"Have you heard of Barido IV?" Was the
question posed by the Admiral Daniel Evans. More of a way of opening
the conversation than it was a true query.
Everyone had heard of that star system,
Lawrence thought. Dead planets, one which had supported a thriving
civilization a millennia ago... but no more. Now there was nothing
but desolation. A ghostly planetary system, one which had often been
cited in academy lectures... It was so long ago.
"Wasn't it used as a prime example of
planetary degradation caused by radioactive soil, the result of a
dirty war?" TE answered with a question.
Evans had frequently opened his
conversations with Lawrence in this manner. It was almost as if he
wanted someone to talk with rather than just another captain to
issue orders to. "Yes," the admiral continued, "It's something which
may be on the front burner soon. We're still downloading information
from Starfleet about a very large solar flare in the system. You may
get some updates in the near future, but that's not my business with
"Today, we have a problem of much greater
concern, one which could easily become the problem in the Third
Quadrant. As you know from previous updates, something of great
importance is occurring within the Romulan Star Empire. Quarterly
confrontational incidents with them have dropped to the smallest
number in the last thirty years. Every time this has occurred in the
past, we have learned that they were being occupied by enemies on
other frontiers or they were preparing for a major incursion into
the Federation. Either way, we must be informed. Without answers, we
have no way of developing options."
Sensing another set of orders coming up
for another tour along the 'Zone,' Lawrence responded by pushing a
request for something better.
"Admiral, I know my crew is 'chomping at
the bits' for a chance to do something out of the ordinary. I'd hate
to see us waste all our work on a tour of picket duty along the RNZ.
"Hold your horses, TE, that's not the
direction I was heading. If you'd listen for a change instead of
thinking ahead in all our conversations, we might make some
progress. Contrary to treaty agreements, we established a covert
listening post on Vecca III in the RNZ (Romulan Neutral Zone) eight
months ago. We staffed it with Starfleet's best. What little
communication they have been able to send out is very disheartening.
An operative recently extracted from the project indicated the
possibility that the post had been discovered or at the least, the
Romulans had become suspicious. We have to get them out... soon.
Both the unit and the information they possess is of utmost
importance to the Federation. I must tell you now, TE,.. there is
nothing higher on the OPS Board than this mission. It must be
accomplished immediately... it must be accomplished covertly... it
must be done successfully... or don't come back. It's that
Having impressed Lawrence with the urgency
of the operation, and the need for haste, Admiral Evans followed
with the few details he had available and wished her and the PHOENIX
godspeed. His countenance faded from the screen and was immediately
replaced by The Third Fleet's logo.
Captain Lawrence sat for some minutes
staring at the screen which had now gone blank. A sentence seemed to
be burned into her memory... It must be accomplished immediately...
it must be accomplished covertly... it must be done successfully...
or don't come back! He knew what "or don't come back" meant. The
Admiral had used that phrase before... it meant exactly what it
said. She hoped to hell this didn't turn into a suicide mission.
Pushing back from her desk, Lawrence hit her comm. panel and spoke,
A response came promptly from her First
Officer, "Captain... Bridge... Commander Stryker?"
"Commander, Make all preparations for
getting underway. Alert Navigation to the Vecca System. Officer's
Call in fifteen minutes. We have a new mission!"