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10/10 – “The End is Only the Beginning.”

“This is a complete and utter disaster, a total mission failure and an entirely unacceptable outcome due to either gross inaptitude or blatant indifference to follow orders. I would class this, in fact, as nothing less than dereliction of duty at worst and flagrant incompetence at best.”

The meeting room was quiet following Deputy Director Altee’s outburst. The Deltan’s bald head had turned a noticeable shade of red as he paced behind the sitting Admiral Krystine Leone, and intermittently throwing dark scowls towards the only other two persons in attendance.

But neither Donald Sandhurst nor Jason Aubrey showed any outward signs of being even the slightest bit impressed by the tirade.

Altee finally stopped moving to direct his full attention towards the two starship captains. “We could not have stressed the significance of this mission any clearer. The enormous implications not just for us but for the galaxy as a whole. You were in this very room when this was discussed and yet you clearly decided to willfully ignore all of this. I cannot even begin to comprehend the damage that has been done by your actions.”

“Our actions?” Aubrey said and then shot a disbelieving look at Sandhurst, as if to check if by chance he had misheard. “May I remind you that this thing started to go sideways the moment Tazla Star, the person you entrusted with leading this mission, decided to go off the reservation by blowing up a Guardian ship.”

Altee shook his head. “My understanding is that her actions were justified in order to prevent the Orion from alerting the Guardians of our mission.”

“Yeah, that worked real well, didn’t it?” said Sandhurst.

“It would have if Captain Owens hadn’t decided to take matters in his own hands and infiltrate the target by himself,” Altee continued, no less enraged, before he shot daggers at Leone. “And where is Owens anyway? Why is he not here? I expect significant disciplinary actions to be brought against that man.”

“Captain Owens is burying his brother,” Leone said calmly and then looked at the Deltan. “I will deal with any disciplinary issues once he returns to active duty.”

“As far as I’m concerned, he has no business ever returning to duty.”

“With all due respect, Director, that is not up to you. You have no authority over my officers and I will discipline them according to regulations and how I see fit.”

“I will lodge a formal complaint with Starfleet Command over this.”

Leone nodded. “That is your prerogative.”

They continued to stare at each other for a moment but no further words were exchanged on the subject.

“This doesn’t address Tazla Star’s actions,” said Aubrey. “I don’t care if what she did was for the good of the mission. The Aldeberan Accords are there for a reason and Star blatantly defied them, killing dozens of lives in the process.”

But Altee just waved him off. “So what? Even if I were to agree with you, Sacajawea is gone and so is Star. What do you expect? A posthumous censure?”

“No, but we know that Star was working for somebody else, most likely the Nyberrites. Don’t you think that should be your focus now?” Aubrey said.

“Nothing you have presented me here today is evidence that Tazla Star was a traitor.”

“Yes,” Sandhurst mumbled under his breath. “Funny how all possible evidence was conveniently destroyed with her ship.”

Aubrey was not yet willing to let this go. “You’ve been talking a lot about our failures, Director, but what about yours?” Aubrey continued, ignoring the man’s indignation at those words. “The fact that this was never about a so-called Alpha Weapon in the first place.”

He just shook his head. “And who precisely told you this wasn’t a weapon? The very same people developing it. Of course they wouldn’t admit to this. Of course they wouldn’t just tell you that they were building a weapon that could destabilized the entire quadrant.”

“Not that any of this matters now, right?” said Sandhurst. “Considering that the prototype and two-thirds of the developing team are gone. Which I thought was the entire point of this mission. Quite frankly that makes me wonder if your outrage might not be so much related to the loss of the prototype but by the fact that you didn’t get your hands on it first.”

“You are out of line, Captain. Way out of line. And I suggest you remember your place, seeing that after the political mess you have created by your actions, your career, all your careers are on the thinnest of ice,” he said. He let those words linger for a moment and then shot Leone one last look. “This is not going to be the end of this, Admiral.” He left he room without another word.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met a more pompous ass in all my life. No way he’s a real Deltan,” said Aubrey, staring at the doors which had closed in Altee’s wake. “My money is that he just shaves his head and uses a very powerful cologne.”

Leone glared at Aubrey, obviously not in the mood for jokes. “He is right about one thing. Politically this is a nightmare and the diplomats haven’t stopped shouting at each other since the news first broke. We may have avoided a greater conflict with the Nyberrites, but it hasn’t helped our current conflict at all. If anything it has made matters worse.”

“The Nyberrites may already know much more than we thought they did. If Star truly did work for them from the beginning, I think it would be fair to assume that they knew much more than even we did about what the Guardians were up to. Which means they are probably laughing right now, while they sit back and watch as we continue to fight amongst ourselves,” said Sandhurst.

Aubrey nodded. “Waiting to swoop in and pick up the pieces.”

Sandhurst looked at Leone. “What about Owens? What about us for that matter? Director Altee sounded like a man on a mission. And if he has his way, we’ll all be filling out job applications before the day is out.”

Leone stood from her chair. “Let me worry about Altee. I’m fairly certain his bark is far worse than his bite. Besides Starfleet cannot afford losing anyone, and certainly not three of our most experienced starship captains. There will be reprimands of course, but I cannot see it go any further than that.”

With Leone clearly having signaled the end of this meeting, the other two captains stood as well.

“All things considered, this could have ended a lot worse for everyone,” said Aubrey. “Perhaps we should consider ourselves lucky that this is as bad as it got.”

“Something tells me we’re still not seeing the full picture here,” said Sandhurst. “There is another shoe that hasn’t quite dropped yet.”

Aubrey smirked. “That’s what I love about you, Donald. The eternal optimist.”

* * *

Two Weeks Later

Arkaria IX was a mostly unremarkable, class L planet with no native population, sentient or otherwise, generally inhospitable weather patterns and partially covered by toxic oceans and vegetation. The system formed part of the outer rim of Federation space in the Beta Quadrant, and its only significant contribution to interstellar traffic was the Remmler Array orbiting Arkaria Prime which was designed to deliver cleansing bayron sweeps for starships returning from the nearby Amargosa Diaspora, a sector of space so dense with stars, the resulting interstellar radiation could lead to a significant build up of dangerous bayron particles on starship’s hulls.

And while Arkaria Prime hosted a large, advanced native population, the ninth planet of the system was officially uninhabited. According to the highly superstitious Arkarians, this small and prosaic world was the home of evil spirits who rested there before continuing onto their final journey into the depth of the Diaspora where they would burn up under the bright and hot light of its various powerful suns.

Tazla Star did not consider herself to be such a spirit but was under no illusions that many people she had met during her current lifetime would not have hesitated to call her one.

She cared little about what other people thought of her but she couldn’t help and wonder if there wasn’t a kernel of truth to the Arkanians archaic believes, considering the expansive and well hidden tunnel network she was traversing underneath the planet’s surface with its intricately designed rooms and corridors, all of which predated the modern Arkanian society by a few millennia and leading her to strongly suspect that some alien race had indeed once dwelt on this world, or at least made this world an outpost.

She entered a particularly large hall, the ceiling reaching up nearly ten meters and the sparse lighting which failed to illuminate the entire breadth, length or height of the room giving it a particularly ominous vibe.

“I take it you did not come empty handed,” said a voice from the shadows.

She looked around but wasn’t able to see the person who had spoken. The voice seemed to bounce off the high walls from every which way. She raised a compact padd she had brought and quickly entered a code.

Not a moment later the prototype she had been sent to retrieve shimmered into existence just a few meters from her.

“A shame about your ship.”

“Yes, quite. I’d grown fond of her. Good crew. .”

“The Orion? Was that necessary?”

She shrugged. “In hindsight, I guess not. But at the time it seemed like the right decision. Had it not been for Owens and the rest of them, this could have all gone so much smoother.”

“You adapted and handled it.”

“It’s what I do.”

“Where’s Mister Jarik?”

“He’s here. He proved pretty useful. His intelligence on the facility was flawless. Sharing it with the others in your task force however was not a good idea. Owens could have ruined everything.”

The voice didn’t respond straight away. “His inclusion was not my idea. He was forced on me by Leone. The man knows how to play his connections, even after his father died.”

Star looked at the prototype beside her. “So, mind clueing me in on why we need a long-range transporter? Are you planning on beaming an army onto the Nyberrite homeworld?

Altee stepped out of the shadows, smiling broadly. “Your imagination, my dear Taz, still suffers from an acute lack of scale. You continue to think in three or four dimensions when you really should be thinking beyond those constrictions.”

She looked puzzled by this. “Wait, you are saying there is a fifth dimension?”

“Of course there is,” said Altee. “And whoever controls access to it, controls everything. While the Guardians and Preservers keep squabbling over scraps, we will be in a position to shape the future of the entire galaxy.”

Star looked back at the unassuming device. “With this thing?”

“It will function as our gateway. This marvel will allow us to open doors we never even knew existed. It will turn the dark ages we have lived through ever since the Borg into nothing more than a distant memory.

They don’t believe this to be a weapon when in fact it just might be the greatest weapon ever invented. With it we will not just restore the Federation to its former glory, we will surpass it in ways nobody has ever even imagined. Today marks the first step in building an empire for the ages, Taz, one in which all the people in this galaxy will bow to us.”

“To us or to you?”

Altee’s only response was a beaming smile.

The story continues in
The Star Eagle Adventures:
Quantum Divergence

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