November 11th, 2387 1300 GMT (Stardate 64860.95)
"It is with great pleasure that today we can restore full governing authority to the people of Cardassia and the newly elected Detapa Council," stated Ambassador Nguyen to the assembled media and crowd of dignitaries. This was simply the culminating event in the long process of rebuilding and re-shaping the Cardassian Union after the Dominion War. Federation and Romulan forces, the Klingons had turned their sectors over to the Federation stating they were not suited for such duty as peaceful occupation, had held all major planets in the aftermath. Turning them over one by one to the civilian authorities as planetary, then regionally and finally the Cardassian Union government itself was reconstituted.
Things were far better than they had been in the early days of the occupation. Despite desperate attempts to feed them all millions had starved or died of disease and illness on the devastated worlds of the Union. The population levels were still only about half of what they had been at the outset of the war and industrial production was just enough to support internal needs. However food and power production was now sufficient that no one would go hungry. Medical facilities had been restored to adequate levels to take care of the people that were there and the economy was on a solid enough footing that it could grow and expand over the years to come. The last two years had seen somewhat of a moderate baby boom across Cardassian space. As conditions improved for the first time since the well before war more Cardassians were born than died.
In short, it looked like the Cardassian people were going to make it. That being the case it was time for Starfleet and the Federation to go.
"Captain, thank you for attending the ceremony, I take it you are headed out shortly?" she asked Captain Colburne of the USS Trafalger.
"Yes, we are taking home the last of the non-embassy people with us. Starfleet has been pulling ships out of Cardassian space and handing security duties over to the Union for about two months now. We leave in an hour and are the last ship out," stated Colburne.
"Have a good trip Captain, don't forget about us out here," the ambassador said with a nervous smile.
With that Colburne contacted the Trafalger and the last of the non-embassy staff on the planet were beamed up. A week later Trafalger was the last ship of 9th Fleet to leave Cardassian space.
December 2nd, 2387 0730 GMT (Stardate 64917.82)
Flag Level Ready Room of the USS Lexington
"Looks like 4th Fleet got a bit more aggressive in this go round at Deep Space 9," remarked Admiral Clark. Admiral Sofin had just finished his briefing on the fleets operation. Task Force Delta had run into a nasty surprise as 4th Fleet had doubled the number of ships at DS9 for this exercise. A feint towards Bajor proper had left Delta split and they had suffered heavily for it before rallying and getting their simulated kill on the station. The good news is that after performing badly in the first two simulations the other Federation units were getting much better. The bad news was that it meant his team would have to work all the harder to keep their attention.
The briefing moved on quickly as logistics, ground operations, communications and electronic counter measures had little to report, which was normal in a non-combat situation. The briefing came to Commander Zukhov who was giving the long threat assessment and intelligence briefing as was the usual course on Monday. Unlike the rest of the week where the subject matter was limited to 1st Fleets immediate area of responsibility this briefing would cover the whole of the Federation.
"Of immediate concern in our area is the redeployment of 9th fleet. They have finished their pullout from the Cardassian occupation and are currently based out of Starbase 11 near O'Ryan's Planet. Their immediate responsibility runs from the Penthara sector all the way around the border with the Cardassian Union to Betazed. 4th Fleet is still responsible for everything from Deep Space Nine around to Betazed," explained Zukhov as he illustrated on map.
"9th Fleet is in pretty bad need of refits and upgrades. It was overworked during its occupation duty. About half of their strength is headed towards various shipyards for overhaul. That is an awful lot of space to cover with just a shade under 200 starships but we don't anticipate any issues with the Cardassians. What ships they had left over after the war have not been well maintained. What they do have is aging equipment that badly needs to be replaced."
"2nd Fleet has been declared operational, though they are still technically working up. They are deploying to Alpha Centauri in the short term to orient them somewhat towards the Romulan facing side of the Federation core systems. Their permanent home is likely to be Starbase 718 once the 3rd Fleet finishes up taking possession of their ships and conducting shake down cruises over the next six to twelve months."
"The Romulans won't care much for that," remarked Admiral Clark. Starbase 718 was the closest major installation the Federation had to Romulus other than listening and defensive post on the neutral zone itself.
"Be that as it may they are going to have to get used to it. 3rd Fleet will likely be based at the new starbase being built a few light years from Alpha Centauri as it is right along the most direct route from Romulan space to Earth and Vulcan. So long as they don't cross the border they won't get their nose thumped," countered Admiral Sofin. Nodding in agreement Clark gestured for Zukhov to move on.
"Anyway, in addition to 2nd Fleet near the core the Romulan border is being watched by 5th, 6th and 8th Fleets arrayed in the following manner," he said while gesturing to the map. "For the most part they are well back of the border."
"7th Fleet is deployed all the way up at Starbase 514 to keep an eye on Breen space. There is not a whole lot up there so they are a bit under strength but even all the way out there it is a long way to Breen space. We are actually closer, but the Cardassian Union and the Ferengi Alliance territory is in between us and them."
"Finally we have 10th and 11th Fleets down by Tholian and Gorn territory. They have nearly as much territory to cover as everyone else put together but it is sparsely populated down in those regions and neither of those groups seems to pose much threat," concluded Zukhov.
"What is the overall status of Starfleet?" queried Admiral Clark. He had not kept up with the pace at which the fleet was being rebuilt from the Dominion War as busy as he had been getting 1st Fleet up and operational.
"Ship construction has continued at a rapid pace since the end of the Dominion War. The pre-war fleet numbered nearly 9,000 major ships plus nearly double that in shuttles, runabouts, auxillaries and attack fighters. We lost nearly 60% of our overall numbers during that conflict. In the 12 years plus since we have placed into commission just about 5,000 ships last time I checked. That has the fleet over the 9,000 ship mark once again. There is currently a bill in committee with the council that would raise our authorized strength to 15,000 active and 5,000 ready reserve ships. It is likely to pass though the pace of construction will likely slow over the next decade in an effort to avoid block obscellence issues."
"A general breakdown of the fleet would be as follows. 4th through 11th Fleets manage nearly 5,800 ships though they can't muster nearly those numbers in any reasonable time. The majority of those ships are Nova types, lighter combatants such as the Steamrunners or older ships. Each administrative fleet does maintain a small task force to deal with any major threats to security in its area but in most cases this consist of a few dozen ships at most."
12th Fleet is the exploration command and like us it really has no assigned territory to cover. They just pushed their numbers over 3,000 ships under Admiral Picard. They took on the Luna Class ships pretty quickly plus they have a slew of older legacy designs in pretty good numbers. Many of these ships are operating beyond the Federations borders"
"The turnover of the combat fleets into almost all new equipment has freed up a lot of more capable designs such as the Galaxy and Nebula class to serve in the patrol and exploratory roles for which they were designed. For the first time in a nearly twenty years Starfleet will be retiring ships at the end of this year as 3rd Fleets Miranda Class ships are scheduled to be scrapped. Production efficiency under the new shipbuilding program has enabled that to happen earlier than we had hoped."
"Explain that a bit please," said Clark sounding oddly annoyed.
"Prior to the Dominion War we were building over a dozen different classes of starship. We had in service nearly three-dozen different classes. Production facilities have been expanded and modernized and at the moment we are building just Independence, Sovereign, Akira, Redemption, Prometheus, Defiant, Nova, Intrepid and the new Excelsior Class ships. The Akira line is winding down as the Redemption/Excelsior line is ramping up. Those two share a large portion of their space frame so within a year or two there will be just seven types of ships being built until the Defiant replacement program gets up and going."
Clark thought about that with a hint of satisfaction and anger. He was happy that no one would be expected to go into harms way on ships more than a century old but a part of him was still bitter that he had lost a child so the Federation could learn that lesson. Incomparably rich compared to the other Alpha and Beta quadrant powers it bordered the mis-matched nature of Starfleet and the reliance on old equipment had been almost entirely an issue of complacency.
"Ok, lets move onto what the other powers are up to," ordered Clark after taking a moment to collect his thoughts.
As he figured the answer was basically some combination of not much and we don't have any clue depending on the power. For the Klingons it was mostly the former, for the Romulans and Breen it was pretty much the later. It should not have been surprising, the damn Vulcans did not even understand their pointy-eared cousins and the Breen were just the Breen. No one had really talked to or about them before the war and for damn sure they were not talking to anyone since it concluded.
With that the meeting adjourned and real work could start being done.
December 3rd, 2387 1300 GMT
Utopia Planetia Shipyards, Banquet Facility
The Sol system seemed to be bursting with ships. Utopia Planetia had doubled in size during and just after the Dominion War. In addition long idle surface yards on Earth had been revived. New orbital construction facilities were created around the moons of Saturn as well. Similar events had occurred at the Federations other major ship building facilities around Vulcan, Andoria, Alpha Centauri and Tellar Prime. The list of ships under various states of construction here numbered into the hundreds as the Sol System alone was producing nearly 200 new starships of various types each year.
By far the most numerous that could be seen out of the large viewing windows were Defiant Class escorts, followed by Prometheus Class destroyers. The former were essentially built on assembly lines shore side before being lifted to the orbital yards for assembly. Much had been learned from the Dominion War. While the new Defiant class ships were not quite as tough as their hand built ancestors they more than made up for it in numbers. Utopia Planetia alone completed nearly 60 of those every year. The total production Federation wide was nudging over the 120-ship mark as more and more efficiencies were found.
That was crucial as the Dominion War had shown that losses in heavy combat situations occurred at a far higher rate than one could build the larger ships to which the Federation was so accustomed. The Defiant line was designed to be very scalable. The only real limitation was the number of workers you could get stuffing the sections together. The shore side plants were working single shifts, so the component production could theoretically support over 360 of the escorts being built each year without any physical expansion.
The other attention getters were the Independence Class ships. Looming much larger than anything else in the yard these took nearly four years from start to completion. At any given time to supply the 24 ships scheduled for commissioning by the fleet in a given year meant 96 of these ships were in various states of construction across the Federation.
In addition one could see dozens of Sovereign Class battle cruisers, Luna Class exploration cruisers, the last of the Akira Class ships being built and the first of the Redemption Class Heavy Cruisers that would replace them starting with 5th Fleet's re-organization.
Today however the star of the show was not one of the new combatant ships Starfleet was building. Externally it looked almost exactly like one of the new Redemption Class Heavy Cruisers would look, which was really just an enlarged Luna Class to begin with. What made it special was deep inside the ship.
The ship was NX-2000B and had as its namesake another great experiment. Today was her day.
"Twenty-Two years ago my crew and I set forth from this exactly location with a simple mission, to seek out new life and new civilizations. We covered tens of thousands of light years over the course of our mission. I now stand here to commission a vessel that promises to add more to our knowledge of the galaxy than all the ships that came before her. The USS Excelsior was considered the great failed experiment of the previous century. I stand here humbled by the journey that awaits this crew and their captain. They will travel further in weeks than most starships have in a lifetime. Captain Riker, I commend to you this ship and wish well to all those who travel aboard her," stated Admiral Picard, aged 82 years now, as the media began to pepper him with questions.
"Admiral, can you comment on your feelings on the continued militarization of Starfleet. Do you think it has lost its focus on peaceful exploration?" asked a reporter from Risa.
"We will have more ships on deep exploration missions by the end of this year than at any time in the history of the Federation. Those ships will be more capable and be allowed more dedication to their mission than at any time in our history. I cannot count the number of times the Enterprise-D was diverted from missions of exploration to deal with security concerns," stated Picard flatly.
"Oh come on Admiral, the Federation has been building warships as fast as it possibly can for a long time now, do you really expect people to believe you when " asked the Risan before being cut off.
"Let me ask you a question. Do you expect Starfleet to protect Risa from say the Borg or the Dominion?" asked Picard as the reporter nodded meekly. Before he could begin to talk the old Admiral continued. "Well then it is only fair that you provide those you ask to defend you with the means to do so."
"But Admiral, we won the Dominion War, and have defeated the Borg twice " said the reporter attempting to recover control of the conversation.
"And the result is the millions of names you can read on the walls at Starfleet headquarters. The obligation of Starfleet Command is to provide those who go into harms way with the best possible chance of success and survival. Unless of course you would like to write the dispatches to families that had their loved ones die aboard ancient equipment to satisfy your moral misgivings?" snapped Picard.
The press conference ended abruptly with that. Riker smiled as he walked across the gangway to his new ship with Picard.
"That got a little bit heated " he quipped at Picard.
It was rumored Riker would take over Starfleet's revamped exploration group within a year or two when Picard stepped down. Before that he would have the honor of commanding the first Federation ship equipped with a fully functional slipstream propulsion system, the USS Excelsior-B. His commanding officer once more wished him well, and with that the Excelsior set off for its first set of full-scale test.
December 3rd, 2387 1500 GMT
Bridge of the USS Excelsior
"Captain, we are exiting the Sol System now. All systems are reporting normal," reported the Lt. manning the helm as the Excelsior cruised out of the system at a leisurely Warp 5.
"Well ladies and gentlemen, what do you say we stretch our legs. Set our course for Starbase 342, Slipstream factor 3," commanded Captain Riker.
The warp scale had proven cumbersome to use at speeds regular ships were now achieving. For Excelsior it had proven essentially unusable. Technically they would be traveling at warp 9.99993. The new scale was not terribly scientific but it was easy to use on the bridge. Each factor represented one-hundred thousand times the speed of light. Fractions allowed for a more precise expression of how fast one wished to go. The theoretical upper limit for this first generation system topped out around one-million times the speed of light.
The transition was surprisingly smooth. Within a matter of seconds the ship was racing across space, faster than any Federation ship save the famous Voyager had ever gone.
"Sir, our estimated arrival time is 1534."
Riker could not help but be impressed. They were covering a distance that normally took about 4 days with the most modern starships in a matter of minutes. This would change everything.
December 3rd, 2387 1530 GMT
Starbase 342, Command Level
"Sir, long range scanners are picking up an incoming well an incoming anomaly. It is coming in from the Federation core. It is some sort of subspace distortion," reported ops.
Captain Talaras was not particularly alarmed but the new regime had put in standing orders. Unknown ships were to be met and escorted in. Starbase 342, like most major Federation Starbases at this point, had traded in some of its runabouts for a short squadron of six Defiant Class escorts to enhance security.
"Order the alert escort to launch and intercept identify it," ordred Talaras without looking up from his PADD.
"Sir, we are unable to plot an intercept course. It registers a speed for the inbound of just over 300,000 times the speed of light. It will be here before we can launch."
With that Talaras looked up at the tactical display. "Put the station on Yellow Alert, raise the shields. Can you tell me anything else about it other than it is a subspace distorition?"
"It is a looks like a high concentrated warp field, very compact and moving very fast. The sensors are having a tough time getting a detailed look at it due to its velocity."
The alert lasted less than a minute. The anomaly dropped its speed rapidly as it approached the system. Finally the anomaly appeared to collapse and a ship, clearly of Federation origin appeared. The chirp of the communications system indicated they were being hailed.
"Starbase 342, this is Captain Riker of the USS Excelsior requesting permission to enter and dock."
Talaras nodded to the communication officer to give them clearance and cancelled the yellow alert. The huge dock doors of the station began to open for the visitor as a stunned command staff tried to comprehend what they had just seen.
December 3rd, 2387 1800 GMT
Starbase 342, Admirals Quarters
"Will! It is good to see you. I haven't seen you since the Enterprise was towed back after the battle with the Scimitar," exclaimed Clark while embracing an old friend.
"That seems like a long time ago Ethan. You were a newly minted Vice-Admiral then and I was just getting my feet wet as a captain," remarked Riker. "Then I took off in the Titan for Romulan space for a time, before going on a deep space exploration mission of the Beta Quadrant."
"And then Picard roped you into working for him again," Clark poked.
The two were roughly equal in age, and had only been one class apart at the academy. Riker would have long ago made admiral had he consented to be moved off the Enterprise but Ethan knew he had few if any regrets about that. He poured a couple of drinks as the two sat down.
"In all honesty I am a bit jealous Will. Your ship will be at the forefront of Starfleet exploration for the next decade," remarked Clark.
"It will be an adventure, that much is certain, but you have an awful lot going on here. I would never have thought that the guy I went to Mardi Gras with back during our academy days would be in command of hundreds of ships," quipped Riker.
"Well, I do try to stay a little more sober these days. Regardless things out here are pretty boring. You don't run into a lot of unknowns this close to the core. Our job really is to keep it that way, the last thing we need is another major war on our doorstep," stated Clark, getting more serious now. "You ought to be thankful you missed the worst of it Will. 7th Fleet the fight to Cardassia Prime hell even Cardassia Prime itself."
"Hey, its not like we were out exploring gas clouds or anything, we had a little run in with the Borg and got our taste of the Dominion War as well," countered Riker.
"Do you know how many men died directly under my command?" Clark asked as if he had not even heard him. Riker shook his head. "Eighteen-thousand four hundred and seventy-two. I saw tens of thousands more die during the war and I lost two children," pausing to think for a second Clark saw that Will clearly did not know what to say.
"I am sorry, I should not unload that on you. It is just that Alisha can never really understand and everyone else here works for me in one fashion or another," said Ethan. Riker, despite being at the station, was still under Picard's command so that made this a conversation between friends rather than a commander and his subordinate.
"Don't bother apologizing. No amount of training can prepare you to be the ultimate decision maker in situations that get people killed. Hell, I am married to a Betazoid counselor and I still have plenty of bad days...It is surprisingly lonely at the top..." explained Riker knowingly.
The two men sat lost in thought for a while before Will broke the silence.
"You need to come visit the Excelsior and take a ride. We are going to be around for a while operating out of this base because it is a pretty secure area of the Federation and is far enough away that we can test the ship without others picking us up on long range sensors," said Riker in an attempt to break the tension.
"Yeah, I do. How fast can your new toy go anyway?" asked Clark even though he had been fully briefed. Ship captains always knew more about what was realistic than those who built them.
"We are rated for a million times the speed of light. Though we have only done about a third of that so far. The propulsion system itself is capable of much more, like an order of magnitude faster, or so I am told. The limiting factor here is not how fast we can go but how fast and far we can scan and clear the space through which we are traveling," said Will.
"Hmm, I wonder what the chances are we can retrofit our existing ships with that technology " pondered Clark.
"They are looking into it, last time I checked they figured most of the newer ships could do it, the Sovereigns and Independence classes for sure. The Prometheus Class should work out as well, but probably only when the whole thing is put together. It won't work on the Akira or Defiant types though, something to do with the field geometry," said Will.
The prospect intrigued Clark. It was something he was well briefed on but Riker would know more about as he had been with the Excelsior since she was laid down a few years back. But that was more than a few years away, first the Excelsior had to run through a batch of test, then the converted ships would have to be tested, then they would need to find yard space to do all the refits.
"I can see your mind working through the problems Ethan. You spent too much time in the yards brining order to our shipbuilding program my friend," observed Will. At that thought they both shared a laugh. Ethan insisted on inviting the whole of the Excelsior's senior staff onto the station for a formal welcome with 1st Fleets command group. The two agreed to a time and Will departed back to his ship.