Main Star Trek: Picard: The Last Best Hope
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If you believe the copy of this ebook you are reading infringes on the author’s copyright, please notify the publisher at: simonandschuster.biz/online_piracy_report. For Kirsten Beyer, with love Fellow citizens, we cannot escape history. We of this Congress and this administration, will be remembered in spite of ourselves. No personal significance, or insignificance, can spare one or another of us. The fiery trial through which we pass, will light us down, in honor or dishonor, to the latest generation. We say we are for the Union. The world will not forget that we say this. We know how to save the Union. The world knows we do know how to save it. We—even we here—hold the power and bear the responsibility. In giving freedom to the slave, we assure freedom to the free—honorable alike in what we give, and what we preserve. We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last best hope of earth. Other means may succeed; this could not fail. The way is plain, peaceful, generous, just—a way which, if followed, the world will forever applaud, and God must forever bless. —Abraham Lincoln State of the Un; ion 1862 It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not a weakness. That is life. —Jean-Luc Picard Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door! —Emma Lazarus “The New Colossus” Part 1 THE HOPE 2381–2382 1 La Barre, France Many years after In latter days, sitting alone in his manor, pondering the events of the years that preceded this self-imposed exile, trying to understand where and how it had all gone wrong, M. Jean-Luc Picard (formerly of Starfleet) would often come back to one moment. Sitting on the bridge of the Enterprise, in command, listening to the gentle rhythms and pulses of his ship… Playing back the memory, he would slow down time, as if instructing the visuals to move at half speed, at quarter speed, and he would observe himself, sitting in his chair, and he would marvel at the sight of the man he had once been: calm, assured, fully in command of himself and all around him. This, he would think, was the moment before the storm began, the split second before the end of his old life, when he took the first step down the path to here—the house that had never been the home, the land that he had longed to swap for strange and distant lands, the quiet, the immobility. The knowledge that nothing that he did now with his days mattered in the slightest. One more outcast, cast adrift. Prospero, on his island. An old conjurer, his magic spent, nursing old grievances. Here, now; this was the moment when everything changed. It was nothing that anyone noticed at the time. His ship, the Enterprise, his home, from which he had been banished, was sailing close to the Neutral Zone. The old order. A quiet chime on the comm, and La Forge’s voice coming through. “Captain, we’re picking up some very strange readings here…” And he had said—Incredible, now he thought of it! How blind can a man be!—he had indeed said, “Anything for us to worry about, Commander?” Yes, thought Picard, years later, yes, more than you could have ever known. Watch out. Beware. Choose your course wisely now… “Let me get back to you on that one.” Another chime, this one signifying an incoming message from Starfleet Command. Picard stood up, smoothed imagined imperfections from his uniform, and went into his ready room, where he received a summons back to Earth. And all that was to follow had followed. He had not, now that he thought about it, seen the Enterprise since. Clouds flecked across the hillside. The vines hung heavy. The old clock ticked in the hall. Time yawned ahead: empty time. Picard, in limbo, pondered the past, and continued to fail to find answers there. Such were his mornings, his afternoons, his evenings. Such passed the days, for M. Jean-Luc Picard (formerly of Starfleet), the most disillusioned man in two quadrants. At this point, usually, Picard would sigh, and raise his eyes, and look around his beautiful, too-quiet land, and he would catch sight of either Laris or Zhaban looking back at him, shaking a head, as if to say: He thinks too much, and it does no good. No, he thought. None of it had ever done any damn good. Starfleet Command San Francisco, Earth It was a fine morning for the start of the end of everything. San Francisco gleamed in the sunshine, brash and confident, the sleek and rhythmic pulse at the heart of a great power. The kind of morning in spring that makes the world seem full of possibility. A sea breeze freshened the air when Picard stepped out of the transporter and walked with purpose across the plaza to the headquarters building. Waved through at once by a young ensign who purpled at the sight of the great man. Ushered with some ceremony up to the commander-in-chief’s meeting room. Earl Grey tea ready when he took his seat, steam rising in wisps from the cup. A room that spoke of power, of duty, honor, and responsibility. Seated already: two colleagues, about to change everything, forever. “What we are about to tell you, Jean-Luc,” said the C-in-C, “is almost unbelievable.” Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Enterprise, accustomed to believing many impossible things before breakfast, nodded at his commander-in-chief, folded his hands, and made himself more comfortable in his chair. “I need hardly add that it is highly classified,” said the C-in-C. Picard, hardly unused to being privy to such information, gave a noncommittal smile. Inwardly, he felt himself tighten, shift onto alert. He gave his C-in-C a more careful look. Admiral Victor Bordson, several years his junior, was, in Picard’s estimation, a careful man. Picard did not mean this pejoratively; quite the contrary. Rather, he considered Bordson to be a man who took care: measured, disinclined to make rash decisions, somewhat impersonal, and lacking the common touch. Picard had often tried to place him—not German, not Austrian, not Swiss, not Belgian… What, then? (He had been amused, at a formal dinner one evening, seated next to the man’s husband, to discover that Bordson was from Luxembourg. He had only just stopped himself from slamming his palm onto the table and exclaiming, “Of course!”) Bordson was not averse to taking action, but considered action; he was decorated, as one would expect of his generation and seniority, multiply so—a veteran of some of the grimmer arenas of the Dominion War. One did not come through repeat engagements with the Jem’Hadar without a mark being left, some bruise, whether visible or not. Typically, in Picard’s observation, such officers were dogged, implacable, and more than a little haunted. Northern courage, he believed it was called in the sagas, the determination to carry on even when all hope was gone. Yes, Bordson brought to mind the Saxon warrior, shaking his spear at his enemies, sure only of defeat: “Thought must be the harder, heart be the keener, mind must be the greater, while our strength lessens.” A careful man; a man of cares. Gently, Picard said, “What’s going on, Victor?” “Everything,” said Bordson, “is about to change.” He turned to his second. Captain Kirsten Clancy, sitting at his right hand, nodded. Leaning forward, she whispered, “The Romulan star is about to go supernova.” Picard took a moment to consider some of the implications of this statement. As these became overwhelming, truly and terrifyingly all-encompassing, he lifted his hand to press his fingertips against the right side of his face. An instinctive action that he had never quite suppressed, to protect where he felt most vulnerable. Where he had been most harmed. “Merde.” “Quite,” said Bordson. “Kirsten, shall we look at the presentation?” Clancy reached out and activated a padd. A huge screen, on the opposite wall, glowed into life. The room began to darken. Before the presentation began, and under cover of the dimming light, Picard stole a rapid look at Clancy. A crisp woman in her middle years, hair short and turning white, she had considerable poise. One also sensed steel. Not someone to suffer fools. They had met only once or twice, briefly, in passing, at some function or other. Picard knew her chiefly by reputation, which was, as befitted someone this high up in Starfleet Command, exemplary. She also plainly had her eye, ultimately, on Bordson’s post. Picard did not covet that role, far from it. The commander-in-chief was the person in whom the military functions of Starfleet and the political concerns of the Federation met. A great deal of Bordson’s time, Picard suspected, was spent setting councilors at ease, appearing in front of committees, listening rather than acting. No, Picard would not willingly take on that role. Give him a ship, heading into the unknown, the chance to explore, to make a difference… On the screen, an officer in a gold ship’s service uniform was getting ready to deliver a presentation to a small audience. Picard, leaning over to Bordson, murmured, “Who has seen this already? Who was there?” “Me, Clancy, the president, the chief of security. The officer giving the briefing, of course, and her immediate superior.” Bordson gave a wan smile. “You’re seventh to know, if that’s part of what you’re asking.” Seventh. A not-insignificant part of Picard’s mind shifted toward sketching out what the mission was going to be and computing how quickly he could be back on the Enterprise to begin the undertaking. On-screen, the woman said, “My name is Lieutenant Commander Raffi Musiker, and I’m an intelligence specialist at Romulan Affairs. As you’re aware, we’ve been tracking some odd communications from Romulan space in recent weeks—odd even by Romulan standards.” Listening to Musiker, Picard found himself taking a liking to her. She had a faintly disreputable air, a pleasant change from the smooth operatives that Starfleet Intelligence usually fielded. Her frankness was refreshing, as was the fact that she was clearly not daunted by the grandeur of her audience. Most of all, she was on top of her briefing. A question came about the reliability of their sources, which was dispatched with confidence and ease. Then another question came about the range of the blast from the supernova, and here she stopped and took a moment to collect herself. “What I want to say is that these calculations are a worst-case scenario. This implies that effects in climate change are already being felt. Sometime in 2387. I’ll show you that first. Because it might make the best-case scenario less damn frightening.” Picard leaned over to Clancy. “What was her name again?” “Raffi Musiker,” said Clancy. “Lieutenant Commander Raffi Musiker.” Picard filed the information away for future reference. On the screen behind Musiker, a simulated model of the Romulan system appeared. Its wounded star lay in the center. As Picard watched, the star imploded, and concentric circles spread out from its death throes. They fanned out, and out, and out, on and on… Someone in Musiker’s audience, said, “Holy fucking shit.” Picard could not be sure, but he thought it might be the president. “Yeah,” said Raffi. “You know, I’ve watched that maybe two dozen times now, and let me tell you it never gets any better. It only ever gets worse. Life, huh? Only ever gets worse. Let me show you the best-case scenario.” This, Picard thought, as he watched the rings spread out again, was stretching the definition of the word best beyond reason. “Our best estimate?” said Raffi, to the question Picard was posing in his mind. “The impact is likely to be felt within 9.7 light-years of the Romulan star. Whichever way we model this—and trust me, we’ve run a lot of models—the threat to the stability of the Romulan Star Empire is catastrophic. Shall I go into the specific ramifications of this, or are the broad lines pretty clear?” Quite clear, Picard thought. Trillions would be affected, not only in the home system, but well beyond. He leaned forward in his chair and watched the presentation to the unhappy end. Beside him, his tea, forgotten, cooled. Nothing will ever be the same again… (M. Jean-Luc Picard, recalling himself thinking this, almost laughed out loud at the naivety.) The presentation ended. Raffi Musiker was held freeze-framed on screen for a split second, and then her image was replaced by the symbol of Starfleet Command. Clancy raised the lights. “Well?” said Bordson. “We must help,” Picard said simply. “Indeed,” said Bordson. There was a pause, as the thought of what that might involve seeped through the room. “Whatever happens, Victor,” said Picard, “saying that is worthwhile, and will also be worth remembering whenever we face doubts or obstacles, as we surely shall. But we must help.” “Yes,” Bordson said. “But how?” Clancy stirred. “There are significant complications. Not least that the Romulans are not entirely keen on Federation involvement.” No, thought Picard, they would not be. “Have they asked for help yet?” “They’ve only just admitted to us that the star is going supernova,” Clancy said, “and then only because we sent them some of Musiker’s reports. And their own secure communications, back at them.” She gave a grim smile. “They didn’t like that much.” “I imagine not,” said Picard. “The good news,” said Clancy, “is that after…” She pushed out a breath. “Well. Let’s say that after a few intense days of negotiation, the Romulans have agreed to some limited involvement on our part. But we need to play our hand carefully if we want to ensure that agreement holds.” She shook her head impatiently. “We’re trying to help! And they’re playing hard to get.” “Secrecy is hardwired into the Romulan psyche,” Picard said. “What have they said?” “They won’t allow us into the home system,” Bordson said. “No surprise. But we are being allowed limited access to some of the systems beyond. The environmental impact won’t be felt as badly there, but the stress on infrastructure most certainly will. If we are successful there, and keep the Romulans on board, then we might be allowed to help further.” “How many people?” said Picard. “Across the worlds to which we have access?” said Bordson. “Nine hundred million.” A massive undertaking in itself. Picard rose from his seat and walked over to the window. The view from Bordson’s briefing room was marvelous, of course. The complex of buildings around HQ. The vast ocean. The blue sky. One could become overly familiar with such a view, he thought. One could begin to take it for granted. How safe Earth was, how beautiful. Impregnable, like a castle that had never fallen. How would one feel to learn that one’s home was going to be destroyed? To know that you would have to leave all that was familiar, and safe, and loved, and never return? It would be like… Like being forced to leave the stars behind, reduce one’s vision to a limited horizon or, worse, to nothing. It would be terrible. Behind him, Clancy was talking about the need for diplomacy, for building consensus not only with the Romulans but here at home, for ensuring that the will was found to act… “It will mean ships,” Picard said. “A great number of ships. And the people to crew them. Thousands of ships, in time, given the numbers of refugees. The capacity to take many people to many different places. And then, when they arrive at their destination—the capacity to aid them. Food and shelter. Homes, schools, doctors. Work—fulfilling work. Good facilities, places where we would be happy to live. Not haphazard and temporary camps.” He shuddered at the thought, as anyone in their right mind should. No, he would not allow that. He would not see people treated as no better than garbage, to be disposed of, thrown away. Piled high. “These should be places that encourage hope, not despair. That bring relief, not disappointment—” Turning, he saw that Clancy was alarmed. “Now, let’s not start overreaching!” she said. “We don’t have much information about what the Romulans are doing themselves—we only know that they’ve agreed that we can help. They’ve not yet said exactly how much help they’ll eventually allow, and we don’t know how much relocation work they’re carrying out themselves. This might be a matter of a small fleet of refitted ships, removing a relatively small number of people to safe locations—” “No,” said Picard firmly. “In the face of such a calamity, there can be no half measures. We have to be ready to scale this mission up.” Clancy appealed to Bordson. “A relief effort like that would be… unheard of!” “A disaster such as this is unheard of,” said Picard. “But thousands of ships?” “If necessary.” “That would significantly change what Starfleet does,” Clancy said. “That’s going to affect what we can do, going forward. We would be changing our core mission for… what? The best part of a decade?” “If that’s what’s needed,” said Picard, “then that is what must be done.” “Well, I’m not sure the political will is there—” Picard was sure that it was not. Clancy pointed out, “Without the support of the Federation Council, we won’t get the resources, and without the resources we have nothing more than castles in the air.” “I agree that this is unprecedented. So is the disaster,” said Picard. “It will demand the very best of us: the best engineers, the best administrators, the best ships—” “But for how long?” said Clancy. “Are we willing to sacrifice to get it done on that scale? All the planned exploration? What if they’re canceled now? Are there enough ships that can be diverted to this? What else gets cut? Reclamation work on frontier worlds? Terraforming projects? How do you think that will go over with the citizens of the Federation? How do we choose? What goes? What stays? And even if we can get everyone behind this, how do you persuade people that helping the Romulans is in their interests? How do you persuade the Romulans?” “Nine hundred million people, Captain,” Picard said softly. “Maybe many, many more.” Bordson raised his hand. “Thank you both.” He rested his head upon his hands and closed his eyes. After a moment, he said, “Political will, yes. Never easily achieved, not even from our own people. And the Romulans? I’m doubtful, very doubtful. But you see… I keep thinking of those rings, spreading outward.” Picard nodded; yes, yes, Bordson understood. He had grasped what Musiker had shown them. “All the truly great emergencies we have faced,” Bordson said, “the climate crisis, global wars, interstellar wars—it is too easy to forget what the cost was to the individuals who suffered through these events. I keep remembering what those rings mean—on the ground, you understand. For the people there. What those rings signify. Loss of home, of all that matters, all that is familiar… I keep thinking of this.” He opened his eyes and he glanced at Picard. “It is clear that we must help and in a serious and committed manner.” His gaze fell on Clancy. “How will we achieve that—that is what we shall learn over the coming weeks.” “The problem is that this won’t be a matter of weeks, sir,” Clancy said. “Starfleet will be in this for years. As long as we understand what we’re getting ourselves into.” “I believe we do.” Bordson sat back in his chair. “Who should lead such a mission?” He turned to Picard. “Jean-Luc—” “A moment or two while I consider who might be suited—” “No need,” said Bordson. “The job is yours… if you want it.” Clancy gave a short laugh. “Fools rush in…” Picard did not reply. He turned back to the window. He stood and watched the ocean ripple. Bordson’s words about the people who must live through this disaster had moved him, profoundly. Still, some part of him shrank back from the horror—the enormity—of what this calamity meant. Hundreds of millions of people, to be removed from their homes—some unwillingly, surely—and transplanted… Where? Where would they live? What would they do after this? What would the Romulan Empire do? Would their culture survive? Could it? These were the fears of one part of him. But the other part—the best part of Jean-Luc Picard—was already mobilizing for the work that lay ahead and had been even before Bordson’s offer. Standing there, looking across the Pacific, it suddenly felt to Picard as if history was aligning correctly, such as when, in a game of chess, check is declared, and the soon-to-be winner sees precisely how well their moves have been laid. For one bright and joyous moment, Picard knew he was the right man at the right time, a man presented with a serious task for which his life, his experience, and his temperament made him uniquely suited. He could do this. He would do this. (In the future, M. Picard gave a hollow laugh that echoed back down to the past.) He turned back to Bordson and Clancy. His voice was far steadier than he imagined it would be. “Very well.” Bordson and Clancy exchanged a look. “Very good,” Bordson said. “Congratulations, Admiral Picard.” “I beg your pardon?” “You said it yourself,” said Bordson. “An unprecedented project. We can at least acknowledge that formally. Besides,” he said, “it’s long overdue.” Picard, oddly moved, merely tilted his head. Bordson wasn’t finished. “You understand this means saying goodbye to the Enterprise?” “Ah,” said Picard. He walked back over to the table and sat down heavily. He picked up his cup. The tea was stone cold. “And there I was thinking that there would be no catch.” “Oh, there’s always a catch,” said Bordson. “Kirsten, will you explain?” “We know you’d rather go in with your own ship and your own crew,” Clancy said. “But the reality is that Enterprise is a red flag to the Romulans. The flagship. The symbol of our enmity. Enterprise has been their foe far too often. We don’t want to remind them. We need to be extremely diplomatic right now. Do you see?” “Can you do this, Jean-Luc,” asked Bordson, “without the Enterprise?” Picard hesitated. Yes, they were right; to the Romulans the Enterprise was hardly a signal of amity… But do this without his people? His crew? Those that he knew so well, trusted so completely? To try to do this vast and unparalleled task while learning the ways of a new crew, a new ship? “You don’t have to decide immediately,” Bordson said with compassion. “Take a day or two. Consult your senior staff. Kirsten’s already arranged the security clearances—” “No need,” said Picard. “I’ll do it.” The belief was profound; he was the right person. The one with the vision, the one with the ability. He must not let this pass. No, not that, which sounded like vanity. It would be wrong, to let this pass. There was no task in the universe more important than this. Starfleet must help. He must help. “Good,” said Bordson. “Then let us deal with the simplest question first. Who takes command of the Enterprise?” “Worf,” said Picard, as Clancy said, “Not Worf.” “First check, I see,” said Bordson dryly. “Let us practice what we preach and build consensus. Kirsten—what is your objection? Is this about what happened on Soukara?” A bad decision, made almost a decade ago, in the kind of situation where nine out of ten officers would have done the same thing. Worf had been on an undercover mission inside Dominion-controlled space with Jadzia Dax, his wife. Dax had been badly wounded, but Worf had chosen to go back and save her life rather than continue with the mission. The Dominion agent they had been sent to extract had died as a result. “He made a bad call on Soukara,” Clancy said. “An agent died. Who knows how long we could have staved off the Dominion War with his information! Worf knew that when he made the call. He was choosing to save her.” “This was almost ten years ago,” said Picard. “Surely his faultless record since must count for something?” “But it goes to his judgment,” said Clancy. “Would he make a call like that again?” Hardly likely, thought Picard, jaw tightening, given that Jadzia was dead. “On the other hand, given what happened last time, Worf may be even more considered about his decisions. I must protest the idea that a question mark hangs over my XO’s judgment. Do you honestly think, Captain Clancy, that I would select a first officer who I did not think was both worthy and capable of commanding a ship of their own?” A slight flush rose on Clancy’s cheeks. “You know him better than I do; you’ve worked alongside him for many years—” “Yes indeed.” “But this is the flagship we’re talking about!” She turned to Bordson. “He received a formal reprimand. Sir, for the good of the service, I have to bring this up.” Picard glanced at Bordson; he was giving nothing away. “Let me make another point,” said Picard. “A century ago, one of the moons of Qo’noS exploded. The Klingons were unwilling to take our help at first—but they did, and, in time, our interactions led to the Khitomer Accords. Our relations are now so cordial that we are considering whether a Klingon might be suitable to assume command of our flagship. Imagine the impact of this! Imagine what we would be saying. We would remind people not only of the help we gave then, but of how far our friendship with the Klingons has come since then. And in so doing we suggest how far our friendship with the Romulans might evolve.” Bordson said, “He has a point, Kirsten.” She was looking less certain. “The optics are good…” “He’s a fine officer,” Picard said, with quiet resolve. “He will make a fine captain.” Bordson looked at his second. “Well? Any other objections?” She glanced at Picard. “I thought someone should raise the issue, that’s all.” Picard acknowledged what he assumed was an apology. “Then we’re agreed,” said Bordson. “Worf takes command of the Enterprise. Good. Two promotions in one morning. I feel quite dizzy with power.” He studied Picard. “I imagine you’ll want to speak to your crew immediately; let them know what’s happening. We’ve set an office aside for your use…” He rose from his seat. “Mission command, for the moment. Until your new ship is found.” Picard, standing, looked at him curiously. “An office in place already. You didn’t doubt that I’d say yes?” Bordson smiled. “No, Jean-Luc—I didn’t doubt that for a second.” They shook hands. Clancy, too, reached over to shake hands with him. “We’re all behind you,” she said. “We’re going to do our damn best to make this work. Please remember that.” And he did remember—or tried to. * * * Outside Bordson’s office, Picard took a moment to collect himself, standing still with his hands clasped together, his eyes closed. In another man such a stance might be mistaken for prayer, but Picard was thinking yet again about those concentric rings, fanning outward, and the worlds upon which this disaster was going to fall. An hour, he thought, and his whole universe had changed utterly. A lesser man might panic, but Picard was decisive, and hardly careless. He should, he thought, get to work. He opened his eyes and wondered where he might find his office. His eyes fell on a young Trill officer, hovering at a polite distance. When she saw him move, she stepped forward to speak to him. “Admiral Picard, sir—” News traveled fast, thought Picard. “I am he.” “I’m Lieutenant Vianu Kaul, sir. Admiral Bordson has assigned me as your aide-de-camp while you’re here on Earth. May I take you to your office, sir?” Picard, open palmed, gestured along the corridor. “By all means, Lieutenant.” They walked along together. Picard waited for the inevitable. “May I say what a privilege it is to meet you, Admiral, sir?” Picard gave the gentle, generic smile he had perfected for these moments. Young officers, astonished to be in the company of a “legend,” were often left breathless and stammering. One reason he favored his crew. There would be a great deal made over his mission in the coming days, he thought, regretfully. He would have to be on his best behavior. The senior staff on the Enterprise were used to his moods and did not mind when he was irritable. He would not be able to permit himself such indulgences for a while. He did not wish to disappoint young and earnest officers such as this. But he would need an outlet. Who would be a good foil for him? Who could he bring with him, on his ship, once the mission was underway? Data would have been his first choice, of course, but… Kaul led him briskly into the elevator, down a level, and then out again into a large and airy space that was currently almost empty. One or two people were there, busy at their desks; they jumped up as Picard sailed past. “Your staff as it currently stands, sir,” Kaul said, almost apologetically. “Procurement specialists, mostly. Those people are magicians.” “We’ll soon fill the space,” Picard said calmly. There was room for a dozen more; that would do for a start. But the operation would expand, and rapidly. He would need experts in this kind of work. He nodded across the room to a private office. “Is that for me?” “Yes, sir—sorry your name isn’t on the door yet, sir.” “That would have been a significant piece of sorcery. I didn’t know I was taking on the mission until half an hour ago.” Kaul, momentarily wrong-footed, took on a panicked air. Then she saw the twitch of Picard’s lips, and relaxed, ever so slightly. Picard, too, eased. The sooner they could get past this stage, the better. “Of course, sir.” Kaul opened the office door. “Well, this is your space. Fairly basic, but enough to get things underway, I hope.” A desk, a chair, a computer. Sufficient, for now. Picard went to stand behind the desk. “Can I get you some tea, sir? Earl Grey tea? Hot? Is that correct?” Picard smiled, this time completely freely. “Exactly correct, Lieutenant. Thank you. That would be most welcome.” The tea arrived quickly, and not replicated. He drank a little, and then ran his hands over his desk. There could be no more delays. There must be a new ship, a new crew, a new fleet… A new mission, and a new way of life. But first things first. He composed himself and opened a channel to the Enterprise. “Worf,” he said. “My dear friend.” * * * When the door closed behind the new-minted admiral, Clancy fell back in her chair and gave a sigh of relief. “I’ll be honest, Victor, I wasn’t sure we’d pry him from his ship.” Bordson smiled wanly. “Neither was I.” Clancy gave him a sharp look. “Didn’t doubt for a second, huh?” “The occasional judicious white lie never harmed a soul.” Clancy stood and stretched. “Well, at least we keep the flagship dealing with something other than all this.” She held her hands out, as if to try to grasp the enormity of the operation. “Something will still be out there, reminding us of our mission. And what better than the Enterprise. The heart and soul of Starfleet…” Bordson eyed his second shrewdly. “Tell me what worries you, Kirsten.” Again, she gestured outward. “This mission—it’s massive, unprecedented. The scale of it! It could consume Starfleet for a generation.” “But it has to be done. The alternative is unimaginable.” “So you and Picard say. But can it be done, Victor? Can we sustain the will for this? We’ve only just managed to get the Romulans to agree to let us help. Sometimes I think they’d rather their people died than reveal anything to us.” She shook her head. “And if the Romulans don’t want us, how can we persuade our leaders that we should be involved? How can we justify it?” “That, I must admit, is my chief concern,” said Bordson. “That we overreach.” “One misstep and the Romulans will be arguing that this is invasion by stealth. Like the Cardassians on Bajor, offering aid as a prelude to conquest.” “We helped Bajor,” said Bordson. “And then Bajor joined the Federation. The Romulans must be looking at that and thinking, ‘Is this how their aid works? Is it all conditional? Will we escape intact?’ ” “The Romulans,” said Bordson, “must take care of their own paranoia. In the meantime, let us do all that we can while we can. And hope that we carry the day for long enough to make a real difference.” * * * The afternoon turned softly into evening. The sun lowered majestically over the darkening water, setting the sky aflame. The rich warm light of a nonhostile star. As the day lengthened, Picard continued to inform his senior staff one by one—his trusted advisors, his friends—that he was not returning to the Enterprise. It took longer than he would have liked to reach Beverly. She was in surgery, it transpired; not an emergency, but a long-overdue operation on a junior officer who, he recalled, had found excuse after excuse to delay the procedure. Such intimate knowledge of the crew of his ship: he would no longer have this. He would not know the people around him as well as he knew this crew. As well as he knew Beverly Crusher. At last she appeared on screen. She was tired. “Hi, Jean-Luc. Is this urgent?” The wind was taken out of his sails. “Not urgent, no.” “It’s been a long day, that’s all—” “Beverly, I’m leaving the ship.” She leaned back in her seat. “You do yourself an injustice, Jean-Luc. That’s the very definition of urgent. What’s going on?” Quickly, he sketched the situation; the dire need; the mission. She listened calmly—she was always calm—as he explained why the Enterprise could not go to Romulan space, and why he was leaving. When she heard his full news, a puckish smile crossed her lips. “Admiral, hey? I always knew you’d make it eventually. I used to say to Jack—that one will go far—” “Beverly… I’m going to miss you terribly.” “Oh, Jean-Luc—” “No, listen to me, please.” Before I lose confidence. “You have been my friend for almost my entire career. I have not had a better one. The gifts of your friendship have been infinite—” “Jean-Luc, you’re talking as if you’re never coming back!” “I’m going a very long way.” “I know.” She looked at him, almost expectantly. Would she come with him, if he asked? She would be a great asset, of course; a vastly experienced doctor on a relief mission like this. Did he dare ask? She sat watching (waiting?), and then she sighed. The moment had passed. He had never quite summoned up his courage, when it came to Beverly Crusher. “Can I offer you some free advice?” she said. “Of course, Beverly. Of course.” “Put someone right next to you who isn’t scared of you.” “Scared—?” “You’re quite… now, let me get this right. Not intimidating… not severe… huh. That’s it. You can be quite certain of yourself. And that can stop people from telling you things that you need to know.” “Certain of myself?” That half-smile again. “Don’t get me wrong! With good reason. Most of the time. But you’re only human like the rest of us. You make mistakes. And you need someone there who’s able to tell you when that’s happening.” Her face fell. “Particularly with a mission like this. So much at stake.” “I’ll find somebody.” “Good. I won’t worry so much in that case.” “Thank you for worrying nonetheless.” She gave him a full, sweet smile. “Oh, Jean-Luc. I’ll never stop.” He nodded. Could not quite trust his voice. “Are you coming back to say goodbye?” “I’m afraid not.” “I see. All right, then. Well… I’ll make sure everything is packed up safely. Do you have a forwarding address yet?” That question caught him; where, right now, was home? “Here to Earth, I suppose… until I know my new ship.” “Consider it done.” She shook her head. “Captain Worf. Did any of us see that, all those long years ago?” All those long years. “I certainly didn’t.” “I guess we couldn’t keep you forever.” “I hope I’ve made the right choice, Beverly.” “It’s what you were born for. Congratulations, Admiral. It’s long overdue.” “Thank you, Beverly. For everything.” And he let her go. * * * Before what would be his final call for the day, another cup of tea appeared, which Picard gratefully received. Kaul hovered at his shoulder, carrying a padd. “Go home,” said Picard gently. He pointed to the padd. “Leave that. I’ll read through it before I go.” Kaul hesitated but was clearly loath to disobey an order. “Are you sure there’s nothing else I can do, sir?” “You can get a good night’s sleep. Be back here in the morning ready to work like you’ve never worked before.” The Trill’s eyes shone. “Of course, sir!” She put down the padd and made to leave. At the door, she hesitated again. “This really is an honor, sir.” “This mission,” said Picard, reaching for his cup of tea, “will be enough honor for all of us.” Kaul left, the door closing behind her. Picard opened a channel once again to the Enterprise. The familiar face of his chief engineer appeared on screen. “Geordi,” he said warmly. “Sir, what time is it there?” Picard shrugged. “Twenty hundred?” “I thought it would be getting late. I figured I might not hear from you until the morning. But big news, hey? Admiral.” Picard’s lips twitched. “You’ve heard?” “Well, you know Worf. Can’t keep his mouth shut.” Picard laughed for the first time in what seemed an age. “That certainly sounds like Worf.” La Forge smiled. “You know it was clear something was up. He did me the courtesy of looping me in rather than leaving me hanging.” “He gave you the reason why?” “He did.” La Forge whistled. “I’ve got to say, sir, you’ve got your work cut out for you.” “Speaking confidentially, Geordi, I fear I may have underestimated the sheer scale of the task ahead—” “I bet you have, because I’ve been thinking about it all day and I’m raising my estimate of the size of fleet you’ll need by the minute.” “Nine hundred million people, by the most conservative estimate. How does one go about moving that many people? Do we even have the capacity? How do we move them? Where do we move them to? What do we need in place for them when they arrive?” “Well, I’m going to leave the touchy-feely people-handling stuff to the kind of folks who excel at that kind of thing, but I’ve got plenty of ideas about hardware. We can talk them through when I arrive.” Picard looked at him with sudden hope. “You’re coming here?” “You’re gonna ask me to come, aren’t you?” He’d thought of asking, yes; but then thought better, for La Forge’s sake. “But the Enterprise. I couldn’t ask—” “The greatest engineering project our generation will ever undertake, and you weren’t going to ask me to come on board? How long have we served together now? Jeez, I could be offended if I thought about this for too long!” Relief rushed through Picard. Of course it must be Geordi La Forge. Who else? And, even more, to have one old comrade on this new voyage, wherever this mission should take him—that was a great blessing. “Thank you, Geordi,” he said. “I mean that from the heart.” “Admiral, I’ve been packing since this morning. Got my passage to Mars all fixed.” Mars: The home of the Utopia Planitia shipyards. Starfleet’s main vessel design and construction site. The number of ships this mission would eventually require was going to have significant impact on the facility. “I’ll be frank,” said La Forge. “You’re gonna have to give me some fairly serious executive authority there, because we are looking at a major retooling if we’re going to get enough ships off the production lines quickly enough. I bet you dollars to doughnuts there’ll be complaints.” He pushed out a breath. “This is gonna be serious work—and it’s not so much the raw material as the labor. Who’s gonna build these ships? Can we find enough people? Are there enough people?” “I had barely begun to think about that,” Picard said. “In the end, you see, it always comes down to labor. Anyway, I’m working on it. I’ll speak to the engineers at Utopia Planitia, see what they suggest. And I’m sure to have ideas of my own once I’m there and have a look around. Well, the good news is there’s gonna have to be some major innovations in shipbuilding technology over the next couple of years. Gonna have to be!” Problems Picard was only beginning even to conceptualize, and La Forge was already working on them. He was glad he had not deferred this call. He already felt better, more optimistic about the prospects of success. “Congratulations on the promotion, by the way,” said La Forge. “Thanks,” said Picard, and gave a short laugh. He had more or less forgotten about that. How odd. After all this time, and it barely figured. “All right. I’m gonna get back to my packing. I’ll see you when I’m done on Mars—” “Geordi,” Picard said abruptly. “Are you quite sure? This mission—it might require everything. The rest of your career—” “Somebody has to help these people, sir. I think I can help. That’s sure enough for me. Is it sure enough for you?” “Yes,” said Picard. “More than enough. Thank you,” he added, with great feeling. “You give me courage.” “No problem, Captain. Admiral. Whatever! All right—you get back to what you need to do; I’ll get on my way.” La Forge closed the channel. Picard sat back in his chair. So now his last link with the Enterprise had been severed, for better or worse. He was, for the moment, a captain with no ship, a handful of staff, and a major operation to mobilize. What, he thought, as he picked up the padd that Kaul had left for him, would that involve? He anticipated leading from the front, as ever, on board a ship, directing operations from inside Romulan space. That meant he would need someone to run this office on Earth while he was away. A starbase on the Romulan border needed to be a forward command, and there would have to be someone to run the show there. Most of all, and perhaps most pressingly, he lacked a second. Someone to take on the task of ensuring his orders were carried out. He was grateful beyond measure to have La Forge working with him, but he had a vital job, one that would keep him near Mars. Picard needed someone at his side, someone to travel with him as these rescue and relief missions got underway. Someone who understood in full the difficult and charged situation into which they were flying. Someone who could handle not only all kinds of Romulans, and Starfleet admirals, and Federation politicians, but someone who could handle Jean-Luc Picard: an XO he could trust to tell him the truth. Not somebody cowed by the name, the rank, the legend that surrounded Jean-Luc Picard. Did such a person exist? Data, of course, would have been the perfect fit. But… But. No, thought Picard firmly; one could not dwell on what could not be. Clearing his throat, he turned his attention to Kaul’s report. The first seven ships had been reassigned to his fleet. Seven. That was a start, he supposed. Nearly a billion people. Seven ships would barely scratch the surface. A man could be daunted by a task like that, but Jean-Luc Picard was a man of great wisdom and experience, and not least among his talents was the ability to know when to worry and when to delegate. There was very little that he could do—alone at twenty hundred in an office that had been operating for no more than a day—about his lack of ships, and he already had someone working on that. For the next ten hours, this could be La Forge’s problem, and his alone. Picard was tired now, and hungry. He put down the padd, rose from his chair, and walked across the room to look at the bullpen space beyond. The lights were dim; his staff of three had all left for the day. Tomorrow, according to Kaul, there would be ten people there, and the next day there would be fifteen, and so it would continue, the mission expanding as the huge starship that was Starfleet slowed down and switched course, turning its considerable skills and capacity toward this vast and vital work. The work of a lifetime. Picard left his office and turned to face the door. There, fixed in place, was his name, gleaming in what remained of the light. Admiral Jean-Luc Picard. He tapped his fingertip against it lightly. “Procurement,” he murmured as he went in search of dinner. “Truly they are magicians.” 2 Admiral’s Log: A week, and thus far no Romulan lives have been saved, yet I’m pleased with the progress we have made. Whatever orders Victor Bordson has given, every request has been met. Personnel, offices, equipment, and the promise of fifteen Wallenberg-class transport ships within four to six weeks. I have the makings of a solid team here at Command—with more expertise being brought over from various agencies such as the Colonization Bureau. I shall soon be able to leave Earth and begin to take the first fleet of ships into Romulan space. It is a great relief to know that I can leave advocacy for this mission in Bordson’s careful hands and get on with the work that needs to be done. I must also acknowledge the efforts of Captain Kirsten Clancy, who has been chiefly responsible for liaising with the Romulan military. She has had considerable success in negotiating Starfleet access to the planets most in need. We have, remarkably, been permitted to travel into Romulan space unaccompanied: provided we follow precise and pre-agreed routes. I assume this means that their resources are already stretched thin. I am prepared to discover an occasional cloaked ship monitoring our progress once we go beyond the Neutral Zone. Our first mission has been narrowed down to three worlds: Tavaris IV, Ectis II, and Insitor V. These three worlds are of course beyond the Romulan home system, but are likely to be among the first affected by the internal changes happening within the Empire. My instincts tell me that the Romulans will ask us to proceed first to Ectis. A small mining colony, Ectis is completely reliant for essential supplies such as food on imports from the home system. As well as transporting the colonists, we have offered to assist in settling them at their destination (when that is decided), but the Romulan authorities have assured Starfleet that everything in that respect is under control. The residents of Ectis II are, in the main, relatively well off: the mining operations there are, as I understand it, largely automated, and the engineers and technicians who maintain the systems enjoy a comparatively high standard of living. I suspect that this will bring its own problems: however comfortable we make the quarters on our ships we cannot replace the homes that they must leave behind. I have tasked a small team to consider what can be done to make our ships more agreeable to our guests in terms of design and layout. I can by no means justify expending a large amount of resources on this, but it seems that some simple consideration of this issue will go a long way to helping our guests adjust to their change in circumstances. In the meantime, I too must adjust to my own change in circumstances. I receive regular missives from Deanna instructing me not to underestimate the impact upon my own well-being of leaving behind the ship and crew that have been my home and—I must say it—my family, for so long. The enormity of this task—and the rapidity with which the number of staff assigned to the mission grows—does not leave me a great deal of time to reflect on what I have left behind, but I confess that I do find the absence of someone in whom I can confide somewhat trying. Our first mission will be ready to commence in six weeks, by which time I hope to have my own ship, and I must make a decision about an XO very soon. I do, at least, have some potential candidates in mind. Starfleet Command San Francisco, Earth Lieutenant Commander Raffi Musiker, when asked to wait for a senior officer, did not generally sit patiently in a chair, and she saw no reason to do so for a legend either. She stood outside the admiral’s office, bouncing up and down ever so slightly on her heels, ready for action. All around her, the office was bustling. Only six days since the admiral had been appointed, and there were two dozen people here, busy with the preliminary tasks involved in getting the mission up and running. A huge interactive map of the Romulan Star Empire was displayed at the far end; likely relocation sites were marked in green, other secondary possibilities in amber. There were six people standing in front of the map, talking rapidly, highlighting worlds and getting full data up on screen as they needed it. Information and colors updated as they conferred and made decisions. At the workstation near where she was standing, a painfully young ensign was studying a running update from the U.S.S. Nightingale, which was being refitted as a people carrier. Wallenberg-class—good choice, that’s what Raffi would have picked too. They were often used to ferry colonists, so they were capacious and able to cope with a large number of civilians. At the next workstation, someone was talking via comm about temporary shelters. Well, can we replicate them? No, I’m not sure yet what the weather conditions will be like on the ground. Well, what are the resettlement parameters? Hey, don’t worry, it’ll all be good—we got these things to work on Cardassia Prime and that was a freakin’ hellhole… Raffi smiled. Everyone here was keen, and they were going to have to be. Many were in Starfleet uniforms, but not everyone: there were some civilians, wearing the logo of the United Federation of Planets High Commission on Refugees. This was going to be an interesting mission, Raffi thought, combining the political clout of the UFPHCR with the personnel and matériel of Starfleet. She guessed it could go one of two ways: the two organizations working in harmony, pulled together by the enormity of the task, or else there would be a tug-of-war, each side trying to press their priorities and working practices. And that was only within the Federation. The admiral was going to have to juggle Romulan requirements. Someone hurried by, apologizing as they brushed past, carrying a stack of padds. Paperwork. If there was one thing you could rely on, whether civilian or military, it was the rapid expansion of paperwork. Raffi mentally ran through her presentation one more time. The instruction to see the admiral had been brief, courteous, and not particularly informative as to the purpose of the meeting. She knew, from superiors and colleagues, the impact of her presentation and so she assumed she was here to give a direct one to the man himself and answer any questions he might have. Then back to her desk at Romulan Affairs. Only now she would have met a legend. Gabe, her son, was dying to hear about him. Mom’s job was mostly that thing that meant she didn’t always make his soccer matches, but every so often she managed to deliver something incredibly cool, like this. The door to the admiral’s office opened. Raffi snapped back to the present. A young Trill officer came out. “He’s ready for you now, Commander.” Raffi walked inside. The admiral was sitting behind his desk, eyes intent on the screen there. “Thank you, Kaul,” he said, slightly absently, attention elsewhere, but still polite. The door closed, leaving the two of them alone. Raffi stood patiently, used to senior officers who were always completing some task before turning to the next one. She took the opportunity to appraise the Great Man. Calm, focused, looked like he kept very fit. She surveyed the room. Remarkably tidy for the office of the person heading what might well be the biggest mission ever attempted by Starfleet. The only hint of disorder was the vase of flowers at one end of the desk: a stunning bunch of riotously bright chrysanthemums, yellows, pinks, oranges, and a deep shade of vivid crimson. Some of the petals had fallen and lay like lost souls on the desktop. She wondered who had sent them, or whether this was the kind of thing that came as standard in your office when you reached these dizzying heights. The admiral closed the screen, rose from his chair, and came to greet her. The legend, come to life. She had the edge on him when it came to height, but he moved with a commanding grace. “Commander,” he said, “thank you for making the time to see me today.” His voice was measured, cadenced; the kind of voice, she suspected, that you could not help but listen to, and then do exactly what was requested. “Happy to supply whatever you need, sir.” She looked around the room for an audience that wasn’t there. Didn’t he have a senior staff in place yet? “Are we meeting here?” He gestured to two comfortable seats in the corner of the room, where teapot and cups stood waiting on a low table. “Take a seat. Tea?” “Sure, thanks.” Raffi sat, uneasy in the easy chair, putting padds on the floor beside her, and then leaning forward, palms on her knees. He took the chair opposite, smiled disarmingly, and poured tea. “I assumed I was giving a presentation this morning, sir.” She sipped her tea. What the hell was this stuff? It tasted of goddamned perfume. Was it too late to ask for coffee? “I’ve watched your presentation half a dozen times now,” he said. “It’s insightful, informative, and precise. I was very impressed.” Hey Gabe, wait till you hear what the Great Man said about Mom. “Thank you, sir.” “Could you tell me, please, from your perspective as an expert on Romulan affairs, what you believe our chief difficulty will be in Starfleet’s dealings with them?” He didn’t waste time, did he? Raffi took a breath. “Opposition, sir,” she said. “Believe it or not, they are not happy that Starfleet is devoting so much time, energy, and resources to helping them. They are hating all this. They hate that we know they’re in trouble, and they hate accepting help. They won’t want to lose face.” “I understand. What else?” “And even if they’re united on this, they’ll be divided among themselves about what to do with us. Some will want to accept our help for a while. Some will try to make it impossible for us to function. Others might try to get rid of us—” “By force?” “By subterfuge, more likely. Secretly, so that half of them won’t know whether it’s a sanctioned operation or not. The saying in our office goes that Romulans don’t tell their left hand what their right hand is doing.” The admiral nodded. Yes, he recognized that. “That makes them inconsistent and unpredictable,” Raffi said. “Not to mention damn annoying. They’ll say one thing and do another, and they won’t even know themselves what their real policy is toward us. Expect the unexpected, sir.” “I see. Would it help at all, Commander, if I approached Ambassador Spock and had him petition the Senate to instruct cooperation with this mission?” “Excuse me, sir? How would that help?” He looked surprised. “The ambassador surely commands considerable respect—” Raffi laughed out loud. “Spock? They think he’s a nutcase!” His eyes opened wide. Shit, she thought, me and my big mouth. She had a vision of herself, explaining to Gabe: No, the admiral hated me, and that’s why I’m being court-martialed… Hold on. Was he… smiling? “Sorry, sir,” she said quickly. “No, I wouldn’t advise that. Ambassador Spock’s mission to Romulus may look very laudable to us, but from the Romulan perspective he and his supporters are outliers. Reunification of Romulus and Vulcan? Hey, when I was a kid, I wanted a unicorn. With wings. I didn’t get one. I didn’t even get a damn pony—” “A personal mission of peace, the ambassador calls it.” “Well, the Romulans consider it very personal. Almost…” She scraped around for a word that wouldn’t offend. “Um. Idiosyncratic?” “In other words, they think he’s a crank.” He was most definitely smiling. “Carry on talking so frankly to me, Commander,” he said, “and we shall get along very well. Very well indeed.” The door buzzer sounded. He called out, “Come.” Kaul came in. “Apologies for the interruption, sir, but you asked me to let you know immediately when the ship was ready for you.” “Ah, yes, thank you, Kaul! Yes, I’ll be on my way shortly.” He turned back to Raffi. “The Starship Verity has been assigned to lead the first fleet out to Romulan space. A nice name, don’t you think?” “Sure…?” “ ‘A true principle, especially one of fundamental significance.’ ” He looked pleased. “I believe that remembering such things will be crucial to the success of our undertaking. Above all, we are on a mission to protect, preserve, and save lives.” Raffi nodded, faintly. This meeting was not going in the slightest how she had anticipated. No presentation. He said he’d already watched it half a dozen times. He clearly didn’t want it in person. For some reason they were now discussing eternal verities. She was a simple intelligence officer, maybe turned a mite suspicious by having to think like a Romulan twenty-four hours a day. She wasn’t any kind of philosopher. Why was she here? “Lieutenant Kaul,” added Picard conversationally, “was on staff here before even I was. Seconded from Admiral Bordson’s office. Their loss has been my gain. She’ll be vital to operations here on Earth.” There it was again, that extraneous information, as if giving her a picture of the setup here. “Sir,” said Raffi, “may I ask you something?” “By all means,” said the Great Man. “You must always feel you can speak freely to me.” She’d never had any superior officer say that to her. Sometimes quite the contrary. “This isn’t a briefing, is it?” said Raffi. “This is an interview.” “That’s correct, Commander. My apologies if I kept my cards close to my chest, but I wanted to see how you answered my questions face-to-face.” He sipped some of his revolting tea. “You’ve answered them most satisfactorily.” “Which means…?” “Which means I’d like you as my XO.” She put down her cup with a rattle. Tea spilled. “Shit!” His mouth twitched. “I sincerely hope not. Most certainly we have some difficult times ahead. More difficult than either of us can imagine.” She turned and looked out through the transparent aluminum partition into the busy office. All those people, dashing about, putting the nuts and bolts of this mission together, building this operation from data, information, decisions, actions. Sure, it was easy to take the piss out of the padd pushers, but nothing could happen without them. Working out what was needed, where it could be found, how to get it all to the right place at the right time. She had no idea how to do this… She took a breath. How do you say “no” to a legend? “Sir,” she said, “I’m not an administrator.” He blinked. “I beg your pardon?” “I mean, this is a flattering offer, sir, I hope you understand that. Truly flattering. But an operation like this?” She gestured to the room beyond. “I’m not cut out for this kind of work. I wouldn’t know where to start.” She saw understanding dawn in his eyes. “Ah, there has been a misunderstanding. I have a very able administrator arriving to head up the office here on Earth, Commander Crystal Gbowee. She’s on her way from Starbase 192 as we speak. She’s worked with the UFPHCR coordinating numerous missions—she was on Bajor for a while after the Occupation, and on Cardassia Prime during the reconstruction effort there. Once she arrives, I shall move over to the fleet. This mission must get underway, and soon.” He glanced out across the busy room. “No, the appointment here is filled, I’m afraid. I’m sorry if that’s a disappointment.” His eyes were quietly twinkling with suppressed mirth. No, of course he didn’t want her here. She’d be no damn good here, would she? “Then—” He leaned forward in his seat, held her eye, very serious now. “I’m asking you to come aboard my ship, Commander. Be my first officer on the Verity. But I’m asking more than that, and I think you know it. I have left my crew behind on the Enterprise. I must replace them, and if I am to succeed, I need an excellent XO. And what I require above all from my XOs is honesty. I shall need you always to tell me the truth. What do you say? Is that something you believe that you could do?” Shit, she thought, and managed not to say it out loud this time. No, this was not what she’d been expecting when she’d walked into this room. “It’s a big decision,” he was saying. “There may be all manner of ties keeping you here on Earth…” Gabe had a soccer match next week. She’d missed the last one putting together that damn presentation. “When does the ship leave?” “Six days.” So she could make Gabe’s match. But there would be the next match, or the match after, the long months away, the individual seconds and moments of simply being present that were tiny for her, but that constituted the whole of Gabe’s life, his childhood. “I…” Damn, she wanted this post. She could do this job. She was made to do this job. She’d known the second she walked into this room that she wanted to work with this man in some way. But she’d never imagined she would be offered this. Right hand to a legend. Right in the middle of the greatest operation that Starfleet would ever mount. He was smiling at her. “Would you like to see the ship, Commander? The Verity? You’d be spending a lot of time there, after all. You can make your decision after that.” “Yes,” she said, already knowing what her decision would be. “I’d love to see the ship.” Utopia Planitia shipyards Mars The construction sites, and the skeletons of half-built ships, obscured the view of the red planet below. La Forge watched the production drones zipping to and fro, the supply shuttles bringing out components and subassemblies. His own shuttle sped past the main shipyard and began its descent into a low orbit. With the bulk of the shipyards behind, the factory complex on the surface was now clearly visible: a huge domed structure at least two miles in diameter, a jewel set into the sandstone. Under the cover of the dome, La Forge knew, tucked into a deep crater, was the warren of offices, labs, and habitations that comprised the working and living spaces of the people who kept this whole vast operation up and running. A communication exchange with the folks on the ground, and he was ready to be transported down to the complex. There he was met by T’sath, the Vulcan chief operating officer. They had never served together directly, but naturally the overseer of the Federation’s main shipyards and the chief engineer of Starfleet’s flagship were in regular communication. Plus meetings at the odd conference here and there over the years. La Forge had always found T’sath reliable, knowledgeable, resourceful, and—perhaps inevitably—calm. Today she greeted him with what he guessed passed for a significant emotional display: a slight furrow of the brows, some tightness in the lips. “Is what we’re hearing true?” she said. The embargo on the news about the supernova had been lifted, although Starfleet officers were being requested to use discretion, particularly those directly involved in the project. Still, one could not promote and reassign Jean-Luc Picard, put a Klingon in charge of the Enterprise, commandeer more than a dozen ships, and begin to establish the base of operations for what was plainly going to be a major mission without attracting some attention. Besides, secrecy was more the Romulan way. “Uh-huh,” said La Forge. “And we’re going to need ships.” “Ships?” said T’sath. “There’s going to be a major relief mission. They’ve asked us to help—” That almost startled her. “The Romulans have asked for Federation help?” “Can you believe it? Only limited, but we’re going to need ships.” “Ships. To carry Romulan refugees…” Her eyes narrowed, briefly. “How many people to transport?” He lowered his voice. “A lot.” “Precision would be more helpful, Commander.” “Not quite a billion.” “Again, somewhat imprecise, but slightly more informative.” She gestured to him to follow her. “You should speak to the senior staff. I’ve asked them to come and join us at fifteen hundred hours.” That gave La Forge about an hour to get to his assigned quarters, change, pull out his presentation, and check he had everything he needed. Exactly enough time before T’sath was back at his door to take him to one of the main conference rooms. There were about two dozen people there: various heads of departments from across the operation, such as the director of the research lab and several of the principal investigators on the main development programs underway at the base. Production managers, operations managers, quality managers, construction specialists, senior process engineers. He started with a segment from Raffi Musiker’s presentation: the section that had blown his mind when he had seen it, showing the blast radius fanning outward from the Romulan star, sucking in world after world… Then he explained Starfleet’s mission: to proceed to the outer systems and save as many as possible of the millions of lives at risk there. He described, in broad brush strokes, what that meant for Utopia Planitia. First, a round of refitting existing ships. Then, a serious commitment to building the number of ships that would be needed to carry out this task, as quickly as possible. He was no more than a few minutes in when he sensed that he was not carrying the crowd with him. He finished, and said, “Any questions?” There was a silence. Then one of the people at the back said, “This can’t be done.” “It’s going to have to be,” said La Forge. “We’re not magicians,” someone else said. “We can’t pull thousands of ships out of a hat. This is going to mean a major restructure—” After that, the questions—and comments—started coming in thick and fast. “Which projects are we supposed to stop? Which lines of research are we supposed to be dropping? Whose damned stupid idea was all this in the first place?” Wow, thought La Forge in dismay, this was not what I expected… He held up his hands. “Hey now, hold on a minute! Try to remember, please, exactly what’s at stake here. We’ve been asked to take on responsibility for saving hundreds of millions of people at risk from the effects of this star going supernova—” “The Romulan star,” someone called out. That was enough. “I don’t know what the hell is going on here,” La Forge snapped, “but I don’t expect crap like that from anyone in Starfleet, and I’m telling you now, if I hear anything like it again, there’ll be consequences for the people concerned! This mission is happening, whether you like it or not. It’s happening, and it needs ships. We have a fleet to build, in record time, and this is where it’s going to happen. You can be a part of it, or else I’ll expect your request for separation from the service on my desk within the week.” The room was silent. La Forge looked around. Some people glared back; others were studying the ground. “Okay,” he said. “I’m going to meet each of you one-to-one. In the meantime, I expect preliminary reports from each division as to how they intend to meet this challenge. Dismissed.” They made their way out, leaving only La Forge and T’sath behind. “What the hell was all that about?” said La Forge. T’sath looked unperturbed. “I expected some resistance.” “Resistance? That was nearly a goddamn mutiny!” “I believe that people do not enjoy being asked to put aside their life’s work to turn their attention fully to somebody else’s project.” “Somebody else’s… We’re going to be saving lives! It’s what Starfleet is all about!” “Romulan lives.” “Now wait a moment, Lieutenant—” She turned away from him and walked toward the door. “Strange as this may seem, Commander La Forge, Romulans are not popular. The people here will do what you order, and they will do their best, but do not expect them to be happy. Again, I say—you are asking people to put aside their life’s work, and to assist people they have been accustomed to thinking of as their enemy. I suggest you find a reason to persuade them of the benefits.” “If you feel that way, Lieutenant T’sath, should I expect your resignation?” She gave a small smile. “Certainly not. Where else could I practice my trade? As you have made clear—this is the only business in town.” She left. He stood for a while, alone in the empty room. It was not the most auspicious start to the task of a lifetime. Starfleet Intelligence Office of Romulan Affairs Raffi Musiker, reeling slightly from the last few hours, walked back into her office, sat down at her desk, and tried to collect her thoughts. The Verity was beautiful. Not the Enterprise, no, but then nothing was, and this was the ship needed for this mission. As they took the tour, the admiral looked increasingly pleased. He made a point of checking the passenger facilities. They were not spacious—they had a lot of people to move, and only a limited number of ships, for the moment—but they were comfortable. “There’s some real thought gone into this,” Raffi said as they went into a cabin designed for a family unit. “We must remember how frightening this must be for the people we shall be carrying,” Picard said. “They are leaving behind their homes and many of their possessions. We cannot carry them as if they were cargo. As far as possible, these spaces must make them feel secure and, most of all, they must feel hope. That even though they are forced to leave their old lives, the possibility of a new life lies ahead. Fear, uncertainty, dislocation—all these will lead to trouble. We must prevent that from arising.” “Close quarters won’t come naturally to many Romulans,” she said. “Too little privacy. Whatever we can do to lessen the impact of that will make a big difference.” He walked on beside her. “ ‘We’?” “Starfleet, I mean,” she fudged. He carried on down the corridor. “Of course.” That charade had lasted, oh, another fifteen minutes, max. By the time they had taken a quick look at the day-care area and were kneeling in front of a crate of essential supplies to be issued to each group—checking the quality and durability of the blankets, the hygiene kits, the spare clothes, the padds—they both knew she was accepting. As they walked back to the transporter, he started describing what he believed was the most likely first mission—a small colony on Ectis II—and she pointed out some strategic sensitivities associated with the world’s defense grid. And then it was time for her to leave. He reached out and shook her hand. “Welcome to the mission, Commander,” he said. “I am extremely glad to have you on board.” “I’m glad to be able to help, sir.” His grip on her hand tightened, and he looked straight into her eyes. Quietly, he said, “This mission is unprecedented, Raffi. It is going to require as much as you are able to give.” I’ve become “Raffi”… “I won’t let you down, sir.” “You have my complete confidence and trust.” Dammit, she thought, sitting back at her desk, that voice. She’d suspected, when she’d first heard him speak at the start of their meeting, that she would be persuaded to do whatever he asked. And now, here she was, about to contact her husband, and her son, and tell them that Mommy was going away, for who knew how long. She put her hands flat down on her desk, and thought: Do I really want this? And the answer was plain: Yes. Yes, I do. She thought about what she would be leaving on Earth. Gabe, her not-so-little-anymore boy. Jae, who did most of the quiet, steady, constant work that kept an eleven-year-old moving around from meal to school to soccer games to sleepovers, and still managed to produce his holosculptures. The ramshackle house on the outskirts of Santa Fe; the mess that came from a smart, active kid, an artist, and a busy Starfleet officer. The studio that they had been kind-of-nearly-not-quite building for Jae for nearly five years; the half-dug vegetable patch. Her office, where she pored over reports late into the night, where she had been sealed for nearly two weeks writing the presentation that had landed her this post, coming up every so often to say: This’ll be done soon, Jae, I promise, and then I’ll be back… Her home… But thinking of home made her think of all she had seen on the Verity. Those little quarters, where whole families would soon be housed. What that must mean for them, to lose everything. She thought, Is there something wrong with me, that I think I should be spending my time with some abstract Romulan kids rather than with my own child? But the truth was, she knew she had to help. She opened a comm channel. And there was Gabe, gorgeous Gabe, her baby boy. He was eating. He was always eating. Just walking around, eating. Any day now, the growth spurt would happen, and the last vestiges of the little boy he had once been would be gone, replaced by the makings of a man… “Hey Gabe!” she said. “How are you doing? What have you been up to?” He looked at her like she was entering her dotage. “Er, Mom, we saw each other at breakfast.” “I know, I know… How was school? What did you do today?” “Oh, you know, stuff… Do you want to talk to Dad?” “Sure, honey bunny.” He pretended to be throwing up. “Don’t call me that,” he said, and stepped out of view. “Dad!” he yelled. “It’s Mom! She wants to talk to you!” He looked back over his shoulder and grinned, his lopsided, half-toothed, still-a-boy grin. “See ya later!” And he was off, back to whatever he’d been up to before she interrupted him. She felt that sharp sense of loss every parent feels, watching their baby move away from them. She wanted to reach out, scoop him up into her arms, and press her face into his hair, capture and savor these brief moments of his childhood, before he was gone for good. She thought: What am I doing? and answered herself at once: The job I’m supposed to do. Making a difference. She blinked, twice, and rubbed her eyes. “Hey, Raffi,” said Jae. “You don’t usually call at this time. What’s up?” “Honey,” she said. “I have news.” “Oh yeah?” He was fiddling with something on the desk, not quite looking at her. “Good news?” “Big news.” He looked up properly, and they embarked on what she had correctly predicted would be one of the most difficult conversations of her life so far. Nine days later, unpacking in her new quarters on the Verity, she lifted out a holopicture of the three of them, out in the Grand Canyon, all happiness. Her little family. For a brief and terrifying moment, she thought of the vast distance that was about to open between them all. But then she pulled herself together. “Six months, Jae. We’ll give it six months, and then we’ll see whether or not it’s working. And if it’s not—I’ll come right back. I promise.” There were so many promises. This one she meant to keep. Utopia Planitia shipyards Mars La Forge, filing his daily report to Picard, wasn’t sure how long he would be able to keep the upbeat tone going. His first weeks on Mars had not been the success he had expected. The pushback against the mission that had been expressed in that first meeting was still ongoing, and he was struggling to think of ways to break through. There were folks here who, even after hearing what the Romulans were facing, were willing to shrug and look the other way. How did you persuade them? If you could look at desperate people, refugees who were fleeing their homes and could never return, and simply turn away, then there was, in La Forge’s opinion, something not quite right about you. La Forge knew that some people found engineers odd. The specialist knowledge and language, the fixation on detail, the ability to focus on a problem that meant thirty-six hours could go by without anyone noticing as long as the coffee and the snacks kept coming… Not to mention the goofy sense of humor, the penchant for terrible puns, and the fondness for science fiction. Yep, the wider world, in general, thought engineers were, to put it frankly, weird. Hey, he wasn’t disagreeing. He liked himself exactly the way he was. Every so often, though, there was someone who got it. Someone who saw that these smart goofballs were something special: curious, open-minded, flexible, and practical. Picard was one. Picard understood. And within the tribe, of course, you knew the truth. You knew that what you brought to the table was the ability to change the world: to take the material stuff of the universe and, from it, build tools and machines and processes and systems that transformed lives. That was what this mission was all about, wasn’t it? To gather together a group of the smartest people alive, and, through their dedication, intelligence, imagination, and sound understanding of the physical properties of the universe, build tools and machines and processes and systems that would save millions of lives. When La Forge had set out for Mars, he had assumed that his people—his tribe of offbeat pun-loving geniuses—would also understand. An incredible, daunting opportunity to do what they did best, on a scale that they could barely imagine—and not for the purposes of war, but for the purposes of peace and cooperation. An offer of friendship. It seemed to La Forge to be exactly what Starfleet was meant to do. A simple, magnificent equation: ingenuity plus hope equals change. He thought he would arrive at the shipyards explaining what they had to do, and be met with the immediate enthusiasm of the engineer who, presented with what everyone was saying was an insurmountable problem, replied, “Yeah, you say that, but has anyone thought about trying this…?” But that was not how things were panning out. The door chime sounded. “Come in,” he called out. Yet another department head, he guessed, about to explain to him in no uncertain terms that his latest request was not achievable. A woman in uniform trimmed in engineering gold marched in. She was small, not much more than five feet, solid, short curly hair, fifty-something. Commander’s pips. Her eyes were flashing. His heart sank. She walked right over to his desk, dropped a pile of padds there, and stood with her hands upon her hips. Had they met? He had a feeling he would have remembered meeting a hobbit. He pulled one of the padds over and started a quiet search for her name and file. Commander Estella Mackenzie. “Hey!” he said, trying his best to sound upbeat. “How can I help?” “Physically manufacturing the components,” she said. “Have you even begun to think about that?” La Forge blinked. “Excuse me?” “We want an accelerated program of shipbuilding and that’s great. Up to ten thousand ships, you said, within the next few years. And why not? We’re the best engineers in the quadrant, possibly two quadrants. But there are limits to what we can replicate, and to what we can automate. Do you understand what that means?” She glared at him, which he took to be a signal that he was now allowed to speak. “I guess I think it means—” She blew out a breath that made her sound like a pissed-off camel. “No, no, you don’t understand. Let me show you.” To his bewilderment, she began pulling ship components out from her pocket, dumping them onto the desk in front of him. “Hey,” he said. “Do you mind not—” She cut him off. “These two here are components used in the forward sensors.” She rummaged in another pocket. “This one is used to monitor and regulate temperatures in the warp plasma conduits. This one goes in the air filtration—” His desk was starting to look like a junkyard. “I know what they are, Commander,” he said, allowing some of the irritation he was feeling to creep into his voice. “Bravo, so you do know your stuff. So—tell me, what do they have in common?” La Forge stared down at the heap in front of him. Engineers were good at patterns. There was no discernible pattern to these that he could see. “I’ll give you a clue,” she said, “since you’re looking clueless. It’s nothing to do with function. Think about how—” “How they’re made,” La Forge said. “They’re made by hand. Each one of these is individually manufactured.” “That’s right. And now we hit a wall. Because we don’t have enough people.” “People?” “To make the components.” A manufacturing issue… a personnel issue… La Forge began to do what he always did when faced with a problem, which was to try to break it down into its simplest terms. If there were not enough people, what could be done about that? How could you make more people available? How could you bolster the workforce? Perhaps some kind of stint that would count as credit at the Academy? What sort of numbers was she even talking about? “If we need more people,” he said, “we can get more people.” Mackenzie stared at him. “The average human takes roughly eighteen years to reach maturity. I assume you’re not prepared to wait that long, and that you’re not envisaging a workforce based on child labor?” “I am not,” said La Forge. “I’m not keen on either of those options. Can we draft people over from across Starfleet?” Again, that camel-like harrumph. Yeah, she was really pissed off… “This is specialist work we’re talking about, not whacking a nail into a piece of timber!” she snapped. “It’s skilled work! It takes time to learn! There aren’t the people. There aren’t the bodies.” La Forge’s heart felt like a stone in his chest. Yet again, resistance. People telling him that what had to be done couldn’t be done. “So what you’re telling me is that what I want to do is physically impossible? That I can’t speed up manufacture the way we need—?” Mackenzie looked at him in absolute fury. “What? No, no, no! Of course I’m not saying that! For goodness’ sake! Do you think I’d come in here with a problem and not have the solution?” “No,” said La Forge humbly. “I’m sorry. Please go on.” She took a deep breath. “What do you know about bio-neural circuitry?” “I know… a little.” “Yes, well, I know a lot.” La Forge glanced down at her file. She wasn’t lying. She was the Federation’s foremost authority on the damn stuff, specializing in its practical applications for starship design. “Don’t look at your padd,” she said sternly, as if addressing a freshman class. “Look at what I’m showing you.” “Yes, sir,” he muttered, and obeyed. “You’ll recall—or will have informed yourself from my file, open in front of you—that my recent work on bio-neural circuitry has been concerned with seeing how far we can push the smart elements of the manufacturing systems. How far they can learn. Because looking at these components and thinking how much we rely on handcrafting the damn things seems to me to be insane. Ideally, I want the things to be as self-replicating as possible.” “How far have you come with that?” “Huh? Oh, nowhere. I’ve persuaded a couple of simpler components to self-replicate, but they degrade far too quickly. You’ve barely installed them and you’re ripping them out. No, there’s a decade’s work in that yet. And we don’t have a decade, do we?” “You said you had a solution, Commander. Am I about to hear it?” “You are. Because after a month tearing my hair out, I realized I was coming to this problem the wrong way. These complex components need to be individually assembled. But we need to mass produce. Which means more people.” “Like you said—eighteen years to grow a person—” “Not an artificial one.” He sat back in his chair. “Say what?” “Androids, Commander. Synthetics. They’re fast, smart, they can be trained to perform specific tasks.” Disappointment washed over La Forge. This stocky, blunt woman had, for a moment, made him think that she was onto something. But she wasn’t. “They’re nowhere near this at the Daystrom Institute, surely—” “I don’t know about that, because I’m not an expert. But I will bet you every single day of my accumulated leave that those clever people at the Daystrom Institute have never looked at my work. Why should they? What have self-replicating ship components got to do with creating artificial life? But something like this project has never been attempted before, and we need bold ideas. Bio-neural circuitry is smart—for certain definitions of smart. Androids, synthetics—they’re smart too. Let’s put this work together and see what comes out the other end.” La Forge stared down at the components in front of him. He had watched some of them being manufactured, had seen the careful and precise work involved. They needed to speed this process up somehow… “Do you understand what I’m saying?” Mackenzie said. “Yes,” said La Forge. “You’re talking about… you’re talking about a new kind of synthetic life…” He looked over at her. She was smiling, her face lit up and transformed: a brilliant professor seeing her brightest student make a breakthrough. “That’s right. A new kind of synthetic life. One not based on current positronic models, but on what we know about bio-neural circuitry.” Suddenly, in his mind’s eye, he had an image of these synthetics, working crisply and quickly and efficiently, around the clock, providing him with everything he needed to make this rapid expansion of the fleet possible. For the first time since he had arrived on Mars, he felt cautiously optimistic. Synthetics… He fell back in his chair. This was amazing. This was brilliant. “I didn’t even know that non-Soong-type androids were possible…” Mackenzie cleared her throat. “Well, don’t get too excited,” she said gruffly. “We’re not there yet. We need an expert on androids for one thing.” “I’ll get onto the Daystrom Institute immediately.” He turned to the computer on his desk and sent a message to the one man who, he knew, could do this. Bruce Maddox. Bruce. I’m on Mars. I need to see you as quickly as possible. As he sent the message, he thought of Data, and a pang of loss went through him. He longed, suddenly, for his friend. These new synthetics—they would not be Data. Nothing could replace Data. They would be something else. They would be exactly what was needed… but not entirely what was wanted. He glanced up again at Mackenzie. She was standing stock-still, staring down at the components she had brought. She looked tired and deflated suddenly, as if she had given everything that she had to give. He felt a sudden rush of affection for her. “Hey,” he said softly. “You know, you’re the first person here on Mars who has made me think that what we have to do can be done. You are without doubt my favorite person on Mars, and right now you are possibly my favorite person in known space.” She smiled. Rather sweetly, her cheeks dimpled. “Have I?” she said. “Am I? Oh, I’m glad. I’m so, so glad.” Suddenly, her eyes filled with tears. “I can’t stop thinking about those poor people,” she said. “Having to leave their homes behind. The absolute terror of it all… I haven’t slept since your presentation, Commander. I had to think of something I could do. I had to help…” He came around his desk to join her. He put his arm around her shoulder and gave her a quick hug. She sniffled, and rallied, and cleared her throat. “Yes, well,” she said. “Like I said, I don’t come into a room to tell someone about a problem without having a solution in my pocket.” “You sure don’t,” he said. He picked up one of her padds and handed it to her. “Okay,” he said. “Bio-neural circuitry. Run me through the basics.” As he listened to her speak, his heart rose. The best of Starfleet, he thought. Ingenuity. Hope. Change. We can do this. 3 Admiral’s Log: Our first mission has been confirmed. As expected, we have been formally requested by the Romulan government to remove the population of the mining colony on Ectis II to Arnath IV. This is of course very easy to say, when the reality is that we shall be facilitating the removal of nearly ten thousand souls from their homes, carrying them for slightly over two months to their new world, and then assisting—to a small degree—in their settlement there. I believe, however, that we have done the very best that we can to prepare for this mission. Now we must act, in good faith, and learn all we can from this operation to make the next expedition even more successful. During this brief pause, this hiatus before the whirl of activity that is about to follow, I must take a moment to remind myself how profoundly grateful I am to everyone who has willingly put aside everything to commit themselves to this mission. Above all, I thank the stars for the work done behind the scenes by my new XO, Commander Raffi Musiker. I am aware that through her efforts what should be problems are presented to me as wholly solved. Captain Kirsten Clancy has been liaising with the Romulans, and Raffi is of course a specialist in Romulan affairs. I have the distinct impression that Clancy’s tendency toward micromanagement has been a burden that my XO has also borne on my account, and I am greatly appreciative. This has left me with the time to fully concentrate on staffing, coordinating, and directing the fleet. On Earth, Commander Gbowee has rapidly constructed an organization and processes to respond to our requirements for matériel and staff; she and Lieutenant Kaul are masters of the concise briefing. Messages from Commander Geordi La Forge are proving an interesting read: I sense behind his words some resistance from the yard’s engineers at these new and overwhelming demands that are being placed upon them. I understand too that for many, this will mean setting aside research for many years that may well have been the chief concern. But if any officer can corral them toward a common goal, it is surely Geordi, among the most optimistic, practical, and sincere officers of my acquaintance. Tomorrow, it begins: the most complex project ever mounted by Starfleet and the Federation. In between the briefings, duty rosters, charts, files, data, and all the necessary bureaucracy, let us not forget our goal: to protect and save life. Starship Verity Picard sat in his chair on the bridge, ostensibly at ease; in fact, he was taut as a wire. The fleet—fifteen ships in total, with the Starship Verity front and center—was fifteen minutes away from setting out on its first mission of mercy. All around, the bridge crew was busy with last-minute systems’ checks, engineering reports, all the vital preparations for the voyage. They were a fine crew. He knew that he should say something to them—in fact, to the whole fleet embarking on this journey—to mark the occasion, but he could not quite decide on the appropriate words. Not for the first time in his life he felt the terrible isolation of command; not for the first time in his life he reminded himself that this melancholy always settled upon him before any major voyage. That this might prove to be the voyage that would define him. Raffi, beside him, touched his arm. “Penny for your thoughts, sir?” He straightened up and cleared his throat. “Contemplating our mission, that’s all.” “That’s all, eh?” “That’s all.” “Huh. Big thoughts. I’ll need to give you more than a penny for them. Hey, you know how the advice goes about how to eat an elephant?” This should be good, he thought. “Do tell, Commander.” “One bite at a time, Admiral. How else d’you think you eat a damn elephant? One bite at a time. How about we get the ship out of dock before we worry about anything else?” He relaxed. From the corner of his eye, he saw her nod, satisfied that her intervention had had the desired effect, and turn her attention back to proceedings. One bite at a time… Yes, these were simple maneuvers, performed thousands of times. He need not worry for the moment. Lieutenant Marshall, handling comms, turned to him. “Admiral, incoming message from Starfleet Command. It’s Captain Clancy.” “Chrissakes,” muttered Raffi, “what now? Probably checking we’ve packed our lunches.” She caught his eye. “Sorry, sir.” Picard, smile firmly suppressed, rose from his seat. “In my ready room, please, Lieutenant.” His eyes twinkled at Raffi. “The bridge is yours, Commander.” In the quiet of his ready room, he took the message. Clancy appeared on screen. “Admiral Picard, I wanted to wish you the best of luck.” “Thank you, Kirsten.” “Also, before you leave—I’m sending someone over to join your team. Her name is Koli Jocan. She’s a specialist on refugee relocation.” This, thought Picard, was typical Clancy: to decide, without consultation, that there was a problem and to provide, without asking, some kind of solution. He bit back his instinctive response, which was to say that he was perfectly capable of crewing his own damn ship, and said, “The name sounds Bajoran.” “That’s right. Born in a Rankath refugee camp at the end of the Occupation. She knows her business.” He was taking along numerous experts on refugee resettlement. Why was Clancy so keen on this one? “I’m sure she’ll be an asset.” “She’s wholly committed. Very focused. I think you’ll get along with her.” She sounded as if she might be hard work. “Indubitably.” There was a pause. Clancy looked about to say more, then clearly thought better. “Well, good luck. You go with all of Starfleet’s well wishes for the success of this mission.” “Thank you, Kirsten. Verity out.” Picard sat for a moment or two, contemplating the screen. He always sensed, in his dealings with Clancy, some… What would the word be? He hesitated to call it mistrust. Misalignment? That was fairer. Despite the same training, the same uniform, and the same stated ideals and values, he felt… at odds with her, in some undefined but crucial way. Picard filed this away for future consideration. He had a mission to get underway, and, besides, none of this was the fault of Koli Jocan. He must welcome her with good grace and accept her services in a similar fashion. When he went back out onto the bridge, he saw a young Bajoran woman, neat in a blue Starfleet uniform, lieutenant pips, who started at the sight of him. Raffi, behind her, was pointing and mouthing: Who the hell is this? He stepped forward to greet her. She was slightly built, below average height—common for a Bajoran of her generation, the usual if sad effect of a malnourished childhood. “Lieutenant Koli, I presume?” “Yes, Admiral.” “Welcome aboard. You arrive in the nick of time.” “I’m very glad about that.” In a quiet voice, she added, “I’m aware you didn’t request me, sir. I approached Captain Clancy and asked to be assigned to this mission. I am extremely grateful to you for allowing me this opportunity. I cannot think of any more important work to be done right now than this.” He smiled gently. She was young, sincere, and Clancy’s faux pas was not her fault. “We are in full accord. I look forward to serving alongside you.” He took his seat, collected himself. Clancy, it turned out, had inadvertently done him a favor. Rather than sitting and brooding over what to say, he had been distracted. And now the words came easily. He directed Lieutenant Marshall to patch his voice throughout the fleet and spoke. “This is Admiral Jean-Luc Picard, speaking to you from the Starship Verity. Across this fleet, our combined experience encompasses many hundreds of years, thousands of worlds, and hundreds of thousands of missions. Today we embark upon Starfleet’s greatest mission. The most honest, the most heartfelt, and the most necessary of tasks. To put aside centuries of doubt, fear, and mistrust, and to offer to our neighbors, in their hour of need, the unconditional hand of friendship.” He saw Koli nodding. Taking heart, he continued. “I am grateful to each one of you for your decision to join me. You have left families, posts, and homes that you love dearly, in order to commit to saving lives. I say to you that there is no higher duty than the preservation of life. Let us take up our duties with courage, and with hope. With our talents and resources, we will achieve success, not for plaudits or medals or gratitude, but because it is the right thing to do, and because we are able to do it.” He finished. Koli began to clap, and soon a ripple of applause went around the bridge. Lieutenant Marshall patched in comms from the bridges of the other fourteen ships, and he heard the reaction there. Resolute. Determined. He turned to the helm. “Lieutenant Miller…” “Go on,” Raffi whispered. “They’re dying for you to say it.” And why not? “Engage!” He felt the delight from around his own bridge, and whoops and cheers from the other ships. His own full smile came naturally, and without inhibition. The Verity moved forward. Raffi, in the seat beside him, put two thumbs up. Then she quirked an eyebrow up and flicked a glance toward Koli. Well? He gave a curt nod. The fleet—sleek, beautiful, hopeful, the best of Starfleet—departed. So it began. Daystrom Institute Okinawa, Earth Estella Mackenzie turned out to be exactly the ally that La Forge needed. She had fired up engines that he hadn’t even known were present. Some people were willing to stand up to everyone no matter what, and Mackenzie was one of them. There were of course some requests for transfer, all of which were allowed. But even T’sath cautiously changed sides. Once she was on board, the rest fell into line. Slowly, as the weeks passed, the work began to move forward. The briefings became less combative and agonizing. More and more, people started to wander past La Forge’s office saying, “Hey, I had this idea…” Soon enough, he was confident that he could leave for the Daystrom Institute without everything coming crashing to a halt. The campus of the Daystrom Institute, where the Division of Advanced Synthetic Research was housed, was set high on a clifftop overlooking the Pacific. La Forge passed through security. As he walked along the white corridors, he pondered his meeting with Bruce Maddox. It was not easy to feel goodwill toward someone who had tried to turn one of your best friends into a box of spare parts. Data had forgiven Maddox, and La Forge had to honor that, even if he struggled with it. Not for the first time, La Forge thought, Data had turned out to be the fullest, the best, the most human of them all. Measured, thoughtful, forgiving. I try to live up to your example, Data. But some people sure make it hard. Doctor Bruce Maddox, tall and lean, welcomed him offhandedly. “I’ve heard of Mackenzie’s work, of course,” he said, his eyes drifting to the open files on his desk, “but it’s nothing like my research. She’s making…” He gave a slight smile. “Well, what does it amount to? Machines. Complex, and organic, but not life.” “I’m sure she’d be interested to hear your take on her work,” La Forge said dryly. In fact, he’d like to sit ringside for that. Hell, he’d sell tickets. Mackenzie would make mincemeat of Maddox. Maddox had the grace to look embarrassed. “I don’t mean that what she’s doing isn’t difficult, or, indeed, laudable. And obviously there are a huge number of practical applications. But it isn’t what I’m doing. They’re two very different approaches. But I think you know that already, La Forge. I have to confess I’m pretty puzzled as to why you’re here.” He didn’t look puzzled at all; in fact, he looked not in the least bit interested. His eyes were already turning back to the file on his desk. La Forge said, “What have you heard about the Romulan supernova?” “The what?” How had he not heard? Jeez, thought La Forge. This guy… “The Romulan sun is going supernova—” Light dawned in Maddox’s eyes. “Oh yes! The refugee mission! Sorry, I’m teaching a graduate class at the moment, and if you could see the state of some their papers you’d understand my distraction. Yes, of course. What has that got to do with bio-neural circuitry?” Do I have to spell this out? “We’re helping to relocate hundreds of millions of Romulans,” La Forge said. “It’s demanding significant breakthroughs in starship construction in order to be able to supply enough ships to get the job done. Most of the research facilities at Utopia Planitia have been turned toward the problem.” “I bet they’re pleased.” “Excuse me?” said La Forge frostily. “Well, who wants to stop their research?” said Maddox. “I can see it’s for a good cause, but…” You’re gonna love what’s coming next, thought La Forge. “So you’re working on advancing starship construction technology,” said Maddox. “That’s going to cause some significant engineering problems, but those guys are great. What do you need from me today?” “There are some insurmountable problems when it comes to the manufacture of certain components,” said La Forge. “It’s skilled work, but we can’t train enough people quickly enough to meet demand. We need another solution.” “I suppose there might be a bio-neural solution there,” said Maddox. “Intelligent circuitry—well, I say intelligent. Considerable learning capability. But not sentience.” “It’s more complicated than that, but you’ve got the general idea,” said La Forge. “Great for Mackenzie and her work.” “Yep. But the reality is…” La Forge leaned forward in his seat. “Listen, Bruce. The tasks are so complicated. We’re thinking about a range of nonsentient androids, based on bio-neural circuitry, to do the assembly work.” Maddox looked vaguely interested. “I guess that might work. Good job you’ve got Mackenzie. If anyone could do it, it’ll be her. From what I’ve heard, she’s dogged.” Okay, thought La Forge, I am going to have to spell this out. “I want you to work on this with Mackenzie.” Maddox stared at him. “Why on earth would I do that?” La Forge was startled. He hadn’t anticipated that question. “I mean,” said Maddox, “I’ve read her work, sure; it has very little in common with what I do. Like I said—they’re two very different approaches.” He loo