Chapter Forty Seven
Reginald Barclay looked nervously at the large device cradled in his dirty, outstretched palms, a slight twitch of his lower lip accentuating the exhausted bewilderment in his eyes. It looked like a pair of elongated, blue shells, connected together by an enormous handgrip, and tapered on the sides and back with short fins, some of them obscuring a bright greenish glow that emanated from the interior of the object. Between the forward tips of each shell, a pair of teeth sprouted, angled at one another and bearing stripes of the same eerie glow.
“Um… what is it, exactly?”
By virtue of the charred wound on his head, now bandaged hastily with some sort of dark-colored cloth, and his generally alien features, the Arbiter’s reaction was not readily readable, but the way in which his massive shoulders slumped slightly suggested mounting exasperation.
Lower mandibles tightening upward, the Sangheili warrior placed a massive hand on the device, rotated it, and then placed the human’s outstretched right hand on its central handle column. He then let go, causing Barclay to sway forward unsteadily as he corrected for its significant weight, quickly supporting the object with his left. The Arbiter then indicated to a wide panel on the handle’s interior side with a long finger.
“This is a plasma rifle, favored sidearm of the Covenant foot soldier. It is designed for usage by those of my kind, but I believe it will serve you adequately. Operation is simple; target an opponent between the nodules at the rifle’s front, and depress this trigger. If you depress it too long, it will overheat, and become unusable for several seconds.” His yellowish eyes passed over the human’s exposed, fleshy hands. “I do not recommend firing more than a few bursts at a time in your case.”
Barclay, attention torn between the alien’s deadly-serious face, and the weapon in his hands, nodded slowly.
From the small cockpit of the small salvager they were standing in, the Arbiter, who had to hunch down in the enclosed space, pointed into the hold beyond, where five more figures lay, all seemingly unconscious. One, the Imperial infiltrator supposedly named Flitch, remained propped against an adjacent bulkhead, badly beaten, but still breathing. Nearby, a trio of creatures, two stocky, reptilian beings in bulky atmospheric gear, and a sickly-thin, bird-like alien were similarly laid up, piled unceremoniously in a small alcove. The Arbiter had identified them as Unngoy and Kig-Yar respectively.
The final member of the ship’s captured complement was a being of the Arbiter’s own species, nearly as tall and muscular, and dressed in angular, crimson and black plating, unlike the other’s elegantly-forged silver encrusting. Lying at the center of the small assembly hall, its thick wrists and ankles were bound by shackles that were silted with the same glow that emerged from Barclay’s weapon.
“Keep watch on them, and alert me if any of them awake.”
With that, the warrior stooped back deeper into small cockpit, leaving Barclay alone in the badly-lit chamber, nervously trying to figure out how to hold the bulky weapon without accidentally discharging it. After a long few minutes in which neither of them spoke, only the shallow breathing of the captives and the low hum emitted from the machinery buried in the deck below providing life to the eerie stillness of the craft, the Starfleet officer, began to slowly back into the smaller room, feelings of unease and bewilderment mounting.
Seated on the large, oddly back-sloping pilot’s chair, the Arbiter was monitoring the various gauges and panels mounted before his with focused interest. Despite the fact that he had served on starships for more than a decade, Barclay couldn’t decipher what was being shown; the raised, glowing holographic displays and chains of sprawling, irregular text were well beyond his experience. He did, however, recognize the flat disk that currently held the Arbiter’s attention, a 2D representation of local space, showing the wreckage left by the rapid arrival and retreat of Imperial forces, and beyond it…
“How many more ships are out there?” Barclay asked, lowering his weapon slowly and leaning in for a closer look.
Without looking up, the alien touched a segment of the immaterial field, and it ballooned upward, now showing the area in form. There were at least two dozen small, bluish blips in the immediate vicinity of the map’s center, where Barclay assumed they were, passing through clouds of tiny black marks. Well beyond the sphere that held most of the debris, three more blips floated in the void, these ones far larger, bearing long, contoured shapes. Further still, at the very edge of the hologram’s reach, a blur of blue clotted the void, far larger than any of the other icons.
“I cannot be sure; this vessel’s long-range scanning equipment is limited. There are twenty-four other salvage craft in this debris field, along with at least half a dozen Seraph fightercraft. The three warships beyond this cluster are likely their base platforms.” He paused, adeptly tapping controls beneath his large hands to magnify the blur on the edge of his display. The forms were still indistinct, and lined with static, but it was clear there were a great many of them, most apparently larger than the symbols that represented the salvage carriers. “That is what remains of the Covenant battle fleet that was instructed to destroy and occupy this system. Their battle with the Imperial Star Destroyer was highly costly, but there are probably still several hundreds capital ships still deployed here.”
Barclay looked at the tall, focused alien in surprise. “You know why these ships are here?” He had gathered that they were in the Arbiter’s own galaxy now, but he hadn’t known that he could actually identify the place and time. Of course, if the warrior had mentioned it, the engineer might not have heard; he wasn’t quite feeling himself yet, for obvious reasons. Flitch’s kidnapping, the battle on the transport, his rough and hurried subsequent extraction from the vessel, it was all largely a blur. All he had been able to definitively gather from the Arbiter was that they were now stranded in a potentially hostile world, most likely without hope of reinforcement. Barclay had experienced such perilous adventures before, many times in fact, but such experience had little bearing now; as he had learned many times before, holodeck excursion generally tended to pale in the face of hard reality.
The Arbiter did not reply for a long moment, instead turning his attention to the small wall panels that showed the space beyond the craft’s hull, drifts of distant stars blocked by the shadowed hulls of charred debris and the occasional pinprick of a passing searcher. When he at last spoke again, his voice was not as strong and assured as it usually; if Barclay didn’t know any better, he would have said it rang with regret.
“In this galaxy, I and my forebears have long been part of a great alliance of many species, the Holy Covenant. Guided by the Prophets (he emphasized the word with clear emotion of a type which the human could not identify), we spread across the stars, dominating others and absorbing them into out whole, until nearly every world belonged to us. It was our goal, preached by the Prophets, to unite all of the children of the Gods, our Forerunners, and then locate the sacred relics with which we could rejoin them in paradise.”
“But that changed when we discovered your people, the humans. The Prophets ordered their complete extermination, not adoption into our compact as we had always done before, for reasons known only to them. I was their loyal servant, and I complied; our fleets swept over the worlds of humankind like a plague, killing all we saw, hunting them until only a few remained. When our probes located this system, from which the last human warriors organized their resistance, I was one of many shipmasters dispatched to deal them a fatal blow, a strike that would expose their heart, leave their homeworld bear. And we did our job, all too well; that fleet out there is clustered around the human’s fortress, no doubt wiping away the last traces of life there.”
Again silence hung in the small chamber, the Arbiter having returned his attention the displays, leaving the human behind him to grapple with the information. He had known little of the Arbiter’s kind and past before now, only a few quips that Geordi La’forge had relayed about how the stoic Master Chief had initially mistrusted him, but beyond that, he was simply another alien warrior, stranded as they all were on a strange and aimless voyage. He had fought alongside them all against the Imperials, Barclay had even saved the warrior’s life, he recalled dimly; now he was supposed to believe that this creature was a mortal enemy of humanity, and had probably killed many with his own hands. Images of the skill with which Arbiter had dispatched the Stormtroopers on the Home One crawled slowly back into his mind…
The Arbiter’s voice roused Barclay from his morbid reverie, causing him to raise his weapon fractionally towards the alien before he was able to stop himself. No, whatever this being had done before, he was an ally now, the only one he had right now. Besides, Barclay was an engineer, and not a particularly brave or even self-secure one at that; he would be no match for the muscular, trained soldier if he ever started to revert to his old ways. There was no choice but to trust.
Gulping to ride himself of apprehension, unsuccessfully, Barclay glanced back into the silent hold. “Um… they’re all still asleep… knocked out. No one’s moving. It’s all right.”
The Arbiter inclined his long, bare skull marginally in recognition, and turned his attention fully back to monitoring the distant ships.
Now even more unsettled by the quiet, Barclay spoke up again. “So, what do we do now?”
That was a question that the Sangheili had been wrestling since he had witnessed the Covenant armada do battle with the marauding Star Destroyer, a conflict whose ample detritus had fortunately given him some respite to choose his own path, deflecting immediate detection by the multitude of warships in the system. Now that an operable medium of transport, be it a short-range one, was at his disposal, the soldier had to begin planning out the future, and what repercussions his actions might have. Though somewhat overwhelmed by sudden realization he was once again in a world he knew, the Arbiter had been able recognize the flagship Ascendant Justice before it had been destroyed, and realize what the event meant. In his past, the chain of events that had lead to contact with the human’s Enterprise, that warship had not fallen in this system; it had pursued the Pillar of Autumn to the holy relic, to the Halo installation, and to his own disgrace.
But now, all of that had changed. The ship’s commander, Teno ‘Falanamee, the being he had once been, was dead, long before he could be cast down and raised up anew, the process that had birthed the Arbiter himself. And yet, in spite of the death, he still remained, and now stood in a position unlike any even the Gods had held. He was in a position to change anything, and everything.
There was still a voice, the little base urge that had tormented him while on the Mon Calamari vessel, that now sang with joy; this was an opportunity to fall back within the ranks of the Covenant. He would be saved of the disgrace that the failure around Halo had given him, it would be simple to remerge, say that he had escaped the destruction of his flagship. The loss would still be a troublesome, but it would not compare to what he had faced on the other path, he could redeem himself in the eyes of the High Council. He would have respect again, a warship at his control, master of his own honor and destiny, and not the disposable enforcer the mantle of the Arbiter had made him, a puppet of authority.
But, that voice held little sway with him now; he had conquered it long ago. There was too much to forgive, too much to forget. The warrior could not disregard the honor, the goodness, the right to live, he had seen in the humans these past weeks. More importantly, he could not forget that great betrayal, the one that had forever changed his world.
Memory of that dark hour rushed back to him: that cold, misty chamber, bodies of slain soldiers and war machines littering its ancient floor. In his role as fist of the Prophets, he had been dispatched to a newly found relic of their Gods, another Halo, to prevent a human strike force, among them the man that had caused him such disgrace, from destroying the structure, and to retrieve an artifact that would allow for the ring to be activated, heralding the prophesized reunion with the Forerunners. He had not questioned the quest, it was his duty, his lone purpose in life now, and as such he had fought through the ancient fortress where the artifact was housed with reckless abandon, slaughtering robotic defenders, and darker creatures as well, roused by the melee.
With the help of numerous loyal Sangheili warriors, he had at last made it to the heart of the protected vault, only to find the humans had reached the prize first. He dispatched them with relative ease, and seeing no need to slay his defeated foes, picked the artifact from their prone bodies, his mission a success.
But it did not end there. The accursed beast Tartarus, favored minion of the Prophet Hierarchs, had arrived, relieving him of the relic, and unleashing his Jiralhanae brutes to gather up the unconscious humans. And then, leaving the Arbiter no time to even smart from the robbing of both prizes of his conquest, Tartarus had revealed his true intent; he planned to eliminate the Sangheili from their long-cherished post as the executors of the Covenant, and install his own race in their place. Then, in the moment before the giant cast him into a pit at the center of the chamber, he revealed that this treachery, the downfall and subjugation of the ancient warrior race, would be executed with the High Prophet’s sanction.
The betrayal was absolute; the Sangheili were a founding member of the Covenant, they had lead its armies to victory after victory for millennia uncounted, and yet the Prophet Hierarchs would cravenly replace their ancient role with the legions of the Jiralhanae, savage, dishonorable trolls who feasted upon the flesh of the fallen, even that of their own allies.
No, the Arbiter would never serve the Prophets again. He had vowed that even as he lay nearly broken at the bottom of that great pit, his life spared only by the intervention of an abomination that dwelt at the core of the Halo, a beast from a time when the Forerunners themselves roamed the galaxy. In that dark place, he had learned more of the great treachery; the great ring, supposed bringer of salvation for all believers, was really a weapon of terrible power, and its activation would wipe away all life in the galaxy. Even the basic tenants of the Covenant faith were a lie, and the Prophets knew it. What they could gain by such an act of complete extermination he did not know, but he knew that their machinations had to be stopped.
And now, he had an unexpected and unparalleled opportunity to save his kind, and those who might still be loyal to them, from the Prophets and their minions. Yes, that had to be his goal now. It was all that mattered.
Still, there were other matters to be considered. He alone might be able to rejoin the armada, claim that he had escaped the annihilation of his flagship, and meld back into the war machine, in a position to undermine the Prophets from within, but he was burdened with an additional charge, Barclay. Certainly, the creature was of no great significance, and an earlier him might have simply slain or abandoned the human, but that was a path he no longer followed, nor wished to rejoin. No, Barclay had proved himself to be brave enough when needed, if annoyingly talkative and nervous most of the time, and the Arbiter did, after all, owe him his life. No matter how it might waylay his new purpose, the human could not be sacrificed out of hand.
Then there was Flitch. A spy and traitor, the warrior felt little attachment to the man, and would not be so adverse to casting off the burden he represented. Nevertheless, the crumpled form was a reminder of a far greater threat; if he was right, that damnable wormhole at the center of the debris field remained open. If the human Empire chose to return in force, they would be a threat greater even than the Prophets…
Barclay shifted on his feet nervously, unsure what the alien’s long silence meant. He had finally worked up the courage to try and ask his question again when the Arbiter leaned forward and looked over at the human.
“Ships like this one are not equipped for long-range travel. Our first move must be to dock with one of those carrier ships. The other salvagers should be breaking off soon, and I can use this vessel’s logs to determine which squadron it is tasked with.” With a few key strokes, many of the displays disappeared or recessed into the hull, and a dual control stick rose between the Sangheili’s legs. Taking hold of it, the Arbiter eased the ship into motion, its docking claps disengaging from the derelict Alliance shuttle outside almost silently. Slowly at first, then far more rapidly, the ship accelerated into space, skirting around huge chunks of wreckage, the pilot’s skill in the role rapidly becoming apparent.
As he watched the ravaged chunks of metal race by, a new concern occurred to the human. “Won’t they… the people on the command ship be somewhat annoyed that we commandeered one of their ships and knocked out its crew?”
“Standing armada policy on hostile boarders and thieves is to shoot on sight.”
Barclay clutched his rifle tighter. “Oh.”
“Sir, deep-range sensors are picking up an anomaly in relative sector four point three.”
Putting aside a readout on the continuing repairs of the Republica being overseen by her XO, who was at the moment in the ship’s primary sublight drive control center, Captain Ryceed leaned forward in her control seat, focused on the Mon Calamari lieutenant who was offering the report.
“Are you sure it isn’t simply another glitch? The deep-range systems haven’t been fully recalibrated yet.”
“No sir, Sensor Control has checked and rechecked it,” the salmon-skinned officer replied. “There is definitely something out there, although we are still unable to identify it.”
Ryceed nodded. “Very well. Sector four isn’t in the vicinity of the wormhole; it must be natives.” She turned to the bridge’s tactical station. “Do we have deflector screens back?”
“At seventy two percent, Captain.”
“Be ready to engage them, full coverage, on my mark. I want weapons control standing by as well, and a squadron of alert interceptors ready for launch.”
Ryceed turned back to her ship’s main viewscreen, which simply showed the placid, empty starfield beyond. The Republica had been immobile, its internal resources completed dedicated to repairs, for several hours now, and even though they were moving along quickly considering the impressive amount of damage the emergency transit had inflicted, the cruiser was still hardly in fighting shape. On top of that, the captain and her crew still had no idea where the ship lay; the long-range sensors had only recently begun coming online, and without them attempting to match up local space with known stellar configurations was next to impossible, even for the android Data, who still sat at the makeshift wormhole station that had been rigged up near Communication Control. The white-skinned being was now watching her intently, roused from his continued study of the invisible vortex’s nature. None of his comrades were on the bridge, likely still resting from the events of the previous day, but Ryceed secretly suspected Cortana was still watching her from the bridge security monitors above.
“May I be of assistance, Captain,” Data asked evenly, fixing her in his cool, feline gaze.
Ryceed considered. “I think my bridge crew is quite capable of this, thank you. However, if you wish, you may observe their readings. I suppose it is possible you might be more familiar with them than my regular staff.”
The android nodded, and then swiftly moved to the main sensor station, where the Mon Calamari Lieutenant and several others worked, attempting to clear the interference from their new readings. After another two minutes of tense silence, the static began to clear.
“Sir, we’ve locked on to it. The anomaly appears to be a starship of some kind, moving at approximately 2,500c, on a direct course with the Republica. It should be in weapons range in two minutes, twenty seconds.”
The captain frowned. A ship moving only several thousand times past the speed of light? Even civilian vessels moved orders of magnitude faster.
“Is its hyperdrive damaged?”
Checking his screens again, the officer shook his head. “No, sir. The object appears to be enveloped in some sort of realspace disruption; if it was simply using a faulty hyper unit, we would be reading a massive tachyon contrail behind it.”
Data, who seemed to be taking in the information displayed on the numerous terminals before him despite the fact they were in basic, leaned in closer, over the shoulder of an attending ensign.
The woman backed away from her input panel, eyeing the machine curiously. The service and protocol droids that filled out the ship’s ranks were rarely so bold.
With surprising ease, Data began to manipulate the screens, bringing up new readings and perspectives on the approaching anomaly, translating much of the text into the Federation common script, and even pulling up old sensor scans of the derelict vessel they had located near the wormhole’s mouth. Before Ryceed could question him, though, the android turned back to her, the expression on his artificial face changed somehow, almost relieved.
“Captain, I believe that ship is encased in a Warp bubble.”
Ryceed frowned; she had heard the term used once or twice by some of the Starfleet crewers, but it meant little to here. “And that means what?”
“Unless I am greatly in error, that ship was constructed in the Alpha Quadrant of my home galaxy, most likely by the Federation or the Klingon Empire, considering the harmonic frequency of its shell.”
“Well, it would seem that we’re finally where we are supposed to be,” Ryceed said, with no small sense of relief. Nevertheless, she was not looking forward to a first contact situation; diplomacy was not one of her strongest suites. “I want Councilor Organa up here immediately, and Captain Picard as well. Tell them that we’ve picked up a…”
Suddenly, a vacant display screen on the woman’s right lit up with a familiar bluish light. “No need, Captain,” Cortana reported cheerfully. “I’ve already alerted them. The ambassadors should be on the bridge within a few minutes.”
Ryceed glared at the AI’s representation. “Thank you
very much, Cortana. However, as of this moment, my crew is still perfectly capable of executing such a task in the future. If an opening appears, you shall certainly be the first to know, but until then, I prefer it if you attempted to restrain yourself while tapping into my bridge surveillance system. You may be under Councilor Organa’s protection, but that won’t prevent me from initiating extra computer security counter-measures should I feel that the need has arisen. And I assure you, the programmers in my crew are more than up to the task.”
Cortana frowned, although Ryceed couldn’t tell if it was from honest consternation, or if she was being mocked. Considering their recent conversations, the later was the more likely prospect. “As you wish, Captain.” With that, the image dissolved into a haze of blue static, and then nothingness.
Sighing deeply, Ryceed sank into her command chair and glared out into space. I’ll take on a battalion of Stormtroopers with just a sporting blaster and half a box of death sticks gladly, but if I have to play nanny droid to this AI for another solar day…
“Why isn’t that blasted ship here yet?” she snapped at the lieutenant, who disregard her tone automatically. Captain Ryceed was easy to rile up, but she generally didn’t lash out in any significant or dangerous manner. Generally.
“Its just reverting to realspace now, sir. Two thousand clicks directly forward.”
With a nod from Ryceed, numerous tactical displays focused in on the targeted starship, as did the electronic cells in the main viewport, magnifying the starship to visual size. Though inexperienced with Federation designs, Ryceed immediately recognized the vessel’s unusual, sleek and polished white hull, a wide saucer mounted upon a low-slung, with a pair of long, exposed nacelles jutting behind, like those of a Y-wing starfighter.
“I believe it is a Galaxy-class starship, Captain. The one of the most advanced starship class in Starfleet,” the android replied, watching the approaching vessel with keen interest.
“Not, I think, anymore, Mr. Data.”
Ryceed and the machine turned to see Captain Picard mounting the low dais on which the command portion of the bridge sat, Commander Riker, Deanna Troi, Leia Organa, and C-3PO close behind. By the turbolift bank from which they had all entered, Major Truul took up a sentry position alongside the regular bridge marines, staring at the deck somberly.
“Captain?” Data asked, unsure what his superior was implying, but Picard held up a hand, a clear indication that he would fill the android in later. Data fell silent, positronic brain already switching gears.
The captain continued forward, staring at the distant ship with something akin to an awed grin on his face, stopping only when he reached Ryceed’s seat.
“You recognize it, Picard?”
“It can’t be sure,” he replied, still seemingly overcome by emotion. “But…” the markings on the forward disc of the craft at last became clear, unintelligible to Ryceed “ah, yes. The Magellan. I knew it.”
“That’s Gehirn’s ship, isn’t it?” Riker offered from behind them, his voice equally overcome by awed relief.
“There’s only one way to find out, number one.” Picard turned back to Ryceed. “Can you open up a communications frequency. Try…” he broke off, recalling his earlier realization of the technological sophistication of Alliance hardware compared to his own. “Try a frequency lower than the one you likely usually use.”
The Republica’s captain, along with Leia Organa, raised an eyebrow at the suggestion, but she nodded to the comms command officer, and he immediately began bombarding the opposing ship with hyperwave and subspace frequencies, attempting to find one that both ships could harness. As soon as he began doing so, the Magellan stopped cold, barely within the cruiser’s effective weapons range.
“What is it doing?” Ryceed asked Picard cautiously.
Picard frowned. “Are you scanning it?”
She nodded. “We have been for the last few minutes. The ship didn’t respond before now.”
“Well, I suggest you stop. If what I’ve heard is correct, that ship’s captain might not take well to any perceived threats, your probes included.”
Increasingly wary, but still compliant, Ryceed wordless confirmed the order. A moment later, the comm controller’s receiver panel began to crackle. “I think I’ve got something, sir,” he called out. “I’m trying to lock to down the right signal. It looks like they’ve opened up both an audio and visual line.”
“Link them both to my personal receiver,” Ryceed ordered, sitting back in her command alcove and directing her view towards a 2D display fixed near the bridge’s low ceiling. The others followed her gaze.
After a moment, the screen winked on, revealing a colorless haze amidst which a human form was vaguely visible. Gradually, the blob focused and cleared slightly, at last revealing a middle-aged human woman standing in the middle of an expansive, scallop-shaped chamber. Reflective phantoms continued to race across the image, and the whole thing had an unnaturally bluish tinge, but it was stable enough to show the woman in detail. She was tall, with short, blonde hair, and a worn face. The uniform she wore was similar in color and design to ones in which Riker and Picard were still draped, but it was darker, more formal, more military.
Satisfied that the image was as clears as it was going to get, Ryceed began to speak. “This is Captain Ryceed, commanding the cruiser Republica, of the Alliance to restore the Republic. My ship is carrying ambassadors from our Supreme Council; they wish to make contact your command structure.”
In response, the other woman frowned, and cast a glance to someone out of the image’s clear view, saying something soft and unintelligible. After apparently receiving some reply, she looked up again. “I am Captain Lena Gehirn of the United Federation of Planets starship USS Magellan. Our universal translator is having difficulty identifying the language you are speaking. If you can understand what I am saying, please attempt to adjust your own.”
Ryceed stared at the other captain for a moment, and then turned to Picard and the others. “I assume you can understand what she is saying?”
“Of course, Captain,” C-3PO piped up from the middle of the group, nudging his way forward with obvious eagerness. “I have familiarized with the language that the humans of the this galaxy use, and I would be more than happy to serve as a liaison for you. I am quite experienced in the capacity.”
Before the golden protocol droid could move far, however, Leia laid a hand on his shoulder, causing him to halt, bewildered. “No, C-3PO. I think Jean-Luc should do it.”
Expressionless as his mask of a face was, the droid began to exude an aura of disappointment, but stepped back nonetheless. “As you wish, Mistress Organa.”
Stopping only to offer an appreciative nod to Leia, Picard moved alongside Ryceed’s seat, within full view of the screen above. “I’m afraid the captain doesn’t have a ship to ship universal translator at her disposal. However, my personal one still appears to be in good repair; I’ll be happy to serve as an intermediary.”
Gehirn’s blue eyes were first attracted to Picard’s warn uniform, but before she had time to inquire about it, the remaining static cleared momentarily, and she got a good look at his face. A second later, the woman’s jaw dropped.
“Picard?” she managed, still gaping in disbelief. “Captain Jean-Luc Picard? But… how? You… the Enterprise, disappeared years ago, a decade. We all thought you were dead.”
The bald man grinned. “Yes, I’ve heard my absence has been unexpectedly… extended, but I assure you, I am still very much alive.”
Gehirn let out a short, although not joyless laugh. “Well, this is certainly not what I expected when we detected anomalous energy readings in this sector. I had thought it might be another…” she tapered off, her smile fading considerably. Behind Picard, Deanna fidgeted, her expression similarly changing from one of relief to sadness.
“Well, lets not get ahead of ourselves,” she continued at last. “I see you still haven’t lost that dramatic flair you so fond of showing off at the academy. That’s quite a ship you’ve got there; Lieutenant Morgan is having a hard time even scanning past its superstructure. So, what happened to the Enterprise? It’s not like you to travel on any other ship but your own.”
Now Picard’s grin began to fade. “The Enterprise… was lost a long time ago.”
“Lost? And her crew?”
Picard sighed, demons of memory he had been trying to restrain for weeks suddenly clawing at his heart. “Only Commander Riker, myself, and eight… seven other members of the Enterprise’s crew are onboard the Republica.”
“What of the rest?” Gehirn pressed, her concern increasing. “were they all…”
Picard shook his head. “I will be perfectly happy to explain what has happened to us, as well as other, more current matters, but I do not think this is the appropriate venue.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Ryceed said simply, clearly uncomfortable being forced to sit in on the reunion.
Gehirn eyed the other woman again, and then gave a Picard a quick nod. “Of course. If you wish, I can have my ready room prepped for you and… whoever else cares to come onboard immediately. Before that, though, I do have to ask, where exactly...”
The question remained unanswered, however, as the Federation starship’s bridge was suddenly doused with red light, and a klaxon began blaring in the background. Startled, Gehirn was distracted again as another woman, presumably her first officer, came into view and whispered something hurriedly into her ear.
“How far are we at maximum warp?” she responded immediately, her demeanor instantly stern and focused.
“Four hours, sir,” the second woman responded. “We might be too late.”
Exchanging worried glances with his own first, Picard attempted to regain Gehirn’s attention. “Captain, what’s going on?”
The woman looked even more worn now, all traces of good humor vanished. All that remained was the face of a human slowly being crushed by hopelessness. “We’ve just received a distress beacon from the Bajor system. Deep Space Nine and the fleet are being overrun.”
For those of you who are interested, or are wondering why this update was so delayed, I'm working on an original work, set in my own Scifi universe. Check it out: Sindelin: Light Without Shadow