“Pack your bag, we have a mission.” Captain Forrester ordered as he ducked into the Mitchell family kitchen to find his friend sitting at the breakfast bar. The two men had been staying with Alexander’s parents in Baltimore. When the Trafalgar docked to begin her year-long refit, Tom had expected his next command to be waiting for him. Instead he was told that he would receive his new orders ‘soon’. That was two weeks ago.
AJ looked up from the PADD he was reading, his eyes bright with excitement. “Starfleet finally gave you a new command?”
“Kinda, yeah.” The Captain nodded hesitantly. “I’ve been given command of the U.S.S. Buckinghamshire and I need you at the helm. We don’t have much time so pack a bag and let’s go.” Forrester called over his shoulder as he left the kitchen and made his way upstairs.
Mitchell tossed the PADD aside as he followed his friend upstairs. “I’ve never heard of the Buckinghamshire. What class is she?” The Captain didn’t reply as he entered the guest room and grabbed a bag. Not giving up on getting an answer to his question, AJ followed his friend to the guest room and stood in the doorway as Forrester began to stuff pieces of clothing into the bag. “Tom, I said what class is the Buckinghamshire?”
“Danube-class.” Forrester replied with a sigh as he turned to face his friend. “I’ve been given command of a Danube-class runabout.”
AJ folded his arms and leaned against the doorframe. The ghost of a smirk played across his lips. “Wow. Captain of an Akira-class starship to Captain of a Danube-class runabout. You really pissed someone off, didn’t you?”
“That’s funny.” Thomas turned back and resumed packing. “Starfleet Command has given me a high priority mission and since I’m a Captain without a starship, they’ve given me the Buckinghamshire and a small crew to get it done.”
AJ nodded. “And you want the best pilot in the fleet. I can understand that.” His smirk widened. “What’s the mission?”
“Classified, for now.” Forrester replied as he finished packing and closed his bag. When he turned back to face his friend, the smirk was gone and AJ’s features had darkened. “I can’t tell you anything until we’re underway. For now, you’ll just have to trust me.”
Mitchell pushed himself off the door frame and slowly nodded. He and Tom had been roommates at the Academy. They’d become best friends, brothers, and they trusted each other completely. “Okay.” He agreed with a nonchalant shrug of his shoulders. “It beats sitting around here on my hands until Starfleet finally pulls it’s thumb out of it’s bureaucratic ass and finds you a real command. Besidies, I’ve spent so much time sitting on the couch that my ass indentation is beginning to become a permanent part of it.”
Forrester laughed as he grabbed his bag and slung it over his shoulder. “C’mon, we need to be in San Francisco in twenty minutes.” He stepped towards the door and stopped at AJ’s shoulder. “Get packing. Chop chop.” Breezing past AJ, Tom headed back downstairs to wait while Mitchell packed.
At warp 5, the Buckinghamshire was two days away from it’s destination; Grian IV. Starfleet had determined that one of the TKon beacons was located on the surface. The problem was that Grian IV was inhabited by a pre-warp civilisation and it was believed that the beacon was located in the heart of the largest population centre. Forrester’s mission was to gain access to the beacon, determine the problem and make repairs. In addition to Forrester and Mitchell, Starfleet had assigned an engineer, Lieutenant Commander Oliver Calloway, a science officer, Lieutenant Commander Gabrielle Bennett and a medical officer, Commander Joshua Miller.
“I was pissed when they pulled me off the refit without telling me why,” Calloway announced from one of the bunks in the runabout’s aft section, “but now that I know, I’m actually pretty excited. The chance to work with T’Kon technology is too good to pass up because we still know so little about it. I may not be able to write the book on it, but if I can contribute to it then it’ll be a career high.”
A smile pulled at the edge of Doctor Miller’s lips. “I was relieved when they said they had a job for me.” He said as he plucked the newly materialised glass of orange juice from the replicator and brought it to his lips. “I got ordered to report to Starfleet Command for reassignment only to find out that some asshat in the Bureau of Personnel messed up and there was no new assignment for me so I was cooling my heels while they scrambled to find me a new home.”
Miller took a seat at the table in the middle of the room where Lieutenant Commander Bennett was working at a desktop terminal computer. With one ear, Bennett had been listening to the conversation. “I was quite happy working at Starfleet Science.” The English scientist chimed in, looking through the holographic display at her teammates. “But like Calloway, the chance to see T’Kon tech up close is too good to pass up. My husband wasn’t thrilled about me going away, but that’s all part of the job.”
A chuckle emanated from Calloway’s bunk. “I’m sure he’ll survive without you for a few days.”
“For our last anniversary, he decided that he’d surprise me with dinner.” Bennett replied, unable to mask her mixture of exasperation and amusement. “He used the replicator and still managed to burn it somehow. I had to make him promise me he’d either eat out or order in because I don’t want to get back to Earth to find he’s burned the house down trying to replicate a sandwich.”
That drew a hearty laugh from Doctor Miller, who was returning to his own research on the Grians. “My little sister’s a little like that. She’s deadly with a replicator. Thankfully her husband’s a chef who doesn’t believe in using them and who insists on doing all the cooking.” A grin pulled at his lips.
Silence descended with the ambient sounds of the runabout, the only sound filling the room was the constant thrum of the warp engines as the three officers became engrossed in their research. Three hours elapsed before the silence was finally broken as Doctor Miller dismissed his screen with a swipe of his hand. “If I look at that screen any longer, I’m gonna start going blind.” He rubbed his closed eyes. “Two days on a runabout. I hope someone brought some playing cards or something.”
The first day of the journey had primarily been spent researching the data Starfleet had provided them, with the evening spent playing a game of poker after Calloway pointed out that the replicator could provide them with the necessary playing cards. Bennett wiped the floor with them. Despite having had no say in the composition of his team, with the exception of Mitchell, Captain Forrester found them to be extremely capable and mostly personable. Lieutenant Commander Calloway was the exception to the latter; not unfriendly per se but not quite as social as the others.
After breakfast on the second morning, with seven hours until they arrived in orbit, the team gathered around the table in the aft section. “Alright,” Forrester began, “let’s go around the room. Commander Bennett, why don’t you kick us off?”
“Yes, sir.” The Commander, who was sitting to Forrester’s left, acknowledged. “As you already know, the Grians are a pre-warp civilization. The last anthropology team to study them placed their technological development at roughly equivalent to Earth’s 14th Century. That was twenty years ago.” She glanced down at her PADD and tapped a control. “We don’t anticipate things to have moved on significantly since then.”
When Bennett entered another command into her PADD, the lights in the cabin dimmed and a holographic topographical map appeared a few centimetres over the table. “There are five major population centres on the planet.” Dots appeared on the map pointing out each of the cities. “Each city is a sovereign state. While there were tensions between them, the situation was peaceful.”
“Let’s hope that’s still the case.” Doctor Miller added, eliciting a few nods from the rest of the team.
The science officer input another command on her PADD and the map zoomed into the largest city-state. “The largest city is Talam. We believe the beacon is located there, inside the largest temple on the planet.” The map dissolved and was replaced by a holographic representation of the temple. It bore a passing resemblance to St Paul’s Cathedral in London or Florence Cathedral with a large dome dominating the structure. “The Grian religion is based around ‘the Obelisk of the Gods’. It’s described as a tall, smooth, obsidian obelisk.”
“Sounds like it could be our beacon.” Calloway chimed in. “Did the team get a look at this Obelisk? Any mention of if it was active or not?”
Commander Bennett shook her head. “The science team didn’t get eyes on the obelisk. It’s locked away from public view. Only the High Priest is allowed to gaze upon it.” She went silent for a moment as he consulted her notes. “Their report does mention that when it was discovered five centuries ago, it ‘came to life’ and that ‘the writing of the gods appeared from thin air’ when it was touched.”
Mitchell, who had been quiet until now, chose that moment to break his silence. “Definitely sounds like our beacon.”
“Agreed.” Forrester nodded. “Bennett, Calloway and I will go undercover down there, scout out the temple and come up with a plan for accessing the beacon.”
The Captain’s plan gained nods of agreement from three of the four officers. Lieutenant Commander Mitchell didn’t react, he just stared at the surface of the table. Thomas knew that look, it meant that whatever AJ was about to say, he wasn’t going to like it. “You have something to say, Commander Mitchell?”
Mitchell’s eyes darted up to meet the Captain’s gaze before he glanced around at the other faces looking at him, waiting expectantly. “I just,” he hesitated for a moment, “I wonder if an undercover mission is really necessary.”
“From what Starfleet learned on Abnia VI, we won’t be able to just beam into the chamber where the beacon is.” The Captain replied. “We’ll need to go undercover to scout out the site and figure out how to gain access to this thing.” Judging from the look on AJ’s face, Forrester guessed that this discussion wasn’t over yet.
Sure enough, Mitchell spoke again. “That wasn’t what I meant. During the briefing you gave us, you said that the Omega Directive supersedes all General Orders. ‘Starfleet considers the Prime Directive null and void’ were your exact words.” Mitchell shrugged. “Going undercover will be a time consuming operation but we could be in and out so much quicker if we used a more direct approach without worrying about cultural contamination.”
“You’re right. We may be able to get this done a lot quicker if we forget about the Prime Directive.” Forrester admitted. “And we would face no penalty from Starfleet Command for any contamination of Grian culture.” He leaned forward, lacing his fingers together. “But I won’t interfere in the development of these people for the sake of expediency.” The Captain took a deep breath to tamp down the annoyance and anger he felt toward his best friend at that moment. “Just because we can do a thing, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we should.”
Captain Forrester sighed. “The time may come where I have to choose between upholding the Prime Directive and mission success and if it comes to that, I will violate the Prime Directive. But I won’t do so lightly and I will do it in such a way that minimises cultural contamination.” AJ nodded in understanding, looking appropriately chastised.
“Alright, let’s move on.” He turned to his right, where Doctor Miller sat. “Doc, what can you tell us about the Grians from a physiological standpoint?”