Star Trek: Titan: Absent Enemies
Ralph Waldo Emerson had never met the Breen.
Peace, the poet had said, could not be achieved through violence; it could only be attained through understanding. Christine Vale didn’t know much about Emerson, who had died almost exactly four hundred years earlier, but she knew his quote, one of several inscribed on her commission documents as a Starfleet commander. And she knew it was almost completely useless advice in practice, so far as the Breen were concerned. The Breen lived not to be understood.
The Breen had no match when it came to obfuscation: Federation agents had learned that much about them. The multispecies Breen Confederacy ensured equality by forcing its members to hide their physical appearances inside suits of armor—and it even made them use electronic vocoders to disguise their voices. Vale, of course, had no Breen helmet to unscramble the snarl of squawks coming from the glow-eyed figure on Starship Titan’s forward viewscreen. He—if it was a he—was angrily repeating his earlier demand—if he was angry, and if it was a demand. Vale had no clue.
The golden-skinned cryptolinguist at the far station on the bridge shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine,” Ensign Y’lira Modan said. The Selenean’s turquoise eyes widened apologetically. “They’ve changed encryptions again.”
From her seat in the captain’s chair, Vale focused on the Breen’s single eyeport, a glowing green horizontal slit in the alien’s gray helmet. The strange being was unleashing another torrent of angry-sounding chirrups. “He knows we don’t understand. I swear he’s talking just to annoy us.”
Modan threw up her hands. “He could be trying to share a recipe for all we know.”
“I very much doubt it,” the dark-skinned Vulcan seated to Vale’s right said. “There would be no need for three Breen vessels with shields raised and weapons powered to participate in such an exchange.”
“Thanks for that analysis, Tuvok.” Vale rolled her eyes. The Vulcan had a titanium-strong grip on the obvious, but it didn’t hurt for her to be reminded. The Breen ships Titan was facing weren’t of the familiar battle-cruiser type but were somewhat smaller vessels of a class yet to be identified; from their configurations, they appeared to be troop transports rigged for space combat. Titan’s crew had been calling them “landers,” expecting full well that they might also pose a threat in space.
But Vale had her orders—and she had a plan, which she could initiate as soon as the pointless attempt at communication with the Breen was over. Eyes on the nattering figure in the image, she leaned forward in her chair and clasped her hands together confidently. “Okay, here’s what we’re going to do—”
“Admiral on the bridge!”
That phrase, she understood. Christine Vale looked back to see William T. Riker striding into the room. Attention fixed on the forward viewscreen, he circled the tactical console and headed for the command chair.
Vale looked up at him and smiled primly. “This seat’s taken,” she said.
“I’m already acting just like an admiral,” Riker said, grinning. “I don’t know what to do with myself.”
Starfleet’s newest rear admiral looked down at the chairs on either side of Vale. Commander Tuvok, the Starship Voyager veteran now acting executive officer, busily worked the control console attached to his seat’s armrest. Deanna Troi, ship’s counselor and senior diplomatic officer, looked up from the other chair and gave her husband an awkward smile. “I suppose we haven’t worked out the seating arrangements yet,” she said.
“Forget it.” Riker faced forward. “What’s the status?”
“The status is I’d find a seat soon, if I were you,” Vale said. “I’m putting us at red alert.”
The on-screen Breen ceased his chatter and disappeared, replaced by the external vid feed. The Breen landers circled in space outside, a short distance away from the cause of the confrontation: Zellman’s Find. The yam-shaped asteroid teemed with trilithium—and it had the misfortune to sit in contested space coveted by the Breen and their Typhon Pact allies, the Romulans and the Tzenkethi. Some six thousand settlers of various nonaligned races called the tumbling body’s dome-covered mines home; Titan, now, was their only defense.
“The Breen are making no move to threaten the asteroid,” Tuvok said, operating his console. “I would say we arrived just in time.”
“In time for the standoff,” Riker observed.
Tuvok templed his fingers and looked up at the admiral. “Two parties desire to occupy the same location—a physical impossibility. Conflict is inevitable without communication.”
“We’ve covered that.” Vale stared at the scene. “Helm, put us into an elliptical orbit around the body, geodesic curves oscillating randomly over the asteroid’s center. They’ll be looking to land troops and heavy equipment on whatever side we’re not on. So we’re going to be everywhere at once.” She looked back for Riker, finding him standing respectfully but watchfully alongside the junior officer at the tactical console. “Does that sound about right to you, Admiral?”
“You’re the captain,” he said, scratching his beard. There was only a little gray in it. “I’m just along for the ride.”
Vale knew that wasn’t true, but it felt good to hear in any event. She wasn’t officially the captain of Titan; the command was temporary. Will Riker had been tapped to become a Federation representative; the admiral was currently using his old command as his flagship to put out fires in the Beta Quadrant ignited by the activities of the Pact powers.
Earning a command chair was the goal of half the cadets at the Academy, and Vale’s getting it by her early forties was a rare thing. But getting it this way wasn’t as satisfying. Perhaps it was because of the horror stories she’d heard in the past. Captains as distinguished as James T. Kirk had suffered the indignities of being second-guessed by Federation commissioners they were ferrying—but at least those know-it-alls weren’t in the service. Her former captain, the newly minted admiral, had promised a smooth interaction, and so far Riker had been as good as his word: He’d dealt with the same kinds of problems before, as captain and commander. But it was hard for any officer to hold the complete attention of the crew during a ship-to-ship conflict when the designer of the “Riker Maneuver” was on the bridge.
Well, it’s not a conflict yet, Commander Vale thought, and that applied to both their relationship and the situation outside with the Breen. “Looks like it’s working,” she said. “No single one of these ships wants to take us on. They seem to be backing off—”
A proximity alarm sounded. “New arrival,” Tuvok announced.
“—they seem to be backing off to make room for reinforcements, I meant to say.”
“No. It’s Aventine, Captain.”
“Aventine?” That was Ezri Dax’s ship—and it was not supposed to be here. Vale looked back at Riker.
“Don’t look at me.” The admiral seemed just as puzzled.
“Open a channel,” Vale said. “Captain Dax, you’ve come on a busy day. What can Titan do for you?”
“It’s what we can do for you,” replied the dark-haired Trill woman on-screen. “We’re here for the vigil.”
“Glad for the help. We were starting to get dizzy.” Vale rubbed her hands together. “With a second ship, we can cover all approaches and turn them back—”
Dax interrupted, “Admiral Riker, we have a message from Starfleet Command, which we’re sending on a secure channel.”
“They sent Aventine with it?” Riker asked. His face grew grim.
It had to be important, Vale knew.
Riker turned. “I’ll take it in my—er, the captain’s ready room.” He started walking.
“Be my guest,” Vale replied. But he was already gone.
Vale sighed and looked back up at Ezri. “Heard any good jokes lately? These Breen aren’t much for conversation . . .”
Christine Vale had experienced long, awkward silences before in life but never while under red alert. Aventine had joined Titan’s patrol over Zellman’s Find, and while the presence of the second Federation starship hadn’t scared the Breen off, their landers weren’t coming any closer. And neither was Vale any closer to getting an explanation about Aventine’s arrival. If Dax knew anything, she wasn’t saying.
Admirals and captains, she thought. You’re not quite in the club yet, Christine.
Vale looked in the direction of the ready-room door again. Still shut. No sound from it, of course, nor would there be from a room where conversations were intended to be kept private. For the second time, she thought about piping in a status report to Riker, just in the hope of getting a hint about what was going on.
That, she heard. A muffled thump against the door.
From the ops station, the Cardassian ensign, Zurin Dakal, looked over at the door. “That sounded like someone threw a chair.”
“Keep your eyes on the Breen, please.” But Vale glanced over to see Troi’s worried look. She wasn’t about to ask the woman to provide an empathic read on what was going on with her husband, but the Betazoid’s expression said enough.
Troi took a deep breath, as if about to say something—when her combadge beeped. It was Riker. “Deanna, I need you.”
She bolted immediately upright. “If you’ll excuse me, the admiral—”
“Unh-huh,” Vale said.
The acting captain watched the curly haired counselor walk to the doorway. The second Troi reached it, the door slid open and Riker’s hand yanked her inside. Muffled conversation followed. After a moment’s silence, Riker popped his head back outside the door.
“You’d better get in here too, Christine—er, Captain.” The admiral’s face looked ashen. “And Mister Tuvok.”
The Vulcan gestured to the forward display. “But, Admiral, the Breen—”
Tuvok stopped in midsentence when Riker’s eyebrows joined in an expression that said to anyone watching that he really wasn’t interested in a debate.
“The Breen,” Tuvok began again more slowly, “aren’t going anywhere.”
Vale nodded. “Mister Gibruch, you have the conn,” she ordered.
Riker disappeared back inside the room. Vale rose and walked alongside Tuvok. “You’re catching on to his expressions,” Vale whispered.
The Vulcan nodded. “That one I learned from Kathryn Janeway. I call it ‘full stop.’ ”
The ready-room door sealed behind Vale as she and Tuvok stepped past the overturned chair. Riker stood with his back to them and his hands propped against the far wall. “Aventine’s been sent to take our place,” he half growled, not turning to face her. “We’ve been recalled from this assignment.”
Troi looked at her husband with concern. “It’s something bad, isn’t it?”
“It’s worse,” Riker said. He turned toward them and clenched his teeth together in a fake smile. “The Federation wants me to be the peace envoy to Garadius IV.”
Troi blinked, appearing to finally understand. “Oh.”
“Oh, yes.” Riker shook his head.
“Oh, no,” she said, more quietly. Fumbling for the back of a chair, she turned it around and sat down. “Oh.”
Puzzled, Vale crossed her arms. “Garadius IV? What’s wrong with Garadius IV?”
“What isn’t wrong with Garadius?” Riker said, finding a seat of his own and collapsing in it. He started gesturing blankly to the air. “I’d be happy to stay, to fight the Breen. To invade the Gorn homeworld, unarmed. To do anything—anything but this!”
Will Riker was infamously cool under pressure; Vale had never seen him agitated like this. And over a peace mission? She approached the conference table and looked at the schematic on the tabletop display. Garadius IV was a mostly liquid-covered world in the Beta Quadrant, valued for its undersea resources.
“As I recall,” Tuvok said, righting the fallen chair, “the dispute on Garadius IV is limited to two relatively small groups of settlers.”
“Population eighty thousand,” Vale read aloud. “Doesn’t sound like much of a conflict.”
“It was once eight hundred thousand people,” Troi said. She searched for her husband’s eyes. He continued to stare off into the distance.
“I once crash-landed on a Galaxy-class starship,” he muttered. “I would do that for a living, hourly. And happily.” He looked at Troi and felt on his collar for the rectangular insignia with its two gold pips. “I’ll tell you, if this is what this promotion is going to be about . . .” He trailed off.
Troi brought her chair closer to him and started to offer a comforting hand—before she thought again and shrank back into her chair. “Garadius.”
“I do not understand, Admiral,” Tuvok said. “How could a peace mission be anything but a respite from the hostilities we’ve been facing?”
Troi sighed and shook her head. “We were there for the last peace conference—with Enterprise-D, under Captain Picard. Sixteen—no, seventeen years ago. You had to be there . . .”