Episode 22 – Prologue

“And you’re sure there was nothing else – just co-ords for a rendezvous?”
“You saw the same transmission as I did, Number One.” Captain Jake Lombardo leant back in his command chair, taking a long pull from the cup of coffee in his right hand. “I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”
“Aye-aye, Sir,” Commander Babylon Reed replied, and she stepped off the command dias before circling back to the Tactical station and Flight Operations panels. Lombardo drained his cup, and nodded as a Yeoman stepped in to take the empty vessel away.
The bridge was quiet, but busy. Even though the passage of the Hot Gates was some light-years wide, the surrounding plasma storms surrounding the only navigable path through the Badlands had the entire crew subdued. That, and the mysterious orders for the entirety of the Rolor Sector taskforce to meet with Starfleet Tactical Operations’ Admiral Ross.
With tensions rising between the now firmly entrenched Dominion and the Federation, no one was comfortable.
“Captain, the Badlands are interfering with our sensors, but I think I’m picking up a group of ships ahead of us,” reported Lieutenant Bin’tar, his blue Andorian skin illuminated by the figures scrolling over the panel before him. “Stationary; looks to be a dozen ships, probably Federation, but I’m not picking up the usual IFF transponders.”
“Hmm – okay, take us to Yellow alert,” Lombardo said after a moment’s thought. “Drop us out of warp, launch the CAP, and hail the lead vessel.”
The USS Axanar and her consorts – the cruiser USS Zhukhov, and escorts USS Falchion and Ballista – dropped out of their subspace flight, and were joined in moments by a flight of Peregrine class interceptors. The Axanar held station, while the three other ships formed a line abreast, protecting the carrier.
Ahead of them – and sensors freed from subspace interference were now picking them up – was a curious selection of craft. An old Akyazi class torpedo boat was in the lead, and behind her were a scarred Miranda-class frigate, a Steamrunner class cruiser with entire strips of hull-plating missing, and two runabouts.
“Well that’s… unusual – Ops, hail the Akyazi.”
After a moment of static, the screen cleared to black, then the view ahead. No face, no further transmission.
“Ops, did they just hang up on us,” Lombardo asked.
“No, sir, but I did just get a curious, text-only transmission. I can’t open it, and it’s headed Case Zulu?”

At the last two words, Lombardo stood up, and looked up at Commander Reed, standing next to Bin’tar at Tactical. “Join me in my ready room, Commander.” He looked beyond her, to the concerned ship’s engineer. “Archer, you have the bridge.”

The two senior officers left, leaving a quiet hum and a certain undefined tension in the air. Case Zulu meant nothing to any of the other crew or officers…
Five minutes later, Commander Reed emerged, alone, and sat in the center seat. She drew a deep breath. “Flight Ops, alert the Flight Deck to prep a shuttlepod for the Captain, no flight plan.” She started tapping minor commands into her own command panel as she kept talking. “Tactical, wipe all sensor data about those ships from our records.” She tapped a last command, and stood up, straightening her uniform.

“Helm, lay in a course that takes us into the Badlands, on the Cardassian side of the border.” She ignored a few quite gasps from around the bridge. “Once you’re all done, all command crew are to join me in the briefing room. As she turned to leave, Ensign Tereshkova finalised her course, and stood too.

“Where’s the Captain – what’s happening?” She asked.

Reed paused, ashen, but then entered the briefing room. The ship’s counselor, however, answered for her, equally shaken.

“It’s war, Ensign,” she said. “We’re going to war with The Dominion.”

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