Ultimatum: Part 2
Location: CO's Office: USS Bettina
Kathleen's smile was....oh hell....
"Why yes, I do believe there is something that you could be most beneficial in helping with. I assume you noticed our friend's discomfort with us talking to the Vidiian leadership on planet. Perhaps we should actually go through with that. The key to this may lay there."
"Assuming you use the term 'friend' loosely, I do believe I noticed that discomfort. If I can track them down, I'd be happy to talk to them..." Andrew stopped for a moment. "Did Rosaleen tell you about her theory about the Vidiian involvement before she left? We may already have that key."
Kathleen nodded. "It was one of several theories that we tossed about. I can tell you this now, as you are pretty much in the core now. We have fairly good intel on the whereabouts of their theater commander's post. I have some assets working to firm that up a bit...figure two days we can be a go for mission. I'll send a small team in. Figure you and three others." She glanced at the comm panel as it chimed, but it was something that could wait given the department calling. "You can bet your ass the Vidiian's are expecting full support from this Protectorate. I wonder how they will feel when they find out they are not going to be cut into the deal after all." She saw the look on Andrew's face. "Hey...for all we know that is the truth. But what's important is that you sell it as such."
Andrew chuckled. "I don't have to sell them anything. I have a sound clip from a Protectorate member saying that..." He tapped his PADD, and McCarthy chimed in with "To be blunt, the Council no longer see's the need for continued operations here. They obviously do not want to be part of what we have managed to build over the centuries. Why should we waste any more lives and resources on them?" He looked at Kathleen. "She taped the interview. No reason I shouldn't have."
"I love your style, Commander. Rosaleen chose well." It came out before she even realized she had said it. 'Dammit. "I'm sorry, Commander...that is not my place to even mention."
Andrew nodded. "I won't mention it if you don't." Though since both of you can go through my shields like they don't exist, I can't guarantee that's the end of it. Ah well, one situation at a time. "As to my style, well, when you spend a few years with Cardassian diplomats, you get a master class in documentation and verbal evasion - and an unfortunate tolerance for kanar."
Memories of a late night party at the Academy were dredged up at the mention of the Cardassian brew. "Yeah...that particular item was responsible for one of the worst hangovers I will probably ever experience. I swore I would never touch the stuff again." Another soft chime sounded...this time on her PADD. As she read the message, a smile spread across her features. "Well finally a bit of good news. The relay buoys are all in place now, and it appears that we can communicate with the station once again."
"I'll have the latest diplomatic updates sent over immediately. They'll probably be the last ones we get before the Council labels us as traitors or worse." He made a note to send a letter to his wife that evening, because he strongly expected that convenience to go away shortly after McCarthy got back to civilization. "How far do you trust Admiral Lunder to not be involved in this... travesty?"
"I don't trust anybody outside of a few people here...but...I don't see him endorsing something as stupid as this."
"If he has enough pull to do anything about this travesty before McCarthy shows up with her report card of our ineptitude, it might be a wise idea to let him know this is coming. A little light does wonders for shadow conspiracies." And now for the part that was distasteful. "And if at all possible, getting Councilor O'Donnell the hell out of Sol Sector would probably be wise. If they thought they could use Rosaleen as leverage against him, it's not that far a leap to think they might try to use him as leverage against our actions." Or my wife as leverage against mine, but one problem at a time. "I'll blame the Cardassians for that particular life lesson in keeping people in line, but it bears mentioning."
"Contact has been initiated with O'Donnell. Hopefully we can get him and his wife out of there as soon as possible." 'What about yours Kathy...' "For now, we need to start taking some steps to ensure the continuity of our operations." The air cooled quite noticeably this time. "If they try to make a move on us, Commander...we will protect ourselves and our charges by any means necessary. To that end...I am enacting the Nightshade Protocol immediately. That goes out to every ship, base, and all personnel under my command authority in this sector." She saw the look that immediately appeared on Andrews face. "We are cutting the ties, Mr Matheson. We are now on our own."
It took him a moment to place the protocol, but once he did he nodded cautiously. "Nightshade Protocol to your sphere of influence, aye, ma'am." That order had the distinct advantage of making most of his paperwork suddenly irrelevant, but there was going to be absolute hell to pay when this went public. "Any intel you have on the Viidian group would be useful, if you get a moment. My diplomatic colleagues have missed so badly on this one that I have to wonder how much of that was accidental."
"A very good question, Commander. Well...I guess I need to think about this little foray that I am planning to send you out on. Right now I am thinking You, Valentine from Intel, Jey, and Wilshire, the COB. She is ex-Marine so she should serve you well."
"That means I'll need to put in some time on the weapons range, since I'm probably the weakest link on the self defense chain in that group if things go as smoothly as everything else here has." He was still fully qualified on all Starfleet standard duty sidearms, but he hadn't had to fire one outside of quals in a decade. "And I guess we'll be figuring out what kind of telepathic qualities the Viidians have as we go."
Kathleen nodded. "The information that we have on them is sparse and very incomplete. Voyager did not exactly have time to do a detailed study." She paused for a moment as she pulled up a new data set, studying it a bit before commenting. "I want this to be passed along to them. The Federation is no longer the power in either this quadrant or this battle. I have a lot of military assets at my disposal, and I will use any and all of them to bring this to an end immediately. They can either cut their losses and go home, or they can be slaughtered. I'm through playing games with them."
Andrew nodded. "I'd much rather they cut losses, but that's up to them at this point. I'll try to convince them to see it that way." He took a look at the data; there were far more assets out here than he had been led to believe. If the commodore actually had control of all of them, this wouldn't end as badly as it otherwise could have. Of course, there were always going to be some people who resisted the Nightshade Protocol - which was going to make the next few days of figuring out who was on whose side absolutely fantastic.
"We get this done...we can go home and deal with the larger picture." She stood and walked around the desk, sitting on the edge by Andrew. "I'm going to need you, Andrew. As we move forward from here, you are the representative for our entire...hell, I don't even know what to call it. Organization? I guess that is as good as any. This region is going to need to organize, and fast. You are going to have to lead them." A smile finally reappeared on her face. "Besides, I look too young for anybody to take me too seriously."
He chuckled. "Well-behaved lieutenant commanders never made history. Then again, well-behaved lieutenant commanders don't usually tell Council reps to go away so we're probably all right on that score. And you and Rosaleen definitely make the beauty sleep work better than I do." He rubbed his chin, felt the beginnings of stubble, and recalled one of the many reasons he hated spending nights in sickbay. "I might have to have Lt. Denova handle the local government reps depending on the timing of this other mission until I get back, but he's qualified."
Kathleen smiled...the kind of smile that made one nervous because it usually meant you had either done something terribly wrong or terribly right. Which of the two was always anybodies guess. Without a word, Kathleen stood and walked over to the replicator on the far wall. She fiddled with it for a minute, then walked back to where Andrew sat, seemingly with nothing in her hands. She came up behind him, then in a surprise move wrapped her arms around his neck and put her head over his right shoulder.
"You may be right about one thing...well-behaved Lieutenant Commanders don't usually make history, however..." She leaned in even closer, opening her right hand. It contained a small pair of pips. Full pips. "...not so well-behaved full Commanders sometimes manage to pull of a thing or two."
Andrew went blank for a moment, trying to process what he was seeing. He hadn't remotely expected this turn in the conversation - though to be fair, he wasn't minding any part of it at the moment. His brain caught up with him at that point, and he lifted his right hand to take the pips. "Thank you, ma'am. I'd honestly given up hope of getting these at this point in my career."
He then turned his head to see the commodore. At that moment, his brain was hit with a few conflicting impulses. Part of him wanted to kiss his commanding officer. Part of him wondered where in the hell that idea came from. Part of him knew his wife was going to kill him the next time they linked minds. Part of him started looking forward, trying to see where this was all going - and setting off some more chroniton activity in his brain. The net result of all this left the rest of his brain - and him - standing there like a sculpture.
Kathleen kissed him lightly on the lips, then pulled away to return to her seat. "Don't worry. Rosaleen wont mind." She said with a wink. "And you have more than earned that, my friend. I was going to put in an official recommendation with Command. Now it's much simpler."
Half-dazed, Andrew asked "The kiss or the pips, ma'am?" before his brain caught up with the rest of what she had said. His face a delicate shade of crimson, he quickly swapped out the pips while he tried to get himself together. "Rosaleen said things would be complicated, but..." He shook his head. "That's a wholly different set of conversations I need to have with you and with her, I suspect. Not that I mind the situation..." Dear God, man, quit talking before you dig the whole so much deeper... "And as a career bureaucrat, I am heartily for the reduction of paperwork." He consulted his PADD. "So I take it at this point, the meeting with the local government representatives will be an invitation to join our organization, since the Council made it abundantly clear that they're not interested and that they don't want me speaking for them?"
"First of all, the Council no longer has any bearing on our actions. You work for me and me only now. As for our 'organization', well I am no politician. That will be up to the planetary governments out here to sort out. However, we are the only real power out here, and our base is over the Stratkas homeworld, so logic would dictate that we endorse Stratkas for the new seat of government here." She activated the rooms holo-system, which displayed a large star map in the air. As she entered a series of commands, numerous individual planets turned red. "Twenty-six planets in the region. This is what we have to help organize, which will be interesting as many of them do not like each other."
Andrew looked over the map, getting a feel for the scope of the project. "So at the minimum it would be advantageous to get as many of these parties as possible on-board with at least a non-aggression pact, and a mutual defense agreement would be even better..." He'd mediated a few of these situations in the past, but none with this many participants. "Any form of self-governance beyond that would be fantastic, but in the short term we have to get them on the same page. If the Council actually meant what they said about leaving the area to its own devices, we might actually have some time to regroup - but the Protectorate knows that we know about their plot out here, which will probably cause no end of headaches." He took another look at the map. "How many of these worlds are Federation allied? We probably need to get moving there sooner rather than later."
She entered another data set, which turned a much smaller number blue. "Six. That's it...that is the core we have to work with. Convince those, and the rest will be much easier. It will actually be a lot easier to organize the region now that we are free of the Council protocol set. As far as I'm concerned, the Prime Directive is entirely up to your interpretation on a case by case basis." She reached over again and deactivated the holo-system. "Anyway..enough business for a bit. My brain hurts." She stated with a laugh. "This has been the most interesting week of my life, I swear. Even more-so than our awakening."
He chuckled. "Agreed, enough business for now. I took enough JAG correspondence modules to make the situation work, but Prime Directive scholarship will give my brain a workout later." He looked around the office, making sure a foot wasn't about to plant in his mouth. "This has definitely been the most interesting week of my life. I don't think I've ever been exploded near, sniped at, and brain-warped across time and space in the same week - and I spent five years out on the Cardassian border." He chuckled. "I take it the awakening is something other than the recovery mission we had for Rosaleen?"
A warm smile...he really was in the inner circle now. "You assume correctly. Rosaleen and I are the children resulting from a Human/Ka'Bu union. The Ka'Bu DNA was suppressed...we were human in every sense. A chance encounter of the nanite kind...with the right combination of metaphasic radiation...caused the Ka'Bu DNA to awaken, then take over completely. We were completely unaware of our heritage. I panicked and contacted my mother...who took the first charter out to meet me. What a conversation that was, let me tell you."
"I'd like to say I can imagine, but I have no real basis of comparison for a life change that... complete." He thought about it for a moment, trying to comprehend it. "In that case, what was the situation we ran into getting Rosaleen back? I had vague perceptions of a pond, some woods, an older lady who didn't want me there, two psychic presences that REALLY didn't want me there, and the two of you that didn't seem to remember me." He blushed. "And if I need to apologize to anyone for that, I hereby do so. I really wasn't actively trying to intrude on wherever you all were."
"That was my first experience with the link." A she spoke, she had leaned down and was doing something under the desk that Andrew could not see. "To say I was completely overwhelmed is the understatement of the year, so I honestly did not recognize your essence. And Rosaleen...well, her circumstances were even more overpowering." She stopped what she was doing under the desk and leaned back in the chair, stretching out her legs and resting her now bare feet on the desk. The dress she wore did not give way to much more than just above her ankles. "Much better...where was...oh, yes. Anyway, it is a place where our kind can get together. As an outsider, well...you really don't belong there."
He nodded. "I sort of got that impression. It was a rather... odd sensation, to say the least. Almost like I was crystallizing - I couldn't move, but I could still think. If you have a background in Greek mythology, I imagine it's what Medusa's gaze would feel like." He chuckled. "Then again, that might have had something to do with a single-digit BPM heart rate and three breaths per minute rather than anything I was psychically sensing." Looking over the commodore's feet and outfit, a thought occurred to him. "Does your attire mean the rest of us can go a bit more casual, or is that a 'rank has its privileges' sort of thing?" At the minimum, getting out of purple shoulderpads after what the sniper had said could be advantageous.
That damned impish grin again. "I would have thought that you would have noticed by now that Rosa and I prefer dresses." She pointed to the red collar band. "Keeps it official. But, I think we could come up with something a bit more relaxed to use at times. But you know this more than anybody...right now a professional business-as-usual appearance is very important." The grin widened even more. "But it would seem you prefer your Ka'Bu with much less attire...at least that is what Rosaleen said. So if my dress really bothers you..." Her right hand strayed behind her neck where the clasp was located. Her eyes were alive with humor and laughter.
Andrew tried to keep the blood from rushing to his cheeks, but he wasn't sure if he succeeded. "Betazoid weddings have ensured that I probably won't die of embarrassment if you choose to make yourself more comfortable, ma'am. And since I'm already a dead man where my wife is concerned, I won't disagree with your assessment about Ka'Bu and their chosen attire." He took a breath. "And considering my first meeting with Rosaleen was with her wearing the smallest towel I'd ever seen come out of a replicator..." He chuckled. That wasn't even a week ago at this point.
Kathleen laughed out loud now, drawing her hand back in front of her. "I'm just funning you, silly. Besides, you have to ask Rosa's permission first for any of that. But yes...we prefer to waer as little as possible given the circumstances. Modesty is not really an issue with our kind. The less between our bodies and the enegry that surrounds us everywhere, the easier it is to absorb it." Her look turned a bit serious. "But if I may, why would your wife wish to kill you?"
He sighed. "It's rather a long list of reasons. I'm not sure which one is at the top of the list right now, but it's probably either the fact that I took this position in the first place or the fact that my closest associates are attractive females, one of which I have seen far more of than my wife would prefer. She's rather pissed with me that after four tours of duty out on the frontiers, I wasn't ready to resign and go to work filling a desk at Betazed Civil Services. The fact that this is essentially a fifth tour out on a frontier didn't help, even if it was a frontier she could come live with me on. The way it was presented to me by my boss in the Corps, they needed a snap decision on my accepting the post so I took it."
He took a breath and continued. "The last time we talked, although shrieked at each other is a better term, she told me that she needed some time to cool down and she'd be in touch in a couple weeks. That would have been a couple days ago at this point. The fact I haven't heard from her yet, or that our mental connection is fainter than it's ever been, seriously makes me think the next call I get will be a divorce proceeding. The murder part only ever comes in if she finds out about Rosaleen, and to a lesser extent you, both because of what Rosaleen's shown me and the fact that I'm enjoying both your company far more than she would prefer - which is to say, at all."
Looking up at Kathleen, he continued. "If it's absolutely not your place to talk about it, I understand, but what did you mean earlier when you said that Rosaleen chose well and that I'd have to ask Rosa's permission for..." He trailed off because there was no good way to express that sentiment to a commanding officer.
Kathleen smiled. "Other than the bond we have always shared, Rosaleen has never allowed herself to become truly emotionally available to anybody since I have know her. And we met in diapers. I did not know the dynamics of your marriage, but from what I have seen in this short time is that you are a good and caring person, and I don't believe that you would ever intentionally hurt her. I also know she would never push for you to do anything, but she will be there...that I can promise you." The smile turned a bit more interesting. "And as far as what the other part meant...well, Rosa and I tend to share pretty much everything." A wink accompanied the last part of her statement.
Andrew sighed. "If I'm being completely honest with myself, the marriage probably ended back in '68 with the miscarriage. We were both out past Cardassia working towards the treaty of 2370, and one of the worlds we had to catalog had been horribly ravaged. We never figured out by who, actually. Apparently, something got through the biosuits, and she lost a pair of twins we didn't know she was carrying. Since she wouldn't have been out there if I hadn't been, I caught a lot of blame for that - and whatever it was precluded her from having other children."
He took another deep breath. "We had a few more good years together while I was back at Earth taking the command line training, but after that, well, seventeen years in deep deep space with no room for civilians. I couldn't being myself to end it because I didn't want to hurt her, and she never let on that she wanted to. So if I'm coming across as really either emotionally withdrawn or confused, it's because I'm trying to avoid causing any more problems for anyone. I'm worried I may have offended Rosa with that a couple times. The fact that I'm flattered and willing to consider it pretty much says it all."
Kathleen was quiet for a moment. "Something else you may want to consider. Rosaleen...she is going to be around for a long time. When you are reaching one-fourty or so, she will still look the same as she does now." 'You too, Kathy.' She thought to herself, briefly allowing herself to think of all the friends and family she will loose over the centuries. "That's not a deal-breaker hopefully, but it's something you should at least think about."
Andrew stopped to consider that. "It's not a deal-breaker for me. I'm worried about adding another name to the list of people that longevity would see her mourn, though." He chuckled. "My family line isn't known for aging gracefully though, so she may not want to be seen with me in public by the time I reach a century. Assuming, of course, things progress in that direction." Part of his brain tried to figure out why he was so comfortable discussing this while he was still a legally and peacefully married man, while the part of his brain that had tapped into the temporal energies seemed entirely unconcerned with that little detail. He subconsciously muttered, "Would that I should still have so much luck left."
"Well then, you get to be the one at the party with the hot, young chick then." She replied with a laugh. But then she turned serious again, changing the topic...Kathleen had been famous for that before the change. Now... "I am making several changes to the crew structure as we transform to our new role. Rosaleen is now the Chief of Staff for 80. You...well, to be honest I'm not one hundred percent sure yet. You see...I have a feeling that as time goes on and nothing changes, a lot of people are going to make their way out here. Especially the families of those Fleet and Marine members who stay with us. If that happens, we are going to need two very important things. One is a place to stay. There are many planets out here that are M-Class and habitable, but they all belong to somebody. THat will need to be negotiated, although I have an idea on that. And secon, we need somebody to represent our interests. Not just the station's and it's attached fleet, but all of our kind who choose to relocate. As far as I am concerned, that person is you."
Those new pips suddenly felt much, much heavier. "I'll do my homework on the resettlement situation, but I'd love to hear your idea on that as a baseline. The starbase itself probably isn't the best idea in case the Protectorate decides it wants to reclaim Starfleet assets by force - and even at that, it can't hold everybody. In an absolute worst-case situation, the Corps of Engineers can probably pull a miracle moonbase out of their hat. As to representing our interests, I'll do that job as best as I'm able. I'll start from the premise that we are still operating under the relevant principles of the Federation Charter and Starfleet policies, I'll do that job as best as I'm able. If there are going to be any fundamental changes to those ground rules, as much notice as possible would be greatly appreciated." He honestly wasn't expecting much of a change there, but this rapidly evolving situation was going to test them all and predicting every upcoming detail was likely to prove impossible.
"Business as usual, for now. Lets just get this mess dealt with first. Then we can concentrate on the million other things we need to do." She glanced at the display as it chimed yet again. "Well...what do you know. Looks like 80 has finally been able to contact us. I need to take this, I guess. And you need to start to prep for your mission. Any other questions for now?
Andrew rose from his chair. "Nothing further at this time, ma'am. Though I suspect that will change and I know where your office is when that happens." His PADD beeped quietly, indicating that he had some incoming messages to deal with himself. "I'll just show myself out then."
But Kathleen was already up and moving around the desk, catching him before he could leave the room. She reached up and placed a hand on his cheek, locking her eyes onto his. So strong was her gaze, he couldn't have turned away even if he wanted to.
"Whatever your heart tells you, follow it...no matter where it takes you. The only person you ever need to be true to is yourself."
He didn't even try to look away. Instead, he reached up to lay his hand on hers. "Thank you, ma... Kathleen. I'm afraid I'll have to learn to listen for my heart again after the last few years, but I guess there's no time like the present for that." He had seen that the first name on his message list was his wife's; part of him was filled with dread, part of him with cold acceptance.
She smiled, and her eyes returned to a somewhat normal state. "Anytime you need to talk...anytime you need a friend for anything I am here." She dropped her hand. "I'll talk to you later."
He smiled, the smile actually making it into his eyes. "Thank you. From a cursory inspection of my mailbag, I suspect I'll be taking you up on that sooner rather than later." He then turned and headed out of the room.
Commodore Kathleen O'Shea
New Frontier Alliance Station
Commander Andrew Matheson
Chief Diplomatic Officer
New Frontier Alliance Station