Shield of the Federation
by Randy O. Green
Part one of six
Lieutenant Joseph "Lucky" Arnold sat in the Groton's recreation room, staring at the hand he was holding. He knew that the camera feed to the rest of the ship was picking up every nuance of his expression, and recording them for later, good-natured criticism by his friends. So he kept careful control of his emotions as he pushed the remainder of his pile of chips to the center of the table. Sensors automatically tabulated the value of the stack and displayed it on a monitor high above the center of the table. Behind him, he could hear the drone of conversation from the onlookers scattered around the rec room suddenly rise in volume. They knew that the marathon game, which had started with a dozen participants, was almost over.
"All in," he announced, staring at his other three opponents sitting around the table. Two were humans like him, but one was a squat anti-grav engineer from Prellaria. The humans just grimaced and pushed in the few chips they had left. The engineer studied his hand for a moment before his eyes met Arnold's.
"You are bluffing, Lieutenant." The Prellarian stared at him, but Arnold met his gaze resolutely. The engineer was not an especially imposing sight, since he stood only four feet tall, but he did have massive biceps and a huge chest, the combination of which Arnold suspected could do real damage if they ever got into a serious wrestling match.
Finally, the Prellarian snorted and pushed in the rest of his stack, matching Arnold. Arnold could hear the conversations from the onlookers drop to nothing as they waited for the outcome of the game. The engineer reached one massive hand forward, the cards looking tiny in his fist, and flipped them down on the table face up. Arnold and the other two humans did the same.
The Prellarian grunted, and reached over to shake Arnold's hand, none too gently. Arnold managed to bear the pain long enough for the engineer to release his grasp, then grinned with relief as he stared at the hands around the table. The Prellarian had a nice hand, but Arnold had a Full House, and that still beat a Flush every time. A minute later, the rest of the onlookers were congratulating him. A Federation commercial sports network had come up with an idea for a novelty poker tour between ships of the fleet and the Public Relations branch of Star Fleet had embraced the idea, both as a recruiting tool and a way to keep morale up. He had just won the right to represent the Groton among the ships of 5th Fleet. He allowed himself to bask in the moment and to allow himself to think about the future. He had never planned on being a career officer, and if his luck held, his wildest dreams might still come true. He was descended from a long line of gamblers. It was in his blood and there was nothing more he wanted than to be a card shark and to become a regular in the Galactic Series of Poker on Vegas II.
Then the time for fantasizing was past as the rec deck was filled with the sounds of klaxons. The voice of the communications officer came over the ship wide intercom.
"Red Alert. All hands to battle stations."
A moment later, the rec deck was empty. And the only thing left to remind Arnold of his fantasy as he raced to the turbolift was a twinge in his right hand from the bone-crushing handshake the Prellarian had administered.
Bridge, USS Groton
Captain Rin Jankae sat in his command chair, his thoughts hidden behind his impenetrable black eyes and his steepled, long white fingers. He was trying to decide for himself if today was the day that the Romulans entered the war.
It might well have been, but then, it could also just be another massive raid. Every ship in the Romulan Western Fleet came across the border once a month or so to raid a convoy or a colony, and twice since the Klingon invasion the Romulans had mounted massive raids will all of their ships attacking undefended targets simultaneously.
Something was definitely up. Lexington had reportedly engaged a Romulan squadron, but the report was fragmentary at best. Commodore Stocker had sent a warning message to his First Division but included no details. Republic had been engaged in a firefight with Romulan privateers earlier in the day and was now escorting a convoy to Battlestation #9. It fell to the Groton to take over her station. Genghis, the Groton's consort, was shifting position to take up the slack. The old light cruiser Suffolk had missed her last check-in, and the frigate Lehman was en route to investigate. Burke, her sistership, reported engaging a cloaked warship of unknown type.
Sixth Fleet had sent a message to all ships to be on full alert for Romulan raiders, vaguely mentioning attacks against the Third Division over near Tholian Space. But, Jankae noted, it was specifically not a "war warning" message. Battle station #9 had reported that Neutral Zone sensor stations had detected several Romulan ships nearby. One sensor station on the right flank of First Division had failed completely, and the old light cruiser Macedonia of the Second Division had been sent to investigate. Most of the Second Division was at the Neutral Planet Denebola for some kind of treaty conference, and a fragmentary report indicated that fighting had broken out there. Fragments, Jankae complained to himself, all I get are fragments. What is going on?
"Captain, the Genghis reports they have taken up their assigned position." He turned to look at his communications officer, who was listening intently to her earbud and transcribing the message into her logs as she listened.
"Acknowledged, Lieutenant. If more Romulans attack, their help will be greatly appreciated. Put out a general call for aid to any nearby star systems. Perhaps one of them has a squadron of fighters or a National Guard ship that they can reinforce us with." He knew the captain of the destroyer and thought highly of his tactical abilities. He turned back to face the main view screen, still hoping that this was just another raid. Hopefully the diplomats would still be able to pull out some kind of agreement with the Romulans. He had not joined Star Fleet to fight Romulans, but to fight Klingons.
"Captain," the communications office reported, "Republic has come under attack again, by several more Romulan ships. They have asked for our help."
"Set a course for their position, maximum speed," Jankae ordered. "Signal Genghis to follow us there. Send a report to Sixth Fleet and to the Lexington. Sound battle stations." The crew sprang to his command, but within less than a minute, Jankae found himself with nothing really important to do until they reached the scene.
His thoughts wandered briefly, thinking about the real reason he had joined Star Fleet as his ship barreled along at maximum warp. He had joined because of the ever-present threat his world faced, both from the Kzintis that had enslaved his forefathers, and the Klingons who threatened to do so now. Star Fleet was the shield of Cygnus, and he wanted to be part of that shield.
But his recruiter hadn't told him that he would have no choice over his assignments. He had been assigned to the Romulan and Gorn theaters of the Federation for his entire career, and he didn't think the admirals in charge of personnel deployments really cared about his dream sheet. Of course, he had thought about getting out and putting in the paperwork to join the Cygnan Guard. But he had seen the Guard ships that were stationed at Cygnus and at the present time he wanted no part in captaining one of them. Perhaps, the Guard might be a more palatable choice after he retired from active duty though. Perhaps.
If, he reminded himself, he made it to retirement.
Bridge, RIS Coalition
Ante-Admiral Androcus Marrak of House Casifax sat tensely on the bridge of his Firehawk as it left the Neutral Zone and crossed into Federation space. He knew that other Romulan warships were doing the same thing all up and down the long border they shared with their giant neighbor. Yet, it seemed that the small fleet of six ships he led was all alone as they made their incursion into Federation territory.
He knew it was the destiny of his race to rule the galaxy, but he was one of the few that did not feel that the time was right to launch that conquest. The Klingons had successfully lobbied the Praetor and convinced him that the Federation would be unable to fight a two-front war. According to them, now was the time to strike.
Personally, he was not so sure. He had seen reports from House Casifax intelligence agents that had projected the full strength of the Federation economy if it ever transitioned to a wartime production level. He knew that it was fully capable of fighting a war on two fronts, no matter what the Klingons thought. He knew that even though the Federation was reeling from the Klingon invasion and would undoubtedly lose much territory in the initial Romulan strikes, the Federation was so vast, it could afford to lose a lot. It was a long way to the core Federation worlds and if the Federation military could summon up enough backbone to resist after the initial strikes, he feared that ultimately they would become involved in a war of attrition that the Empire could not win.
However, one didn't keep one's rank by disagreeing with the Praetor and therefore he was committed to carrying out his orders to the best of his ability. But he didn't have to like the orders.
"Ante-Admiral," his communications officer spoke, breaking his chain of thought. "The Owl reports that a single enemy contact, light cruiser class, has been detected. Analysis of their course indicates that they will be in position to intercept us soon."
"Thank you Major-Centurion." The Owl was one of the new Sparrowhawk light cruisers with scout modules and was the eyes of his fleet. He considered the information it had given him and how this affected his orders. He was supposed to circle behind the battlestation his enemies had labeled #26 and destroy any supporting convoys that they came across. Then they were to link up with the group sent to eliminate the Command Cruiser Lexington, which had long been a thorn in their side. He had some qualms about the capabilities of the commander of that fleet, but he was of the Praetor's own blood and therefore, could not be removed from command for a more proven tactician. He decided it was useless to worry about this now and dismissed the qualms from his mind.
He continued to review the plan. After he had a full fleet under his command, they would turn and destroy the station. Then they would continue the assault and link up with the forces that had been dispatched to destroy the heavy cruiser Republic.
It was a complicated plan, and it hinged upon the ability of the two fleets to link up and destroy the battlestation before the Federation could rush reinforcements to it. He didn't want to pass up a chance to crush this one light cruiser, but he couldn't dally with his whole fleet to destroy it. However, he could detach a few ships. They should be able to finish the Federation ship and rejoin him at the target. His decision made, he turned back to his communications officer.
"Major-Centurion, signal the Furious. Inform Major-Commander Antonius Terralis that he will take his squadron and have the honor of engaging this cruiser in battle. Afterwards, they will meet us at the rendezvous point."
"Yes, Ante-Admiral," the Major-Centurion saluted and turned to do his bidding. Androcus Marrak slid back in his command chair and resumed his brooding, studying the tactical displays as he did so. A moment later they showed the three ships separating from his fleet and heading in the direction of the enemy contact. He was taking a gamble in splitting his fleet, but he felt it was the best course of action in light of the information that he had. He just hoped that history would show that he had been correct.