About the Author
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Starfleet Headquarters, San Francisco, Earth
“And just as we did more than two centuries ago, the people of Andor stand once again with the United Federation of Planets, and we are humbled that you have welcomed us now as you did then: as friends and allies. As such, we Andorians rededicate ourselves to the principles that have guided this unrivaled coalition from its first days, speaking as one voice for freedom, for security, for the right of self-determination. We renew our pledge to join with our fellow beings from worlds across the Federation, serving and protecting each of its citizens as though they were born of our own world.”
Thunderous applause stopped Kellessar zh’Tarash as she stood before an open session of the Parliament Andoria. Propping himself against the edge of his desk, Admiral William Riker watched the speech as it had been recorded for later broadcast across the quadrant via the Federation News Service. The current leader of the Andorian government’s Progressive Caucus seemed almost regal on the large viewscreen that dominated the far wall of Riker’s new office at Starfleet Command Headquarters.
“She certainly knows how to blow the doors off the joint, doesn’t she?” Riker asked, gesturing toward the screen.
Seated in an overstuffed chair in one corner of the office that afforded her an unfettered view of the broadcast, Deanna Troi turned from the screen to regard her husband. “She’s quite something. The people of Andor seem to have a great deal of faith in her, and her support looks to be growing across the Federation.”
On the viewscreen, zh’Tarash continued. “Though we may have lost our way for a time, we are reminded that the Federation’s compassion and sense of unity made us a stronger world than if we had continued to stand alone. Indeed, those very ideals were exhibited yet again during a time of dire need, and it is our hope that we will have the opportunity to express our eternal gratitude for the service the Federation has provided to our world and our people. It is this cooperative spirit that has compelled me to seek the office of President of the United Federation of Planets.
“If it is the will of the people that I am allowed to serve you in this manner, I will commit myself to demonstrating that the Federation is deserving of its place of prominence in the cosmos, not through threat of force but by continuing to extend the hand of friendship. It was Nanietta Bacco’s firm belief that no sentient species in this galaxy could have a greater friend or ally, and I promise you that I will spend each day proving that she was right. This I pledge, to every citizen of this Federation, which we Andorians are honored once again to call our family.”
“Computer, pause playback,” Riker said, and the image on the screen froze as members of the Parliament Andoria were rising to their feet to once more applaud zh’Tarash. Folding his arms, the admiral blew out his breath, shaking his head. “I’ll bet Ishan is climbing the walls right about now.”
“Polls indicate an overwhelming approval of Andor’s readmission,” Troi said. “It’s an interesting change from surveys taken after their secession.”
“I remember.” Public reaction had been intense following the explosive announcement three years earlier that Andor, one of the Federation’s founding members, had decided to withdraw its membership following a close, tumultuous vote by the Andorian government. Common sentiments had included feelings of anger and betrayal, owing in large part to a lack of knowledge of the events leading up to the unprecedented decision. It had been reported that Andor’s secession was triggered by knowledge given to them by the Typhon Pact that Starfleet had examples of alien technology and information that might have led to a cure for an escalating reproductive predicament that was threatening the eventual extinction of the Andorian people.
While that was true in and of itself, what was only now being told to the public’s satisfaction were bits and pieces of the larger story surrounding the still-classified nature of Operation Vanguard and the data and materials it had collected, which were all that remained of the ancient race known as the Shedai. Chief among the discoveries made more than a century ago was the so-called “Shedai Meta-Genome,” which Starfleet had found to carry enormous potential to expand or even redefine any number of scientific and medical principles. After everything that had transpired during Starfleet’s all-but-disastrous attempts to understand the Shedai and the awesome power they once had commanded, someone within the Federation hierarchy had decided that the entire project should be buried and forgotten, citing the potential for unchecked abuse should such knowledge fall into the wrong hands.
Though Starfleet had shoved the collected data and materials into the depths of a classified archive facility and consigned almost everyone who had survived the operation to relative obscurity, other parties who had acquired information and understanding into the Shedai continued to perform their own research. One such group was the Tholian Assembly, who, after emerging from their normal seclusion to join the Typhon Pact, had approached Andor with the knowledge they now possessed, having discovered that the Meta-Genome held the potential to end forever the planet’s fertility crisis. The Tholians also had managed to spin the truth about Starfleet’s involvement just far enough to paint it and the Federation as having somehow betrayed the Andorian people by not sharing with them their own cache of information about the Shedai and the Meta-Genome.
And the rest, Riker mused, as they say, is history.
“Even though the full story behind Operation Vanguard remains classified,” he said, pushing away from his desk and moving to the window set into his office’s rear wall, “the parts Starfleet’s been releasing seem to be appeasing the public.” His own knowledge of the top-secret project did not extend much beyond the official information releases distributed by Starfleet Command to the press, and Riker knew that the bulk of the operation’s history likely would remained cloaked in shadow for years if not decades to come. “They’re being smart about it, focusing on the good it’s done for Andor, even though the whole thing would never have happened if not for Julian Bashir.” The former chief medical officer of Deep Space 9 had accessed the classified Shedai data and used it to develop a cure for Andor’s dilemma, and while the Andorians considered him a hero, Starfleet had no choice but to charge him with espionage and possibly even treason. At this moment, arrangements were being finalized for Bashir’s return to Earth for trial. If there was a way to save the doctor from permanent disgrace and incarceration, Riker had yet to conceive of it.
One problem at a time, Admiral.
“It doesn’t hurt that zh’Tarash is advocating using the entire affair as the catalyst for reaffirming Andor’s bond with the Federation,” Troi said. “Polls indicate her popularity is growing every day. At the rate she’s gaining on Ishan, this could end up being a very close election.”
“Don’t count Ishan out yet. There’s still plenty of time for him to pull a rabbit out of his hat.”
The upcoming special election to select a successor to the late President Nanietta Bacco now was mere weeks away, in keeping with Federation law that such proceedings were required within sixty days after a sitting president’s death or permanent removal from office. It now had been more than a month since Bacco’s assassination during the dedication of the new Deep Space 9 and the nomination of a president pro tempore to hold the office for the period leading up to the election. For this, the Federation Council had selected Ishan Anjar, a relatively junior council member representing the planet Bajor. Ishan had been serving in this capacity for less than a year at the time of his appointment, which many within the Federation government and Starfleet had viewed as a questionable choice, made as it was while preliminary evidence had implicated a Bajoran as Bacco’s assassin. There were those who believed Ishan’s selection was intended as a symbolic gesture to the people of Bajor, to demonstrate that the Federation would not allow the heinous actions of one individual to undermine its relationship with an entire civilization.
With the special election drawing ever nearer, the two front runners had staked out their platforms, each opting to place themselves on the opposite sides of what had become the hasty campaign’s key issue: security. Ishan Anjar was advocating a much more proactive stance with respect to the Federation’s role in interstellar politics, wanting to prevent future threats from enemies like the Borg or even more “conventional” adversaries like the Typhon Pact. Though Kellessar zh’Tarash was expressing similar sentiments, her vision was more in line with what many—Riker included—considered to be bedrock Federation principles, with peaceful coexistence being the ideal goal even while standing ready to meet whatever threat might present itself. Many had noted that there existed only a fine distinction between the two philosophies, but the relevant differences in attitude all were to be found within that narrow rift. Ishan was encouraging a more aggressive stance with respect to potential conflicts, even putting forth the notion that preemptive action was justified against verified targets presenting clear and imminent danger to Federation interests. Amity could be maintained, he reasoned, but any threat, no matter how benign it might appear on the surface, had to be met with overwhelming force.
Peace through superior firepower. Riker released an irritated grunt at his own dour joke. Despite a lifetime devoted to Starfleet service even after all the threats he had faced, such an attitude still sounded alien to him. It certainly was not in keeping the oath he had sworn, and while many railed against such a fundamental shift in thinking, Ishan Anjar seemed to be enjoying the growing support from a vocal segment of the population still reeling from the loss of a beloved leader.
“If Ishan wins the election,” Troi said, rising from her seat to join Riker at the window, “there’s no telling how far he’ll go to get what he wants. Just based on what we believe he’s done to this point, the possibilities are frightening.”
In light of recent revelations, Riker had been forced to consider the very distinct possibility that Bacco’s assassination and everything that had followed was part of some larger plan with the ultimate goal of elevating Ishan to the presidency in order to push antagonistic policies that, though motivated by the legitimate cause of securing the Federation against possible enemies, ultimately would lead to war with the Typhon Pact. On this matter, Ishan Anjar had spoken at length, citing his own experience as a Bajoran living under the oppressive rule of Cardassian Occupation. Never again, the interim president had vowed, should anyone be forced into such a hellish existence.
As for Ishan’s extraordinary career trajectory, it had become obvious to Riker and others that it all had been orchestrated by Ishan’s close confidant and former chief of staff, Galif jav Velk. Having served as a member of the Federation Council’s support staff since before Ishan’s arrival, Velk had a deserved reputation as someone who suffered no fools while knowing how to get things done, even if it meant ruffled feathers, bruised egos, or bloody noses. The Tellarite’s stance with respect to the issue of Federation security, like Ishan’s, was well-known and widely regarded, particularly in the wake of the Borg invasion that had taken place four years earlier and driven the Federation to within a hairsbreadth of annihilation.
“The question I’ve been asking myself,” Riker said, “is how much can Ishan do without his biggest cheerleader? If Velk was really propping him up behind the scenes, how far can Ishan go without him? Was Velk the one with the contacts—and the guts—to pull off all of this?”
Troi shrugged. “It’s too bad you can’t ask him.”
Insight into the true extent of Velk’s involvement in pushing Ishan’s plans had become apparent after intelligence data revealed the location of the assassins responsible for President Bacco’s murder. Tzenkethi agents had been implicated in the conspiracy and supposedly could be found on a remote, unimportant planet on the fringes of Federation space. Velk had dispatched to the planet a special-operations team that had included Commander Tuvok, Lieutenant Commander Nog, and Riker’s “brother,” Thomas. Upon arriving at the planet, the team had discovered that the assassins were not Tzenkethi, but Cardassians: members of an extremist sect known as the “True Way.” After a fierce skirmish that saw the Cardassians taken into custody, they were not returned to Earth but instead taken to what was revealed to be a secret “black site” prison facility on the Klingon world Nydak II.
Upon realizing that the strike team’s leader, Lieutenant Colonel Jan Kincade, was working for Velk with orders to make sure the Cardassians—and anyone else who knew the truth—never left the planet alive, Tuvok and Nog attempted to mutiny against the colonel in order to escort the Cardassians to Earth for proper trial. In the resulting chaos, which ultimately had resulted in the deaths of the Cardassian prisoners, Tuvok confronted their leader, Onar Throk, who confessed to being the one responsible for killing Bacco. Throk also revealed that Velk had given him all the information and support required to carry out the assassination. Despite the Tellarite’s best efforts to cover his tracks by ordering the elimination of Tuvok and Nog, the officers had been rescued by Riker and the U.S.S. Titan.
Perhaps to avoid being exposed as the mastermind behind Bacco’s assassination and implicating Ishan as a co-conspirator, Velk had been arrested by the Federation Security Agency and remanded to a classified detention center, though the charges against him had been limited to his unauthorized use of Starfleet resources and the illegal orders sending the team to Nydak II. Riker knew it was an end-run maneuver, designed to insulate both Velk and Ishan from being implicated in the murder plot. With Onar Throk’s claims being at best dubious and with no physical evidence to corroborate the story he had given Tuvok, there was no way to level such accusations and have them stick. What was needed was a confession or some other evidence that might still be out there, waiting to be discovered. To that end, Riker had dispatched a small cabal of trusted officers consisting of Titan senior staff members as well as his oldest and closest friend, Captain Jean-Luc Picard, to seek out and find that evidence, in whatever form it might take. Meanwhile, it went without question that no confession would be coming from Ishan, so that left Velk, wherever he might have been taken to await his trial.
Velk will never live to see any trial. Of this, Riker was certain, which was why tracking down the Tellarite—assuming he still was alive—in order to get from him the confession needed to expose Ishan once and for all was of paramount importance.
“What makes you think Velk’s not dead already?” Riker asked.
“As you say, Ishan probably needs him, at least in some capacity. He’ll want to stop Velk from going to trial and perhaps exposing him, but it’s almost certain that he has information that could cripple Ishan if it got out or access to people who somehow are a threat to him.” Troi leaned against the window, pausing to look out at the cityscape of San Francisco far below them. “For all his talk about strength, I think it’s obvious Velk is the one with most of the power. Without him, Ishan may well be in over his head.”
Nodding in agreement, Riker allowed his own gaze to wander over the breathtaking sight that was San Francisco at night. Though he had not yet settled into his role as a desk-bound admiral rather than the captain of a starship, he had conceded that one of the job’s perks was the view outside his office. Still, even on its best night, any city on Earth could not compare to staring out a viewport at open space and distant stars.
You’ll get back there. One day.
“We definitely need to find Velk,” Riker said after a moment, “along with anyone else Ishan may have contacted or corrupted to get this far.”
“And what if we don’t find him?” Troi asked. “He’s the only link connecting Ishan to President Bacco’s murder.”
Riker sighed. “Then we’re going to need to find something else.”