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Chapter One

USS Adamant
Delta Quadrant

The dream had seemed endless, yet strangely ephemeral, as though his mind had lived a thousand different lifetimes which he couldn’t fully recall. Consciousness began to reassert itself, bringing with it a renewed self-awareness. A name. He had a name. And… a title? No, a rank. He had a name and rank. It was… ‘Dom’ he heard his mother’s voice call from some distantly firing memory neurons. That was it. Dominic. Dominic Leone, lieutenant junior grade, Starfleet.

“Easy, sir,” a kind voice said softly to him. “A bit of confusion is perfectly natural when reviving from cryosleep. You’re safe and in good hands.”

Leone tried to ask a question but all that came out was a hoarse squeak. He felt a plastic straw touched to his lips, and began sipping greedily, realizing only after the fact that he was drinking a sickly-sweet solution. Having expected water, he choked on the liquid.

“Sorry, sir. I know it tastes awful, but it’ll stabilize your electrolytes.”

“How--” he croaked. “How long?”

“You’ve been asleep for nine months, sir. Adamant has arrived safely in the Delta Quadrant. You’re at Galaxy Station.”

Adamant, he remembered. Intrepid-class. Captain Caldwell’s ship. And... Vanguard… that’s right, Task Force Vanguard. He’d gone toe-to-toe with his own grandmother to secure a posting to the hazardous mission, whose first contingent had suffered a nearly thirty-percent casualty rate.

He’d been sent out on the second wave of ships from the Federation’s corward frontier, dispatched some thirteen-thousand light-years distant into the nearer reaches of the Delta Quadrant. There, an armada of starships dispersed over dozens of parsecs in various intercept groups was attempting to stem the tide of an influx of nomadic alien fleets bound for the Alpha Quadrant.

Unlike the first wave of starships in the task force, Adamant and her sister ships had been dispatched under their own power, carrying their crews in stasis. This added three months to the journey, but allowed Starfleet to outfit a more robust third wave with the same high-warp carrier sleds that had conveyed wave one. That tertiary relay of ships would arrive in another three months.

The medic helped Leone up into a sitting position as he struggled to get his bearings. He dimly recognized Adamant’s main shuttle bay where dozens of cryotanks were arranged in rows. Several of the other tanks had medtechs attending to their occupants as well, with the crew being revived in groups according to rank and function.

His last coherent memory was of falling to sleep in Starbase Bastion’s cryo-prep ward in the station’s MedCenter.

The medic pressed a hypospray to Leone’s neck, injecting a metabolic stimulator along with vitamin and mineral supplements. “You’re going to undergo an exam, sir, and then you’ll be escorted to your quarters to rest and recuperate.”

“I haven’t had enough rest already?” Leone asked groggily.

* * *

Europa limped into the system, slowing to sublight from a leisurely Warp Four, the best speed the battered starship could safely maintain.

“Secured from warp speed, Captain,” Lightner addressed Lar’ragos from the Helm.

“Galaxy Station within visual range, sir,” the rating at Ops advised.

“On screen,” Lar’ragos ordered, interested to see how much had changed since their last visit.

The hodge-podge space station appeared on screen. Significant construction had taken place in the past few weeks, though still in the same haphazard fashion that had become the sprawling complex’s hallmark. This time, however, the structure was accompanied by a number of new ancillary drydocks and over a dozen unfamiliar starships.

“Looks like reinforcements have arrived,” Liu observed from beside the captain.

Ops announced, “We’re being directed to a mobile drydock facility, sir.”

“Bring us in, one-eight impulse on docking approach.” Lar’ragos said tiredly. “Gods know we’ve earned some respite.”

Lightner shot Lar’ragos a darkly ironic look from his seat. “And which gods are those, sir?”

Lar’ragos’ reply was expressionless. “Whichever capricious deities oversee this horrid little tract of the universe, Lieutenant.”

* * *

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