Prologue – Episode 23

Captain Akilah Shaddid was proud of the new, fourth pip on her collar, and even prouder still of her new command. The USS Appalachia gleamed somberly in the massive dock of Starbase 375, a flat, lethal looking vessel with dark grey hull-plating and warp nacelles hugged protectively close to her main hull. For a moment, she worried about the pleasure she was taking in the ship’s combat abilities, but decided to go easy on herself.
The Federation was at war – lethality would soon matter as much as warp reliability and sensor fitouts.
Shaddid took one last glance out of the observation deck’s window and turned on her heel. Her first meeting with her new CO was scheduled in half an hour, and Captain (senior grade) Jake Lombardo was rumoured to be a no-nonsense officer. Shaddid figured it would be better to be early – just to be on the safe side.
As she left the observation deck and merged with foot-traffic on one of the station’s main thoroughfares, she spotted a familiar figure looking through one of the shop concessions lining the corridor’s sides. Captain Azo’rin may have had seniority by at least a year, but he was also her old Academy room-mate. Shaddid strolled over to the Andorian’s side and looked over the goods in front of him.
“I don’t think that’s your colour.”
“Good thing I’m not buying it for me, then,” Azo’rin responded, turning around to smile at his old friend. “But it should look charming on my wife.”
“I hadn’t heard!” Shaddid exclaimed. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” he said, and smiled. “And congratulations to you, too, on the Appalachia. She’s a tough ship, I hear. I can’t wait to serve with her.”

“Oh… you too, huh?” Shaddid frowned, glancing away. “Didn’t know you were married, and didn’t now you were on the same fleet assignment… embarrasing.”

“Well, you are a junior Captain – no one expects that much of you,” Azo’rin deadpanned. Shaddid punched him in the arm, and the two walked back onto the station concourse.

“So, I guess you know a bit more about our new CO, too? Care to enlighten your lesser?”
“I don’t like to talk about a fellow officer behind his back,” he started. Azo’rin walked a few paces, and then reconsidered. “I know Captain Lombardo may not have had a good start to his command career. You know about the Monitor incident, back when the Maquis were starting to be a problem?” Shaddid nodded. “That nearly put an end to his career then, but he took some time, and came back to the center seat, on the Ballista, one of the escorts in the current taskforce. The Ballista was posted to the Cardassian border, and I hear that Lombardo did some good work – managed to head up a promising first contact, saw some action when the Klingons first went after the Union, and there’s a even a rumour he and some of his crew did some off-the-books work for Starfleet Intelligence.”
“Wow, I had not heard that.”
“Yes, and I think it’s no coincidence that illegal Red Matter shipments dried up *after* Lombardo took up station,” Azo’rin continued. “And he helped put down that foolish coup a couple of years ago – that little Saber class Ballista tangled with Admiral Nechayev’s own flagship, and held it off long enough for the whole plot to fall over. I’ll say one thing, I wouldn’t want to play poker with the man.”
“After that, he got the Axanar, which is a pretty plum posting, and when the Klingons declared war against us, Lombardo managed to terminate an entire Klingon battlegroup. The Klingon’s still call him the Rolor Schoolmaster after that – I think they look up to him or something. Then he got his own taskforce, stopped part of last year’s Borg invasion like it was no thing at all, and has been keeping an eye on Dominion movements ever since. He wasn’t there, but it was his taskforce that took the first offensive action against the Dominion at Torrus III.”

“So, he’s not shy of action, then?”

“Not one bit. This is going to be an exciting posting.”

The pair left the main concourse, heading to a briefing room deeper inside the station, behind a security checkpoint. After passing the Marines on duty, they walked into a room that was already full of officers, none below the rank of Commander. Shaddid had time to whisper to Azo’rin “I guess getting here early was the right call,” before another door opened, and another Starfleet captain entered the room, trailed by a Commander. The man was tall, grey at the temples with a swarthy, Mediterranean complexion, while his second was a stern blond woman. Both were armed with type II pistols, and flanked by another pair of Marines, who looked like they were trailing the Captain regardless of anything he might have to say on the matter.
He sat down, tapped his pad, and looked around the room.
“My name’s Jake Lombardo; this is my XO, Babylon Reed. Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got a war to win – so let’s get to work.”
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