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 Post subject: Star Trek: Timelines "Conflicts" PostPosted: 2008-07-11 09:00pm
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This was originally posted, incomplete, as "Crossing the Line", but I felt a better title was in order. "Conflicts" seemed suitable and sweet in simplicity, and it reminds me of "Relics", one of my TNG favorites. :)




Star Trek: Timelines
Conflicts
by:
Stephen Garrett Jr.

Table of Contents

Prologue






Since the time the races of the Galaxy began to spread themselves to other solar systems, they'd learned that stellar cartography was an entirely new level of map-making. It is easy for someone to imagine the two-dimensional nature of a planet's surface and to draw boundaries over it. Space, however, was three dimensional. It did not fit well on the two-dimensional surface maps frequently used. The Federation Interstellar Mapping Department had since chosen to make such representations "top views" of the galaxy, so as to show all four galactic quadrants, and thus making the "depth" of the galaxy the Z-axis. But such 2D maps were, as one might expect, horribly inaccurate.
Just as space was 3D, so were the interstellar borders between empires. A star on one XY-plane coordinate could be in the Federation and another star on the exact same XY-plane coordinate but a few light years away on the Z-plane (below or above) could be in the Klingon Empire. Proper 3D political maps, usually represented in holographic fashion, were generally giant globs of irregular-shaped masses, each with salients into each other's space. Sometimes you could come upon a straight line or really "wall" where expansion treaties or peace treaties from a century or two centuries before had cleanly delineated lines of control. But for the most part, the lines were irregular and misshapen, testimony to the struggle for rich and wealthy planets among the empires.

The United Federation of Planets, on any map, was the largest entity. Eight thousand light years across at it's widest point (albeit one that stretched across all three dimensional planes), it encompassed millions of cubic light years. It was centric to the Alpha Quadrant and Beta Quadrant and some had already begun regarding it as a "galactic superpower" in the making. On it's Beta Quadrant side were the hearts of Klingon, Tholian, Gorn, Orion, and Romulan space. The Klingons and Romulans also had extensive Alpha Quadrant holdings, curling "under" and "over" as well as, in some areas, around Federation space respectively. The Klingon frontier finally made contact with the Ferengi and came very near to Federation space, seperated only by two small groups; the enigmatic Tamarian Nation and a collection of independent, hardscrabble colonies settled by various races.
The Romulans and the Ferengi shared common borders with the Cardassian Union. The Romulan border was smaller, only about twenty thousand cubic light years, while the Cardassian-Ferengi border was well over a hundred thousand cubic light years and very frequently changing due to the frequent border wars between the two powers. Cardassian space also met Federation territory, including Bajor; a thin strip of de-militarized space had been set between the two "allies", encompassing the Cardassian portion of the border. Near the other side of Cardassian space, where it met Romulan and Federation territory, was the so-called Maelstrom, where the small but highly-advanced Kessok race lived.
This side of the quadrant tended to be heavily populated with many small nations. Fifteen years ago it had been the "Hotspot of the Milky Way", as border war after border war cropped up among the locals and the newer arrivals to the region, like the Federation. The Cardassian Union, the Talarian Steadhold, the Tsen'kethi Imperium, the G'kkau Empire, the Breen Confederacy, the Danteri Empire, the Thallonian Empire, and at least half a dozen more interstellar powers had spent the last fifty to a hundred years warring with one another and the other Great Powers of the Milky Way; the Federation, the Klingons, the Romulans, and the Ferengi.

Standing at the upper level of the Strategic Operations Center at McKinley, Admirals James Leyton and Eric Pressman looked out at the map of the known galaxy with their eye on the space of the Talarians. They held a small empire, only about eighty thousand cubic light years in size and sandwhiched between the Federation, the Tsen'kethi, the Breen, and the Cardassians. Pressman was the first to speak. "Our sources on Talar have confirmed that the majority of their Assembly members and Senators are in favor of the proposed alliance. But they're not a very large majority, and the minority opposed to it have some powerful backers in the military."
"The Talarians have always been very stubborn. I think that if the Tsen'kethi hadn't made that major play for the Rathmaka Sector back in April, they still wouldn't be considering this issue seriously."
"Well, they are now. Poor bastards are sandwiched between three of the most aggressive races in that region of space. Even their defenses can't hold if two of their neighbors decide to hit them together."
"The Federation Council had that in mind when they finalized the initial terms for an alliance with Talar." Leyton walked away from the map. "They're sending out a crack diplomatic team. They want Talar allied to the Federation to keep the Breen and Tsen'kethi at bay."

"Going to be easier said than done. The Talarians are paranoid bastards."
"Yes, but that can play to our advantage." Leyton turned back to Pressman. "I've dealt with the Talarians before, Eric. They're headstrong and passionate, but they can be reasoned with. They know the Federation isn't a threat."
"They think everything is a threat, James. You've seen the same psych reports as I have. Institutional history of paranoia and xenophobia. They're almost as bad as the Romulans."
"Races are more than psych reports from psychologists and sociologists who've never actually met the people, Eric, and you know that." Leyton walked up to Pressman; the two men were about the same height and were the same rank, preventing either from intimidating the other. "The Talarians may be defensive, but they're also an honorable people. I told you before, I've dealt with them. For God's sake, I was a military advisor on the negotiating team for the Treaty of Alpha Magnetai."

Pressman waited a few moments before he resumed speaking. "It's out of our hands anyway. The Federation is sending a negotiating team out. The President takes the situation seriously enough that he's asked me to send Adrian Parker's squadron out to escort them to the negotiations."
"Where is Enterprise, anyway?"
"She and her squadron are out in the Independent Sectors, dealing with a few G'kkau raiders." Pressman nodded. "I'll send out the new orders at high priority."
"You do that." Leyton said no more before leaving the Operations Center.




Captain's Log 18 July 2368 05:40 GST: We are en route to Deep Space Six after completing a week-long patrol of the Independent Sectors and fighting four skirmishes with G'kkau raiders. Upon arrival at DS6, we will replenish ship stores and conduct normal border patrols while awaiting orders from Starfleet.
During the duration of the operation, we destroyed nearly two-dozen G'kkau raiders of varying size and were able to end a lasting threat to this region of autonomous colonies and sovereign worlds. None of the ships in the squadron sustained lasting damage in the operation. It's my hope that we've done enough damage to the G'kkau to keep them from preying on the Independent Sectors.
Additionally, I will note simply that the crew is coming together well and I believe this first deployment will be a very successful one.


Parker looked up from his desk and to his yeoman, Petty Officer Galvarez, who was seated at her own smaller desk typing out a report to Starfleet for him. The brown-eyed mestizo girl was over fourteen years Parker's junior, and just looking at her and the lovely curves of her youthful form reminded Parker of that. He supposed that if he were still an Ensign right out of the Academy, he'd have already made a move in these past two months on the sweet young woman.
Though it would have come to nothing anyway. Yeoman Galvarez had a lover back home, a law student, and she had even told Parker during one of their personal conversations she intended to leave the service by the time he graduated so that she could work with him. Until then, she spent her time working and studying, probably working for a college education after her term was up.
Parker sometimes wondered what it would be like to be that young again. Oh, he was thirty-six, and that certainly wasn't too old; most of the squadron's COs were older than him. But to be right back at the start, young and looking straight into the future....
"My log is done, Miss Galvarez," he said to her. Though it was military protocol for an officer to address an enlistee and/or NCO with his or her rank as well, he considered young Rachel someone deserving of a more friendly address. "You can send it to the communications queue for transmission."
"Right away, Sir."

Parker returned to his usual work before his bridge watch. He was working on a commendation report from a department head for a member of the torpedo crew on Aft Launcher 2 when his monitor alerted him to an incoming transmission on Starfleet Command frequencies. Parker typed in his command code, noting that the message was text only so he didn't have to order Galvarez out of the room.
After reading it, Parker drew in a sigh and stood up. Galvarez looked up from her desk and asked, "Sir?"
"It's nothing, I'm just heading to the bridge." Parker walked out onto the bridge of the Enterprise. As it wasn't yet 0600, none of the senior crew were on station save Data, who had taken up a position in the command chair after Parker ordered Carter to bed upon arriving on the bridge at 0500. At communications was an Andorian Ensign, Vorka; sensors was manned by the blonde-haired Ensign Christine MacDonald, tactical by Lt. Jobrie, and the helm was in the hands of a Bolian Petty Officer 2nd Class that Parker did not recognize; he was undoubtedly training for a place in an OCS. Data stood as Parker approached and moved back to the empty chair at Ops, beside the helm. Parker eased into his command chair and looked at the empty chair beside him. In ten minutes, Razmara would arrive for her morning watch; the rest of the command crew would be on shift by 0800, while Parker would retire to his office deeper in the ship (the ready room was more of a mini-office, aptly named so that he could conduct paperwork very close to the bridge while technically on watch) and take a short watch in the squadron command bridge. "Petty Officer....?"
"Yolan, Sir," the young Bolian answered.

"Petty Officer Yolan, we will no longer be heading to DS6. Alter course to the Sigma Agalis System in Sector 202. Mister Vorka, signal the rest of the squadron with our new destination."
"Aye, Sir," Yolan replied. He began the necessary calculations for the course change while Vorka signaled the new orders to the other six ships.
Data turned in his ops chair. "Captain, why are we diverting course?"
"New orders." Parker rested his face on his right hand, resting his chin on the backs of his fingers. "Commander, I want to arrange a full meeting of the squadron staff, COs and XOs included, when we're about an hour or so from Sigma Agalis, which should be...."
"Fifteen hours, twenty-four minutes, Sir," Yolan said.
"Make it 2100 hours tonight, then. And I want to have a command staff meeting at 1900, just in time for dinner." Parker considered Data for a moment. His uniform looked a bit worn. "Mister Data, how long have you been on duty?"
"Fifty-three hours, fifty-eight minutes, Captain."
"Don't you think you need to have some time off?"
"Sir, I do not require rest. I have no difficulty with working such...."

Parker held up a hand and shook his head. "Mister Data, Starfleet regulations are very clear about mandated off-duty time. Consider yourself relieved for the next twelve hours."
Data absorbed the information quickly. Most of his prior commanders had appreciated an officer who required no rest. Parker, however, seemed to be adamant that Data have as much time off as the other officers. "Yes Captain. I will report for duty at 1800 hours." He walked off the bridge. Parker looked at the empty ops station and let his head slump back further. He was feeling tired as a result of what his orders had said.
The next week was going to be very eventful, Parker decided. And not in the good way.



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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 Post subject:  PostPosted: 2008-07-12 01:22am
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Chapter 1


How many lights are there?
The voice echoed around Carter. It was dark and she couldn't quite see where she was. She felt cold and realized she was naked, odd for her since she never slept naked when alone (And indeed, even when she slept with a man she usually donned a nightgown after sex). Her arms were over her head and when she tried to move them, Carter found they were bound at the wrist by some invisible force. Her ankles were bound too, which she realized upon trying to lift her legs. She stared at the darkness, not capable of telling if she were laying down or standing up. A shiver went up her spine from the cold sweat coating her body.
And the voice called out again. How many lights are there?
"I don't see anything," she protested.
And then the pain returned.
It was a fire. A fire that filled her body, racing along her nerves to her spine and brain. Carter screamed as the fire consumed her from within.
How many lights are there?
It was Madred.

In agony, Carter still managed to shout in a clear voice. "You're dead! I saw you die!"
There are four lights.
And the lights appeared. Three, arranged in a triangle. She could make out Madred's silhouette in the middle of them. He moved toward her, it seemed more of a glide than a walk, and she could see the outline of his face. His expression was cold and neutral, yet so sinister. "You're dead!" Carter screamed once more.
How many lights are there?
"This can't be happening!"
And the pain grew worse. The fire exploded within Carter, spreading to all corners of her body. Every limb, every body part, burned hideously. She howled and tried desperately to break away from the invisible bonds holding her.
How many lights are there?
"You're dead!"
Madred's hand touched her cheek. His hand was cold as death. He grew close, and Carter's heart stopped from the horror of his face, the evil smile that curled on his mouth. "You're dead!" she cried from the panic and pain.

"You are mine now, Commander Carter. You can never be rescued."
How many lights are there?
"THERE ARE THREE LIGHTS!"
The darkness was gone. Carter found herself sitting up in bed. She sighed in relief; she was in her quarters. She was on the Enterprise. Madred had been dead for about two months. She looked down and saw the sweat that had covered her body. The lights in the room raised to forty percent, as she had set them for when the internal sensors detected she was awake. She looked at her chronometer and moaned irritably. It flashed "06:15". It had only been about two hours since Jobrie had relieved her. Carter had managed barely ninety minutes of sleep and was now too wound up to go back to sleep.
Consigning herself to being awake after so little sleep, Carter sat up and immediately discarded her sweaty yellow calf-length nightgown, an unrevealing garment cut just below the shoulders and neck with straps over the shoulders. She stepped into the shower and washed off the sweat. Five minutes later, she stepped back into her room with a towel draped around her, from shoulders to thigh, and looked for something to wear. Her eyes first went to her uniform, but she decided she didn't want to bother with that. She wasn't due back on duty until 1200 hours.
She looked into her drawer and pulled out a beige-colored sports bra and gym shorts. If she couldn't sleep, she might as well work out.




A dull warble filled Larrisa's quarters, the computer's idea of a "gentle' wake up call. She turned about for a minute, still a little tired, before finally slipping out of her bed. Larrisa stretched out and pushed a few locks of disheveled blonde hair out of her face. After going to the head, she stepped into the shower and washed. When she stepped out and dried off, Larrisa went toward her uniform. As she did so, she looked at the Divine Symbol resting on her nightstand, the candlestick-like shape of brass that had three points (one for each authority over an individual Edo: God, the Community, and the Family) and sighed. She had put this off long enough.
Instead of getting dressed, Larrisa went into her cabinent and pulled out six ceramic bowls and a container. She opened the container and pulled out six small eight-pedaled blue-and-white flowers within, noticing she was running low on the flowers; the sacred hydola flower that represented love to the Edo. She kneeled by her bed, directly facing the Divine Symbol, and set a flower in each bowl. She placed them in a hexagonal pattern around her; two in front of her at near-perfect forty-five degree angles, one to each side of her knees, and two behind her at near-perfect forty-five degree angles again. She reached into the nightstand and pulled out a match and, after verbally ordering the computer to disengage the fire-suppression systems, struck it to light it. She lit the wicks on the Divine Symbol first, whispering the sacred words for each Authority as she lit the respective wick, and then set fire to the flowers of the six bowls, now whispering an old prayer she had known since childhood.
When all six flowers were alight, she adopted the Dyomata Okoa, remaining on her knees and spreading her legs out as far as she could while crossing her arms over her chest - each hand touching the shoulder of the opposite side - and bowing her head with her eyes closed. For those desiring clarification in English, Dyomata was easily translated; "giving respect" was the literal translation, and in religious connotation Larrisa found it fit the word "veneration" best.

The world Okoa, however, was harder to translate. It was an old term and, despite it's simplicity, carried a great deal of weight. Larrisa, in many years of attempting to explain it in English, had finally settled for something along the lines of "a position taken in divine reverence"; she mentally translated it as posture. The Posture of Veneration was one of three that Edo adopted. One of the others was the Posture of Worship - Hytoya Okoa - which had the hands clasped together and the arms crooked at forty-five degree angles from the elbow, somewhat like kneeling and praying for Judeo-Christians.
However, her intention was not the Dyomata Okoa but the Mykaya Okoa - the Posture of Submission, symbolizing an Edo submitting oneself to God. This was a specific Okoa, used only in the Confessional Rite when an Edo confessed his or her sins and wrongdoings to God. Devout Edo did the Confessional once a day. Most tried to do it once a week. For Larrisa, however, this was the first time in three weeks she was performing Confessional (she was, after all, not very observant). Mostly because of her hate for the Mykaya Okoa.
After whispering a short prayer, Larrisa laid foreward, keeping her knees and legs still. She touched her face to the floor, making sure her head was between the two forward bowls of burning hydola and that her forehead and the bridge of her nose were making direct contact with the floor. As she moved downward she spread her arms out to make them exactly perpendicular to her body, presenting her palms downward. After completing the transition to the Mykaya Okoa she recited in Edo the Confessional Prayer, professing herself unworthy of God's love and pleading forgiveness for her "evil deeds", which she then professed.

Larrisa despised this Okoa. The others were fine, but she found the Mykaya Okoa degrading and humiliating. That, of course, was the point, because the Confessional was in itself very symbolic. The burning hydola symbolized love and respect for God, the Okoa showed one's complete submission to God, and nakedness was one's acceptance of God knowing all; one could not hide anything from God (this was common in most Rites, but not all, particularly those practiced publicly; the Edo did not look kindly upon public nudity unless it had a specific purpose in a religious rite).
After leaving Rubicun, Larrisa had researched what non-Edo scholars had discovered about her people's history and culture. She would have done so sooner, but this could only be done offworld since the Elders strictly forbade such study as being insulting to God - one was supposed to accept the Teachings and the Divination without question, which meant one did not need to do individual research of the past. She was not surprised to find that Human, Vulcan, and Trill scholars had found convincing evidence that the Mykaya Okoa was probably derived from a submissive slave-bow during the immediate pre-Divination period of Rubicun, when the Edo were ruled by a handful of God-Kings and God-Queens who had tens of thousands of slaves in their courts (in fact, according to records over 90% of the Edo population of the God-Ruler period were slaves of some sort). It was apparently used for punishment, since it was very hard to maintain and presented the back for whipping (Larrisa had seen an image of a slave whip recovered from a dig within one of the Federation enclaves on Rubicun's southern continent; because of it she realized her people used to be quite cruel, since the metal teeth in the whip blade were probably capable of ripping through an Edo's soft flesh with little trouble and were undoubtedly very painful).

Larrisa's sins were common and not very remarkable. For one thing, she was again remiss in her duties to her Community. Service in Starfleet made it quite difficult to attend the weekly Assembly Meetings of her Community; all Edo town-level Communities were complete democracies of all Edo at or above the age of 25 Edo years (about 21.5 human years) and Edo had a religious obligation to participate. For another, she had not been punctual with her weekly Rites of Reverence, a smaller ceremony involving the burning of hydola and the Dyomata Okoa.
The others were standard fare. In three weeks she had improperly invoked God something around thirty times (the equivalent of a Jew or Christian "using the Lord's name in vain") and had envied Chief Nurse Kristin Ignacian since everyone on the ship knew she was bedding the civilian officer lounge-attendant Arno Vanbeginne, whom Larrisa found to be nice and attractive; she then confessed the sin of actually being attracted to Arno, since she was gy'doma to another (gy'doma was the second-to-final phase in an Edo pairing, the equivalent of a rather tightly-held fianceè in Human consideration; next was lu'doma, the equivalent of marriage) and it was sinful to actually desire sex with someone else (as opposed to just having sex for pleasure) and to follow through on that desire. She had also failed to have sex in that time period (one of the things that most other species found hilarious was that the Teachings actually required an Edo to have sex within a certain amount of time on the grounds that it was a religious obligation to expend lu'vreyko positively) and had failed to sexually pleasure someone else. Larrisa often joked to herself and other non-Edo (or exiled Edo when she encountered them) that when God had derived those specific rules, He didn't have Starfleet service in mind for the Edo.

That fact was hammered home when Larrisa's door chime rang.
Larrisa, for her part, did not curse. Though she had not been able yet to confess to her blasphemous statement to Razmara a week ago about God, she at least had a good excuse now to get out of this annoying Mykaya Okoa. She pulled her back up and got off the floor while avoiding the bowls with the burning hydolas in them. Larrisa went over to her closet while the door chime rang once more and picked up a blue nightrobe. She pulled it on and tied it closed enough to hide her intimate parts, though one could still clearly see much of her thighs and the inner portions of her cleavage. Pushing behind her shoulders a few locks of hair that had fallen over her face and the sides of her head, Larrisa walked up to the door and tapped the open key. The door opened and she was a little surprised to find Data standing on the other side. "Commander Data, this is a surprise. Do you need something?"
"The Captain has ordered me off-duty for twelve hours. However, I find that there is very little for me to do when off-duty."
"Really? You don't read or anything?"
"I do, but I have already analyzed many diverse literary and technical works. I am capable of 'reading' a standard-sized book in a fraction of a second with only a small part of my processing capacity. In fact, I am currently analyzing the historical works concerning study in subspace, reviewing collections of data regarding the fall of the Aztec Empire so that I can compare them to the contradictory theories of 20th Century writers Victor Hanson and Jared Diamond, and using my knowledge of...."
"Data, that's really all I need to know." Larrisa stepped back from her door. "Why don't you come in?"

Data hesitated for a moment before walking in with that stiff posture that was so typical of him. Larrisa closed the door behind him and walked over to her couch. Data noticed the bowls of burning hydolas and said, "I apologize for interrupting your Confessional Rite. I can return later if you desire?"
"It's okay. In fact...." Larrisa walked past the couch and to her replicator, where she replicated a small pitcher of water. She walked over to her bed and the bowls and poured water into each, extinguishing the flames. "I'd completed most of it anyway. But I'm surprised to find you know about the Rite. I had to explain it to every roommate I ever had."
"Since finding out I would be serving with you, I have studied every known facet of Edo culture. That is why I came to speak with you. I am puzzled by the inherent contradictions of the hedonistic and pastoral Edo society. Your people place personal pleasure above all else yet seem to have a conservative society quite unlike hedonistic colonies in the Federation."

"Well, my people are not hedonists for the sake of mere physical gratification, though many people think that way of us." Larrisa got a cup of coffee from the rpelicator and went back to her couch. She sat down and brought her left leg up on her right hip, holding the cup of coffee and the small holder plate for it close to her chest. "But I'm not exactly in touch with my people, as you can tell."
"Indeed." Data walked up to the couch while Larrisa took a sip and remained standing. "My observations of your behavior do not match the data available on the Edo."
"Data, why don't you sit down? Make yourself comfortable."
Data nodded and eased into the chair to Larrisa's right. She shifted to her left and turned toward him, bringing her right foot up on the couch and stretching it out onto the arm. She pulled her robe down to obscure what showed of her inner legs. "You're right, Data, I'm not a normal Edo." A sarcastic smile crossed her face. "I'm much too smart for the Elders' tastes, actually."
"Your people do not value intelligence?"

"Of course not. My people value two things; physical health, and thus beauty and increased pleasure, and obedience." Larrisa took another sip. "I have very little personal reason to be obedient to the Elders or the Laws."
"Then why do you perform the Confessional Rite?"
"Habit." Larrisa sipped her coffee again. The taste was bland but there was no denying the effect of the caffeine. "I don't do it very often. I've done it a grand total of three times since arriving on the Enterprise."
"Ah." Data did not respond immediately; he was apparently processing more information. "You do not like your homeworld or your culture, do you?"
"To be honest, no I don't." Larrisa began to stare into her coffee for a moment, in deep thought. "Too many painful memories thanks to the Edo way of doing things, Mister Data."
"Yet, did you not enjoy the pleasure of your lifestyle?"
"I did, but that's all the more reason for me to not like it." Larrisa looked back up at him. "There's more to life than pleasure, Data. The Edo do not want to see that but I have seen it, and now I can never go back to the Edo way. All that is left for me is to prove my own personal worth." Larrisa sipped some coffee while Data waited for her to continue. "Life is not supposed to be pleasure alone, Data. Pain and struggle have their places in making someone whole."

Data seemed intrigued by that. "I have never thought of it that way. My observations of humans and most other races have always indicated a desire to be as comfortable as possible while expending little effort."
"Well, that's what it may seem like, but you need that pain and struggle to take the comfort and the pleasure in proper context, Data." Larrisa smiled softly. "Sure, doing nothing all day but lying around getting massages, playing games, or having sex might sound good to a lot of people, but I've lived that and it's, well, in a way it's really boring. Living as an emotional being means experiencing everything, the good with the bad."
"I see. Intriguing." Data watched Larrisa take another drink and stood up. Her eyes followed him as Data stepped around the small coffee table between Larrisa's chairs and couch. He turned back to her. "Lieutenant, do you mind if we continue these discussions in the future? Your views on what it means to be human interest me greatly."
"Be my guest, Data." Larrisa gave him a small smile. She'd found that being thought of as Human was not as insulting as some of her people might consider it, but almost flattery. "Going somewhere?"

"Yes. I will return to my quarters to process more material. I am currently writing an amateur theory on the politics of pre-World War I Earth and the potential alternate time tracks that may have occurred if the Archduke had not been assass..." He saw the annoyed look in Larrisa's eyes and stopped. "I apologize. I am trying to learn the limits to which humans accept information."
"Go on, Data. But..." A twinkle appeared in Larrisa's eyes. "If you ever want to discuss something that's actually relevant to me, like Edo history or subspace physics, come back and we'll talk."
"Very well, I shall remember that." Data walked out the door.
Larrisa watched him go and sat there for a few moments. She giggled for a moment afterward, finding Data's nature amusing and a little charming, before finishing her coffee and taking off her robe. She walked to her dresser to pull out her under garments and uniform, checking the clock and seeing she had plenty of time to get breakfast before her morning watch began at 0800.




There was not much noise in the captain's quarters on the Starship Minneapolis as she glided through space at a leisurely Warp 6 alongside Enterprise.
There had been, a short while ago, but now it was quiet in the room as Zaharia Herzela and Katie Berger, the Chief Engineer and Captain respectively, cuddled closely in the afterglow of a particularly enjoyable bout of love-making.
Remaining close together didn't happen as long as they'd hoped. A comm badge went off, and the two looked at each other for a moment. "Mine," Zaria said after a second, reaching over and taking her comm badge, placed on the opposite side of the bed from Katie's.
Katie sighed and sat up, letting Zaria reach over her and to the stand for her comm badge. She pressed it and said, "Yes?"
"Commander, we're having a little problem with the intermix on the core. We thought you'd want to take a look."
Zaria felt a hand touch her hip and move over her buttocks. She grinned widely before saying, "I'll be there. Herzela out."

"Engine problems?" Katie asked, her lips now kissing Zaria on her right buttock. "I was starting to get ideas."
"The ideas will have to wait, I guess. I'll be damned if they can do anything down there without me." Zaharia turned on her back and allowed Katie to clamber atop her and begin kissing her strongly
"I can always make up an excuse for you," Katie offered jokingly, a mischievous glitter in her eye. She winked and added, "Say I have you all tied up."
"Stop tempting me," Zaria giggled, getting out from under Katie. "I'm going to wash off real quick in your shower, okay?"
"That's fine by me," Katie replied with a sigh, laying back on her bed with arms spread, sheets only up to her navel. She closed her eyes and laid there while hearing Zaria rinse off and give a bit of soap to clean herself off.

Her eyes didn't open until Zaharia walked up to her with pants already on, her fingers working at buttoning her beige uniform shirt up to her cleavage by the time Katie saw her. She admired the curves Zaria's plump breasts created under the uniform and smiled. "Guess it's business as usual then."
She nodded in exasperation while finishing the buttoning job and checking her rank insignia, two gold pip and one black, to make sure they were on her collar properly. "Katie, I'm starting to think this isn't working," she finally said to Katie while reaching for her discarded commbadge.
"What do you mean?"
"What I mean is that it seems every time we're starting to really go at it, one of us gets some damned call." Zaharia walked into the nearby head and came back out with a brush, looking back while brushing her hair to give it some semblence of neatness. "I'm ready to just stop trying."
She heard Katie's sigh from the bed. "Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm God damned sure."
"We could just tell Sebastian and your seconds to not disturb us," Katie pointed out while slipping out of her bed, still nude. She walked up behind Zaharia and tried to wrap her arms around her.

"For one thing, don't do that." Zaharia pulled away from Katie and turned around. "I don't want to get fluid on the uniform, Katie, they'll never let me live that down." She saw the hurt expression on Katie's face and sighed. "Katie, we knew this was going to be tough when they assigned me to the Minneapolis. It's not like we're junior officer roommates who have our off times to ourselves. You're the Commander of the ship and I'm the Chief Engineer. We're technically on call 24-7, you know what I mean?"
"Yeah, I know." Katie crossed her arms.
"And we can't just tell our subordinates not to call us. This isn't some pissant merchant ship, this is a Starfleet cruiser, y'know what I mean? Now get some underwear on or get into the shower, your body is distracting me." Zaharia allowed herself an amused grin, to try and cheer Katie up.
Katie obediently slipped on the pair of underwear she had been wearing before. She followed Zaria to the door, staying to its side so nobody on the outside could see her if it opened. "Going to come back when you're done?"
"No. I'm going to use the opportunity to crawl into the starboard nacelle accessway to replace one of the backup plasma valves. That's why I'm not wearing my jacket. It's going to be hard enough considering...." Zaharia looked back at her. "And then at 1200, you and I are supposed to meet the others in Holodeck 2 to complete that module for finding the Dragon treasure, remember?"
"Oh yeah, that."

"I've got a new spell I want to try out." Zaharia's expression finally softened and she walked up to Katie, wrapping her arms around Katie's shoulders. "Katie, cheer up. It's not like we actually got interrupted."
"Yeah." She planted a kiss on Zaria's lips, a gentle and sensuous one, before letting her move away and out the door. Katie sighed loudly and went toward her shower. Her body felt a little weak from all of the pent-up energy she had released during the sex, so she washed very quickly and with a minimum of effort. After getting into a clean pair of underwear, she replicated a glass of soda before easing into the chair and bringing up her monitor. She would eventually have to eat, considering she had a four hour watch from 0800 to 1200 (she was going to have Commander Breit relieve her about ten minutes early so she had time to change into her role-playing costume for the game) which was only an hour away.
By 0725, Katie had finished looking over the things that her Yeoman Petty Officer Janice Berkowitz had left her. After signing the appropriate forms and approving all of the correspondence that was to be sent, Katie replicated a light breakfast of sausage, eggs, and bacon; it was finished by 0740, when she got into her uniform. Katie walked out of her quarters while slipping her gray-shouldered black uniform jacket on. She was in the turbolift about the time she affixed her arrowheaded commbadge onto her left breast.

Katie emerged onto the bridge of the Minneapolis. The bridge was of similar layout to the Enterprise, save the lack of a sensor station; Akira-class ships did not have the sophisticated sensors that necessitated seperating sensor operation from the rest of ship operation. The helm and operations were in front of the captain's chair, an engineering station was behind the chair, weapons were to the rear and right of the chair, and communications to the rear and left. Falon Kaeyr, the male Rigelian lieutenant who served as the ship's communications officer, turned in his seat to face Katie as she came out of the port turbolift. Katie had gotten used to Kaeyr's Vulcanoid appearance, taking care not to confuse the often emotional and quirky Falon for a Vulcan; Rigelians like Falon were superstitious to a fault. Fortunately he was an urban Rigelian from one of the offworld communities, and generally human-like in his behavior, unlike the numerology-obsessed agrarian Rigelians of Rigel V. "Captain Berger," he began, but before he could continue Katie waved him off and walked toward the center chair.
Lt. Commander Kathy Hall was seated there, overseeing the Ensigns at the helm and operations. She looked back to tactical to see her husband's number two man, Lieutenant J.G. Zak Kebron, looking over the ship's weapons. Kebron was a Brikar, a massive humanoid with a stone-like skin and extreme physical strength and durability. He was often compared to a walking mountain and scuttlebutt on the Minneapolis was that whenever he walked you could feel the vibration in the bulkheads across the entire ship. Martin had tried to talk him into joining the role-playing team a few times, stating he'd make an excellent ogre, but Kebron wasn't quite the type for light-hearted RPGing; he was rather dour and stoic in his behavior.

Katie paid the behemoth no heed while stepping up to the command chair. Kathy slipped out of it and stood to her full height, which didn't reach a hundred and seventy centimeters. She was about the same age as Zaharia but yet was very different. Kathy didn't quite have Zaharia's brand of geeky, seductive demeanor, but she had her own form of that demeanor along with a graceful beauty reliant more upon her gentle spirit and manner - not to mention her beautiful singing voice - than any physical aspect; it was no strange thing that her husband loved her so strongly. She stood at perfect attention and in her West Virginian twang informed Katie that Captain Parker was calling a meeting of the squadron COs and XOs at 2100 hours. Katie nodded and replied, "Commander, you are relieved."
"Thank you, Captain. Now to meet Martin for some dinner, we'll need plenty of energy for our adventure later today." She winked at Katie before turning away.
Katie eased into her seat while Kathy went to the starboard turbolift. This was where she belonged; the command chair, leading her beloved ship through the void. Katie asked for the names of the Ensigns at the helm and Ops and was quickly informed of their identities; the Kenyan-born male at Ops was Robert Pnyango and the Bolian female at the helm was Majisk Doolt. Berger turned her attention to the status screen beside her. Watch duty could be boring at times, but that was the price one paid for command.




There were disadvantages to commanding Defiant-class ships. That much Misty Greene had realized upon stepping into the gymnasium on board the Enterprise. She would have wagered good money that the largest deck on the Valiant could have fit into the gym, and she wouldn't have been too far off. The gym was, after all, built to accomodate the twelve hundred crewmembers on the Enterprise; there were more officers and senior noncoms on the Enterprise than there were crew on the Valiant, Avenger, and Great Lakes combined. And there were privileges to serving on her that one could not get on a small cramped Defiant. The gym was just one such privilege. So was the ladies' locker room.
Misty's Ops Officer, Ensign Christine Bennington, was standing half-naked beside Misty. For a moment, the twenty-three year old Kiwi looked into the nearby mirror wearing only thigh-length black jogging shorts, which reflected her muscular physique. Christine's body was well-built, an athlete's body, with minimal curving from the lack of body fat. That naturally meant that her breasts were little more than the pinkish nipples and aureolae that Misty could see out of the corner of her eye. "Breasts, bah, who needs 'em?" Christine let out a very girlish giggle and began to slip on her Starfleet-issued sports bra which was the same beige color as her service uniform. "It's so silly to see girls want those fat-filled balloons on their chests just to get laid. They're so bloody awkward."

There were times when Misty would have joined right in with the younger and less mature Christine - she could be very immature herself for a thirty-two year old woman - but currently she was not in the mood for immaturity. Misty finished pulling on her own bra and was simply looking forward to finally getting some good jogging and weight-training in. On the Valiant, the extent of her physical exercise was to jog around the habitation deck once a day, and Misty much preferred more strenuous physical exercise to keep her own impressive physique. She blocked out Christine's prattling about the strain of large breasts on the backbone, preferring to brood over the unexpected change of course. She had been looking forward to a little downtime at DS6 just to get out of that cramped little ship of her's. And she knew Jane - her XO Lt. Commander Jane April - was interesting in getting to a holodeck so her own sword-wielding skills didn't get rusty. Misty thought of Jane, who was back on the Valiant maintaining her at Warp 6 to Sigma Agalis. She had matched velocity with Enterprise perfectly, as was her custom, enabling ship-to-ship beaming to be done safely at warp.
Thanks to the subspace nature of transporter technology a ship-to-ship beam at warp was a lot like moving along a cable or a tether, this one made of energy. So long as the two ships matched velocities exactly it could be done safely. Still, it was not something Misty did often; she did it now because of her ship's physician's needling her about gaining two kilos since the start of the deployment. One of these days Misty was going to wipe that arrogant smirk off of young Julian Bashir's charming face.
Misty looked over to see Christine pulling her long auburn hair into a ponytail. Both women were only half-Caucasian, but Misty's Filipino blood wasn't quite as obvious as Christine's Maori heritage. Her auburn hair mixed strangely with her light bronze complexion and blue eyes, giving her an exotic appearance. Between her exoticness and youth, Christine was very attractive; moreso than Misty, something the older woman had admitted when the Ensign had first come aboard Valiant as one of only a dozen Academy graduates from her class to score high enough in Operations testing to qualify for Operations Officer duty on a Defiant as a first assignment.

They finished changing and did a few warmups before walking into the weight room. There were already a dozen or so men and women milling about. Some had taken machines and others were just standing around talking. "I've got a watch in three hours," Misty told Christine, "and you're on with me. Let's get our lifting over with so we can grab something from the officer's lounge."
"Yeah, something other than replicator food," Christine said with her nose curled up. "Sometimes I wish I'd just taken a posting on a larger starship."
"We all make sacrifices for jump-starting our careers," Misty commented wryly. She and Christine walked over to a bench and Christine laid back on it. "I thought age, and rank, came before beauty?"
Christine grinned widely. "I'm young and impatient, so I go first."
"How much?"
"Forty-five kilos as a starting weight is good, don't you think?"
"For a warm-up set? You only weight about fifty-five kilos," Misty pointed out. "You're not that strong."
"Watch me!"
Misty rolled her eyes and kneeled down to pick up two ten kilo barbells. She placed two ten kilos and a 2.5 kilo on each side and moved to the head of the bench to spot for Christine.

Christine managed to do the entire set, but it was rather obvious she had strained herself when she sat up and began rubbing her biceps and shoulders. "Guess I'm not as strong as I thought."
"Obviously not." Misty pulled the 2.5 bells off and then one 10kg bell on each side, replacing them with 5s. "Thirty kilos, excellent weight for warm-ups."
They switched places and Misty very easily finished the set, doing just enough effort to warm up for the heavier weights. Christine replaced her without comment and did a set on her own with just as much ease.
They raised the weight afterward. Fifty kilos was the next set they performed and it was obvious that Christine's early set had worn her down; she took longer to finish her set than Misty did. They moved up to sixty kilos next and both were sweaty by the time they finished. An invigorating but painful fire filled their muscles and they took the time to flex a little when done.
After the next set of sixty kilos, it was clear they had hit the limit - Misty was clearly strained by the tenth rep and Christine had barely managed to finish - and they stopped to rest for a bit. Misty reached into their bag and pulled out a pair of bottles filled with cold ice water. Christine poured some of her's on her forehead, letting it run over her skin down to her chest with the fluid mingling with her sweat the entire way. Misty didn't bother, opting to drink first. "Enjoying your second deployment?"
Christine finished gulping a mouthful of water and twisted the cap back on. "It's going well. But I still hate those cramped little things."

"Well, Defiants weren't built for pleasure cruises, Christy." Misty took another drink before putting her cap on. She picked up a towel and wiped the sweat off her neck. "They're small gutpunchers."
"They were also supposed to be assigned to central stations for local border patrol or fleet support," Christine added. "So why did two get slapped onto a roving squadron? We're too cramped to be out in space for weeks on end."
"Because that's what Starfleet wants. I guess they figure that the big ships of the squadron can carry enough supplies for us." Misty shrugged and wiped her hands together. "Want to get started again?"
Christine nodded and they stood up together to put weights on the bar. Her blue eyes looked in one direction and widened a bit. "Woh, she looks strong."
Misty turned her head to see what Christine was talking about. She recognized the woman about four benches over as Lt. Commander Carter. She was wearing similar clothing to Christine's, though she stood about fifteen centimeters taller. She was using a bench press machine so she didn't need a spotter. There was some exertion on her stern features when she pushed up the double-handled center-bar, hooked by a pulley to a stack of weights. The selector had been slipped into a weight labeled 80. Misty walked up and noted that despite the height difference, Carter didn't look that much stronger than them. In fact, her muscles were definitely less-defined, though she still had an athletic appearance. "Commander Carter?" Misty walked up to her as Carter brought the bar back down. "You're looking good."
"I'm not feeling good, though." She grunted and pushed the bar back up before slowly bringing them down. "Need something, Commander Greene?"

"I was just curious. Eighty kilos is a lot of weight and you don't look like the body-building type." Misty looked over at Christine, who was standing at some distance.
"Ah." Carter grunted and pushed the bar up again. She brought it back down quickly this time and sat up on the bench. Her eyes turned to Christine. "Haven't seen you around here before."
"I'm the Operations Officer on the Valiant," Christine replied in her pronounced New Zealander accent. "Ensign Christine Bennington. It's an honor to meet you, Commander."
"You look too young." Carter offered her hand and Christine accepted it. The two women squeezed hard enough to gauge each other's strength; it was a mutual iron grip that caused Carter's lips to curl into a slight smile. "Strong, though. Athlete?"
"Star player for the Academy Soccer team," Christine boasted. "I made starter for Earth's Team a couple of years ago."
"Yeah, I remember you now. You played a great game in the Federation Cup Semi-Finals. If the New Tuscans hadn't been on fire like that...." Carter's expression softened. "Earth might have brought home the Cup."
"Yeah. I was lucky, really. If the Cup hadn't been hosted on Earth, I would have had to turn down my place on the team. I'm still surprised I managed to get straight A's in my junior year."
"Ah, a regular prodigy, huh?" Carter rested her elbows on her knees. "So, come over to get some lifting in?"
"Yeah. You don't look so good, though." Misty's eyes lowered. "Having trouble sleeping?"

A phantom pain shot up Carter's spine. She could hear a whisper in her mind going There are four lights and it took a moment for her to banish the thought. "You could say that."
"The pressures of the position or something?"
Christine's question was innocent in intention, but it made Carter glare at her. "Let's see you go through two and a half days of intense torture and not have any nightmares about it."
The venom in Carter's tone caught Misty by surprise, even if it was to be expected. Christine, on the other hand, paled. "Oh my God, I didn't realize you were.... I'm so sorry. I didn't mean...."
Carter raised a hand. Her expression softened once more upon seeing how badly she had rattled Christine. "It's okay, I know you didn't mean anything by it."
"So, Commander, how do you manage eighty kilos anyway? You don't look a gram over sixty-five yourself."
"Sixty eight kilos, last time I checked," Carter replied. "I lost a few pounds thanks to Madred."
"Okay, but you still don't look like you do a lot of lifting."

"Just enough to keep these." Carter flexed an arm and showed off a bicep. She did look a little strong in the arms, at least compared to the rest of her body. "If you really must know, I had some gene-engineering when I was an infant." She noticed the surprised look on their faces and frowned. "I know what's going through your mind. No, I'm not the next incarnation of Khan Noonian Singh. My parents were colonists on a high-G planet, Tangara. All of the children born on the world had to have engineering to increase the tensile strength of our muscles so that we wouldn't develop heart problems while growing up. It was only an increase of 25% over norm, not the 300% increases that Khan and his followers had. So I'm not superhuman. Believe me. You want a superhuman around here, go see Commander Razmara. She benches 140 easy."
"Oh." Misty nodded, seemingly a little impressed with Razmara's weight achievements. "It's just that, well, I thought the Federation outlawed gene-engineering?"
"They outlaw gene-engineering to a certain extent, or to improve brain capacity. My modifications were within the letters of the law. And even then it took ten years in the Federation Courts to stop getting harrassed by the police agencies.
"You're rather tall for someone from a high-G world," Christine noted. "Most of the high-Gers I've met never managed to get above 175 centimeters, even the men rarely break 180."
"My parents both came from tall families." Carter smirked from amusement. "Really tall families. Should've seen my cousins, or my parents at my age. I'm the runt of the litter." She looked over at the wall. "It's about 1045 hours. Perhaps you'd like to have lunch?"

"Maybe in a little bit," Misty said. "We want to get in some exercise before 1330, since we're due back on the Valiant at fourteen hundred for a six hour watch."
"Ah. Well, talk to you later then. I need to eat something and get some stimulants for my shift at 1200." Carter stood from the bench and gently poked Christine in the ribs. "Come back sometime, kid, I'll get the green out of you."
"I'll keep it in mind." Christine gently rubbed the part of her ribcage that Carter had poked while they watched Carter walk away. "Jeez, she's hardcore."
"Yeah. Real tough. I've had those nightmares too, actually." Misty shook her head. "I read the reports of what Madred did to her. Trust me, Christy, if either of us had been there, we would probably have been singing like canaries by the second morning."
"Sir?" There was a look of horror on Christine's face.
"Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, at least on my part. I had Advanced Survival training too. Did you?"
"Um, no."

"Ah, well..." Misty's eyes suddenly grew cold. "That just means I'll have to keep you safe, wouldn't want you ending up like that poor Trill Lieutenant who got shafted to permenant shore duty."
There was some horror lingering in those sweet blue eyes of Christine's; Misty supposed the Kiwi was pondering just what it'd be like to be a prisoner of Cardassians or any other race that practiced torture and did so liberally and brutally. Christine asked, "Why did she get shafted?"
Misty shrugged. "She gave in to the torture. She's damaged goods now, Christy." The horror returned to her younger officer's face, which Misty felt strangely relieved to see. Now Christine understood the full ramifications of what was being discussed. "Well, that's enough talk for now. C'mon, Christy, time's a-wastin' and I have some working out to catch up on. Gotta keep the Abs of Steel, y'know."
Christine took a moment before nodding, and the two women went to work finding other exercises to perform.



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Chapter 2


At 1900 exactly, Parker stepped into the Observation Lounge with Data beside him. As ordered, the entire command staff was present, leaving Lieutenant Jobrie in command on the bridge. Parker's place was at the head of the table, flanked by Razmara to the right and Data to the left, with Phong across from Carter, Larrisa across from La Forge, and O'Keefe across from Hamblin. Coleman was standing away from the table, munching on a hamburger from the pile Arno had sent up at Parker's request. "Lieutenant, please sit," Parker said to him, prompting Coleman to do just that. Parker walked up to the head of the table with Data and they slipped into their seats. All eyes turned toward Parker. "I'll remind you all that what I'm about to say is currently classified by Starfleet, for the purpose of security. We are currently on course to the Sigma Agalis system, ETA two and a half hours, with orders to rendezvous with the Trailblazer and bring aboard Admiral Jean-Luc Picard with staff."
Razmara asked, "What's he doing out here?"
"It seems that Admiral Picard has been tapped by the Starfleet diplomatic corps to serve as advisor to a negotiating team heading for Pi Agalis and Starbase 592." Parker put his hands together. "Once we bring Admiral Picard and his staff aboard tonight at 2200, we will go to warp to rendezvous with the Marlia Djaloi, a Betazoid royal cruiser carrying the Federation delegation to Starbase 592."
"Starbase 592 is awfully close to Breen and Talarian space," Carter mumbled. "I'll make sure to have my people keeping a close eye on the board during our watches."
"Just what is this delegation doing out here?"

In answer to Razmara's question, Parker replied, "They are going to negotiate a new treaty of alliance with the Talarian Steadhold."
A silence briefly gripped the room. "The Talarians, sir?" O'Keefe looked skeptical. "The same people who attacked us just because we had a few extra starships on the border?"
"The one and the same," Parker responded. "The Talarians are in a tight spot diplomatically, I'm told. The Tsen'kethi very nearly took the Rathmaka Sector from them in the recent border skirmishing, and the Breen have begun building up ships and troops on their border with Talar. Starfleet Intelligence has detected a number of high-level meetings between Tsen'kethi and Breen diplomats. It is Admiral Pressman's estimate that an all-out attack on Talar is imminent."
"If Talar were to be reduced, or outright conquered, it would severely impact Federation defense plans for this entire region," Data added. "Starfleet has been able to keep a minimum presence on the Talarian border since the war. Because of this, our defensive positions in the region are not up to standard, and the border would not be secure against the Breen or the Tsen'kethi."
"Our mission," Parker began, "is to provide security for the conference. Starfleet believes it is at risk from attack, within and without."
"Attack by whom?"

"Who wouldn't?" Carter snorted in disdain at O'Keefe's question. "The Breen, the Tsen'kethi, Talarians against the alliance, Cardassian or Romulan agents trying to stir things up...."
"Commander Carter is right. Additionally, the Enterprise's presence is meant to act as a gesture of goodwill to Talar." Parker folded his hands on the table. "The Talarians have been keeping tabs on us and are impressed by our recent operations against the G'kkau. We're invited to the opening banquet the day after we arrive, dress uniforms of course."
"Will we be docking with Starbase 592?"
"Unfortunately, no," Parker replied to Larrisa.
"It's too small," Carter added. "It's only a small sector command post, not a command center like a McKinley-type. The largest ships she can dock are Excelsior-class cruisers."
"I've been told that a transport ship from New Anatolia has been dispatched to carry all of the replacement parts and torpedoes we need," Parker assured the rest of his officers. "She'll be at Starbase 592 when we arrive. Anything else?"

Most of the questions that were asked pertained to operation during the negotiations. The general consensus was that they were on quiet lookout. Not too overt, since it might upset the Talarians - who were taking an extraordinary leap of faith on their part by agreeing to hold the negotiations in Federation space - but enough to make sure no surprises occurred. Larrisa suggested a few possibilities about using active sensors without alerting the Talarians - primarily relying on scanning mediums their technology could not access - while Coleman made noise about giving his squadron some real practice after spending most of the last month at warp. Data shared with the others the known technical data on the Talarians and La Forge, Carter, and Larrisa commented on it compared to their own. A brief layout of Talarian history and culture was also offered, as well as their political structure.

The Talarians weren't very advanced compared to their neighbors. Their military entry into the interstellar stage had been rather forced; initially holding an area larger than the current Steadhold, eighty years ago the Talarians had been subjected to a sudden and brutal attack by the expanding Breen. Five hundred million Talarians had lost their lives in the brutal struggle, many of them civilians slaughtered by genocidal Breen commanders. The Talarians had always been a martial people, but up until the Breen attack they had focused their violent tendencies inwardly in wars between the various Talarian nations, those wars kept in check only by the Steadhold's government. They immediately focused that aggression outward in a war of survival against the Breen; with great effort and loss of life the suicidal Talarian forces had stopped the Breen from attacking Talar itself, and they counterattacked enough to regain a bit of their space and thus form the modern Talar-Breen border. Since then the Talarians had been madly expanding their military. Their economy was in virtual ruins from excessive military spending, the fruits of which being a network of defensive installations, orbital weapons, underground bunkers and armories, and everything the Talarians needed to wage a defensive war of annihilation. In time of war, all adult Talarians served in the military, no matter their age or gender; in some respects they were similar to ancient Greeks.

Talarian society was patriarchal and matriarchal at the same time - mothers raised their daughters and fathers raised their sons, with very little inter-gender contact outside of the home or family-inspired social affairs. The leader of a family was typically the oldest member, with the exception for those who had lost their competence from age or disease (though this happened rarely as most Talarians committed ritual suicide upon learning of such diseases or upon realizing the onset of senility). Talarians married for political reasons and family alliances, usually; romantic love wasn't even considered in their pairings. The Talarians placed a great deal of emphasis in maintaining balance in their society in all things. Such was this drive that at one time their legislatures had between twice as large because there was a male and a female member for each seat.
The Talarian governmental system itself was republican. At it's base, the Talarians resembled the democracies of the classical Greeks, particularly Athens. Each community on Talar and in the colonies was governed by the adult population which convened in the community's Halk'Juthke - Community Assembly. These communities, in turn, elected one of their number (usually one of the senior members of a leading djak'geje - Great Family - of the community) to represent that community in the Planetary Assemblies - Palkuke'Juthke - and another member (typically a middle-aged member of a djak'geje) to be their representative in the Steadhold's Grand Assembly - Talarke'Juthke - which was the lower house of the central government on Talar.
In turn, the Planetary Assemblies governed their individual worlds, and appointed djak'jut (typically rendered into English as "Senator" or "Senators") to the upper house of the Steadhold's legislature, the Djakake'Juthke or Senate. The Senate was led by the patriarchs and matriarchs of the leading djak'geje of Talar. There were two halves of the Senate, each planet having a seat on each half; the Djakake'Mortura and the Djakake'Haltara, though for expediency the second halves of the terms were used in common conversation when one spoke in Talarian. The djak'jut of the Mortura - the "Lawgivers" - performed similar duties to the talar'jut of the Grand Assembly, by writing and proposing laws or voting on confirmation of treaties and agreements with other powers. The other half, the Haltara - the "Overseers" - held explicit veto rights and a simple majority of the Haltara could overturn legislation from both the Grand Assembly and the Mortura.

Both branches of legislature voted for the Provincial, Planetary, and Grand Juries - the judiciary of the Steadhold - and the Talarke'Torlura, which was rendered into English as the Grand Lord Protector, or more simply, the Lord Protector. The Lord Protector was typically a patriarch or matriarch of a high-ranking djak'geje on Talar and were carefully chosen based on the candidate's accomplishments, courage, virtues, wisdom, and above all else, commitment to the Law and to the defense of Talar. Notoriously ambitious family leaders never bothered applying, knowing that the Assembly and Senate would never elect them. Usually the Talarke'Torlura was an older and respected Talarian granted retirement from non-emergency military service and known for humble commitment to the preservation of the People, the Law, and the Steadhold. The Lord Protector's duties varied in peacetime and wartime. In peacetime, which the Talarians had seen precious little of these previous eight decades, the Lord Protector acted as an executive officer of the government, enforcing the laws passed by the Talarke'Juthke and Djakake'Juthke and directing government policy with their sanction.
The Lord Protector's wartime powers were vastly increased. He or she became a dictator like those found in the days of the Roman Republic on Earth; the Grand Assembly and Senate were reduced to little more than rubber stamps with only the power to make peace over the Protector's objections, and only then with an overwhelming vote. Other than that, the Lord Protector ruled supreme, censoring the Talarian press at his or her whim and commanding the military. Property could be confiscated or citizens imprisoned without trial on the authority of a seal-carrying agent of the Lord Protector. The Talarians were a very xenophobic people, after all, and to them any loss of freedom was an acceptable price to pay for survival against those who would destroy them. Would-be tyrants were kept in check by a tacit knowledge that the military would never support him or her over the Senate and Assembly; Talarians were fiercely individualistic, and without the spur of fear over aliens they would undoubtedly wage internecine wars with one another.
The digital clock on the wall, set above the brass models of prior ships named Enterprise, was flashing 20:25 when the last piece of food on the table was devoured by the staff. Parker was about to dismiss them when a call came from the nearby bridge. "Tevala to Observation Lounge," he heard Jobrie's sweet voice say, "we've got a ship on sensors. It appears to be the Trailblazer."

"Looks like a change of plans," Razmara muttered, standing up.
Parker stood up with her, as did the rest of the crew. He led them out to the bridge after calling in a pair of enlistees to begin cleaning the table. Jobrie vacated the center chair and stood to the side. Other bridge crew prepared to do the same before being waved down by their seniors. "Distance to Trailblazer, Lieutenant?"
"She's still about a few light-hours away, Captain," Jobrie answered, moving to the tactical console and slipping deftly into the seat, relieving the Benzite Petty Officer that had been seated there.
"Trailblazer is adjusting speed and course, Sir," Christine MacDonald reported from Sensors, with Larrisa standing nearby. "She looks like she's going to move in front of us.... she's dropping out of warp, Sir."
"Ensign Aoki, bring us out of warp once we're in range. Mister Vorka, signal the squadron as to that intention."
The young Japanese officer at the helm, a dark-haired girl named Yuna Aoki, responded immediately by manipulating her console. After half a minute her finger pressed the warp shutdown key and she replied, "Bringing us out of warp, Sir."
"Mister Corwin, put Trailblazer on screen."
The viewscreen flashed from open space to a view of a ship. The Trailblazer, emblazoned with the registry number NCC-79713, was a Mortan-class explorer ship. The Mortan (named after the leader of the first Andorian interstellar expedition) and her sisters - of which Trailblazer was the fifth - were a modified Miranda-class design. It resembled the Reliant-type subclasses that Parker had seen in various holovids and fleet archives, with a rollbar placed above the ship near the rear. On the Reliant-class it had a torpedo launcher pod, but on the Mortan-class it was a sophisticated sensor pod carrying an array of electronics and systems that likely rivaled the Enterprise's own sensor capability. He could see Larrisa's face light up as she looked over the ship's readouts. "Sir, maybe we can convince them to swap electronics?" Larrisa leaned over MacDonald and pressed a few buttons, calling up the Trailblazer's listing of systems on a display. "Her sublight sensors could beat our's hands down, Sir. I mean, our ECM capabilities and long-range systems are just as good, if not better, but her sublight scanners are more refined."

"She's an explorer ship, Lieutenant," Razmara reminded Larrisa. "She needs those electronics more than we do. Enterprise wasn't built to make detailed analysis' of stellar bodies and subspace phenomena."
"Doesn't mean I can't gawk, Sir," Larrisa said in cheerful reply. She and MacDonald began chatting and giggling as they compared Trailblazer's sensor loadout to their's, system by system.
Razmara looked to Parker, who slid into his seat and smirked in amusement. "Nothing wrong with a little envy, Commander," Parker said to her. "Besides, it's good to know our people enjoy their work, right?"
"Of course, Captain." Razmara sat in her seat.
"Trailblazer is hailing, Sir," Vorka said, turning his seat.
"On screen."
The man who appeared on the screen had dark hair and the rank pips of a Captain. He looked to be approaching middle age, but young enough to be in his 40s. "Enterprise, good to see you," he said. "I'm Captain Jack Crusher, Starship Trailblazer."
"Captain Adrian Parker, Starship Enterprise," Parker replied. "We didn't expect you so early."
"Yes, well, Starfleet called. We're needed in Sector 224, seems they've got some subspace anomaly popping up that's effecting warp travel and we're the closest ship with the right scanning equipment. We're going to beam Admiral Picard and his people over to you and be on our way."

"Good luck to you, Captain, and your new ship. She is new, isn't she?"
Crusher nodded. "This is her first deep space deployment, yes. We're heading for the Galactic Core for the next thirty-six months."
"Quite a long time." Parker shot an amused glance at Larrisa and MacDonald. "My sensor officers are gawking at your ship's hardware. They want to swap sensor suites."
"Ha!" Crusher chuckled. "Thanks for the compliment, but we're the ones who should be envious. That's a beautiful ship you've got there, better than our's."
"I don't know, Captain Crusher." Parker grinned out of a sense of diplomacy. "Trailblazer looks like she's a lovely ship in her own right, and I'm sure she can fly circles around the Enterprise."
Crusher looked around; apparently his bridge crew was getting a kick out of being complimented by the CO of the Federation flagship. "On behalf of my crew, I thank you. Admiral Picard is standing by to beam aboard."
"I'll meet him in our main transporter room. Enterprise out." Crusher disappeared, replaced by a view of the Trailblazer. Parker motioned for the other command crew to follow him. They filed into the main turbolift, just large enough to fit them all with some space, and went down to Deck 1 (the bridge was technically it's own deck).

On Deck 1 was Transporter Room 1, one of six in the ship and the one closest to the bridge. A Chief Petty Officer was on station, a dark-skinned Vulcan woman, who stood at attention as the command crew filed in. "Energize," Parker ordered, and her right hand gripped the lever for transporter operation and pulled it down.
Six figures materialized on the transporter pad, each holding a bag that he presumed was filled with clothes or a handful of personal effects. The lead one was mostly bald, with a half-circle of white hair around his bald head. He had a regal bearing to him, like a nobleman assessing his subordinates, and the admiral's pips to go with that attitude. Vice Admiral Jean-Luc Picard was friendly, however, when he extended his hand to Parker. "Captain Parker, it's quite a pleasure to meet you."
"Admiral Picard, welcome to the Enterprise."
"Have you assembled a meeting of your squadron's command staff yet?"
"That is scheduled at 2100 hours, Sir. We anticipated rendezvousing with Trailblazer during that meeting."
"Yes, well, plans do change. Allow me to introduce my staff." Picard brought forward a wide-shouldered man, with a trimmed black beard and hair to match. "This is my Chief of Staff, Commander William Riker."
Parker and Riker exchanged handshakes. Riker seemed to be looking at someone to Parker's left. Whether it was Razmara, Larrisa, O'Keefe, or Phong, Parker couldn't tell.
He had little chance to investigate, as Picard moved on to an auburn-haired woman wearing a uniform with a silver branch color, marking her as support personnel. Her rank insignia was that of a Senior Chief Petty Officer. "This is my personal assistant, Beverly Crusher."
"Chief," Parker said in greetings, shaking the woman's hand. "Any relation to Captain Crusher on the Trailblazer?"

"He's my husband," Beverly answered. Another woman stepped up beside him, younger and with shorter red hair. She had the rank insignia of a junior Lieutenant and was wearing the red of a command officer; Parker would estimate her to be no older than 25. "And this is my daughter Jacquelyn. Lieutenant Jacquelyn Crusher."
"Yes." Picard brought forward another young woman, a Vulcan who looked not a day over 20, at least for a human; like Jacquelyn she was a junior Lieutenant, but her uniform had the blue color of science, medical, and electronics-related officers. "And this is Lieutenant T'Dyra. Lieutenants Crusher and T'Dyra were sent along with us to join your crew. Lieutenant Crusher is on command line and is qualified for the helm, operations, and tactical; you can use her wherever you need her. Lieutenant T'Dyra was sent to replace Lieutenant Danvers" - Picard was referring to Larrisa's immediate subordinate - "who will be transferring to the Pat Tillman when we arrive at Starbase 592."
"Lieutenant Crusher, Lieutenant T'Dyra, welcome aboard." Parker studied T'Dyra's features closely. He reminded her of someone.
This left one last person. She was a dark-skinned woman, very humble in appearance with dark violet robes and a similarly-colored hat-like thing on her head. Her dark hair was long and well-kept. And while she didn't look too old, about 40, she carried herself like someone much older. "This is more of a personal advisor," Picard admitted. "And a good companion of mine. Her name is Guinan."
"Captain Parker." The woman's voice was soft and measured. She nodded respectfully and offered a hand. Parker took it and shook it carefully. "You're not as tall as the holovids make you look."

"The press is always making perceived heroes look larger than they really are."
"And you don't consider yourself a hero, Captain?" The question was softly-toned, but Parker felt like she was trying to be philosophical or something of the sort.
"I'm a Starfleet officer, ma'am, and I do my job. I take pride in my accomplishments, but I'm not going to let them get to my head."
"I see." Guinan nodded with approval at him.
Parker stepped back and introduced the rest of the command crew. While doing so, he noticed that there was an eerie resemblence between T'Dyra and Razmara. They sized each other up at their introductions and, while T'Dyra's face remained a mask of non-emotion, he could see that Razmara was wrestling with something.
However, his attention was quickly diverted back to Picard. "Admiral, I will signal for the other captains and officers to beam over immediately, we can hold the meeting now if you desire."
"It's quite alright, actually. Resume course to Starbase 592 and let the other officers beam over at the scheduled time for our meeting."
"Yes, Admiral. Commander Razmara can show you to your assigned quarters." Parker ignored Razmara's uncomfortable glance toward him. "Lieutenant Crusher, Lieutenant T'Dyra, you'll be roommates, since we've got one last junior officer room left on Deck 9. Lieutenant O'Keefe can show you to it, since he's just down the hall from you." He looked back to Picard and his entourage. "As soon as you're settled in, Sir, you can head to the Observation Lounge attached to our Bridge. The others should be there by 2100."

"Of course. See you then. Commander?" Picard looked to Razmara.
She nodded and walked to the door. "This way, Sir." She and Picard's entourage filed out. O'Keefe followed, leading T'Dyra and Jackie Crusher.
Data immediately spoke up. "Sir, my visual analysis of Lieutenant T'Dyra indicates she is a close physical match for Commander Razmara. Perhaps they are related?"
"Thank you for that observation, Data, I would have never guessed that on my own," Parker replied, trying and not succeeding to hide his sarcasm.
"Was that an honest reply, sir, or an attempt at sarcastic humor?"
"The latter, Mister Data," Parker answered.
"Ah."
"I can go check records if you want," Phong offered. "If T'Dyra is from Stovuk's family, you might want to keep her and Razmara apart."
"Maybe after I strangle the moron at Operations who assigned her here," Parker mumbled.
"It's a shame we're losing Ed Danvers," Larrisa remarked as they filed out of the room. "He's got a good eye. But it'll help his career to get boosted up to Sensor Officer. What class is the Tillman?"
"The Pat Tillman is a Saber-class starship," Data replied. "She is named after an American soldier killed in action during the final campaigns against Khan during the Eugenics Wars."
Parker rolled his eyes. "Thank you, Mister Data."
"Sir, according to my observations, you have never before made two straight remarks of false gratification from a mood of sarcasm." They filed into the turbolift again before Data resumed speaking to Parker. "I take it you are concerned about our mission?"
"Mister Data, please be quiet."
"Yes sir."




The spare quarters for Picard and his staff were on Deck 4, very near the turbolift. Razmara led them straight to the doors. "I'm afraid we only have three spare rooms, the rest of the squadron staff take up the other spare quarters," Razmara apologized.
"It's okay, Guinan and I will stay in a room," said Beverly.
Razmara nodded. "I'll have two crewmen deliver an extra bed to the room before the night is out." She stood back and let Beverly and Guinan enter the room. She led Riker and Picard further down the hall to their rooms.
Stepping up to the next door, Riker turned back. "You look like you're doing good, Commander Razmara."
"Thank you, Commander Riker," was Razmara's reply. "Find a posting yet?"
"Not yet," Riker said. "But thanks for asking." And without another word, he entered the room.
Razmara and Picard went down to the last room, the largest one. "Here is your room, Admiral. Call me or Commander Data if you have any questions. Or, if you'd like, I can assign one of the crew to you as an escort?"
"No, that will be quite fine." Picard opened the door. "You can step in if you like."
Razmara's first impulse was to refuse, but she decided to go in. Once inside, she listened to Picard confirm his voiceprint ID to the computer to register as the room's occupant. "Would you like something to drink before the meeting, Commander?"
"No thanks, Admiral." Razmara kept her arms at her side. "But I took the liberty of programming Earl Grey tea into the replicator systems when I heard you were coming."

"Ah, thank you." Picard immediately went up to the replicator set into the far wall by the bed and ordered a cup of that very tea, making sure it was hot. He took a sip of it and nodded with approval. "More taste than the replicators on the Trailblazer," he said with a small grin. "I really must congratulate the designers of these replicator systems. But I didn't call you in to discuss replicators. Come, sit down." He slipped into the leather chair besides the desk, set aside for an officer to occupy. Razmara brought over a metal chair from the small kitchen and sat in it. "Your record is quite exemplary, Commander."
"Thank you, Admiral." Razmara tried to hide the suspicion she was regarding Picard with. Riker had been her leading competitor for the XO position on the Enterprise, and Picard's friends in Operations had encouraged Pressman and Leyton to assign him and not Razmara; Leyton, however, had made it Captain Harburton's decision, and Harburton had already known Razmara as his tactical officer on the Galaxy, so he picked her. Now she was wondering if Picard was going to take advantage of Harburton's retirement - done while rumors were spreading that he and Razmara had an illicit love affair during their time on the Galaxy - to try and get Riker into her position.
"Despite your age, you qualify for a command of you own, you know," Picard remarked.
"I've heard such things."

Picard took another sip. "You're a fine young officer. It would be quite the accomplishment." He put his cup on the table. "In nine months time, the new Stargazer is going to be commissioned, the third of the Voyager line. I'd like to offer her to you."
Razmara was quite surprised that he was offering her a new ship; she'd assumed she'd be offered an older one, an Oberth at least, since it wouldn't require a promotion to Captain. "I've only just been assigned to the Enterprise, Sir."
"Yes, well, you'd have time to finish this deployment before reporting to Antares to oversee the Stargazer's final completion and shakedown cruise." Picard folded his hands together. "It would be a great opportunity, and from there you could receive promotions to larger ships. Do well enough, and you may even have your own Sovereign by the time you reach forty-five."
There was no immediate response from Razmara. The offer was... tempting. But she wasn't sure she wanted to leave the Enterprise, which was certainly a more promising posting. There was just as much a chance that Picard could be overstating his pull with Operations; if so, she'd be deprived of her post on Enterprise and find herself in operational limbo, waiting for another new posting.

But a Voyager-class starship would be a stepping stone to larger commands. The new ships were just small enough for her to get a good handle on command, with a crew of barely a hundred and fifty, while advanced enough that if she did well, her career would hit the fast track.
Picard took the last sip from his tea and placed the empty cup and saucer on the table. "Take the time to think about it. In fact, I won't be expecting your answer until Enterprise's current deployment is over in four months time." Picard stood from his chair and straightened his uniform jacket. "I believe that the briefing with the command staff will be coming soon enough. We should join Captain Parker on the bridge."
"Of course, Admiral." Razmara stood and followed Picard out. In her mind, she was still weighing the risks. She could risk losing what she has now.... and yet get so much more....




Picard and Riker entered the Observation Lounge behind Parker. The members of the squadron's command staff were assembled already; the twelve COs and XOs of the six other ships plus Commander Petersen, the Intrepid's Wing Command Officer, as well as the four staff officers assigned to Parker and Enterprise for the purpose of helping him run the squadron.
The lead staff officer, his Chief of Staff and an officer with extensive contacts and experience in the Diplomatic Corps, was Commander Felix di Montecuccoli. His full name was actually Felix Agostino Maria Raimundo di Montecuccoli; he was of aristocratic background, and looked the part with his rigid posture and green eyes shining with intelligence. Tall and wiry, with deep black hair that was well-combed, Felix had a Mediterrenean complexion from a life spent on estates on Italy's Tyrrhenian coast and on a family mansion on the Adriatic Sea coast of New Sicily. His left cheekbone bore a scar, possibly from fencing or some other activity, giving him the appearance of a man who had an active youth. When he spoke, it was with a slight Italian accent, though it mostly sounded like an Englishman's voice.
After he greeted Picard and Riker came the squadron's quartermaster, Lt. Commander Laurie Hicks. She stood at about a hundred and sixty-five centimeters with a solid build. Her round face was set with a slightly-large nose, lips of moderate thickness, and hazel-green eyes. Her shoulder-length brown hair had a trace of auburn to it.

The next man was a dark-skinned Human of African descent. Lt. Commander Joshua Williams was the squadron's tactical officer, usually advising Parker on the squadron command bridge and relaying updated target data and movement orders to the other ships and fighters of the squadron. His height was about a hundred and ninety centimeters and he had brown eyes and short-cut black hair.
The final member of the staff was the squadron's intelligence officer. Lt. Commander Kristina Ivanova was a hard-looking Russian Jewess of about a hundred and seventy centimeters height. She was solidly-built and athletic, with cold gray eyes and dark brown hair. A scar ran down the left side of her face, from her temple to her jaw, a leftover of Cardassian torture. Parker had heard her story with the others when the squadron staff had joined the ship early in June.
Kristina was the elder daughter of two Russian Jews on the colony world of New Murmansk, an arctic world in the Phi Strassman system near the Cardassian border where eighty percent of the planet was under arctic conditions, save a thin strip of the planet about ten percent on each side of the equator, which was still mostly subarctic and temperate climate. What parts of her that the planet's conditions didn't harden were toughened up by Starfleet Survival training after she passed tests and became a field agent. The scar on her face was the result of a selfless operation during the war with Cardassia where she purposely allowed herself to be taken prisoner by the Cardassians for the purpose of giving them false information; information that cost them the defense of an entire border sector when they accepted it wholeheartedly (they had little reason to doubt the words of a desperate woman broken by brutal and prolonged torture). Since then Kristina had gone into staff work and analysis, but that hadn't taken away her personal edge and she had numerous contacts in the intelligence community and, apparently, the interstellar criminal underworld.

The introductions didn't even begin, though. Riker stepped around Picard and suddenly shouted in boisterous fashion, "Eagle!"
A return shout of "Grizzly!" came from behind Parker. He turned and saw Captain Patrick Phillips from the Intrepid walk by and move to shake Riker's hand. Instead of their right hands coming together, however, they gripped each other's right wrists. "Looking good, Grizzly," Phillips said. "Staff officer gig working out?"
"Better than I feared," Riker replied with a smile. "But I still want to get out on a ship again."
"Well, if Diane ever gets a command, you'll be the first guy I look up," promised Phillips.
"Hopefully you'll have something by then, Commander Riker," Petersen suddenly spoke up, walking up to the two men. "Because he's supposed to give me the XO spot."
"Will, this is Commander Garrett Petersen, we call him Slacker, because he's the laziest sonovabitch to ever serve as a WiCO on a carrier," Phillips declared.
The three pilots laughed for a few moments, drawing amused and annoyed glances from the others. "How's Zandra and the kids, Pat?"
"Doing fine. Pat's already getting ready for his pilot's exam. God knows he's going to beat our records, Will!"

More laughter came, but before they could continue, Parker and Picard leveled annoyed looks at them and they ceased, promising silently to resume their reunion later on the Intrepid. Parker introduced Picard to the others in short order. Commander Rosaline d'Orvilliers, the XO from the Hood, was immediately recognized by Picard from her days as an engineering officer on the Stargazer, and she endured his greetings in French, which to her was horribly tainted by Picard's accent. Picard did not, however, remember Captain Marina Lenarova of the Great Lakes, also a former junior engineer from Picard's old command, and had to be reminded of his prior acquaitance with the Slavic redhead.
When everything was done, they settled in for the general briefing. A couple of Third Class Petty Officers arrived with more food from the Lounge for the new arrivals - apparently Arno was actually staying up late to cook the Pacifica Sheepbird that he had bragged about, and the cooked bird did indeed look very appetizing when it was set onto the table - while Picard began the briefing. He gave a brief layout of the political situation to the others, discussing the Talarian entourage and their likely objectives, plus the preliminary treaty terms agreed to over subspace. He also laid out the recent problems the Talarians were having with their neighbors and the likely requests for technology that would serve as the linchpin for an alliance between the Federation and the Steadhold, which Picard expressed as hopefully being the first step into Talarian admission into the Federation in a few decades.
Finally Parker asked the question he'd been waiting for. "Admiral, forgive me for asking, but why did they send you out? An Explorer Corps admiral on a diplomatic mission?"

Picard took a drink of the New Tuscan wine Arno had sent up (Felix had apparently asked for it) before replying, "Cultural reasons. The Talarians, as has been pointed out, are very insistant on balance in things. They are sending one male and one female military negotiator to the conference, as well as the daughter of their Lord Protector to lead their negotiating team. Thus the Federation has decided to match that by a negotiation team led by a woman of high social rank on Betazed, since the Family of the Lord Protector is very highly regarded one, and one male and one female admiral. Vice Admiral Connaught Rossa has been sent from her posting on Starbase 338 from her personal experiences with dealing with Talarians, and as I've met with them before during my own exploration missions, I was tapped to be the male counterpart."
"I see." Parker nodded in acceptance of Picard's explaination. "Admiral Rossa, I don't think I've met her."
"She's a very good woman. Heartbroken, though. Her only son, Connor, was killed during the Talarian offensive on Galen. His wife and infant son were listed as missing after the attack and written off as dead when the war ended." Picard folded his hands together. "Admiral Rossa overcame her grief and helped to negotiate the Treaty of Alpha Magnetai with Ambassador Spock and then-Captain Leyton. The Talarians respect her very much, and from my own experience she is a decent woman and a good officer."
There were nods; any misgivings about someone with a personal stake evaporated. "And the Betazoids we're linking up with?"

"Ambassador Lwaxana Troi is coming, accompanied by her daughter Deanna."
Most of the people in the room were astonished to see the shock on Parker's face. He stopped the glass of Tuscan wine a quarter of an inch from his lip and slowly put it back down, clearly struggling with himself. "Deanna Troi is her name?"
"Yes. A remarkable young woman. A psychiatrist in training and very lovely I'm told. She was once part of the team Starfleet created for testing the idea of attaching psychologists to starships on long-term deployments to help maintain the mental health of the crew."
Parker's composure had been temporarily compromised, but he recovered quickly. He noticed, however, that some of those at the table were giving him looks. Mostly people who had heard his stories from eight years ago about romancing a beautiful young Betazoid psychologist assigned to his ship at the time, the Starship Agamemnon.
A young Betazoid named Deanna Troi.
Eight long years, and now he would finally be facing her again. Parker quite literally didn't know what he was going to do.



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Chapter 3




The meeting ended with the dinner having just been completed. Almost immediately Phillips walked up to Picard with Petersen beside him. "Sir, if you don't mind, we're going to steal your Chief of Staff tonight. I need to show the young hotheads back on my ship what a real pilot is like."
Picard looked at Riker. "Will?"
"I've got no problem with it," replied Riker with a wide grin.
"Well, we are still thirty-six hours away from Starbase 592, so I suppose you have plenty of time to catch up on your old exploits." Picard smiled diplomatically. "Go ahead, I'll see you tomorrow at noon."
"Yes, Admiral." Riker and Phillips grinned at each other and walked out, followed by an equally-amused Petersen and a very confused Diane Howard.
Picard watched Riker leave, followed by the officers from the Valiant, Avenger, and Minneapolis. Commander Hicks led most of the squadron staff out as well, aside from Felix. Parker was still sitting at the table and did not pay attention when Felix and Marina Lenarova approached Picard. Captain Irvine and Commander d'Orvilliers, as well as Commander Ariel Shaham from the Great Lakes, stood nearby. "Sir, do you have any plans for tomorrow evening?"
Picard shook his head in response to Felix's question. "None at the moment."
Marina spoke next. "Well then, Sir, we would like to invite you to our weekly meeting of the minds, such as it is. Captain Parker is kind enough to loan us one of his conference rooms each Friday night and we arrange a dinner with the Enterprise's mess."

"It is an intellectuals' gathering, Sir," Felix explained. "A discussion and debate on issues of intellect, above the daily tedium of starship duty. And given your own interests in archeology and history, we would value your insight in whatever discussions happen to come up during the night."
For a moment Picard did not react. He looked between them and started to nod. "Why, yes, I'd be delighted."
"Good. We usually start at 1900 hours, give or take fifteen minutes to give the others time to wash up and beam over to the Enterprise. We'll see you tomorrow night."
Picard confirmed he'd be there at the proper time and watched them walk out. He turned back to Parker, who was staring out the window at the warp streaks surrounding the ship. "I take it that you have a past history with the Ambassador's daughter?"
"It's that obvious." It wasn't a question. Parker turned in the chair to face Picard. "It was eight years ago. I was Tactical Officer on the Agamemnon. We seperated after I was offered a promotion and the XO posting on the Yamato."

"It's an old story. You were a rising star in Starfleet, and she asked you to give all of that up for her."
"That's what I thought at the time." Parker folded his hands together. "But looking back, I can't help but wonder if that's just what I thought. Her father was Starfleet, and was killed in the line of duty when she was seven. She told me how it devastated her mother, and hurt her, and I realized that we could never make it work if I stayed in Starfleet. I didn't give her the actual choice."
"Well, certainly things have changed. She is of noble blood on Betazed and has probably found a suitor by now." Parker nodded absent-mindedly and Picard walked up to him. "We all have our regrets, Captain." Picard rubbed his chest, over the point of his heart. "Things in the past we wouldn't mind changing, for whatever reason."
Parker very nearly continued, remembering the last question Deanna had asked him before he left the Agamemnon. Did you ever love me? she had asked. Parker hadn't answered her then. He knew he couldn't now. All this time, and a couple of lovers in the intervening years, and deep down Parker wondered if Deanna had been the one.

"You're right, Sir."
Picard nodded. "Before I go, I consider it fair to inform you that you may need to look into getting a new Executive Officer when you return to Earth."
Parker looked up at him. "Oh?"
"Commander Razmara is an extraordinary officer. Because of her record, I've offered her command of the Stargazer."
"I thought your old ship was retired?"
"It was. This is the new Stargazer, Voyager-class."
"And what did she say?"
"Nothing yet. She still has the rest of the deployment to consider it." Picard waited for a moment before considering. "As a courtesy, I'd like you to consider Will Riker for the position."
"I thought that was up to Admiral Leyton?"
"It is, but Admiral Leyton always considers the opinions of a CO before confirming an assignment. And Will was on the list right beside Commander Razmara when Captain Harburton was given the choice."

Parker nodded. "I see. And Leyton just left Razmara there when I came in." Parker stood up. "Well, Sir, I'll consider Will if it comes to that. Though I have a few ideas of my own as well, so I can't promise anything."
"It's quite alright. This was merely a request." Picard drew in a sigh. "Will... is not suited for staff work. I've tried to get him back into carrier command but there will be no open billets for the next two years. By then, he'll have been desk-bound for so long I can't imagine he'll compete well with younger officers."
"As I said, Sir, I'll give him all consideration he's due."
"Thank you, Captain." Picard turned and walked toward the door. "The next meeting is tomorrow at 1300, right?"
"Yes Admiral. But this one is limited to Commanders Razmara, Data, Montecuccoli, and Ivanova."
"I'll have Beverly in attendance as well." Picard pressed a button on the door and it opened, revealing the rear edge of the bridge. "Good night, Captain, I'll see you tomorrow afternoon."
Picard disappeared around the corner and the doors closed. Parker stood by the table and turned back to the stars whizzing by, still thinking of Deanna.
He then recalled that he had to be up at 0500 and went straight for his quarters.




In Intrepid, like all carriers in Starfleet, had multiple officer lounges to accomodate the fighter pilots and Sensor Information Officers as well as the ship's main complement. Because the ship had a complement of about 2,000 crew, including nearly 500 officers, there were four overall lounges. Two were for both sets of officers, one was reserved for main complement officers, and the fourth was the lounge reserved for pilot use. Normally they were called pilot lounges, but on the Intrepid, the pilots' lounge was called "Chappy's" and located on Deck 9 in the underbelly of the Intrepid's saucer.
Boisterous laughter filled Chappy's, accompanied by the clinking of glasses. Riker was seated at the bar, flanked by Phillips and Petersen. Various pilots and flight officers were in nearby seats and stools. Behind the bar was the man who had given the bar it's name and had been Intrepid's first CO; Captain Charles Sinclair, Starfleet (Ret.). The lights of the bar shined brightly on his ebony skin while he poured more drinks for a couple of the pilots at the bar.
"You were always getting on my ass like that," laughed Riker along with the others, after Phillips recounted a story involving Riker, a daredevil flying stunt, and how then-Squadron CO Phillips had chewed Riker out.
"You were my wingman, Will, I was supposed to," Phillips retorted, fighting back the laughter that came from their old stories. He and Riker had spent the last two hours recounting to the assembled pilots and second-seaters their exploits and the exploits of the other pilots they'd served with. "Then when you moved on, I had to take care of this little bastard." Phillips motioned to Petersen. "Fucking New Yorkers and their arrogance."

Petersen rolled his eyes in mock disgust. "Yeah yeah yeah, it's the same every time, it's not our fault that we 'fucking New Yorkers' live in the biggest fucking city in the Federation."
A catcall came from one of the pilots. "It's only the biggest because you sons-of-bitches took over most of Jersey and Connecticut!"
"Hey, hey, we need somewhere to dump our trash and send our rich fucks, y'know?" Petersen took another drink.
A young female voice called out, "What about your old people and your poor people?" The voice belonged to a young human woman, a junior lieutenant and pilot named Kylie Magnusson. The blue color of her eyes and Caucasian facial structure, not to mention her pronounced and firm bosom, went well with her yellowish complexion and low height; she was the product of a father of Swedish heritage and a Japanese mother.
Petersen snorted. "We've been sending the old folks to Florida for four hundred years now." A round of laughter echoed in the room. "And it'd cost too much to move the poor people, so we let them stay in their apartments, clean our windows, and sell us bad food on the street."

After another round of laughter, they returned to telling stories. Lieutenant Victoria Taylor - a dark-skinned woman of primarily African descent who commanded a squadron of Excalibur space-superiority fighters - took the time to remark about how much a flirt Riker was and on a particularly embarrassing situation he had prompted due to his skirt-chasing, causing Riker to blush and the others to guffaw at his expense. Riker took the ribbing in stride and the story-telling shifted to the Kraylor Incident of '61, when the newly-commissioned Intrepid had taken part in a strike against a Klingon base operating illegaly in neutral space. They spoke of dogfighting against the Klingon fighters sent against the carrier while the greater battle raged. A quarter of the pilots in the room, among the eldest present, chimed in with their own experiences in the battle while the younger pilots listened intently. At the end, Riker patted Phillips on the shoulder. "We didn't lose a single pilot at Kraylor, thanks to Eagle here." He raised his glass and called out for a toast, which the assembled pilots gave.
At one point, as the night wound down, they returned again to Phillips' tales of keeping a young and hot-tempered Will "Grizzly" Riker in line. Riker said little in defense as Phillips reminded him and those present of every stunt he had pulled. All of the ladies he had bedded (or tried to, more often than not), the times he had hotdogged and gotten in trouble with Phillips and the higher-ups, and of course, the barfights he had caused. One against Cardassians after the war, three fights with Klingons, one with Romulans, one with Orions, and perhaps the most embarrassing, one against a newly-arrived Vulcan pilot who, as Phillips said, "mopped the floor with Will's beard".
It was to everyone's surprise when a gruff voice called out from the bar, "Keep on yappin', Phillips. Because you were even worse!"

All eyes turned to Sinclair, who was cleaning a glass. Phillips smirked and looked at his former mentor and CO. "Yeah, yeah I was."
"You chased every skirt you saw, you got written up more times than I care to count, and you were the most hotheaded sonovabitch I ever had to deal with," Sinclair continued. "If you hadn't been such a good pilot, Starfleet would have kicked you to the curb your first year!"
Before Phillips could raise a voice in protest, Sinclair began regaling the others with tales of his behavior. And, indeed, it was worse than what Phillips had said about Riker. A number of the younger pilots laughed mostly because they had trouble reconciling the strict and unforgiving Captain Phillips with Sinclair's memories of his early career. After one of the stories, Phillips finally broke in and retorted, "Dammit, Chappy, I was just trying to be friendly."
"So that's why the constable at DS2 told you that if he ever saw you step foot on his station again, he'd haul you to the brig?" Sinclair pointed an accusing finger at him. "The only reason he didn't anyway is because I talked him out of it. Hell, you'd have been a dead-end if I hadn't gotten lucky and found you a woman."
A smile crossed Phillips face. "That you did, Chappy, that you did."
"Fifteen years now, right?"
"Yeah. Patrick Junior's going to be twelve soon. He's already planning on being a pilot."
"Good." Sinclair wiped down the bar. "Hopefully he'll give his squadron CO a better time than you gave me."

Phillips cringed visibly. Though it didn't hurt as much as some would think. Behind that scathing commentary, he knew Sinclair had a great deal of pride invested in Phillips' accomplishments. One of which entered the door to the lounge. She was probably the only non-pilot who could get away with doing so.
The ship's Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Drola Marskukas, entered the lounge, wearing her uniform trousers and shirt but not the jacket. It was still a snug fit, showing the attractive curves of her breasts and drawing a number of male eyes, including Riker's. Her brown hair flowed over her shoulders, drawn into a ponytail that went halfway down her back. Her emerald skin went well with the teal color of her uniform. Brown eyes shined upon seeing Phillips and Sinclair and she walked up to them. "Will, this is Drola," Phillips said to introduce them. "My Chief Medical Officer. Drola, this is Will Riker, an old wingmate of mine."
"Will." Drola's thick accent, similar to those who spoke the human language of Farsi on Earth, added to her exotic appearance.
"It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Doctor Marskukas."
"Please, call me Drola here." She slipped onto the stool that Petersen had just vacated for her. He went to join a conversation with Vicki Taylor and her pilots. "You've heard of me, Commander?"
Riker nodded. "First Orion woman to graduate from Starfleet Medical. That's not my field, but Beverly - Chief Crusher - was impressed."

"Oh?"
"She went in to be a doctor as well. But a change in plans happened." Riker looked deeper into Drola's brown eyes. They shined with intelligence and steel will. Riker could imagine her other attributes. She had a stunning beauty to her, in her face and in her body, and Riker couldn't help but consider what she would look like in a more personal setting.
"Undressing me?" Drola smiled at him as Riker seemd surprised. "Don't worry, I'm used to that look. Orion women have a very bad reputation in the quadrant thanks to the widespread use of slavery among my race, and many men believe that I am very easy to bed."
"I'm sorry if I've offended you."
"Oh, don't worry about it. Like I said, I'm used to it." Drola's eyes twinkled with a bit of mischief. "And when a handsome man gives me the look, it even makes me consider it."

Now that brought Riker's attention. "And what am I?"
"Somewhat handsome. The beard is what does it. Without it you would look too young." She turned to Sinclair. "Chappy, I would like a durlaytu."
The older man nodded and reached into his cabinent for the Orion liquor she had just asked for.
"Durlaytu is very strong stuff," Riker reminded her.
"It is, but it helps drown my mind so I can sleep well." Drola seemed to look into the distance for a moment. "Otherwise, my dreams are not very pleasant."
"Oh really?"
"I was once a slave, William," Drola informed him. "I won't tell you all of the gory details, but I promise you that if there is a way for a sentient being to feel pain, I am familiar with it."
Riker nodded solemnly. "I'm sorry, Drola. I didn't know. But, if I may..." He leaned closer while Drola took the bottle of durlaytu from Sinclair and sipped at it. "How did you get to Earth and Starfleet?"

A smile crossed Drola's face. "My owner's thugs were beating me for trying to escape when a young and noble Starfleet officer, a fighter pilot, came across us. He was half-drunk and on shore leave, but it didn't stop him from bringing down all three of my attackers. He then called for us to be beamed up to his ship. And that was that."
"Who was this officer."
Drola nodded forward, prompting Riker to turn. He realized she had nodded at Phillips. "Patrick?" Riker asked.
"I owe Patrick Phillips my life, Will Riker," Drola replied with a mirthless grin. "He saved me from a horrible fate and gave me a chance to find my true purpose in life. For that, I would follow him into the depths of the Abyss itself."




It was now morning on the Enterprise, 0800 to be exact, and Engineering was in chaos as a shift change was occurring. Commander La Forge stood beside the warp core's control panel, monitoring controls and keeping an eye on the various systems that needed to be maintained to harness the powerful and deadly reaction of matter and anti-matter in the core. He checked the dilithium recrystallization process once again and moved over to monitor the regular diagnostics that the computers ran on the ship's systems.
He immediately noticed that one of the ventral magnetic scanners was offline. He tapped his comm badge. "La Forge to Etps."
A male voice replied, "Etps here." Lieutenant Reginald Etps was his lead Assistant Engineering Officer, as well as the Damage Control Officer on the Enterprise. Young and very skilled, he had a knack for understanding the design of starships that even Geordi did not possess, making him an excellent choice for the ship's DCO. "What is it?"
"Did you take Magnetic Sensor D offline?"
"No."
"Well, someone did. And the controls are locked from here."
"That means someone is probably inside the damned thing. There were no repairs scheduled."
"Do you mind checking it out for me?"
A "hmph" came from Etps. "Fine, I'll check it out. But then I'm heading straight to bed until 1400."
"Thanks. And find out who decided to conduct an unscheduled repair. I'll give him or her waste extraction duty for a week."
"You're being generous. It's usually two." There was a snicker from the other end. "Etps out."




As an engineer and starship designer-hopeful, Etps really couldn't stand bad design work. And every ship in Starfleet had some flaw in it. Minute, usually, and not actually hampering operation, they nevertheless were pains in the ass to deal with.
One really couldn't complain about the existance of Jeffries Tubes so much as they could complain about their size. The Jeffries tubes were not prevalent throughout a starship, despite the misconceptions perpetuated by the ignorant entertainment industry. They didn't access every system aboard a ship, merely those built into the ship's frame, like torpedo launchers, phaser banks, and sensor pallets, plus the tubes leading between the main portion of the drive hull and the warp nacelles.
Unfortunately, they were also very small. Even someone as thin as Etps could find maneuvering hard in the more cramped tubes. Fighting the battle of space, the designers had left the tubes as small as possible.
He wormed his way into the access tube for Magnetic Sensor D, located on Deck 11 in the saucer. After slipping in, feet first, he slid into the ladder tube leading down to the sensor hookup with the tube. As he advanced further down the ten meter length of the the tube, Etps felt a growing chill. They were within a meter or so of space at thie point and the temperature was below ten degrees Centigrade. It was another design flaw in Etps's mind and likely intentional; the designers were probably penny-pinching the power draw.

By the time Etps got to the bottom he was ready to hurt whoever designed the tube system. There wasn't anywhere to go from here but a small tube, more of a compartment, from which the actual computer hardware inside the sensor could be manipulated.
The compartment had an occupant. Etps had to squat down to see who it was, since it was only about a hundred and fifty-five centimeters off the ground (which was barely seventy centimeters from space) and he stood at about a hundred and eighty seven centimeters. As the occupant had gone in feet first, Etps could see who it was. "Lieutenant Larrisa?"
"What is it, Lieutenant?" Larrisa asked. Her hands were not visible and her blue eyes remained intent upon her work. "And can you hand me that pair of tweezers from the box?"
Etps looked down at his feet and saw a small toolbox opened. There were tools in it ranging from hammers - which hadn't changed in centuries - to more sophisticated chip readers and diagnostic devices. He took out a black-handled pair of tweezers and reached into the tube to hand it to Larrisa. Larrisa took it with her right hand and reached it into the sensor's hardware. "There was no repair scheduled, Lieutenant, and Commander La Forge asked me to find out why the sensor was offline."
"This thing hasn't been right since that fight at Beta Mortoli," Larrisa replied, referring to a skirmish with G'kkau raiders about a week before. "They did get a photon torpedo through the shields at one point, remember? The defensive phasers got it before it could actually hit the hull, but we still got smacked by it's radiation when it exploded."

"My people went over the sensors with the diagnostics after the battle, they found nothing wrong." Etps frowned. It irritated him that someone from a completely different department, albeit one related to the equipment, was trying to do his job.
"Yeah, well, I did. I keep getting hang-ups from this sensor. I tried everything from my station but the computer insisted it worked."
"And, naturally, when the computer thinks it works but it doesn't, you decided to investigate personally."
"Yep. And now that I have Lieutenant T'Dyra and her qualifications to mind the sensors while I'm down here, I actually had the opportunity to get this done."
"Why not tell me about it?" Etps asked in an accusing tone while Larrisa began working again. She was apparently trying to get to something.
"I went to one of your subordinates, Lieutenant Martin, but he didn't seem too impressed with the idea that I was trying to tell him how to do his job."
"I'll have to make sure he's the one La Forge uses for waste extraction duty for a week, then," he replied. "So, anything wrong?"

"Yep!" Larrisa grunted with some exertion and seemed to pull something out. Etps got on one knee and looked into the tube. The tweezers were holding an isolinear chip which was darkened and burnt out. "One of the control chips, probably faulty in the first place and shorted out by the radiation. I have a spare in the box, give it and the chip installer to me."
Etps did so. "Yes, Lieutenant Martin will be in a great deal of trouble. Good thing you caught that." He reached into the box and took out a chip and installer to hand to Larrisa. He watched the blond-haired Edo insert the chip into the installer. The installer was a small gray device with an LCD screen, a port for isolinear chips, and a wireless hookup into the ship's computer. From the installer's menus, Larrisa loaded up the appropriate programming for the chip's function in the sensor system and installed it into the chip. The installer ran three checks to verify programming and each one passed, as indicated by green lights on the tool's screen. When this was done, Larrisa took the chip out and slipped it back into the sensor. She seemed to toy with it for a few moments from where Etps was kneeling before she brought her hands back out and her right hand tapped the commbadge above her left breast. "Larrisa to T'Dyra."
"T'Dyra here. Yes, Lieutenant?"

"Bring Magnetic Sensor D back online and run a complete check. Let me know if the problem is gone."
"Running now, Lieutenant." There was a short pause, during which Larrisa handed the chip installer back to Etps. "Sensor D is performing normally."
"Run a scan on something," Larrisa said. Etps listened as she laid out to T'Dyra the kind of "hang ups" she had been complaining about. T'Dyra ran the scan and reported that there were no sign of the reported "hang ups". Larrisa smiled and thanked her while setting back the sliding cover for the sensor hardware. "I'll be back on the bridge in about ten minutes. Larrisa out."

Etps stepped to the far side of the tube and gave Larrisa room to pull herself out. He had fifteen centimeters on the shorter Larrisa, but Larrisa seemed more filled out for her height. Etps let Larrisa climb up first, following after her. When they got back out to the deck, Etps straightened out his uniform. "Well, I'd better go report to Commander La Forge what was going on. Lieutenant, would you like some dinner later?"
A slight grin crossed Larrisa's face. "Sure. It'd be nice. My off-time for dinner tonight is from 1800 to 2000 hours."
"So are mine, fortunately. See you in Arno's?"
"Of course. I'll be there by 1810." Larrisa smiled at Etps and received a smile in return; the two parted for the next ten hours.




The ship's chronometer in Arno's Lounge read 12:30. Larrisa and Sharon Carter were seated together, having a light lunch of roast beef sandwhiches and a Rigelian fruit plate. They were still in uniform, though with their jackets off. The discussion of the lunch so far had been limited to the mission at hand. But during lunch Larrisa had noticed that there were bags under Carter's eyes. She finally asked her if she was doing well.
Carter looked into her younger comrade's eyes for a few moment. Their crystal blue color and the intelligence within them reminded Carter of Jadzia. That thought had to be banished, though, as it directly related to Carter's restlessness. "I can't sleep, Larrisa," Carter admitted. "I try, and it all comes back. Madred and Jadzia, being tortured...." She closed her eyes. "I don't know what to do."
Larrisa nodded solemnly. "Sharon, I'm not sure how I'm supposed to say anything, I'm afraid that I'll hurt you about what happened..."
"Just... talk to me, Larrisa." Carter smiled weakly. "You're a very sweet young woman and a fine officer. But it's the the first thing I want to speak with. What do you think I should do?"

"Well, I'm not sure." Larrisa drew in a breath. "It's been my people's belief that bad dreams are the result of repressing the lu'vreyko."
An amused smirk appeared on Carter's face. "So to stop having bad dreams, I should have sex?"
A playful wince appeared on Larrisa's face. "Well, there's more to expending lu'vreyko than sex, Sharon. Just do something pleasurable. Get a massage."
"Where am I supposed to find a masseuse on a starship?" Carter's smirk didn't disappear, but she held up a hand. "And don't tell me to go to a holodeck, I'd rather not fall asleep on one."
"Well, you just wanted advice." Larrisa grinned weakly. "Dreams can be bad, though. I still dream about my parents. Or worse."
"Yeah?"
"I dream," Larrisa began, "that I'm back on Edo. And that the Mediators are after me to kill me like they killed my parents. Or that they're after Danielle."
"Danielle?" Carter gave her a quizzical look. "Who is Danielle?"

"My gy'doma." Larrisa's smile grew stronger. "She lives in the enclave I spent part of my life in. We fell in love at a very young age."
"So you're with a woman."
"Yes. It's not very odd among my people, most Edo are bisexual. 'Pleasure shared is pleasure increased', after all." Larrisa seemed to look into the distance. "And we're not given the choice of whom we fall in love with. And Danielle Ortiz loves me, and I love her."
"What is a gy'doma? Are you married?"
"Not quite. Marriage is lu'doma, the next step." Larrisa sipped at a soda provided by one of Arno's waiters. "There are three steps, actually. Hy'doma, gy'doma, and lu'doma. The first two are comparable to levels of engagement in a human relationship, and lu'doma is actual marriage. It's also unreversable. My people don't allow divorce." She grinned. "That's why most relationships remain at gy'doma."
"And what about children?"
"Two people have to be at least gy'doma before they can petition the Elders for a Conception Rite."
Carter's eyes widened. "Conception Rite?"

"Yes. A couple's family and friends must attend and maintain the Dyomata Okoa, the Posture of Veneration, while the couple conceives the child to the prayers of a priest or priestess for the creation of a child. Of course, these days the conception is almost guaranteed guaranteed because the day before the ceremony, the woman drinks a tea that we've found stimulates our ovaries to produce an egg."
That last item didn't concern Carter. "You have sex in public," said Carter, bewildered.
"Only in two specific religious rites," Larrisa replied defensively. "Otherwise, it is a crime to copulate in clear sight of anyone. You must be in a private room or in the proper portion of a pleasure pavilion for casual sex."
"And what's the other rite?"
"The Lu'vreyko Mykaya Rite. The last of an Edo's passage to adulthood at the age of fifteen... well, thirteen in Earth years. It is the Rite for a young Edo to learn the true power of his or her lu'vreyko, and by acceptance of their inability to contain it and thus their submission to it, they gain the knowledge of adulthood. The pairings are usually close friends of opposite genders. In my case, it was the son of one of my community's Elders." Larrisa noticed the shocked look on Carter's face. "I probably shouldn't have told you."
"No, it's okay. Though... well, sounds like your planet is pretty good to live on. Leaving it must have been pretty hard, no matter what you say about learning about the universe and bettering yourself."

"It's good to live on when you're willing to do as told and to follow the Laws. Otherwise you slip up one day and get a syringe of poison in the arm." Larrisa's voice was bitter in it's tone. "After you do the Lu'vreyko Mykaya Rite, you are an adult and can be executed for a crime. I spent five Earth years during which every day out of the enclave I was deathly afraid of doing anything, for fear I'd break a law and be executed. So no, I do not miss Rubicun. It was a hell for me and I don't want to go through that again."
A scoff prompted both to turn their heads. Colonel Kira was standing nearby, having been discussing something with a pair of Marine Lieutenants, and her attention was now on them. The Bajoran woman drew closer, her short hair seeming to blaze from it's reddish tint, and a fire was in her eyes as she stared down on Larrisa. "A hell for you?" asked Kira. Contempt dripped from every word. "What do you know about Hell, Lieutenant? You grew up on a world that is a paradise. Everything was handed to you. You never had to worry about whether the Cardassians or collaborators were going to catch you, or whether you were going to get food and clean water. You never had to endure the stink of a cave filled with dying and wounded fighters who hadn't been cleaned for weeks. What did you have to worry about?"
"I had to worry about being murdered by the Mediators for the slightest offense!" retorted Larrisa.
"Ha! A syringe in the arm is mercy compared to what the Cardassians would have done to me if I had been caught. Forced-labor camps, torture, rape, I had to be afraid of it all. You? You're a pampered brat! You don't have the right to complain about anything!"

Larrisa opened her mouth to retort, but found that she could not. Kira was right. But it was Carter who slowly stood, looking down at Kira and emphasizing the ten centimeter difference in height between them. "Tell me, Colonel, have you ever actually been held as a prisoner by the Cardassians?"
Kira surprised the people watching by actually backing down a bit. "No, I haven't," she was forced to admit. "I thank the Prophets every day that I didn't end up as one."
"Well, I have been," Carter said harshly. "I have been in Hell, Colonel. I've known what it's like to feel like your body's going to explode from all of the pain in it. And that was just two days. If anyone here has the right to be offended by what Lieutenant Larrisa has said, it's me. And I can tell you right now that I'm not offended in the slightest, because I don't have my head stuck up my ass and I actually understand what empathy is. No, Lieutenant Larrisa hasn't been tortured by Cardassians, and nor did she endure the hardships of a guerrila fighter's life, but she's had her own terrors, and we don't have the right to judge her if she wishes to talk about how she has suffered."

Kira's jaw was locked into place. She nodded respectfully to Carter, even though she technically out-ranked her. "You're right, Commander Carter. Lieutenant, I apologize." She turned away and stalked off.
Carter eased back into her seat and looked back to her lunch. She picked up one of the sandwhiches. "That woman," Carter remarked, "is the most stubborn, arrogant, and self-righteous bitch I've ever dealt with."
"Sharon, with all due respect for sticking up for me, I don't blame her for being angry." Larrisa looked at the plates between them. "I've seen the holorecordings of what the Cardassians did to the Bajorans. It's horrible, and so I can understand why she's so bitter and angry. She's a lot like me, you know. She lost her parents too."
"Feel free to try to socialize with Kira if you want, Larrisa, but don't be surprised if she turns you away." Carter took a small bite from a roast beef sandwhich and swallowed it. "Some Bajorans have let the bad days get to them. They're angry that they were unable to drive the Cardassians away themselves, they're angry they had to accept Federation membership to be protected, so they lash out at everyone to get over their anger. Because deep down, they know that if not for the Federation, they'd still be slaves."
Larrisa nodded and quickly decided to change the subject.



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Chapter 4




It was 1900 exactly when Picard entered Conference Room 2 on Deck 2 in the bow section of the main hull. Marina and Drake were standing near the door and nodded to him. Rosaline had taken a seat at the circular conference table, flanked by Arik - Commander Shaham from the Great Lakes - and Felix Montecuccoli. On Felix's other side was the Enterprise's CMO, Dr. Phong Nguyen. And on his left was a young woman of about 177 centimeters height, with honey-tinted brown hair and freckles wearing the uniform of medical personnel and an Ensign's single gold pip. On Arik's right side was a junior lieutenant with the uniform of an engineer. He had a Mediterrenean complexion, a hawkish patrician's nose, dark brown eyes, and a strong jaw. His slick black hair was short-cut and combed to the right. Next to the right was Commander Howard. On her right was Lt. Commander Seth Engasser, Hood's Chief Engineer.
Marina slipped into a seat beside the young Ensign, and Drake sat beside the Lieutenant Commander, leaving a final seat for Picard. Drake introduced the people at the table to Picard. The Ensign beside Phong was Halina Poniatowski, a twenty-seven year old Pole fresh out of the Medical Academy and serving as the Medical Officer on the Avenger. She had lovely blue eyes that shined when Picard looked at her.
Beside Arik was a junior engineer from the Great Lakes, Lieutenant Gaius Horatius Aemilianus. He was the son of a Nova Roman Senator from Planet 892 IV, also known as Nova Roma for it's Roman society. The Nova Romans had a culture unchanged for two millennia, the length of time they had remained on Planet 892 IV, and how they got there was somewhat of a mystery, though the mysterious and ancient Preservers were often credited with their existance.

Once they were all settled in, the discussion began on a light note prompted by Picard's request for Earl Grey. He accidentally triggered a debate on the merits of coffee versus tea, siding with Captains Lenarova and Irvine against most of those present at the table.
After several snide but good-natured remarks flew both ways, the subject changed to the matter of how individual culture groups from Earth maintained political autonomy. Diane Howard played a central role in this debate in her capacity as the future Duchess of New Norfolk, with Picard, Phong, and Halina playing the roles of devil's advocate and being in favor of the further integration of human society beyond nationality and religious lines. Picard, however, expressed his own opposition to the Human Unity movements that frequently petitioned the Earth government and the Federation to end the practice of permitting cultural colonies. There were a handful of remarks afterward about the specific importance of political rights, and whether self-determination of a group was more important than enjoying greater rights and prosperity as a minority in a larger group - central to this was the question of where the line was where a colony was allowed to become independent and to, if necessary, bring about that independence with military force.

The next debate, which began at about 2000 hours, centered on Utopianism and Practicalism, the two leading ideologies of the Federation's leadership. Picard made an eloquent argument for the need to improve the lot of humanity and the other sentient races. Marina agreed with the need but not with the method; she expressed a doubt that things could be changed for the better simply through peaceful conduct. "To read history is to read the story of war," she told those at the table. "I do not think it possible to come to the pinnacle of our society through strictly maintaining the peace. We will, at times, have to wage war."
"Captain, I understand your pragmatism, but certainly war is not something to be sought eagerly," remarked Picard. "A path of encouraging peaceful relations between the races and nations of the galaxy will prevent the spread of unnecessary wars."
"Unfortunately, Admiral, one cannot often tell the necessity of a war until after it has been fought. Certainly we would realize an avoided war was necessary only when it is too late to fight it."
"'Si vis pacem, para bellum.'"
Picard nodded with approval at Gaius's remark. "Vegetius."
Gaius replied with a nod of his own. "Indeed, Admiral."

"There is no easy reply to your argument, Captain, other than to ask if we really wish to pay the price of a galaxy where our constant attempts to second-guess the affairs of our neighbors lead to wars. Eventually, too many wars can destroy an Empire - or a Federation - just as badly as failing to defend ourselves."
"The Admiral is quite correct in that regard," said Felix while he considered the last gulp of rich Columbian coffee in his cup. "Naturally, a middle ground is a prudent course."

"Indeed. But..." - Picard sipped down some Earl Grey - "...even such a ground is riddled with risks."
"Risk is our business, Admiral."
"I never said it wasn't, Commander d'Orvilliers, but I do think that we should be very careful about the kinds of fights we might provoke if we become more active. Acting as a reactive political body has allowed the Federation to maintain a peaceful neutrality with most of our neighbors. In the last thirty years, since the beginning of the decline of the Klingon Empire, the Federation has prospered and grown. I fear that if we were to become more militant, more aggressive, in our policies, we would lose the ground we have gained."
"The question, Admiral, is whether we have the luxury of maintaining this stance." Drake finished his own tea and set the cup to the side. "The Klingon Empire's decline was halted by the Ferengi and those two powers now form a powerful alliance bloc. They continue to appeal to the Tholians for alliance against us. Such an alliance could very well be enough to threaten the Federation worse than the Klingons did at their height."

"We must also remember the Revanchist movement on Cardassia," said Marina. "Our victory there was prematurely enforced, I fear. In our haste to keep the Ferengi from expanding, we allowed the Cardassians to maintain the fiction of an honorably-waged contest, and even now some of them believe that they were not actually defeated but undermined from within by liberal elements of their Empire. History has shown that such movements usually lead to resumed conflicts. The German revanchism that brought into power Hitler and the anti-Western hatreds of the nations in Africa and Asia that Khan and his ilk exploited are just two examples."
"You'd be surprised how many admirals at Starfleet Command echo your concerns, Captain." Picard sipped once again. "Admiral Maxwell has been leading the charge to restore some of our defenses along the Cardassian border for just such an eventuality." Picard placed his cup down on the table. "However, I cannot help but feel it premature to declare that the Federation must start compromising our ideals for...."
The door to the room swished open and a pair of Crewmen entered, pulling along a wheeled cart with dishes piled upon it. Most were human side-dishes, but the main course certainly wasn't; it was an aquatic fowl from the world of Madison near Pacifica, well-cooked and as brown as a turkey. There were also smaller pork and beef roasts. "A Madison seabird," Picard said with some delight. He looked to the door, where Arno was entering with a case of wine. "You've been talking with Guinan."

"Indeed. She assured me it was one of your favorites. Just like that Andorian heskil that Halina likes so much." And, indeed, everyone could see the delight glittering in Halina's eyes at the sight of her favorite alien dish. "In fact, Admiral, I have something for just this occasion." Arno reached into his case and brought out a bottle of dark red liquid. The eloquent script on the bottle's label read "Chateau Picard" and the year was quite clearly 2353.
Picard accepted the first bottle and looked it over. "I remember this stock. I was back home before my last mission on the Stargazer. I helped Robert harvest the grapes that year." His eyes clearly showed delight. "It is a very good year. I really must applaud your taste, Mister Vanbeggine."
"Thank you, Admiral. I still have two more cases of '53 in my personal locker, as well as cases of '45 and '49." Arno took out another bottle and handed it to a crewman to begin pouring it into the wineglasses they had brought with the meal. "I even have a couple of cases of '12 back in my storage locker in Brugge."

"Two cases of '12?! You are quite fortunate. We only have a single bottle left in our wine cellar." Picard looked into his glass as Arno personally filled it. "The year brings back pleasant memories. That was the first year I helped my father during harvest."
"I am very happy to hear that, Admiral. To get it I had to exchange five cases of Cardassian kanar," Arno explained. "Fine Cardassian kanar, from their best brewery I was told. But it was a worthwhile trade."
"Indeed it was."
An amused expression came to Marina's face. "I don't suppose you have any more vodka like the bottle you brought last week?"
"Oh no, I'm terribly sorry, but Captain Parker finished the last of it after that last fight with the G'kkau."
Picard noticed immediately that expressions in the room soured. To explain, Phong said to him, "The G'kkau raiders butchered the inhabitants of the colony on Markel III. They were eating them when we came along."
"Oh." Picard nodded stiffly. "Yes, a very somber sight I imagine."

"Fortunately, the dead of Markel were avenged," Felix said. "Those are a pack of raiders that will never harm innocents again."
There were a couple of murmurs in agreement. When Arno and his aides finished filling everyone's first glass of wine, they ducked out. Drake was the first to speak up. "Well then, this is certainly a fine meal, do any of you wish to say a grace before we partake of it?"
There were no replies. Drake immediately went to work cutting into the bird for everyone while several hands reached for the pile of plates and went toward picking up the sides. Gaius took a sip from the wine in his glass and looked to Picard. "This is very good. Your family makes this?"
"Oh yes. My brother Robert tends the vineyard now."
"Ah. Well, I should see about sending a case to my father. It will be something to entertain his fellow Senators with."
"Indeed. So, Lieutenant, I must say I've never met anyone from your world...."




Larrisa followed Etps to his quarters, the two chatting cheerfully about various technical issues involved in the ship. Dinner had gone just as well, with most conversation about their personal backgrounds - though Larrisa had not been completely forthcoming with her own - and how their careers had gone so far. Larrisa had rather easily shocked him by not being surprised at his confession of homosexuality, since she had been aware of it since first meeting him, and they had even shared a few vulgar jokes on the issue.
"Commander La Forge," Etps said as he continued informing her of the day's events, "could be heard across Engineering giving Martin a lecture on the importance of checking out, personally, every component in every system exposed to a radiation blast through the shields. Martin was trying to cut corners and, well, now he's been burned. The Chief won't be giving him that recommendation for a DCO assignment, that's for sure."
Larrisa giggled in amusement. "Serves him right. Can't afford to be cutting corners on this kind of ship."

"Well...." Etps walked up to a door marked with his name. "This is my stop. I've got to shower and get ready for another four hour watch. You get off at midnight?"
"Yes. I'm due back at 0800."
"Nice having half a day off. I knew captains that demanded no less than sixteen hours a day on duty."
"Well, Captain Parker understands the need to keep the crew rested. That kind of watch is for when you're in a war zone," Larrisa said. "But I hear that Captain Lenarova can be a real hardass about your time. Dog watches, never more than six hours off."
"Well, the frigate-types have always been a little stir-crazy." Etps, for effect, circled his finger around his right temple. "I also hear Captain Lenarova has a vodka ration for the entire crew."

Larrisa began snickering. "Can you see that happening here? I don't think I could bring myself to drink the stuff. She tried to get me to once, during a squadron command staff meeting."
"Russians and their vodka. Me, being of German descent means I get to pine for schnapps." Etps laughed once more. "But look at the time, I'd better go, or the Chief will have my head."
"Talk to you later, Reginald," Larrisa said, watching him enter his quarters before she walked off.




It was the end of the Talarian evening cycle for the crew of the Talara'Sathra, cruised at warp alongside it's smaller escorts toward the Federation's Starbase 592. The Talara'Sathra, "Grand Warrior", was a ship of it's own class, the largest built in the Talarian Steadhold and the pinnacle of native Talarian engineering. 800 meters long, the Talara bristled with Talarian X-Ray Lasers and imported Cardassian compressor beam cannons. The photon torpedo launchers on the fore and aft were unique amongst the Talarian fleet, the result of captured Federation technology during the war, though inferior to the Federation's own systems. Nevertheless, the Talara was one of the most powerful non-Federation ships in this region of space, outmassing and outgunning the greatest ships of the neighboring powers save the Cardassians.
To command the Talara was a great honor, and it had been through years of proud service to the Steadhold that Endar ku'Jashklu had won that honor. Endar was seated in his spartan cabin at the moment, Admiral Relki ke'Uytela across from him at the dinner table. Their meal had long been finished, and Endar was now hearing the lady admiral from the diplomatic contingent air her grievances.
"For years we have stood alone and triumphed over our enemies," Relki said, continuing a diatribe against the alliance they were going to negotiate. "And now our leaders decide to surrender without a fight to the Federation. It is a travesty, Endar, and you should be just as appalled as I. The Federation killed your son, I remember."

Endar hid a wince. "My son died in battle against the Federation, yes. And I fought the Federation as well. You try to compare them to the Breen and Tsen'kethi, while I know your comparison is a lie."
Relki waved his counter away. "It does not matter. The Steadhold must be maintained. Durlora and her mother would bargain away our freedom to get scraps from the Federation table."
"And that is why the Senate sent us. To negotiate in their names."
"Yes, it does help that your Family currently leads the Mortura, does it not?" A mirthless smile came to her face.
"If you are insinuating anything, Admiral, you do your reputation a disservice." Endar met her glare head on. "I would have expected better from the hero of Hortaka."
Relki's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
"You act hysterical. You act as if we are going to forge the chains for our own enslavement. And I tell you that we are not. I also tell you this. I have fought the Federation. You have not. You know nothing of them besides rumor. I have met them in battle, and I know their prowess and strength. Our best attack, Admiral, and it barely managed to overcome a depleted border force! Their counterattack sent us flying back into our home territories. If they had been as bad as you insist, they would have continued their onslaught and not offered peace terms."
"The Federation could never have conquered the Steadhold! Our people would have died fighting!"

"Yes, Admiral, we would have died. But we did not. The Federation even with a clear advantage chose to make peace." Endar shook his head, as if bewildered. "I do not understand them either. We, certainly, would have continued our attack until we could no longer sustain it. But the Federation's thinking is not like our's."
"So you will support Durlora in these negotiations?" Relki's face began changing hue.
"I will support what is in the interests of the Steadhold!" Endar thundered. "How dare you imply that I would do otherwise!"
"The interests of the Steadhold are in maintaining our freedom, Captain!"
"And I fail to see any substance to your insistance that the Federation will do otherwise! They value a spirit of freedom themselves, and you would know that if you bothered reading anything beyond the most hysterical of media back on Talar!" Endar swept a hand out. "Some of our people starve in the streets and the Federation offers us a chance to end their suffering! You would deny it for your own pride?"
"My pride?"

"Yes. Do not think I do not understand the true purpose of your opposition, Admiral. You do not want to admit the Steadhold needs allies to survive. You want to continue believing we can be alone forever and still live. You place your personal sense of pride as greater than your duty to the Steadhold to protect it!"
"You tread on dangerous..."
The door chime to Endar's room sounded. Endar and Relki stared at each other for a moment. "You may enter," Endar said aloud. The door opened and his expression grew less tense at the entrance of his son. He looked to Relki and said, "This is my son Jono. Jono, this is Admiral Relki."
Jono saluted respectfully to Relki. As was custom, he kept his helmet on in the presence of superior officers and neither did he ask if he could remove it. Endar nodded to him and said, "You may be at ease, Jono."
Immediately Jono's hands gripped the helmet and pushed it up and off his head. A look of shock came to Relki's face when she saw that he was very obviously not Talarian; dark blond hair covered his head. She looked at Endar with an incredulous expression on her face. "He is... Terran, isn't he?"

"Jono is my son," Endar retorted. He could see the disgust, the horror, in her face. But he ignored it, and instead stood to greet his son by clasping his shoulders. "And I am very proud of him. Jono, I hear that you have been assigned to Director Durlora's honor guard. You have done well."
"But I am only in the third rank," Jono said, disappointment evident in his voice. "I failed to perform well enough to win first rank. I am sorry."
"Jono, I am proud to see that you strive for the best assignment, but you must take victories where they are given. That one as young as you are has been assigned to the Director's honor guard is a great honor. You have made me proud, son."
The disappointment seemed to lift from Jono's expression. "Thank you, Father. I will not let you down."
"I know you won't, Jono. Go on to your room." Endar nodded toward the door. "I'll see you in the morning for First Meal."
Jono saluted with respect to the admiral, placed his helmet back on his head, and walked back out into the corridor.

Endar turned to Relki and the startled expression on her face. "Is there something wrong?"
"You have adopted a Terran son?" Relki said with a clear tone of disgust.
"He was the only survivor of a colony my troops attacked near the end of the war. The Federation colonists fought back, and we had to kill them to the last man. But I could not kill him. He was a young boy, and it would have been a horrible evil to end his life." Endar looked down, as if a long-buried pain was returning. "As you were so quick to point out earlier, my son had been killed in the war with the Federation. I was within my rights to adopt a son of the enemy, and I did."
"He is a Terran. He is not one of us!"
"He has been raised as any Talarian boy would!" Endar shouted. "His heart is Talarian. And I will not hear you speak such things about my son in the future."
"You forget your place, Captain," Relki said, standing. "You have brought an alien into our midst!"
"He is as loyal to the Steadhold as any other Talarian, and has proven it on many occasions! With his every act he brings honor to my Family and the Steadhold as a whole!" Endar's expression showed rage, and Relki quite wisely backed down. "Please leave, Admiral. I do not think it wise if we were to let this argument carry itself past the night."
"You are right about that, at least." Relki turned her back and walked out of Endar's room.




Relki stepped into her own cabin on the Talara'Sathra and began removing her outer uniform jacket to retire for the night. She looked up in time to see a figure step out from the spartan bedchamber built into the center of the room. Her daughter, Utali, was still in helmet and uniform; she stood at fine attention and made her mother proud. "I hear you have made first rank in the honor guard," Relki said to her.
"Yes. Gelya made third."
Relki nodded solemnly. As was custom, the six ranks of bodyguards were split evenly between six males and six females, one on each side. The first rank, the most prestigious, stood right beside those meant to be protected, and each following rank was outward in the line. "She knows what is asked of her?"
"Gelya lost her parents to the Federation in the war, Mother. She is ready to die to preserve the Steadhold against our enemies."

"Then her name will be praised after what we do here." Relki's eyes narrowed and she looked to her daughter. Utali was her eldest daughter, raised to be absolutely loyal to the Steadhold. She knew Utali could be trusted with what had to be done. "Durlora must die before the negotiations begin. It will convince the Federation that we are too unstable to be bargained with and they will give up their plan to conquer us with diplomacy."
"Yes mother."
Relki stood for a moment and pondered. Gelya would be opposite of Endar's adopted Terran son Jono. It seemed such a fit way for the universe to play itself out. "Fortunately they assigned the Terran son of Endar as her opposite in the male line. He is young and inexperienced. I do not expect her to have any problems until Durlora is shot. Above all things, we must make sure she does not live. We cannot afford her implicating us under interrogation."
"She will die, Mother, if I must shoot her myself," Utali promised.

Relki nodded. "Then you should go to bed. By the time we finish First Meal we should be at their station, and we are to board afterward."
Utali nodded and left the room, leaving Relki to herself and her own thoughts. To assassinate a Director of the Government - Dorlura was head of the external affairs office and thus a good diplomat - was a grave step to make. But for the freedom of the Steadhold, it had to be done.
If only Durlora and her kind had not gained ascendancy in the government. Durlora's mother was a fine leader, a hero of the Steadhold, but her age had diminished her faculties. Relki still wondered why Lord Protector Murluno had not taken her own life yet, and could only guess that she did not think herself too senile. But now she allowed treason against the Steadhold. The treaty to the Federation was not an alliance; it was a surrender. Talar would be subsumed into the Federation, it would lose itself and degrade away. This could not be permitted, no matter what cost had to be paid.




Parker looked over from his pillow to see the clock flash 0500. He was getting a longer sleep than usual, since it was assumed he would need to be rested up for the introduction of the Talarian diplomatic team the next day.
But like the previous night, Parker couldn't sleep. He laid still, hands on his stomach, thinking of her. He could recall every intimate detail of their last nights together, and whenever he closed his eyes he remembered leaving her. Seeing those sad eyes, hearing Deanna's voice calling after him...
Did you ever love me?
Time and time again, Parker had tried to answer Deanna's last question. And he could never do so. Sometimes he wondered if there had been any substance to the relationship, anything beyond lust for a younger, beautiful woman. But he could never come to a decision on that. His memories of her refused to be filed away as a fling. There had to be something there, something concrete.

Despite having so little sleep, Parker decided to go ahead and wake up. He wasn't going to sleep, not until this was settled and he could bury his memories of Deanna. He slipped out of bed and into the shower. After he dried himself off Parker slipped on a uniform and walked out into the corridors of the ship. There was little activity on the habitation decks of the ship. Unwilling to go straight to the bridge, Parker found himself walking to the officer's lounge. It was mostly empty, since everyone was either on duty or asleep, but he found Arno at the counter with Kristin Ignacian standing beside him, their arms wrapped in an embrace. Arno was in his usual dress shirt and black pants while Kristin was in civilian clothes, wearing a sexy blue halter top that bared her belly and a knee-length blue skirt. They were laughing and joking about something when they looked to see Parker having entered. Kristin stepped away from Arno, blushing a little, but Arno was as unflappable as ever. "Good morning Captain," he said. "Up a little early?"
"Give me your strongest coffee, please." Parker looked to Kristin and couldn't help but grin a little. "Did Doctor Nguyen make you an officer behind my back, Chief?" he asked in a teasing voice.

Kristin rolled her eyes. "Arno let me come in to help him clean up." She walked around the bar. "No one is here anyway."
"Of course." Parker accepted a cup of black coffee from Arno and took a quick drink. The taste was bland to him, but it wasn't intended for taste but strength. Parker swore he could almost feel the caffeine shoot straight into his brain. "And I won't tell if you won't." He winked at Kristin and looked back to Arno. "You're usually not in here until zero six hundred."
"Got an early start today to clean up a few things. I was so busy catering to Captain Lenarova's debating circle last night that I didn't have everything done for the morning."
"Ah." Parker took another drink.
"So, Captain, what has roused you so early?"
Parker didn't answer at first, not quite sure he wanted to discuss any of it. "I had a lot to think about."
"Certainly not just involving the negotiations with the Talarians." Arno leaned over the bar. "It's something more, I take it?"
Parker kept looking into his coffee. "You could say that." He looked up at Arno. "Something personal. Something private."
"I heard that someone coming along is an old acquaintance of your's. A very special acquaitance."

"You could say that." Parker said no more. He knew others had already heard his comments about having been involved with Deanna, and he was reasonably certain somebody overheard that the Trois were in the delegation.
"So, what do you intend to do?"
"Not quite sure." Parker took another drink of the coffee. "It's.... complex."
"Love is often seen that way, even if it is not." Arno slipped over the bar and sat down by Parker. "It's a very powerful emotion. It overpowers sense and reason, it reaches directly to the soul, to who you are and what you want. That is why love itself is so very simple. And like so many other basic and simple things, we are the ones who make it complex. Often times we will lie to ourselves, and to others, because we do not know how to deal with the truth... because sometimes the truth scares us with it's purity."
Parker sipped on his coffee. "I never knew you were a philosopher, Vanbeggine."
"At heart, Captain, we are all philosophers." Arno smiled. "No matter how we try to block them out with our daily lives, our routines and our duties, we cannot escape the questions that every living thing asks."

"And what are those questions?"
Arno leaned foward as if to whisper a secret to Parker. "Who? What? Why? How?"
Parker stared at him a moment. "That's it. Just one word questions like that?"
"They are the key to trying to understand the universe, Captain. Now, if you'll excuse me a moment." Arno stood up and walked to where Kristin was wiping down a table. He pulled her into his arms and they shared a warm, passionate kiss. She smiled at him, touched him lovingly, on the cheek while his fingers held her chin, and walked out of the lounge.
"You say love is simple." Parker watched the door close behind Kristin. "Is that what you feel for Kristin?"
Arno slid back into the stool. "What I feel for Kristin could be called love, yes. She is beautiful and compassionate. Her passions for life mirror my own. Her desire for companionship and for the physical joy of sex are the same as my own. Tell me, Captain, do you feel such things for the woman you have left behind?"
"I'm not sure."
"I believe you are. I believe the truth is there in your soul, but you lie to yourself that you do not know because you would rather live with that certainty than accept the uncertainty of where the truth could take you." Arno jumped back over the bar. "If you need me, Captain, I will be in the kitchen preparing the morning meal." He stepped away and through the swinging double doors to the kitchen, leaving Parker to his remaining coffee and his thoughts.




Data departed the bridge at 0600 after being relieved by Commander Razmara and went to his quarters. Since he was usually on duty, they were rather spartan by the standards of others. He did not need to shower, though he did change uniforms so that the ones he had worn could be sent to the ship's laundromat to be cleaned and ironed. For a short time Data continued his usual musings on history and other arts, analyzing once more the symphonies of Beethoven while simultaneously reading works set in his time period to understand the social and technological context in which his music was circulated.
He was printing out his findings and analysis on his personal system when it occurred to him that Larrisa was probably up and going. He had enjoyed talking with her two mornings before and wished to do so again, so he saved his work and left his quarters.
Data walked down the corridor of Deck 2, around the forward bend of it, toward Larrisa's quarters. He arrived and rang the door chime. When there was no answer from within, he rang it again. Once more, there was no answer. Data briefly wondered (briefly meaning something on the order of a microsecond) if she had overslept, but dismissed that and asked the computer where she had gone. It was technically not proper, the system had been designed for finding officers for duty purposes only, but Data was simply too curious and did not think it a great violation of the spirit of the system. The computer's mechanical female voice replied that Lieutenant Larrisa was in Holodeck 1 - the holodeck reserved for the ship's officers.

With greater curiosity as to why she was in a holodeck, Data went to the nearest turbolift and traveled down to Deck 9, Quadrant C (the quadrant facing the rear of the ship). He walked to the right for short distance until he found the entrance to Holodeck 1. It was active but not secured, so it was not a private program and Data did not consider it wrong to enter.
Larrisa's program showed a beautiful garden, with a handful of trees with blue leaves in varying positions around their central location, which was a walkway bordered by bushes filled with wild hydola flowers. Larrisa was standing nearby, in the grass, wearing a sleeveless white blouse and knee-length green skirt. Her blond hair was free and flowed down over her shoulders. In front of her, by about ten feet, were three holographic figures clothed in white Edo garb. One was an attractive female, a little shorter than Larrisa, with hair her color and bright blue eyes. The other, a male, had a darker shade of blond hair and gray eyes with a handsome face and physique. The two were arguing in a language Data did not immediately understood but which his internal systems determiend was an Edo dialect found in their northern continent region. Standing beside them was a little girl of about seven Earth years. Her facial structure, blond hair, and blue eyes told Data that she was meant to be Larrisa as a child.
Before he could say anything, Larrisa spoke. "Freeze program," she said, and immediately followed up by saying, "Hello Data." The figures in front of her were completely frozen now, the man in mid-sentence, his mouth open and his face twisted into an angry look.

Data took a second to completely process how she might have known it was him, not counting the background noise of his other projects. "Your deductive capabilities are impressive."
"Only you would come looking for me at this hour and bother to come to the holodeck," Larrisa replied. "I take it you wanted to talk more?"
"I was interested if you were willing."
"Well, Data, let me show you something. It might help you understand me and perhaps others as well. Computer, resume program."
The program continued. The couple continued shouting. Data observed for a moments and noticed movement elsewhere. There were figures moving around them, but they were undetailed outside of their distinctive Edo clothing. "This is a memory of..."
"Shhh...."
Larrisa quieted him in time for him to see the male reach up and smack the woman, who had been screaming and crying frantically. It was an attempt to calm her, Data deduced.
At first the two looked at each other, but movement to his right caught Data's attention. He turned his head and observed two men in dark gray Edo clothing walking up; Data recognized this different color as that worn by Edo law enforcement, known as Mediators. Like the others, their faces were almost featureless. Immediately the woman tried to stand between the man and the gray-clothed Mediators, speaking to them frantically. They retorted and the man pushed her out of the way, speaking to them directly.
Data looked to Larrisa and saw that tears were running down her cheeks. Her breath seemed to slow, as if she were going to start sobbing. She closed her eyes and breathed words in line with what the little girl suddenly said as she jumped between the man and the Mediators, screaming at them. "These were your parents," Data said to her. "And the girl is you."

"Yes." Larrisa closed her eyes as the holographic avatar of her father spoke to the hologram of her younger self. Tears were in the cute little girl's eyes as her father explained to her that this could not be stopped. Data ran the words through the universal translator program he had loaded into his brain and understood the father's words completely. He asked his daughter to be strong, then rebuked the Mediators for threatening Larrisa and her mother. He stood, and without flinching presented an arm to the Mediators. One took a syringe and stuck it into the side of the man's bicep. About four seconds passed and his eyes rolled upward. He collapsed, and Larrisa and her mother ran to his body, crying. Larrisa's mother took the little girl into her arms and held her close, sobbing and whispering into her ear as the Mediators took the father's body away.
"They threatened to kill her," Larrisa suddenly said, fits in her breath indicating she was on the verge of crying. Tears streamed down from her eyes, which she closed to try and deal with the painful emotions roiling inside of her. "It wasn't enough that they murdered my father, Data. They threatened to kill Eylao" - Data recognized it as the word for mother in Larrisa's Edo dialect - "because I screamed for them to stop. I wanted them to leave Hylao alone. It was a mistake. He was trying to calm Eylao down." Larrisa's control failed. She dropped to her knees in the holographic grass and began sobbing bitterly. "They killed them both! They... they destroyed my family...."
A moment passed before Data decided to knee beside her. He placed a hand on Larrisa's bare shoulder, thinking he could be supportive. "I do not know what can be said to ease your pain."

"Nothing can be said, Data." Larrisa balled her hands into fists and slammed them on the ground. "If I could go back to that day as I am now, I would stop them, Data. The timeline be damned, I would save my family."
Data said nothing.
"Damn them! Damn them to the Abyss! What gives them the right to murder people for a single mistake?!" Larrisa's sobbing grew. "This isn't the way things are supposed to be!" Data was again silent, unsure of what should be said, but Larrisa
soon calmed on her own. "I'm sorry that you had to see this, Data. But after some things were said yesterday, I couldn't keep the memories bottled up. I had to relive them again."
Data helped her to her feet. "I am..." Data searched for a word to say why Larrisa cleaned tears off her cheek. "I am sorry that this happened to you."
"Thank you, Data. So, was this enough of a lesson for you? Or would you like to talk some more this morning?"
"No, I believe this shall be sufficient. I shall return on another morning, if you like."
"It's quite alright, Data." Larrisa forced herself to smile at him. "You're... quite sweet for someone who doesn't feel emotions."
"Thank you, Lieutenant." Data led her out of the holodeck and they went their seperate ways.



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Location: Florida USA
Chapter 5




It was just past 1000 hours when the Enterprise and her squadron met up with H.I.(B.)M.S. Marlia Djaloi, still an hour away from Starbase 592. Parker watched the ship appear on the viewscreen. The Marlia Djaloi did not resemble a Starfleet ship in any way since it was an exclusive design from Betazed. Betazed had it's own military, like many of the leading nation-states in the Federation. There were a number of ground troop regiments with histories dating back to the pre-industrial age of the planet, as well as the Royal Star Fleet. The Marlia was one of it's leading ships, an Empress of Dilina-class cruiser built six years ago by the Royal Betazoid Shipyards. Painted in the light red of the Betazoid Fifth House, the House whom the current High Empress of Betazed was a member of, the Marlia was a slim vessel with a tri-nacelle configuration, two jutting out of the dorsal hull and one from the ventral to form a triangular pattern around the ship. It had a pair of powerful phaser cannons built into the bow along with a photon torpedo launcher. Smaller phaser emplacements provided point-defense, as well as a third phaser cannon and torpedo launcher on the aft. Despite it's size, the Marlia was a swift and maneuverable warship and was built to use that maneuverability in battle. Parker mentally judged it to between the Great Lakes and Minneapolis in capability.
The Marlia pulled into warp ahead of the Enterprise, which slowed with it's squadron to Warp 6. O'Keefe turned from the communications station. "Marlia is hailing."

"On screen."
The blond-haired, dark-eyed woman who appeared on the screen looked to be well into her thirties and still quite attractive. Her uniform - which looked like it was a dress uniform as opposed to a duty uniform - was a dark violet color and more ornamental than usual Starfleet uniforms. Parker didn't recognize the golden rank insignia, which resembled a Betazoid mountain falcon that - from what he remembered - was the symbol of the Betazoid Imperial Commonwealth. Her shoulders were capped with white epaulets embroidered into the jacket with white tassels on the tip of the shoulder itself, covering a small part of her upper arms. The cuffs were a darker shade of purple, and white gloves covered the woman's hands. Parker could only see the waist of her dark violet pants, which had black striping running down the outside of the legs. The woman's name, in Betazoid characters, was on a name plate pinned over her right breast. Her left breast was partially covered by service ribbons which were vertical as opposed to the horizontal found in Earth-born militaries. Furthermore, a light red insignia of a Betazoid italra - a ferocious lion-like feline found in the steppes and forests of Betazed's northern temperate zone - was pinned to the right of the service ribbons. Parker recognized the italra insignia. Deanna had possessions with the symbol; it was the insignia of the Betazoid nobility's Fifth House.
"Greetings, Marlia Djaloi. This is Captain Adrian Parker of the Starship Enterprise. You're right on time."
"Her Majesty's Star Fleet likes to be punctual, Captain Parker." A devilish grin appeared on the woman's face. "So you're the legendary Adrian Parker. I've heard so much about you."
"I didn't think I was that notable."

"Oh, but you are to some people." Parker got a sense of unease before the woman continued speaking. "I am Captain Kestra Troi, Captain of Her Imperial Majesty's Ship Marlia Djaloi. We will be following you to Starbase 592, Captain, but the Ambassador and her entourage wish to beam over to begin discussing matters of protocol with Admiral Picard."
"Of course. We'll let you know when we're ready to receive the Ambassador. Enterprise out."
Kestra had a mirthless smile on her face when the viewscreen flipped off. Parker tried not to wince too deeply. He tapped the commbadge on his chest and walked toward the turbolift, flanked by Razmara and Data. "Parker to Picard."
"Picard here."
"Ambassador Troi will be arriving in Transporter Room 1, Admiral. I'm on my way there now."
"Very well. I'll see you there. Picard out."
It was a quick trip down the turbolift to Deck 1 and the transporter room. Parker noticed Razmara and Data remained silent, which was perfectly fine with him because his thoughts were dominated by Deanna. How would she act toward him? Had she found a suitor?
Picard, Riker, and Beverly met them in the transporter room. Felix came in a moment later, wearing full uniform. The seven stood together and Parker gave the order to the transporter chief on duty to energize as soon as Marlia was ready.

Three figures appeared on the pad. The most prominent for the moment was a large blue-skinned alien, well over seven feet tall. Standing beside him was an older woman, on the verge of going from middle-aged to elderly, though the only reason Parker knew this was because she was very obviously Lwaxana Troi; the gaudy multi-colored dress with it's almost-untasteful low cut was as showy as he'd come to expect from Betazoids, and cosmetics were quite likely to blame for her dark hair and younger-looking face.
Standing beside her was Deanna Troi.
Parker drew in a breath. It had been eight years since he had seen her. She had been twenty-four at the time, very young and beautiful. This had not changed. Her dark eyes surveyed all of them and seemed to fix, for a moment longer than he'd wanted, on him. Her lips were as inviting as they had been to him eight years ago. Her dark hair was no longer curly, flowing down to her bared shoulders. Her sparking blue dress was more flattering than that her mother wore; sleeveless and shoulderless, it wrapped around her torso like a halter top, with a single strap looping around the back of her neck. The dress covered her cleavage but it's tightness on her form emphasized the curves of her breasts, every bit as attractive as Parker remembered. Her arms looked a little more developed than when Parker had last seen her, making him recall his advice to her that working out more often would help counter the effects of her chocolate cravings. The dress itself flowed down over her belly to her waist, where it continued downward to her calves. Black leather shoes etched with the italra insignia of the Fifth House over the heels rounded out her attire. As she walked down Parker could see that the dress bared the upper two thirds of her back.
Parker was again struck with indecision. A part of him wanted to get this over with, to get away from her and to not let the past come back. And a part of him wanted to take her into his arms and to plant a warm kiss on her mouth, and all that as a mere prelude to bringing her to his bed. Even now he worried that she might be engaged to another. Or that she would reject him. She had every right to, after eight years.

Immediately Parker shoved every emotion out. This wasn't the time for it. He stood at rigid attention as Picard greeted Lwaxana, shifting uncomfortably under her longing gaze. Parker remembered suddenly that middle-aged Betazoid women usually underwent periods of heightened sex drive and he felt very sorry for Picard.
Picard introduced Parker after he did Riker and Beverly. Lwaxana walked up to Parker. "I always imagined you were taller, though you're certainly as handsome as I've heard."
She is not my type. The thought crossed Parker's mind and he immediately wanted to take the thought back. It was hard to remember to control one's thoughts in front of a telepath.
If Lwaxana was upset at the thought he had, she didn't show it. Instead she smiled and gave a throaty cackle. "Maybe not. But you're not mine to take, are you?" She looked to Razmara. "And you need to loosen up a little, Commander Razmara. Hmm, must be the Vulcan blood." There was a brief moment of shock on Lwaxana's face before she regained control. "Ooh, hit a nerve there. Sorry." She moved on to Data. "But I can't read you at all. Just who are you anyway?"
"I am Lieutenant Commander Data, Operations Officer of the Enterprise. I find it highly unlikely that you could understand my thoughts or even detect them, because I am an android, Ambassador. I was built in..."
"Yes, that's very fascinating," the elder Troi said dryly. "Well, I see everyone's guessed that this is my daughter Deanna." Lwaxana smiled at her daughter, who barely smiled back. She looked to the blue-skinned alien. "And this is Mister Homm, my attendant."

Homm did not speak, but he bowed respectfully.
Picard broke the momentary silence. "Ambassador, if you will follow me to the nearest Conference Room, I can show you all of the recent communiqués from the Federation and from Starbase 592. I trust you have had time to..."
While her mother and Picard talked, Deanna walked up toward Parker. He noticed she seemed rather cold and unemotional. Of course, he was the same way. A feeling passed over him... what if she felt as he did? What would that bring to them? He immediately shunted it away.
Her dark eyes looked up at him as she came close. "Hello Adrian," she said.
"Hello Deanna."
The slightest hints of a smile came to her face. "You've gotten pretty far. Hope you're proud of what you've accomplished."
"I am."
Deanna looked toward the others as they filed out. "Maybe we can talk later."
"That would be good," Parker replied.
She nodded to him and followed her mother out of the transporter room. Parker followed her a few moments afterward.




O'Farrell was leaning his head against his hand, his arm wresting on the arm of his bridge command chair. The bridge of the Avenger was as quiet as usual. The entire command crew was at their duty stations, even O'Brien. On the screen, warp streaks continued to slide by lazily. O'Farrell felt his eyelids droop. "Are we there yet?" he said, nearly yawning.
"Coming up on it in a moment, sir," Tasha Yar answered from the helm. Her head of short blond hair looked back at O'Farrell. "You don't look very well. Not enough sleep?"
"Blame Parker and his insistance that all the ships' command crews be on duty when we arrive. I had to cut my sleep cycle short for this."
"Yeah, but I understand it." O'Brien didn't turn from the engineering control station, but he kept talking. "Talarians can be tricky, deceitful bastards and I wouldn't want to be caught with our pants down."
Phil Leeson looked over from his Operations console. "Any reasons why, Chief?"
"I'll tell you if you keep your damned eyes on the sensor board. Being alert isn't any good if you're not paying attention!" snapped O'Brien. The young Aussie turned back to his sensor board immediately. "There, that's better. Now, Leeson, to answer your question... I was still new to Starfleet at the time, didn't really serve in the war. I was only there for the tail end, when the Talarians settled for raiding. You know what the bastards would do? They would leave derelict ships, with life forms aboard, and send out distress calls to lure in starships. And our people would, predictably, board to look for survivors. And then the bastards would blow themselves up! I lost a bunch of friends one time to that little trick. Could've been me, I suppose, if I wasn't working transporter in those days."

"I remember that," O'Farrell said. "Hearing about it, since I was still in the Academy at the time. The Talarians attacked the Federation during the Tsen'kethi War because they mistook our ship concentrations on the border as sign of an impending attack. They thought we were going to attack them while they were still weak from another of their border wars with the Breen. So they attacked first. Our fleet had already moved out to open the second front on the Tsen'kethi, so they overran what we had left. And did a horrible job of it, too. Their technology was about fifty years behind our's in a lot of places. Lost more than half their invasion fleet against our defenses, and the rest got kicked back across the border after reinforcements came." O'Farrell turned to Leeson's seat. "Didn't you study all this at the Academy? Recent Astropolitical History was a required course for all cadets, I remember."
"I, uh, didn't do so well in that," Leeson admitted.
"Let me guess.... had a cute girl sitting beside you?"
"Yeah. Name was Tanya. Cute girl from Yorketown."
"Ah. And you paid more attention to her than to Professor Friedman?"
"Couldn't help it. She had a good pair of knockers and the nicest eyes you've ever seen."
There was an exasperated sigh from both O'Farrell and Tasha, and for wildly different reasons. Tasha muttered "Men" under her breath, while O'Farrell simply drew in a sigh. "Phil, you really must learn to show some control. One of these days that mouth of your's is going to get you into trouble."

"Tanya said the same thing once. Of course, it was after we slept together to celebrate graduation."
O'Farrell opened his mouth to respond, but decided against it.
"Coming up on Starbase 592 and Pi Agalis IV."
Tasha's comment took everyone's attention. "Coming out of warp now..." On the viewscreen, the star-streak effect of warp was replaced by a bright M-Class planet. It was borderline oceanic, with only 15% of the planet's surface above water. The climate, from what O'Farrell heard, varied like on Earth, though most civilization was centered in the main continent along the equator. Pi Agalis IV had little in the way of vital natural resources, though there were a number of mines in the planet's asteroid belts and on a couple of the rocky worlds and moons in the six planet system. The planet's main attraction was it's tropical climate and the locales it offered. The initial colonists were Humans from Hawaii, with a few other races setting up settlements in the northern steppes of the main continent. New Oahu, as it was called, was a regional tourist spot, and there were species of fruit and animal that made excellent food.
Starbase 592 hung in a far geosynchronous orbit over the planetary capitol Waipahu. It was a small starbase, only a twentieth the size and mass of a major Starbase like McKinley. Ships milled about it and around the planet; transports, freighters, and passenger liners from various races and planets.
But O'Farrell's gaze was on the seven warships sitting near Starbase 592. "So, what did the Talarians send?"

"Checking computers," Leeson said. "The lead ship is identified as the Talara'Sathra. Very little outright intel on it's loadout, this is the first time it's been encountered by Starfleet. I'm sure Captain Parker will have Larrisa running covert scans to find out what it's packing."
"And the others?"
"Three Mortera-class destroyers, two Djamera'Stulke-class cruisers, and one of their battle cruisers. ID beacon for the Talara'Holtaje. According to intel, it's the personal escort ship of the Talarian Lord Protector." Leeson turned back to O'Farrell. "Their Lord Protector is here?"
"Or someone related," O'Farrell said. "Now, Bran, what do you think?"
Branislav Kojic turned from his weapons station. "Mass-wise, we are equal," the Serbian Lieutenant replied. "Judging by technological differences, though, I would say that if there were a fight, we would prevail."

"Well, we're here to talk, not fight, but keep an eye on them all the same. And Phil, keep your damned eyes on that sensor board. Don't want any surprises. God knows how many people would like to break this little get-together up."
Tasha double-checked the pre-programmed flight course that would keep their ship in it's proper place in the squadron formation. "Will we be docking, sir?"
"Don't know yet, but I don't imagine so. Parker will want us all out in space and ready to fight at a moment's notice. But don't look so glum. I'll see if we can get individual leaves to the starbase or the planet."
Leeson was the only one to show his happiness at that. O'Farrell stuck his hand back on his cheek and waited. At least he didn't have to attend the damned greeting ceremony, though he'd been invited to the banquet. He'd have to nap for a while first, though....




Within two hours of arriving at Starbase 592, Parker found himself in his dress uniform and standing with the Federation delegation in one of 592's main shuttle bays. An honor guard of Starfleet Marines were standing at attention, the flags of the Federation and the crimson starburst flag of the Talarian Steadhold fluttering in an artificially-created breeze behind them. The dress uniforms of the Starfleet personnel - himself, his command staff, the Starbase command staff, and the attending admirals - were more ornamental than usual ones, but still lacked the pure style of the Betazoid uniforms that Kestra Troi and her senior officers were adorned in. Deanna and Lwaxana had not changed, for their part. Awaiting beside them, Picard and the newly-arrived Admiral Rossa stood at similarly-brisk attention. Rossa had the look of a kind old grandmother, reminding Parker of his own "Grandma Parker", but he had no doubt she could be a commander when she had to.
The dark-painted Talarian transport craft settled onto the hard durasteel floor of the shuttle bay. The rear door opened and in proper step the Starfleet Marine music band began playing an approximation of the Talarian anthem, or what was believed to be their anthem. The Talarians, for their part, did not indicate whether it was wrong or not. Those who first stepped out where the honor guard ranks for the Talarians. One male, one female, on Parker's left and right respectively, though Parker had trouble telling the male from the female. He remembered then that Talarian women were supposed to be quite flat-chested compared to females from other races.

The first rank of honor guards seperated after taking eight steps out of the transport. They stepped once away from each other, then briskly turned about and clicked their heels together, standing at rigid attention. The next rank, also male and female, did the same but with one less step out of the transport. The rank afterward only made six steps out, and so forth. Parker was impressed by the crisp, fluid movements of the honor guard. The Talarian reputation for strong discipline was apparently well-earned.
First out of the transport after this honor guard was a tall Talarian male, unhelmeted and with the scaled skull ridges of his people fully visible. He walked to the end of the line and stood there. "I am Captain Endar ku'Jashklu of the Talara'Sathra. It is my great honor to introduce to you Durlora ke'Ytaklu, the Steadhold's Director of External Affairs and daughter of Her Greatness Murluno ke'Ytaklu, Lord Protector of the Steadhold."
When he finished, three individuals stepped out of the transport. The first two out were an older man and woman whom Parker recognized from the briefings as Admirals Hoturo ku'Rutake and Relki ke'Uytela. Between and behind them was a gray-eyed woman who looked slightly younger, though still very middle-aged. As they walked forward to greet the awaiting Federation delegation, the honor guard turned to follow. Parker watched the first rank take up positions behind Durlora, then the second, the third....
And that was when he heard the shot.




Jono's heart threatened to burst out of his chest as he stepped off the transport. The last three ranks were already in position, the males on his side standing in rigid attention. He would equal that; he had to. For the glory of his father, for the glory of the Jashklu Family and of the Steadhold, he would perform without error. With this display the Federation would be impressed by their discipline and would show the Steadhold more favor.
He took the appropriate number of steps outside of the transport, turned away from his female counterpart Gelya, and moved into position. He came about once more and stood at rigid attention, his arms and back straight and his eyes constantly forward. On his right hip was a plasma pistol, the standard issue sidearm for ceremonial honor guards, but he was certain it would not need to be used.
The other two ranks moved into position. Endar came out first. Jono did not, could not, allow his eyes to follow his father's path across his vision. He kept his eyes forward, concentrating them on Gelya. Her blue eyes looked back at him. For a moment he thought she looked distracted, but he could not be sure. Her attention seemed focused just like everyone else's. But her breathing seemed too fast and he thought he could see a little sweat on the parts of her face visible under her ceremonial helmet.

Jono kept his eyes locked onto her's, not wanting to give in to the temptation to look at the Federation people or his father. He heard his father give the introductions and kept his chin up as Admiral Hoturo passed by him. When Durlora passed, it was his time to move into formation with the male side of the honor guard. He stepped forward to do so.
His eyes, however, remained on Gelya's. And her eyes did not stay on his. They moved toward Durlora. She moved as if to get into the honor formation but Jono could tell something was wrong immediately. She was moving too close, as if to...
The instant Gelya pulled her plasma pistol out of it's holster, Jono knew what was about to happen. He had to stop it. He had to stop her. To warn the others he bellowed the Talarian sathje - the war cry - and leapt onto Gelya as she brought the gun up toward Durlora. Heads turned around him and then to Gelya, but it happened too quickly. Jono was on top of Gelya and a moment later his entire chest seemed to be on fire. She had shot him point-blank with the pistol. Jono's body revolted against his orders to punch her, to try to restrain her, and he fell limply against her with the searing pain drawing a cry from his throat. Gelya contemptuously tossed him off and brought her gun back up to shoot Durlora, but it was a futile gesture. The other guards had already stepped between her and Durlora. Before Gelya could act, Utali's pistol created a burst of green energy that enveloped Gelya's neck and chest. She fell backward and was dead when she hit the ground.
Jono's vision began dissolving into color. The pain was horrible, but he would not cry out. He would be strong. His father's face appeared in his vision. His voice called out, "Jono!"
But Jono did not answer before everything became dark.




Everything moved too quickly for Parker to react to. The third rank male jumped on his female counterpart and he could hear the distinct chilling sound of a plasma discharge. The rest of the honor guard immediately went to Durlora. The male cried out from pain and collapsed against the female, who tossed him aside. Before the gun in her hand could fire again, a plasma discharge from another guard hit her and threw her back. Parker was certain she was dead.
Endar's skin grew pale as he ran to the fallen male. "Jono!" he cried. "Jono! My son! My son needs help!"
Parker didn't have to ask. In a moment Phong broke from his place with the other Enterprise command staff and went straight to the fallen Talarian. He was joined immediately by his medical opposites on Starbase 592 and the Marlia Djaloi. The Vulcan medical officer for the Starbase hit his comm badge and gave a brisk order for medics to respond immediately to the shuttle bay. Phong, trying to get a pulse, reached for the boy's helmet as Parker and a couple of the others approached.
Parker was not ready to see the hair fall away from the helmet. The boy was not Talarian. He looked Human. Phong reached into his pocket to retrieve a medical tricorder - usually not the standard part of a medical officer's dress uniform but Phong had a habit of carrying one with him, Parker knew - and ran it over the boy's body. "He's Human. Much of his central torso has severe plasma burning, including the lungs, stomach, intestines.... We need to get him to an emergency intensive surgery unit."

"There is not one on the starbase, just on the planet," the Vulcan doctor said. "But I do not think he will survive a transport."
"No, but the Enterprise also has such a unit."
Phong didn't need to ask. Parker's hand hit his comm badge. "Parker to Enterprise, we have a medical emergency! I need an emergency medical shuttle and medic team to the Starbase's Shuttle Bay 4, ASAP!"
There was no return affirmation. One wasn't necessary. A few moments later, a small shuttle materialized in a transporter beam on the bay floor. Nearby, some of Phong's best nurses and aides appeared with an anti-grav stretcher and packs of emergency equipment. Phong pulled off the uniform jacket and handed it to Razmara. "Hold this please." He immediately went to work with the other doctors and his medical people, who had put Jono on the stretcher and were in the middle of stablizing him. The other doctors allowed Phong to take control of the situation. He barked order after order as they went to the medical shuttle.
Endar was very visibly shaken. "Let me go with him!"
"I can have you beamed over to the Enterprise as soon as they get there," Parker promised him.

Durlora had watched this entire display silently. She finally stepped forward. "I pray for your son's recovery, Captain. He has saved my life, and brought honor to your Family."
Endar wasn't looking to Durlora. He was looking at the shuttle, which lifted off the bay and slipped out of the protective forcefield into space. Parker found himself wanting to ask Endar why he had a Human son. It seemed so... out of character for the Talarians. They were so xenophobic, after all, that Parker could not see any of them willingly adopting a child of another race.
"My grandson."
The voice was soft and shaken, but Parker recognized it. Heads turned toward Admiral Rossa. Like Endar she had became pale, as if she had seen something she thought impossible. Parker walked up to her and said, "Admiral?"
"That is my grandson. I know it. I recognized him. That face, those eyes. That boy is my grandson." The older woman's voice was growing shakier with every word. She seemed on the verge of complete breakdown. "You! You took him from me!"

Parker thought back. Rossa's son and his family had been declared killed after the Talarian raid on Galen IV. Jeremiah Rossa, their young son, had been the only unconfirmed death; no body had been found and it had been assumed that his body had been destroyed in some way.
Could this human boy be Jeremiah? He looked to be of the right age, about 16. Talarians aged quicker than Humans, which would explain why he was in the military already and a member of an important honor guard.
Looking at Rossa and Endar staring at each other, Parker also thought about the fact that a member of Durlora's own honor guard tried to murder her. This diplomatic negotiation was about to get far more complex -and dangerous - than he'd bargained for.




After the commotion in the shuttle bay the decision had been made to proceed straight to the conference room set aside for the treaty negotiations. Parker had hoped that things would settle down on the trip there and they could get to work.
But the door had scarcely been given time to close when Rossa immediately said, "He must be returned to us." It was clear who she was talking about, but Rossa did not stop there. "You broke your treaty with us by keeping Jeremiah. I insist you return him to the Federation immediately."
"In what way did we break our treaty?" Durlora asked calmly. She and Lwaxana exchanged glances, both diplomats seeming to agree that Rossa was not in a reasonable state of mind. Parker pondered whether Lwaxana had been able to send that impression to Durlora telepathically. Carefully, Durlora put her hands together and waited for an answer.
"The treaty required you to return all prisoners you took," Rossa said angrily. "You should have returned him immediately."
"He was not a prisoner!" Endar jumped into the conversation now. "I adopted him as my son!"
"You had no right!"

"I had every right! It is the Geje'hut. My son was killed fighting the Federation. I in turn killed a Federation commander and adopted his orphan as my new son. It has been the way of my people for millennia!"
"Jeremiah has a family in the Federation!" Rossa hit her fist on the table. If it brought pain to her, she did not show it. "His aunts and uncles, his grandparents. You took him from us and made us think he was dead! How could you be so cruel?!"
"This arguing is not going to get us anywhere at the moment," Durlora pointed out. "We should discuss more pressing matters."
"I would agree." Lwaxana stepped up to Durlora. "But you must have security concerns now, Director. Is there anything you would like us to do for you in that regard?"
"Not at the moment, Ambassador. I would much prefer to get these negotiations started before the reactionaries that manipulated young Gelya can strike again."
Rossa went to open her mouth but was silenced by a glare from Lwaxana. Picard took the opportunity to point out the seating arrangements for the two diplomatic teams. Parker and Endar would stand behind their respective ambassadors, who were at the head of each side of the rectangular table set up for the negotiations. The table was not very large, with seats for just the ambassadors and the respective admirals. Parker and Endar stood behind their respective delegations and observed quietly as the opening terms were discussed. Protocol was important in such matters, and the wording of the new treaty's opening statements was carefully argued.

The debate was still concerning the wording of the new treaty's opening when Parker's commbadge beeped. Razmara's voice followed it. "Captain, Doctor Nguyen has a report on the boy's status. He is in critical but stable condition. They're prepping for surgery now."
Parker tapped the badge and replied, "Thank you for the update Commander. I'll talk to you later. Parker out." He looked across the table at Endar, who regained some of the color in his face. Rossa also seemed to lift a little in spirit. The negotiators at the table showed various reactions to the interruption but were silent.
Endar finally spoke. "Can I go over to your ship now, Captain? I wish to see my son."
Rossa's eyes gazed at Parker, as if she were giving him an unspoken order to deny Endar, but Parker wasn't about to play that game. "Of course, Captain. Please come this way."
"Captain, he has no right to board a Federation starship," Rossa protested, standing up.
"I'm hardly giving him a tour of sensitive areas, Admiral," replied Parker. "He will remain in sick bay."
Rossa went to speak again but was silenced by a glare from Lwaxana. The admiral's mental state was again becoming agitated. Parker did feel sympathetic for her. Finally, Rossa spoke up in a calmer voice. "I would also like to visit my grandson."

Lwaxana didn't say anything at that point. However, Admiral Relki stood up and moved away from the table upon seeing Durlora's nod. Parker imagined it had more to do with the Talarians' emphasis on "balance", and that this was their way of showing support for the Admiral. He wondered if Rossa would recognize that. Lwaxana nodded at Rossa, who stepped away from the table and toward Parker. She and Endar exchanged looks while Parker tapped his commbadge. "Parker to Enterprise. Lock onto me and the two closest life signs. Three to beam over." About three seconds later, the transporter took hold of them and they disappeared in pillars of light.




Relki stepped out of the conference room, no longer welcome due to the departure of Admiral Rossa. She looked at her daughter as she stepped out of the room. The honor guard had been kept, but only the first rank was allowed into the room to equal the two Starfleet Marines with the Federation delegation; the last four ranks were kept outside.
Once outside of the room, Relki started to think to herself. She and Utali had underestimated Jono. That was really the danger of their contempt for aliens; they thought less of them, and Gelya had paid for that with her life. Relki had to admit that even if the boy was physically Human, he was spiritually Talarian. The way he attacked, the pride in his sathje, was everything she would have expected from Utali in that situation. Endar had raised Jono well.
Durlora lived. That was a problem. She would undoubtedly tighten security and make it difficult for another assassination to be successful. Relki would have to consider other options.

And then it occurred to her. Admiral Rossa's outburst. Her charge that young Jono was her family blood. She did not care for the Geje'hut and if her allegation proved true she would spend the entire conference trying to force Jono's return to the Federation. Endar would oppose it, of course. But Rossa was a respected Federation admiral. If she persuaded Picard and they in turn pressured the Betazoid Ambassador Troi to make Jono's return a necessity.... such a fear could be used to turn Endar onto her side. Yes, and with him would come the Talara'Sathra.
Relki thought about it. She had considered a naval uprising in the squadron, but without the Sathra it was doomed to failure. The Talara'Holtaje was loyal to Durlora, as were one of the destroyer captains, but both cruiser commanders and the other two destroyer captains were against Durlora's and Murluno's plan. So long as the Sathra and Holtaje supported Durlora, this was not enough force. But if Endar could be convinced that Durlora was going to take Jono away from him and give him to the Federation.... yes. That would work.
All Relki had to do now was manipulate Durlora and Endar into that collision course, and her plan would succeed. The Steadhold would be preserved.




Parker had expected Endar to be a little awed by the size and look of the Enterprise from the inside, but the Talarian seemed oblivious to the entire ship. The same was true for Rossa. Parker led them around a corner to one of the pathway corridors that cut between the circular corridors (circular in that they followed the ship's circumference) that were the main travelways through the heart of the Enterprise.
They arrived in Sickbay and were directed by Chief Ignacian to the surgery ward. Inside one of the operation rooms, visible through thick trans-aluminum windows, Jono was visible on a table. It was somewhat of a tube, really, with only his feet and head visible out of the tube. He was still unconscious. "What.... what is that thing?" Endar pressed a hand to the window, as if to reach for his son.
"Holographic life support unit," came a reply from behind. Phong emerged from a corridor leading to the offices and locker rooms of the sickbay unit wearing a white surgical dress, complete with cap. He was accompanied by three others. Parker recognized Doctor Tugan from the Valiant. The woman of the group - Doctor Marskukas from the Intrepid - was more easily identified by her emerald skin than her face or her figure. The third figure, an Andorian considering the specially-shaped nature of his cap and his blue skin, Parker remembered as Doctor H'varka, Phong's senior assistant. Phong stopped in front of Endar and Rossa and introduced the doctors present as a matter of protocol. "Aside from my senior assistant Doctor H'varka, I called for Doctors Tugan and Marskukas because of their talent and experience," he explained. "Doctor Marskukas has much experience in dealing with surgical operations of this complexity and Doctor Tugan, being so recently graduated from the Academy, has dealt with holographic units more than any of us."
"Holographic units?"

Phong nodded at Endar's question while the assembled doctors dispersed and headed into the OR. "The plasma blast incinerated portions of Jono's lungs, stomach, and diaphragm muscle, and a good deal of tissue also suffered burns and other damage. Some of it is repairable, but to save his life we had to remove the incinerated portions with a laser scalpel. Rather than put him on conventional life support, which would be a constant strain on his system, we put him in that holographic unit. It's like a miniature holodeck. The replicator and transporter elements of the unit simulate the existance of the portions of his organs that we removed. This way his body is acting normally and we were able to stabilize him enough for the next surgical operation."
"Which is?"
Phong looked at a nearby clock. "My colleagues will begin prepping him now. We used DNA samples to replicate new organs to replace the ones that were damaged and we will be transplanting them in this op. Unless complications arise, I do think he will pull through."
There were looks of relief on the faces of Endar and Rossa. Rossa quickly asked the question that had consumed her. "Is he my grandson?"

Phong nodded stiffly. "I checked the Starfleet Archives. The DNA is a perfect match for your grandson's DNA."
Rossa leveled a glare at Endar. Sensing the conflict about to erupt, Phong pointed a finger at both of them. "If you're going to stay, I want you both to remain quiet. Otherwise I'll have Commander Carter's people toss you out. Am I clear?"
Endar did not protest, his gaze focused on Jono. Rossa seemed ready to protest but, wisely, decided she wouldn't be able to prevail against a ship's CMO. So she remained silent. Parker decided it was best to leave the matter up to Phong, but he would arrange for Carter and Kira to have a few guards ready just in case Endar and Rossa became disruptive in another fight. Out loud, Parker asked, "Doctor, is there anything else you need?"
"That is all, Captain."
"Admiral, Captain, if you'll excuse me, I have duties to attend to." Parker nodded to both and headed out of the room, leaving them to watch the preparations for surgery.




Aside from the flickering of candles, there was no illumination in the two-bed quarters assigned to Lieutenants Crusher and T'Dyra. T'Dyra was seated on the floor in a meditative pose, clad in traditional Vulcan robes. Her mind was quiet save for the mind-focusing exercises she had been trained to do since she was young (in this case, the reciting of the prime numbers). It was through these exercises that Vulcans learned to establish control upon their minds, restraining all emotion.
The common caricature of Vulcans was that they were emotionless beings. This was not true. It was impossible to lose all emotion. Even those who succeeded in kohlinar had only mastered complete control that meant a de facto purging of emotion; kohlinar masters who had been afflicted with Bendii relapsed into emotion with the degeneration of the disease. And T'Dyra was still very young, only twenty eight and still recovering from her first frightening onset of pon farr.
But there was another weight on the young Vulcan's soul that was drawing her thoughts. She and Sophia Razmara were kin, by T'Dyra's father who was Commander Razmara's half-brother genetically. T'Dyra was the youngest of Stovuk's grandchildren, born after his death from Bendii. The same Bendii that robbed Stovuk of his control and which caused him to brutally rape Mitra Razmara four years before that death - an act which shook Vulcan society to it's core from it's recalling of the long-buried past of their people. T'Dyra had spent her formative years observing her family's vicious fight in the Federation courts to compel Mitra to give custody of her daughter to Stovuk's second wife T'Par, citing that the girl's Vulcan heritage demanded a Vulcan upbringing so that she would learn to control her emotions. T'Dyra remembered clearly T'Par's insistance that without that upbringing, Sophia Razmara would become a brutal, violent adult from her Vulcan passions.

In the past twenty years, that had been shown as a lie. T'Dyra came to age with her grandmother's restrained distaste for her step-daughter projected onto the family, and none would come forward to speak well of her for controlling her emotions as well as any disciplined Human in Starfleet. With T'Par's death the previous year, T'Dyra no longer had to concern herself with her grandmother's disapproval of her choice of career, nor with the prospect that T'Dyra might try to re-establish the family links that T'Par had severed.
T'Dyra finished counting prime numbers and went to work on square roots when she heard the door open and the familiar (and to T'Dyra, disturbing) tune of Human rock music. "Sevendust, 'Enemy'," she sighed with a breath, opening her eyes and looked back to the door. Jacquelyn Crusher was shedding the tight-fitting sports bra she wore while jogging, leaving the sweat-coated garment in a small pile on her side of the room. She had pulled the headphones off her head, allowing the rock music playing from a small personal music player on her waist to be heard. She turned the music off and discarded the the player onto her bed before pulling down the jogging shorts. Hiding her irritation at being interrupted in her meditations, T'Dyra asked, "Would you not prefer changing and showering in the gym locker rooms?"
"No, I wouldn't. I like my privacy. And being an officer lets me have that perk." Jacquelyn walked across the room in the buff toward the shower. "Sorry for disturbing your meditations. I thought you'd be sleeping."

"I do not need sleep at this time." T'Dyra watched Jacquelyn enter the bathroom. She heard the distinct sound of the shower being turned on. Water was not a commodity on starships and had not been since the advent of replicators, though each room's shower stall still had a limit to it's water usage per day, enough for one quick five minute shower per day for each occupant (senior officers got enough for two showers a day). "Would you not prefer saving that shower ration for when you are prepared to sleep?"
"I'm not taking a full wash," Jacquelyn answered over the roar of the water. "Just rinsing the sweat off." As if to punctuate the point, the shower turned off a moment later. There was a short delay in Jacquelyn stepping out while she applied deodorant. When she came out she went straight across T'Dyra's vision again and over to her closet and drawers, from which she pulled out undergarments and a fresh uniform. "So, any reason you're meditating?"
T'Dyra leveled a gaze at Jacquelyn as she finished pulling on her underpants. Had the younger human woman been looking at her, she would have noticed it was a "that's none of your business" gaze, but Jacquelyn's attention was fixed to a mirror while she strapped on a bra next. Thinking on it for a moment, T'Dyra decided to open a little to her roommate; studies did show that roommates were an excellent source of advice and comradeship, and years of her grandmother's insistence that Humans were to be avoided and kept distant had not done T'Dyra or her family any good. "I'm sure you've noticed that I share some physical similarities to Commander Razmara."

"Yeah."
"We are blood relatives. She is my father's half-sister."
Jacquelyn looked back to T'Dyra. "I didn't know your grandfather married a human woman."
"He didn't." T'Dyra swallowed. "There was... an incident. Commander Razmara's mother worked for my grandfather Stovuk as an aide and assistant. Stovuk was old, well past two hundred human years. He contracted Bendii Syndrome and began to lose control. Because Miss Razmara was quite attractive, he..." T'Dyra spent a moment contemplating her usage of words. She couldn't very well lie or mislead, like T'Par had done for so long, but she didn't know if it was right to be blunt in this situation. She made her decision and continued to speak. "...he compelled her to mate with him. This was how Commander Razmara was procreated."
There was a short pause. Jacquelyn seemed to be thinking as she pulled on her black uniform trousers. "You mean your grandfather raped Commander Razmara's mother and she was conceived as a result."
A human would have winced at the bluntness. T'Dyra raised her left eyebrow. "Yes."
Jacquelyn pulled on a white sleeveless vest and went for the red turtle-necked uniform sweater that would go under her uniform jacket, her one gold-one black pip arrangement already on the right side of the collar. "Well, I can see why that's a bit of a family problem."

"There is more." T'Dyra, for the first time since she began to meditate, picked up a small case with an isolinear data disk. "I was asked by my parents to give her something. But I detected her apprehension and bitterness immediately upon meeting her and it has given me doubts as to whether I should present it to her. Given her reputation for shortness with Vulcans, she might not accept it."
"Well, maybe you should try to warm up to her first." Jacquelyn shrugged. "I mean, the Commander's got a rep for being a cold cast-iron bitch, but I hear she's approachable if you're doing a good job and not trying to suck up."
"I am not quite sure how to go about doing that. She appears to dislike associating with Vulcans." T'Dyra slipped the thin disc case between her index and middle finger, looking at the half-transparent blue isolinear material that made up the data disc. "I suppose it is because other Vulcans have tried to form associations to encourage her to adopt our ways."
Jacquelyn was finished getting dressed at this point. "Well, if you need any more advice or help, I'm always available. Heading to the bridge now. Commander Carter's giving me tactical for the rest of the day."
"Certainly an important task. I wish you luck." T'Dyra watched Jacquelyn walk out of the room. She returned to her meditative pose for a short while before deciding that sleep was probably a good idea until her appointed watch from 2200 to 0200 the next day. After setting the room's computer to awake her at 2100 and putting the disc for Razmara away, T'Dyra shed her robes and went to bed.




Phong was in the sickbay changing room, getting back into his usual uniform with a white doctor's overcoat, when he heard commotion from outside. He immediately knew who it was even before coming out into the waiting room.
"Would you have preferred I left him to the mercies of the wilds on Galen IV?!" Endar's hand swept out to the curtained-off room where Jono ku'Jashklu - Jeremiah Rossa - was sleeping to recover from his second surgery of the day. With the help of Doctors Marskukas, Bashir, and H'varka, the operation had gone off without a single problem and the young man would make a complete recovery.
Unfortunately, it seemed that his recovery was going to be put into jeopardy by the greater issue of his custody. "I would have preferred that you and your people had not attacked us in the first place," Rossa shot back. "I would have preferred that Connor and his wife had not been killed by you! I would have preferred having my family alive and intact!"
"And I would give anything for my son Rolar to still be alive, but he is not! He died fighting the Federation, just as your son died fighting us. It was for such things that my people have the Geje'hut!" Endar clenched his fists before the older Human woman. "You have no appreciation for what I have done! Any other commander would have left him to die! I took him into my home! I adopted him into my family! Every achievement he makes brings honor to me and the Jashklu family!"

"You have raised him to hate his own people!" Rossa stabbed an accusing finger at Endar. "You raised my grandson to hate me! To believe he is something he is not!"
"I raised him as a Talarian, as is my right under the Geje'hut!"
"We do not recognize such rights! You should have returned him to me when peace was made!"
"If your Federation is so quick to ignore our ways when it is convenient to do so, perhaps this alliance is bound to fail! My people will not abandon our culture for you!"
"You...."
"That's enough!" Phong's voice carried over both of them. "I don't know who has the greater claim to the boy, legal or moral. But I do know one thing, and that he is my patient, and you're not doing him any good screaming about where he belongs! Now get out!"
Endar didn't speak, but Rossa's face started to turn purple. "Commander Nguyen, you forget your place! You will not speak to me in that manner or I'll have you in the...."
"I'll speak to you any God damned way I please so long as you don't heed my directives, Admiral. This is sickbay, and in here I am in command and I don't care how high your rank is. And the regs are with me on this. You are being disruptive. You have to leave."

Rossa was fuming but spoke no more. Through her anger, she knew he was right about the regs. Starfleet Medical was notoriously stringent about the kinds of special rights a ship's CMO got in regards to doing his or her job. Even if he was technically of lower rank, all he or one of his subordinatres would have to do was raise an admiral in Medical to back him - and one would - and Rossa would have triggered yet another fight between departments in Starfleet.
Slowly her fists unclenched and she stormed out. Phong leveled a glare at Endar. "You too. Return to your ship."
"I must be with my son," Endar insisted.
"There's nothing you can do here for him. You're a captain and you have duties to attend to. If something comes up, I'll make sure you are notified."
Endar clearly didn't like leaving his son alone on a Federation starship, not after Rossa's outbursts, but he wasn't going to cross Phong either. Not after seeing him handle Rossa so harshly. He gave one last look toward his son and left the room.




The day's negotiations were coming to an end. The preliminary text of the treaty had been agreed upon by Durlora and Lwaxana and negotiations had begun on the first terms, including the Federation returning uninhabited systems taken from the Steadhold during the war (for outposts and listening stations to prevent the Steadhold from launching another surprise attack as it did at the opening of the last war) and economic issues. Originally they would have ended hours ago to prepare for the planned banquet, but the station's Commander Gatalak - a stout-nosed Tellarite - had agreed that the assassination attempt made the banquet unfeasible now and it had been canceled. Durlora was preparing with her staff to head back over to the Sathra when Picard decided this was as good a time as any to bring up the newest pressing subject. "Technically," he said, "one could say there is reason to Admiral Rossa's argument. You did not return young Jeremiah to the Federation and you did not even inform us of his survival." Before Durlora or Hoturo could protest, Picard quickly and diplomatically added, "I understand you have your own customs in this matter and I do not fault you for upholding them. However, the boy is human, and we should have been informed that he was alive."
Durlora regarded Picard silently. "Ambassador Troi, what is your opinion on this matter?"
Lwaxana sighed irritably. "Oh, he does have a point. Admiral Rossa's not being very diplomatic about it, true, but I've read the Alpha Magnetai Treaty and it does call for nationals to be returned on both sides. And much like your people, there are those among mine who do not trust your Steadhold and they would use such a breach of faith to undermine our work."

Hoturo's expression locked into a scowl. "The Geje'hut is one of our most time-honored customs," he growled. "It is extended to celebrate the courage and honor of a defeated foe, by bringing his offspring into the protection of the victor. It was not malicious kidnapping. It was a gesture of respect to the Rossas."
Picard seemed to consider his words carefully before speaking. "Perhaps that was how it was intended, Admiral, but there is the legal question of the boy's status. Adoption is a time-honored custom among our people as well, but not in that method, and certainly not when the child has blood relatives that could have claimed him."
"We understand your position, Admiral Picard, but I hope you can understand our's." Durlora put hier hands together in front of her. "Young Jono is a rising star of the Jashklu Family. Despite unfair treatment he has performed better than most young men his age. He has even been recommended to attend our military officer's college. He cannot simply be... turned over to a woman he knows nothing of. Perhaps a form of compensation can be arranged? We are not above formal apologies for such failures in communication."
"Somehow, I doubt your offer will be acceptable to Admiral Rossa, who by our laws would be the boy's legal guardian."
Lwaxana spoke up next, sensing Picard's remarks had not been well-received. "Nevertheless, Director, I am certain an arrangement can be found that will benefit all concerned."

"Yes, I suppose so," Picard agreed.
Durlora and Hoturo nodded in agreement. Final pleasantries were exchanged and the two Talarians departed with the first rank of Durlora's honor guard. Relki was still waiting in the hallway for them with the rest of the honor guard. As they walked back to their transport, Relki asked how the negotiations went and was told of their positive status. But it wasn't until they were in the transport and returning to the Talara'Sathra that she asked about the issue with Jono ku'Jashklu. Durlora did not reply at first. "All of our hard work," she finally said, "and it could be undone by the presence of a single boy."
"Has the Federation demanded his return?"
"Not yet."
Hoturo grunted irritably. "They will, though."
"Ambassador Lwaxana seems more annoyed with the issue," Durlora said. "I do not believe she will make it an issue unless she is forced to."
"And if she is?" Relki allowed Durlora a few moments of silence before continuing. "I would think that the fate of the Steadhold is more important than one boy, or even one Family."

"Perhaps so," Durlora agreed.
"When he reaches Federation majority age, he could always return to the Steadhold," Relki continued. "There is very little we could gain from holding out on this one issue."
"The Jashklu Family is powerful," Hoturo reminded them both. "Alienate them and you risk having the treaty fail in the Djakake'Juthke."
"Families are not always in mutual agreement. Jinal ke'Jashklu has a reputation for placing duty above her family ties. If it is made clear that this is for the good of the Steadhold, she will not oppose us."
"This debate shall be held later," Durlora said, stopping the argument. "For now I wish to return to the Sathra and give a report to the Lord Protector on today's events."
"Of course, Director." Relki stared darkly into the depths of space as the Sathra loomed closer, rebellious thoughts creating an endless loop in her mind.



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Chapter 6




Parker was alone in his office on Deck 4 when Yeoman Galvarez reported that Commander Razmara had arrived. He bid her over the intercom to tell Razmara to come in and looked up from his plain oak desk to see her enter, hands at her sides as usual. Her eyes briefly looked around the office, as if to remind herself of how Parker had furnished it. Aside from his leather office chair and the two smaller vinyl chairs, he had a cabinent filled with mementos from his careers. Awards, commendations, replicas of various ships he had served on - a model of the Akira-class U.S.S. Salamis was now displayed beside the Galaxy-class Yamato - and pictures of his family and childhood home adorned the various shelves. Razmara realized that she had never heard Parker speak of his family before and thought about inquiring into it for small talk at a later date.
She also, for the first time, noticed a picture of Parker with Deanna Troi. They were in civilian clothes, in a daylight setting. No wonder you've been so apprehensive... She stood at attention and waited for Parker to motion for her to relax. He did so in his usual fashion when he was occupied, a nod of the head, and she walked up to his desk. A copy of a leather-bound hardcover book was on the desk, a bookmark sticking out about two-fifths through. She looked at the cover. "John Archer's memoirs?" Razmara slipped into one of the seats facing Parker. "You actually bought the physical copy?"
"No, I inherited from my grandfather, John Harriman." Parker looked up from where he had been reading a report. "And yes, that John Harriman. Ironic, I suppose, that I ended up with a ship named Enterprise like he did. Maybe my tenure will be just as quiet as his was."

"Well, Harriman is called one of the most boring of the Enterprise captains for a reason I guess," Razmara said. "Didn't they blame Jim Kirk's death on him? During the Lakul Incident?"
"Contemporary press did. Pavel Chekov even made a public spectacle of it, though years later he apologized. Of course, I heard through my mother that Grandpa Harriman had little choice in the matter. The desk jockeys at Starfleet Operations wanted the Enterprise-B's launch done on schedule. After all, who knew they'd have to go racing off after some weird subspace ribbon to save a shipload of El Aurians?" Parker smirked and tapped a button to turn his monitor off. He stood up, picking up the book from his desk to return it to a shelf. "My father never approved of my desire to join Starfleet. He wanted me to take up the family's auto shop business. Most of his big fights with Mom were over her 'filling my head with Starfleet nonsense'." Parker put the book onto a shelf with a handful of other books. "Parker's Auto Body... Grandpa Parker swore up and down it'd been in the family since the 20th Century."
Razmara smiled diplomatically. "I don't think being an auto mechanic would have fulfilled you, Captain. It can't compare to being Captain of the Starship Enterprise."
"Can't it?" Parker leveled a gaze at her. "The family business was good enough for my sister Amanda."
For a moment Razmara thought of what to say. Before she could speak, though, Parker continued, "Grandpa Harriman bought Archer's book because he knew he wasn't going to follow Kirk's model, so he wanted another famous captain of an Enterprise for his inspiration. Archer, despite all the claims of his exploits, had a rather boring career up until the Romulan War, and afterward he spent his days as one of the Federation Starfleet's first leading admirals."
"Archer's U.S.S. Enterprise was the first Earth ship built under Starfleet, wasn't it?"

"Of course not, but it was the first constructed under the Naval Construction Contract registration system. Hence NCC-01 for it's number. And it was U.E.S. Enterprise. United Earth Ship." Parker folded his hands together on the desk. "And before you ask, no, he did not have a dog named Porthos on board and no, he did not have a Vulcan XO or a Denobulan CMO. The Denobulans were isolationist and barely warp-capable and Earth-Vulcan relations were rather strained in the early 22nd Century, what with the Vulcans insisting on Earth adhering to their interstellar treaties and regs. That schtick is purely the invention of Berstein and Bragg."
"Well, everyone knows holoshows about Starfleet and the military tend to be inaccurate anyway." A smirk appeared on Razmara's face. "Though I found the guy who played Archer to be handsome."
Parker chuckled at that. "So, Commander, any news of note?"
"None. Some leave requests, and by your orders we're only allowing that on a limited basis for off-duty personnel. Chief Watson and her people are keeping tabs on everyone who goes down for immediate beamup if you order it."
"Good, very good." Parker kept his hands on the desk. "Commander, would you mind if I asked you a bit of a personal question?"
"Depends, sir, on the question."
Parker nodded and crossed his arms. "How do you do it? Maintain your relationship?"

"Relationship?" Realization immediately dawned on her. "You mean Jack?"
"Yes, Jack Kelvin. How do you keep that flame going even when you see him so infrequently?"
Razmara tried, and failed, to hide her pain. Her heart immediately began to pine for Jack. "I don't know," she confessed. "I guess, in a way, I make myself forget about it most of the time."
"But you miss him?"
"Terribly." Razmara folded her arms on her lap. "We've never had it easy. We met in the Academy as roommates, fell in love by our third year, and have spent most of the last eighteen years just trying to see each other. We managed one year together when we were both posted to the same ship. And then he retired from Starfleet eight years ago and went into the private sector. I mean, I don't blame him for it. As a megaton freighter captain he earns great money, probably more than both of us combined. But it makes meeting him so much harder. I mean, before we were together in May, the last time I saw him was March of last year when I was about to go out on the Phoenix." She scoffed, looking down at her lap. "He offered to make me his first mate if I retired. Then we'd work together for a while, retire at 40 and get a nice piece of land on some mid-range world with a lake shore or maybe something on an ocean coast. Live out the rest of our days together, living off stock dividends and bank interest."
Parker nodded. "Sounds good."

"Well, it also helps that we fully understand each other. We haven't exactly been faithful in these past few years." Razmara looked up at Parker, who seemed a bit surprised at the admission. "It first happened at the same time for us. We admitted it to each other and, well, after a good deal of fuss we realized it was something to be expected when you're alone out here. So we gave each other permission, if you will, to look around. After all, no use pining for each other if what we have isn't that strong." Razmara shrugged. "Though maybe in the end that's just an excuse for both of us. I'm not sure I know."
"Neither am I." Parker smirked. "So, any plans to eventually leave Starfleet and end that problem?"
"Oh, yes. In fact, I had my mind made up about sixteen months ago. After I ended my year as XO on the Phoenix, I was going to retire and meet up with Jack. Then Captain Harburton offered me the XO spot on the Enterprise. And, really, who can turn down a senior position on the Enterprise? That's the pinnacle of any Starfleet officer's career, when you think about it. I mean, there are officers would gladly fly survey ships for their entire careers if they got to at least have one stint on the Starship Enterprise."
"I understand it completely," Parker said. "And now that you're here, I'm sure you'll be angling on getting the chair one day, right?"
"Maybe when they add two more ships to our squadron and make you an Admiral," Razmara said with a grin. "Though I'm probably not anywhere on the list of potential Enterprise COs after you."

"If I ever think of leaving, I'll have to change that."
"Thinking about her, huh?"
"Deanna? Yes." Parker sighed. For a moment he considered speaking with Razmara about it, but something was stopping him. He hadn't really known her very long, just a couple of months now. And while she was competent, well.... Virshk had been competent too, but Parker had never even considered opening up to him back on the Salamis.
Before he had to make any kind of decision, his intercom system beeped. Usually it would be the commbadge, but since he was in his office the computer automatically routed control to his desk. He tapped a button with his right index finger. "Parker here."
Lieutenant O'Keefe's Australian accent was as pronounced as ever over the comm link. "Captain, you've got a private channel waitin' for you."
Parker almost immediately knew who it was. "Patch it down here, I'll take it in a moment." He looked back to Razmara. "Commander, you are dismissed. Maybe you would like to go planetside?"

"I have no reason too," Razmara answered. "I'm heading to the command bridge now. Commander Williams needs to be relieved."
"Very well. I'll see you later." Parker made sure Razmara was out the door and that it was closing before he hit the receive key. Deanna's face blipped into view on his desk monitor. She was still wearing the same clothes from earlier, though her hair seemed a little more disheveled. "Hello Deanna."
"Adrian." She showed the slight hint of a smile. "I just got a room down on the planet, and there's a nice roadside diner down the street. I was wondering if you would mind coming down for dinner?"
Compared to the coldness earlier, Deanna was coming off as surprisingly warm now. Almost as if she and Parker had never broken off. Parker looked at the screen for a moment before nodding. "I, uh, I've got a clean schedule after 1800. I mean, relatively clean."

"Then 1830? I'm staying about four kilometers from the planetary government complex in Waipahu. The Hiller-Jennings Coastal Hotel."
"I'll meet you out front. See you in a couple hours." Her image disappeared from the screen.
Parker drew in a breath. He'd been hoping to talk to her, to settle things, but he hadn't expected it to come like this. He turned an eye back to paperwork and the other to the clock, which told him he had an hour before he had to get ready. His hand went to the comm button on his desk and he opened a channel to Data to let him know he'd be having a bridge watch tonight.
And as he did so, he began to think of what could happen, and what he would say to Deanna.




Phong was staring blankly at his monitor, ignoring the medical requistion orders on the screen as he fought the drooping of his eyelids. He stifled a yawn and rubbed his eyes. He hadn't gotten much sleep lately because of his work and the emergency situation had drained him rather well.
Just as the thought came to him of replicating some black coffee, a shrill wailing came from outside his office. Phong winced as an immediate reaction and jumped to his feet, fully awakened. "Just what the hell is that?!"
As he came out of the office, one of Alpha Shift's nurses bumped into him on her way into the door. "Is there a problem, Nurse?"
"The boy just woke up, and he started making this awful screeching sound. I... I don't know why, the scanners on the bed don't see anything wrong with him...."
Phong walked around her and into the medical room where Jono had been brought. He was sitting up, his mouth hanging open and wail after wail erupting from his throat. "Stop that immediately!"
To his surprise, the boy's mouth closed without hesitation.
"That's better." Phong crossed his arms. "Now what was all that about?

"The Ba'nar. And I will continue it until you return me to my people." And without further hesitation, he began to make the awful wailing noise again.
"Not around my other patients, you won't," Phong countered loudly. "You will knock that off immediately." He noticed Jono stop once more. "You're not a prisoner here. You needed medical treatment to save your life."
"I will not be your slave," Jono said defiantly.
"We don't want you to be one. As I said, you needed surgery and we brought you here for that purpose. That's why you've got an entirely new set of lungs in your chest."
The boy looked down. "Does my father know what you have done to me?!" Jono demanded.
Meeting Jono's gaze without flinching, Phong nodded. "He watched the procedure, young man."
"Then where is he? Why did he not wait for me to awaken?"
"He had duties to attend to," Phong lied. No need telling the boy that his father had to be removed because of a rather nasty spat over his custody. "I need to keep you for observation over the next twenty-four hours at least, to make sure your body completely accepts the replicated organs."
"I want to be returned to my father."
"Not until I know you're made a full recovery. It's my obligation as a doctor to ensure that you are fully healed before releasing you." His already-slim eyes narrowed further for effect. "You wouldn't want me to shirk my obligations, would you?"

The harshness of the question had the desired effect. Jono gave an understanding nod and spoke no more of the subject. Moral and ethical obligations were quite highly regarded among the Talarians, after all.
After looking over the boy for a moment, Phong walked a little closer. "Tell me, young man... how much do you know about yourself?"
"What do you mean?" Jono had a quizzical expression on his face at Phong's question.
"You have to know that you're different, physically, from other Talarians. Has it ever been explained to you?"
Jono did not answer at first. "I am the son of my father's slain enemy. My father adopted me for Geje'hut to honor his slain foe and restore the balance of his own lost son."
"'Restore the balance'?"
"The Universe desires balance," was Jono's reply. "My father Endar lost a son to the Federation, and he adopted me from the Federation. The Universe clearly arranged this."
Phong nodded with an "ahhh" sound to show understanding. "But what I mean, Jono, is what you know about yourself. About being Human."
"I am not Human. I am Talarian."
"Maybe in spirit," Phong admitted, "but genetics has its own mind and according to your genes, your body is Human. Do you understand that? The things that make you different, physically, from other Talarians?"
Now Jono seemed a little irritated. "I am aware of some things. I have tried to change them, but..."

"Unfortunately Jono..." Phong sighed and shook his head. "Give me a few minutes, I have to go do something."
After Jono nodded, Phong left for his office. His hand tapped his commbadge and he asked the computer to connect him to Commander Carter. Though he could just as easily use his authority to call the Talara'Sathra to talk to Endar, he preferred working with his crewmates and Carter was the Security Officer for the ship. By the time he had closed the door to the office, Carter was responding over the ship's intercom. "Doctor, what can I do for you?"
"I'm requesting an open channel to the Talarian flagship. I need to speak with Captain Endar."
"Certainly, Doctor," Carter replied. "I'll have Communications connect you right away."
Phong turned to the monitor on his wall and waited until the comm was answered. After about four minutes, Endar appeared on the screen with some concern visible in his features. "Doctor, has something happened?"
"Nothing, actually," Phong answered. "Jono is awake and doing well, though I'll want to keep him for observation over the next twenty-four standard hours to make sure his body accepts the new organs. I called you for a different reason." Drawing in a breath, Phong thought of how to phrase things properly before continuing, "How much does Jono know about himself?"
"What do you mean by that?"

"How much does Jono know about being a Human?" To forestall the protest he was certain would be developing, Phong raised a hand. "I'm not here to debate the legality or morality of your adopting him, or whether he is a Talarian at heart. He is Human, physically, and our peoples have some differences. Differences that could make his life difficult in some cases."
Endar didn't seem very happy with where the conversation was going. He seemed to think for a moment before saying, "What differences do you speak of?"
"For instance, your people place a great deal of importance in having children to carry on the family, right?" He waited for Endar to nod in affirmation before continuing. "Jono... cannot have a child with a Talarian woman. On the T'Ral-Hawkins Scale of Interspecies Compatibility, a Human/Talarian pairing ranks as 3. You need a 5 using modern medicine to be capable of producing a child in an interspecies pairing."
Endar nodded slowly. "I have... already heard this. It is a problem I hoped could be handled in time."
"Outside of adoption, it can't be fixed. And beyond that, humans don't have the pheromone-based mating drive that Talarians do, nor are we compatible with Talarians in that fashion. And then there's the fact that human bones are less dense than Talarian ones, some of the nutritional differences..." Phong noticed the expression on Endar's face growing darker. "I've called, Captain, to ask if you would permit me to discuss these issues with Jono. To teach him about his body, how it works and what it needs and how those things differ from Talarian norms. That way he knows how to care for himself."

Endar nodded silently, as if in thought. After a few moments, he spoke in agreement. "You have my permission." A quizzical look crossed Endar's face. "Doctor, if I might ask, why did you come to me for this permission?"
"Jono is underaged. As a doctor, I am ethically required to seek permission from his parents, or guardian, before doing anything or saying anything to him."
There was a hint of bitterness to Endar's voice when he said, "I think your Admiral Rossa would not be pleased to hear of you coming to me for permission, and not coming to her."
"Frankly, Captain, I'm not sure about the legal or moral issues here, and those aren't my concern. Your son is my patient; I have an obligation to do what I think is best for his health. Having spoken to him, I can clearly see that he considers you to be his father, his parent, and he certainly does not know who Admiral Rossa is. You are, by all appearances, his father, so I have asked you. And that's exactly what I'll tell her if it comes to that."
Endar nodded in reply. There was some respect showing on his face when Endar said, "Well, Doctor, I thank you for this. You have my permission to tell Jono all he needs to know. And if you would, please tell my son that I am very proud of what he did and that I shall see him again soon enough."
"Of course." Phong nodded one last time to Endar before the Talarian captain cut out the signal. He sat down at his desk for a moment, thinking about how he was going to approach Jono.




Parker had changed out of uniform before beaming down. Since it was just before sunset in Waipahu he knew it would still be warm, so he dressed light; a red and white-line patterned collared pull-over shirt and knee-length black trousers were his outfit, and he made sure to bring his wallet and a hand-held comm device, a Qualcomm, so that anyone back on the ship could call him if a need arised.
The Hiller-Jennings Hotel wasn't as large or fancy as he thought it'd be, but then again, Deanna had never been one to delve into the trappings of royalty like her mother, who was staying in a suite in an expensive Radisson hotel on one of the nearby islands. She was waiting for him outside, wearing more modest clothing than before. A blue blouse of more conventional material than the fancy silks she'd been wearing earlier, sleeves cut at the elbows, and a skirt that went to her knees. The blouse was open at the neck, but didn't plunge down to her cleavage like some of her fancier dresses and suits did. When he walked up, Deanna smiled at him - smiled - and walked up to him. "Hello Adrian," she said in a sweet, if not overjoyous, tone. "Happy to have some dirt under your feet and a sky overhead?"
Parker smiled at that and nodded. "Yes, I suppose I am. So, where is it you want to go?"
"Just a short walk down the street."

Parker nodded and went to take her arm, but she didn't seem to accept the gesture. He wasn't surprised and was now wondering if Deanna had less friendly thoughts under her friendly demeanor.
The diner she had spoken of was small. What little ornamentation it had was set up to emulate North America in the 1950s, complete with a scale replica of a Thunderbird beside the door. A waitress of tan complexion and Polynesian features greeted them, wearing a blouse and skirt from the same time frame the restaurant was evoking. Parker mentally judged her no older than 25, possibly even teenage; her nametag had "Lila" written on it. Deanna allowed him to ask for a booth in the corner, where they were seated. Though he kept an eye on Deanna, Parker gladly took in the aromas of the diner. The smell of fresh cooked food, not replicated but the "real" thing, was as welcome as ever. There was slight chatter all around the restaurant, including a few people talking about the arrival of the Talarians.
Once at their booth, Deanna took the seat against the wall and Parker sat across from her. They ordered sodas and, after quietly contemplating their menus, summoned Lila back to make their orders. After they had ordered the main meal, Parker made sure to add that Deanna would want the chocolate sundae on the desert menu, drawing an amused grin from her as Lila scribbled it down with pen and paper - Honest to God pen and paper! Parker realized how used he was to the digital PADDs and stencil writers used by Starfleet - and walked away. After a few moments of silence, Parker finally said, "You look good, Deanna."
"Thank you. I've had to watch the weight recently. That sundae you just ordered will be my chocolate for the week."
Parker smiled and shook his head. "You used to eat chocolate all the time. Couldn't get enough of it."

"Well, people change sometimes." Deanna folded her hands on the table. "How's Amanda and the kids?"
"Oh, they're fine. Charlie is about fourteen now, Frank is ten. And she had a third one, Jamie, he's six."
"That's nice." Deanna's gentle smile slowly faded into a look of sadness. "I met Chief Winters a few years ago and he told me about Lisa. I'm very sorry, Adrian."
Parker nearly choked. He had hoped a little too greatly that Deanna wouldn't have known about that. "Thank you, Deanna," he managed to say, not wanting to indulge the memory. To change the subject he swallowed and said, "So, you went from psychology to diplomacy. Interesting change."
"It was right after I got my doctorate. I am technically Doctor Deanna Troi, you know." She grinned at him while they waited for the waitress Lila to place their sodas onto the table in real glasses, with straws, after which the waitress walked off. "I was still looking for a firm to intern in when my mother asked me to join her team as a specialist. It's my job to judge the psychology of the people she's dealing with. Learn what they might want, personally and professionally, so she can better understand them. Not a bad job, but a little boring compared to being the Captain of the Enterprise."
Parker tried not to smirk at that. "I'm sure diplomatic teams get their fill of tall tales."
It was at that moment that they chose to sip at their drinks, long enough for Lila to bring their meals. Though it was clear Deanna was waiting to say something, and Parker knew and dreaded what it would be, they began to eat quietly. Both took their time, yet felt rushed, as if fearing and wanting a resumption of their conversation at the same time.

It was only when they were finished eating that Deanna finally spoke up again. "Well, now that we've got the pleasantries and the dinner out of the way, I suppose it's time to get to the point." Her expression grew cold. "You never answered the question."
Parker didn't need to ask which question she was talking about. Why would he have to? It was the question. The question that had come to him again and again, demanding answers and never getting them. Even here, now, eight years later and with Deanna sitting right in front of him, he couldn't answer it.
There was no reply from Deanna while his silence stretched into a minute. In fact, she took the moment to almost non-chalantly slip her currency chip into the feeder on the table to pay for the meal electronically. Being an empath, she no doubt sensed the doubt and anxiety in Parker's mind. But after the minute passed, she folded her hands on the table. "I'm still waiting for an answer."
Parker had to answer with the truth. "I don't have one."
"Of course you don't." She sighed with exasperation. "Adrian, you've had eight years to decide if you had any kind of feelings for me and you still don't know? I find it hard to believe that even your meteoric rise in Starfleet was so overbearing that you couldn't lay down at night and think about me."
"I have. More times than I can count."
"Oh, but you still can't decide, 'Hmm, maybe I really didn't love Deanna', or something to that effect? No, you still string this out. You were awfully decisive about leaving me to further your career, but you still can't decide if you loved me at all?" Deanna's voice had started raising in volume. "You can't have it both ways, Adrian. You can't leave me behind as if I meant nothing but still want to leave open the door. Either you love me or you don't."
"And what about you? After eight years, do you still love me?"
"Oh no. I asked first."

"Yes, but as you said, eight years have passed." Parker folded his hands on the table. "Even if I decided I still loved you, I would do so under the memories of what happened before. How do I know you haven't already moved on?"
"Moved on?! Adrian, I turned down the betrothal my mother arranged when I was still a child because I still had a slight hope, a damned slight hope, that maybe what happened between us was something more than just a fling!"
Parker swallowed from a strange feeling in his heart and stomach, a contradictory mixture of happiness and dread. After all this time, Deanna still had feelings for him, but at the same time, he now felt a familiar fear of what to do. He ran a hand through the hair above his right temple, trying to think.
"Are you going to answer the question today or not?" Deanna's voice had become deceptively calm, but in her eyes Parker could still see smoldering anger. And he couldn't blame her for it at all.
"You don't think I've spent these eight years trying to answer it to myself?" Irritation at his inability to do just that now crept into Parker's voice.
"It's not a hard question, Adrian! Did you love me or not?"
"You're the empath, Deanna, you tell me."

"That's not how it works and you know it. I only sense general feeling. I know you're confused and upset, but why, I'm not sure of. Seriously, Adrian, if you're just afraid of hurting my feelings, don't, because you did a good enough job of that eight years ago when you pushed me away and I'm quite used to that now."
"I wasn't trying to hurt your feelings," was Parker's meek reply.
"What did you think would happen to me then?! After all the times we shared together, did you think I could just turn those feelings and memories off like a switch?! You stood there and told me to forget it ever happened and to go on with my life. My life is intertwined with your's, Adrian!"
"Maybe it was, but not anymore. Look, Deanna, at what we've become. I'm the Captain of the Enterprise and you're a key member of your mother's diplomatic team, one of the best in the...." Parker noticed Deanna's expression change slightly. He had said something that made her angry - which she already was - but now he could see shame and embarrassment in her features. "What is it?"
"Look, I don't want to discuss my work with my mother in public."
"Then we'll go somewhere we can."
Deanna glared at him. "What do you care?"

"I... I thought you had made a good life for yourself, but you don't seem to think so. I want to know why. Listen, Deanna..." Parker drew in a breath and took her right hand into his hands. "I want to answer the question, to give us both some peace of mind. But I need to know everything about what we are now before I can honestly answer it."
"What I am now doesn't change what I was then, Adrian."
"No, but.... please, indulge me on this. I feel as if it's important to know. When we split, I thought you had a good future, a career, in store for you. If that's not true, it means I was wrong for what I did back then. Do you understand, Deanna?"
There was no immediate reaction. She was judging his sincerity, or, perhaps, searching for a glimmer within him that the answer she wanted from the question would be given. Finally she said, "Let's go back to my room."
Parker nodded and agreed. Before getting up he reached into his pocket and pulled out a silver dollar coin from North America, flipping it onto the table as a tip. He didn't know if they used Earth currency out here on the frontier, but he figured the waitress could just cash it into the bank for a couple Federation credits. He walked away as it landed on it's heads side in the middle of the table.




Their walk back to the hotel was quiet. An elevator brought them to Deanna's fifth floor suite, which faced the turquoise sea on the sunrise side. Parker looked around the suite's living room; it was a one bedroom deal, with a king-sized bed in the adjacent bedroom to the right and a small kitchenette on the left. Ahead, of course, was the balcony, complete with plastic patio chairs. The living room was well-furnished, with a couch, a love seat, a couple of chairs, a coffee table, and set on a table beside the door to the bedroom there was a vidscreen. Deanna set her keycard beside the vidscreen and slipped into a seat. Parker took the loveseat, which was opposite from her. "Adrian, I entered psychology because I felt that I could use it to help people. I hope you understand that was my motivation. Helping others."
"I know that."
"When I got my doctorate, well, I wasn't exactly the most coveted new doctor in the Federation. I got a few offers from some minor psychology firms, that was all. I considered going into teaching for a short while before my mother came along and offered me the chance to work with her. She gave me the speech that my natural talents, my empathy from being half-Betazoid, would work well with my education and allow me to help her negotiate lasting treaties and all the usual things. It took me about a year, though, to really understand why she wanted me."

Parker remained quiet as he watched Deanna slump back into her chair. "I wasn't there to be her advisor, Adrian." Deanna's expression darkened. "Mother wanted me to be a distraction. She always got me the least modest suits she could find, she was always bragging about how I was unattached, everything so that men on the other side of the table would be paying a bit more attention to me and not to the issues." Deanna put a hand on her temple. "She dresses me up like some high-priced whore on Betazed and lets me get all the attention so she can outmaneuver them in the negotiations."
Parker really couldn't reply at this point. He had always thought Deanna would have a good career in her field, but to see her talents used like this? A part of Parker wanted to blame himself. Hadn't he set it up by making Deanna leave him?
Deanna didn't notice Parker's growing agitation with her mother and himself. "My mother meant well, I want to think. The excuses just keep coming through my head. She thought she was doing me a favor by letting me work with her. She wants me to follow her into the diplomatic corps, since Kestra chose the Imperial Navy. She wants me to have companionship. But dammit, Adrian, sometimes I feel like I'm being used. Like I'm nothing more than a piece of meat that my mother parades around for her own purposes."
"I'm sorry, I had no idea."

"Of course not. Do you think I'd go around telling everyone what my mother does? It would be a scandal, every good thing she's worked for would fall apart." Deanna put her hands together on her lap. "So I'm stuck. I have to act like a whore to help my mother do her work and let my talents, all of those years of education, go to waste. And I feel you getting angry, so don't."
Parker shook his head, smiling in spite of himself. "I don't know, Deanna. That, to me, is very wrong. Your mother is wasting your talents."
"Nothing else I can do, Adrian. We all have to live somehow." Deanna looked around her room. "This is pretty modest compared to what I'm used to, but...."
"But what?"
Deanna looked up at him and smiled a little. "I didn't want you to think I was trying to insult you by renting a room you could never afford on your salary."
There was something in Deanna's smile that made Parker break out laughing at that. To his surprise, Deanna joined in. It felt good, considering that barely fifteen minutes ago they had been shouting at each other. "Deanna, you're right." Parker looked down. "You deserve an answer. God knows I've been trying to find one for all this time. It's just not something that's coming easily."
At the restaurant Deanna's response would have been angry. Here, though, having just revealed the great shameful secret of her life these past years, Deanna could only smile weakly. "I believe you, Adrian." She walked over and sat beside him. "I hope you'll say yes. Because back then, I know I was in love with you."

Parker took her hand. "And I want to say yes. But I'm not going to lie about it."
Being so close now, Parker could feel a pull, magnetic in it's intensity, drawing him toward her. Years of loneliness - his handful of attempts to find another woman had failed quite spectacularly - and memories long pushed to the back of his mind were now at the forefront. He imagined what it would be like to be back then again. Still in his thirties, the prime of his life, with Deanna as radiant as she was now but with that youthful twinkle in her lovely dark eyes returned. Eyes that had since had to hide the frustrations of all her desires in life being thwarted.
No, don't do this to yourself, he thought. And he could see Deanna was feeling it too, both her own and his feelings. "I'm...."
"Don't fight it, Adrian, not if you feel it." Her smile turned sweet. So where her lips when they came to his in a kiss. First gentle, then growing in intensity and passion, the kiss was something Parker would have given everything in the world for at times in the past years. He put his hands on her neck and held her head close so he could return the kiss with equal fervor.
And where would it go from here? A mere kiss, to relive a past he hadn't yet made peace with? Or something more? A rekindling of the fire that once burned within him, something that made him look at Deanna Troi and see everything his heart wanted in a companion.

Neither got the chance to find out if the other wanted to take the next step. A loud beeping sound came from Parker's pocket. The kiss seperated, forlorn looks on both their faces. Parker's left hand reached into his pocket and pulled the flip-cover comm unit out. He flipped it open and noticed the incoming call was from the Enterprise, one of the open communication lines. He hit the receive button as Deanna watched and said, "Parker here."
The voice on the other end was Data's. "Captain, you may need to return to the ship. Admiral Rossa has beamed aboard and is insisting on being allowed to visit her grandson, which Doctor Phong has refused."
Deanna overheard what Data said, and felt Parker's irritation grow tenfold. "Alright, I'll be right back up. Lock onto my signal and beam..."
"Adrian." Deanna got his attention and put a hand on the phone's receiver. "Let me help you with this."
"Help me?"

"Yes. Between Admiral Rossa's state of mind and the boy's, you're going to need me."
"Deanna, we're talking about a Starfleet admiral and a Talarian national with some rather big family connections. This is a dangerous...."
"Please Adrian." Her eyes were wide, and Parker saw in them her desperation. "Remember what I told you? This is my chance to finally do something with my talents. To help people. Please, let me help."
Parker sighed and indicated for her to uncover the receiver. "Mister Data, signal Transporter Room 1 to beam me and the person sitting beside me directly to my quarters. I need to change before seeing the Admiral."
"Yes Captain. Standby."
Parker looked back at her and tried to grin. "Well, at least I've got some help in fixing this mess," he said to Deanna before the Enterprise's transporters whisked them away.




Ten minutes later, Parker and Deanna entered Conference Room 1 on the Enterprise. Phong, Data, and Rossa were waiting for him. "Captain Parker, your doctor continues to refuse to let me see my grandson," Rossa said icily.
"I trust Doctor Nguyen's judgement, Admiral," Parker replied briskly and, without waiting for her to say more, he stepped into the room. "Admiral, this is a complex situation, and I think you need to realize...."
"Complex? I don't see anything complex." Rossa remained standing even as Parker sat. "My grandson was presumed dead. He is alive. Legally he's my responsibility, and I insist on being allowed to see him."
This time it was Phong, not Parker, that spoke up against her while taking a seat beside Parker. "Admiral, you're simplifying things greatly. The boy has been raised by Talarians. He doesn't think of himself as human and he considers Endar his father."
"It should also be noted, Admiral, that the Jashklu Family is highly ranked on Talar, and Jono is considered one of it's best prodigies at the moment." Data sat down as well, this time across the table from Rossa, while Deanna took up the other seat beside Parker. "To try and take..."

"His name is Jeremiah," Rossa snapped.
"Not to him, it isn't." Phong steepled his fingers in his hands. "Admiral, I've been speaking to the boy, explaining the physical aspects of his body that are different from Talarians. He didn't seem to consider himself a Human at all, not even when I showed him the differences in baseline Talarian and Human DNA. As far as he sees himself, he is Jono ku'Jashklu, not Jeremiah Rossa."
"It's very obvious that the Talarians brainwashed him, Doctor. This wouldn't be the first time an alien aggressor has turned our own people against us."
"Considering the data on the Talarians, I cannot agree with that assessment of their motives, Admiral."
"Your agreement isn't necessary, Commander Data."
"Admiral, you're not thinking about this rationally," Deanna said, cutting in.
"So I'm being irrational? Miss Troi, I've mourned my grandson for twelve years and now I've found out that he's been alive this entire time, raised as someone he was never meant to be!" Rossa's face flushed with rage. "He's been denied his human heritage and made to think he's one of them!"
"I think the problem, Admiral, is that you are operating from an assumption of malice on the part of the Talarians that the data does not justify." Again it was Data speaking to Rossa. "The practice of Geje'hut, the adoption of a fallen enemy's children, is an honored one in Talarian society."

"I don't care, Commander Data. Legally, they have no grounds for adopting my grandson, not without pursuing the matter in Federation courts."
"I doubt the Federation courts are well-equipped to handle a custody case like this," Phong said softly.
"Federation law is clear. I am within my rights, and authority, to order Jeremiah held here until we can reach through to him and clear out his brainwashing."
"Admiral, shouldn't you be thinking about what's best for Jeremiah?" Deanna's expression became the same mask of determination as Rossa's. "He's lived with the Talarians his entire life. That is what he feels himself to be. If you take him away from that you will tear him apart!"
"He deserves to know who he is, Miss Troi!"
"But you're talking about taking him away from everything he's ever known!"
"No, I'm asserting my rights as his guardian under Federation law, and by that same law and the treaty between the Talarians and Federation, all Federation nationals were to be returned to us, including Jeremiah!"
"What you are asking for is going to destroy him!" Deanna's face turned red and she slammed a fist on the table. "You're being selfish and you don't even see it!"
"Admiral, Doctor, please." Parker now stood. "Screaming at each other is not going to calm this situation."

"You're quite right, Captain. You have your orders. Jeremiah is staying here, and he is not to have contact with the Talarians, at all."
"I have already made assurances to Endar that he will get to speak to his son later."
Rossa glared hate at Phong for that remark. "You have no right to do that!"
"I have every right to do as I see fit so long as it benefits my patient, and letting him speak to the man he considers his father is perfectly in line with that!"
In reaction Rossa jumped to her feet and shouted, "This is an abuse of your authority!"
"And your orders to Captain Parker are an abuse of your's!" Phong shot back, now standing and leaning against the table in her direction. "This entire meeting has been an exercise in futility because you're so damned pigheaded!"
"I'll have you court-martialed! Do you hear me?! I don't care how loudly the bureaucrats at Medical howl, you have gone too far and I will have you court-martialed!"
"You may find yourself before..."

"That's enough!" Parker's shout, and the accompanying thump as he slammed his palms on the table and jumped out of his chair, silenced the room. "Admiral Rossa, I will remind you that this squadron is under the direct command of Admiral Pressman and is outside of the conventional Starfleet command system. Your authority here is based solely upon your rank and upon the regulations of Starfleet, which allow us to ignore it if you begin issuing orders detrimental to the duties we have been assigned, as you are now! My orders are to do anything necessary and within reason to ensure the Talarian Steadhold signs the planned treaty with the Federation. This issue with your grandson and your reaction to it are a danger to that end. Furthermore, you have been less than reasonable this entire time." Parker stopped for a moment, but before Rossa could do more than open her mouth, he continued. "I understand, Admiral, that this is a great shock and I don't blame you for wanting your grandson back. I sympathize with you, I really do, but this is not the way to do it. I really must insist you allow the diplomats to handle this."
By this point, the fire Rossa had possessed was gone, as if it had burned itself out finally. She slumped back into her chair, very much the old woman she was, with an expression devoid of emotion and a failing energy not up to the task of maintaining the fight. "I want to see my grandson."
"Captain..." Phong looked at Parker and shook his head, his disapproval obvious.
"Please. I... I will withdraw my opposition to Endar seeing Jeremiah, just let me see him first. He... he was only three when I last saw him. It's been so long..."
Parker looked back to Phong. "Doctor, you have an objection?"
"Jono, Jeremiah, doesn't even know who she is, Captain. This could agitate him in ways I can't begin to fathom. He's already paranoid that we're going to take him as a prisoner."

Parker nodded and looked to Deanna. She shrugged. "He might be right, Captain. I can't form an educated opinion because I haven't interviewed him."
After looking between them, and then back to Rossa, Parker sighed. "Very well. Doctor, please show Admiral Rossa to sickbay."
"Captain, you don't have the authority..."
"And you didn't have the authority to go over my head and talk to Endar!" Parker and Phong now faced off, their eyes focused intently as the others watched in silence. "I fail to see how letting the Admiral see her grandson will do any kind of physical harm to him. You are not a psychologist, Doctor. You have no authority, whatsoever, to bar her from visiting her grandson, especially as he is a minor and under Federation law she has a strong claim to legal custody!"
"Captain, the boy is an adult to the Talarians, and in his own mind! He doesn't even know this woman, and he's already paranoid that we're going to take him as a prisoner! You don't realize..."
"Admiral Rossa has waited twelve years for this! Twelve years!" Parker smacked an open palm on the glossy black surface of the table. "I have an obligation, moral and legal, to at least let her see him." Before Phong could protest again, Parker stepped away from the table. "My decision stands. Admiral, I will show you to sick bay."
"Thank you Captain." Rossa stood, but only barely; the strain from her emotions was becoming overwhelming. Phong sighed and stood to follow, as did Deanna and Data.




The door to sickbay opened and admitted Parker and Rossa, with the others not so far behind. Phong quickly passed both of them and stood in the doorway to the examination wing. "Admiral, keep in mind that he does not know you and will not recognize you."
"Yes, Doctor," Rossa said, rather dispassionately at that. She seemed weak and Parker imagined that any more stress would literally make her legs quiver from the effort of keeping her up.
Such stress seemed unavoidable as they actually walked into the exam room that Phong had assigned Jono to. He was sitting upright, looking about and rather tense. Parker wondered just what he had been taught about the Federation to think that he was a captive. He began to reconsider giving in to Rossa's request.
But it was too late for that now. Rossa walked into the room, standing near the door and not daring to move at first. When she finally did, it was a few tenative steps. Still, Jono did not react to her. He seemed more occupied staring into empty space, if one could look occupied in doing such a thing. Rossa waited until she was just about five feet away from him before she actually spoke to him. "Hello." When she received no response, Rossa went on. "Jer... Jono, I am your grandmother. I..." With no response forthcoming, she waited a moment before pressing on. "I haven't seen you in person since you were a baby."

Parker watched intently. Jono wasn't responding to Rossa at all. Deanna walked up beside him and whispered, "I don't think this is going to work."
"I hope you're wrong," was his reply.
"Please say something! I'm your grandmother! I've spent all these years thinking you were dead, that I had nothing left, and to know you're alive has changed everything! Jeremiah!"
Something jolted Jono. His eyes opened a little more and his jaw tightened. Deanna took Parker's hand to get his attention. "She just triggered something. A repressed memory."
Rossa appeared to notice it too. "Do you remember? You were the pride of your parents. I still remember how happy Connor was when you were born. How happy I was. You were my first grandchild. When they brought you out of the hospital I gave you a stuffed bear, the same kind your father had when he was a child. Bright blue, with a white belly that had little blue and green flowers...."
Deanna's eyes widened just a moment before Jono acted. He jumped off the bed and ran toward the door, knocking Rossa over in the process. One of Phong's orderlies tried to stop him and received a punch for it. Phong instinctively went to his fallen subordinate.
Parker was now the last person between Jono and the door. Jono cried out, a similar cry to what Parker had heard when the boy had jumped on the assassin earlier in the day, and came straight at Parker. Parker adopted a defensive stance and was about to tackle Jono when the boy, rather unexpectedly, ran into him. Had Parker been solid on his feet, his superior mass would probably have absorbed the hit and brought Jono down. But as he had been off-balance in preparation for his own lunge, Jono's speed and mass were enough to knock him over. Parker felt onto his back and Jono was clear into the next room.

He barely took a few steps inside before Carter stopped him cold. He didn't even notice her until her outstretched arm caught Jono square across the chest. He had lost too much of his velocity from hitting Parker and Carter's arm was too strong to knock out of the way. He didn't quite have the chance to get knocked down as would have happened, however, as the arm grabbed him and pulled hard, causing Jono to whip around. Carter tossed him up against the wall with a grunt, knocking the air out of Jono's lungs from the sudden impact. Before he could recover, Deanna came from the other room and pressed a hypospray of sedative to his neck. Within moments Jono went limp and was unconscious.
Phong had a couple of orderlies take Jono from Carter and bring him to a bed. Parker was back on his feet as well, dusting himself off by habit. "Commander Carter, that was rather excellent timing."
"I was on my way to speak with Doctor Nguyen." Carter stepped into the exam room alongside Parker and watched Phong secure Jono into a bed. A flip of a switch and a forcefield around the bed area would keep Jono from trying to run off again. "Captain Endar is asking to see his son. He won't want to be kept waiting, though I imagine he'd be even nastier if he knew precisely what just happened. So..." Carter surveyed the room, noting the orderly with the swelling jaw and the need for another to help Rossa to her feet. "...what just happened?"
"I'm not sure. The Admiral must have said something?" Parker looked at Deanna. "Deanna? You seemed to be feeling something."

"Given the sudden sense of shock and confusion I felt in his mind, I believe Admiral Rossa's pleadings brought up repressed memories. Probably of his early childhood."
"He wasn't yet four when the Galen colony was overrun," Carter said. "I don't know about you two, but I don't remember very much from six on down."
"Still, it is there and has remained repressed until the Admiral brought it out." Deanna looked to Rossa, who seemed shaken enough that she might collapse again at any moment. "She got through to something, but I'm not sure what."
Wearing an unpleasant expression, Phong walked over and leveled a glare at Parker before he turned to Rossa. "Admiral, you should go sit down. Let's go to my office and talk."
Rossa did not argue or even verbally agree. She seemed dazed and rather bewildered. Parker followed behind her just to make sure she didn't collapse. After everyone slipped into Phong's office, Parker helped Rossa into one of the chairs while Deanna took the other. "Admiral." Phong put his hands together and on the desk. "As you can see, Jono - Jeremiah - has no clear memories of you."
"He remembered something, I'm sure of it," Rossa said, very meekly. "Why else did he act that way?"
"I'm not debating that he may have recalled a repressed memory, and Doctor Troi here would be a better authority on that issue anyway, but even if it was one, I'll remind you that your grandson was still a toddler when he was taken. At that age, memories are sporadic and distorted anyway." Phong handed her a PADD with a display on it. "This is his physical. As you can see, he's mostly healthy, and what few problems I've seen are the result of incompatibilies between Human and Talarian diets. Something I've already taken measures to correct. But what you have to accept is that your grandson has no memories of you or his biological family. All he knows is the Talarian family that raised him. For all intents and purposes, Admiral, Jeremiah is Jono, a Talarian."

"But he's Human," Rossa protested.
"Biologically, yes, Culturally? No."
Rossa simply stared into space for the moment before looking back at the PADD. Phong looked back to Parker. "As you can see, Captain, I had a good reason for wanting to avoid this. Now I'm going to have to go to Endar and let him know what happened. He won't be happy."
"Doctor, while I appreciate your commitment to ethics, the fact is that Admiral Rossa is the boy's grandmother and has every right to at least see him. And that's not getting into the legal issues involved." Parker drew in a sigh while getting a cup of Bolian tonic water from the replicator. "This is a whole damned mess."
"That is true." Phong looked to Deanna. "Doctor Troi, any opinions?"
"Without an actual interview, all I can say is the obvious. He's been raised Talarian. He knows nothing of being Human and any attempt to compel him to be Human will only draw violent reactions like that. The Talarians, socially, border on irrational xenophobia. They don't work well with aliens at all, it's a miracle Jono was even accepted by them."
"Endar's family is highly placed, they may have sheltered him to some extents. Made him wear helmets and such." Parker took a sip of the tonic water. "Of course, I suppose Humanity wouldn't have been so open if our first contact with aliens consisted of those aliens trying to exterminate us."
"Probably not," Phong agreed.

"Doctor..." Rossa suddenly looked up. "These marks on Jeremiah's skeleton, what are they?"
"Various fractures and injuries to his bones," was Phong's immediate reply.
"He's got so many." Rossa handed Phong the PADD. "Why so many injuries?"
"Well, I can't be sure. They're old, received over the previous ten years or so."
Rossa didn't seem so convinced. "Doctor, how do we know that they haven't abused him?"
"Well, from a stricter sense, there's no way to know without Jono actually telling us. Some species have a lot of rituals or sports their young males play that could produce such injuries. And my own findings have shown that Talarian skeletal structure is about ten percent stronger than Human. Things that Talarian bones can withstand would fracture Human bones."
"How do we know that for sure? How do we know they didn't abuse him to make him be like them? It wouldn't be the first time!"
Parker did not reply at first, though he too had some serious questions he wanted to ask Endar. Phong sighed and looked to Deanna. "Well, Doctor Troi, your opinions?"
"Aside from repressed memory, I cannot see any normal signs of intended abuse, Doctor Nguyen. But I would have to interview him to make sure."
"It doesn't matter! You have said it yourself, Doctor, that Jeremiah considers himself Talarian. He might think his abuse is just a part of being Talarian."
"That is pure speculation..."
"Doctor, I insist that he be held here now. We can't turn him back over to the Talarians if they're abusing him!"

Deanna stepped in, shaking her head vigorously. "Admiral, if you don't turn him back over it will just verify all of his suspicions in his own mind! He believes we intend to kidnap and enslave him!"
"Jeremiah is a Federation citizen. He has never renounced that. We have a legal obligation to make sure he's not being abused!"
"Yes, Admiral, we do," Parker agreed. Before Deanna and Phong could protest, Parker added, "And we will do so, in a civil a way as possible. Doctor," Parker looked to Phong, "do you think you've gotten close enough to Jono that he'll be willing to talk to you about this?"
"Well, he won't be suspicious of me asking about the injuries. I've already talked to him about various things. Differences in the Talarian and Human dietary requirements, hygiene differences..."
"Good." Parker turned his head to Deanna. "Deanna, if you don't mind, I'd like it if you were nearby when this happens. You can determine if Jono's hiding anything or not."
"When are we going to do this?"
Phong looked at his watch. "Well, you gave him a strong sedative dose. And I want to keep him inactive long enough to make sure that nothing's happened internally, so the morning should suffice. About ten or so hours from now, 0700 hours ship time."
"Fine, I'll do it."

"Then I'll make sure you're given a secure channel for the transporter room in the morn..." Parker's comm badge beeped and he tapped it. "Parker here."
As expected, it was O'Keefe on the other end. "Captain, we're gettin' a hail from the surface. Ambassador Troi wants to know if her daughter is up here."
"Yes, she is."
"Okay sir. Seems the Ambassador wants to speak with her. Normal diplomatic stuff or somethin'."
Deanna heard that and stood up, straightening out her blouse while Parker told O'Keefe she was on her way to the transporter room, then cut the channel. "Zero seven hundred still good?"
"Yes, it is. Doctor, Captain..." Deanna excused herself from the room and left.
When she was gone, Parker went over to Rossa. "Admiral?"
"Captain, if he's been abused by them, you won't turn him over, will you?" Rossa looked up at Parker.
"If Doctors Nguyen and Troi tell me not to, I will not. But Admiral, you must understand that he has been raised Talarian. He does not know what it is to be Human and he has no Human ties. Unless I have good reason not to, I'm going to have him returned to the Sathra as soon as Doctor Nguyen clears him."
Rossa didn't reply, though Parker knew this wouldn't be the end of the matter. Not by a long shot.



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Deanna materialized in the courtyard of the Marlowe Pearl Resort and immediately had to shield her eyes from the glare of the sunset. Marlowe Resorts and Retreats Ltd. had bought the island she was standing on now, in the middle of the Pearl Islands chain a thousand kilometers west-south-west of Waipahu. The Resort was nothing like the Hiller-Jennings back in Waipahu. The suites were extremely luxurious and aside from the tropical beaches, the Resort boasted an indoor and outdoor swimming pool (with bar attached), large showering and locker rooms, various recreational facilities, a massage service, and many other expensive perks. The spas in the largest suites could also accomodate multiple types of baths.
Homm was present to meet Deanna and escort her to her mother's suite. Deanna walked into the expansive, space-wasting bathroom and found her mother lounging in the spa, having a mudbath while a barechested, handsome light-skinned Human man sat behind her and massaged her shoulders and neck. Fymehai, the Betazoids called it. "Wasteful indulgence" was it's literal human translation, though it was also translated as "aristocratic privilege" in some contexts. In this case, Deanna had a strong temptation to think of it as both.
Homm bowed deeply and left, leaving Deanna to look at her nude mother, covered only by the gray muck she was bathing in. "Oh, Deanna, come in dear! It's your favorite mixture, and I can have another masseuse called up in minutes!"

"I'd rather not." Deanna took a seat nearby. Although the Trois were a ludicrously wealthy noble family anyway - Deanna was only three generations removed from High Empress Kestra VIII Herself - she was quite certain that her mother was charging every cent to the Federation as "expenses".
"Oh dear, you really must loosen up some." Lwaxana smiled at her. "Or are you still pining for Parker?"
Deanna gave her mother an unamused look. "Dear, my poor dear, Parker's gone too far now to ever look back. You should move on. There are plenty of fine men around here or back on Betazed."
"Yes, Mother, I know."
"Anyway, what were you doing up there anyway?" Lwaxana briefly looked up in timing with her question. "Is Parker having problems with Admiral Rossa?"
"To a degree, yes."
"Oh my. This complication has just been so... annoying." Lwaxana looked up to her masseuse. "Dear, why don't you go take a break. I have to discuss important matters with my daughter."
The masseuse nodded and left, though not before giving Deanna a second look. Lwaxana grinned in amusement at that. "See, dear? Now what would be wrong with him? Handsome and he has very strong hands."
"Mother..." Deanna let the word trail off, making her displeasure obvious.
"Deanna, I'm merely trying to find a way to make you happy. Chasing after some star-hopping Starfleet captain isn't going to get you anywhere. Not that he's commanding the Enterprise now. It seems that every Starfleeter that gets on that ship gets this hero complex." Lwaxana shook her head dismissively. "Anyway, what's happened now?"

"Admiral Rossa is determined to keep the boy Jono here on any pretext she can find. The Enterprise's Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Nguyen, believes that Jono cannot function as a Human and intends to return him to the Talarians as soon as possible."
"And we're stuck here, everything held up over a single boy." Lwaxana sighed. "I only hope this doesn't spiral further out of control. As it is, I don't imagine it will be well-received in the Council. I just cannot believe everything I've worked for is going to be undone by this trivial matter."
"Mother, this isn't a trivial matter!" Deanna's temper flared for a moment. "Don't you see? This can tear the boy apart, and Rossa, and Endar. These are lives that could be damaged, irrepairably!"
"Yes dear, that's quite horrible too, but we are here to negotiate a treaty that could bring a sense of lasting peace to this region. If we fail here, well, I shudder to think of the consequences." Lwaxana brought her hands out of the muck and rested her elbows on the edge of the spa. "Dear, you're tired. Why don't you go back to your hotel room and rest? I can have a civilian hover fly you back."
"I think I will. Have a good evening, mother. I'll see you back at the Starbase tomorrow." Deanna stood up and went to the door.
As soon as she got there, Lwaxana called out, "Dear, please call that young man back in. My shoulders are starting to ache."

Rolling her eyes, Deanna replied, "Of course, Mother."
After Deanna left, Lwaxana did not allow her mudbath and massage to continue for long. Within five minutes she sent away the masseuse, emptied the spa, and took a normal shower to remove what was left of the mud. When she was cleaned, Lwaxana donned a silken nightrobe and entered the office of her suite. After taking her seat Lwaxana turned on the computer unit and patched into the planet-wide communications network, from which she linked directly to the Sathra. The comm officer on the Sathra relayed her to the Holtaje, where Durlora was supposedly dining, and within eight or so minutes Durlora was appearing on her screen. "Director, my apologies for disturbing your meal," Lwaxana immediately said.
"It is excusable, Ambassador," Durlora replied with a small, diplomatic grin. "What is the purpose of your call?"
"I wanted to speak with you, privately, about this regrettable situation which has developed over that boy..."




The comm screen in the captain's office on the Holtaje flipped off and Durlora looked to her side, where Admiral Relki had remained outside of the viewer's field of recording view. "What do you think, Admiral?"
"My opinions have not changed, Director." Relki stepped a little closer. "The needs of the Steadhold must take precedence."
"Correct. However, the implications of this crisis are troubling. It could doom the treaty in the Senate."
"It could, yes. Which is why you should tread carefully, Director." Relki maintained her stance, not wandering about the room like others might have, and kept Durlora's attention. Here, now, she was at the critical moment for her new plan. "Director, perhaps you should stay aboard the Holtaje?"
"Why?"
"I do not suspect Endar will be pleased if you are required to give the boy up to the Federation. If you are on board his ship, well, it wouldn't be the first time that a father's emotions toward his son have overridden his reason or his loyalty." Relki kept her gaze on Durlora. "Director, it would be a prudent move to stay here for now, at least until we see what happens tomorrow. I will explain to Endar that you are merely staying here due to an offer for First Meal from the captain, who is your cousin, I believe?"

"Cousin by my grandmother, yes."
"He will think nothing of it, I assure you. And then tomorrow you can discuss this issue with the others." Relki drew in a breath. "The boy is of age to make his own decisions anyway, no matter what the Humans think. I have little doubt that if the Federation is so arrogant as to force his return, his Human blood relatives will regret it soon enough."
"I hope it will not come to that." Durlora stood from her chair. "Return to the Sathra. Inform Captain Endar that I will be staying here tonight to have First Meal with the Holtaje's captain tomorrow and will be returning to the ship tomorrow. Extend to him my promise that I will not let the Federation destroy his family."
Relki narrowed her eyes. "That, Director, is a dangerous promise to make."
"It is. But Ambassador Troi seems just as determined to not make this an issue. There are greater matters at stake in these negotiations. We must conclude them as quickly as we can, keeping the Steadhold's needs in mind, so we don't give the conspirators another chance." Durlora walked toward the door. "Now I must go see Captain Malora about arranging my room for the evening. I will see you tomorrow after First Meal, Admiral."
Relki saluted respectfully and left immediately after Durlora did. Now she had but one thing left to do.




Seated in his office on the Sathra, Endar was free to roar at the screen - and the Federation doctor on it - all he wanted without alerting anyone outside. "What have you done to my son?!"
"He is sedated and resting," Phong answered on the other end.
"You assured me that you were only keeping him for medical reasons, Doctor! Now you say that this woman was allowed to talk to him and try to confuse him! What kind of treachery is this?!"
"There is no treachery, merely my Captain's misguided sense of compassion," was the doctor's reply. "I advised against it but was ignored, and because I am a physician and not a psychologist, I don't have as much authority when it comes to mental health as I do in terms of physical health. I couldn't overrule my Captain's decision."
"You should have turned him over to me," Endar growled. "Our doctors are just as competent as you."
"Your doctors don't have the same medicine or technology as our's do, Captain. I did the surgery, it's my responsibility to make sure he has no complications arising from it. Now, I've forbidden Admiral Rossa from making any more contact with him, and Captain Parker has agreed with this. I will release him from care tomorrow afternoon, after my final examination is completed. He'll be beamed over at about 1400 hours on my ship's time, which is roughly sixteen Earth hours from now. Is this satisfactory?"

"No, Doctor, it is not, but I will accept it anyway." Endar heard his door buzzer go off and reached forward. "I shall speak to you tomorrow. Goodbye." His finger punched the button to cut the channel. "Come in!" he barked to the door.
When Admiral Relki entered, Endar stood and saluted. She nodded at him. "You may be at rest, Captain." Endar's posture relaxed while Relki stepped further into the room. "Captain, have you heard from your son?"
"No." Endar's frown returned. "The Federation doctor has sedated him due to an incident earlier. Captain Parker allowed the Admiral claiming to be Jono's blood to speak with him. Apparently, Jono was somehow provoked and attempted to escape the Federation ship."
"Yes, so I've heard. Ambassador Troi called Director Durlora to speak to her of the incident."
"I see." Endar frowned. It seemed wrong that he had been the last to learn of this incident. "Has the Director retired for the day yet?"
"Perhaps, but she is on the Holtaje for the evening."
"Why?" Endar's voice betrayed his bewilderment. "Why is she staying over there?"
"I have my suspicions," replied Relki. Now her moment had come. She had to play this perfectly or it could backfire and destroy her chance. "Captain, I think she will agree to force Jono to return to the Federation."
"She wouldn't dare! My family leads the Senate!"

"Yes, but she is counting on your family's traditional patriotism to keep it on her side." Relki walked over to him. "Captain, look at the circumstances. She refuses to come back to the Sathra. She sends no word to you of her decision. And we now see the Federation is tampering with your son, perhaps even planning to brainwash him and turn him against you and the Steadhold. Perhaps they will return him in time, but as a spy against us."
"Jono would never agree to that. I raised him to be loyal."
Relki nodded, not wanting to be confrontational or call into question Endar's loyalty. "I do not doubt how you raised him, Endar. You raised him to be a brave and loyal citizen. But the Federation includes races with mind-altering powers. Vulcans, Betazoids, these races could use their powers to plant within Jono the seed of disloyalty and he would not even know it. Imagine the dishonor it would bring to him, to you, and to your family if he was compelled by mind tricks to commit treason against the Steadhold." Relki forced Endar to make eye contact, keeping her gaze level. "Even as we speak, they could have a Vulcan mind-melding with Jono as he lies helpless and asleep, planting treason inside him. Perhaps that is their plot? To turn Jono into a spy against us while appearing to acqueise to Durlora? It would increase her own power, and the power of those in the Steadhold who support the Federation, while placing within your great family a spy, perhaps the first of many, to undermine the Steadhold and make us dependent upon the Federation. All of our beloved freedom, our autonomy, our way of life, destroyed by the Federation in it's drive to unify under its flag the galaxy."
Had his mind been sharper, Endar might have noticed Relki's contradictory remarks. One moment Relki had claimed Durlora was going to give up his son, the next claiming that the Federation was going to turn him into a spy and return him to Endar. But Endar was tired from a day of worry and fear. His mind was suspectible to these suggestions. He was terrorized by both possibilities; that he would have his son taken from him and forced to become Human, or that Jono would be returned as a spy to betray the Steadhold and thus destroy their family. Neither scenario could be accepted. "What can we do to prevent this?" Endar looked at Relki. "I cannot have them take my son away from me. I can't let them use Jono against the Steadhold. What can we do?"

"Jono as you know him may be lost," Relki said solemnly, "and it would be a grave loss considering his heroism today. But he would not be the first, and if he is lost then we must ensure that the Steadhold remains true, in honor of his sacrifice. Captain, give me the night to prepare the others. The commanders of the Utarko'Tal and the Eralba'Tal are on my side, as is the commander of the Deytofa. With the Sathra, we would have the firepower to defeat Durlora's loyalists in battle. The Federation will not interfere. To move so openly would destroy their credibility."
Endar glared at her. "You are asking me to kill comrades. To commit treason against the Lord Protector."
"How can defense of the Steadhold be treason?" Relki pointed to the flag of the Steadhold that Endar kept in his office. "That is our Supreme Commander, not the Lord Protector. The Lord Protector is bound to protect Talar, to protect our society, our citizens, our way of life! If the Lord Protector fails in this duty, then she must be removed so that another can perform it! And if Durlora and her supporters have their way, Captain, we will lose our society and our way of life and our citizens? They will become slaves to the Federation. Yes, their chains will be made of silk instead of iron, because the Federation will enslave us with luxury and bounty to make us as weak and decadent as they have become! The great monuments on Talar - the Fountain of Hope, the Monument to the Fallen, the Spires of Djak'Heytke - will be oddities for alien tourists to photograph! We will have forgotten everything that has been fought for. The sacrifices of our parents, our grandparents, our family founders, the Fallen, and our people will all be dishonored and forgotten. Do not forget your first son Rolar, Captain. He died for the same Steadhold that I am now asking you to help me preserve."
"What makes you think this will succeed beyond killing Durlora?"

"There are those on Talar who will move as soon as they learn of her death. We will ask the Lord Protector to commit honorable suicide, considering her age, and others we know to be sympathetic toward the Federation will be required to leave government. The Senate and Assembly will be asked to appoint a new Lord Protector. You will be praised for your part in this, Captain, I promise you. And Jono, if we are so unfortunate as to lose him, will be remembered with honor as a Talarian."
Endar looked off at the wall for a long, hard moment, filled with conflicting emotions. This was not an easy thing she was asking him to do. His honor and that of his family was at stake, and she was asking him to do something that could end up costing him his son. But Relki believed she had said what was necessary. Endar had finally seen the Federation for what it was and would never allow the Talarian people to suffer it's subversion.
Finally, with an expression showing desperation and defeat, he nodded. "You have my support."
Relki nodded with approval. All that remained was a battle to be waged. And when they returned to Talar, they would return as heroes who saved the Steadhold from itself.

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Chapter 7




The white-covered room far to the side of the Hood's gymnasium area was silent, save for the sound of shuffling feet, the clash of fencing epees, and the occasional grunt of effort from the two white-clad competitors standing upon the mat in the center of the room. The two faced each other through meshed fencing masks, one taller than the other and the shortest being visibly female, and sparred for a considerable amount of time until finally the smaller one thrust forward, only slightly missing her opponent's chest; her opponent promptly stuck the edge of his weapon against her padded suit just over the heart. Both lowered their weapons as an electronic tone noted the scoring of what was now the winning point.
A curse in French came from within the smaller figure's mask. Rosaline pulled the mask off and faced her commanding officer. "I thought I had you there."
"You nearly did," was the calm reply. Having removed his mask, Drake turned to an observer. The young officer, with Oriental features, stepped forward and took their weapons. "Here, Lieutenant, thank you for coming in on your shift off. My usual crewman is doing some extra training work for his specialty." Now looking back to Rosa, who was going for a bottle of water, Drake added, "You were just having an off day, Commander. Usually I am unable to keep up with you."
"It shall be quite a long time until I let Commander Engasser talk me into helping him with anything in Engineering," Rosaline said in reply. She sat down on a bench and Drake sat opposite her. "Have you heard anything about this Rossa situation?"
"Just the usual rumor mill. Captain Parker is doing a splendid job of keeping the entire thing hushed up."

"Admiral Rossa was the keynote speaker when I graduated from command school. Everyone knows about her family tragedies. I cannot imagine how she must feel, finding her grandson alive after all this time and raised as a Talarian of all things."
"It is quite the mess," Drake lamented. He took a quick drink from his own bottle. "The law seems to be in Admiral Rossa's favor, but I can't say it'll be in either her best interest or Jeremiah's if the boy is returned to her forcefully. Not to mention the damage it could do to the larger issues here. This entire bloody ruckus is upsetting everything."
"If Jeremiah Rossa has been raised as a Talarian, I do not think it is wise to take him from that."
"Maybe not, Commander, but imagine the precedent it sets if we allow existing treaties and laws to be flagrantly ignored. By the peace treaty that ended our war with the Talarians, both sides agreed to return all nationals. Captain Endar chose to ignore the treaty and it seems most of Talarian society agreed. Of course, no matter how this ends up, I'm sure this little crisis will effect far more people than just the Rossas and Endar's family." Drake stood up. "Would you like to have breakfast, Commander?"
"Thank you for the offer, but not now. I need a little extra sleep and my next watch starts far too soon."
"Very well then. Enjoy your rest." Drake watched her leave and sat alone for a moment before going to the showers.




The shrill cry cut through the morning tranquility of sickbay, the ululating ba'nar already disturbingly familiar to the staff. The tone brought Phong out of his office, where he found a nurse preparing another sedative. He waved the young man off and walked up to Jono, who was seemingly oblivious to anyone with eyes clamped shut and mouth partially opened.
"Jono, I'm not sending you back a moment earlier than I said, no matter how loudly you cry. So either stop disturbing my sickbay or I'll pump you full of another sedative."

He stood there calmly while the cry continued. Then he went to the nearby table and got another sedative. As he brought it up to Jono's arm the boy relented. "What did you do to me?" he asked in a demanding tone.
"What do you mean?"
"That old woman yesterday. The things she said. Were you trying to attack my mind?!" His expression remained defiant and angry. "I know well of your mind-benders, Doctor, don't lie to me."
"No, there was no attempt to attack your mind..."
"Then why do I suddenly have these memories? Why can I remember Human toys and Human faces I've never seen before?!"
Phong remained silent for a moment. "The woman you saw yesterday was your biological grandmother, Jono. Your Human grandmother. She... she believed you were dead, and she cares very greatly for you."
That brought a vigorous protest. "But I am not Human! I am a Talarian of the Remat Valley and can be nothing else!"

Phong went to continue when a hand touched his shoulder. A nurse was beside him. "Doctor, Lieutenant Borgia is in your office."
"Run another examination of Jono's vitals, I want to make sure he's still doing well given yesterday';s excitement," Phong said before going to his office. He found the green-clad JAG officer attached to the Enterprise waiting for him, wearing her dark hair in a bun. Angie Borgia had a slight Mediterrenean complexion and a slim figure, with her age being 29 if Phong recalled her file correctly. "Lieutenant, what can I do for you?"
"I'm sorry, Doctor, but I have to ask you to stay away from Jeremiah Rossa," she answered in a somewhat apologetic tone.
"Excuse me?"
Borgia handed him a PADD device. "This is a court order from the Federation Sector Court, a temporary injunction barring you or Doctor Deanna Troi from personal contact with Jeremiah and turning his care over to a doctor to be determined by his claimed legal guardian, Connaught Rossa. It also forbids any attempt to turn him over to the Talarians."
Studying the paperwork, Phong moved around his desk. "Well, this... it's preposterous. Where did she get this?"
"Apparently last night she sent a subspace message to the Sector Court's Family Branch with a deposition and logs from your sickbay showing Jeremiah's reaction to her, and is claiming abuse by the Talarians as brainwashing. She's asked for a custody hearing, with the injunction in place to make sure Jeremiah isn't turned over before then."

Phong slumped into his chair. "Well, this is a Starfleet vessel, I thought she had to go through the JAG office for legally-binding orders?"
"Jeremiah is a civilian under Federation law, so she's arguing the civilian courts have jurisdiction. Plus I figure she knew the local courts might be more willing to get her the injunction."
"Well, what can I do?" Phong slipped into his chair. "I mean, she's simply crazy to think that this can end with her getting her grandson back."
Borgia took a seat in front of him. "Well, Doctor, you can file a request asking for the Court to deny her the hearing and remove the injunction, and if that doesn't work appeal their decision. Alternatively, given the situation, you can ask the Judge Advocate General to issue their own orders on your behalf, though that has to be a last resort. Civilian courts versus military courts rarely ends in pretty fashion."
"I'll do better, I'll ask Doctor Troi to weigh in with her psychological judgement," Phong said. "In the meantime, what do you suggest I do about his treatment?"
"Assign a subordinate doctor until Admiral Rossa picks her own," Borgia answered.
"Fine, I'll have Doctor H'varka keep an eye on him." Phong sighed. "And that only leaves what we're to do about returning him to the Talarians...."
"All I can say is that if you're going to do it, look forward to spending the next twenty years in a penal colony after the local court holds you in contempt and puts you on trial for kidnapping," Borgia replied. "I'm afraid you're going to have to let the courts sort this out."
"Yes, I figured that." He sighed. "Thank you, Lieutenant. Would you mind drawing up our reply to the courts?"
"Of course not, Sir, I'll get right on it." Borgia stood from her chair and left Phong's office. After she was done, he began putting in the call to Deanna Troi to inform her of what had happened.




It had come to the point where Lwaxana Troi was sorely regretting having requested Admiral Rossa's presence. Far from being an asset as one of the negotiators of the Federation-Talarian peace treaty, she had become the greatest liability of them all.
Durlora was on the screen, having been pulled away from her breakfast by Lwaxana's call regarding Rossa's approach to the courts. "I cannot believe you are allowing this to happen," Durlora gasped in anger. "Do you understand that this is going to doom the treaty? Do you, Ambassador?! Jono and Endar's family lead our Senate! They will never permit a treaty with your Federation that sees Jono seized from his family!"
"I understand, Director. But my hands are tied at the moment. I've sent many calls to the Federation and am sending an appeal to the court to undo their decision, but I can't control the courts. Their rulings are binding under our law."
"That woman is being malicious. Doesn't she understand the great honor her grandson was given? The adoption of Jono was the first time in our very history that a non-Talarian was granted the honor of adoption! And not just to any family, but one of our leading families!" Durluro put a hand to her head. "This is becoming a fiasco, and the people who tried to kill me are going to seize advantage of it, I know it."

"It is important to both the Federation and Talar that this treaty is signed, and I will try everything I can to get this mess cleaned up. In the meantime, Director, shall we re-schedule our next...."
Suddenly Durlora seemed to fall over, the ship she was on rocking, and a moment later the entire scene went to static.




Every sense in Endar's body was rebelling against the orders he had now issued. He watched the X-ray lasers and compressor beams mounted on his ship rake along the unshielded port of the battlecruiser Holtaje, cutting her armor open. A second volley was met by the ship's shields, her crew having responded rapidly to the attack, while atmosphere and debris leaked from the wounds on her hull already inflicted. Endar thought he could see bodies drifting from those wounds in the other ship's hull. His head lowered at the thought of it, that by his order good Talarian citizens were being killed. "What have I done?" he murmured to himself.
"We're getting responses to Admiral Relki's orders from the Utarko'Tal, Eralba'Tal, and Deytofa. The other ships are still not responding."
"I don't want any more death than necessary. Send a demand to the Holtaje to stand down and turn the Director over to us for her crimes of treason against the Steadhold. Have the other ships watch those vessels refusing to act but they are not to fire unless the others fire first."
"We'll have to destroy them," Relki remarked from her place near the rear of the Sathra's command bridge, standing between the gunnery station and the comm station. "They are loyal to the Director."
Endar looked back at her. "I will not shed any more Talarian blood than is necessary to bring the Director into custody." He turned his eyes back to his crew. He could see the doubt and uncertainty in their eyes. They were not certain to this course of action. And he sympthazied completely, as it felt repulsive to even him. But he had gotten the measure of the Federation here and found it wanting. And for his son's honor, for his family's sake, he would stop this treaty here and now and save his people.




Parker was seated in his office, sullenly reading the court order Rossa had procured over the night to further disrupt the treaty proceedings, when the Enterprise's alert klaxons went off. He jumped from his chair and went straight out to the Enterprise's bridge at a brisk, though not fast and panicky-looking, pace.
The main watch was on, so all the senior crew were at their stations. "Report!" was his first order as he headed to his command chair, which Razmara was vacating.
"The Sathra has opened fire, Captain, on the Talarian battlecruiser Holtaje," Carter answered from Tactical. "One of the destroyers is also firing on the Holtaje while a cruiser and destroyer have locked weapons on the other ships...."
"What the Hell is going on?! Mister O'Keefe, open a channel."
"Sorry, Sir, the Talarians are putti' out interference and refusing all communication."
"Carter, raise shields!"
"Yes Sir."
"Make sure the rest of the squadron has raised their shields, as well as the starbase." Parker heard the turbolift open and turned to see Admiral Picard emerge onto the bridge. "Admiral."
"Report, Captain?"
"The Sathra has opened fire on the Holtaje, Admiral. We've raised shields but no aggressive maneuvers have been made."

Picard nodded in approval. "Very well, Captain. Can we alert Starfleet Command?"
"The Talarians are jammin', Sir, we might have to move a bit away." O'Keefe noticed something on his board. "Sir, getting a narrow beam transmission from the planet. It's from Ambassador Troi."
"Put her on."
Parker and Picard stood side-by-side as the elder Betazoid diplomat appeared on the main screen, her hair somewhat less-kept than it was in public and her clothes rather simple-looking, if still rather silken and rich in appearance. "Admiral, Captain, it's important we do nothing, absolutely nothing, to appear to be interfering in the battle. It would play into the hands of the anti-treaty faction. I want you to keep your shields down and to remain perfectly still."
Parker and Picard exchanged looks. "Madame Ambassador, we're not moving at all, but there's no way I'm lowering shields."
"Captain, this is an order," Lwaxana said in a very insistant, demanding tone. "You cannot make any kind of move that will be construed as even possible intent to become involved."
"Raising shields is a strictly defensive action under Starfleet regulation, Ambassador, and I will not lower them. To do so would be to jeopardize the safety of the ships and their crews."

"Oh, I can't understand how Deanna could see anything in such a stubborn, stupid man!" Fuming, Lwaxana turned her attention to Picard. "Admiral, you know how important it is to show the Talarians we have no intent to interfere with their affairs. Please help me here, order the Captain to lower his shields!"
Picard looked to Parker, who answered, "I still won't, even if both Admirals ordered me, Ambassador. And frankly I'd probably kick him off my bridge if he tried to make me."
Grinning slightly, Picard added, "Which is what I would expect Captain Parker to do in this situation, Ambassador, even if I were so-inclined to give such an order, which I am not. The Captain is right; raising shields is a strictly defensive posture and the Talarians can find no intent within it. Now, if you will please leave this situation to us to settle... without active interference, of course. Picard out."

Parker made a finger-over-neck gesture to O'Keefe, who cut the channel as Lwaxana began to shout at them. He looked around. "I'm open to suggestions, people...."
"Captain, the other Talarian ships have become engaged," Data reported. "One cruiser and one destroyer have joined Holtaje and are undertaking evasive maneuvers."
"There's no way Holtaje can win this fight, Captain," Carter added. "She's outgunned by Sathra, and her supporters are outgunned by the ships siding with Sathra."
"What could have gotten into Captain Endar's mind? You don't suppose...." Razmara looked to Parker.
"Yes, that is probably it." Parker sighed. "He thinks he's going to lose his son. And so he's got nothing left to lose."




Endar watched the battle unfolding and could feel his stomach churning with irritation. He could not get over his doubts as to what he was doing. It went against everything he'd been raised to do.
But he tried to hide it. Not to prevent Relki from seeing it, but to spare his crew the similar agony of whether to move against him or not. He kept telling himself over and over that this was all he had left. The Federation would take Jono from him and, if the treaty were signed, they would absorb Talar into a meaningless mass, Endar's people stripped of everything that made them Talarian.
"Status of the Federation ships," he asked his weapons officer.
"Their shields have been raised, but that is all."
"Have they launched any fighter craft? What about the status of their weapons?"
"No fighter craft are detected, Sir, and their weapons appear to be powered down."
"A trick," Relki remarked. "They're likely waiting for Durlora to promise even more to them in exchange for saving her."
"It doesn't matter either way, Admiral. Unless they attack I have no intention of doing anything aggressive toward them." The ship rocked under his feet. "Status?"
"Shields holding at sixty-nine percent. The Jumara was firing on us with their torpedoes, buit the Deytofa and the Eralba'Tal have engaged her." The gunnery officer looked up. "I'm tracking Jumara, but she's moving around the Federation squadron. I can't take a clear shot without risking a hit on a Federation ship."
"Then don't, leave it to the others. Concentrate all fire on Holtaje and continue to jam her transmissions." Endar's eyes returned to his tactical view, and his gunnery officer concentrated on the target he'd been ordered to attack. As a result, nobody noticed Relki slip up beside the gunnery station.




The Talarian cruiser Jumara maneuvered deftly between two of the Starfleet ships, staying out of range of the Sathra's main weapons as it continued to exchange fire with the Holtaje, but the other cruiser and one of the destroyers began tracking her immediately. The destroyer followed, firing at the running cruiser as it fired once again on the Sathra.
As the cruiser curved around Hood and came up "under" Great Lakes, the Sathra's photon torpedo launcher suddenly flared to life. A spread of torpedoes raced the distance and acquired the Jumara. One flew wide, the second impacted on her aft shield as she twisted away, trying to hide on the other end of the Starfleet formation....
The third missed as well, with Jumara completing her turn and moving past Great Lakes.... and the fourth plowed into the starboard side of Great Lakes.

The shields held from the hit, causing Marina and her crew to merely rock in their place. "Damage?"
The engineering station was currently taken by the ship's Operations Officer, Lt. Commander Amy Collette. Her eyes scanned the readout present. "Shields holding, no damage."
"Have they locked on?"
"Negative, Captain," Dalton answered. "No enemy locks."
An accident, then. We're lucky.
"Captain, Hood is moving to cover us," Rochelle reported from Communications. "Enterprise is asking for our status."
"Inform them."
"Shall we return fire, Captain?" Dalton asked.
"No, not without orders," Marina answered, even if her impulse told her that they'd end up having to break this fight up to protect the planet's surface. "Be ready if we need to intercept fire heading toward the planet."
"Aye, Captain."




"Great Lakes reports no damage, no casualties, Captain," O'Keefe reported from his station. "And Ambassador Troi is trying to raise us again."
"Ignore her." Parker looked around. "Suggestions?"
"Captain, the Director's ship isn't going to last much longer," Razmara remarked. "If she gets killed the negotiations will be ruined."
"On the other hand, if we do intervene, it will play into the hands of the factions on Talar opposing the treaty," Picard said. "Captain, I cannot permit you to fire on the Talarian ships unless it is in clear self-defense."
"They did just hit Great Lakes, Sir," Parker said, looking at Picard. "And if we let them keep this up their next stray shot might hit the planet. Thousands of lives can be lost."
O'Keefe spoke up again. "Sir, Avenger and Minneapolis are both asking for orders. Intrepid is also preparing to launch fighters."
"Status of the Talarian ships, Larrisa, Data?"
"Sensors are showing hull breaches on Holtaje and the one destroyer that has sided with her, Captain," Larrisa replied.
"Given the design of the Talara'Sathra, she has a clear firepower advantage and is comparable, perhaps, to the Hood in volume of firepower and to Intrepid in defensive shielding, though her hull plating is far inferior by Federation standards." Data turned back from his station. "I have no doubts that Captain Endar's forces are quite capable of handily defeating Director Durlora's supporters, and will do so soon if we do not act."

Parker looked on the screen at the giant Talarian ship as it hammered the smaller giant among the formerly-united squadron. "This isn't going to do you any good, Endar," he murmured to himself.
"Sir, we're getting another request for orders," O'Keefe said. "Intrepid is about to launch."
"No. Order the squadron to remain in their positions for the moment and tell Captain Phillips that he is not to launch fighters." Parker's mind raced as he considered the circumstances. "Admiral, can you trust me?"
Picard looked at him closely for a moment. "Of course, Captain," was his reply.
Nodding, Parker got into his seat and snapped his harness on, prompting Razmara and Picard to do the same. "Red Alert. Mister Hamblin, put us between Sathra and Holtaje and keep us there."
"Aye, Captain."
Picard looked to Parker with a degree of bewilderment mixed with interest. "You're not going to fire...."
"No."
Razmara asked, "You don't think that Endar will hold his fire to prevent hitting us, do you?"
"No, Commander, I do not." Parker looked intently at the viewscreen as the Enterprise moved foward to interpose herself between the feuding Talarian giants.




Endar had turned to his gunnery officer with anger when he saw the photon torpedoes impact with the Starfleet frigate. "I told you to hold fire!" As soon as he finished that statement, though, he could see from the surprise in the man's eyes that he was as shocked as Endar was.
Admiral Relki's hand pulled away from the gunnery station. "What does it matter if we hit the Federation ships," she answered, "if it wins the battle faster?"
"Status on the Federation ships?!" Endar looked back to his display. "Have they locked weapons?!"
"No, Captain, they are holding off, though one vessel is moving to cover the ship we hit. And at least two are bringing weapons online."
"Let them attack," Relki said from where she was standing, gripping the gunnery console as Holtaje's ripostes made the Sathra shake. "It will destroy our surrender by treaty. The Senate will see them for what they are and will never approve the treaty if Durlora survives. And if we can take the Holtaje and Durlora's partisans with us, it will look like we stumbled upon a Federation plot and were destroyed for it. Either way, the Steadhold will be maintained."
Endar stared at the woman. He could see within her eyes a dangerous fire, a defiant paranoia being given a chance to blossom fully in these moments. A pride and arrogance his people shared for their continued survival against such great odds. And not for the first time did he consider that he'd done the wrong thing. But it was too late to go back....

"Captain!" The sensor officer's shout ended the silence between the two. "The Enterprise has begun maneuvering!"
"And the other ships? Are they assuming an attack formation?" Endar prepared himself for the affirmative answer there, the sign that the Federation was joining the fight, leaving him only the choice of dying for his people.
But he was instead given the answer "No." "They have not powered up weapons, Captain, and are not locking on. But they are moving to place themselves in our line of fire."
"Yes, Captain. I cannot fire on Holtaje without striking the Enterprise," the gunnery officer affirmed.
My son is aboard that ship. If I destroy her, I kill him with my own hand, Endar thought. For the moment he hesitated, as his doubts as to the day's actions crept back in.
"Let them try! Maneuver us to slip around them and resume firing on Durlora!", Relki shouted.
Endar nodded when his helmsman sought to confirm the admiral's order. He felt the Sathra's impulse engines fire. After twenty seconds the helmsman angled his head. "Sorry, Captain, the Enterprise has the superior position, I cannot maneuver us tightly enough to get around them."
"Then shoot through them!" Relki looked down at Endar. "Captain, we must destroy the Holtaje or force the Federation to fight us. It is the only way to guarantee our success! Open fire!"
Again the crew looked to him for guidance. And Endar was gripping his chair arms tightly as he nodded in agreement. "Fire."




The Enterprise rocked beneath the seats of Parker and his bridge crew as her port shields took a hammering from the weapons on the Sathra. "Report."
"Shields holding at ninety-eight percent," Data answered. The ship rocked slightly again. "Still holding." After a moment, he continued. "Captain, based on the average firepower intensity of the Talara'Sathra's energy complement, it will take roughly forty-three minutes before their output can sufficiently exceed our regenerative shields' capabilites to begin causing shield efficiency loss." He turned to face Parker. "Photon torpedoes are the only way they can make our shields degrade faster than they regenerate."
"Torpedoes!" Carter's hand was on her control. "Bringing point-defense phasers online...."
"Belay that, Commander."
All eyes turned toward Parker at that mysterious order. "But sir..." The ship rocked, slightly harder this time, as the torpedoes impacted against Enterprise's shields.
"Shields are still holding at ninety-two percent."
"Standby."
"More torpedoes!" The next spread impacted, at a range that it was almost impossible for them to miss.
"Shields down to eighty-seven percent. We will begin to lose integrity in six minutes."
Carter looked up. "Sir, are we just going to sit here and take a pounding? Let me return fire and try to disable their weapons."

"Commander, you will hold fire," Parker said insistantly. He could see Razmara and Picard were both watching him intently. "Reinforce the shields with auxiliary power, Mister Data. See if that helps."
More energy fire poured into the ship, and another spread of torpedoes joined it. Around them it seemed the battle had stopped, the Talarian captains on both sides apparently intensely focused on their lead ship unleashing her fury at a quiet Enterprise. "Sir, axuiliary power is closing the gap the torpedoes created between our shield regeneration and their weapon output. I believe that we have twenty minutes before their weapons fire would begin to have an effect on our shield integrity."
"If I may, Captain," Picard asked, "what is it you have in mind?"
"That's entirely up to Endar at the moment."




"Our weapons are still not penetrating their shields, Captain." The gunnery officer on Sathra was busily firing every weapon he could as fast as he could, and his efforts showed on the viewscreen as constant streaks of energy and sparkling torpedoes plowed into the shields of the Enterprise.
"How can this be possible? Is the Federation truly that powerful?" The surprise in Relki's voice caused Endar to look at her almost in disbelief at her naviety. He could see she was beginning to believe exactly what kind of power she'd dismissed for so long. "This is the finest warship we have ever built..."
"Any signs that the Enterprise is preparing to return fire?" Endar asked his sensor officer.
"Negative. Their weapons are still powered down and there are no weapons lock. They're just... sitting there, absorbing our attack."
"We have no choice then," Relki remarked. "We have to ram. Ram through them and maybe what's left of the ship can plow into the Director's vessel!"
Endar looked at her. "So we turn to suicide ramming?"
"Yes, Captain, it is clearly the only choice we have left."
Endar looked back at the screen. He could see his crew staring at him, waiting for him to give the order to end their lives.
But he was deep in thought. He was trying to fathom what Captain Parker was up to. Why he had not returned fire. Endar stood from his seat, all eyes on him. "Gunnery officer, cease fire. Helmsman, prepare to fire impulse engines, full speed. Operations, put all shield strength to fore."
The officers complied with his orders. Relki walked up beside him. "We do this for the Steadhold," she said. "Now, let us go forth and show them the courage of...."

"Open a channel to Enterprise."
The order made the entire bridge crew seem stunned, while Relki was confused when she looked up at him. "A channel, but.... why?"
"Parker wants to talk. This is his way of telling me, it's the only reason a man like that would put his ship in such a position."
"Let him do what he pleases, that doesn't change a thing!", Relki spat.
"I am curious as to what he wants to talk about."
"It will only be Federation lies, tricks to make our resolve waver!"
"The Enterprise is accepting our channel, Captain, on main viewer now."
The viewscreen changed to show the face of Captain Parker, Admiral Picard visible in the right corner of the screen. "Endar, thank you, I was starting to worry you weren't going to talk."
"Make it quick, Parker, and then move out of my way," Endar answered, "or I'll plow my ship into your's to get to the Holtaje."
Parker nodded at that. "Fine. I wanted to ask you why you're doing this. Why you're turning your back on oathes and loyalty to fire on your own people."
"Because it is for the good of my people," Endar replied. "Because this treaty would destroy us in the end. We would be absorbed into the Federation, made into just another race in an anonymous mass, nothing distinctive about us save for our history."

"That's not how the Federation works, Endar. We allow any people to go their own way."
"Until they do something that displeases you," Endar spat back. "You have taken my son from me, and why? Because he was born Human? I raised him! I held him close when he cried as a small child, I taught him how to be a good man and how to strive to be the best man in life that he could be? And for what?! For you to condemn me as a child-stealer and accuse me of turning him against you? I raised him as a Talarian but I did not raise him to hate Humans!"
The two captains stared at each other through their screens while their ships faced off around them. "Tell me, Captain, what would have happened if the places were reversed? If a Talarian boy had been raised by Humans, would he have been treated as I treated Jono? Would he have been informed of where he came from? Would he have been permitted to make his own way in life, to join your Starfleet if he chose, with the full support of your people? Without one voice refusing him for what he was born as and not what he had become?!"
"Yes!", Parker answered emphatically. "I will not lie and claim that all people in the Federation behave like this, but this is what we aspire to be. A brotherhood of races, each with their own history, their own nationalities and cultures and ways of thinking, united to live in peace with one another and to protect each other from whatever might come. If a Talarian were raised in Federation space, he would be seen as deserving the same respect as any other member of the Federation. He would be permitted to enter Starfleet or any other endeavor he sought, to rise to his potential!" Parker drew in a breath, his mind moving, trying to think of how to say what he wanted to say, of whether it would work.

"And now we're getting to the point, aren't we?" he added calmly. "This isn't about the treaty. This isn't about preserving the Talarian way of life from being swallowed by the Federation and you're not being a patriot protecting your people." Parker swallowed. "This is about you and Admiral Rossa and Jono. About you being a scared father lashing out for fear that he's going to lose his son."
Endar stared blankly at the screen, unable to reply.
"I'm not a father. I can't claim to understand what you're going through. But this... this isn't the way to help Jono, Endar." Parker waited a second to see if Endar would reply before continuing. "These past few days I've learned a few more things about your people. I know that by Talarian tradition and law, Jono is at the onset adulthood. He can choose his own path. And even if it hurts, you have to be willing to let him go so he can become the man he wants to be."
There was silence for several moments. Endar's gaze was fixed on his Starfleet opposite. "You say things as if Jono will have a choice, but we know that Rossa will not..."
"What are you doing, Endar?!" Relki's rage finally cut loose. "Stop this blathering and do your duty to the Steadhold!" When Endar only gave her a sideways glance before returning his view to Parker, Relki turned angrily to the helm. "Ramming speed helm! Now!"
The helmsman just stared at her, and then looked to Endar. "Captain..."
"Don't ask him anything! I am the superior officer! RAM THEM DAMN YOU!" When Relki saw the officer wouldn't follow her command, she began moving toward the helm to do it herself.
Just as she reached her hand over the helmsman to hit his key and fire the impulse engines, Endar moved over and grabbed her by the arm. "You won't be doing that," Endar said to her.
"Get your hands off me! I am your superior officer! I am ordering you, in the name of our people, of our Steadhold, to destroy the traitoress' ship by any means necessary!"

"It's over, Admiral," Endar replied softly. "I will not be party to your madness."
"You would also betray the Steadhold? Why? To get your Human son back?! They are deceiving you, they will never..."
"I was a fool," Endar said, cutting her off. As he stood there, looking at her, everything seemed to come into place. The things he should have seen, should have put together, but did not. "I should have seen it in you. You would sacrifice the good of the Steadhold, condemn our people to painful isolation and eventual destruction, to appease your own ego and paranoia. It was you who arranged the assassination attempt on Durlora, wasn't it?"
"I will go to any lengths necessary to preserve our people," Relki rasped, not bothering to deny it. "I will kill any would-be traitor who would sell our pride for wealth, no matter what method I must use."
"You almost killed my son!" Endar forced her up against the bulkhead. "You caused all of this for your own pride! You..."
"I will not stand by and let the Steadhold be destroyed! I will never let myself live to see it happen!" Relki's fist worked free enough to strike Endar in the mid-section. The attack stunned him enough that she was able to push him back and get free, allowing her to reach for her sidearm.
As she pulled the blaster out, the helmsman and gunnery officers had their's readied. Twin streaks of white energy lashed out and met at the Talarian admiral's chest. The weapons weren't phasers, and it wasn't a clean vaporization. She cried out and flew back into the bulkhead while her uniform caught fire from the heat of the energy blasts. She slid against the bulkhead, crying out in agony as she did so. With a tremendous act of will the dying woman lifted her gun and went to fire when a second pair of blasts struck her in the neck and head, killing her instantly.

Endar finished recovering and looked down at the smoldering remains of Admiral Relki. Head lowered, he turned back to the view screen, from which Parker had seen the entire drama play out. "Captain, we are standing down." Endar slumped back into his chair. "I see no point in maintaining this pointless battle and costing more lives. I have been a fool."
"We're all fools at times, Captain," Parker answered. "You've done the right thing, for yourself, for Jono, and for your people." He turned his head slightly. "Stand down from Red Alert. Resume normal running status."
Endar watched Parker begin looking at him again. "Tell Jono that no matter what happens, he is my son, and I love him."
"I'll let you tell him yourself, Captain, in a few hours. Until then." Parker looked back and nodded to one of his officers. He disappeared from the viewscreen and again the Sathra bridge crew was treated to the sight of the majestic Enterprise as she moved away from Holtaje.
"Inform the other vessels that sided with Relki that if they do not stand down we will aid Holtaje against them," Endar said, "and get Commander Meyto to come up here to relieve me. I am relinquishing command to him. I am sorry to have put you all in this situation."
His crew, for what it was worth, gave him nods of support. Endar silently nodded in thanks and in reply and waited to see what his fate would be.




Parker looked around at the bridge after Endar's image disappeared. "Return us to our place by the Starbase, Mister Hamblin," he ordered.
"Sir, Director Durlora is signaling from Holtaje," O'Keefe said. "She wants to thank you for your help."
"Reply to her that it was Endar who ended the attack, not me," Parker answered. "Mister Data, final report?"
"No damage to the ship, Captain," the android answered.
"Very good." Parker looked to his right and saw Razmara still staring at him. "Commander?"
"Sir... how the hell did you do that?" She gave him a bewildered look. "How did you know you could talk him down like that?"
"I didn't," he answered, honestly enough at that. "I mean, I didn't know I'd be able to get him to stop. When it comes down to it, I think I just gave him the reason he needed to make himself stop." Parker pressed a key on his chair. "Captain Parker to Lieutenant Borgia, I need to see you in my office within the next hour... no, make that half-hour."
After a moment the JAG officer's reply of "Yes Captain" came over the intercom.
"Commander Razmara, you have the bridge." Parker stood up, as did Picard. "Admiral, would you mind joining me?"
"Not at all, Captain, not at all," Picard answered, following the younger officer into a turbolift.




Mid-day was approaching on the Enterprise as she maintained her vigil over Pi Agalis IV and Starbase 592. The main conference room on the Enterprise, adjacent to her bridge, allowed Parker to stare out at the water-covered planet below and at the smallish space station beside his ship.
The first entries into the room were by Picard and Rossa, who had beamed over from Starbase 592. "Captain, I trust you have received the injunction from the Sector Court?" she asked as soon as she got to the table.
"I did read it, yes," Parker said.
"I have begun making calls planetside to doctors, there is a Doctor Hamagi that I will be taking my grandson...."
The door opened again and this time the arrivals were Endar, escored by Commander Carter and Lieutenant Borgia. Rossa looked at Endar and then back to Parker. "What is he doing here?", she asked.
"I invited him here," Parker answered. "I believed he had a right to be present for what I have in mind."
"And that is?"
"To settle this problem," Parker said. "Jono, Jeremiah, is his own man, and has a right to make his own decisions."
"He is still a child," Rossa retorted, "and he has been brainwashed. He cannot make his own decisions. I am his legal guardian and I forbid..."
"Actually, you might not be much longer," Lieutenant Borgia said, speaking up. She handed Rossa a PADD.
The admiral looked it over. Her hand began trembling as she looked up. "What... what is this?"
"It is a legal brief filed on behalf of Jono ku'Jashklu, also known as Jeremiah Rossa, citing that it is not in his best interests to be given into your custody," Borgia explained, "with expert testimony provided by the medical staff who have observed him. I've already spoken with Judge Svateris over subspace on the matter, the Court as a whole will be considering my motion by tomorrow."

"And... and you'll lose," Rossa muttered. "They won't take my grandson from me!"
"I don't know about that, Admiral," Parker said, sitting down at the head of the table. "With the expert testimony of Doctors Troi and Phong, as well as the sickbay logs of his behavior following his surgery, they might very well agree that you're not the best parent for him."
"I'll send in my own brief before the day is out. I will fight you!"
"And you'll be sending the brief to the wrong court. Starbase 338 isn't in this sector," Parker pointed out.
Rossa looked to him while Parker looked to Picard. "Admiral, I've spoken with Starfleet Command," Picard began, "and they have decided that with Admiral Relki ke'Uytela dead, there is no more reason for you to be assigned to this negotiation. You're being ordered back to your post on Starbase 338."
"Which means you will have to take this suit to the Sector Court there," Borgia added, "and this time we'll be the first to the gate."
Rossa looked at each of them as if they'd turned into monsters before her eyes. "Why... why are you doing this to me? Why are you trying to take my grandson from me again? You cruel bastards, how can you do this?!"
"We don't want to, Admiral," Parker said. "But you're leaving us no choice. You're being completely irrational about this, not to mention selfish. You're not thinking of what's best for Jeremiah, you're thinking about what you want."
"But they took him from me!" Rossa sobbed. "My baby grandson! They took my son from me and they took him, and now you're letting them get away with it! You're letting them take him again!"
"No." Endar sat down beside Rossa. "I know you hate me because I adopted your grandson and you were not informed of his survival. I am sorry that happened. I meant you no ill will by the adoption."

"You killed my son!", Rossa shouted.
"Just as your people killed mine," Endar replied. "We both lost sons in that war. But I don't want Jono to suffer because of that."
The door swished open again. Jono walked in with Data beside him. "Father," he said at seeing Endar, going straight up to him and saluting. "It is good to see you."
"And you, son," Endar reached forward and put a hand on Jono's shoulder. "You were quite brave the other day in saving the Director's life."
"This woman." Jono looked down at Rossa, who was staring at him. "I remember her. She is the one they said was my blood."
"I am your grandmother, Jeremiah," Rossa said. "You... you don't remember me?"
Jono shook his head. "Father, I am ready to return."
"Jono, as you know, your Age of Decision has already come. You must make a choice on whether to return with me," Endar gestured toward Rossa, "or to remain here and learn of your Human blood and family."
"Father, what... why?"
"I told you many years ago that you were physically Human, and that you were adopted." Endar again looked toward Rossa. "This woman is of the Human family you were born into. She wishes to have you in her life, to show you your Human family, and the Human way of life." He returned his eyes to face Jono. "The choice must be your's, Jono. Know that either way I am proud of you."
Jono looked from his father to Rossa. She stood and walked toward him, apparently unafraid despite the other day when he had knocked her over. "I know you were raised to be Talarian, Jeremiah, but you are not. You are my grandson, the darling of our family before.... the war." Rossa didn't look to Endar, as it needn't be said the part the played there. "You have an uncle and cousins, grand-uncles and -aunts, that would give anything to see you. To have you back would be... it would be a miracle."

The assembled crew sat back and watched as the years of pain finally came out of Rossa, as she tearfully explained to Jono/Jeremiah what his survival meant to her. Parker had to admit being moved by her pleas to her grandson to come back with her, to learn about his heritage and meet the members of his family that had long believed him dead.
At several points Jono looked to Endar, as if for guidance, and Endar returned the glances with nods, no mannerisms at all to express opposition to Rossa. There was a sadness in the expression on the Talarian's face. He had come to accept that it was time to let his son go.
As for Jono, there was no immediate reaction from him. When Rossa ran out of words to say, Data led Jono back out. Rossa looked to Parker. "I'm going to send a message to the court and inform them I am dropping my case with them. And if you'll excuse me, I... I need to get some rest."
With Rossa gone, all that was left was Parker, Carter, and Endar. Parker looked to his counterpart and asked, "I guess charges are about to be filed against you?"
"Oh, I will definitely lose the Sathra," Endar replied. "As for criminal charges, I don't think the Lord Protector will press them. By showing mercy to me they encourage others who felt as Relki did to relent."
"That's good to hear," Parker answered. "Captain... I understand why your people are afraid. I can only imagine what my people would have become if we had been faced with the same hostility as you have suffered. But there comes a time when you have to look to the future. I'm not saying forget the past, but don't let it rule you."
"An interesting piece of Human wisdom there."
"You'd be surprised at how many Humans have trouble doing it themselves." After chuckling a moment, Parker continued. "Maybe Talar will never join the Federation. And that, to me, is perfectly fine. We just want to be at peace with you, and to let the past rest. Not to forget it, not to forget the people who lost their lives, but to let them rest and to do them good."

"Among my people, we honor and revere our fallen war dead with monuments and songs and stories," Endar said. "It is our way to venerate them as the saviors of our race, as they actually have been before. For a Talarian, to stand before the Monument of the Fallen as the sun sets beside it... is one of the most beautiful things in the world."
Parker nodded at that and remembered the briefing on the Talarians. The Monument was a massive plinth, decorated in Talarian script, bearing the name of every single Talarian to die in the suicidal, but successful, defense of Talar itself from the Breen attack in the early part of the century. "To my people, there is no greater death than dying in a battle you have entered knowing your life would be lost. I know Relki would have fired on you just to get such a death, if for the wrong reasons."
Thnking back to Starfleet Academy, Parker found himself murmuring the line, "'Go tell the Spartans, strangers passing by, that here obedient to their laws we lie.'"
Endar looked at him with interest. "What is that from?"
"Oh, Human history, around three thousand years ago. A Human group of city-states called the Greeks had their homeland invaded by a mighty, powerful empire to the east. The Greek cities usually fought one another, but this time banded together to resist. Their country was mountainous, and at a pass called Thermopylae they were able to repel the invader army despite it being far greater in size."
"But then a traitor sold them out for gold, and told the invaders of a hidden path around the pass. Having been outflanked, the Greeks were forced to retreat into their heartland. But a force of three hundred Spartans, led by one of their kings, chose to stay behind and hold the pass as long as possible. They fought hard for days before they were, one by one, slain in the pass. Not a single one survived."

There was, for a brief moment, a smile across the Talarian's face. "That," he said, "is a good story for your people to take to heart. It is a reminder that there are things worse than death. But tell me, did these Greeks... did they win in the end? Was the Spartans' deaths at the pass honored by victory?"
"They did," Parker replied, "and though much of how they lived, as well as the gods they worshipped, are no longer part of any Human society, their memory lives on and we pay homage to them for being the origins of some of our ideas of law, government, and science."
There was silence afterward. "For the good of my people, I want peace, Captain," Endar said. "And I hope that together we have it."
"I do too, Captain," Parker said, "I do too."



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Chapter 8




Parker had returned to his cabin to shower and relax before going over the inevitable paperwork of the daily routine. He was soon in casual clothes, seated at his desk with a bottle of replicated soda and the remains of a replicated turkey sandwhich beside him. It seemed the right way to end the eventful day with routine.
His door chime went off and Parker called out, "Come in." The door responded to his verbal command and slid open, allowing entry.
Any hope for a normal day was dashed when Deanna walked in, wearing a sleeveless blouse and knee-length skirt. "I hear you managed to settle things over Jeremiah Rossa?"
"He's being given the choice of where to go," Parker answered.
"And in the meantime you also dealt with the Talarians behind that assassination attempt," Deanna continued, "and now with Captain Endar no longer to be present for the talks, you're completely free."
"If you call a mountain of paperwork freedom," Parker answered wistfully.
"Ah, paperwork." Deanna nodded and smirked. "A good excuse to not use your new free time to talk to me, I guess?"

Parker laid back in his chair. "Yeah, I guess it would double as that." Remembering what was said the previous day, and the sweet taste of the kiss they'd shared, Parker shook his head. "I've let this go on too long, Deanna. I'm sorry."
"You're sorry?" she asked.
I suppose I can't ask Endar to do what I wouldn't, Parker mused, remembering his appeal to the Talarian to get over his fear of losing his son. And he had a fear to confront too. A fear about Deanna. "I... I've never changed how I felt about you, Deanna," he admitted. "So the answer to that question is yes. I loved you. And I still do."
There was not a whole lot of reaction from her. Just a soft smile, actually. "Why did you push me away?", she asked.
"Because I was afraid," Parker admitted. He stood up and moved to the side of his desk. There was still a part of him afraid of what to say next, afraid of what he might lose.
"Afraid I would ask you to leave Starfleet," Deanna finished for him, having sensed the answer. "Adrian, I couldn't do that to you."
"That was one part of it." Parker took in a breath. "But... I was also afraid I'd say yes to you."
"But I could never ask you to give up what you love doing," Deanna replied, putting her left arm on his shoulders. "I fell in love with an ambitious Starfleet officer, not a swooning romantic."

At that they shared a laugh. Parker's arm found it's way around her back at near-waist level. "I don't want to hurt you, Deanna. I'll understand if you want to move on."
"I don't," she answered. "I've had eight years to consider just that, and I don't want to." Her hand went up to his chin. "I have my imzadi."
And with that there seemed little else to say. They drew close and their lips touched, a new kiss that would soon be so much more.




The holodeck on the Minneapolis had been altered to reflect a gladiatorial arena, without the crowds though, merely racks of weapons for the contestants to choose from.
Katie had opted for something a little less cumbersome than her usual chainmail protection for in-game activity, wearing a sleeveless blue cotton vest over a simple cotton medieval-style brassiere and a knee-length white skirt with leather greaves. Her shorter opponent, Dr. Meredith Constantine, was similarly dressed, though her sleeveless top more resembeld an Asian gi robe. She was holding a sword in one hand and a dagger in the other, trying to improve her dual-wielding technique, while Katie had opted for an iron buckler to go with a sword to get the feel of shield-using.
Meredith's sword clashed against Katie's shield and drove her backward. "You really should let Martin stick to the shield using, you're already good enough with two-handers," she remarked, stepping back and parrying Katie's sword with her dagger. She continued to backpedal, giving herself some room to move and put her advantage in speed and athleticism to work.
Of course, Katie was well aware of the near-acrobatic agility Meredith was capable of and refused to let her back off enough. Meredith still backpedaled, trying to get room...
Katie swiped, allowing Meredith to easily parry her with the dagger, and gave Meredith an opening of a few seconds. She'd noticed Katie dragging a bit on her left side, unused to the weight of the shield, and swiped low with her sword. It got beneath Katie's sword and sliced across her thighs, passing through them as programmed to do, while the holodeck program created forcefields around Katie's legs to keep her from moving or using them while a tractor field forced her to the ground. Meredith knelt over her friend and put her sword point against Katie's neck. "You really should give up on the shield."

"I yield, I yield," Katie muttered, letting go of her sword and shield.
The holodeck released the forcefields around her legs to let her move again, but Katie found Meredith's knee was stilled pressed to her chest. "I suppose that when you spar with Zaria, you're fighting for more than bragging rights?" A mischievous twinkle came to her old friend's eye as Katie watched the doctor get up.
Smirking, Katie answered, "Oh, we sometimes have strings attached to, but you'll have to use your imagination to guess that." She accepted Meredith's hand to pull herself up. "I... I don't know what to do, Merdiff."
"What do you mean, Kittyburger?"
A grimace crossed Katie's face as she went to the weapon rack. "Have you used that in front of any of the crew?"
"No, it's still a private pet name," Meredith answered with a grin. She traveled to one as well, though just to set her sword and dagger down. "Believe me, you'll know it when I let it slip."
"You wouldn't dare."
"Of course not. Then you'd tell them about that our shore leave on Cylis."
"That's almost as embarrassing for me as it was for you," Katie remarked, pulling a halberd off of the rack. "Maybe I should work on my polearms. I hear that there's an awesome polearm drop from the next module in our campaign."
"Well, you can get some holo-opponents then," Meredith answered, "I've got work waiting for me in sickbay. Maybe Zaria is available?"
Katie lowered her head. "No, uh, she's busy in Engineering. Still tweaking things to the way she wants them to run."

Meredith had served with Katie long enough to hear the emotion in her voice. "So what's wrong?"
Katie turned and looked back to Meredith, one hand on a holo-halberd. "I thought having her on the ship would be a great thing, a chance to be together far more often. But... she thinks it's not working." Sighing, Katie added, "And I guess I can't blame her."
"Well, you're the Captain and she's the Chief Engineer, you're both on near-literal call every hour of every day. You had to have known what was going to happen."
"It didn't stop me from hoping."
"Well," Meredith leaned against the wall of the arena, "consider that we're in orbit of Pi Agalis IV. It's almost literally the Hawaii planet. Why don't you arrange a short shore leave for the two of you and go rent a room at a beachside motel? A nice moonlit walk on the beach and a romantic dinner at a beachside cafe, hard to pass up there." Grinning, Meredith added, "I can even make it a formal CMO order to keep Commander Breit from calling."
"That, I think, would be an abuse of regs," Katie replied, but she had a grin on her face to tell Meredith that she was giving serious thought to it. "But I'll see what I can do."
"Awesome. Just remember to bring me back a hula-skirt." Winking, Meredith turned to the wall and ordered the holodeck to show the exit. When it appeared, she walked out, leaving a grinning Katie to begin thinking of her suggestion.




Starbase 592 was a fully-fledged commercial port as much as it was a Starfleet installation, with an attendant commercial area with small shops and restaurants. Among the establishments was a non-descript bar in which Drola Marsukas was sitting. She had chosen to take a brief shore leave, really just an excursion to the base for a little shopping with Diane - Commander Howard - and to get a drink after Diane returned to the Intrepid.
Orions were not a common site in this area of the Quadrant. It wasn't hard to guess for anyone that she was Starfleet, though her civilian clothing - blue jacket over green blouse and black knee-length skirt - said nothing of her actual job or rank. Only the way she carried herself, and the care she took in her drinking, hinted at her not being an average Starfleet crewmember.
Of course, she also got the looks. She wasn't exactly dressed in any suggestive style, but she didn't need to be as she was fairly attractive in her own right. And beyond that, of course, her race provided its own allure. She'd dealt with most of the rumorrs of things like being capable of controlling men through pheromones, or having extraordinary physical dexterity, or any other of the usually untrue and sometimes crazy rumors that flew about Orion women due to the rather unfetching stereotype of Orion women being in the sensual occupations of slave girl, prostitute, or dancer.

She was starting to get the slightest buzz from the mixed drink she was enjoying when a shadow came over her and the seat at the bar beside her was taken. She half-expected to be a would-be suitor, and was preparing a suitable cold reception for him, when she noticed it was Commander Riker. "Ah, Commander, come to join me for a drink?"
"Don't mind if I do," Riker answered, calling out "Brandy!" to the barkeep. "Been an eventful few days, hasn't it?"
"Yes it has," Drola answered. "Commander Howard told me that the squadron wouldn't be staying for more than a couple more days. I guess you'll be coming over here?"
"That's the plan," he answered. "Of course, I hope to enjoy some time with the Intrepid crew first."
"Ah. Yes, I noticed that you and Patrick go back rather far." Drola sipped at her drink.
"Yes." Riker accepted his Brandy and handed over a Starfleet-issue credit chit to pay for it. As he sipped at it, he saw the way Drola was looking at him. "Something wrong?"
"Nothing, really." A slight grin crossed her face. "Though I am amused by the thought of how Patrick would react if I did let you get into my bed."
Riker seemed to almost choke on his drink. "And what makes you think I'm looking for romance?"
"Not romance, Commander, I know you flyer types better. No..." She giggled. "You're looking for sex, pure and simple."
Taking another quick drink, Riker followed up by saying, "That's.... pretty direct. I mean, I didn't mean anything...."

"Your eyes and body language gave you away. I'm a doctor too, remember, and before that, well, you know my past." She sipped at her drink again. "You don't go through what I did and not pick things up from it."
"I'm sure of it," Riker answered, feeling as if it was something he should say even if he wasn't that knowledgable of her past. "Well, certainly I'm attracted to you, but I wasn't looking to come on like..."
"Don't worry about it." Drola finished her drink. "Well, I have drank enough. I'm returning to the Intrepid. If you want, you can finish your drink before following me. If you're still interested, of course."
As she stood up, Riker kept his eyes on her. "Well..."
His reaction to her blunt offer made Drola grin. "When I was brought to the Federation, and then when I went through the Starfleet Medical Academy, I was rather prudish. You couldn't blame me, I suppose, given what happened. But that's in the past, and while we're not Risans or Edo, we Rorlurai are rather casual about this. I'll be waiting for you."
Riker watched her leave, eyes still a little widened. Briefly there was the thought of letting it go, but curiosity and baser instinct overcame that quite easily. Soon enough he was leaving to return to Intrepid himself.




Jono was now effectively given the run of the Enterprise's habitation decks, a commbadge on him for tracking and communication purposes the only possible control on his movement. He spent his time well learning the corridors of the ship, even examining the security locks on the doors, enough to know that they couldn't be easily breached.
He was on one of the upper decks now, moving along very innocently, as if nothing were wrong... as if a storm of fury and anger were not roiling in his heart. He stepped into a door and found a mostly unattended transporter room, a petty officer on duty. The man looked to him. "Are you lost?", he asked, not suspecting the thought in Jono's head.
The training he had received on Talar was now brought to into fruition with the aid of the anatomy texts that Phong had provided to Jono to learn of his physical body. Jono's hand whipped out and hit the transporter chief in a nerve cluster, causing him to begin doubling over. A second swipe, with a flat hand, briefly interrupted the air flow through the man's windpipe, and the Starfleet crewman dropped to the ground, incapacitated for at least half a minute.
Jono walked up to the transporter panel. It was simple enough for someone familiar with basic transporter controls, be they Talarian or Starfleet, even if some of the extra features were unknown to him. He had learned enough English to follow the directions to bring up a map of the ship, from which he could spot the place he was intending to go. A couple key presses to confirm the transporter was set and another to bring up the time-delay function...
As the transporter operator began to recover, Jono was already jumping up ont the transporter pad. The man he'd assaulted was just getting to his feet when the transporter whisked Jono away to his destination.




It had been eight years since Adrian Parker had been in a bed with Deanna Troi, and the two spent some time getting reacquainted, so to speak, before they'd begun making love in earnest. Eight years seemed like the passage of mere days for them, the intimacy recalling a happier time for them, before the pain and soul-searching that the seperation had caused them.
There was no telling how long they'd been at it when they sought to rest. Deanna laid as she liked to, resting her head on Parker's chest, a hand on his belly, while one of Parker's hands held her shoulder while the other was down on her back. They'd whispered to each other the kinds of things lovers often did, humorously pointing out how the passage of time and age had changed things, before drifting off into a comfortable, content sleep.
Parker felt it when Deanna woke up. He didn't know why at first, though for a moment he thought he heard a sound, a familiar sound that tickled his sleep-addled brain in trying to be recalled. He didn't open his eyes immediately out of sleepiness, simply shifting in bed at the realization that Deanna was no longer there. "Adrian," he heard her say, "something's wrong. I'm sensing someone..."
As he slipped out of the bed, he looked toward his bathroom and Deanna as she began to enter it. His commbadge chirped, but as he reached for it he heard Deanna yelp and was unable to pick it up before looking to see why she'd cried out.
He found himself looking through the dim light at Deanna, a sheet wrapped around herself... and a dagger against her throat, in the hands of a snarling Jono.



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Chapter 9




The clouds of sleep dimming Parker's senses began to part at the sight before him. Deanna was slightly struggling, though apparently not enough to break from the grasp of the young man, little more than a teenager, who held a dagger to her throat.
Instinct kicked in. Parker swiftly pulled open his drawer and found the sidearm phaser there, charged and ready. His finger ran over the built-in biometric scanner that acted as a safety lock when he brought it up to eye-level, pointing it toward Jono and Deanna. He wasn't a well-trained shot, but at this range he thought he could get a head shot. But something held him back for the moment, the fear that even if stunned Jono might still cut Deanna's throat.

"Adrian, don't!", Deanna cried out.
"Jono, what is this about?" Parker kept the phaser leveled at Jono, who didn't move from where he was. He took a step forward.
"I'll kill her if you don't keep away!" Jono pressed his dagger a little closer to Deanna's throat, close enough that a trickle of red came from where it was breaking the skin.
"What do you want?!"
"Something I can never have!" Jono kept his back to the wall, making it where nobody could come in behind him. "Something you took from me!"
"What are you talking about?!"
"I was content! I was my father's son, a proud Talarian! But I can never go back to that! Don't you see what you've done to me?!"
"Adrian, put the phaser down, it's..."
"Shut up before I cut your throat!", Jono screamed.

Parker kept the phaser leveled at Jono while considering what Deanna had been trying to say. He looked at Jono's eyes, his body language, and saw more fear than anger. And one didn't need to be an empath to come to the realization that there was more to this hostage situation than appeared. "Jono, let her go, we can talk about this."
"Don't you understand?! Can you understand?! I have nothing now! I cannot go back to Talar without betraying my Human blood! And I cannot go to Earth without betraying my Talarian heart! I am being asked to do one or the other, to betray one part of myself to keep the other! And I can't! I can't do it!"
"Adrian, he wants to die!", Deanna screamed before Jono could threaten her by pressing the knife a bit more tightly.
I can't lose Deanna was the thought going through Parker's head. Not now, not after these years of forcing her away, he couldn't get her back just for a deranged boy to murder her. His finger tensed on the phaser trigger and sweat began to come down before his eyes.
But at the last second, something held him back. It wasn't just fear of Deanna getting hurt, but Deanna's words to him. He wants to die, Parker repeated in his head. "Jono, this isn't going to solve anything."
"I'll kill her!"
"No, you won't," Parker said, hardly believing he was risking Deanna's life like this. "You don't want to hurt someone like this, there's no honor in it and you know it. You want me to kill you."
"What else is there for me but death?" Jono seemed to pull the dagger a bit further away from Deanna's throat. "What am I supposed to do? Betray my body and blood or my soul? You're asking me to abandon a part of what I am to be the other! How can I make a choice like that?! How can I make a choice like that?!"

"Then don't choose," Parker answered, "don't abandon one for the other." The answer began coming forward without thought, really, an instinctive response to Jono's words. "You don't have to choose to abandon one part of yourself for the other, Jono. You can be both! You can be what you are, a Human raised as a Talarian!"
"I will never be accepted like that. Neither of my families will let me."
"Your families love you, Jono, in their own way. They'll understand, you have to trust they'll understand." His phaser lowered a little, but not all the way. "Jono, Talarians believe in balance in things, don't they? My solution would honor that belief. You can keep your Human and Talarian parts in balance with each other. Always there, always a part of what you are, who you are. A human and a Talarian, a synthesis of the two." Swallowing, Parker finished the argument by saying, "Maybe even a living symbol of the future for the Federation and the Steadhold if they were to work together."
Jono's hand was still trembling, but his expression seemed to soften. The words had gotten through to him.
"You don't have to die and you don't have to sacrifice one part of yourself to the other," Parker continued. "Just be Jono. Or Jeremiah. It's your choice."
Several tense seconds passed. The dagger seemed to move steadily away, millimeter by millimeter, until Jono let go of Deanna and slumped against the wall. Deanna immediately ran to Parker, giving him just enough time to drop the phaser before he could return the embrace she gave him.

The door swished open. Parker and Deanna turned, and almost instinctively Parker reached down and used a portion of Deanna's sheet to cover himself as Commander Carter and two Security personnel entered the room, a phaser in Carter's hand and her personnel having phaser rifles. "Captain, are you okay?"
"I am, Commander." Parker motioned to Jono. "Have him returned to his quarters. He has some thinking to do."
"Sir, he assaulted a transporter chief and used the transporters, I should be taking him to the brig," Carter said in a candid tone.
"I'll take the heat on this, Commander, please follow my instructions."
Carter looked to her subordinates and after a moment gave a nod of affirmation. They helped Jono to his feet and escorted him out of the room. As Carter went to follow them, she turned back briefly and a sly grin came across her face. "Well, Commander, I see you've... reconciled with Miss Troi. I'm sure the crew will be congratulating you."
"You wouldn't..."
"I wouldn't what, Sir? Tell the crew how the kid caught you and Doctor Troi with your pants down?" She gave him a wink. "Wouldn't dream of it sir." After that she left.
"Computer, restore security lock," Parker sighed, returning to his bed with Deanna curling up beside him.
"You've got quite a crew," Deanna remarked, grinning a little. "I'm sure by tomorrow everyone on board will know what happened."
"Of course, they all like the chance to take the Captain down a peg or two."

As they settled back into their sleeping positions, Deanna raised her head to look him in the eye and ask, "That was some quick-thinking. Are you sure you're a Starfleet Captain and not an amateur psychiatrist?"
"I'm told that's part of being a Starfleet Captain," he joked in reply. "I guess I could understand him. I mean, I've got a crew that includes an android trying to be Human and a very intelligent, skilled Edo officer who's trying to carve her own place and not be seen as just another Edo, and it made me think. A lot of people are out here trying to make their own way, trying to reconcile where they came from and how they were raised to be what they want to be. Jono didn't know how to handle it. He saw the world as "us and them", being Talarian or being Human, not just being, well, himself."
"And you've had thoughts like that too About your father I mean." Deanna drew in a breath, feeling Parker's chest raise with his own. "And I know you don't like talking about it."
"No, I don't. And for now, I just want to get some sleep."
"Of course, imzadi." She kissed him on the cheek and the two were soon fast asleep.




The next day Endar and Rossa were back in the conference room with Parker, Deanna, and Jono waiting for them. Picard arrived with Rossa intent on seeing the end play out.
When they were together, Parker looked to Jono. The young man stood. "I have thought about this," he said, "and listened to advice from Captain Parker. I've come to realize that I cannot deny who I am. And I am Jono ku'Jashklu as well as Jeremiah Rossa. My body and blood are Human, my soul is Talarian. I cannot deny either."
"So for now I will honor the duty I've been given and continue my service with the Steadhold. And in three Earth years, when my service has been completed," Jono looked to his grandmother, "I will come to Earth and I will get to know my Human family and heritage."
There was a short silence. "You have chosen well, son," Endar answered.
"If you can, Father, I'd like you to come with me."
"If it is possible, of course."
Eyes across the room turned to Rossa, who was looking intently at Jono. "If it's what you want, Jeremiah, I'm okay with it. And I hope to be there when you come to Earth."
"I hope so too, grandmother." Jono looked to Parker. "Thank you, Captain. I do not know where I would be without your wisdom."
"You're welcome." Parker stood. "I'm glad we've been able to settle this."
"As am I." Endar stepped up to his son. "I'm afraid I must be returning to the Sathra to make a full report on my part in the revolt. Admiral," Endar turned to face Rossa, "would you like to accompany Jono and I to the transporter room?"
Rossa nodded softly. "Thank you, I would," she answered.
As the three went to leave, Picard called out, "Captain, I hope you will not be too sorely punished for what transpired here. In the end, you did do the right thing."
All three turned back, and Endar answered, "The Director has guaranteed me leniency. I'm told I'll likely be assigned as a cadet instructor. It is a gracious thing to be permitted to educate the future leaders of my people." Endar nodded to Parker. "I must thank you again, Captain Parker. Your wisdom has saved my family from my own foolishness and given us hope for the future."
"Thank you, Captain Endar," he answered.

After the three left, it was Picard's turn to stand, prompting Parker to do the same. "Well, I think I should be going. I have to make sure that we finished transferring my staff to Starbase 592."
"Oh?"
"Yes, Captain, with the Talarian squadron due to depart, Starfleet has decided to send you on your way tomorrow," Picard answered. "I'll be remaining here with Ambassador Troi's team, of course,, until the treaty is signed."
"I hope everything goes smoothly."
"Oh, I imagine it will. In no small part thanks to you." Picard's smile showed some amusement. "I take it you're not used to getting praised with having single-handedly saved a mission of this magnitude?"
Parker shook his head. "Admittedly not. I'm used to being thanked for saving ships from Orion pirates or providing relief to ships in distress, not to preventing a civil war for an alien race or guaranteeing a peace treaty for the Federation."
"Well, you're the Captain of the Starship Enterprise, Parker," Picard answered, widening his smile as he added, "Get used to it."

With Picard gone, that left Deanna. "Well, I guess you'd better get ready to head over to the Starbase too,' Parker said to her.
"I suppose." Smiling at him, Deanna stood. "But I hope you'll be okay with spending some time together tonight."
"I'll be fine with that," he answered. "I guess this is how things will be."
"For a while," Deanna confirmed. "But the time might come when I can get a different line of work, and you and I can spend time together when you're off your deployments."
"I'll be looking forward to that," Parker admitted. "Well, I suppose I should go see about authorizing a last day of shore leave for the crew. Make sure they get a bit of down time before we head off."
"I'll see you tonight, then, about 2100 hours?"
"Of course." Parker grinned slightly. "Maybe a dinner, planetside?"
"There's a nice beachside bar..."
"Actually, I was thinking of that diner again." Deanna looked at him with interest, so he added, "It's not often I have good hamburgers."
"Well, no chocolate sundaes for me this time," was her reply.




Riker entered Phillips' ready room by the bridge and looked at his friend with a neutral expression, trying not to think of the prior night's events with Drola in front of the man who'd somewhat adopted her as a big brother. "Patrick, I guess you've heard the news."
"We're shipping out tomorrow, I know." He looked up. "I guess our reunion got cut short."
"Ah, that's how things go in this business. It was good getting to see how you were keeping the old gal going, though." Riker looked around at Phillips' ready room, adorned as it was with models of the starfighters Phillips had flown in his career and the ships he'd served on. A picture of his family was present on his desk, but other than that the ready room was not heavily adorned, only furnished.
"I heard you're looking to get back into command," Phillips said.
"I am. I'd been up for Enterprise, actually."
"Yeah. Listen, I don't know how long Diane will be here. She's not an experienced carrier officer - doesn't have to be for the XO spot - and I figure she may get a command of her own soon enough. When that happens, well, I'll have you at the top of the list. If you're still available, of course."
"Of course."
That said, Phillips gave a small smile. "How's Drola?", he asked.
Riker stared at him for a moment. "Well, she's fine.... how did you know?"
"We had breakfast this morning, after you beamed back to Enterprise to meet with Picard," Phillips answered. "Listen, Grizzly... don't get uptight about it. I'm not going to rip yout head off or anything. Drola's her own woman."
"Well, that's good to know."
"Besides, knowing your reputation," Phillips cracked a grin, "you could've never turned her down."
"Guilty as charged."
"Anyway, before you go.." Phillips stood up. "Let's do one for the road." Winking, he walked past Riker to his replicator unit in the ready room.
Riker didn't need to ask what he meant at all. "Ah, feel the need to bug the engineers?"
"Oh yes, I do. And I know just what to do to Commander Dunai. Captain Lenarova told me about this." Phillips looked back to his replicator and cracked a grin. "Computer, replicate for me one chocolate-covered donut, medium sprinkles."




Lt. Commander Edward Dunai, formerly of Great Lakes, was slowly wiggling himself into the corridor-side Jeffries tube that accessed the hanger-level sensors that were necessary for flight operations, checking out an error report sent by the flight chief. "Tell me again why I'm doing this?" he asked aloud, feeling quite a bit claustrophobic in the narrow space given his large frame.
"Because you wanted it done right," was the reply of Lieutenant Lanel t'Saillel, one of the Assistant Chief Engineers on the ship, responsible for Beta Watch. The half-Romulan woman was from the neutral Triangle that bordered the Klingons, Romulans, and Federation. Lanel was born on the multi-racial world of New Ivers to a Romulan mother, her Human father having long departed to return to the Federation. She'd been raised entirely Rihannsu as a result, brought up to believe in the Elements, the nobility of S'task, and to venerate the memory of the First Empress Ael.
But the fact that she looked so differently from other Rihannsu - her different cheekbones, her darker skin tone, and other myriad differences - finally got the better of her in creativity, and after briefly serving in New Ivers' defense fleet she traveled to Earth, met a supportive cousin of her Brazilian-originated father, and enrolled in Starfleet Academy.

Lanel's brown eyes focused on the toolbox beside her. She lowered her short frame, just over 160cm in height, and offered one of the items after removing it from the set. "Maybe the wiring needs to be checked?"
"No, it's fine. I can't see a single thing wrong with anything in here." Ed's eyes looked around the internals of the sensor, trying to find a reason it wasn't displaying at flight control.
Then he found it. Sitting non-chalantly at one end of the housing like it belonved no where else in the Quadrant.
A half-eaten chocolate donut covered in sprinkles.
A roar of anger and frustration came from him as he yanked the partially-fresh pastrie out and began sliding his posterior back down to pull himself out of the right space. He closed the panel out of habit more than thought and began trying to wriggle out while laughter came from outside.
As soon as he was free Ed looked up to see a crowd of pilots cackling and laughing. "Alright, which one of you yahoos did this?" He looked around. "Who let Dalton onto my ship? Hrm?"
When no answer came, he handed the donut to Lanel and said, "Please get rid of this," before picking up his toolbox and leaving, the pilots still laughing.
Ed was irritated to the point that he didn't notice Phillips and Riker near the end of the half-circle of pilots, laughing along with them. Once he was gone, they went up to Lanel and Phillips reclaimed his donut. "Thanks, now I can finish it."
"Don't mention it," Lanel answered. "So, you'll uphold your end of the bargain?"
"A case of Romulan Ale?"
"Not just any ale. The finest Rihannsu ale not brewed on ch'Rihan. Rataik Ale Brewers, from Artaleirh." Lanel smirked. "I trust it won't take you long?"
"It shouldn't," Phillps promised, not quite certain what the difference was given that all Romulan ale seemed to taste the same - and be as potent - no matter the origin.
"Good. As my grandfather used to say, 'If you're drinking bad ale you might as well piss into a cup and mix it in, it'll improve the taste.'" Lanel smiled at him and walked off.




Jacquelyn Crusher was getting off shift and heading toward the quarters assigned her mother. She found Beverly alone, finishing a box of things to be beamed over to Starbase 592. "Hello Mom," she said, standing at the door. "What are you doing?"
"Oh, finishing up," Beverly answered. "We're moving into the Starbase tomorrow before the Enterprise leaves. How are you settling in?"
"Just fine," Jacquelyn answered, stepping into the room. "T'Dyra and I are sharing a room. I'm getting Second Watch on the Bridge."
"That's good."
"Guess you'll be out here for awhile, huh?" Jacquelyn looked out at the planet through the cabin window. "It's a nice planet."
"Yes, but we'll be staying on the Starbase and be perpetually busy with these negotiations."
"And Dad's going to be out on the frontier for three years." Jacquelyn looked back at her mother. "I always miss him when he's out here. I mean, I'm now too..."
"We all do." Beverly put a hand on her daughter's shoulder. "But it's what your father likes to do."
"It's what I might do one day." Jacquelyn turned to face her mother. "You know, all those years I've felt guilty after I found out what I did to your career. Causing you to settle on nursing instead of being an actual doctor. And now you're a clerk when you could've..."
"Jackie, I've told you before, it's fine." Beverly put her arms around her daughter, giving her a hug. "I'm not a doctor, but I had a little girl who is far more precious to me."
"Thanks, Mom," Jacquelyn answered, giving her mother a hug in return.




The Officer's Lounge was a bit less crowded than usual, not surprising give the officers who would prefer taking their downtime on the surface at one of the coastal cities. Only a few officers here and there with little reason to go down were still in the Lounge.
Larrisa was one of them, eating a dinner to herself at a corner table while still in uniform. Her meal, a mix of dishes - mostly Human - that she enjoyed, was almost done when she saw Data enter the Lounge and come up to her. "Commander, how are you?", she asked.
"I am fine." One of the personnel responsible for the Lounge walked up and asked if they wanted anything more. Data answered, "A glass of fruit juice and a tuna club sandwhich, please."
Surprised at hearing Data order, the waiter turned to Larrisa, who requested soda and a bowl of vanilla and strawberry ice cream. As their requested dishes were being fetched, she looked to Data and asked, "Data, I wasn't aware you ate or drank anything?"
"It is not necessary for me to do so, but Captain Parker and Mister Vanbeginne both expressed the belief that it would allow me to get along better with the crew. Do you agree?"

"Well, I suppose. It's awkward to have one person in a crowd not joining the meal." Larrisa looked out at the planet. "I hear it's beautiful down there."
"Many Humanoids do seem to be attracted to planets with long coastline joined with pure and colorful ocean," Data answered. "I am somewhat surprised you are not down there. I would think you would have enjoyed the chance to indulge."
Larrisa shook her head. "I don't tan well, and besides, Sharon and Reginald weren't up for going with me. I saw little point in going alone."
"I see. And by Reginald, I assume you mean Lt. Reginand Etps?"
"I do."
"Ah. I see. Commander La Forge considers him most capable."
Data's lunch and Larrisa's desert arrived at that moment. After they began eating, once his mouth area was clear of food matter, Data asked, "I wonder why Lieutenant Etps would be disinterested in going to the surface with you. I would think two individuals of opposite genders of your ages and appearances could have had an agreeable experience."
Larrisa smiled at that. "Oh, we'll meet for lunch now and then, but Reginald isn't going to be interested in an 'agreeable experience' with me. He'd much rather be doing that with another man who feels like he does."
Data raised an eyebrow at that. "How have you ascertained..."
"I have my ways," Larrisa replied, cutting Data off.
"Hrm, fascinating."

Their meals didn't take that much longer. Larrisa, for her part, soon regretted the ice cream and was certain she'd need many an ihl'Rael session to burn the calories. When they were about done Data asked, "Larrisa, I mean no offense, but I am curious as to the finer points of how the Rubicon justice system works."
Larrisa tried to keep a dark expression from coming to her face, not wanting to be upset with Data for going so close to a tender issue for her. "What finer points?"
"It seems unlikely that your peoples' authorities have the manpower to effectively oversee every single community at the same time, and given the figures I find it unlikely that even patrols would be thinly spread and light over most areas, such that there would be effectively no law. Yet their system seems most capable."
"Ah." Larrisa put her spoon back, finished with her dessert. She drank a bit from her soda before continuing. "Our communities are divided into Punishment Zones. The Mediators patrol a different zone each day, chosen at random. The number of zones being patrolled in an area can differ from day to day as well. There literally is no way to tell when a zone is being patrolled. Well, until you see the Mediators at work."
"I see. I am curious as to the method the Edo elders use to determine this."
"We're told that it's the decision of God. God decides which zone to patrol each day." Larrisa put her empty glass down beside her empty bowl. "I figure it's some kind of sophisticated lottery system. Not that they'd tell us."
"Ah. Thank you, Lieutenant." Data's meal was done as well, she saw. "I will be returning to duty now."
"I'll see you next shift, Data," Larrisa said, after which both of them left.




A warm dinner of Polynesian cuisine had started the night off well and a pair of moons in the distance allowed an ample amount of moonlight for Katie and Zaria as they walked hand-in-hand across the beach, native red flowers fixed into the hair near their temples. They had traded their uniforms in for grass skirts of knee-length and bikini tops, Zaria's being green with blue pattern and Katie's red with a white floral pattern. The sand was soft enough to be comfortable without ruining their footing as they walked along.
Zaharia drew close to Katie, bringing them to a momentary stop, the only sound being the seabreeze rustling palm trees behind them and the gentle rustling of the waves. "Katie, you're a genius," she giggled.
"Well, I can't take all the credit," Katie confessed. "Meredith asked me why I hadn't done it yet."
"Hrm, I'll have to thank her. Tonight's been wonderful."
The walk resumed a short distance. They were moving away from the high-rise motels now and toward more private locales. "One day, do you think we'll live at a place like this?", Katie asked. "Somewhere warm and quiet to spend the rest of our lives together?"
"We could. There's the actual Hawaii back on Earth, after all. A couple dozen planets with places like this. Though our pensions might not cover it."
"I do intend to make Admiral one day," Katie said.
"Maybe that'll work, then." Zaria brought her to a stop. "You didn't have to do this, you know. I would've felt better in a couple days. I'm just still in the process of getting the feel for Minneapolis."
"I know." Katie gave Zaria a kiss on the cheek. "But it'll make us both feel better anyway to get some time away from the ship. Away from commbadges and German XOs who get too much delight in interrupting us."
"I think that's being a bit unfair to Commander Breit, but I understand what you mean." Zaria pulled close and put her lips to Katie's neck. She nuzzled and nibbled there a little before whispering in her ear, "So, what do you have in mind to end this romantic night?"
"I think you already know the what, but the where?" Katie motioned around them. "Haven't you ever wanted to..."
"To what?"
"You know..."
Seeing the mischievous twinkle in her lover's eye, Zaria's mouth came open in surprise. "Katie, out here? In the open?!"
"Nobody's watching. And haven't you ever wanted to cuddle in the waves?"
"But..." Zaria's protest was cut short by a sudden, intense kiss by Katie, which she returned earnestly. When it was over Zaria suddenly found her feet in the air, Katie lifting her up into her arms in true romantic fashion. "Eeek! Katie, we're really not going to..."
But they did.



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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Epilogue




Parker, Data, and Razmara were waiting in the Enterprise transporter room when Picard and his staff arrived for their final departure. "Admiral, sir, I hope you and your staff enjoyed your stay."
"Oh, tremendously," Picard answered while the others went to the transporter pad. Guinan was the sole exception, remaining standing for the moment near Picard. "You've done well, Captain. I wish you the best of luck."
"Thank you, Admiral."
Picard looked around for a moment. "You know, sometimes I wonder what it'd be like to be in your position. If I ever could have become the Captain of the Enterprise. I guess I'll never know. But I do know that from what I've seen, you are the right man for this job."
Parker nodded again in thanks.
Picard went toward the transporter, but for the moment Guinan did not follow. She looked at Parker in her usual calm way. "You saved the day again, Captain," Guinan remarked. "I guess you're a hero after all. Just don't let it get to your head."
"I'll try not to, ma'am."
Guinan nodded and joined the others. As the four turned and faced Parker and his senior commanders, Picard said, "Bon voyage, mon capitaine."
"The same to you, Admiral. Bon voyage." Parker turned his head to the transporter operator. "Energize."
Columns of light surrounded Picard and his people as they were whisked away Starbase 592.

"Well, Sir, are we ready to move on?"
"Head to the Bridge, Commander, and finish our departure checks." Parker nodded at them. "I'll be joining you in a minute."
Razmara and Data did not ask what he was doing. They didn't need to a moment later when the doors opened and Deanna entered. "Doctor Troi, farewell," Data said politely before continuing on.
"Doctor," Razmara added before following him.
This left Deanna and Parker alone, save for the Andorian transporter operator who wisely found a panel to occupy his time. The two looked at each other intently for a moment before Parker put his hands on Deanna's shoulders. "I guess we're saying goodbye again," he said.
"But not the same way. And that's what counts." Deanna smiled gently at him. "I'm willing to let this work, Adrian. I couldn't bear it if I tore you away from doing what you loved."
"Thank you, Deanna," was Parker's reply. "I'm still going to miss you."
"Of course. And I'll miss you." She showed a bittersweet smile. "Though I imagine I'll be seeing you on the news networks often enough."
"I suppose." Parker gave her a kiss on the lips and an embrace before letting her go to the transporter pad.
One foot went up on it before Deanna turned back. "I suppose, for old times sake, I'll ask the question again." Her smile became brighter. "Did you ever love me?"
At that Parker stepped forward. "I did. And I still do," was his heart-felt reply before taking her into his arms. "Imzadi." With that, he put his lips to her's, and the two shared a long and happy goodbye kiss.




The Bridge of the Enterprise was mostly quiet, the assembled command crew waiting for Captain Parker. As the wait continued, Razmara finally mused, "I suppose he's taking a while saying goodbye."
"Likely," Carter said from her station. A wicked grin crossed her face. "I don't suppose we should call down and ask for him?"
"I do not think the Captain would appreciate it," Data said from his post.
Larrisa looked over from her's. "Sharon, just how many people have you told the 'caught with their pants down' tale too?"
"Just the rest of you," was her answer. After a moment the grin on her face turned impish. "And I may have let it slip to Lieutenant Hall... and Commander Greene."
A chorus of moans came from the others. "Knowing Commander Greene, the entire squadron will be buzzing about it within a week," Razmara said.
"Well, it is a funny story," Carter replied in a defensive tone. "Besides, it'll help add to the mystique. Every Captain needs a good mystique. And since our Captain is the successor to Kirk, don't you think he deserves a legend like that?"
At that Data looked back and said, in a tone confirming his confusion, "I am sorry, Commander Carter, but I do not recall any Starfleet record indicating that Captain Kirk was ever 'caught with his pants down'."
Quite unintentionally, Data's remark provoked laughter from the entire Bridge crew. The laughter continued even after one of the turbolifts opened and admitted Parker. He looked at the others as the laughter began to subside and asked, "I don't suppose you're going to tell me what's so funny?"
"Just a discussion on whether Kirk was ever caught with his pants down, Sir," Razmara said, giggling. "Which I'm certain had to have happened."
"Given his reputation?" Parker chuckled, looking at Carter with bemusement which prompted a wink in reply. "Well, we're ready to depart. Inform the squadron..."

A beeping sound came from the comm console. O'Keefe was on it immediately. "Sir, picking up a distress signal from the freighter L'Daire. She's under attack from Breen privateers."
Larrisa went right to work. "Triangulating source of transmission. Bearing 065 mark 248, sir, roughly sixteen light years."
"The source of the transmission is in a neutral sector bordering Federation, Breen, and Tsen'kethi space," Data added. "According to Starfleet registry, the freighter L'Daire is a Talarian craft, five hundred kilotons, with only moderate shielding and insufficient armament."
"Well well, looks like Alka Lake will have to wait for us," Parker said. "Mister Hamblin, set course 065 mark 248, warp factor 9 Mister O'Keefe, inform the squadron of our course and speed and see if you can signal L'Daire, tell her we are moving to her assistance."
A pair of "Aye Sir"s came in reply. Parker settled into his seat beside Razmara. "Mister Data, Commander Carter, begin pre-combat checks. Commander Razmara, if you would please...?"
Nodding in reply, Razmara hit a key on her control panel. "Red Alert. All hands to battle stations."
"Course laid in, Sir," Hamblin reported.
Parker settled into his chair and activated the security harness. "Well, it's time to go save the day again," he said with a grin. "Mister Hamblin, engage."

The Starship Enterprise turned away from Starbase 592 with her comrades following her in a wide formation. The mighty starship soared gracefully through the black void for a few seconds, providing a glorious sight to the few ships hanging around in the vicinity and the spectators on the commercial deck of Starbase 592.
Then her warp engines lit up and in a streak of light, Enterprise and her crew set off toward another adventure...




Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Her continuing mission... to explore strange new worlds... to seek out new life and new civilizations...
To boldly go where no one has gone before.





The End.... for now


*cues the End Credits from any of the Goldsmith-scored Trek movies, credits roll*



”A Radical is a man with both feet planted firmly in the air.” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

"No folly is more costly than the folly of intolerant idealism." - Sir Winston L. S. Churchill, Princips Britannia

American Conservatism is about the exercise of personal responsibility without state interference in the lives of the citizenry..... unless, of course, it involves using the bludgeon of state power to suppress things Conservatives do not like.

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