She hadn’t even been consciously aware that she was pacing the space in front of her chair until she caught the subtle frown on Vej’s face. She froze in her tracks and mentally chided herself for displaying such blatant anxiety in front of her crew.
Maya turned to face Tess Allenby at the operations console. “Time to intercept, Lieutenant?”
“Just under five minutes, sir,” the young officer responded promptly.
“Captain, I recommend that we raise shields and power weapons,” said Mer’iab from tactical in a firm and confident tone.
“Why would we want to do that?” quipped Texx. “We’re just here to make a drop off,” he said with a smirk and when his eyes found Ket he promptly shot her an apologetic look.
The former Xenarth queen showed no outward signs of having been insulted.
The tactical officer however didn’t appear to appreciated the levity shown by the Bolian first officer. “With all due respect, sir, the Romulans have already indicated that one perceived misstep could have severe consequences. We should be prepared for anything.”
“What’s the Khazara’s
status?” asked Maya.
The Aurelian looked noticeably uncomfortable answering that question. He didn’t even have to check his board. “Their shields are down and their weapons are offline. But I still believe –“
“Noted, Lieutenant,” she said. “But you said it yourself. One misstep is all it takes. I’d rather not be the one triggering hostilities here today. Keep a close eye on that ship and advise of any changes immediately. If they raise shields, so do we. If they power their weapons, I want our phasers and launchers hot and ready to blow her apart.”
“Yes, sir,” he said, responding to the belligerent tone in her voice.
“They’re hailing us,” said Texx.
“Showtime,” added Vej, shooting the captain a quick, reaffirming glance.
Maya nodded and took her seat. She crossed her legs by the knee and straightened her shoulders. She was determined to present a more tranquil and confident appearance this time around even if inside she felt anything but. Toreth had clearly owned their last meeting but this time Maya wanted to turn the tables on the Romulan and negotiate from a position of strength. She allowed herself one last little breath of air. “On screen.”
Toreth said without preamble as her image appeared on the main viewer. “We stand ready to receive the prisoner.”
Maya took her time to respond, deciding to give the other woman a thorough once over first, almost as if seeing her for the first time. “I’m afraid there has been a change of plans, Commander.”
“Is that so?”
she responded, cocking an eyebrow in a manner that would have made a Vulcan proud.
“Queen Ket has requested political asylum on board my vessel. After hearing her case I am concerned that she may be subjugated to what we would consider harsh and inappropriate punishment resulting in serious bodily harm or even death. Leaving me with little choice but to grant her request.”
“And I suspect you would not be swayed even if I’d personally guarantee her safety,”
the Romulan said.
“As we would have limited means to verify this, I will have to stick to my decision.”
Toreth leaned forward in her chair. “Captain, I find it curious that you decided to advise me of this new development only now. You could have contacted me at any time over the last few hours to tell me this.”
“I’ve arrived at this decision only very recently,” she lied. Toreth had already told her what she wanted to know without having to spell it out. The Romulan commander would make very little fuss over this decision even if it would anger their new allies that they had been unable to secure Ket to stand trial as a traitor. This meant that Toreth was most likely as eager to avoid a confrontation that could lead to interstellar war as she was. The thought greatly encouraged Maya.
“Of course. You do realize that the Romulan Senate is likely to lodge a formal complaint over this to the Federation Council on the behave of the Xenarth Aggregate,”
she said with very little bite in her tone.
Maya smirked. “It’ll be a matter for politicians and diplomats to resolve,” she said.
The little nod she received in response gave proof that Toreth was about as weary of such figures as she was. “Indeed,”
she said and remained silent for a moment as if to appreciate one of the few similarities she shared with her Starfleet counterpart. “I expect you and your ship to turn around and leave this system immediately.”
Maya forced herself to maintain her calm demeanor. “I won’t be able to do that.”
Toreth looked downright disappointed. “Captain, we have been through this. The Xenarth are now under our protection and unwilling to stand for Federation interference. Are you telling me that you are willing to risk a war over this?”
She quickly shook her head. “Of course not. And the Federation respects the wishes of any sovereign government even if those include alliances with foreign powers.”
The Romulan woman’s frown was born of genuine confusion. “I’m not entirely sure that I follow your logic here, Captain. You appear to be contradicting yourself.”
“Not at all,” she said. “I’m fully committed to this. You may even advise the Xenarth leadership that we are more than happy to assist their relocation to a world within the Romulan Star Empire if they do not have the capacities to do so themselves.”
“The Xenarth have no intention of relocating,”
she said sternly as her facial features hardened. “This system is their home.”
Maya did her best to take on a concerned look. “I’m afraid that is no the case,” she said. “Our records clearly indicate that this system was entirely uninhabited just over one-hundred years ago which implies that the Xenarth arrived here at some later point. They settled on Iota Crucis IV, a Federation world, without our permission. By interstellar law we are within our right to request that the Xenarth immediately vacate this system. Particularly if they wish to align themselves with a foreign power.”
Toreth considered the Starfleet captain for a moment, her expressions as stone-faced as that of a gargoyle. “I appreciate that you may not have much experience in these matters, Captain, so I must ask you, are you certain this is the path you wish to pursue? I urge you to reconsider.”
Now it was Maya’s turned to look annoyed by the clearly condescending tone her counterpart had allowed to slip into her voice. “Commander, my decision on this matter is guided by Federation and interstellar law and I will stand by it.”
Neither of them spoke for a moment as they appraised each other carefully in a manner which reminded Maya of a high-stakes poker game in with each player had thrown all their chips into the pot. She wasn’t certain if she held the better hand just yet. Not until Toreth revealed hers.
“A shame, Captain,”
the Romulan commander finally said and then stabbed a control on her armrest, causing her face the blink out from the screen.
“Well played,” said Texx. “You had her on the robes.”
But Maya was not sharing his first officer’s enthusiasm. “Lieutenant, talk to me, what’s the Khazara
“Her status is unchanged and … strike that, they’re powering weapons.”
“Red alert, shields up,” Texx barked.
Maya looked at the Bolian. “Not well enough, it would appear.”
“Our position is legitimate,” the counselor offered. “You’ve taken away their moral high ground. If they open fire and consequently start a war now, they will be seen as the aggressors.”
But Maya shook her head slightly. “I don’t think that will be much of a consolation to the casualties.”
“Captain,” Bobby DeSoto said urgently, “they are approaching in a standard attack run.”
“Weapons range in ten seconds,” said Allenby, her fingers flying over her own console as she braced herself and the ship for imminent battle.
“We shouldn’t allow them to get the upper hand and open fire first,” said the tactical officer. “I recommend we go on the offensive before we are forced to play a defensive game.”
The captain uncrossed her legs and grabbed her armrests tightly. “Transfer all available power to the shields, including everything we’ve got in our weapons.”
Mer’iab didn’t appear to understand or agree with this tactic which clearly went completely against his own recommendation. “Sir?”
“Do it, Lieutenant.”
To his credit he didn’t hesitate again. “Shields at one-hundred forty percent. The shield grid will not be able to absorb this amount of energy for long.”
Texx leaned towards the captain on his left. “We blow the grid and we lose shields for good, Cap,” he whispered.
She responded with a sharp nod.
“Romuans entering weapons range,” Allenby said, her voice now unable to hide her anxiety any longer.
“They’re opening fire,” Mer’iab said.
Maya mentally cursed herself for her apparent miscalculation and held on tighter to her chair as she braced herself for the incoming volley.
It never came.
Instead every eye on the bridge watched the screen as the imposing warbird came within seemingly a hair’s width of Agamemnon
to perform a strafing attack but instead simply shot past them.
Arden Texx looked as confused as the rest of the bridge officers. He stood from his chair and turned to look towards Mer’iab. “Lieutenant, what just happened?”
Clearly the avian seemed slightly flustered himself as he double checked his instruments. “They … they powered up their weapon emplacements and our sensors picked up massive energy spikes implying an imminent weapons discharge. But they never actually fired.”
Vej smirked. “It was a bluff, Lieutenant,” he said and glanced at Donners. “And we didn’t blink.”
“They are preparing for another pass,” DeSoto said.
Texx looked at the captain. “What are the chances they go for the same trick twice?”
“Zero to none,” she said. “Lieutenant, redistribute shield power to weapons before we blow out that grid. Ensign, evasive pattern Omega. Stand by to return fire on my mark, target their weapons and engines.”
Maya noted that her crew reacted instinctively to her orders.
“Captain, I have a new contact at two-four-six mark eight,” Allenby said.
“More Romulans?” Texx asked.
“Where did they come from?” Vej wanted to know.
“Must have been cloaked,” said Maya as her face twisted into an ugly frown. Things had been bad enough with Agamemnon
having to face off one warbird. She realized that their chances to survive this encounter battling two or more were miniscule at best.
“It is not a Romulan vessel, at least no design we’ve ever seen before,” Mer’iab said.
Texx clearly didn’t appreciate the surprisingly vague report. “So who is it, Lieutenant?”
For a second time today the tactical officer appeared stumped. “I am not entirely certain,” he said, “computer identifying now.”
Tess Allenby seemed to have an answer sooner. “Sir, I recognize this design,” she said and swiveled around in her chair to face her superior officers, her eyes wide as saucers. “It’s the Borg.”