Alone in her office, Fleet Admiral Alynna Nechayev relaxed in her favorite overstuffed chair and held her mug of coffee close to her nose, allowing its aroma to warm and tickle her nostrils. The chair was positioned so that she could look out over San Francisco Bay, watching as the first feeble rays of sunlight began to highlight the Golden Gate Bridge through the dense morning fog.
The coffee, along with the splendid view, was her private pleasure, one of few she allowed herself while ensconced in the surroundings of Starfleet Headquarters. The combination of Colombian beans and Klingon raktajino was a blend introduced to her by friend and colleague William Ross, and it had quickly become a favored component of her morning ritual. After all, reading status reports and intelligence briefings before sunrise went a lot easier over a good cup of coffee.
On this day, however, Nechayev was also able to take satisfaction from another quarter. The padd resting in her lap and containing the latest status report from Jean-Luc Picard, sent from the Dokaalan sector and the site of the Enterprise's current mission, had already proven to be the highlight of the scores of reports she was required to review. She had no doubt the report would cause much discussion during the various meetings she would be required to attend today.
The sound of her door chime interrupted her reverie. "Come," she called out, spinning her chair around in time to see her office doors parting to allow Admiral Ross himself to enter.
"Good morning, Alynna," Ross said as he stepped into the room. With his immaculately tailored Starfleet uniform, close-cut dark black hair liberally peppered with gray, and blue eyes that seemed powerful enough to bore through tritanium, the admiral presented the epitome of a Starfleet flag officer. That description went far beyond simple appearances, of course, as Nechayev knew all too well. Ross had overseen much of Starfleet's operations during the Dominion War, establishing himself as a dynamic leader and imaginative tactical commander. It could be well argued that a significant portion of the Federation's success during the war was directly attributable to William Ross.
"Hello, Bill," Nechayev replied as she rose from her chair. Crossing the room toward the replicator set into the wall to the left of her desk, she asked, "Coffee?"
Ross nodded. "Absolutely," he said as he took a chair opposite hers by the window. Holding up the padd he had brought with him, he added, "The morning briefs make for interesting reading, don't they?"
"You could say that," she replied as she moved back across the room, offering to Ross one of the two coffee mugs she carried. Settling into her own seat, she looked through the window and saw that the hills surrounding the bay were becoming visible as sunlight began to peek over the eastern horizon, signaling the start of a new day. "I'm sure the day's meetings will be just as enjoyable." She took a sip from her second mug of the morning, savoring the rich brew and knowing that her private time to truly enjoy the enticing beverage had passed. It was no more than fuel now, providing what she hoped would be enough energy to push through the numerous reports, briefings, and meetings that were part and parcel of the day-to-day life of a high-ranking Starfleet staff officer.
"Some of these new directives are a little troubling," Ross said, glancing down at his padd. "Can you believe all this? Proposals for augmenting security patrols along the Klingon and Romulan borders as well as the Bajoran sector, long-term plans for retrofitting all Starfleet vessels with heavier armaments regardless of their current mission, permanent assignment of ground-combat units to line ships." Looking up, he shook his head. "I've even heard rumors of some new kind of elite classified unit being developed to test starship and starbase security using the tactics of known enemies. That's a bit extreme, don't you think?"
"I hadn't heard that one yet," Nechayev replied, thinking to herself as she spoke the words that, on the surface, the idea did indeed seem a bit over the top. Upon further reflection, however, the admiral realized there might well be some merit in the concept worth pursuing.
Shrugging after a moment, she added, "Still, we've learned some hard lessons over the years. Mr. Azernal seems hell-bent to see that we learn from them and that we don't get caught with our pants down ever again."
In addition to his notable political skills, Koll Azernal, chief of staff to the Federation President, had garnered like many of his fellow Zakdorn a reputation as a renowned and cunning military strategist. More so than people like Ross, Benjamin Sisko, and even Nechayev herself, Azernal's tactical prowess had contributed significantly to the Federation's winning of the Dominion War. Now, in the wake of that success, Azernal was using his formidable talents along with his newfound popularity to push forward policies designed to ensure the Federation's continued protection.
His speech to the Federation Council a month previously had left no doubt as to his feelings on the matter. Citing the invasions by the Borg and the Dominion in recent years as well as other interstellar emergencies along the way, Azernal had shown no mercy in recounting how these incidents had exposed and exploited numerous weaknesses in Starfleet's ability to defend the borders and people of the Federation. In his view, drastic changes were required, and it was an opinion that appeared to be gaining support.
"You have to admit he has a point," Nechayev continued. "Maybe it is time we reexamined our approach to defense. We've been taking it on the chin for a long time, Bill. Some of what Azernal is proposing makes sense, when you think about it."
Sipping his coffee, Ross replied, "I'm not going to argue that we can always do better when it comes to defense." He held up his padd for emphasis. "But some of this smacks of 'too much too fast.' Even Starfleet Academy's having to jump through hoops. Admiral Brand's staff worked two nights straight putting together a proposal for expanding the Academy's combat strategies and tactics curriculum, and introducing it earlier in the cadets' training cycle. Azernal wants to increase class sizes at Command School, too, so we can put more junior officers through before they take their first assignment."
Her attention partly focused on the world beyond her window, Nechayev said, "None of that is out of line. In fact, some of it's been on the table for discussion for quite a while now." Light flickered beyond the window that formed the back wall of the office and a crack of thunder reverberated through its thick glass. She turned to see that the approaching dawn had revealed a distant squall line of gray clouds converging on the bay. Rain was about to christen the new day, it seemed. She hoped the imminent storm was not an omen that might signal a change in her mood.
Nechayev knew that getting Admiral Brand to recommend changes to the Academy's military training curriculum would not have been difficult. The Academy superintendent had proposed greater emphasis on such subjects almost from the first day she had assumed that posting and soon after the initial discovery of the Borg and the awesome threat they represented.
"There may be such a thing as going too far," Ross countered, rising from his chair and crossing to the replicator. "Azernal's paying a lot of attention to military initiatives, but what about other areas? We still have a lot of problems to solve, after all."
He had a point, Nechayev conceded. More than a year after the end of the Dominion War, rebuilding efforts were still under way on many member worlds and would require much in the way of time and resources to complete. If those concerns were ignored, the Federation risked alienating valuable allies at a time they were most needed. While Nechayev appreciated the need for a strong defense and had always advocated what she believed to be reasonable measures to assure that security, she had not joined Starfleet merely to wage war. Were the policy changes proposed by Koll Azernal too drastic?
"I imagine the Federation Council will make sure he doesn't go too far," she said. "President Zife has assured the Federation that his first priority is rebuilding and reconstruction efforts. I'm sure that when he submits his plan to the council, all the issues, civilian and military, will be addressed accordingly."
"I hope you're right," Ross said as he retrieved another cup of coffee from the replicator and moved back toward his chair. "For the first time in a while, we're at a point where we can concentrate on something besides war. I joined Starfleet to explore, after all."