A Requiem for Leonidas
by Mike Lee -- Part Two
See disclaimer and copyright notice in part one.
Ross read through another history chapter on the datapad, then couldn't help but rise and pace the small lounge like a caged tiger. Ultimately he lost his battle for control, and checked his watch again. It had been six hours, twenty-three minutes since he had been taken from his
ship. By now the 15th Fleet was at Ixion.
What would have happened when they learned he was missing? Ross could imagine the searches throughout the huge carrier, growing steadily more frantic as the crew learned that their commanding officer had vanished. The general staff would panic, of that he was certain. He had been privy to too many secret briefings, too many classified details of the overall Earth strategy. What if Merick lost his nerve? Would it be such a stretch to believe that the disappearance was some sort of Chig secret weapon, and decide that the Ixion attack had been too compromised to continue? It would be the worst military disaster since the war began.
Behind him the door opened with a faint hiss, and Ross turned to see Doctor Dubois' warm smile. "We seem to keep shuffling you from room-to-room, like a piece of furniture. I'm sorry, but the facilities here weren't really constructed with guests in mind. I'm sure Doctor Staavd will have some sort of quarters set aside for you by this evening."
"No offense, doctor, but I hadn't planned on visiting Prospero that long." Ross breathed deeply, concentrating on his composure. "There hasn't been any progress on how the-- accident happened?"
"The accident? Oh, sure, I figured that out over lunch. I'm just keeping you here because of your charming company." Dubois said wryly. "We're working with cutting-edge theories here, Glen. Revolutionary applications. It is going to take a little time."
"I don't have time, Doctor, that's what I've been trying to explain to you-"
"Call me Miriam, Glen. No need to be so formal." Dubois crossed the room to a dark glass panel set into the wall. She touched its surface, and a collection of readouts and menus came to glowing life beneath her fingers. "Come here and take a look at this and tell me what you think."
Her nonchalance as much as the technological power of the computer screen startled him to speechlessness. For a moment he felt a hot rush of outrage, but he knew that an outburst wouldn't do anyone any good. This wasn't the Saratoga, and Miriam Dubois had never heard of a Chig. He walked numbly to the screen, fighting against equal measures of anxiety and despair.
Dubois touched a few points, and the screen showed a streaming readout of what looked like sine waves- hundreds of them, overlapping and intersecting in a chaotic jumble of colors, frequencies, and amplitudes. "Know what this is?" she asked.
"Painful to look at," Ross replied, pinching at the bridge of his nose. The headache was back, a dull throbbing at the base of his skull.
Dubois laughed. "True. But it is also a computer representation of the energy states of subspace waves. Interacting with one another, these waves or energy states make up the weave of the spacial 'fabric.' Now watch what happens here."
Right at that moment the image froze. The number of wavelines dropped by half, and their wild changes in frequency and amplitude stabilized. There were still multitudes of lines on the screen- but now each path was distinctive, uncluttered by interference.
"Basically, this is a graphical presentation of the energy waves we were manipulating before the accident," the doctor explained. "And right here was where we hit the synchronization. Now obviously your people know a lot about wormhole theory. Is this in any way familiar?"
Ross shook his head. "I've never seen anything like this." His sense of propriety stopped him just short of calling her by name. The best he could manage was to avoid referring to her as "Doctor". "I'm familiar with the basics of wormhole theory, but I'm not an engineer. I know enough to understand the capabilities of my ship, and that's all."
"Your ship," she echoed thoughtfully. "Do they call it a Star Fleet where you're from?"
"No," Ross shook his head. "I'm a United States Navy Space Warfare Officer, but our ships serve alongside other nations' under the UN flag."
"Space Warfare Officer," Dubois repeated carefully, as though sampling a foreign language. "So you're in a military organization?" Her tone changed subtly. There was something behind her words- disapproval, or possibly disappointment.
Ross frowned. "I'm a Naval officer, yes. We're not all that different from Star Fleet."
"Star Fleet isn't a military organization. They do scientific and survey work, explore frontier areas, and evaluate new worlds for membership into the Federation. They keep military ranks, but that's really a formality, these days. We've progressed beyond the need for soldiers and warships."
Dubois folded her arms and regarded him appraisingly. "My uncle is in Star Fleet. He's Captain of the Artemis. You're very different from him."
"In what way?"
Dubois considered her words. "You're more-- forceful. More-- rigid? No. More intense." Her grin widened. "He certainly doesn't have that look you get when you want answers. You just about scared me out of my skin when you first woke up. Do you yell at everybody like that, on your ship?"
For all his worries, Ross couldn't help but smile. "Oh, heavens no. My people know better than to make me raise my voice."
They both shared a laugh at that, but then Dubois' face grew somber. "Things must be very different, where you come from. Very difficult."
"It's a dark time," Ross agreed with a sigh. "There is a war going on, an interstellar war with an alien race that seems determined to destroy us. Right now, it looks like they've got a good chance of succeeding. That's why I've got to get back."
Dubois turned back to the screen. "We're going to try, Glen. But look at this. We know only the basics of how these energy waves interact." She took in the mass of lines with a sweep of her hand. "Which of these forces are local to our space-time, and which are elements from your universe? Are some of these nothing more than random waves caught in the matrix? There's just so much we don't know. We've got the computers analyzing the data, but I wanted you to see for yourself how big the task is."
Ross looked over the readout, as if he could make the solution appear by sheer force of will. "What you're saying is that I shouldn't get my hopes up."
"No." Dubois reached out and touched his arm. "What I am saying is that this is a place free from want, free from war and disease. And you're welcome here. No one is making you go back if you don't want to go."
The offer shocked him. Was she trying to persuade him to stay? The thought brought him up short. Before he could reply, however, an insistent beeping sounded from part of the wallscreen.
Dubois touched a yellow square and the beeping stopped. "Dubois here."
It was Pierce, his voice sharp with restrained anger. "Miriam, you'd better get down here. We've got a problem. You might as well bring your friend as well, because this involves him too."
"Problem?" Dubois looked at Ross, her eyes widening with surprise. "Richard, what are you talking about?"
"It's Star Fleet," the astrophysicist replied bitterly. "They're here, and they're ordering us to shut down the portal."
Ross and Dubois arrived at the operations area in the middle of a shouting match. Doctor Pierce was standing very nearly nose-to-nose with a tall, bearded man wearing a simple uniform of maroon and black. Three other men, similarly attired, but with mustard-colored tunics instead of maroon, shifted nervously from foot to foot under the disapproving glares of the project staff.
"This is outrageous!" Pierce cried. "This is a civilian research facility mandated by the Federation Council. You have no authority here!"
Ross watched the muscles clench in the bearded man's jaw. There was an air of authority and confidence about him, but without the finely-honed focus of military discipline. To Ross, the man came across more like a business executive than an officer.
The bearded man smiled warmly, but with effort. "Doctor Pierce, as I've explained, this installation and everyone on it is in danger, and your safety is one of Star Fleet's primary responsibilities-"
"So far I've seen absolutely no proof of this impending danger, Commander!" Pierce shot back. "You want us to interrupt eight months of painstaking effort, at a crucial phase of our experiments, no less, on the basis of some wild theory of an invasion!"
"I didn't say anything about an invasion, Doctor," the commander replied, his voice rising to a commanding tone. "But the Klingons are coming, and they will be here soon. I guarantee you they will be less inclined to debate about the fine points of jurisdiction."
Pierce took a step back, glaring sullenly. Ross revised his estimate of the commander slightly. There was some potential there.
"That will be quite enough, Doctor," called Doctor Staavd, as he worked his way among the terminals and cables crowding the operations deck. The elder Efrosian was a little out of breath by the time he reached the commander. "Please forgive my colleague, commander. His intentions are noble, even if his methods are lacking. I am Doctor Staavd, the Project Manager. At the risk of forcing you to repeat yourself, perhaps you could explain what is
going on." Pierce turned to the Doctor, about to voice an impassioned reply, but was cut short by a shockingly severe glare from Staavd.
The Star Fleet commander inclined his head respectfully. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Doctor. It may surprise you to know that I am a great admirer of your work in plasma field compression. My name is Commander Will Riker, of the starship Enterprise. As I was explaining to Doctor Pierce here, a very dangerous situation has developed, and I am afraid that Prospero III will have to be evacuated until the end of the crisis."
The white-haired doctor frowned. "I believe you mentioned the Klingons earlier, Commander Riker."
Riker's smile faded slightly. "They are the cause of the current crisis, sir. A number of Klingon ships have crossed the border near here and are headed this way. We have reason to believe that Prospero III is their destination."
"How can that be?" Pierce exclaimed. "This is an uninhabited system. There is no reason to come here except for our project, and that is supposed to be secret."
Riker fixed Pierce with a level gaze. "Not as secret as we had earlier believed, Doctor." The Star Fleet commander turned back to Staavd. "As this facility appears to be their objective, I am sure you can understand the need to evacuate all personnel and sensitive information before the Klingons arrive."
Ross considered Riker's manner carefully. The commander wasn't telling everything he knew. "I thought the Klingons were the Federation's allies," he said suddenly, intending to gauge the commander's reaction.
Riker seemed to notice Ross for the first time. "Recent events in Cardassian space have put a strain on relations," the commander responded neutrally. "For the moment, however, we are giving the Klingon Empire the benefit of the doubt and assuming that these ships are renegades."
And that, Ross decided, is Pentagon-quality bullshit if ever I smelled some.
Riker paused, considering the uniform Ross wore. There was a flicker of recognition behind his eyes. "That looks like an old uniform, Mr.-"
"Commodore," Ross corrected automatically, then caught himself at Dubois' sudden look and carefully moderated his tone. "Commodore Glen Van Ross, United States Navy."
To Riker's credit, he seemed little more than curious at the sudden development. Before he could respond, Dubois spoke. "Commodore Ross has been trapped here by one of our experiments. That is why it is so critical that we be allowed to continue with our work."
Ross considered the situation with a growing feeling of desperation. The odds of returning home seemed to grow by the moment, but he refused to give up. "Perhaps we should speak to your captain, Commander Riker," he suggested.
"I couldn't agree more," Riker replied, clearly uncomfortable with the situation. "Doctor Staavd, if you would gather your senior staff, I think we need to take this discussion to the Enterprise."
Captain Jean-Luc Picard was a vibrant, dignified man of early middle age, who presided at the head of the conference table like the patriarch of a large and distinguished family. The Prospero research staff were arrayed closest to him, while at the other end of the table the senior officers of the Enterprise listened attentively to the story of Ross' arrival. For his part, Commodore Ross did what he could to sit back in his chair and not gawk at the exotic richness of his surroundings.
Enterprise was like no ship he had ever seen or imagined, not in his wildest dreams. It was like being on a cruise ship. There were no stark, gray bulkheads, no cramped passageways echoing with the chaotic noise of a ship underway. Comfortable lighting, plush chairs, and what looked a lot like real wood accents. It was all-- unsettling, in a way that he couldn't quite put his finger on. Then again, it could have just been the lingering aftereffects of "beaming up", as they called it. If he'd known that they were going to disintegrate him and shoot his component atoms up to a ship in orbit, he would have just as soon waited groundside for an ISSCV, or Star Fleet's nearest equivalent.
Ross glanced at the senior officers, trying once again to avoid feeling uncomfortable. Commander LaForge, the ship's chief engineer, listened to the Prospero team's technical comments with intense interest. Black pupils with gleaming lines of sapphire and white shone from a handsome, dark-skinned face. Silicate! Ross' mind warned reflexively, no matter how many times he tried to shove the impulse aside. Beside LaForge, Commander Data sat with perfect posture and inhuman precision. With his pasty skin and yellow eyes, Ross figured him to be yet another alien, of a type he hadn't encountered in his reading.
Then there was Commander Worf. Dusky-skinned and forbidding, glaring from beneath a fierce, bony brow. For all his alien appearance, there was at much about his intense, disciplined demeanor that Ross could identify with. Next to Worf's imposing frame, Counselor Troi seemed diminutive. Though appearing to be an attractive, dark-haired human, her eyes had a way of looking at him that seemed to suggest she could read his thoughts. And she
wouldn't stop looking at him. For most of the meeting, it had felt as though she were flipping through his thoughts like a book. Ross made a mental note to find out what the position of "Counselor" meant at the earliest available opportunity.
The only source of comfort at the end of the table was Doctor Crusher, the chief medical officer; a beautiful, auburn-haired woman whose manner was straightforward, sensitive, and above all, sensible. She smiled reassuringly when their eyes met, and despite everything else, Ross found it easy to smile back.
"According to Doctor Dubois, returning you to your ship is a matter of some urgency, Commodore?"
Picard's voice jerked Ross out of his reverie. It startled him to think that his mind was starting to wander. How long had it been since he'd had any sleep? He checked his watch.
"Captain Picard, at this point my ship and others in the fleet have most likely engaged the enemy in possibly the most crucial battle of the war," Ross said gravely, feeling the words settle like lead over his heart. "Not only the fate of my crew, but the existence of the entire human race could well be at stake. There is no telling what manner of disruption my disappearance has already caused to the fleet. I'm sure you can understand that I have to get back as quickly as possible."
"Yes, of course," Picard said sincerely. The captain of the Enterprise held himself with the composure and confidence of a career diplomat, and his rich, mellifluous voice was compelling without being commanding. "The question, of course, is how much time is needed to synchronize the portal with your home dimension. Doctor Staavd?"
The Efrosian spread his hands. "There is no way to be certain, Captain. Our computers have been analyzing the data since the incident occurred, but there is much data to sift through."
"I see. And how long will it take to evacuate Prospero of all personnel and vital equipment?"
The Efrosian spent several moments considering. "Based on how long it took to originally set up the site, approximately twenty-eight hours."
Captain Picard considered this for a moment. "Very well," he said. "Thank you for your report. Doctor, I would appreciate every effort to begin evacuating personnel to the Enterprise as soon as possible. We have quarters available now, and I think Commodore Ross here could use a chance for some rest and refreshment. If you should require any assistance, Doctor, do not hesitate to contact my senior officers."
With that, Picard stood, and the meeting was at an end. "Commodore Ross, if you will allow me, I will conduct you to your stateroom." The captain of the Enterprise gestured politely towards the door.
Ross stood dumbly, offering a vague nod. He caught Dubois and Staavd exchanging anxious looks. His mind raced. Are they going to help me get home or not?
He followed Picard in silence down the passageway, stopping for a moment to wait on a turbolift. The ship's crew went about their tasks with relaxed professionalism, acknowledging the Captain with polite nods. You would never know by looking at them that a fleet of hostile warships were heading this way, he thought.
They stepped inside the lift. Once it began its near-silent motion, Picard turned to Ross with a smile. "I'm sorry I wasn't able to meet you when you first came aboard, Commodore. Welcome aboard the Enterprise."
Ross nodded. "Thank you, Captain. This is a fine ship, with a proud name, even where I come from. But, no offense, the only way I intend on leaving Prospero is to return to the Saratoga."
Picard's smile faded. "I understand your position, Commodore. But we are in a very difficult situation here. Doctor Staavd needs twenty-eight hours to evacuate the asteroid, and the Klingons will be here in just under thirty. I have seven hundred officers and crew under my command, plus their families, and now the Prospero team and yourself. I have no intention of
placing any of these lives at risk by confronting the Klingons."
Ross was incredulous. "Then how do you plan to stop them?"
"I plan to let them stop themselves, Commodore. They want the Prospero research project. I will remove the project staff and data from the system and head deeper into the Federation at maximum warp. Once they realize that their goal is beyond their grasp, they will have no choice but to return to the Empire. Then the incident can be resolved along diplomatic channels."
The lift doors opened. Ross stepped out into the passageway. A passing crewman caught the look in the Commodore's eye and gave him a wide berth. "So these Klingon ships aren't the renegades your first officer made them out to be."
Picard looked uncomfortable at hearing the bald statement. He indicated a door, which opened to admit them. They entered a spacious room with a carpeted deck, an adjoining bedroom, and large viewports along the outer bulkhead which afforded a breathtaking view of the Prospero system. There were even potted plants in the corners. Once again, Ross' ideas of what was right and normal for a starship were flipped end-for-end.
Once the door slid shut, Picard continued. "We are at a very delicate place in relations with the Klingons. For over seventy-five years the Federation has been allied with the Empire. There is now an external threat, called the Dominion, whose goals threaten every sentient species in the Alpha Quadrant. The Klingons in the recent past have disagreed with the Federation's policies towards the Dominion, and took some actions which effectively nullified the treaty. We are only now beginning to reestablish those ties, in the interest of presenting a unified front."
"And what does the Prospero research have to do with all this?"
"The Dominion's home territory is located in the Gamma Quadrant, many hundreds of parsecs from here. Their only way to reach the Alpha Quadrant practically is through a fixed wormhole, the only one of its kind known to exist."
Suddenly everything seemed to click together. "I get the impression that the Prospero project has more to do with wormholes than just transportation," Ross said. "The Federation is trying to interdict the Dominion's use of the wormhole. You've been trying to keep the research
secret, which is why it was put out here in the middle of nowhere."
"Secrecy was vital, because the Dominion has been able to infiltrate into the highest levels of the Federation's infrastructure," Picard said. "Not even the research staff was made aware of the real purpose behind their work."
"But the Klingons found out."
"The Klingons found out," Picard agreed. "And immediately grasped the significance of the project. Their leader, Gowron, has demanded that the technology be shared with the Empire. The Federation has been loath to admit that the project even exists."
"They think you're holding out on them," Ross said flatly. "Now they've decided to take matters into their own hands."
Picard nodded gravely. "A group of eleven Klingon warships, under cloak, crossed into Federation space two days ago, headed for Prospero III. At the border they were detected by a patrolling Star Fleet ship, the Surak. The Surak warned sector command, and was then ordered to trail the Klingon ships at the limit of their sensor range. No one has heard from the Surak since."
"Captain, you're telling me that these people have violated your space, attacked and possibly destroyed one of your ships, and all you're planning on doing is getting out of their way? What kind of message do you think that sends to the Klingons?"
"That we are interested in peace, Commodore," Picard replied, a little forcefully. "Not more senseless loss of life. I will not be party to starting a war, for any reason." The captain of the Enterprise paused, and made a visible effort to compose himself. "Unless the Prospero team is ready to undertake an attempt immediately, there is no time available to
conduct further tests with the portal. I'm sorry. I understand the position you are in-"
"No, sir," Ross said sadly. "I'm the one who's sorry. We don't understand one another at all."
Ross crossed the room to the tall viewports. Jean-Luc Picard watched in silence, his mind struggling to find some way to bridge the gulf between them. After a time, he turned and left the room.
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