by E. L. Zimmerman


Never imagining that - throughout his many years of service to this office - would he find himself in such a tenuous judicial position, Ambassador M'kk Thrawl studied the classified memorandum paragraph by paragraph, line by line, word by word. Over and over again, he read its contents, perusing even the syntax for possible hidden meanings or messages ... but he found none. No, there was nothing more to the brief announcement blazing in aqua blue light from the screen of his Starfleet desk monitor than the shocking news. No matter how many times he went over and through and about it, the heavy impact on his soul never changed. The truth continued forcing his Andorian heart to skip a beat every time he read it. The drama of reality - of real life, of real death - never, ever lessened; that was a lesson he had learned all too well in his reckless youth.

Sighing heavily, he surrendered to the inevitable.

It had happened just as the words of the memo stated that it had. Ironically, it had happened just as everyone who had either joined, served, or enjoyed tenure with Starfleet knew it would. He shook his head in realization, and he wiped a thin layer of sweat that had appeared on his forehead. It had happened, and it did so inevitably as all things do - and Thrawl found himself curiously drawn to the monochrome insignia at the base of the clandestine document, hoping that perhaps some logic - some justifiable sense from the chaos swirling through his mind - could be found in the plain and simple words that appeared above it. With extreme care, ignoring the sensation of vertigo he was still feeling, Thrawl studied the document's official crest, peering at the thin, leafy branches and the bold circle outlining the small grouping of stars - suns drawn together in no unique pattern but, nonetheless, symbolizing so much more than a unity of worlds, so much more than the places and the peoples drawn together across a vast, limitless cosmos for the sole purpose of finding strength, peace, and safety in numbers.

In a universe where anything was possible, 'this' was bound to happen.

"But how can there be safety," he wondered to himself, reaching out and tracing with a single fingertip the glowing crest of the United Federation of Planets, "when something as simple, as unprecedented, as unexpected as this occurs ... so senselessly?"

Had someone - a confidante, an officer, or a colleague - warned him of the contents before he opened the secret memorandum, he would've called them mad. Had someone mentioned that today was the day - today, a Tuesday on Earth as normal in appearances as any other Tuesday had ever been - that a galaxy-changing event was going to happen, he would've accused that person of perpetrating a vicious, mean-spirited, and libelous hoax. Had he awakened from a startling nightmare that pulled him from a night's slumber - the quarters provided at the San Francisco headquarters were always a bit warm to his liking, signaling perhaps a natural preference for the icy chill of the North Continent of Andor - he would've doused his blue facial skin with cold water and, determinedly, crawled back under the Starfleet regulation covers to defeat the nocturnal demons ... ignoring what he had seen, what his mind's eye had conjured in only what could be considered the most evil of fascinations.

The news was - personally, professionally, truthfully - unimaginable.

Starfleet Command had received official notification via subspace, and the senior officers on call had immediately ordered a lock-down of all Earth-based Federation facilities, an action without precedent in the history of operations. The quorum of shaken men and women and, well, others had gathered at the Master Chamber of the Robert April Hall on the Starfleet Headquarters' grounds. They had, literally, sealed the doors for fear of any inkling of the precious information being leaked. The first order of business was to squelch the entirety of the matter until the President and the Council could be briefed, in total, on the events that had tragically unfolded. Second, the officers demanded an unquestionable cessation of any media activity both on Earth and throughout the surrounding star systems. Third, the scholarly admirals debated fastidiously and furiously about the appropriate means with which to dissect and disseminate the events; cautiously, they agreed that only need-to-know members of the Federation would be informed of the events ... and Thrawl knew well enough that he fell into that unfortunate category of senior staff. He knew well enough what his responsibilities would be in the timeline that would now unfold. He trusted that his every action, his every word, would be studied, subsidized, and scrutinized with more political adeptness than any world had seen the likes before. He knew it all, and he only sighed, again, this time more heavily than before.

"Beings die every day," he mused, realizing that he was still numbly tracing the illuminated Federation crest on his monitor's display. Irrationally, he pulled his hand away as if the transparent aluminum plating had suddenly burned his tender flesh. In fact, he wondered if he had been burnt.

Was it possible?

Was it not?

He didn't know any more, but the sensory impression stayed with him like an itch he couldn't possibly scratch. After all, the galaxy - now that he knew what he knew - was a far different place than it had been before the dispatch was received. Ignorance, as Earthlings love to say, is bliss.

"Beings die every day," he understood. Defiantly, he said it aloud, trying more to convince himself than achieve any startling new revelation of personal philosophy. "They do. They die every single day. It's a part of natural existence, and ... and ..."

He stopped for a moment, trying to remember where he was headed with this train of thought.

"And we ... those who are left behind ... we have to ... to ... to accept it," he finally muttered unpersuasively.

Shaking his head, pulling himself from the trance, he curtly tapped a key on the interface. Was it his imagination, or did the terminal just burn his finger again?

"And someone has to suffer the consequences," Thrawl added.



Someone would have to pay for this ...



That wasn't right.

It was patently wrong, and he cursed himself for thinking it.

As he had already acknowledged, beings die every day. Life - like so many other elements of the universe - has a discernible beginning, middle, and end. According to the official report from the Enterprise-B logs, there wasn't a villain - an errant, bloodthirsty Klingon or a nefarious Romulan double agent - whom Starfleet would have to track down and bring to justice. Clearly, the report defined that the death was the result of "unparalleled, unforeseeable catastrophe" with blame attributed to no one. One domino - was that the old Earth toy? - had unexpectedly toppled into another, causing a chain reaction of improbable proportions ... leading to an incident that would, without question, have galactic consequences.

As Starfleet Magistrate Prime, M'kk Thrawl made a living out of finding culprits where others failed, where villains hid in the deep, dark closets of their very souls. He knew full well that that was why he had been briefed. As per Starfleet protocol, inquests were held in the event of any senior officer's death. As history had proven, witch-hunts were called for when any senior officer died - intentionally or accidentally - while under another colleague's command.

"Someone has to suffer the consequences," he repeated, his words ringing in his ears as he slumped back in his high chair, the weight of an interplanetary alliance bearing down on more than his shoulders. "Someone has to pay the price for ... for this."


"Someone," he whispered.

He closed his eyes, and, for the first time in many years, he prayed ... he prayed for the strength of the Clans of Andor. He prayed for the serenity of a centuries-old Federation. And, he prayed for the wisdom so often expressed with eloquence by his Vulcan colleagues ... for he knew they would be watching ... if not all Vulcans then, at least, one ... in particular.


Without a pause, he brought his hand down on the terminal and activated the terminal, knowing he had to see it again in order to accept the truth of the matter. His breathing controlled, he read through the document one final time before committing it to the machine's core memory.

"The venerable James T. Kirk," he muttered, still sensing the weight of many worlds forcing him deeper and deeper and deeper into chair, "is presumed dead."

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