“While The Iron Is Hot”

PROLOGUE

Monday, January 20th, 2155
Manoir de Christofle, Place de la Concorde, Paris, France, Earth

The winter sun attemptedto shine through the dark grey clouds that loomed over the French capital city. A brisk icy wind swept in between the busy roads as Parisians and tourists went on their early morning travels. Many of them wrapped up thick long coats and complimented by hats, scarves and gloves to fight against the bitter cold temperatures that currently plagued the European continent. 

Near to the centre of the city was the Place de la Concorde, located on the Champs-Élysées. Various buildings of different sizes and ages sat along this thoroughfare. One of these, the Manoir deChristofle, was a building that had been built shortly after the signing of the Traité d’Unification in 2130 that legalised the formation of the United Earth government. The architects at the time wanted it to share similar features of the other local buildings that had survived the Third World War in the French capital. Inside the decor resembled one of elegance and luxury. The floors were either carpeted or had marble tiles. Each room and corridor was filled with bold colours and was outfitted with elegant furniture to resemble the stately importance of the building. The Manoir was the official residence and workplace for the Prime Minister of the United Earth government.  

Like every morning, the office of the Prime Minister of Earth was filled with a buzz that was expected of any government building. The various staff members were getting on with their daily business of running the United Earth government. Those that were walking down the corridor of the third floor though all moved aside as an entourage of Starfleet officers walked down it after departing from one of the lifts at the end of the corridor. Rear Admiral Samuel Gardner led the group of officers, offering a warm smile to those that past him. Gardner was tallish man of African American descent that appeared to be in his late forties. Almost four years ago he was one of a three people short listed to command the first NX-class ship to leave Earth, however Starfleet Command had given that honour to another man instead; Jonathan Archer. Since then he was given a promotion to Commodore and oversaw Starfleet’s efforts in constructing the planned six NX-class ships as well as upgrading Starfleet’s fleet with the latest technologies on offer. For three years he was the Deputy-Director of Starfleet Operations however all of that changed a year ago when he was promoted to Rear Admiral. He was ordered to take over as Director of Starfleet Operations after the tragic death Vice Admiral Maxwell Forrest, his superior. Since then, the former test pilot had found himself attending more meetings then he had imagined. He wished he had turned down that promotion almost three years ago and had the opportunity to at least command one of the new NX-class ships. Nevertheless, he had a feeling that he would be kept busy after today’s meeting with Prime Minister Samuels and members of his cabinet. 

Gardner’s group reached their destination, a set of two heavy looking dark varnished wooden doors and were cleared to enter by the security officers who stood on guard on either side. They were led in to a smaller office first; this was the workplace of the Prime Minister’s executive assistants. Sat behind a lavish glass desk was a woman who appeared in her early fifties with short auburn coloured hair. She was signing some paper documents when she noticed the arrival of the group before her. Gardner had met the woman on a number of occasions, so he greeted her with his usual warm smile.

“Madame Fontaine, a pleasure to see you again.” Gardner said as he offered her a handshake.

The petit French woman rose from behind her chair and took the admiral’s hand. “Bonjour Admiral Gardner. The Prime Minister is ready for you.” She said with a tender smile and a thick French accent. 

Gardner thanked the older woman before nodding to the rest of his staff to follow him as he opened the main entrance to the Prime Minister’s office. The room itself was referred to as Le Bureau Cezanne (The Cezanne Office) due to several paintings by the French artist Paul Cezanne hang in the room. The floor was trapezium shaped, with the shortest side having a large bay window that looked out on to Paris. In front of the window was the Prime Minister’s desk with a few armchairs and couches in the centre of the room. The furniture in the room was a mixture of modern designs that complimented the artwork of Cezanne. 

“Good Morning Mister Prime Minister.” Gardner said as he locked eye contact with Earth’s head of government who was currently sat in one of the armchairs in the middle of the room. On one of the dark blue sofas sat four members of Samuels’ cabinet, three women and a man while on another armchair was another man. All of them were dressed formally like Samuels in various suits of different styles.

“Admiral Gardner, come in.” Nathan Samuels said as he stood up from his chair to greet the Starfleet officers that were now coming in to his office. Samuels’ cabinet members also stood up to greet the officers with a round of handshakes. Once the formal hellos were dealt with everyone sat themselves down in to the armchairs and sofas. 

As the Prime Minister, Samuels would be chairing the meeting and spoke first. “Well then ladies and gentlemen we have a lot to get through this morning and I am very grateful for Admiral Gardner and his staff for joining us.” He smiled at the admiral; he then looked down at the small computer tablet in his lap before looking back up at the Starfleet flag officer. “Before we start our discussions, Admiral I’m curious what’s the status of the Challenger’sconstruction?” He asked.

Gardner was perplexed as to the relevant reasons why Samuels was asking such a question, particular as the third NX-class ship was almost finished and its launch had been publicised from every single media network across Earth. Nevertheless, he answered it. “I spoke with Captain Karim and her first officer this morning, they’re confident that the Challengerwill be ready for her scheduled launch within a fortnight.”

“Excellent, their launch will help with these matters that we are about to discuss.” Samuels said with satisfaction as he then looked down at the computer pad on his lap. “Down to business then everyone.” He looked back up at the group after briefly reading his notes. “Earth hasn’t had it easy in recent weeks. The summit that was meant to finalise the Coalition of Planets have been stalled as representatives continue with negotiations.  From what we can tell the Vulcan, Andorian and Tellarite governments are pretty much in, however there is uncertainty from other possible members including the People’s Republic of Coridan, the United Rigel Colonies and the Denobulan Confederation.” 

“What type of uncertainty Nathan?” asked one of the cabinet members. Everyone looked at the man who sat in one of the armchairs opposite to the Prime Minister. The man in question was Haroun al-Rashid, Earth’s Minister/Secretary of State for the Interior Office. The Arabic politician had been part of the Earth delegates for the talks for the Coalition of Planets. He was also considered one of Samuels’ closets political allies and friends. He wore a smart beige suit, white shirt and a creamy coloured tie that went along with his suit. The way he was sat in the arm would make anyone believe that he was extremely comfortable in the chair, this was possible true, and it was most likely the chair he favoured to sit in when meeting with Samuels in his office.

The Prime Minister gazed at al-Rashid as he answered. “Their concerns range from trade route disputes to sharing of intelligence to actual joint-fleet programs.” He turned back to the rest of the group before carrying on. “I’ve spoken with the leaders of the three other states that are fully in this with us and we’ve agreed that we should all attempt to work closely with these member states that are still on the fence. Representatives from Earth, Vulcan, Andoria and Tellar Prime will be sent to each home world to speak with heads of states and government.” He paused as he allowed the seriousness of what he was saying to enter the thoughts of those around him. “Earth will be tasked in heading up the delegation heading to Denobula. We’ve been invited by Premier Nerlox to see how we can assure members of his government that joining the Coalition will benefit Denobulans.” Nathan paused as he looked at one of the women sat near to him. “Madilyn, I want you to be our lead representative on this.”

                  Madilyn Campbell was Earth’s Minister/Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She was in her late forties and like Samuels hailed from the United States. She was renowned as being a gifted diplomat, negotiator and public speaker. After Nathan made his remarks of her being the lead delegate she smirked and looked at him from her spot on one of the sofas. “You’re hoping my good rapport with Premier Nerlox will work to our advantage?” 

                  Samuels shared Campbell’s smirk and nodded. “Being the former Earth Ambassador to Denobula has its benefits Madilyn. Your reputation precedes you on Denobula and Nerlox trusts you. If you can win him and others from his government over then we would be in a strong position.” 

                  The discussion was interrupted when one of Admiral Gardner’s attachés whispered in his ear. Gardner rose from his chair and looked down at the politician. “Mister Prime Minister, I’m sorry to interrupt this meeting but I’ve just been informed that there’s been a shuttlecraft accident in orbit, resulting in the death of several Starfleet officers.”

                  The entire room fell silent for a brief second. Samuels spoke, looking up at the admiral. “Do we know who?” 

Gardner nodded solemnly. “Captain Karim is listed as one of the causalities.” It was unfortunate news, particularly as they had just mentioned her. “If you don’t mind, I would like to return to San Francisco and find out more of what has happened.”

Samuels rose from his chair as he spoke. “Yes of course admiral. Keep me informed. We will carry on and I’ll let you know what we discussed later.”

The Admiral and his entourage all rose from their seats and bid their curt farewells to the other ministers in the room. Once the door behind them closed it was Campbell who spoke up. “Did he say Captain Karim, as in the skipper for the Challenger?”

All Samuels could respond with was a brief solemn nod.

Challenger NX-03, San Francisco Orbital Shipyards, Earth orbit

Commander Lloyd Burton was lying with his back against the cold deck plating as he realigned several power relays on Challenger’s phase cannons. Burton was in his late thirties and would soon become the ship’s First Officer and Chief Armoury Officer once it was launched in just under two weeks. Until then he was designated as its Deputy Construction Manager. 

Launching the Challengerwas a venture he was excited about as well as having jitters over. Even with the fifteen years of active field service under his belt, the idea that he would be going further in to space than he had ever been before was what was making him have mixed feelings about the whole thing. He was starting to understand the emotions conveyed in various reports he had read from his counterparts on Enterpriseand Columbia

A bulk of Challenger’s construction was pretty much completed now, it was just the fine-tuning of the ship that was required. He had to get this realignment completed before the end of the day so his armoury team could start work on the targeting scanners. The buzz of the intercom going off interrupted him of his work. Sighing to himself, he pushed himself up from his position on the floor of the main armoury and making his way over to where the nearest communication panel was. He pressed the button to receive call and spoke in to it. 

“Burton here.” 

Sir you’re needed on the bridge at once. The captain’s shuttlepod has just collided with another craft and has crash landed in the English Channel.” Quickly spoke the voice of Ensign Martha Habiba, one of Challenger’s science officers.

Burton couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “I’m on my way.” He quickly exited the armoury and sprinted all the way down the corridor to the nearest lift to get him to the bridge. The lift journey felt like it was taking forever, but eventually he arrived.

“Report?” He asked loudly, directing his question to the British-African science officer, as there were a number of technicians and engineers working on various stations. 

Habiba gestured for the commander to join her at the science station. “We lost contact with the captain’s shuttle three minutes after it lifted off from Saint Pancras/King’s Cross station in London. The Captain reported a small Rigelian ship approaching them at high speeds, but before they could evade them, they collided. Captain Karim reported that Lieutenant Commander Rossi was killed by the impact and she was attempting to land the shuttle in the English Channel. The radio then went dead, we detected an explosion mid-air. We haven’t been able to determine if the explosion was from either shuttles or just one.”

Burton couldn’t believe it. Challenger’s second officer and chief science officer, Alec Rossi was dead and possibly its captain too. The three of them had only recently started to get to know each other. “Have we heard from Starfleet Command?”

“They’ve told us to remain on standby as the British Royal Navy has sent two ships in, the H-M-S King William Vand H-M-S Daring. They’re looking for survivors. Other coastguard services from the British Isle and French services are preparing to leave their ports to help out too. A no-fly zone has been put up by the Royal Air Force also.” Habiba answered. 

Burton felt useless, he wanted to take Challenger’s other shuttlepod and head down there to find out what happened to Captain Karim and Commander Rossi, but he knew he would receive an ear bashing from Admiral Gardner if he took such an action. He looked at the chair in the middle of the bridge: the captain’s chair. It had only been installed yesterday and Captain Karim had yet to sit in it. She had joked about saying she wanted to christen it when they launched, feeling if she sat in it before the left, she would jinx their maiden voyage. Now Lloyd wondered if she would ever return or if it would remain an empty chair for the foreseeable future.