San Francisco, Earth
Office of the Deputy Chief of Starfleet Intelligence
Stardate 54573.63 (29 July 2377)
The last time Kircheis sat upon the couch waiting for admission to Admiral Leone's inner office, she had been "requested and required" to assume command of Gallant
. The same sounds of people working within the office brought back the memory of her anxiously waiting for the admiral to finish up her previous appointment. That had been nearly a year and a half ago, barely a month after the end of the Dominion War.
She remembered how sweaty her palms got in the minutes leading up to the door opening. She smirked at the thought that had run through her head; they could change their minds and choose someone else for the position. Maybe they made a mistake and selected a different officer.
"Something funny, sir?" asked the admiral's flag lieutenant, Lieutenant (jg) Charity Szostak.
Kircheis looked up, broken out of her reverie. "What?" She paused briefly. "Oh, no. Sorry, just reliving some memories, is all."
Charity's attention remained on her as she expected more of an explanation.
She continued, "I was sitting right here when-"
The door to the inner office opened and Admiral Leone stepped through. Charity and Kircheis got to their feet automatically as the admiral approached her desk.
Leone stepped in close to her desk and waved off the lieutenant, allowing her to retake her seat. She chucked a thumb back toward her door and said, "Give them a few minutes to get reacquainted and then make sure they're on their way after that."
"Aye, sir," replied Charity. She activated her desktop terminal and set a reminder for herself.
The admiral added quietly. "Do it gently, please."
"Of course, sir."
Without waiting a moment, the admiral asked, "Do you have the mission profile for Vanguard?"
Charity looked through a couple of PADDs before selecting the proper one. "Right here, sir."
She accepted the PADD and scrolled through the lines of information. "They're still looking for a captain to join," Leone noted aloud to herself.
Leone applied some information to the PADD's data and then handed it back to Charity. "Inform Starfleet Command that I'm recommending Captain Donald Sandhurst."
Charity looked down at the small screen before she returned her gaze to Leone. "Uh, sir, you're adding him to-"
"Yes, I am. Make sure the Corps of Engineers is aware, right away. I made a promise to him and I intend to keep it," Leone said as she pulled away from Charity's desk and exited her outer office. Apparently, her eyeline never crossed paths with Kircheis, and she rose from her seat to follow.
"Admiral," called Kircheis.
Leone stopped, then turned around to face her. "Captain, I'm sorry. I was tending to the matter of Commander Kincaid and following up on the final report from Indemnity. . We're set up in the conference room down the corridor, if you're like to join us."
"Of course, sir." When they progressed down the corridor, she asked, "I heard you talking about Captain Sandhurst?" Kircheis wondered if the admiral would indulge her question or not.
"You remember that task force that Admiral Jellico is building for Delta Quadrant ops?" Off of Kircheis' nod, Leone continued, "He's looking for captains and crews for a few of the intercept groups and I'm sending him one of the best we've got."
"No arguments on that, sir."
Leone chuckled. "I read your report. You were very taken with his leadership."
"With good reason, Admiral."
They both turned into the proper conference room and there were a couple of people already waiting for them. Both of them wore the support services gold turtlenecks. The man was a captain and the other was Lieutenant (jg) Teelis Tei.
"May I present Captain Theodore Lo, of the special projects group at Utopia?" began Leone, with an outstretched hand toward the male captain. "And you already know Lieutenant Tei, of course." She took her seat and said, "This is Lieutenant Commander Carolyn Kircheis, the commanding officer of USS Gallant
will be the field vehicle for this mission."
Lo gave a curt nod toward Kircheis, while Teelis stood for a moment and acknowledged both senior officers.
"Why don't we begin with an overview of the project, Captain," Leone said once everyone was seated, "with particular empahsis on Gallant
The captain touched the small panel on the conference table to activate the viewscreen. "Aye, sir. Utopia Special Projects has been developing a new kind of stealth system for smaller vessels such as runabouts and shuttles over the course of the past few years. The project was actually born just before the beginning of the Dominion War and didn't produce a working prototype until six months after the Treaty of Bajor was signed on DS-9."
The viewscreen showed the technical specification as the captain spoke. He lifted himself out of his seat and walked toward it to point out some of the details. "We're using a different approach with this idea. The Romulans use a cloaking generator to obscure and mask their emissions from sensors. What we're trying to do is use those emissions, but present them in a different light, like the warp core signature of a different class or another ship altogether in order to fool the enemy into thinking that it is not a threat vessel."
Kircheis furrowed her brow. "Forgive me, and I'm sure this has been discussed in another room with much higher ranking officers than I, but how this not a violation of our treaty with the Rihannsu?" She glanced at Teelis, noting the lieutenant's small smile at her use of the proper name for her race.
“The Treaty of Algeron forbids the Federation from researching, investigating or developing a device which cloaks or masks the emissions of a ship, resulting in the sensors of another ship being unable to detect its presence. It does not forbid the Federation from developing a system to emit false sensor readings, which is what the new systems are designed to do, sir,” Teelis explained.
Before Kircheis could voice her objections, Leone ordered, "Let's move on. Suffice to say that this project was vetted by the aforementioned higher-ranking officers. Please continue, Captain, Lieutenant."
"Yes, Admiral." Lo touched the panel once more and a Danube-class runabout appeared. "As Lieutenant Tei indicated, we're not pursuing a method employed by the Romulans. Instead, this device will use holography and shadows to achieve the same effect. We outfitted the prototype device to the runabout Cuyahoga
within the auxiliary craft laboratory at Utopia."
The scene played out on the viewscreen; the runabout appeared to have small dots which Kircheis assumed were holodiodes similar to those seen within a holodeck. The dots lit up all at once and the runabout now appeared as a Ferengi scout vessel. Lo paused the playback at that point and turned to view the reactions from the non-engineers in the room.
Kircheis did nothing to hide her astonishment at the success. "That's incredible. Is the device limited only to projections of comparable size? Does it actually show up on sensors as the projected vessel?
Lo replied, "The emissions from the runabout are modulated through a filter to approximate the Ferengi-type emissions. This smaller prototype had a margin of error, of course. But that's why Lieutenant Tei was brought onto the project and why we need Gallant
for the third phase of testing." He looked at Teelis, expectantly, yielding the floor and the viewscreen to her.
“The margin of error has been reduced significantly since that particular test. Now, we estimate that only a master engineer who had been working with a particular vessel for many years would be able to detect the errors after careful scrutiny. We need to test the device on larger ships in transit. Naturally, we can only do limited testing within the Utopia yards. The Gallant
, being a Defiant-class vessel, meets the requirements of a light, fast ship for the next phase of testing.” Teelis glanced at Captain Lo once more, who gave her another nod, before continuing. “That phase of testing also requires we move from the protected yards to open space.”
Kircheis grinned. "We're happy to help out." She glanced back at Leone. "And that's the extent of the mission, sir? You made it sound like it was a more dire situation than testing a prototype."
Leone did not reply to Kircheis' words, instead touching the panel once more to show an overview of the Neutral Zone shared with the Rihannsu Star Empire. "Approximately three weeks ago, a message was received from within the Empire from a Galae officer named Nuhir t'Aimne. She holds the rank equivalent to a lieutenant commander. This officer had served aboard a Starfleet vessel just under a year prior as part of an exchange program, and sent the message to the captain who had commanded that vessel. He passed her message to Intelligence, and we found a couple of encrypted messages layered onto the original."
The viewscreen began to playback the original message, and as it did, lines of decrypted text began to appear overlayed on top of t'Aimne's speaking image.
The coded message read: “Captain James - Two of my family members are in great danger from the Tal Priax. I am asking for your assistance in getting the boys, their mother and myself out of the Empire. We will be at the following coordinates on Stardate 54701. I hope you will be able to help us. In order to insure the cooperation of your superiors, I have classified information regarding the size, movements and operations of the Galae, which I will provide to you once we are safely within Federation territory. My family needs a new life, one free of the Empire.”
When the playback completed, leaving the text on the screen, Kircheis swiveled her head in both directions. "I don't understand. Who or what are the Tal Priax?”
Leone's lips turned downward into a frown; it was clear she had knowledge of the group. "Ah, that's right. You weren't cleared for that information back then." She turned her head toward Teelis and gestured to Kircheis as she spoke, "Lieutenant Tei, if you wouldn't mind explaining to Captain Kircheis...?"
Teelis responded at first with a quick nod. In a quiet voice, she explained, “The Tal Priax are a military order whose sworn duty is to protect the Imperial family. More than just an Imperial Guard, the Tal Priax also functions as a home guard for ch’Rihan. They are to protect the homeworld at all costs, the final line of defense for the Rihannsu people. They are driven by certain dictates, upholding within their ranks the highest standards for racial purity, excellence, religious devotion and physical beauty. All members of the Tal Priax are conscripted at the age of fifteen, after children have successfully completed their Rite of Passage. Conscription is compulsory, as is breeding with another member of the Tal Priax. Almost all children of the Tal Priax become Tal Priax. The rest usually commit ritual suicide after they have failed to gain entrance.”
"I'm no expert on Rihannsu culture, but how is it that this isn't common knowledge?" Kircheis wondered. "It sounds utterly barbaric, almost... Klingon
“The Federation first became aware of the Tal Priax approximately eight years ago. Among the common Rihannsu, it is an honor to be selected, to have a child whose life will be one of great honor and status. Among the noble Rihannsu, it is also an honor, an affirmation that their bloodlines are pure. Most consider the Tal Priax to be an honor guard, and a line of defense that will never been used, thanks to the strength of the Galae. As a result, they are not discussed with outsiders, lest an attacker take into account their size and strength.”
"Wait a minute, wait a minute..." Kircheis raised her hand briefly, as she thought back through her limited recall of Rihannsu history. "Haven't there been a number of Imperial assassinations? If they're that good, how could they have allowed their charges to die so easily?"
“The Tal Priax are defenders of the integrity of the Imperial bloodline. It is widely believed that no assassination has occurred without their permission and even assistance,” Teelis replied bluntly. “As I recall from my study of human history, the Praetorian Guard of the Roman Emperors was suspected in several of their assassinations as well.”
Kircheis leaned back in her seat. "Those were the good ol' days, I guess." She shot Teelis a look as though she had an epiphany. "Eight years ago? That's around the same time as when you showed up on Farragut
. Unless I'm missing something, that can't just be a coincidence."
Teelis looked down at the table underneath her hands. “I am a refugee from Tal Priax conscription, sir.”
"I'm sorry, I didn't know," Kircheis replied softly. The details and motivation behind the Tei family’s sudden appearance in Federation space had been classified, but she was merely an ensign and obviously too low on the food chain to have that information. Her eyes focused on the conference room table and she took in a deep breath as she thought aloud, "It makes sense, though. If they were looking for paragons of Romulan excellence and beauty, I mean."
To Kircheis’s surprise, Teelis actually seemed to blush. Teelis Tei might be the first modest Rihannha she had ever heard of, much less seen in the flesh.
Leone cleared her throat. "Yes, well. The importance of this mission with the possibility of gaining invaluable intelligence on the Galae warrants the use of the stealth prototype to secure a route for Gallant
to proceed beyond the Neutral Zone."
Captain Lo added, "And we'll be assigning an engineer from Lieutenant Tei's team to assist in the operation of the device. Gallant
will need to proceed to Utopia Planitia for installation of the system."
"I'm sorry, an engineer from her team?" Kircheis asked pointedly. She stood up and walked to the viewscreen to peer at the tactical map, then folded her arms and levied a gaze directly at Leone. "Admiral, if I may be so bold, I would rather have Teelis with me. Not only is her technical prowess an asset, but she has insight into Rihannsu society that would be equal to our task, here."
Lo was quick to object. "Admiral, with all due respect, I need the lieutenant to remain on Utopia for the project. I don't believe it is necessary to risk her life and experience in the field."
Leone listened to both officers without comment. Her eyes drifted toward Teelis, who remained stone-faced through the discussion. The admiral tapped the index and middle fingers of her right hand on the table once, then decided, "I agree with Captain Kircheis. Lieutenant Tei will report to Gallant
for the duration of the mission."
"Admiral, I must protest," Lo's worry lines appeared on his face at the news. "Her presence on my team is irreplaceable!"
"I'm afraid that the lieutenant's expertise in Rihannsu culture is the deciding factor in my decision, Captain. You will have to make do without her for a while."
Lo's worry turned to anger. "Admiral, I insist that you reconsider!"
Leone rose from her seat and narrowed her eyes. "You forget your place, Captain. I realize that this will alter your delivery timetable on other projects, but the admiralty has decided that this mission is paramount to the security of the Federation. You will carry out your orders and detach Lieutenant Tei from your command. I want those orders on my desk by the end of the day."
“Sir,” Teelis began, addressing Captain Lo. “You needn’t worry about me. If I was captured, I would not be killed. I will also update all my files today to insure you have the most up to date specifications on the projects to which I am assigned.”
Lo looked between the three women within the room and suddenly placed his hands in front of him in surrender. "I understand, Admiral. I will make sure you have those orders as you've directed. By your leave, sir?"
Leone gave him a brief nod in reply. Lo, on his way out of the conference, stopped by Teelis' seat and said, "Thank you, Lieutenant."
“Of course, sir.”
Once Lo left the room, Leone continued with the mission briefing to outline the further details to Kircheis and Teelis.
"I feel like I haven't seen you in over a day," Kircheis said as she saw Merrit Kelley waiting for her in Gallant
's transport bay. She stepped down from the small pad and walked toward the exit.
Kelley kept pace with her as they headed for the mess hall on deck two. "Actually, sir, it has been over a day. You got in very late last night and you left for your meeting on Earth before I reported for duty this morning."
Kircheis turned into a hatch that led to the service stairwell on the port side of the ship. Her uniform boots clattered against the metallic surface as they made their way down to the second deck. It was her preferred method of travelling, if it was only one deck down or up. "Time flies when you're having fun, I guess," she noted as they descended. "Are they all ready?"
"Yes, sir. They're all waiting in the mess hall for you," replied Kelley.
was a four-deck corvette with a little over fifty in total crew, it did not warrant a great many luxuries found on larger ships. It had no holodecks and no conference rooms. That meant for meetings with teams or the senior staff, they commandeered the mess hall. The senior staff for Gallant
consisted of seven or eight individuals depending on the circumstances and assigned crew.
When Kircheis and Kelley entered the mess, all of the officers got to their feet. Not out of habit of respecting the commanding officer, but out of concern.
Lieutenant Hiroko Yamamoto, Gallant
's chief of operations, was the first to step forward. "Sir, are you holding up okay?" The others looked on, interested in what Kircheis had to say.
"I'm doing as well as can be expected, thanks. I got to see a lot of very old friends that I'd not seen in years, but the reason for the event..." their captain trailed off. She forced a smile on her lips and nodded. "I think Ariel would've approved, to be honest."
The sight of their captain in better spirits had the appropriate effect. They smiled in response and then returned to their seats. Kelley remained standing behind Kircheis, holding her PADD out so she could read it.
Kircheis noticed that there was an unfamiliar face in the group, belonging to a tall and thin officer with the single gold pip of an ensign on the collar of his gold turtleneck. She pointed toward him while looking at Kelley. "W-Who is this?"
The owner of the new face pointed at himself, in an attempt to confirm that he was the subject of her question. When Kircheis nodded, he smiled confidently and introduced himself. "Ensign Frederick Schweinfurt, sir, come aboard to join. It's an honor to be here."
furt?" asked Kircheis. "Who are you?" She turned to Kelley for an explanation.
"Replacement officer, sir," Kelley said immediately. "Backfilling Lieutenant al-Adel's spot on the roster. Communications specialist."
"Right. Okay." Kircheis faced the ensign and dropped her pointing finger to wave at him, instead. "Hello, there. Welcome aboard." She turned back to Kelley, "Schwein
Schweinfurt helpfully noted, "Sir, your pronunciation is correct. Schwein means ‘pig’ in German. I was even called ‘Piggy’ at the Academy and most of my classmates know me by that name." Far from being embarrassed, he seemed pleased that he was so well known.
Yamamoto remarked, "Took the midshipman all of two seconds at the Academy to come up with that one."
"Yeah, I'm not a midshipman at the Academy, so I'll stick with Ensign Schweinfurt," Kircheis noted, unable to hide her displeasure with the suggested appellation. "In the meantime, I assume you'll be reporting to Lieutenant Yamamoto."
Piggy nodded. "Yes, sir. And we already know each other, since we went to the Academy together."
"I was a fourth year when he was a plebe," said Yamamoto quickly, gazing around the table to accentuate her point that she did not know him particularly well.
Kircheis closed her eyes as though she were pained by the exchange and shook her head as the conversation between the officers grew. She snapped her fingers a couple of times and ordered, "All right, let's get started."
Once everyone was settled in again, the captain began, "We've been tasked for another intelligence mission by the admiral. This time, we're really going to be pushing the limits of our training, because our destination is deep within Romulan space." She stopped to let that sink in, and when she saw very little reaction, she continued with the briefing and described the impetus and the goals.
"This will mean that we'll be taking on some additional personnel, a few will be temporary for the duration and others will be permanent additions to the crew," explained Kircheis. "One person of note is Lieutenant, jay-gee, Teelis Tei. She is the project lead over at Utopia Planitia special projects, and will be assisting engineering." The captain paused for dramatic effect, and then informed them, "She's a Romulan refugee and recent graduate of Starfleet Academy."
That got their attention, especially Kelley's. For reasons passing understanding, Schweinfurt held a grin larger than before at the news, while Yamamoto had a brief look of consternation. Kircheis heard her executive officer shuffle closer and say softly, "Sir, is that true?" The others followed suit with various questions of their own with the exception of the two junior officers and the chief engineer, the Andorian Senior Chief Karis Amdal. He sat only with his antennae twitching, possibly at the sudden commotion.
With outstretched arms to quiet them down, the captain told them, "I've known Lieutenant Tei for seven years. She is an outstanding and brilliant woman, and she worked hard to earn her rank. Whatever issues you might have with having a Romulan serve on our crew, stow it someplace where it won't show. Admiral Leone's orders. As a further note, she prefers and I expect that you will call her people by their proper name, the Rihannsu."
On that, everyone quieted down, including Kelley.
"In addition, we'll be taking on a new tactical officer, Warrant Officer Ephraim Grey. He's coming out of the Third Special Missions Team. Questions?" she said, opening the floor.
"Will Mister Grey's team be joining him?" asked Kelly.
The captain shook her head. "No, we're only receiving Mister Grey. And one more point on that subject: he is a permanent assignee to the crew."
"Captain," said Chief Donald Hogan, the ship's master-at-arms and de facto
head of security. "Are there to be any special security arrangements for the lieutenant while she's on board?"
Kircheis folded her arms. "I don't understand. Why would we need them?"
"Sir, allowing a Rom... I mean, a Rihannsu access to unsecured system might be hazardous," he clarified.
"Lieutenant Tei has a security clearance above yours, Chief," Kircheis explained tersely. "She will require access to key systems in order to bring the stealth system online. Therefore, I don't accept the premise of your question. Who's next?"
Yamamoto asked, "Do we know approximately how long we have for testing before we make the rendezvous point?"
"Thirty days for installation and programming, I believe. Lieutenant Tei can probably answer your questions in more detail after she arrives later today," replied Kircheis. "I'm sure that your division will be critical in helping her and the Engineering team in the next four weeks."
"We'll be ready, sir," Yamamoto promised with a quick nod.
Piggy raised a hand. "Captain?"
"Can I be the one to greet her when she comes on board?"
Kircheis rolled her eyes and sighed loudly. "Anyone else have a question? No? Dismissed."
Warrant Officer Ephraim Grey stood in Transporter Room Four at Utopia Planitia, his duffel at his feet. He had arrived five minutes prior to the appointed time for his beam-up to the Gallant
and was currently waiting for Lieutenant Tei to arrive. While doing so, he coolly evaluated the curious look he was getting from the Terran transporter chief.
Such an appraisal was nothing new for him. Seven generations of Terran-Vulcan interbreeding had left him looking more or less Vulcan except for his heterochromatic eyes. Vulcans did not have such a trait. His green eye and his blue eye definitively marked him as someone who was not exactly Vulcan. After a minute, he took pity on the man and noted, “I am of mixed human and Vulcan descent,” and noted with satisfaction that the chief visibly relaxed.
The distinctive whoosh of the doors opening announced the arrival of the lieutenant. Grey turned with interest, eager to get his first look at one of the Romulans serving within Starfleet. He knew each of them by name, but had yet to serve with any of them. Despite knowing her history, he was taken aback by his first sight of the lieutenant. Not one person who had spoken to him about this mission had indicated she was exceptionally beautiful.
“Mister Grey, I presume?” Lieutenant Tei inquired after a look at his uniform. She was carrying a duffel of her own.
“Indeed, sir,” he replied with a slight nod.
“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mister Grey. I look forward to working with you on this mission,” she returned.
“Likewise, sir.” And privately congratulated himself on correctly predicting her surprised reaction. “My family follows a slightly different interpretation of Surak, sir. I have been known to smile and even crack a joke,” he explained.
The lieutenant took a moment to absorb that information and her smile blossomed anew. “It will be nice not to be the only Vulcanoid aboard who smiles, Mister Grey. Shall we?” she invited, gesturing to the transporter pad.
He nodded his agreement, finding himself rather liking this new officer. “Yes, sir,” he replied as he hefted his duffel and stepped onto the pad. When they were both ready, the lieutenant turned her attention to the chief. “Chief Berensen, if you will?”
Within moments, they were materializing in one of the transporter rooms onboard the Gallant
. When his vision cleared, Grey saw that a gold-uniformed ensign was waiting for them. The man was somewhat taller than normal for a Terran, with red-gold hair and light eyes which were completely attentive to the lieutenant.
“Lieutenant Tei,” the ensign greeted her enthusiastically. “Welcome aboard Gallant
. I'm Ensign Frederick Schweinfurt, but you might remember me as Piggy. I don’t know if you remember me, but we had Comparative Religions and Quantum Mechanics together at the Academy.” Eagerness to be recognized infused the young man's tone.
Grey heard Tei’s intake of breath as soon as the ensign began talking. He had no doubt she recalled the young man and her next words confirmed it. “Yes, Ensign. We also had Command Ethics together,” she acknowledged, her tone calm and polite. This recollection caused the young man to grin. Before he could further press the lieutenant, Grey spoke up.
“I am Warrant Officer Ephraim Grey,” he introduced, stepping off the pad and extending a hand to the ensign. “Could you direct us to our quarters?” he inquired, trying to remind him of his task.
Piggy seemed surprised that Grey was also in the room. “Of course, Mister Grey. I was just going to get the lieutenant settled first.”
“I only need to be directed to my assigned quarters,” Tei replied hastily. “I am very familiar with the layout of Defiant-class vessels.”
“Whereas I would need a tour,” Grey added.
That seemed to deflate the ensign somewhat. His shoulders slumped but he nodded. “Yes, sir, Mister Grey.”
As the lieutenant disembarked from the pad, she shot the warrant officer a grateful look. Grey understood then he would probably be spending more than a little time running interference for the Romulan. The ensign clearly had a long-standing infatuation with the woman.
Well, at least it would provide some entertainment on the cruise.