Imperium in Imperio
Deep space, a cold, wide infinity. An innumerous array of white dots covering the blackness - distant stars, some of them enshrouded by milky clouds of purple dust, forming erratic contours. A deep vibration disturbed the silence, a massive grey shape was shoving itself slowly forward, a set of antennas pointed outward, next to massive sensor arrays, everything cluttering the outer edge of a starship’s hull. A number of lighted windows revealed a view of the interior, crewmen working, others relaxing in their living quarters, walking about, they were tiny figures, like observing an ant colony.
Further down the hull: the arrowhead-shaped Starfleet emblem.
USS Nelson, Romulan Neutral Zone, 2387
In one half of a set of cramped duplex quarters someone was sleeping in a small bed, clutching a blanket, his feet slanted sideways. A strident noise sounded from a panel at his bedside, he stirred, then reached over with his hand and pressed a button, sleepily and annoyed he answered the call:
“Yes, what is it?”
A gentle female voice on the other end replied.
“Sorry to wake you, Billy. I know your shift is not due for hours, but could you come here please?”
“Yeah, I’ll be there in a few minutes.”
While the young man was putting on his uniform, he ordered a cup of coffee from the replicator unit, his wobbly legs made him almost stumble when putting on his boots. He took a small sip of coffee and hastily left for the door, in the opposite bedroom his roommate was still sound asleep, snoring.
Straightening up his appearance as he went, we begin to recognize his features: a much younger William Jefferson, in his twenties, still with a slightly boyish face, but alert and determined in his demeanor. On his way to his post he only passed a few crewmembers on the sparsely populated corridors. He made another turn and arrived at a door to the next compartment, a sign read “AUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY”, a security officer was standing guard. Entering the room Jefferson spotted his colleague, a woman his age, beautiful, although she couldn’t care less, her blonde hair gathered in a high ponytail. She was talking to an officer at a desk, biting her nails once in a while, another security officer was standing next to the desk.
Jefferson approached her, greeting her and the men at the desk, who gave him straight-faced nods.
“‘Morning, Jess, I hope this is worth my while, I was having a fairly decent dream actually.”
She turned toward him with a sheepish smile.
“Yeah, sorry about that.”
Jefferson signed his name on a padd the desk officer was holding out to him before moving over to the automatic security gate leading to the next room, the computer made a quick full-body scan before a readout on a monitor displayed:
“Identification Positive: Jefferson, William, Ensign, DJ-485-9732 DTP - ACCESS GRANTED”
“Will you tell me what’s going on, or do I have to guess?”, he asked her.
While following him through the booth, she replied:
“It’s easier if you listen for yourself.”
Meanwhile the computer responded to her scan as well.
“Identification Positive: Pita, Jessica, Lieutenant, YP-312-6605 WSA - ACCESS GRANTED”
They stepped into a large room, fairly dark, faintly bluish-lit by its high-tech equipment, dozens of consoles, large sets of monitors in front of individual workstations, each with an uniformed crewmember sitting in a reclined seat, intensely looking at displays, graphics, wearing futuristic headsets.
On the walls were huge star charts of the surrounding space, overlayed with a red mesh, the joints linking each line were blinking, as was one rather large joint, the central nexus. We were in an operational center of a Starfleet Intelligence SIGINT mission.
Some higher ranking officers were pacing up and down the walkways, others were in conversation, the room was unusually busy. Looking around somewhat bewildered, Jefferson took a seat at his station, some of his squad members down the aisle acknowledged his arrival with a short gaze. Pita, leaning on the console, handed him his headset.
“Listen to all this chatter!”
Jefferson took in some of the subspace communications which were being fed to his station by the ship’s sensors, he listened for a moment, after a while he typed on his console, selected audio filters, adjusted the channel, then switched to another one, his face showing only more confusion. He turned to Pita and summed up what he had heard so far:
“Ship deployments, distress calls, evacuation timetables, worried moms. What are they doing, starting a war?”
“Hopefully just an exercise. We have been getting in this stuff for hours, there are more transmissions than what we would get in six months - Chief had us bring in all the off-duty analysts as well, so you are not the only one working overtime today”, Pita answered him.
Jefferson was about to put his headset back on when an intense electronic roar blared through all the headphones and speakers in the room, the other analysts ripped off their headsets as if they were made from red-hot metal, others were holding their ears in pain from the noise. The red mesh on the star chart was suddenly going blank, so did most monitors. The room was now almost in a frenzy, officers were making calls to the bridge, status reports were being inquired, crewmen checking their equipment, shrugging, exchanging looks of concern and frustration.
“What the hell happened?”, an older officer asked around.
After a short time most of the displays were coming back online. Transmissions could be heard again. Jefferson wanted to listen, but Pita tapped his shoulder and indicated the wall, Jefferson looked at her, her face was in mild horror, he followed her gaze to find the star chart, the red mesh was back online as well, except for the big central nexus, which was gone now.
A few hours later, the ship’s crew was summoned to attend an announcement from the Captain. Pita, Jefferson and most of her analyst colleagues were in a mess hall. Not only their listening post was shaken from the unknown incident, the whole crew was eager for an answer. Pita and Jefferson stood in a crowd of people, many unsettled faces were around them, others were whispering and exchanged outrageous rumors. The Captain’s face appeared on a large wall monitor.
“Good Morning everyone, many of you witnessed an unusual disturbance in subspace a few hours ago. Fortunately the ship and the crew sustained no damage or casualties and except for some routine data transmission bursts getting lost on their way to Earth, our operations have not been impaired. Starfleet Command, independently confirmed by the Vulcan Science Council, informed us that there has been a large-scale catastrophe in the Romulan Empire. From what is known so far, a distant star went supernova, but in an unusual way, apparently the shockwave was partially traveling through subspace at tremendous speed and destroyed the Romulan system before it dissipated. We don’t know if the Romulans were able to attempt an evacuation, currently we expect an almost total loss of life on their homeworld. Starfleet has ordered the Nelson to standby at our present location and prepare for relief efforts. A number of Starfleet vessels are also on their way to the Neutral Zone. Starfleet expects to receive an official request for assistance from the Romulan ambassador shortly. It is likely that we will have to assist in the evacuation of other Romulan worlds, possible relocations and refugee transfers as well as medical assistance. You will receive further orders soon. Captain out.”
The crowd, some stricken with commiseration, others with indifference, slowly dispersed.
Later, Pita and Jefferson were sitting in a crew lounge by a large window; Pita, slightly shaken was quiet and had a 1,000 lightyear stare, she was holding a drink which she hadn’t touched, Jefferson had just emptied his third, he was bored and slightly agitated.
Indicating his empty glass he addressed her:
“At this rate I might make it through three shifts before having tasted the entire cocktail menu once. So they better be letting us go back to work by then.”
Pita didn’t react. He went on.
“The entire department is suspended from duties until further notice… guess Starfleet Command thinks it’s provocative to spy on them while also extending a hand and offering to help… Ha, in a situation like this shouldn’t it be even more important to continue what we are doing, to warn the Federation of any indications that things might be going in a wrong direction, getting unstable…”
Pita slowly turned to him.
“What is there to listen to now? Do you want to eavesdrop on millions of distraught people inquiring about their missing relatives?”
Jefferson matter-of-factly responded:
“We will listen for the same things as we did before: fleet deployments, traffic analysis, electronic orders of battle, lines of communication, readiness states, defense capabilities, domestic stability…”
Pita waved him aside. There was silence for a minute. Now staring out of the window as well Jefferson suddenly exclaimed:
“Maybe we should occupy the whole damn place, just to make sure.”
“What are you talking about?”, Pita asked.
“Well, you know, maybe we should move in, place starships at strategic locations and take over the remaining core worlds and key systems. This way at least we can ensure things will not spin beyond our control.”
Pita was appalled.
“You can’t be serious. The Romulans had their homeworld blown away and you want to go in and grab the scrabs? Interference with the internal affairs of a society is a violation of the Prime Directive!”
Jefferson leaned forward, taking her hand, he didn’t want her to make a scene.
“Look, all I am saying is, that this might be a wise course of action, I am not talking about a forceful occupation, rather a peacekeeping mission. There are so many possible scenarios, many of them much less desirable. I mean, we don’t know all the details yet, but look at the situation: their homeworld is destroyed, the leadership and political establishment is probably dead mostly, the fleet decimated considerably, civil and military structures have broken down. It’s inviting total chaos, well beyond their own borders. Do you want the Klingons or Cardassians to move in instead? Imagine how a Klingon occupation force would govern them, they don’t like it and resist only to be massacred! And how would it affect the balance in the Quadrant, if, say, the Klingons suddenly would be in control of the Romulan Empire? And if we all leave them alone, then what? The local governors, the military, the Tal’Shiar, they all are going to be fighting for control, maybe lashing out at neighboring sectors for resources and territory. And who knows, without their oppressive government forces breathing down their necks, some of their worlds might even want to join the Federation.”
Pita met him with disbelief.
“The Romulans?, the xenophobic Romulans joining the United Federation of Planets? Now you are being sarcastic, Billy.”
“Am I? Don’t forget there have always been moderate forces in the Empire, like this movement Spock used to work with for a while. And what about all those outer systems which the Romulans conquered and whose population was subjugated. Who’s to say they won’t develop the same way the Bajorans did - and I don’t need to remind you that the latter did not happen without armed conflict either…”
“Even though the Federation moved in immediately”, she interrupted Jefferson,
“Sometimes even the best intentions won’t prevent a war.”
Jefferson did not respond. Pita smiled at him weakly and rose from her seat.
“Whatever happens, we are not the ones calling the shots here, so we’ll do what we are ordered to and for the moment that is standing down.”
“Yeah”, Jefferson answered with a hint of resignation.
“I am going to bed Billy. You should call it a night too, I think you have had enough of the cocktail menu for one evening. Good night.”
“Good night, Jess.”
Pita gently touched his shoulder before walking out the next door.
Jefferson was sitting by himself for a while, absorbed in thought, then a young man approached him, dark haired, gaunt-faced and bony. Jefferson recognized him, another analyst from his operations center, usually sitting in the far corner from him.
“May I join you, Sir?”, the young man wanted to know.
Jefferson studied him for a second, then motioned him to sit down. The young man started to talk.
“I couldn’t help but overhear your conversation with the Lieutenant.”
“Isn’t that what we all are trained to do, listening to other people’s conversations?”
The man gave him an affirmative smirk.
“What’s your name?”, Jefferson asked.
“Crewman 1st Class Bowman, Sir.”
“Argh, don’t sir me around here, we are all off duty at the moment...is there something I can do for you Mr Bowman?”
“I just wanted to tell you that you are not the only person who is apprehensive about Starfleet’s idleness in the current situation. A number of others think the way you do, I myself included, the scenarios you have outlined to your friend are very real and potentially dangerous.”
Jefferson tried to meet Bowman’s austereness with humor.
“A number of others, huh? I think you might take your spy job a little too seriously.”
“My espionage duties end with my shift, Mr Jefferson, I assure you. I am merely having chats with my fellow crewmates, one can’t help but pick up their opinions along the way, can you? But going back to this whole matter we all now find ourselves in, I agree with you, sometimes there is a need to act. Regardless of our specific occupations, all of us are Starfleet officers who swore an oath once and as the Lieutenant correctly pointed out, interference could mean violating the Prime Directive, but that same oath demands from us to defend the security of the Federation and its citizens.”