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Story: Final Mission (Ch 6 ⋅ Sec 28)   

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Table of Contents McCoy hurried all of the way to his appointment. Unfortunately, the many security checks slowed him down considerably. Because of this, the doctor made sure that every security person along the way knew that fact. Even after leaving any given check point, his displeasure continued until he was far beyond the hearing range of the security team in question.

By the time he reached the fourth and final security station, he was within sight of the 'Admiral's Briefing Room.' The location was informally named that because the Admiral of the Fleet was usually the person that called for the meetings. When McCoy got the word to see Walking Bear at this location, he wasn't exactly happy, but why here and not in his office? If he was due for a 'chewing out,' hopefully, it wouldn't be in front of a large group.

As he left the last check point, the surgeon looked up to see two familiar faces approaching from the opposite direction; Riley and Chekov. He waved and hollered, quietly, to his two old friends. However, it was unnecessary as they had already spotted him and were on the way to greet him.

Riley reached McCoy first and began pumping his arm off with a vigorous and genuinely affectionate handshake. There was a special bond between the two men. McCoy had saved Riley years ago when he was poisoned. Ever since that day, the very grateful Riley had been a close friend.

"Hiya, Doc! What ya' been up to lately? I haven't seen you in a long time!"

McCoy was about to answer to answer Kevin when Chekov gave the doctor a gentle slap on the back and then a traditional Russian bear hug.

"Doctor, it is a genuine pleasure to see you again. Are you vell?"

While rubbing his shoulder and trying to return circulation back into his hand, the doctor responded, somewhat breathless, "I was just fine, until a few moments ago. What are you two rascals up to?"

Chekov replied matter-of-factly. "I vas recalled to attend an important meeting here. Riley hitched a ride with me to check up on the new Enterprise and he's been invited, too. Are you here for the same meeting?"

Once again the doctor had no time to respond as another familiar voice called out from behind the three friends. "What the devil is a civilian doing in this part of Starfleet Headquarters?"

The trio turned in unison to see Montgomery Scott, Nyota Uhura and Hikaru Sulu, all smiling like proverbial Cheshire Cats. Sulu was pointing an accusing finger at Riley, the only person not in uniform.

Then they all rushed towards each other and began a flurry of hand shaking and hugging, with a number of 'how are you' and 'good to see you again' greetings thrown in.

After a few moments, McCoy looked at the others with a suspicious gaze. Finally, he broke the silence. "Now what do you suppose Starfleet wants with the members of their finest crew?"

He was answered by a man who could provide the answer to that and many more questions, Admiral of the Fleet Eli Walking Bear. He seemed pleased by the informal gathering, although none of the former Enterprise crew members could imagine why. "If you will join me inside, I believe I can help you, Doctor."

Walking Bear was standing just inside the main entrance of the meeting room. During the small reunion in the hall, the group had failed to notice the doors opening or the presence of the elderly admiral. Now that he had the attention of the Enterprise alums, he turned to take his place at the head of the conference table. The doors remained opened until all of them followed the Grand Admiral, as he was sometimes referred to, into the large room. They were greeted by an equal number of familiar faces and strangers.

Scattered around the conference table were; Saavik, Kyle, General Koord, DeSalle and, most surprisingly, Ambassador Sarek. McCoy was now convinced that this gathering was connected to the forthcoming launch of the new Enterprise. However, it did not explain the presence of Sarek. Maybe it was a sense of debt or obligation to this crew for saving Spock.

All of the former crewmates exchanged brief greetings around the table, albeit in a somewhat subdued manner, befitting the location and the presence of the Grand Admiral. As they did so, a security team appeared from nowhere and activated every entry door locking mechanism, exiting just before the last door closed. Evidently this meeting was to be top secret. A security team this deep inside Starfleet Headquarters would normally seem unnecessary, but maybe there was a reason other than the launching ceremony.

Walking Bear then took the podium, no junior officer for an introduction and no preliminaries. Evidently the 'old man' was being very informal or he was cutting straight to the reason for the gathering. What minor conversations there had been, were ended quickly and the room became dead quiet as Walking Bear cleared his throat to begin.

McCoy was seated next to Scotty and the surgeon gave his friend a small nudge. "I'll bet this is about the new Enterprise, right?"

Scott gave a very quiet and non-committal "Aye" and then turned towards Walking Bear in order to prevent any further conversation.

The tactic worked. McCoy shrugged and became silent, at least for the moment. However, he continued to 'harrumph' throughout the meeting.

Starfleet's most senior officer began speaking in a monotone voice. "Fellow officers, and honored guests. I would like thank you all for attending this meeting, especially those of you who received little or no advanced warning."

McCoy let go with his first harrumph, quietly.

"I know that you all must be wondering why I've called you here. In a few minutes, I will turn this meeting over to Ken and he will provide you with the reason. However, I must insist on a few conditions." Any hint of pleasantness faded as his voice and manner hardened. "First and foremost, no matter what is discussed and decided here today, all information is to be considered an ultra-secret by Starfleet and the Federation. Absolutely no discussion of any information presented during this meeting will be permitted. Failure to maintain absolute secrecy will have dire consequences for the individual breaching security. Any breach may be far-reaching, threatening the peace of the Federation and perhaps the galaxy itself. Do I make myself clear?"

A general murmur of agreement followed. The only distinguishable response being Sarek's "Agreed."

Satisfied, Walking Bear continued. "Second, this is to be a roundtable discussion. It is why each of you are here. You are invited, and expected, to participate freely. For the time being, rank and formalities are suspended."

Overwhelmed by the Admiral's many stipulations, everyone merely nodded in understanding.

Walking Bear now adopted a barely perceptible relaxed manner and continued. His next words took on a less foreboding tone. "At this point, I'm going to turn this meeting over to Admiral Kensington, Chief of Special Operations. He is the reason we have all been brought together. Ken?"

The Grand Admiral quickly took his seat next to the podium. From the other side of the podium, Kensington stood with two data tapes in hand. He inserted one into the podium for recording the meeting and placed the other nearby.

The Chief of Spec Ops surveyed the group of faces gathered around the oversized, black onyx table. "I suppose the first order of business is introductions. Since I'm left-handed, I'll start to my left.

"My aide, a former crewmember of the old Enterprise and co-planner of the proposed operation we are here to discuss, Commander Kyle.

"Next is Lieutenant Sharpe, a recent addition to my staff. His reports and intelligence work is what got the ball rolling, so to speak.

"Then we have Colonel Cee, senior officer in Starfleet's Special Forces. His team rescued Ambassador Gor'tha last month from Orion pirates.

"Seated next to him is Admiral Sulu, the other co-planner, who has just recently been promoted following his extended mission aboard the Excelsior. Admiral Sulu is also a former crewmember of the Enterprise.

"At Sulu's side is our Chief of Yards and Supervisor of Starfleet Construction, Admiral Montgomery Scott. Once Chief of Engineering aboard the old Enterprise, he is currently putting the finishing touches on the latest Enterprise, the '01-B."

Scotty smiled broadly and acknowledged the introduction with a simple, "Aye!"

Kensington continued, "Next is Doctor McCoy, formerly Chief Surgeon on the '01 and '01-A, and is now an Associate Surgeon General of Starfleet.

"Seated next to the doctor is Captain Chekov, currently the C.O. of the Invincible and another alumnus of the Enterprise.

"Our next guest is Mister Kevin Riley, a former Enterprise crewperson but currently department head of Engines and Related Systems for Cochrane Industries.

"Then we have Captain Johnston, head of Starfleet Intelligence."

Johnston nodded in acknowledgement but the look on her face suggested a woman who was either not happy to be present or was slated to be the bearer of bad tidings.

"For now, I will skip the empty chair. I understand that the intended occupant is in transit. Next in line is a most distinguished and honored guest, the current President of the Federation Council, Madam M'Sheera. We are very happy that you were able to attend our meeting today."

In response, the leader nodded politely to acknowledge the Admiral's introduction, then smiled slightly. It would be the only time the Caitian smiled during the entire meeting.

Kensington continued, "Next is Captain DeSalle, Department Chair of Military History and Tactics at the Academy. He, too, is a former Enterprise officer.

"Captain Uhura is next. She is currently the C.O. of the Epsilon Communications Array and the U.S.S. Zhukov. Prior to that, she was the communications officer on the '01 and '01-A.

"Next to Captain Uhura is Commander Saavik, currently C.O. of the Kearsarge and one time member of the Enterprise crew as well.

"Our next guest is well known throughout the Federation, Ambassador-at-Large Sarek. He is acting as the official representative of the Federation Diplomatic Corps. We are honored by your presence, sir."

Sarek nodded almost imperceptibly, otherwise his features remained impassive.

"We are also honored by the presence of two special guests. First of all, we have the current Klingon liaison officer to Starfleet, Admiral Karn. I owe the Admiral a special thanks as he is responsible for contacting our next guest and our dear old friend, General Koord. He is Commander of Front Line Defense Forces of the Klingon Empire. We thank you both for your attendance."

The Klingon General grunted and smiled, "My pleasure. I've been away too long."

Kensington nodded back to Koord and then finished the introductions. "Next is Captain Tek, personal aide to Admiral of the Fleet Walking Bear.

"Finally we have the Grand Admiral himself, my deepest thanks to him for affording me the opportunity to present my proposal, 'Operation Phoenix.'"

The Chief of Spec Ops picked up the remaining data tape and rolled it end to end in his hand while he spoke. "Some of you had to be briefed ahead of time. That was necessary so that a great deal of planning could be done to prepare for this meeting. In order to bring everyone up to speed, I have a very special data tape in which you will hear Lieutenant Sharpe's voice. He conducted the interview you are about to see and will answer any questions you may have about it."

With that said, Kensington placed the data tape into the appropriate slot. The large U.F.P. emblem behind him dissolved into an immense viewer. Immediately, a larger than life image of Harry Mudd appeared.

During the playing of the data tape, not a single sound was made by anyone. In fact, no one moved. Everyone was completely entranced by the image and the words. Even those who had previously viewed the recording were transfixed.

When the tape finished, Kensington took the podium again and waited for the inevitable reactions.

President M'Sheera was the first to speak. "Just how reliable is this information? That man, Harry Mudd, is --" the Caitian bureaucrat corrected herself mid-sentence "-- was he reliable?"

Johnston fielded the question for Kensington. "Mudd was one of my operatives. He had been doing covert work for the Agency, gathering information of all types, from within the Romulan Empire. More recently, he had been working on the Romulan home world itself. During the past several years, everything he gave to us proved to be 100% accurate. I hate to lose him."

The former crewmembers of the Enterprise just stared at each other with an incredulous look of 'Harry Mudd, a spy?'

M'Sheera pressed the point further. "What about his statement?"

Kensington's gaze fell on Sharpe and gave the officer a cue to speak by giving the man a more detailed introduction. "As I stated before, Mister Sharpe started this whole process by conducting the original debriefing. I'll let him explain."

Sharpe was nervous. He wasn't unsure of his facts or the validity of Mudd's statement, but the gathering of so many senior officers and V.I.P.'s in one place was very intimidating. "When Outpost Seven sent out a notice about Mister Mudd, the sector's intelligence team recognized the importance of the man. None of their people were in the immediate area and, given Mudd's precarious medical condition, I was requested to handle a security debrief."

"What were your usual duties, Commander?" The question came from Checkov.

"I was Chief of Security at Starbase Forty-nine, sir. That is, until three days ago. I'm now attached to Spec Ops."

Johnston cleared her throat, perhaps intentionally.

When no further questions were forthcoming, Sharpe continued, "Mister Mudd arrived at my duty station in stasis. He had a variety of injuries and wounds. Since Outpost Seven had minimal medical facilities, it was decided to transport him to a more suitable location where he could receive the proper care."

Sharpe was now becoming more at ease speaking before the group and continued at an increased pace. "As soon as he arrived, the medical teams went to work on him. I attended the initial exam and remained with him until... the end. The Chief Medical Officer, Doctor Hudson, informed me that there wasn't much to be done, other than making Mister Mudd comfortable."

McCoy sounded off with a typical, but quiet, 'harrumph.'

Sharpe either did not hear him or chose to ignore McCoy and continued without missing a beat. "It was at this point Doctor Hudson suggested, if I wished to get a statement, I had better get it soon! Without waiting for orders from Intelligence or Security Command, I conducted a de-briefing. Mudd requested I listen, so mostly, I just let him talk as it seemed important to him. I only spoke to help him focus as needed.

"At first I thought he was crazy or hallucinating, but the more he spoke, the more I became convinced he did know something important. He fought to remain lucid and seemed determined to tell me. As you all saw, he was very adamant about what he witnessed. He was also very relieved when he finally told me, as if he was rid of a great burden. It was almost as if it was his only reason to stay alive. Once the burden was lifted..."

"We at Starfleet believe that Kirk and the others are still alive, or at least, in stasis." Kensington then continued, speaking to the Federation Council President. "Due to the unstable social and political climate now prevalent on Romulus, we feel that any action that might be taken must be done so as soon as possible."

M'Sheera spoke in a suspicious manner. "Just what type of action are you proposing, Admiral?"

Without pausing, the response came back to a very startled audience. "We wish to launch a rescue mission in order to bring back as many of the survivors as possible."

There was an audible gasp from half of the room's occupants.

A very interested Saavik spoke. "Just how had you planned to do this?"

"We will use the new Enterprise. It is nearly ready and only one minor modification will be necessary for our purpose. Mister Scott, can you give us a rundown on the new Enterprise?"

Montgomery Scott spoke with his usual manner of confidence. "The Admiral is correct. The '01-B is very close ta ready. Mostly, it lacks a shakedown o' th' warp drive and impulse engines, but all simulations hae been at 100%. We will use th' shakedown cruise as a cover story for our departure."

Kensington began laying out the plan, "Admiral Sulu will command the overall operation. He's the perfect choice and had already been selected to perform the shakedown cruise. In addition, he has over ten years of experience commanding a ship of his own. He is also an excellent tactician and has had previous dealings with the Romulans. He will command the crew as soon as they are assigned."

M'Sheera was appalled, "You don't even have a crew yet?"

"It's a matter of security, Madam President." Tek was bristling but unusually restrained. "If we had already assembled a crew without prior approval of our mission, then we would risk a security breach. Right now, only four people outside this room know about this. Would you rather have even more people know?"

"Besides," added Chekov, "I know vhere I can find enough volunteers right away!" The Russian stood to emphasize the point, showing his status as a potential volunteer. One by one, so did most of the others, only the Federation President, Grand Admiral, Chief of Intelligence and Sarek remained seated.

"I thought that might be the case," said Walking Bear. "Please be seated."

The Federation President was still unimpressed. "I'm not a military genius, but even I know that a starship requires a larger crew than what you have here!"

Immediately DeSalle picked up on the cue and spoke eagerly. "Madam President, the Academy will have graduation ceremonies tomorrow. Within that class are a number of excellent candidates for our mission. All are extremely qualified and very enthusiastic about their first shipboard assignment, whatever that might be."

"That's great, a ship full of inexperienced... 'children.'" The president was visibly agitated and unimpressed.

"You'd be surprised what you can do with new Academy graduates, right Saavik?" McCoy finished the comment with a confident grin.

The doctor's comment caught Saavik off guard, but she recovered quickly. "Yes, I can recall a time when Starfleet sent out the previous Enterprise with only 'children' aboard and we did just fine, thank you."

"Besides, there will be others," McCoy added in defiance. "As soon as this operation is approved, we could fill the Enterprise several times over with many experienced people."

"Not possible," Tek said. "We must keep the number of crewpersons to a minimum. Therefore the operational crew for this mission will be reduced."

Now everyone seemed to loosen up and jumped into the verbal melee.

"Just how minimal of a crew vere you planning, sir? Chekov sounded genuinely curious.

Uhura was next. "In order for this operation to have a chance, we must have the right people and enough of them to get the job done." Her concern was palpable and understandable.

"Who will have the final say on staffing?" Riley asked "Admiral Kensington?"

Picking up the gauntlet, Kensington spoke. "Some of the staffing has been established to a certain extent, starting with Captain Cee."

The stocky Deltan rose to speak. "I have a special team assembled to assist in the actual rescue, but they can also function as crewpersons until then. Each one is Starfleet trained and qualified."

"How many?" Sulu asked.

Answering as he sat, Cee replied, "A team of six."

"Oh, that's great!" The President was on the attack again. "Well, two times nothing is still nothing!"

"Both Saavik and I have active crews from which we could solicit volunteers," Chekov offered.

"And, you may have the service of the Empire." Karn was smiling as he spoke. "I would consider it an honor to serve; under Admiral Sulu's command, if you so wish."

"He speaks the truth," said Koord. "I can guarantee each and every man on board the Firestorm will serve, if needed."

McCoy gave the president a smug look as if to say, 'so there,' then added another one of his harrumphs as emphasis.

"Impossible," said the President. Her orange fur stood up on end, indicating the Caitian was severely agitated. "I cannot allow it. The Klingons are welcomed allies, but they may not take an active part in this. The risks are far too great. If something were to go wrong while serving on a Federation vessel, it could be detrimental to the recent Federation/Klingon accord. Is this a correct assessment, Ambassador?"

Sarek spoke quietly. It was an attempt to restore order and calm a few frayed nerves. "I do believe that is a correct assessment. If a Klingon were to die or be captured while serving on a Starfleet ship within Romulan space, it could have far reaching consequences. It could even become a focal point for new hostilities with our Klingon friends."

Koord shook his head, "Not to worry, Ambassador. If you wish, I can make it an official order and I know the High Council will endorse it!"

This brought Walking Bear back into the discussion. "Ambassador?"

The elder Vulcan steepled his fingers slowly and then spoke as if he were in meditation. "Very well, but we must still look at this from all perspectives. If the rescue attempt is discovered, I believe the Romulans would kill the captives."

Uhura was horrified. "But why?"

"I think I can answer that," Kyle stated. "With the Starfleet officers eliminated, we have no proof of their existence. Then we look like fools for entering their space. Is that it, Ambassador?"

Sarek nodded in agreement. "Essentially correct. However, it is only the beginning. If any of Captain Cee's team were caught, those prisoners could be used as proof that the Federation was to blame for the Romulans' current political and social problems."

"Poppycock," sputtered McCoy, "we didn't have anything to do with their problems. It's been going on for years."

"True enough, Doctor," Sarek continued. "But if we furnish the evidence, their government will have irrefutable proof to show their own people and, thereby, unify the masses against us!"

"Or worse yet," Johnston added hastily. "If the mission is a total failure and the team or even the ship is captured, then the Federation's security could be compromised. Should the Enterprise be taken intact, it could have disastrous consequences." Satisfied that she had made her point, Johnston sat quietly for the time being.

Scotty was livid as he directed his remarks to the Security Chief. "I wouldna' let it happen; none o' us would. The Romulans wouldna' take us or th' ship if it came ta' it!"

Everyone became quiet. The implication was obvious and Kensington broke the silence. "Let's get back to the original question which centers on the crew. I believe Admiral Sulu already has the answer to that question."

"I will need sixty-five," Sulu said flatly.

Karn was curious and shifted in his seat. "How did you arrive at that figure, Admiral?"

"We don't need any of the scientific divisions, security can be reduced to minimal and the same for the medical staff. I will have enough personnel for two shifts in engineering, communications, ship's defenses and command. If I include the officers here, plus Cee's team and others who can be brought in within twenty-four hours, I --" he paused then restated "-- we, will need only thirty-two additional crew members, mostly from the engineering field."

The president was still playing the skeptic. "Are we supposed to believe those 'guestimates,' Admiral? Are you purposely underestimating the figures to minimize the perceived exposure or to impress us?"

Sulu tried not to show his frustration or anger, simply stating firmly and with confidence, "No, ma'am, it comes from years of experience commanding starships like the Excelsior."

Still unimpressed and determined to make a point M'Sheera pressed. "Why don't you use a smaller ship? That way you minimize risks and a smaller crew won't be a problem."

Scotty bristled, "Nay, we'll be needin' ta be sure we hae enough power for th' cloak, th' shields and ta' maintain speed."

A curious Sarek asked, "Why? Don't Klingon and Romulan ships have similar power problems?"

A smiling Koord provided the answer before Scotty had a chance. "Different power utilization curves, sir. Federation ships also have luxuries that we don't, plus larger computer systems, a more complex sickbay and more. Besides, the more power the ship has, the better its protection, a factor of major importance considering the mission."

M'Sheera reacted by going silent, temporarily, but Johnston continued. "Okay, just for the sake of argument, let's assume you get the crew you need, regardless of size. How do you propose to travel all the way from Federation space dock to Romulus without being detected?"

"That's the easiest part!" Kyle was grinning from ear to ear and enthusiastic.

"Precisely!" Karn's voice filled the large room easily and his sense of pride was unmistakable. "Our top scientific people have just finished perfecting a new cloaking device, the 'silent stalker.' It is capable of evading any detection devices, Federation or Romulan! Engineer Scott has figured out how to install it in the new Enterprise with only minor modifications, with the help of our people." He finished on a smile of pride.

M'Sheera interrupted, "All right, you get there unnoticed. How do you find the captives and get them out?"

"The answer comes in two parts," Kyle responded. "First, we have the services of General Koord." He nodded towards the old Klingon in recognition. "Sir, will you explain?"

Koord bowed slightly towards Kyle then turned to face M'Sheera. "For three years, I was the official liaison officer for the Klingon Empire. My duty assignment was the Romulan home world, within the Imperial Government Complex. I can help to guide the rescue party and give a location, based on Mudd's account and description."

"What else do you have to go on?" Johnston was curious, even if she was a little less than enthusiastic.

Nodding towards Tek, Kyle continued. "I believe the good captain has the next part."

Tired of sitting on the sidelines, Tek relished being the focal point of the team. "Most of the command officers here are aware of viridian transponders. Ever since the incidents surrounding the Camp Khitomer Conference --"

Koord snorted and McCoy harrumphed again.

"-- we've had them surgically implanted in all command grade officers. Once General Koord gives us a location, we should be able to pick up the captives' signals easily."

"Something's wrong." It was Johnston again. "Viridian devices can be detected up to two sectors distance. Why do you need Koord's directions?"

McCoy was ready to give Johnston a swift kick, but instead, provided the necessary information that just might placate the lady. "When a person is put into stasis, it slows all the bodily functions, it also reduces the range of the devices."

This caught Walking Bear's attention and he asked the obvious question. "What would the effective range of the device be under those conditions?"

No one really wanted to answer that question, but as an expert in the field of communications, Uhura was obligated to answer. "I could accurately track such a device from a distance of just over twenty meters, maybe a little less if the signal is within a shielded area or if the device is operating at reduced power."

"Reduced power?" Karn looked confused.

"Yes," Uhura continued, "The viridian transponder requires periodic replacement, so it may not be 100% effective."

"How often are they replaced?" M'Sheera asked.

"Every five years," McCoy responded reluctantly and quietly.

Tek offered a clarification before the others jumped to a hasty conclusion. "It is important to know that the device has been operating at a much reduced rate, just like the rest of the body while in stasis. Given that fact, the device should be fine."

The President glared at the Tellarite with disgust, "Should be? All of this planning on a 'should be?'" She was sputtering with anger, barely able to contain herself. "And what if it's not working at all?"

"That brings up the second part; Colonel Cee?"

"Then we use Koord's directions, proceed on a standard search pattern and do the best we can." Cee was adamant. "But we do try. We don't abandon a half-dozen or more Starfleet officers simply because conditions aren't perfect!" Cee spoke with an air of authority that defied arguments and generated support from nearly everyone.

The former Enterprise officers smiled and turned towards the President who sat quietly and sullen.

"We have a ship, a crew and a rescue plan." Uhura was almost emotional. "How do you ensure the captives' chance for survival, considering their less than hospitable captivity?" Uhura was almost emotional.

"I would solicit the assistance of someone who specializes in Romulan physical abuses and extended stasis hibernation, which they use as a form of torture. Doctor Tavar, the Romulan defector. He works in the Surgeon General's Office and would be invaluable, providing post-rescue care. I think I could convince him to help us as well. Also, Doctor Chapel has, with the exception of me, more knowledge of deep space medicine than anyone I know. She's aboard Saavik's ship. I'm sure she would help us. Given these people, I can guarantee you all of a better than average survivability rate for the captives." McCoy sat back, satisfied with his explanation.

"Ambassador, do you still have reservations?" Walking Bear stared at the Vulcan looking for a visual cue that he knew wasn't to be seen.

Sarek had been silent as of late. It was his nature and to an equal degree, part of his job. He sat and listened to all sides of a debate before offering comments or suggestions, asking questions only to clear up a point or to put his own mind at ease. Now that he had been addressed directly, he spoke. "I would say that the Diplomatic Corps would prefer a more open solution. Perhaps we should try asking the Romulans if they would be interested in returning the officers in question."

McCoy let out a gasp of exasperation, but it was DeSalle who actually vocalized the group's general feelings. "They will deny their presence and if we press with our information, they would kill any survivors, just as you stated earlier."

Sarek was not deterred. "I feel the Federation must try a different approach or risk the consequences if the rescue is discovered. If nothing else, we are in violation of treaty which prohibits a Federation from entering the Neutral Zone, far less Romulan space. A war with the Romulan Empire is a distinct possibility."

Kensington picked up the ambassador's figurative gauntlet. "I believe the possibility of a war is remote at best. The odds of the team being discovered or captured are quite low and that in itself would preclude the possibility of war. Otherwise I would not have put forth this proposal. I do not risk the lives of fellow officers unnecessarily."

"Besides, Ambassador, we have made certain, 'arrangements' which strengthen Admiral Sulu's argument," Cee said.

"Just what arrangements are you referring to?" Sarek asked innocently.

Cee became a bit nervous and looked to Kensington for a cue. The admiral nodded once in approval and Cee spoke directly to Sarek, ignoring the others for a moment. "My people are prepared to die in case of discovery or capture." He let the statement speak for itself and became silent.

The president jumped to her feet in an outbreak of emotion, her neck fur bristling once again. "You must be joking!" Then she turned to Kensington. "Is this true?"

Tek spoke for Kensington. "It is true. Each of Cee's team members volunteered for an unspecified mission, knowing that capture was not an option. This is the only way that a mission of this type could be contemplated. The rescue team must be considered expendable."

M'Sheera sat, stunned to silence by the revelation.

Sarek was unmoved. "I do not believe that approval of this mission can be achieved without an overture to the Romulans to ensure that the Federation will not be pulled into a war."

Sulu was subtly agitated by Sarek's inflexibility. "Very well, just who would you deal with Ambassador?" He continued, firm and unwavering, "By all accounts, Romulus is in a state of near anarchy with multiple assassinations and more. Is there anyone in charge? Even the Romulan Ambassador to the Federation was recalled long ago." Sulu then studied Sarek closely, waiting for a response which was not forthcoming.

After a prolonged silence, Saavik spoke nervously. "Admiral Walking Bear, may I speak, sir?"

"It is why we are here, Commander, by all means."

Saavik rose and straightened her tunic, speaking directly to the Admiral of the Fleet. "Sir, I feel that the problems of staffing, politics and other specifics may get in the way of a more important issue. I believe we owe it to Admiral Kirk and other officers to attempt a rescue, no matter what the risks."

She took a deep breath then, spoke to no one in particular, altering her gaze from side to side. "After my graduation from Command School, my first assignment was with Captain Kirk. I saw in him an excellent officer and a great teacher. But more important, he instilled in all of us, the importance of loyalty and self-sacrifice. Also worth considering was his dedication to the Federation; he gave everything in its service. He saved this planet from destruction on two separate occasions. He risked his life and career to save the life of his friend, Ambassador Spock, and lost his only son in the process. He risked his life many other times, just to ensure the safety of his ship, his crew, his friends, Starfleet and the Federation itself. Admiral Rya is held in equal esteem on his home world. All the others have been good, loyal officers as well and deserve to be brought home. If this rescue is not approved, then Starfleet and the Federation had better take a long hard look at themselves and what they really stand for."

Saavik sat down and for some time the room remained quiet.

Then McCoy added quietly, "Should it be made public that we did nothing to rescue those officers, you'd have a full scale mutiny throughout Starfleet."

"Is that a threat?" The president's voice was filled with contempt.

McCoy was surprised at the response and tried to clarify. "Not at all, ma'am. I just wanted to emphasize the amount of support and respect Starfleet has for its fellow officers and especially Jim Kirk."

Both the president and McCoy seemed satisfied with the answer and finally Walking Bear rose and took the podium. "I appreciate all of the input received during this meeting. If there are no further comments, then I must remind everyone again that this meeting, and everything discussed here, is strictly classified. My office will issue a final decision after a private meeting with several 'concerned parties.' My aide, Captain Tek, will be in touch with you all, regardless of the decision. I want to thank each of you for your time and your valuable input."

Walking Bear activated an 'all clear' signal and the conference doors opened. He then left with Tek following close behind. Meanwhile, Kensington retrieved the now famous data tape and the official recording of the meeting and left at a clip. Moving slowly, Sarek followed, without any further comment or change in facial expression.

Slowly, the remaining attendees began to greet each other and engaged in small talk. All except M'Sheera and Johnston, who left separately through different doors.

The Klingons seemed to relish contact with the Starfleet officers, especially Koord. He embraced each one of them as if they were blood relatives. McCoy was a bit overwhelmed by the old Klingon. After he recovered, he looked around the room. The last time the old Enterprise crew was gathered here, it had nearly cost the doctor his life on Rura Penthe. The surgeon couldn't shake the horrible feeling that this mission could end up in a similar fashion.

Heaving a sigh, the doctor rushed off to catch up with his friends and tried hard not to think about the mission. After all, it might not even be approved.

The reunion celebration was very short. A few of the intended party members excused themselves from the gathering to complete preparations, with the hope that the mission would be approved. The Klingon liaison office was the location of the hastily organized party, with General Koord serving as the host. There was a wide variety of drinks representing traditional Klingon, Terran, Vulcan and Andorian types. McCoy also noticed Romulan ale, but steered clear of it. He still remembered his last encounter with the potent drink, while entertaining Chancellor Gorkon many years ago. However, the Klingons seemed to be focused on the stuff and for some strange reason, Karn had an entire keg of it. It seemed to be a part of a Klingon tradition or rite of passage.

Koord offered the opening toast with great enthusiasm and gave a short speech, extolling the virtues of the Empire, the Federation and the Grand Alliance, as he called it. Following the toast, Scotty and Kyle ducked out and Chekov was pulling at Riley's sleeve as if he had a hot date.

The Russian seemed nervous, probably due to pre-mission jitters. However, Pavel's worries were well founded. In fact, maybe this little get together was a real mistake, diplomacy and friendship be damned.

For some reason, McCoy had remembered the ancient adage, 'Loose lips sinks ships.' So the doctor began warning the others not to overdo the imbibing lest it affected their ability to maintain complete control. His words brought the initial joy of revelry and the renewal of friendship, back to a stark reality. If the mission was cancelled due to a break in secrecy, they would never forgive themselves. Eventually, the Federation personnel began to drift out. When the doctor left, only the Klingons remained. By this time, they all seemed blissfully unaware that the others had left.

McCoy made his way into the heart of the Headquarters building and found Uhura talking to Riley. While renewing their friendship, they noticed the doctor and motioned him to join them.

"Doctor, I heard you had a real 'cushy' job somewhere in this building." Riley was smiling warmly and had the glint in his eye that suggested the doctor was being teased.

"Not any more than your overpaid position at Cochrane Industries, Kevin. Just how did you manage to land such a 'cushy' job?"

Embarrassed, Riley explained, "All of that training from Scotty. I was just telling Nyota about it; seems she was impressed by Mister Scott as well." Again, there was the glint and smile.

"We were married, doctor." Now it was Uhura's turn to smile.

"Congratulations, Nyota!" McCoy gave her a big hug. Then a small frown appeared, "Why wasn't I invited?"

"It was a spur of the moment decision, Doctor. No offense was meant."

"Well, I'm happy for you both." He looked around and noticed that their small reunion was getting attention. "Let's go to my office and continue this conversation, shall we?"

McCoy led the way with Uhura and Riley close at this side.

© 2019 Brad McDonald / U.S.S. Kitty Hawk