She would never have admitted it to Subcommander Rekar, the Tal Shiar liaison and her temporary second-in-command, but Commander Toreth felt anxious about operating on the wrong side of the Neutral Zone.
The last time her vessel had been outside the Empire a couple of years ago, it had ended rather badly for her, facing off with a Starfleet vessel and having been compromised by a Federation spy who had been in cahoots with her own people to smuggle defectors into Starfleet’s waiting hands.
It had been an embarrassment from which she had not easily recovered. Her standing with the Imperial Guard had been severely damaged after that incident and it had bordered on a miracle that she had been able to cling to her command.
Her past experiences were not the only reason why she felt anxious over this mission. She had in fact voiced her protests to what she had been asked to do before they had set out, it wasn’t as if she still had a reputation to defend, but it had fallen on deaf ears to both the Tal Shiar and Admiral Tomalak. It wasn’t often that the Romulan intelligence community and high-ranking military officers saw eye-to-eye on anything but Toreth suspected that both parties saw this mission as their own means for redemption.
It had been less than a year that the ubiquitous intelligence service had been handed a sound and humiliating defeat by the Dominion in the Gamma Quadrant, a fact that the remaining Tal Shiar had tried to keep hidden from the general populace but had failed to keep a secret from many in the military.
And Tomalak had suffered his own series of embarrassments over the years, especially at the hands of Starfleet, which had many left wondering how exactly he had managed to get himself promoted to his current rank. Some had speculated that the Senate had felt that he could do less damage to the Empire as a flag officer on Romulus than in command of a warbird patrolling the neutral zone.
Toreth knew that somebody had seriously underestimated the admiral’s drive and ambition as well as his determination to try and deal the Federation payback for the humiliation he had endured at their hands.
“Commander, we are now entering our destination star system,” reported the uhlan in charge of piloting the majestic D'deridex
The ship lurched as it encountered sudden resistance to its forward momentum.
“Report,” Toreth barked as she steadied herself in her chair.
“We are encountering increased gravimetric distortions the closer we get to our destination,” the uhlan at the helm said.
Toreth uttered a heavy sigh. They had travelled at full impulse for the last five hours to approach the Iota Crucis system and now that they had finally gotten close, another obstacle had been put into their path. “Tell engineering to double our output to the engines, I do not want to lose any more time than necessary. Keep us at full sub-light no matter what.”
“Yes, sir,” he said and began to contact the engineering compartment.
“We should be in communications range by now,” said Sub-commander Rekar. “Hail the Xenarth and let me begin my negotiations.”
The commander shot the man on her right a dark glare. Toreth had no love for the Tal Shiar and their overbearing officers, something that hadn’t changed after she had been fooled by a Federation spy who had impersonated herself as an intelligence officer on her ship. “Sub-commander, I do not know what kind of assignments you are used to and frankly I do not care,” she said in a sharp tone. “On this vessel I am the person giving the orders and I will be carrying out the negotiations.”
He took a step closer to her chair and spoke to her softly. “I do not care for your tone, Commander.”
“Nor do I for yours,” she shot back in an equally low tone. Her crew was well aware of her dislike for the Tal Shiar but she also understood that open conflict with Rekar could potentially lead to an early grave once this mission was over.
Rekar held his tongue, for now deciding it best to give the ship’s commanding officer some leeway in carrying out the mission how she felt best. Toreth had no illusions that he would swoop in again once he thought that things were not proceeding in the best interest of the Tal Shiar.
“Centurion, have you established communications with the Xenarth leadership?”
The second officer nodded sharply. “It appears our intelligence reports were accurate, Commander and I have been able to open a direct line to Scholar Queen Klestra, the current leader of the Xenarth Aggregate.”
Rekar had a self-satisfying smile on his lips. “You doubted the accuracy of our reports?”
“It wouldn’t have been the first time the Tal Shiar was wrong,” said Toreth.
The dark scowl on the intelligence officer’s features told her that she had gone too far and she made a mental note to reign in her distaste for the man. She glanced back at her second officer. “Put her on screen, Centurion.”
Moments later the distinctive insectoid face of a presumably female Xenarth appeared on the main viewer at the front of the bridge. It took all of Toreth willpower not to show her disgust for the clearly non-humanoid creature’s appearance. She couldn’t help herself, the Xenarth reminded her of the vile insect-like race which infested the Romulan world of Aranthka IX.
“What is the meaning of this intrusion? Who are you?”
the female insectoid said with a noticeable clicking noise in her speech, her feelers twitching in angry excitement.
The commander rose from her chair. “My name is Toreth and I represent the Romulan Star Empire,” she said. “We have observed your recent embrace of advanced technology with great interest and believe that you may be ready to become a significant ally to our people.”
Toreth couldn’t be certain, of course, but she thought those large and dark compound eyes considered her with suspicion. “We have no interest of foreigners meddling with our affairs.”
She smirked at this. “I’m afraid you have no choice in this matter if you value your continued existence.”
“You threaten us?”
Toreth quickly shook her head. “Absolutely not,” she said resolutely. “I simply wish to warn you of the dangers of pursuing an isolationist policy in this region of space. You may not be aware of this yet, seeing that you have only recently developed technology able to probe deeper into space, but you are surrounded on all sides by powerful forces, some reasonable and friendly like the Romulan Star Empire and some corruptive and hostile like the Federation.”
she nearly spat. “We have had dealing with them in the distant past.”
That threw Toreth off for a moment and she allowed herself a quick glance towards Rekar. His reports had not indicated that the Xenarth had made previous contact with other races. As far as she had been told the Xenarth had been an insignificant pre-warp civilization until very recently when they had suddenly developed space-faring technology and more importantly commenced work on synthesizing a power source far beyond what even the scientists in the empire had ever successfully achieved. To Toreth it had sounded like an improbable scenario from the first time she had heard of it and secretly she was pleased that the Tal Shiar had clearly not been as knowledgeable of Xenarth history as they had claimed.
That much was obvious upon studying Rekar’s now blank expression. But before he could suggest a remedy for this lack of intelligence, Toreth decided to gamble and she turned back towards the screen. “So you must know then of their contemptible attempts to try and corrupt all people they encounter.”
It was difficult to tell if she was on to something or not, the Xenarth’s face was not easily read and the queen remained silent.
“I expect that they have noticed your recent technological advancements just as we have and that they have dispatched an invasion force as we speak. However if you agree to ally yourself with us, the Star Empire will protect you from their meddling influence.”
“What guarantee do I have that you will not do the same?”
At that she smiled. It was a good-natured smile, one she had spent countless times practicing in her mirror. “If you tell me now that you do not wish our assistance, that you’d rather deal with the Federation and their powerful military apparatus by yourself, I will order this ship to turn around immediately and we will never bothered you again,” she said. She could hear a nervous Rekar take a step forward, clearly not happy about the way she was handling these so-called negotiations. She held up a hand towards him in a way that Klestra couldn’t see from her vantage point, keeping the Tal Shiar agent at bay. “However, I must stress to you that this is the only offer of assistance that we shall make. We have our own resources to consider and we expended quite a few of to come here today. If you wish to face the Federation by yourselves and you eventually realize that you don’t like what they have to offer. The Star Empire will be in no position to help you fight off the foreign soldiers which by then will certainly have invaded your sovereign lands.”
Queen Klestra uttered a number of clicking noises in quick succession. The fact that the translation matrix did not provide an interpretation in Romulan led Toreth to believe that those hadn’t been actual words. The insectoid fell silent again for a moment, then glanced off screen before eventually focusing on the Romulan commander again. “My predecessors were foolish,”
she said. “They believed that they needed no allies while the Colony was at its weakest and most vulnerable. Then, when we were almost destroyed because of Federation intercession we turned away from the very technology which could have made us great again. I will not let the past repeat itself. The Xenarth will once again rise as a power to be reckoned with.”
Toreth was in the inevitable position in which she had no clear understanding as to what the insectoid queen was referring to. Clearly there was much more to the Xenarth than the Tal Shiar had been able to learn. She decided to go along with it. “The Romulan Star Empire can help you to achieve greatness again, Queen Klestra. All the Federation has ever been interested in is to keep those they conquer and corrupt in line with their narrow-minded morals and ideology. We on the other hand want to see you fulfill your entire potential.”
“You are welcome to approach New Xenarth,”
she said. “And we shall discuss your proposed alliance in more detail.”
Toreth smiled. “I’m looking forward to meeting you in person, Queen Klestra.”
That smile and appearance of confidence disappeared from her face along with the image of the insectoid on the screen as she let herself sink back into her command chair.
Any reasonable observer may have guessed that Toreth knew exactly what she was doing. The truth however was that she was heavily improvising. Neither Tomalak nor Rekar had told her much about the true nature of this mission or what it was exactly that made the Xenarth so valuable as to risk open confrontation with the Federation. She hated to be left in the dark and she was determined to remedy this situation as soon as possible.