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Sulu was slightly perplexed by the summons he had received while visiting Starfleet Headquarters. To begin with, he hadn't announced his visit in advance and, second, he didn't know the person who had summoned him other than by reputation. He was merely visiting a number of friends who were currently posted there.
The new admiral wove his way deftly through the crowded lobby on level zero-zero and checked his chrono. He barely had time to make it. Stopping at the information counter, he used one of the many self-service terminals, rather than asking one of the dozen or so cadets who served as guides. This was part of their regular junior year class work, but each one had a long line of 'customers' to deal with. He entered the name of the person who had requested him. After a brief moment, the office number, level and nearest turbolift service appeared on the screen. Then the console asked if he wanted a hard copy of the information. Sulu hesitated for a moment then declined and logged off.
He turned to search for the location of the correct turbolift in the main lobby. Unfortunately, it was located on the opposite end of the oversized lobby. Hikaru began to question the wisdom of any decision to ask for, or accept, a job at the Admiralty. His prior visits here were not all that pleasant and he never could get used to the place. Better to have the deck of a starship under your feet than the large expanses of stone, concrete, steel and such. However, if all these other people could get used to it, maybe he could, too. If only they wouldn't change the place around so much! Maybe it was security's way of confusing would-be intruders, but it was probably just Starfleet engineers 'having fun.'
After some fancy maneuvering, he made his way to the group of turbolifts that were designated by the computer for his destination. There was a small crowd in front of the lifts and, taking a place in line, he waited perhaps a little less than patiently. He looked around nervously and wasn't sure why the lobby was so crowded, after all there weren't any special events or operations scheduled. Tomorrow was Academy graduation, but for some reason, this was a particularly busy day. He checked his chrono again realizing that if the lines didn't move any faster, he would be late.
Eventually, the doors of the turbolift snapped open to reveal an empty car. Immediately over two dozen humanoids rushed in. Accustomed to smaller ship-board turbolifts, Sulu was amused by the number of people that could fit into these larger units. With every stop the car made, it became even more obvious that he would be late.
Before reaching his floor, there were a total of seven stops. When he finally reached his desired floor, only two persons remained. He was the only person to get off at this particular level and did so quickly. The security team that occupied the corridor's main entry lobby studied him closely. Beyond them was the familiar bluish hue of a high energy force field. Sulu produced his I.D. card and passed through the first check point with minimum bother and loss of time.
Making his way down the nearly empty corridor, he picked up his pace and encountered another, more elaborate, security check. This one took more time than necessary, with both a voice and retina scan. Still, he tried to remain pleasant and hurry the process along as much as possible. After all, security was just doing their job.
Finally, he was on his way again. Two more turns, another long corridor and one more security check, the last one. Now he was really going to be late. After checking and rechecking his credentials, they finally let him through the remaining energy barrier. He was glad to be finished with this group. They had been the most difficult; logical since they were close to the highest levels of Starfleet Command personnel.
A short walk brought him to the office he was looking for. After a brief check of his uniform, he entered the outer office and reception area. An aide of captain's rank sat at a fleet issue desk amongst the clutter of a somewhat smallish office. The officer was preoccupied with his computer console and did not look up immediately.
Because Sulu was late, he immediately launched into his introduction, "Excuse me, Captain, but I am --"
"A bit late and red in the face as usual," a familiar voice said.
The captain looked up, revealing a grin and a friendly face. He continued the barb, "How are you doing, you old pirate?"
Sulu grinned back in recognition and from relief of encountering a friend. "Kyle! Did you send this summons as a joke or --"
Before he could finish the question, a third voice responded. "No, it's not a joke and I'd like to see you in my office at once, if that's acceptable."
Hikaru turned to see an Admiral standing to his immediate right. He never heard the nearby door open but responded to the senior officer in a proper manner, "Yes, sir."
Turning to enter the admiral's office, he noticed that the senior officer had not moved. Sulu hesitated, not knowing if he or Kyle had committed a breach in protocol or were in trouble until the senior officer spoke, "You, too, Kyle. You're part of this."
Kyle paled slightly but stood and followed dutifully if not reluctantly.
Admiral Kensington took his seat slowly, as if in thought. Then his face took on a look as if he were about to tell someone they only have a few days to live. "Take a seat, gentlemen." As Sulu and Kyle settled in, the elder offer continued. "Admiral Sulu you have arrived at a most 'opportune' moment."
With that statement, Kyle and Sulu relaxed a bit. Obviously this is not going to be a chewing out or a reprimand.
The admiral continued, "I'm putting together a special operation that should interest both of you." Kensington continued speaking quickly and studying Sulu and Kyle alternatively as if he was trying to read their minds. "Just a few days ago I thought I knew everything concerning James T. Kirk. Recently, though, I've spent a great deal of time reading about him. I've also studied the old Enterprise logs and the files on you and your fellow shipmates."
He paused again to collect his thoughts and then continued, a bit more animated. "The two of you are part of a very important segment of Starfleet history. The voyages of Enterprise set standards by which all ships are now compared. Now that I have studied Kirk I can appreciate how he instilled such motivation, loyalty and trust in his crews, correct?"
"Yes, sir," came the simultaneous response. The two were just a bit confused about where the conversation was going and what the 'old boy' was leading up to. Just about the time they were beginning to feel that the admiral was a few photon torpedoes short of a full load, Kensington confirmed it.
"How would you two feel about serving with Kirk again?"
Sulu was dumbfounded, "How's that again, sir?"
"I want you both to take a look at a recording, then we'll talk some more." Kensington then turned his desktop viewer towards Kyle and Sulu so they could watch the debriefing which had already been loaded and cued up. It was the same one the senior admiral had seen several times. As it played once more, he studied the faces of the two officers seated opposite him.
When it had concluded, he swung the viewer back to its standard position and removed the data tape. Then he spoke again. "I'm convinced that Kirk is alive and being held captive by the Romulans. I also believe that we can rescue him, but the success of such an operation would depend on a number of factors. First of these is the participation by you two and a number of your former crewmembers."
Now a bit more relaxed since the 'cat was out of the bag,' Kensington leaned back in his seat then quietly and methodically explained his thought processes and reasoning. "Kyle, I wanted you because you're an excellent planner, detail-oriented. You're also a quick thinker and able to adapt to any situation. Admiral Sulu, your record speaks for itself. Even Kirk himself commented on your abilities as a tactician and an officer of the line. While your availability was an incredible stroke of luck, I would have requested your presence regardless. One of your friends posted a notice that you were in the building, so I managed to get you even earlier than expected.
"Since Admiral Scott is currently building the new Enterprise, his inclusion is not only logical but imperative. In short, we need his abilities since he's more familiar with the 1701-B than anyone else. I thought other former crewmembers of the Enterprise might be interested and it just so happens that more than a few are, or could be made, available. I leave the specific choices up to you. In the interest of expediency, I've already taken the liberty of recalling a few key people you might need. If you decide not to use them, their presence can be easily explained with the upcoming shakedown cruise of the 1701-B. In any case, that's what we will tell all of them unless the mission is approved; they're just here for the shakedown. In any case, we'll still be a bit short in numbers, but with the Academy graduation tomorrow, you'll have any number of personnel at your disposal, but keep the crew to a minimum.
"Also, the Klingons are part of the mission simply out of necessity. First, General Koord is an old friend of Kirk. Second, he's familiar with the Romulan Imperial Palace. Last of all, he has access to the very latest in cloaking technology." Smiling slightly he added, "After all, we can't very well go to Romulus in a shiny new starship 'flying the Federation flag off the main mast,' can we?"
Both Sulu and Kyle smiled at the suggestion. "No, sir."
Kensington continued, "Kyle, you've were wondering why I have been out of the office, missing my appointments and working odd hours. This is why." He then pushed a number of folders and data padds towards the two. "Inside you will find preliminary plans for 'Phoenix.' Take a few minutes to look at them and then we will talk some more."
The two began eagerly reading the various documents while Kensington occupied himself with his desktop console. Periodically, they exchanged documents and padds. After about twenty minutes, the two were finished and placed the materials back on the admiral's table.
Hikaru was the first to speak. "Sir, does Starfleet Command approve of this mission?" What he really meant was do they know about it. Kensington was known for being a bit... eccentric.
"Aware, yes, but right now we only have about a 50/50 chance of approval. That's why your plan has to be perfect. If anyone starts poking major holes in it, that may provide an excuse to kill any rescue attempt whatsoever.
"I'll leave all of the details up to you two. You can use anyone else you feel you need. However, keep the number of fully briefed people to a minimum; a need-to-know basis only. If word leaks out, the mission is a scrub. Also, if we can't get approval, I don't want to have a full scale revolution of Starfleet personnel."
Now the senior admiral stared hard at Sulu and became very serious. "If we can't go, there will be no stealing starships or unauthorized missions. All interested parties must give their approval. Also, if the mission does proceed and should it fail, I don't want any persons claiming it was doomed from the start. So plan carefully, leave no detail unattended, understood?"
"Understood." Sulu tried not to take the implication personally. He was aware of the political and diplomatic aspects of the situation of such an undertaking.
Kyle added, "Is there anything else we should be aware of?"
"Romulus is a powder keg. Our latest reports show that a full scale civil war is pretty much inevitable; it's just a matter of time. What I envision for you is a quick in and out mission. Get Kirk and the others out of there and back here before the Romulans know what has happened. If Starfleet is suspected, that's one thing. However, if they capture a rescue team or take a starship to prove their point, then the Federation can be accused of precipitating all the problems of the Romulan Empire.
"They're responsible for their own mess, so let's not give them a scapegoat. If they fight each other, it's no concern of ours as long as it doesn't spill over the neutral zone. If they can prove we were there, for whatever reason, then the Romulan Senate, Praetor, military and general population will be united as never before and we will be the targets.
"Time is critical, the sooner you get out of here and on your way, the better your chances are, and Kirk's, too, for that matter. To that end, I need a complete operational package no later than 0700 hours tomorrow. I will present your proposal to Walking Bear for approval at that time. If we get the green light, the clock will begin and you'll only have a few hours to clear port with everything you need. Any further details can be worked out between approval and departure. The Klingons have pledged to be here by then."
"What resources do we have at our disposal?" Sulu was now caught up in the concept.
"Anything and everything, just use the code name 'Phoenix' and it's yours. There are two 'Phoenix' files. One is ours; the other is a less sensitive, and therefore more accessible, file on the launching of the new Enterprise. Any curious persons requesting information about 'Phoenix' will get just that, the resurrection of the Enterprise and information regarding 1701-B." He slid another data padd towards Sulu and added, "You'll need to use my personal access codes to enter the special 'Phoenix' file.
"Who do we report to?" Kyle asked quietly.
"Me. You two will be working under my orders and direction, but completely independent from now on. You can also use the services of Lieutenant Manousos, who is responsible for getting this operation started; he's currently working on locating some additional Enterprise personnel for you. There are other Starfleet Divisions that may be helpful to you, so I've listed a few."
A very practical question struck Sulu. "Are we to be volunteers on this mission?"
The Chief of Spec Ops looked a bit surprised, but understood the implication of the question and the reason for asking it. "Not so far, but at the appropriate time, this mission will definitely be on a strictly volunteer basis." There was a pause, and then he asked the obvious question. "Are you two ready to go to work under the conditions I have stated?
There was a resounding, "Yes, sir!" Sulu took the data padd in front of him, then he and Kyle rose quickly from their seats.
Kensington followed their lead and smiled broadly, "Good!"
The threesome made their way towards the outer office, stopping just short of the door activation sensors. Sulu turned to address Kyle, "When's the last time you had to burn the midnight oil?"
Kyle looked over Sulu's shoulder and addressed his C.O. indirectly. "Are you kidding? Working for this slave driver? I have no social life at all."
Kensington only half suppressed a laugh and replied, "Don't you believe it, the reason I hired him was because he never had a social life to begin with."
Sulu laughed at Kyle's embarrassment, a fair turnabout from his earlier entrance.
Even Kyle smiled and accepted an easy defeat. "All right, I'm the junior officer here and I'm going to catch it from both of you, so I give up now."
The humor was welcomed as a relief from the earlier tension. Kensington seemed the most relaxed, as if a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. "I'll be in and out of the office all day, but keep me updated through the secure 'Phoenix' file. If you run into any problems, I'm always available." He smiled slightly and added, "I want Kirk and the others home again as much as you do."
With that, Kyle and Sulu exited Kensington's office.
The office door closed behind them; suddenly it was very quiet and the two then sat down hard. Finally Kyle looked at Sulu with a slight smile. "Well, Admiral, where do we begin?"