2409, Issue #1: “Breaking Hearts and Promises”

posted in: Peacemakers, Stories | 0

Every new beginning
comes from some other beginning’s end.
Dan Wilson


U.S.S. Pax Federatica (NCC-89471)
Orbiting New Romulus
Stardate 86479.2
Concurrent with STO mission “Taris”
and upcoming Peacemakers interactive story “Valley of the Shadow”

“Attention, all hands – this is the captain. Abandon ship. Repeat – all hands, abandon ship!”

With those words, Jomiah Drayton brought to a sudden end the career of one of Starfleet’s most distinguished vessels, and bid farewell to a ship he had called home, and had been honored and privileged to command, for the past eight years. It was the hardest and most painful order Captain Drayton had ever given in his Starfleet career.

Little did he realize that it would soon become a distant second.


Twenty minutes earlier

“Imperial fleet inbound at high warp, Commander. They’ve got their Elachi friends with them, and at least two more waves of reinforcements behind them. It’s a full-scale assault!”

“This is it, people!” barked H’rav, commander of the Romulan Republic warbird Verinex, in response to his tactical officer’s report. “Everything we’ve fought for since Virinat, and our allies since Khitomer… our freedom, our homeworld and our new way of life… it’s all coming down to this.”

“And it will be a glorious battle indeed, Commander,” replied Captain Cha’vaQ aboard the I.K.S. Hor’tagh. “Today is a good day to die!”

“I myself would prefer to survive this, Captain – but, if we must die here in order to protect all that we hold dear, then… so be it.”

Captain Jomiah Drayton didn’t bother trying to match the inspirational oratory of his new Klingon and Romulan Republic allies. “Red alert!” he simply ordered. “All hands to battlestations! Commander Qiang, show us the battle map.”

With that, Lt. Commander Qiang Lu transferred the tactical readout from her station to the main viewscreen. On it, the captain could see the Verinex leading the Republic battle group’s plunge toward the oncoming Imperial fleet. Meanwhile, the Klingon Defense Force and Starfleet groups spread out on either side of the Republic forces. The Klingon Empire, looking to curry favor with the Republic – and with their own score to settle with the Romulan Star Empire – had sent a task force of its own to defend New Romulus; although they were technically still at war with the Federation, they gladly set those differences aside (for the time being, at least) to join forces with Starfleet and the Republic militia in what they expected to be an even more glorious battle. As the KDF forces moved into position along the Imperials’ port flank, Drayton watched the starships Castile, Hamilton, Lexington, and Syracuse, along with several smaller frigates, deploy along their starboard flank, one-third of a three-headed pincer.

But Drayton didn’t follow the other Starfleet vessels. Instead, he pointed out a group of T’Varo-class light warbirds on the port flank, where the Klingons were heading. “Mister Morales, take us in toward that squadron and try to draw their fire.”

“Aye, Captain,” acknowledged Morales as he carried out Drayton’s order. “Coming to bearing two-two-mark-five, full impulse.”

Morales and his captain both knew what a tempting target their ship would be, for she commanded a hard-earned respect among friend and foe alike. Commissioned shortly after the Dominion War, the Sovereign-class U.S.S. Pax Federatica had served over thirty years under three different captains as Starfleet’s unofficial “viceroy” flagship, second in stature only to her elder sister, the U.S.S. Enterprise. Whereas the Enterprise got the highest-profile assignments, the Pax, befitting her viceroy status, had a less glamorous but equally vital role in leading localized peacekeeping, disaster relief and other humanitarian efforts across the Federation’s Beta Quadrant frontier.

So, when the Federation’s new allies in the fledgling Romulan Republic reported a new Imperial doomsday weapon designed to intimidate rebellious worlds such as New Romulus into submission, the Pax had been sent to lead a hastily assembled Starfleet task force to prevent the Tal Shiar from deploying it in orbit of the Republic’s new homeworld. The Tal Shiar may have come here to terrorize the Republic, but once their more ambitious commanders realized the Pax was in the fight, they’d be itching for a chance to try and take her down. Drayton was, indeed, counting on that; hence his joining the Klingons on the port flank, where he knew the Pax would stand out like a lion among wolves.

Sure enough, within seconds three of the T’Varos peeled away from their formation and began pelting the Pax‘s shields with plasma-disruptor cannon fire. “They took the bait,” noted Drayton. “Morales, hard to starboard, Attack Pattern Delta. Qiang, return fire at will.”

At Qiang’s command, angry orange phaser beams lashed out at the approaching warbirds as the Pax rolled to starboard, scattering the T’Varos’ cannon fire across the shields. The warbirds were smaller and more nimble, but as an assault cruiser the Pax could both withstand and deliver tremendous amounts of punishment. Drayton was counting on that, too.

On the tactical readout, a large gap opened up on the Imperial fleet’s port-side flank where the warbirds had been… and was almost immediately filled by a decloaking squadron of Klingon Birds of Prey, bearing down on a suddenly vulnerable Elachi support cruiser with the Hor’tagh close behind. Seconds later, a flash – and the cruiser disappeared from the display.

“Sir, it worked!” Qiang exclaimed. “The Klingons have penetrated one flank, and now the Starfleet group has the other one locked down.”

“Excellent,” said Drayton. “Morales, bring us back about. Get us back into position before the next wave of Imperial reinforcements arrive.”

“The T’Varos have broken off, sir,” Qiang reported. “They’re circling back to engage the Klingons.” She checked the readout again and frowned. “Check that – only two of them are circling back, Captain. The third one’s coming about for another attack run on us.”

“By herself?” The Imperials’ vainglorious tendencies notwithstanding, Drayton hadn’t expected any of them to make a suicide run this early in the engagement… and yet, there she was, off the Pax‘s starboard bow: A lone T’Varo, circling in the opposite direction from the others, apparently preparing to charge a Sovereign-class assault cruiser – a move that could hardly be called anything less than suicidal.

Unless –

“Warbird decloaking, dead ahead!”

“Evasive -”

The bridge shuddered as the Pax was suddenly gripped in the tractor beam of the new arrival. This warbird wasn’t another light T’Varo like the others, but a D’deridex-class battlecruiser – the longtime backbone of the Imperial Navy – which quickly proceeded to pound the Pax with its plasma-disruptor beams. That, however, just as quickly became the least of Drayton’s worries.

“Sir,” Qiang reported, “one of the Elachi escorts is charging up its main cannon!”

“Polarize the hull,” Drayton ordered. “We’ve got to break loose from that tractor beam!”

But just as Lt. Semenko did so, the Elachi vessel fired. Its crescent-wave disruptor cannon – a weapon already gaining notoriety among Starfleet and its allies – slammed into the Pax with a much greater jolt, followed by a low, steady rumble.

“Warp drive and impulse engines are offline; hull integrity down to 53 percent!” shouted Semenko at Ops. “Their cannon just tore through our shields like they weren’t even up!”

“Qiang, target the battlecruiser and fire all weapons. Alek, open a channel to the fleet.” Once Semenko did so, Drayton continued: “All ships, watch out for those Elachi escorts; their main cannons pack a wallop. Take them out as soon as you can!”

“Understood, Pax,” came a female voice over speakers. “Hamilton moving in to engage.” Drayton recognized her as Captain Auslin, one of the up-and-coming captains in Starfleet. She’d only commanded the Hamilton for a few months, but Serida Auslin and her crew were already building quite a reputation of their own. Not bad for a Trill breaking in a baby symbiont, Drayton had thought when he first met her. If Serida survives this, he briefly allowed himself to think now, she and Auslin’s future hosts will have a story to tell for centuries to come.

Another series of jolts quickly forced Drayton out of his reverie. “Direct hit to our starboard shield emitters!” reported Qiang, before an unexpected movement on the battle map caught her eye. “That’s odd; now the battlecruiser’s breaking off too. We’re vulnerable and disabled; why aren’t they -”

And then that lone T’Varo, forgotten amid the chaos of battle and the damage inflicted by the larger warships, finished charging its primary weapon and let loose.

“Incoming!”

“Evasive!” Drayton responded, though purely out of instinct; he realized immediately that with only maneuvering thrusters still operational, the Pax had no chance of evading the bright red ball of hellfire now bearing down upon her.

“All hands,” the first officer shouted, “brace for impact!”

The bridge officers barely had time to do so when the massive fireball reached the Pax’s unshielded starboard.

The unstable plasma torpedo was not that terrifying new Imperial Romulan weapon discovered by the Republic, but rather, a terrifying old weapon, dating at least as far back as James Kirk’s era, but (as far as Starfleet was aware) rarely used since then – most likely because its awesome power and unstable nature posed nearly as much risk to the vessel firing it as to its target. Kirk had discovered that the weapon had a limited range, and his Enterprise was able to outrun it far enough to diminish its effect, but the stationary outposts along the former Romulan Neutral Zone didn’t have that option. The Imperial plasma torpedoes had reduced their armor of cast rodinium – at that time, the hardest substance known to exist – to brittle slag.

A century and a half later, Starfleet’s battered viceroy flagship didn’t fare any better.

The impact pitched Drayton out of his chair, unable to even watch as his world exploded around him – for at the same instant, every active bridge console went up in a blinding flash, their power couplings blown out by what Drayton guessed was an EPS surge.

“Damage report!” he called.

No response.

“Damage report!” This time, even louder – but still to no avail. Apart from the crackling of flames and sparks, the bridge had gone chillingly silent. As he rose to his feet, Drayton caught the unmistakable, horrifying scent of burning flesh, accompanying the equally horrifying tableau now confronting him: Commander Mek, his trusted first officer; Lieutenants Qiang and Semenko, and three junior officers at auxiliary stations, all slumped over their ruined stations, their uniforms melting into their flesh as both were consumed by the plasma fires.

Drayton could barely believe his senses. He had served with Qiang ever since taking command of the Pax eight years ago, and watched Semenko grow from a brilliant, fresh-faced Academy graduate into an Operations officer who often seemed to know the ship better than even Drayton himself had. As for Mek, scuttlebutt had it that she was about to be offered command of the U.S.S. Manchester. All of them, and the three junior officers, and an untold number of people below decks… all gone, just like that.

Of the bridge officers, only Morales survived the explosion, and only because he had thought to duck beneath his console, rather than try to brace while remaining stationed, as the others had done. Now he, too, rose back to his feet, phaser drawn, prepared to face any boarding parties that might try to capitalize on the Pax’s rare state of vulnerability.

Seconds passed… and no boarding parties came. Far from being a relief, however, this filled Drayton with newfound dread. If they’re not even bothering to take her as a prize…

A familiar voice suddenly came crackling through on speakers. “Fereira to bridge.”

“Drayton here,” the captain called back. “What’s our status?”

“Not good, Capitão.” With that, Chief Engineer Joaquim Fereira delivered the grim news – and confirmed Drayton’s guess. “Whatever just hit us sent a surge through the entire EPS grid, too strong for the flow regulators to handle. I’d not be surprised if it’s knocked out every single primary system on the ship except for the warp drive. I took that offline myself, just seconds before impact – otherwise, we’d all be dead now. Even with that, the core may have taken some physical damage from the impact. I’ve got Leitner and Brel assessing it now.”

“What’s still operational?”

“As far as we can tell, we still have life support, emergency systems, and limited comms and sensors – not much else. With the EPS grid fried, it’s all running on batteries now.”

“Sir!” came another voice from Engineering. “Leitner’s down!”

Drayton barely had time to wonder what had felled the officer when the computer’s voice came through and gave him the answer. “Warning. Radiation leak detected in warp core. Lethal exposure in three minutes, thirty seconds.”

“Merda!” Fereira swore, then frantically began to evacuate his crew from Main Engineering. “You two, get Leitner away from here. Everybody out!” he cried. “Vamos, vamos, vamos!”

Seconds passed without another word from Fereira – only the sounds of crew members rushing out of the engine compartment, punctuated by alarms and occasional shouts, and then a low rumble Drayton recognized as an isolation door lowering into place. Only once that ended did the chief engineer report in again.

“Fereira to bridge. First the good news: We got everyone out, and I’ve brought down the isolation bulkheads around Main Engineering. That should at least buy us some time.”

“Time for what?”

“Well, that’s the bad news, Capitão. The structural damage has rendered the core ejection system inoperable. Even if the core doesn’t breach, we have an hour at most before the radiation gets through those bulkheads. With Engineering sealed off and the rest of the ship smashed, there’s nothing more we can do to save her – not that there’s much left to save anyway. As I said, the bulkheads bought us time… time to evacuate.”

Fereira’s report hit Drayton almost as hard as the deaths of his officers minutes ago – for it amounted to a terminal prognosis for the ship he’d served so proudly, for so long. The Imperial Romulans, it seemed, would have their prize after all.

All that remained for Drayton was to give one final order – the one he would come to remember as the second hardest he’d ever had to give.

“Attention, all hands – this is the captain. Abandon ship. Repeat – all hands, abandon ship!”


Bridge, U.S.S. Hamilton (NCC-504790)
Thirty minutes later

Drayton hadn’t set foot on another starship’s bridge in over a decade, much less one of a design as old as Captain Auslin’s Ambassador-class cruiser, which had just recovered his and several other escape pods from the Pax. He had little time to dwell upon how odd it felt to be a guest aboard another captain’s vessel, though, as he watched Auslin get right to business the moment they’d stepped off the turbolift.

“Commander Thozal, status report.”

Auslin’s Denobulan first officer filled her in. “Republic reinforcements have arrived, Captain – a bit late to the party, but they should make Sela think twice about another assault. Meanwhile the Lleiset is returning to her joint mission with Starfleet in the Hobus system, and the Verinex is en route to Nivay IV to support the team the Republic sent there. Hopefully they can prevent the Tal Shiar from doing to the Nivayans what they tried to do here.”

“What about the rescue effort?”

“We’ve got the last of the escape pods.” Drayton allowed himself a sigh of relief at this news. “All told, we recovered about 40 percent of the survivors; the rest are aboard the Syracuse, the Lexington, and the Castile. The crew we recovered are in Cargo Bay 2, being triaged by our medics. Lieutenant Commander Fereira, the Pax’s chief engineer, is the ranking officer among the survivors; present company excepted, of course“ – he glanced over at Drayton, who nodded in acknowledgement – “and he’s aboard the Lexington, coordinating a roll call between our four ships.”

“And the Pax herself?”

“Still adrift toward New Romulus, Captain. We’re en route to intercept; ETA, one minute, twenty seconds.” Thozal glanced up at the science station. “Lieutenant Roberts, do you have an estimate on how much time that leaves us?”

“We’ll have about four minutes to spare before she falls into the atmosphere, Commander,” replied the science officer, Lieutenant Lindy Roberts.

“Not much, but it’ll do,” said Auslin. “We just stopped the Imperials from irradiating the planet; the last thing we need is for our own derelict ship to do the job for them.”

An alert sounded at the Ops station. “Incoming message from the Lexington.”

“That’s probably Commander Fereira,” Drayton told Auslin, who then ordered, “On screen.”

The forward view shifted to the Lexington’s bridge. As expected, Fereira was there, along with the Lexington‘s captain. Neither one looked remotely happy; the reason for this became apparent as soon as Fereira spoke.

Capitão,” he said, “I’ve called the roll and double-checked the count. Eleven of our people are confirmed dead. Seventy-four more didn’t report in, and remain unaccounted for.”

“Seventy-four?” Drayton’s relief vanished. “How could we lose track of that many crew?”

“I’m afraid they may still be trapped aboard the Pax.”

“Explain.”

“That Romulan plasma torpedo severely weakened her hull, resulting in breaches all over the ship. Those breaches automatically triggered emergency forcefields and bulkheads to seal off the exposed sections. Some of the survivors reported having to take winding or circuitous routes around those obstacles, in some cases even having to crawl through Jeffries tubes, just to reach usable escape pods. It’s quite possible that some routes were blocked off entirely.”

“So those seventy-four people are trapped behind bulkheads?”

“If they’re even still alive with that radiation leak, sir.”

Auslin spoke up at this revelation. “Captain Drayton,” she said, “as a wise man once said, Starfleet is a promise. If anyone is still alive aboard your ship, I’m no more inclined to abandon them than you are,” she said. “The Hamilton, her crew and her captain are at your disposal.”

“Thank you, Captain Auslin,” Drayton replied simply. “Let’s bring them home.”

“Go to yellow alert. Helm, what’s our ETA to the derelict?”

“Tractor range in thirty seconds, Captain,” the Vulcan helm officer replied coolly.

“Transporter Room 1,” Auslin ordered, “beam survivors from the Pax directly to Cargo Bay 2 the moment you get a lock. Cargo Bay 2, prepare to receive additional casualties. Expect cases of plasma burns and acute radiation poisoning.”

“Acknowledged, Captain,” came the responses, almost simultaneously, over the bridge speakers.

“Captain,” called Roberts, “we have another problem. Radiation from the derelict’s warp core is interfering with my scans. I can’t even get a positive count on the number of lifesigns, much less their precise coordinates for a transporter lock. And those radiation levels are still rising.”

“Jomiah,” Auslin said, “if we can link our computer to hers, with your command codes we should be able to -”

“Eject the core remotely?” Fereira finished her suggestion, only to dismiss it with a shake of his head. “I already tried that before we left, but the ejection mechanism is jammed from all the structural damage.”

“Dammit!” Auslin exclaimed, but she was already on to Plan B. “Transporter Room 1 and Cargo Bay 2, belay my previous order. Transporters are a no-go; we’ll have to do this the hard way. Get whatever medics you can spare into EV suits, and then to the shuttlebays.”

“Understood,” came a harried voice over the speakers.

“Computer, shipwide.” Auslin paused to allow the ship’s computer to comply, and then: “All shuttle pilots, don EV suits and report to assigned craft on the double.” Then, back to Roberts: “Does that radiation pose any threat to the Hamilton, Lieutenant?”

“Not as long as we don’t stay too close for too long, Captain,” Roberts answered. “If we tow the derelict five hundred kilometers out of orbit and then let her go, her forward inertia should keep her from falling back long enough for our rescue teams to do their jobs, while we keep our distance.”

“We are within tractor range, Captain,” announced the Vulcan helm officer.

“Take us within five kilometers, then slow to one-quarter impulse and come about. Ms. Margassi, ready aft tractor beams.”

The helm and tactical officers went to work. Lieutenant V’Sar brought the Hamilton in closer, then reduced speed and reversed heading, bringing the Pax into the Hamilton’s aft arc. Lieutenant Simone Margassi then engaged the aft tractor beams, grabbing the forward half of the derelict vessel’s saucer section.

“We have her, Captain,” Margassi reported.

“Take us out of orbit – slowly,” Auslin ordered V’Sar. “Shuttlebay, status.”

“Pilots and medics are on board all available craft, Captain,” came a voice over speakers.

“All shuttlecraft, stand by to launch on my ord-”

Without warning, the bridge suddenly lurched forward, slamming all seated officers into their chair backs and spilling everyone standing – both captains included – onto the floor. Drayton used V’Sar’s navigation console to pull himself back to his feet; Auslin did the same with the Ops console. As she did, she saw Margassi looking down at her tactical console, her eyes widened with horror.

“Oh, no. Great Bird, no…”

“Lieutenant, report!”

“Tensile stress on the tractor beam just dropped by eighty-six percent,” Margassi said tonelessly. “It would appear that we’ve… lost most of the derelict’s mass, Captain.”

“Aft visual!”

The image that replaced Fereira on the screen confirmed everyone’s worst fear: An aft view of the Hamilton, her tractor beams still locked onto the forward section of the Pax‘s saucer… and nothing else. Behind her tumbled the derelict starship’s sundered hulk, still with as many as 74 souls still trapped on board – and now falling toward the planet at a much steeper angle than before.

Drayton immediately realized why. As Fereira had explained earlier, the Elachi and Imperial Romulan weapons had severely degraded the Pax’s hull integrity; this, it seemed, had simply rendered her too flimsy to survive intact a tug-of-war between the Hamilton‘s tractor beams and New Romulus’s gravity well.

“How long until she hits atmosphere?” he asked.

“Two minutes, at most, Captain,” was Margassi’s reply. “If she survives entry, she’ll impact about six minutes after that.”

“Devastating a vast region of the planet’s surface when she does – including the settlement area,” Roberts added. “Even if she breaks up before impact, she’ll still spew lethal amounts of theta radiation and toxic trilithium waste into the atmosphere. In either case, thousands of people on the surface are now in grave danger.”

“Any lifesigns aboard the section we’ve still got?” asked Auslin.

Roberts performed a scan, then shook her head. “None, Captain.”

“Disengage tractor beam,” Auslin ordered. “Mr. V’Sar, bring us about, then get us back to the derelict, full impulse.”

Though she still tried to project her usual air of calm confidence, Drayton noticed how Auslin’s tone had changed, now betraying a hint of mounting sorrow and weariness, even… resignation to defeat? He dismissed that idea almost as quickly as it had registered in his mind. It might take a miracle of technical inspiration to get the remaining crew out alive, but were such miracles not Starfleet’s speciality? Why else would Auslin have ordered the Hamilton turned around?

He would get his answer as Auslin sidled up to him and lowered her voice to just above a whisper, in order to make their conversation as private as possible under the circumstances.

“I… don’t envy you the decision before you now, Jomiah.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean… she’s your ship and those people are your crew, so it should be your call to make – but at this point, we’ve nearly run out of both options and time.” She drew even closer, now whispering in his ear, the weight of her words now evident in her trembling voice. “We… still have close to a full complement of quantum torpedoes. A full spread… should do the job quickly and thoroughly. No debris larger than a tricorder left to fall, and if anyone is still on board… they shouldn’t suffer.”

“Suffer? I don’t understand.”

But as he turned to face Auslin, saw her fighting back the tears welling in her eyes, that understanding hit him with the force of a supernova’s shockwave. His heart, still racing, now lodged in his throat.

She was right. With sensors and transporters both rendered useless by the radiation leak, unable to tow the Pax out of orbit without tearing her to pieces, and simply without enough time to mount a rescue attempt before her final descent rained death upon the planet below, they really had run out of options.

Now, only one remained viable. One that went against Drayton’s every fiber, that none of his training or experience could have prepared him for.

In a simple motion that nonetheless suddenly seemed to require a Herculean effort, Drayton approached the tactical officer. “Ms. Margassi,” he said softly, “arm the quantum torpedoes. Target the derelict, full spread.”

“Sir?” Margassi, understandably taken aback by the order, quickly looked to her own captain for confirmation, which Auslin gave her with a somber nod.

“You heard him, Lieutenant,” she said. “We both wish you didn’t have to.”

“Aye,” was all she said as she carried out Drayton’s orders. “Torpedoes armed and ready.” She checked her console again. “Derelict now thirty seconds from atmosphere.”

“Forward visual.” At Auslin’s command, the view returned to the New Romulus horizon, and the doomed starship tumbling before it.

“Lieutenant Roberts, any change in the derelict’s status? Any break in the radiation from her core? Anything that would let us locate survivors and beam them out?”

She owed it to those survivors, if any existed, to ask one more time, though she already knew what her science officer’s answer would be.

“None, Captain.”

Before either captain could say another word, the broken hulk stopped tumbling – and its forward edge began to glow cherry red.

“She’s entering the atmosphere!” Roberts called out.

They had finally run out of time. Knowing what they now had to do, all bridge officers rose from their stations in a grim, silent salute.

Drayton was now visibly shaking. All that remained for him to do was issue a simple three-word order, but just saying those three words required his last ounces of fortitude.

“Ms. Margassi…”

To whoever remained aboard the now-fiery wreck, to whatever gods might exist, and to his own screaming conscience, he issued a silent, desperate prayer.

Please… forgive me.

“Fire.”

Margassi touched her console. At once, six quantum torpedoes shot forward from the Hamilton’s hull and spread into the optimal dispersal pattern for demolition. Less than two seconds later, the torpedo targeting Main Engineering found its mark. The others quickly followed.

Within a few more seconds, the U.S.S. Pax Federatica and anyone still aboard had been reduced to particulate matter and fragments of debris, which then continued to incinerate as they fell through the upper atmosphere. Soon only a cloud of radioactive particles remained, high enough that the ozone layer kept the thousands of Romulan settlers, and supporting personnel from both the Federation and the Klingon Empire, out of danger.

“Stand down from alert status.”

Auslin’s voice uncharacteristically cracked as she gave that order, but she wasn’t the only one in visible shock and grief over what they had just done. Some of her bridge officers cupped their hands over their faces; others simply closed their eyes and let tears fall silently. Only V’Sar remained outwardly impassive, though everyone knew that he, too, was mourning, as Vulcans did, through quiet, respectful contemplation.

As for Drayton, it was all he could do to not break down, right there on Auslin’s bridge. Instead, without saying a word, he simply turned and headed for the turbolift. He didn’t care if this was the last time he’d ever set foot on the bridge of a starship, for he no longer felt worthy of that privilege.

He had broken Starfleet’s promise.


Admiral Quinn’s office
Earth Spacedock
Six weeks later

Much to Drayton’s astonishment, Admiral Jorel Quinn slid Drayton’s proffered Starfleet-insignia combadge back across his desk. “I’m sorry, Jome, but I cannot accept your resignation from Starfleet at this time.”

“Sir?”

“Starfleet regulations. Article Three, Title One, Section Twelve, item Eight-C. ‘Resignation of commission shall be deemed valid only if the resigning officer is recognized as mentally fit for duty at the time of resignation.’ As of now, on the one hand, your assigned counselor has yet to notify me to that effect – so I can only assume she still has her doubts. On the other hand, nor has she recommended a medical discharge either. Until she does one of those things, my hands are tied.”

Drayton silently berated himself for not having seen this coming. His precarious mental state in the aftermath of New Romulus was no secret; on Counselor Emila’s order, he had been conspicuously absent from the public memorial service on the Champs Elysées for his 85 fallen officers and crew, nor would she authorize even the one-on-one meeting that Federation President Aennik Okeg had requested instead. For this, Drayton had been grateful, wanting nothing more than to get as far away from Starfleet as he could – and he’d assumed Admiral Quinn would understand and accept his resignation with no questions asked. It hadn’t occurred to him that the very experience that led him to his decision might raise ethical concerns about his mental fitness to make it.

“Sir,” he responded, “with all due respect, to you and to Counselor Emila, her decision isn’t going to change mine. My crew trusted me with their lives, and I failed them. I no longer deserve to wear this uniform, or to command others who do.”

“You don’t know that, Jome. You had no way of knowing whether any of your missing crew were even still alive when you gave that order. And if you hadn’t given it? Even if they were still alive, they wouldn’t be for long once the Pax broke up in the atmosphere – and that could have had catastrophic consequences to everyone on the surface. All things considered, you did the right thing.”

Drayton didn’t answer right away, so Quinn leaned in closer, softening his tone a bit as he continued. “We may never know exactly how or when those seventy-four people gave their lives, but we do know that they did so to protect their fellow Starfleet officers on New Romulus, not to mention the New Romulans themselves. So did the eleven who perished earlier. That’s what they signed up for.

“You think your decision marks you as unfit for command? I couldn’t disagree more. You’ve shown yourself capable of making hard and painful choices that can save thousands of lives. That’s exactly what Starfleet needs in its command officers.”

Drayton kept his gaze on the admiral, considering all he’d just said, until finally having to admit to himself its truth. Slowly, he took back his combadge and re-affixed it to its customary spot on his uniform.

“Thank you, sir,” he softly said to Quinn. “It’s good to know that I’m still valued by Starfleet in spite of…“ He struggled briefly for the right words to summarize his living nightmare concisely before finally giving up. “…of what happened.”

Quinn smiled slightly at Drayton’s change of heart – but didn’t dismiss him yet.

“Now, I can’t ask you to decide until you’ve been cleared for duty,” he said instead, “but while you’re here, and while I still have my office in privacy mode, I do have an assignment I’d like you to consider.”

Drayton’s eyes widened slightly. As though this conversation hadn’t already taken an unexpected turn…

“Go on, Admiral,” was all he said.

“Starfleet Command has recently authorized the creation of a new Special Strategic Operations division,” Quinn began to explain. “An elite team of starships, their captains and crews, and other officers with special talents and skill sets – coordinating with Starfleet Intelligence to identify and defuse emergent crises throughout the Federation’s sphere of influence.”

“In other words, putting out small brushfires,” Drayton replied, “before they grow into big ones.”

“Not unlike the Pax’s mission,” Quinn replied in confirmation. “Even before New Romulus, some in Starfleet Command had expressed concern that her role in pacifying the quadrant’s trouble spots had become too much for just one ship and crew. As tragic as the Pax’s loss was, it has at least presented this opportunity to extend her mission to other starships and officers – not just in Starfleet, but also our allies in the Romulan Republic.”

“And you think I’d be a good fit for this team, sir?”

“More than that,” Quinn replied. “I’m assembling a list of suitable candidates, but I won’t be heading Spec Strat Ops myself. The division will need its own dedicated field commander – a captain of captains, you might say – to lead their missions and coordinate with Starfleet Intelligence. That’s where you’d come in, Jome.”

“You want me to lead this team of…” He struggled to find the right word. “Troubleshooters? No, that’s not quite right. First responders? Peacekeepers?”

“I think of them as peacemakers,” Quinn replied. “The best time to end a war is before it starts, and that’s Spec Strat Ops’ mission in a nutshell.”

“I must say, Admiral, I’d not expected this,” said Drayton. “You have given me a lot to think about.”

“Don’t think about it too hard just yet,” advised Quinn. “Remember, I can’t officially extend this offer until Counselor Emila’s cleared you to return to duty. Until then, I strongly suggest that you keep your scheduled appointments with her, and follow her prescribed therapies. I realize those sessions may not exactly be pleasant for you, but Emila did come recommended for your case by Admiral Troi-Riker herself. That’s enough for me to have confidence she can help you make peace with what you had to do at New Romulus.”

“Understood.” With that, Drayton rose from his chair. “Thank you again, Admiral.”

Their discussion over, Quinn touched a control on his desk to disengage his office’s privacy mode. At once, the forcefield and holographic “door” at the entrance vanished, and the outer wall’s frosted-over liquid-crystal layer deactivated to return the wall to its normal transparent state, as did the sonic dampers preventing sound from either side of the wall from reaching the other. The admiral’s customary open-office policy was back in effect.

“Oh, and don’t forget,” he reminded Drayton, “you do still owe President Okeg a visit… once Emila agrees you’re up to it, of course.”

For the first time he could recall since before New Romulus, he allowed himself to smile, ever so slightly. “I’ll keep that in mind, sir.”

“Dismissed.”

Until just a few minutes ago, he had expected that meeting to mark the end of his career. His ship’s final moments, and his role in them, would follow him to his grave, and because of that, he’d believed Starfleet no longer had a place for him. But Admiral Quinn wasn’t so sure of that – and now, therefore, neither was he. As he departed Quinn’s office, Jomiah Patrick Drayton could sense his anguish slowly beginning to make way for something else: A new resolve, to justify Quinn’s faith in him. To continue the Pax Federatica’s legacy, and in so doing, to honor the memory of her 85 fallen crew.

To be… a peacemaker.


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