The alarm bleeped a trill tone, waking Mek from a broken sleep. He sat bolt upright, throwing back the bedsheets. His groggy, sleep-deprived head spun as he heaved himself up to stand in his quarters.
“Lights,” he groaned, not fully awake. The room was immediately bathed in a soft glow, and he lurched towards the intercom controls.
“Captain,” The voice of Francesca Shilo came over the com, “the Azure task group has detected the omega within the nebula. Your presence is required in Ops.”
“On my way.” A chime signaled a closed channel and he began to throw on his uniform. How many more days would start like this? An urgent situation that required his attention. An imminent threat. A diplomatic incident that couldn’t wait. He was tired. Bone tired.
The omega crisis had Starfleet’s resources stretched to Dominion War levels of precarity. Back then he’d been piloting shuttles on Jenthet VI. So long as his cargo and passengers reached their destination, he had remained largely unaffected by galactic developments. There were some days he’d barely felt impacted, the only intrusions into his idyllic bubble coming in the form of Federation News Service reports. He almost yearned for those days. Almost, but not quite.
Mek straightened his combadge. Its arrow pointed straight towards the dark circles under his sunken eyes. It frightened him sometimes. Time ravaged skin, shrivelled and bruised from relentless pushing below the lower bounds of his evolutionary need for sleep. But where had that time gone? In a blurry flash, he had reached the sharp end of the astropolitical spear and was now exhausted in ways the Erill’Yun Mek of Jenthet VI could not have begun to imagine.
He thought back to General Metraq’s futile persuasive efforts in the briefing room three days ago. The Klingon had been so confident, so sure that galactic safety could only be achieved through obliterating defenceless species unlucky enough to be in the vicinity of an omega particle. There had been conviction in the General’s eyes as he spoke. His words had come not from a place of logic, reason or even any kind of honour. No, it had been pure survival instinct that had motivated Metraq that day. A human might have described the Klingon’s thoughts as Darwinistic, and they made Mek sick. It was disgusting; simply consigning pre-warp species to evolutionary fate, sacrificing them for the good of interstellar civilisations fortunate enough to possess faster than light travel at the right moment. Earth had thankfully abandoned this brutalistic philosophy of life long ago, proving to Mek that Humans weren’t all that bad.
He straightened his cuffs and, still zipping up the front of his uniform, marched from his quarters towards the nearest turbolift. On a shelf near the door, a model sailing boat wobbled as he hurriedly brushed past. It tilted back and forth on its wooden base before, untoppled, it came to a standstill.
The night had been long and Francesca had consumed more raktajino than she would care to admit. She had been up a straight 48 hours with no sleep. Due to the nature of what was going on, she had remained in Ops the entire time making sure to monitor the situation. The screens had begun to become just a blur to her as it was all she had looked at for so long.
She could hear the others in the room talking and it just became like background noise to her. She was standing at the holo table watching the movement of the Azure task group who continued to comb the nebula for the Omega particle. She was tired and wanted to sleep. She was about to take another sip of her drink when she heard Comms break the constant repeating noise she had been hearing.
“Azure Leader to Station we have located Omega in the Nebula. Standing by for further instructions.”
Francesca looked around to see the people in the room turn their eyes to her. She took a deep breath. “Good work Azure Leader! Please standby for further orders.”
She looked at the time and grimaced that she had to awake Mek, which she didn’t want to do, but knew he needed to be informed of the new development.
After informing him she took a sigh of relief though the battle was not over she knew that finding the particles would help in the overall fight. She felt like she had a second wind as she looked at the screen for any indication of how far into the nebula the team was. It looked like they had traveled a decent distance, but the sensors were fooled by the interference that the nebula generated. She knew it was time for her and Mek to have a meeting and decide what needed to be done.
She thought back to when she had first learned of this protocol. It was not something that she thought would ever be an issue. How wrong she was. Put into a position as the Task Force Executive Officer and already went 48 hours without sleep, she knew her appearance was not the best. She also knew that someone senior needed to be present and it was not right to make the CO do something she could do. She would need some rest soon or she would be of no use to Mek or anyone else for that matter.
The first thing Mek saw upon stepping out into station Ops was the gentle wave of Captain Francesca Shilo’s auburn hair. It was almost as if a halo of light shone, shimmering across each glossy copper strand. Her back facing him, the holographic display outlined her body in a blueish white penumbra. Although Commodore Tharc was nowhere to be seen, Mek recognised the familiar faces positioned at various stations throughout the room. Captain Haughey and Captain Mclaughlin stood on the other side of the central display. Their faces were stretched pale and gaunt from the same lack of sleep afflicting Mek. For each day this crisis continued, it felt to all of them as if they had been taking two steps backwards for every one step forward. As soon as one omega particle was neutralized, more spring up in different locations. Haughey had been forced to redeploy most of the Raeyan Sector Response Group to locations across three sectors in an attempt to put out these relentless brush fires. Yet more had come with each passing hour, then each minute. Now every second that ticked by marked the growing futility of their efforts. Still, the regional commanders looked on, thoughts of impending doom moving closer and closer to the forefronts of their minds.
“Report,” Mek announced as he approached.
Shilo stood straight as she heard the voice of her CO. It did not matter that he was the same rank the position gave him authority and for that she made sure to show respect.
“Sir, we have located the Omega particles in the Azure Nebula. The fleet is holding position waiting for orders.” She replied.
She wasn’t sure about the approach of what they would do, but she did know it wasn’t for her to try and make the decision by herself.
The last remnants of Mek’s morning grogginess fell away and he snapped alert, “Alright, get me a direct line to Azure Leader.”
“Channel open, sir.” A voice from communications control called.
“Captain Chorvik, we understand you’ve sighted the omega molecule.” Mek could just about remember the name of the USS Wethesa’s captain who headed up the task group. The Catullan’s humanoid form sprung up in a new holographic projection from the central island in Ops. The shimmering, blue-tinged collection of photons faithfully recreated Chorvik’s purplish hair and bushy eyebrows. Mek could even make out the lavender-green family crest daubed in the centre of his forehead.
“Affirmative, Captain. We have it on sensors three lightyears from here.” Chorvik’s voice was calm, but his eyes looked out with an unblinking intensity that unsettled Mek slightly.
“We’re receiving the coordinates now. Looks like an empty enough area of space, I’m sure the gravimetric torpedoes should work fine.”
“It won’t be that simple, Captain.” Those burning eyes again. Something was wrong, and here it came, “The molecule appears to be moving. We’ve dispatched a Class V probe towards it. Results coming in… Now.”
Mek looked on expectantly as Chorvik paused to read the data, “The molecule’s moving. Looks like at a speed roughly equivalent to one-half impulse, although it’s erratic. It also appears to be encased in something that’s reading as organic-” Chorvik stopped, confusion swept his face for a second as he re-read what was in front of him, “Captain, it’s alive. The omega particle is within a life form, and from this report, it looks like it’s a gormagander.”
“A space whale, Captain Chorvik? A space whale has swallowed an omega particle?” Mek sighed.
“AND THIS IS OF WHAT CONSEQUENCE?” Resonated a deep boom from behind them. General Metraq stepped forward from the turbolift.
“Good morning, General.” Mek made a half-hearted attempt to smile. He quickly leaned over to Francesca with a hushed whisper, “I’ll deal with this. You handle the whale.”
Francesca’s eyes widened as she heard the remark from Mek. “How am I supposed to deal with a space whale?” she thought to herself. It was not everyday that she had to try and beam Omega particles out of a space whale in fact she couldn’t recall ever having a situation like this in her entire career. She began to pace the floor thinking of what could be done. Each situation was different but this one would take a delicate touch as to not harm the gormagander.
Mek stood between Metraq and Francesca in an attempt to preserve his colleague’s concentration, “The consequence, General, is that there’s now a molecule of the most powerful substance known to exist floating around the Azure Nebula in the belly of a space whale. Now, unless you or anyone else in the KDF have any better ideas on how to deal with this, I suggest you stand back and let us get on with it.”
Metraq glowered in Mek’s direction, “Wasting time, as usual, Captain! For a gormagander, of all things. A pathetic beast, best hunted for sport.”
Mek had no time for the Klingon’s tiresome crowing, “Your target for bloodsport is a sentient being. We have the ships, the technology required to extract the omega from it without needless loss of life. There’s no need for butchery here, General.”
“You know how unstable those molecules are,” Metraq scowled, “every second you waste is a roll of the dice. So typical of Starfleet to stand in judgment, so convinced of the moral superiority of your actions. But what of the countless unknowns inside that nebula, Captain? The Klingon Empire does not care for your incessant whining about scientific discoveries, anomalies, ‘the wonders of the universe. We go along with it. But now, even by your own… Logic,” he spat the word, “you jeopardize it all for the sake of this… Whale!”
An anger began to creep up Mek’s throat, “Omega or not, we have no right to take the life of an intelligent life form. Our Omega Directive supersedes all other Starfleet regulations, yes, but what you’re suggesting is straight-up murder.”
“What I’m suggesting,” The Klingon stepped closer, lowering his voice, “is that you’re weak. You don’t have the honour to do what it takes and end this now.”
“Listen to me, you bloodthirsty oaf.” Mek’s face grew red, “Have you forgotten that you’re standing in a Starfleet operations centre? Feel free to call the shots with the KDF, but our ships are in that nebula and we’ll handle this so that no one has to die. If that’s a problem for you, then maybe you should have sent in some ships of your own.”
Metraq flashed his teeth, instinctively lowering his hand towards his d’k tahg. Mek knew he had gone too far, but he didn’t care.
“Can I help you two gentlemen?” The double doors of Commodore Ciffao Tharc’s office whooshed open and she stepped down towards the scene unfolding before her. Francesca had sensibly edged away to the other side of Ops, engrossed in formulating her plan. Now the Klingon and the Pelian looked as if they were only seconds from swinging at each other. Tharc called again, “Captain Mek, General Metraq! Some decorum in Station Ops, please!”
The pair’s eyes snapped away from their interlocked glare. They both looked down towards the Tellarite who, while short in stature, now asserted herself throughout the room. There was a breath of silence before her barked orders cut through the air, “Mek, back off. Metraq, if you have nothing constructive to add, then get out of Ops and back to the Klingon Liaison Office.” Her eyes glinted sharper than the cool light reflecting from Metraq’s partially unsheathed d’k tahg.
The Klingon’s posture relaxed, and he drew himself up to his full height. Mek rolled his eyes, prompting a withering look from Tharc.
“BAHAHAHA,” as if a switch had flipped, Metraq’s eyes lit up with mirth, “for a moment there I thought the Captain would actually try and challenge me.”
Tharc was unimpressed, “You’re interfering with a sensitive operation, Metraq. Leave now, or I’ll have security drag you out of here.”
“No need, Commodore. I will take my leave. Captain Mek should also know that the Empire has sent ships of its own. As soon as we learned of the molecule’s location, unlike yourselves, we were prepared to act decisively. Our ships are cloaked, of course, to avoid startling you Ha’DIbaH. I would imagine they would be arriving, oh, in around one hour.” Another hearty laugh rose from Metraq’s chest as he entered the turbolift.
Mek’s eyes widened, “Mek to USS Wethesa,” the com channel was established with a chirp, “we believe you’ve got cloaked Klingon ships inbound. They’re going to kill the whale. You will not let that happen. Standby for further instructions from Captain Shilo.” His head then whipped round to face Francesca. Her head was down, frowning as she analysed sensor readouts on the other side of the room, “Shilo, work fast. You’re gonna have company!”
Francesca had successfully phased out the commotion behind her. If they could get the creature to hold its position they could potentially beam the particles out of the gormagander and transport it to a resonance chamber where the particles could safely be destroyed and the gormagander would have no harm done to it. That way it could go and peacefully live its life, not knowing what it had carried. The plan seemed to be the best option, but getting the ships into position could prove to be the biggest task for Francesca, as corralling a gormagander was not standard Federation procedure.
These ideas and thoughts raced in her mind. As she finally came back to reality she saw the members in the room looking at her for answers. She stopped pacing and made her way back to the holo table and the shimmering blue figures that were in the nebula.
“Captain Chorvik, I have a plan, but it will require the ships around you corralling the gormagander so that it will not move. Is that understood?” She asked
The comms were quiet for a moment “Captain with all due respect you want me to corral a space whale that could damage us?”
Francesca sighed “Yes Chorvik, I want you to corral the whale, but from all research, the gormagander is not hostile as long as we don’t provoke it. I want a large circle made so it has enough space to stay comfortable, but where we can get a fix on the particles inside it.”
The response was quicker, “I think I understand Captain. It will take some time to get this all set up, but we should have it done within the hour. I will contact you when the ships are in position.” Chorvik concluded.
“Very good Captain Chorvik! I await your reply.” Francesca said as she looked at the holo table.
This plan was crazy, but what could be crazier than trying to beam Omega particles out of a gormagander. This brought the term ‘Cetacean Ops’ to a whole new level. She had to control a whale in a nebula that was full of a particle that could kill everyone in the nebula.
Starbase 86 Ops was electrified. Subspace communications zipped back and forth at unfathomable speeds between it and the ships now deep in the furthest depths of the bewildering gaseous cloud. Mek and Tharc issued seemingly endless orders, one after the other:
“Haughey, redeploy Raeyan Sector Response Group into the nebula on an intercept course. Get them in front of any ships approaching from the Klingon side.”
“Mclaughlin, get us patched through to the Majestic. We need them positioned forward and running a tachyon sweep.”
“Azure group, if the Klingons get anywhere near the gormagander, your orders are to withdraw at maximum warp. I’m not risking anyone getting caught in any omega blast.”
Francesca again began to pace the floor as she thought of the disaster that could occur if this plan went belly up. She tried to push those thoughts out of her head as she waited to hear from Chorvik. She replicated a raktajino and a small snack to try and keep her energy up. She was starting to run out of energy being up for over two days straight. This was taxing on her body, but she continued to push through even though the raktajino just seemed bland. She was finishing up her snack when Chorvik’s voice came through the Ops comms.
“We are in position, Captain Shilo. What are your orders?” The voice boomed.
Francesca placed her hands on the holotable and leaned in closer to see the shimmering ships. “Alright Chorvik, I want you to get a lock on the Omega particles inside of the gormagander and beam them to your ship’s resonance chamber. Once we know they’re secured in the chamber, destroy them immediately.” She ordered with a cool voice.
“As you command Ma’am! I’m patching in comms with the transporter chief now.”
The voice of another boomed through the comms. “Attempting to lock on now.” There was a pause of silence. “Locked on and energizing.”
Francesca waited hoping that it was going to go this smoothly.
“We have the particles but it looks like the gormagander is getting agitated.” Chorvik stated.
“You have done well Chorvik! Order the rest of the task force to pull back and away from the gormagander. Once you know it’s safe, get rid of those particles.” Francesca ordered with a sigh of relief.
“Raeyan Sector Response Group and USS Majestic report no sign of Klingon vessels.” Mclaughlin called out as a muted cheer spread through Ops.
Despite the good spirits of those around him, Mek’s face soured. Arms crossed, he stood next to Tharc as the hubbub died down. “No Klingon ships. Do you think…?”
Tharc sighed, “He was bluffing?” Her wrinkled cheeks fell, accentuating a hollowness around her tired eyes, “It’s possible.”
Mek’s exhaustion gave way to indignation, “Metraq’s rattled our cage.”
“You’re too used to dealing with Romulans, Captain. They tend to calculate things a little more.” Tharc’s eyebrows raised, “You’ve just borne witness to the famous Klingon temper tantrum. Tends to happen when they don’t get their way.”
Mek mulled it over for a moment, then winced. “I’ll buy you a drink.”