Part of Challenger: The Romulan War: A Shot In The Dark

PROLOGUE

Starfleet Command Headquarters, San Francisco, United States of America, Earth
Thursday, October 24th, 2155
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Entering the office of the highest-ranking Starfleet officer, Lloyd Burton wondered how many times he would be making this trip since the recent re-structure among the senior members of the Starfleet Command Council. Fleet Admiral Hathaway, the Commander-in-Chief, had made some changes to the structure of the admiralty ever since Burton and his siblings had uncovered the Section Thirty-One sub-division of Starfleet Security on Mars. Two key players that contributed to its Martian operations were Admirals Black (the former director of Security) and Gardner. The latter had been Burton’s direct superior and would issue orders to a bulk of the fleet. With the revelation of his involvement in a black-ops site being ran without any authorisation from the government had forced Hathaway to change a number of his responsibilities. One of them had been her taking a more direct control of issuing orders to Starfleet’s assets beyond Sol. After a few days moving back on to Challenger, Burton had received a request to join the admiral very early in the morning to discuss his next set of orders. She would now be the one handing out orders to the captains who were involved leading in the war effort.  

Seeing Commander Astley, the admiral’s senior secretary, sat at her desk was a welcome sign that Burton was getting used to. “Good Morning Jane.” He greeted her and instantly he remembered the first time he had met her. She could be just as intimidating as her boss and had the strength of character to prevent anyone from accessing Hathaway too. Rumours that Astley was one of the strongest poker players in Starfleet had circulated around the officers’ lounge on more than one occasion.

“Good morning Lloyd,” Astley said as she looked up from her computer console with a smile. The older woman had a very flirtish side to her mannerism, something that Burton had picked up on recently and would play on when interacting with one of the most powerful commanders in Starfleet. “She’s ready for you.” She added as she gestured for him to enter the admiral’s office with a simple head movement in the direction of the door. 

Taking a deep breath, Burton wondered if what had happened recently had dramatically changed his relationship with the woman who was literally writing the Starfleet book. From the shock revelation of his father’s apparent fake death to the exposure and cover up of Section Thirty-One on Mars, he just wondered how much more he would be involved with Starfleet politics. Especially when it almost cost the life of his unborn sons when radicals were paid to make an attempt on Nicole’s life. Hathaway and he had started a cabal of trusted Starfleet officers that were working to remove the existence of Thirty-One. However the group was still small and in its early infancy. He had speculated that work would take time and would be harder to accomplish compared to the current war with the Romulans. 

Following on from the misty glass doors opening, Burton made his way towards the admiral’s desk where she sat. Hoping to hear that his orders did not involve anything that he had been dragged into in the past few weeks since his return home, he looked over to the older woman and smiled at her. “Good morning admiral.” He said, greeting the flag officer. 

Looking up from a tablet that was in her hands, she returned the smile at the young captain. “Good Morning captain.” She offered for him to take a seat in one of the armchairs on the opposite to her desk. “Tea?”

Nodding in gratitude, Burton accepted the offer. “Yes please.”

Hathaway went over to a sideboard that had a tray of mugs and other amenities to make a range of hot drinks. “I hear Challenger is fully crewed and ready to get underway in a couple of hours?” She said as she poured hot water into a teapot and gave it a quick swirl. 

“That’s correct ma’am. The last of the repair teams left last night and the final shipment of supplies arrived just before I departed this morning. We’re ready and eager to go.” Burton replied. 

“Excellent, I want you out there as soon as you have finished here Lloyd. The quicker we have Challenger back out there, the better I and others on the Command Council will feel.” Hathaway stated as she finished making Burton a mug of tea and one for herself too. She brought the two hot beverages over and handed the one she made for the captain to him. Walking back around to her chair, she placed the hot mug down on her glass desk and then sat back down.

“Thank you for the vote of confidence ma’am.” Burton said before taking a sip of the tea. 

Hathaway would normally have had a stiffer posture, but her relationship with Burton had changed in the last few weeks. She smiled in addition as she took a minor gulp from her drink. “My mother always said you cannot start the day correctly without a good cup of tea. She was always right.”

“I would certainly agree with her.” Burton added.

“How are the changes to your crew fairing up?” She enquired between sips. 

Nodding to assure her everything was positive, Burton answered her. “Commander Stanton has settled well into his new role as have the others. I’m still reviewing candidates for a permanent chief science officer, but Ensign Habiba is capable of standing in for a short amount of time.”

“Good, I am glad to hear it. So to business then,” Hathaway said as she placed her mug down on her glass and took one of the tablets that were pilled to the right of her and handed it over to Burton. “Your first set of orders is to undertake a search and rescue mission for two missing ships.”

“Oh?” Burton wondered as he entered his authorisation code into the tablet to access what Hathaway had issued him with. 

“The starships Armstrong and Discovery went missing yesterday.” Hathaway reported. 

Discovery? As in Frank Müller’s ship?” Burton questioned. What he didn’t say was that it was his brother’s ship too. Thoughts of losing his younger brother, Roman, already made him feel nauseous. 

Nodding to confirm, Hathaway briefed him further. “Yes, Müller was leading a task group to Deneva to boost our defensive posture there when they were reportedly attacked by fifteen Romulan ships.” Taking a mouthful from her mug again, Hathaway paused as she explained what happened to Challenger’s sister ship. “We know the outcome of the attack was a victory for us as the rest of the task group eventually arrived at Deneva. A few of them were bruised but there were no casualties, however neither the Armstrong nor Discovery arrived with the task group. From what we know the Armstrong was sent back to inform us of the engagement, which they did. Captain Charan told us she was heading back to assist the rest of the task group and then we lost contact with her. We were told by Captain Farrell from the Windsor, that as the battle came to an end Discovery chased off one of the attacking Romulan ships. Farrell led the task group towards Deneva before telling us what happened.”

Burton was certainly confused to hear that his former roommate from Starfleet Training Command would do something that would be so bold and brash in chasing off an enemy ship, especially when it was already retreating. “Any clues as to where Discovery went or where they or Armstrong could be?”

Shaking her head in disappointment, “Unfortunately not. We have not been able to spare any of the ships from Deneva to help look for them, in case the Romulans attack there. I do not want to risk the colony’s security, especially since we’ve recently seen what has happened at Merak and Gault.”

Understanding the admiral’s cautious approach, Burton considered other implications to what she was commanding him to do. It was obvious that Starfleet, along with their coalition allies, were trying to avoid any more surprise attacks made by the Romulans. “So are my orders to find both ships and get them to Deneva if possible?” Burton guessed as he looked back down at the tablet in his hands. 

“Yes, if possible. I want you to do whatever it takes to find out where they are, what their status is and I am interested to find out why Müller chased after the last enemy ship.” Hathaway said and then turned around in her chair to access the small office cupboard behind her. It appeared she was pulling a small box out of a cabinet draw, she eventually turned around and handed it over to Burton. “This may also help you in dealing with the other captains out there.” She stood up and walked around as Burton investigated the small wooden box. “In agreement with the Command Council, we are adopting a new rank within the fleet. One that we think, in war time will assist further in establishing firm command structures.”

Looking at the box, Burton realised that it opened up. As he did this, revealed to him an intriguing object. Sitting on navy blue silk was a silver rank pip. Puzzled at what it meant and what the admiral was going on about, he looked up and realised she wanted him to stand up. 

Taking the pip from his hands, Hathaway placed it on his right shoulder in line with the other four, it now made a row of five. “Lloyd Burton, I hereby promote you to the rank of Fleet Captain.”

“Fleet Captain?” He repeated, perplexed what that meant as he looked down at his shoulder at the new addition. 

She nodded once to confirm again what he heard was right. “I’m planning to make some adjustments within the fleet, I want people out in the field who are capable of making decisions with their fellow skippers without having to wait for authorisation from me or a member of the Command Council. So instead of making a number of you commodores, we’ve come up with this rank that sits between captain and commodore. You’re our first one!”

“Thank you ma’am, I don’t know what to say.” Burton said with a sense of pride. 

She smiled at his humble response. “Just don’t try ordering your sister yet, I cannot deal with two of our captains having a sibling squabble.” She went back around to sit down behind her desk. “We agreed on the council that you were the right person, especially after all of the fleet action you’ve engaged with recently. It just makes perfect sense. We’ve already made Archer a commodore and once Columbia returns I will be promoting Hernandez too. But whereas they have been in command a lot longer, I cannot justify making you a member of the admiralty yet. So instead this position gives us that room to give us the best of both worlds.”

“Understood ma’am.” Burton said as he sat back down. “Is there anything else I need to be aware of?”

Hathaway shook her head, “No, not for now. Just find those missing ships and then we’ll talk further once you’ve completed your mission.” She extended her hand towards him. “Good hunting Fleet Captain Burton.”

Burton smiled slightly and shook his boss’ hand. “Thank you ma’am.”