A surprisingly tense Bobby DeSoto turned from where he stood in the middle of the bridge to face Amaya Donners as she stepped into the room with the senior officers following closely.
“Report,” she asked as she made her way towards her chair.
“We’ve just detected another ship near Iota Crucis IV,” he said and then quickly stepped up to the helm station, clearly eager to resume his normal post and leave the captain to deal with whatever he had discovered.
“Romulan Warbird,” Lure Mer’iab said before he had reached the tactical station even if by now few had to be told after seeing the imposing emerald-colored starship looming large on the main view screen. Most were fully aware that the warbird was just as threatening as its huge size and aggressive design implied.
“The Romulan vessel is still over twenty AU away. At our present maximum speed of full impulse we wouldn’t be within weapons range for at least another eleven hours,” said Allenby after taking her own seat and bringing up the sensor information. She shot the helmsman a telling look. “Hardly a reason to call red alert.”
Texx came to the young officers defense. “Better save than sorry.”
DeSoto aimed a grin at Allenby which she responded to by rolling her eyes, an exchange which went unnoticed by the rest of the bridge crew.
“Agreed,” said Maya, “but let’s stand down from red alert and switch to yellow. I don’t want to come into this with an overly aggressive posture.”
Texx, sitting next to her, hit the right panels on his console and the alert klaxons and flashing red lights died away to be replaced by a much gentler mustard-colored glow.
Amaya considered the deceptively large image of the Romulan Warbird on screen. As a Starfleet officer assigned to starships and bases she had faced opponents in battle countless times over her career but never before as the person ultimately responsible for an entire ship and her crew. This would be her first real test as a commanding officer and the notion of having to take her ship into battle so soon after taking command was not a pleasant one. It would be a test not just of her abilities to lead but also of Agamemnon
and how her crew would perform under pressure. She couldn’t resist a quick glance at the display integrated into her armrest to find out the overall response time to the red alert. She was pleasantly surprised to find that the crew had responded swiftly to prepare for battle stations in what marked a clear improvement over the time achieved during initial drills. She made a mental note to congratulate Chief Holly at coming through on his promise to whip the crew into shape.
They had prepared for the worst for the last few days. Now it was time to put all that practice into action and hope for the best.
“Head-to-head, Lieutenant,” Texx asked the security chief. “What’s your tactical analysis?”
“In pure offensive capabilities we’re probably just about even,” said the avian. “I’d give us a slight edge thanks to better speed and maneuverability. There is no definitive precedent of a battle considering our current circumstances and my suggestion would be to avoid setting one. But if it were to come to a fight, I’m confident we could win. It would make for a good measure of our own abilities.”
The Bolian smirked and looked at the captain. “You have to appreciate the aplomb.”
“If we are looking at a battle here,” said Vej, “we might help start something the Federation can ill afford. Last time I checked we’re not on the best of terms with the Klingons and the Dominion is not exactly crazy about us either.”
Maya nodded in agreement. “We don’t need to make any more enemies,” she said. “Let’s see if we can put off testing all our fancy offensive weapons to another day.”
“These Romulans,” Queen Ket asked form where she stood near the science station, “our people have not come across them before. Are they as dangerous as you seem to imply?”
“They’re not the kind of people who are likely to invite you over for dinner,” said DeSoto without taking his eyes off his station. “And if they do, it’s probably because you’re on the menu.”
The Xenarth considered the young helmsman curiously, apparently not following.
Texx was quick to help. “What Ensign DeSoto is clumsily trying to explain, Queen Ket, is that the Romulans are first and foremost looking out for their own interests. They are indeed a very powerful empire and you are lucky not to have had previous run-ins with them before considering that their border is only a stone’s throw away from here.”
“If they are here now, violating the Neutral Zone this blatantly, it’s only because they see an opportunity for themselves which is tempting enough to disregard previous agreements,” said the security officer.
Maya shuddered at the idea of what that meant exactly. “Then let’s find out, shall we? Hail the warbird, Lieutenant.”
It didn’t take long for them to respond. A middle-aged, female Romulan officer with a sharp military haircut sat comfortably in her throne-like command chair on her bridge, her posture and body language just relaxed enough to show that she had been expecting this call and was prepared for it. “My name is Commander Toreth of the Imperial Romulan Warbird
Khazara. I extend cordial greetings to our friends in the Federation. May I inquire as to your business in this system?”
Maya couldn’t help but envy the seemingly effortless manner in which the other woman presented herself and she knew that as much as she wanted to emulate it, her own body language and tone was likely coming across much more rigid. “Commander Toreth, I’m Captain Amaya Donners of the Agamemnon
. I must say I am surprised to find a Romulan vessel on this side of the Neutral Zone. You may not be aware of this but this system lies within the sovereign territory of the Federation.”
Toreth feigned surprise. “Within the Federation you say? How odd. My records show that Starfleet has avoided this part of space for over one-hundred years.”
Maya cracked a humorless smile. “Regardless of our past deployments you will find Iota Crucis IV to be firmly within Federation territory to which the Romulan Empire has never made a legitimate claim. So you must forgive me for asking what would make you decide to enter this system unsolicited.”
“I am saddened that you would think so little of us to believe we would come here uninvited, Captain.”
Maya frowned. “I don’t understand,” she said and immediately regretted the phrase which put a wide smile of triumph onto Toreth’s own face, momentarily shifting this conversation into her favor. Maya was painfully reminded that every interaction with a Romulan, even a verbal one, was akin to battle itself.
“I’d be more than happy to educate you, Captain. What you call Iota Crucis IV is in fact inhabited by a sentient race called the Xenarth who have no interest whatsoever to have any business with the Federation. Now remind me if I’m wrong, Captain, but doesn’t current Federation policy allow sovereign races to make up their own mind about their allegiances? Within your territory or otherwise.”
Maya didn’t take the bait this time. “Are you trying to imply that the Xenarth have chosen to align themselves with the Romulan Star Empire? Voluntarily?”
Now Toreth looked offended. “I do not care for your implication, Captain. And to answer you question; yes, they have indeed. The Xenarth have chosen to become allies of the Star Empire and therefore now enjoy our protection.”
Ket stepped forward. “Our people would not choose to ally themselves with a foreign power so easily.”
The Romulan Commander glanced at the insectoid. “And you are?”
“Artisan Queen Ket of the Xenarth Aggregate. I speak for my people.”
she said as if remembering the name from somewhere before focusing on Donners again. “Captain, are you aware that you are sheltering a Xenarth criminal and traitor to her people on your ship? I know that no formal extradition treaty exists between our two nations but on the behalf of the Xenarth Colony, we would be extremely grateful if you turned this fugitive over into our care so that we may return her to her people to face punishment for her crimes.”
The Artisan Queen’s agitation was palpable as she her mandibles clicked nervously and her feelers stood at attention. “I am no traitor.”
“I am not interested in arguing Xenarth politics with a criminal,”
Toreth responded icily and looked at Donners, eagerly awaiting her decision.
“Do you expect me to take all this at face value, Commander?” she said. “That the Xenarth just happen to ally themselves with you and declared one of their own leaders an outlaw?”
The smile on the Romulan’s face caused a cold shiver to run down Maya’s spine.
“Of course I do not,”
she responded. “Sadly the relationship between our two people is not one based on trust. Thankfully it doesn’t have to be today,”
she said and gestured to one of her officers who quickly attended his station.
The image on the view screen split in half to allow the face of a Xenarth not unlike Ket to appear next to the Romulan commander. “Captain Donners, I have been able to monitor your conversation with Commander Toreth. I am Supreme Klestra of the Xenarth Aggregate and I can confirm to you everything that has been said. The Xenarth Colony is under the protection of the Romulan Star Empire. I expect you to fully acquiesce with our wishes and to surrender Queen Ket to us before you depart this system.”
“Klestra, you are making a grave mistake by trusting these Romulans,” Ket spoke up before anyone else had the chance. “We don’t know anything about them except that they only appear now after we have begun our recent experimentations with powerful technology”
The Supreme considered the Artisan Queen for a moment. Maya couldn’t be certain but she thought the look on her insectoid face was supposed to mirror disgust and disappointment. “And you think this Federation is any different? Your obsession with their previous visit to New Xenarth is based on nothing more than the questionable stories left behind by your own kin. And even if those stories are to be believed, their interest in us has only ever been to destroy what we have created. The Romulans are offering us the greatness which is our birthright.”
Amaya stood from her chair before addressing the Xenarth leader. “That offer comes at a high price, Supreme. Are you certain you are willing to sell out your race into slavery for a chance at greatness that may never be allowed under your new leadership?”
“As I have told you, Supreme, the Federation is trying to use lies an intrigue to paint an unfavorable picture of our benevolence,”
said Toreth and then drilled her eyes into Donners’. “Tell us, Captain, what do you plan to do with what the Xenarth have discovered? Can you honestly say that you will help them fulfill their potential the way we are able to?”
She hated to admit it but Toreth was good at what she did. She had maneuvered Maya into an untenable position. Revealing her orders to destroy the Omega Molecule would only strengthen the Supreme’s dedication to stick it out with the Romulans. The alternative was to lie about her true purpose here and that would only backfire in the long run. She focused on the Xenarth instead. “You are inviting disaster by meddling with powers you do not fully comprehend, Supreme. And the Romulans will show no qualms to sacrifice you and your people in getting their hands on that power. We can help you find another way that will guarantee the safety of your people as well as the entire quadrant,” she said, knowing that she had lost the argument before it had even begun.
“Klestra, please listen to her. As difficult as it may be to believe and as hard as it may be to try and turn your back on something as powerful as Xendaru, it is not worth putting at risk the entire Colony over it,” the Artisan Queen pleaded.
Predictably the supreme was not to be swayed. “I have made my decision and it will stand. Your title has been stripped and you are considered a traitor for your involvement with an enemy of the Colony,”
she said and focused her large compound eyes towards Donners. “Captain, my directive is unchanged. Surrender your prisoner to the Romulans and leave this system at once.”
And with that her imaged blinked out, leaving only Toreth left on the screen.
“You’ve heard the lady,”
said the Romulan commander with all the smugness of a person knowing she had the upper hand. “I do not wish any conflict with the Federation but if you try to interfere any further with Xenarth affairs you will, by implication, be interfering with Romulan affairs and that I cannot tolerate. Your failure to comply in this regard could be interpreted as an act of war and surely that is an outcome neither of us favors.”
Maya had the strong urge to sit down again but she forced herself not to show any more weakness in front of the Romulan commander.
“We will rendezvous with your vessel in six hours and twenty-two minutes and expect you to hand-over the fugitive Ket without incident. Then you will depart this system at once.”
Toreth didn’t cut the link and instead seemed to savor this moment of apparent triumph over the Starfleet officer.
Maya nodded sharply. “We’ll be there. Agamemnon
The Romulan was once again replaced by the image of the imposingly large Khazara
and Donners sat back in her chair, fully aware that every set of eyes on the bridge was now focused on her. None as concerned and perhaps anxious as those belonging to the former Xenarth Artisan Queen.