The Eternity Hall was vast. Archways, carved from a material unrecognisable to Felrak, sprung up from the ground. A semi-circular series of steps climbed to form an amphitheatre facing the speakers’ platform. High above, a balcony ran around the circumference of the ceiling dome, lined by stone balustrades and dotted with spectators. Specks of dust danced in the light of the midday sun as they drifted slowly to the ground, as if suspended in the wash of light that streamed in through the large, diamond-shaped windows.
As a Federation delegate to the Conference on the Regulation and Control of Subspace Weaponry, Felrak was bored out of his mind. Despite Ambassador Serrell’s assurances, Felrak was well aware that this, along with every other talk hosted by the Son’a, was merely a formality. He doubted if the Ambassador really was naïve enough to think the Son’a were serious about decommissioning their subspace arsenal this time. Making agreements with the Son’a was like negotiating with a Craawn viper. More than likely, Felrak thought, the Vulcan diplomat was trying to encourage the Federation delegation to humour their hosts’ outright lies in the name of neighbourly good will. Felrak would have to behave himself. He had literally been ordered to. Carrying out this duty with enthusiasm, though, was out of the question. He leaned back on his step, arms folded, and sighed as another politician began a far longer than necessary speech about the importance of Federation-Son’a co-prosperity.
“Probably just want the Federation to look the other way while they make another grab for Ba’ku…” Felrak muttered.
Serrell, seated next to him, raised an eyebrow, “I’m sorry Captain, I did not quite hear you.”
“Nothing, Ambassador.” Felrak coughed, shifting uncomfortably.
Two stultifying hours later, he had never been happier to hear his comm. badge chirp. Ambassador Serrell glared at him as he got to his feet and made for the exit.
Cloaked figures, delegates and officials came and went as Felrak walked through the grounds of the complex. He scanned for a less trafficked area to answer the call from the Ahwahnee, in orbit high above them. Lavish, well-manicured lawns extended before him, sectioned off by neatly trimmed hedgerows. By the outer wall, the gardens gave way to the city skyline. Ulaan’athul’s sandy, worn buildings cut a stark contrast to the greens and garden flowers that sprung from where Felrak stood. The Son’a had spared no expense on impressing their galactic neighbours. It seemed the ordinary citizens of Ulaan’athul could have found a better use for the funding.
Felrak stopped under a thorny tree and tapped his badge.
“Sir,” Came the gruff voice of Commander Tursk, “I hate to interrupt the conference, but there’s a priority one message coming in from Devron. It’s on a Task Force 93 frequency, Captain.”
“Must be Captain Dex.” Felrak thought out loud. It had been years since they had last spoken, and longer still since Felrak had been required to act in his capacity as Task Group Commanding Officer. A message from Dex could only mean that the Task Force was being mobilised. “Order all crew back to the ship by 1400 hours. One to beam up immediately.”
A bird sang in the branch above Felrak’s head as he took a last look at Ulaan’athul. He wouldn’t miss it. He did, however, feel a distinct need to be more careful about what he wished for, as the humans might have said. Whatever happened now, it would most likely make the last three days of diplomatic babysitting seem like a walk in the park.
The USS Ahwahnee was neither new, nor powerful. She came from a time before Federation ideals had truly been stretched. Some might have said she was born out of a sense of optimism for a peaceful galactic future; from a vision that some were beginning to feel might slowly be slipping away. Felrak, middle-aged for an Argosian at 163, remembered those times better than most. In his own stubborn way, he was determined to continue living in them. This made the ageing Cheyenne class light cruiser perfect for him, and for the crew he sought out. Together, without need for fanfare, they would further the ideals of Starfleet as a beacon of rationality in a hot headed galaxy. That was the plan, at least.
Felrak still wore his white dress uniform as he stepped onto the bridge. Commander Tursk rose from the centre chair.
“Good to have you back, sir.” The Tellarite was uncharacteristically tall for his species, and when he spoke a deep growl reverberated around the room.
“It’s good to be back, Commander. The Son’a are really dragging this one out. It’s… Testing…” Reaching the limits of his diplomatic speaking abilities, Felrak got down to business. “Route the transmission from Task Force 93 to my ready room. Inform the consulate planetside that we’ll be leaving Ambassador Serrell to conclude conference proceedings.”
“I’m sure he’ll be happy to hear that, sir.” Tursk said with a sarcastic glint in his eye.
“Absolutely,” Felrak ran with it, “a negotiator of his calibre would surely jump at the chance to work without Starfleet looking over his shoulder.”
Seating himself behind his desk in the ready room, Felrak watched the UFP insignia on the viewer blink off to reveal the faces of Captain Dex, Captain Adams, and Commander Tarvos. As the discussion progressed, Felrak’s expression became more and more grave. The D’Ghor Hunters had been a wildcard in the Klingon Empire for some time, but this kind of outright attack was beyond anything Starfleet could have reasonably expected. Combined with the fungal blight in the Meronia Cluster, it had all the ingredients of a humanitarian disaster of cataclysmic proportions. By the time Captain Dex had cut the transmission, any hint of levity in Felrak’s demeanour was long extinguished.
He marched back onto the bridge. It didn’t take much for those on duty to sense that something was very, very wrong. “Lieutenant Delfino, take us out of orbit as soon as all remaining crew are aboard. Set a course for Starbase 27 at warp eight.”
Comm. chatter burbled in the background as personnel coordinated last minute beam outs. The young ship’s pilot plotted the course, inputting and double checking coordinates on the navigation console with lightning efficiency.
“What the hell is going on?” Lieutenant Commander Lupulo’s face of abject dismay was directed straight at the captain as he appeared from a turbolift to the rear of the bridge. The grizzled officer cut a wide path around his usual station at tactical, coming face to face with Felrak and Tursk who had just seated themselves. “Our whole security detail? What about the consulate staff at the conference? You’re just going to leave them to it with the Son’a?”
“Not now, Lup.” Tursk snapped, “Just get your people off the planet.”
“Commander Lupulo,” Felrak appreciated his first officer’s attempt to give him time to think, but he wasn’t above explaining his orders, “I highly doubt the Son’a would be stupid enough to endanger Federation diplomatic staff at a conference designed to sweet talk us into dropping sanctions on their subspace weapons programme.”
“I don’t trust them.”
“Neither do I. Though let’s not forget that the Klingons and Romulans are here too. Their interests align with ours in this sector, and their security teams have been all over the conference since before it begun.”
“I don’t trust them either.”
“Let it go, Lup.” Tursk growled.
“Like it or not, Commander, we’re leaving. And where we’re going, we’re going to need our whole security detachment. Clear?”
“Understood.” Lupulo’s thin jaw clenched as he grumbled through gritted teeth. He ran a hand through his greying hair, as if formulating a reply, then thought better of it. His spindly legs carried him away as he turned and left.
“He’s done it this time, Captain.” Tursk leaned over, “That kind of backchat is way out of line.”
“He cares about the mission.” Felrak raised a hand, palm facing down, signalling an end to the issue. “He’ll forget about it soon enough, especially when he sees what’s at stake.”
“What is at stake, sir? It’s not every day we get orders straight from Task Force Command.”
“Everyone and everything in the Archanis Sector, Tursk.” Felrak locked eyes with his first officer, “It’s the Hunters of D’Ghor. No one saw them coming, and they’re on the move again.”