They were still in disarray from Janeway's viral attack. It'll probably be at least twenty-five years before they'll be any threat to us again. But we destroyed them. Hunted them down and killed them all. And then we pushed deeper, and we learned where they came from. What they
"Frank, we woke up something... unspeakably evil. Our weapons were useless against them. They destroyed us, and then they wiped out the rest of the galaxy. Everyone. Everything. Destroyed. The Federation, destroyed. The Klingon Empire, destroyed. The Romulan Empire, destroyed. The Dominion, destroyed. The Cardassian Union, the Breen Confederacy, the Gorn Hegemony, the Ferengi Alliance, and a hundred other powers throughout the galaxy, all destroyed. Only the Borg have the power to keep them contained. Remove the Borg, and the galaxy is destroyed."
Frank Grimes stared at his boss for a long minute. "What do we do about that?"
"For now, nothing. Hold out against the Borg, and whatever else may be coming, and let technological and biological evolution run its course. Maybe someday, when we have starships as powerful as PARAMOUNT that can travel through time and space, and some sort of weapon that can penetrate subspace and destroy a whole pocket dimension, and possess the self-restraint to use these tools responsibly, then we can defeat this enemy. But until then..."
"But then why are you destroying all your work?" Grimes demanded. "We could just use the weapons defensively, holding off the Borg like you said."
Sander looked at the schematic on his wall, of a Type-18 strike fighter with a 30cm electromagnetic mass driver slung under its belly. "Did you ever consider using warp coils as prime inducers for the mass drivers?"
"No," Frank answered.
"You would've, in a year or so. It would've worked, too. At warp nine, a 30cm polyosmium alloy slug can crack a moon in half. I don't want to live in a universe where a two-man fightercraft has that kind of firepower." He deleted the file. "When you have that kind of power, you can't help but use it. Power corrupts. Once you have a capability your enemies cannot match, then no matter what your intentions are, you
walk down a road you don't want to see the end to."
San Francisco - 2355 hours
Four men met in the empty observation deck of the Glass Tower. They were identical in appearance and dress. The one called Alpha spoke. "Why did you call this meeting, Gamma?"
"It's complicated," Gamma said. He turned to his brothers, Delta and Epsilon. "Link with me." They did, and invited Alpha to telepathically join them. When they separated, Epsilon looked horrified. Delta looked thoughtful. Gamma/Grimes looked at Alpha/Adams.
Frank Adams rubbed his chin for a moment. "Do you think Sander could be persuaded to change his mind?"
"No," Grimes replied. "Remember, he's one-quarter Klingon and one-quarter Vulcan. He's managed to blend those disparate portions of his mind into a selective cohesion. He's much too strong-willed for any sort of persuasion method to be effective. And anyway, I think he's right."
"Agreed," said Epsilon. "Sander's projects would only bring disorder, either from without or from within. Sander is right to destroy them."
can control them!" Delta argued. "We could use these weapons
the order! We can contain the Borg, and once everyone
sees what ships like PREDATOR are capable of,
would dare threaten the Federation again. Not the Dominion, not the Breen, not the Romulans or the Klingons; nobody."
for us, Delta," Gamma countered. "Three capital ships. Three tactical escorts. And untold numbers of ships lined up to be retrofitted. We can't be everywhere at once. And even if we could, could even
use that sort of power responsibly? If you really think we're that far evolved, you're even more deluded than I thought."
"It doesn't matter what you think, Gamma," Alpha declared. "We operate as one. We reach a consensus, and we agree on a course of action."
"It seems we have a split vote then," said Epsilon, "unless, Alpha, you are siding with Gamma and I."
Frank Adams sighed. "I honestly haven't felt this conflicted since Beta was killed," he said. "This will require some thought. I will have to take it up with the Director."
"If the Director agrees with Delta, I'm leaving," Grimes announced.
leave," Alpha insisted. "No one
"I've wanted to leave for a while," Gamma/Grimes declared. "I've seen you and the Section take too many liberties with the freedoms of individuals in the name of defending the whole."
Adams quoted a familiar Vulcan proverb. "
The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.
"Not all of the time," Epsilon argued. "If you try to violate Sander's mind, then I'm out too. I will take Sander somewhere safe, where
Delta produced a molecular disruptor pistol. "
is the only way out."
"Delta, put the gun away," Alpha ordered. Delta ignored him.
"You can't shoot me." Epsilon morphed his face. "I'm Councilor Francis England, remember? Assassinating a Federation Council Member would be an act of treason."
"You're right," said Delta, as he aimed his weapon at Gamma, "but
"Delta don't!" Alpha cried as he leapt between the two Changelings...
...Just as Delta fired. Franklin Drake stared in shock at the disintegrating body of Frank Adams, his friend and mentor.
Grimes produced his own weapon. "We're out, Delta. Epsilon will take Sander away. I will return to STS to protect its research. You can go back to Section Thirty-One and make up whatever story you want to about what happened here. But remember this: the most powerful weapons Sander can create are far less dangerous than pride and fear.
is what will destroy
is what will destroy
* * * * *
"Freedom is just a pretty idea unless it's backed by Force."
The Masterverse Timeline
Ten Forward Fanfics
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