Starship Reykjavík – Domum Soli

Bit of a sloppy job for a Q, though. If they're going to pop a planet into the system, you'd think they'd simply resolve all the accompanying gravimetric issues with the same fingersnap.
True, but to be honest, I was purposely trying not to think too much about it because I was looking forward to letting the story unfold naturally and surprise me; and, boy, did it. That said, in my partially formed scenario it could have been a "child Q", as has often been discussed vis-a-vis Trelane, who we know from "Squire of Gothos" didn't properly anticipate all relevant variables and had a fascination with Earth, albeit in the past. ;)
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* * *

The damned noise woke him again, accompanied by crashing sounds that shook his surroundings in time with the pounding agony in his head. He was tired, so very tired, and yet these obnoxious fools would not let him rest.

“Starboard shields nearing thirty percent!”

"Maintain fire, all weapons."

Shut up! He cried internally. Let me sleep!

“Structural buckling detected, Decks Three and Four, Sections Baker-Four through Charlie-Three.”

“Target Two is accelerating to port and making a hard turn to one-nine-zero, mark three-two-nine.”

Whatever was happening sounded exciting and despite the noise and raised voices intruding on his slumber, Glal’s curiosity was piqued.

“Skipper’s down!”

“Bridge to Medical, the captain’s been injured and he’s non-responsive. Get someone up here as soon as you can.”

The same voice then called, “Reroute auxiliary power from phasers to shields and structural integrity!” Then, “Jarrod to Engineering, how soon until you’ve restored the warp-drive? We need to get out of here.”

Glal heard another voice issue forth that he recognized, this time sounding tinny and distorted. The crackling of the overloaded comms system couldn’t drown out the irritation in the tone, however. “I’m working on it, XO! We’re lashing a stabilizer onto the starboard conduit. Without that, it’s likely to rupture, and we’ll lose all of Engineering along with your precious warp drive.”

There were more raised voices…

“Pressure doors and internal forcefields have sealed the breach on Deck Five. A combadge census shows three crew unaccounted for in that section, sir.”

It was far from Lt. Commander Jarrod’s first time in combat. In his twenty years of active Starfleet service, the man had seen skirmishes, tussles, battles and even full-scale wars fought both in the vacuum of space as well as on the surfaces of dozens of planets. Most of these engagements had come after he had joined the crew of his previous posting, USS Reykjavík.

Now, however, the ship in combat was under his command by virtue of the captain being incapacitated. A ship that had just been ambushed.

Phasers and photon torpedoes flashed in multiple directions, engaging at least three separate targets as two Klingon Birds-of-Prey and a Kzinti Batterer-class frigate had emerged from under cloak to pummel the Akyazi-class starship.

Loath as he was to do so, Jarrod realized their only chance of survival was escape. They had suffered too much damage too quickly to easily turn the tables on their attackers.

On the bridge, consoles flashed and sparked, sizzling multitronic components lending an acrid stench to the air.

Jarrod knelt to check the pulse of Chief Ramsay, who had collapsed to the deck after being blown out of his seat by an exploding computer station. There was no pulse, and Jarrod’s fingers came away smeared with blood from the chief’s ruined face.

Another blow bludgeoned the ship, causing Jarrod to steady himself with both hands braced against the bridge’s safety railing. He cast a glance towards the Tactical display, noticing the flashing orange indicators along the starboard/aft section of Gol’s shield perimeter, indicative of impending collapse.

The turbolift doors opened to admit a medical team, the members of which split up to begin rendering aid to the multiple crumpled figures lying or writhing on the deck.

“Two direct hits on one of the Birds, sir,” came their first bit of good news from the Tactical officer. “Their starboard wing has been separated from their hull, and they just ejected their warp core.”

The petty officer manning the helm station was throwing Gol hither and yon, describing wild arcs and acrobatic snap-rolls, attempting to throw off their pursuers’ aim until FTL propulsion was restored. The Akyazi-class was a nimble vessel, as well as sturdily constructed. No wilting violet this ship, Jarrod thought with a grim smile. More like withering violence. This made him think of his wife, and how much she would enjoy such a scrape, the proverbial knife-fight in a turbolift. Poor Nandi, off playing diplomat when there’s fights to be had.

The Kzinti ship’s phasers scored across Gol’s dorsal shields, causing the bridge to lurch yet again and sending Jarrod scrabbling for purchase to anchor himself on the command chair’s armrest. Glal’s voice echoed in his ears, chiding him for sprawling all over the bridge in the middle of a firefight like a green cadet. Thus prompted by his unconscious CO, Jarrod slid into the seat and engaged the chair’s safety restraints.

“Helm, keep our most vulnerable shield grid as far away from the enemy as you can. Tactical, start kicking fused torpedoes out our aft launcher. If they want to stick to our tail, there’s a price to be paid.”

The respective NCO’s affirmed their orders as Jarrod struggled to get the full picture of the ship’s operational status, calling up damage reports on the command chair’s abbreviated armrest display.

Gol cut inside the Kzinti ship’s turning radius, and the marauder was briefly visible on screen, flashing past as Gol peppered it with stuttering streams of phaser fire.

“Ramsay’s dead, sir,” a medic said, providing Jarrod with information he already possessed. “The captain’s got a severe concussion and a substantial subdural hematoma and we’re moving him to Sickbay immediately.”

“Understood,” Jarrod said brusquely, watching two photon torpedoes racing downrange on the viewscreen to impact the intact Bird-of-Prey as it swung about to initiate another attack run.

Two of the medical team took either end of the anti-grav litter Glal was strapped to and began to make their way carefully across the shuddering deck plates towards the turbolift.

There was a more muted crash and the ship swayed as a midshipman staffing Operations from an auxiliary console on the upper level announced. “They just hit one of our mines! Two… two of our mines! Kzinti ship is slowing and has ceased firing.”

Jarrod was about to comment on that development when the intra-ship comms came to life.

“Engineering to bridge, that conduit’s as secure as we can make it. Don’t push us above warp five, though, if you can help it.”

“Bless you, Lieutenant,” Jarrod enthused. “Get us out of here,” he commanded above thunderous din of weapons impacting Gol’s shields as the oncoming Bird-of-Prey’s wingtip disruptors opened upon them. “Warp four, any direction!”

Gol leaped to warp just as her shields began to collapse, the ship spewing torpedoes into space behind her as she accelerated away in a multicolored streak of light.

* * *

The second day of negotiations was yet to begin and would hopefully prove more fruitful than the previous day’s exercise in posturing and theatrics.

Prior to the late-morning’s session, Helvia had requested and received permission from the Romanii to visit one of his family’s old properties. This particular area was a latifunda previously owned by his grandfather, now property of the government. This enormous agricultural estate was situated in the far south of the Italian boot and sprawled across over a thousand hectares, divided between olive tree orchards and fields of various grains.

Scores of slaves toiled here sewing crops, watering, landscaping, harvesting, and tending to the palatial villa rustica, the countryside villa in which the landholding family lived or merely visited when the mood or the seasons beckoned.

“I thought you said you grew up in Rome,” Trujillo said, drinking in the rural beauty of the panorama. Low rolling hills abutted the seemingly endless fields and lush orchards, a riot of green, brown and ochre.

The distant peak of Mt. Vesuvius could just be glimpsed through the haze to the northwest, a dark column of ash rising from its cratered summit. Thankfully, the prevailing winds carried nearly all the toxic mixture of rock, minerals, and glass particles out into this world’s version of the Mediterranean Sea.

“I did,” Helvia answered in a distant timbre, his eyes sweeping the horizon. “We came here mainly in the late Summer and Fall, for the harvests.” He dropped to a crouch, reaching out to scoop up a handful of dark soil and sifting it slowly through his fingers.

Trujillo hated to intrude on this bittersweet visit home, but she did not trust the Romanii to leave Helvia alone, hence the security detachment of eight personnel that formed a perimeter around the pair.

“You have a fondness for growing things,” Trujillo noted, aware that what little off-duty time Helvia did enjoy was spent almost exclusively in Reykjavík’s arboretum. “I trust you have good memories of tending the crops here?”

He brushed the dirt from his hands and stood, emitting a sardonic laugh. “I never tended the soil here, sir. Such a task would have been considered beneath my station.”

“Ah, my apologies, then,” she offered. “I had assumed this is where you developed your green thumb.”

Helvia looked down then raised his gaze back to the horizon. “This is where I rode horses, practiced sword fighting and small arms, and chased after stable boys. All in all, the best parts of my childhood and adolescence.”

“What is it like seeing it again after all these years?”

“Unsettling,” he answered simply. “I keep trying to see it through a child’s eyes again, but I cannot. Everything is filtered through the educational and moral paradigms that Starfleet has infused in me.”

“That would tend to change the flavor of the experience,” she conceded.

“Now all I see is slaves toiling under the whip of totalitarian rule and capitalist excess. Their basic humanity is denied them.”

They fell into a silence that stretched on for minutes as Helvia struggled to free himself from the paralyzing emotions wracking his mind and body. He wanted to move towards the great house but found he couldn’t take the first step.

The chirp of Trujillo’s communicator broke the quiet. She reached for the flip-grid handheld unit on her belt, its range, power and encryption strength superior to that of the uniform combadge.

“Trujillo, go ahead.”

“Sir, we’ve just received a priority message from Gol,” Davula relayed. “The ship was ambushed during an attempted rescue of a freighter under suspected Romanii attack. They’ve taken heavy damage and are returning to our position at warp four. They report casualties of seven dead, three missing, and twenty-three injured, five of them seriously. One of those seriously wounded is Commander Glal, and Commander Jarrod has assumed command of the ship.”

Trujillo’s face hardened into a mask of controlled anger. She took a deep breath and released it before replying in a consciously neutral tone. “Acknowledged, Commander. Dispatch Zelenskyy to escort them back. I’ll be up presently. Inform the Romanii that today’s session will be delayed, but don’t tell them why.”

She flipped the communicator closed, gripping it tightly in her hand as she struggled to rein in her fury. “I’m sorry, Mister Helvia. We need to return to the ship. Whatever it was you intended to do here will have to wait for another day.”

He nodded mutely in reply, tearing his eyes away from the idyllic vista to focus on the commodore. “Understood, sir. I appear to lack the courage to act in this instance, anyway.”

Her gaze settled on Helvia, her suddenly flinty brown eyes searching out his. “I drew a very visible line in the sand, Mister Helvia. The Romanii just gleefully stepped over it. There will be… consequences.”.”

Helvia inclined his head, murmuring, “Bellum gerimus ut in pace vivamus.”

Trujillo’s combadge obediently translated, “We make war so that we may live in peace.”

* * *
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Oh man, I feel for Glal, but Jerrod just stepped up and took care of business! Love that scene!

Also enjoying how Nandi's handling the Romanii by engaging in her own special brand of diplomacy. :)

Very well-written, thoroughly enjoying this story thus far!
* * *

Rachel Garrett hadn’t afforded herself much sleep lately, and only a little over two hours into her rest cycle, she was awakened by a comms-chime that prompted a bright overhead light to shine down directly onto her face.

“Bridge to Lieutenant Garrett.”

She grunted, blinking, and covered her eyes with one hand as she propped herself up on one elbow. “Uh… yeah. What is it?”

“Incoming priority message for you from the Daystrom Institute, coded personal.”

Garrett swung her legs out of bed, blinking the sleep from her eyes. “Put it through down here, please.”

“Transferring it to your terminal now, Lieutenant. Bridge, out.”

Garrett pulled a bathrobe on over her pajamas and padded over to her cabin’s work desk, seating herself and activating her computer terminal. The transmission was encrypted, and Garrett entered her personal authorization code.

A human woman of Garrett’s approximate age appeared on the screen, a red head with a scattering of freckles across a pixie-like face. “Oh, I apologize for having awakened you, Lieutenant. I waited until what I was sure would be Alpha-Shift aboard your ship to call.”

Garrett mustered a tired smile in reply. “No problem. You figured correctly. However, I just crashed after about twenty-two hours on duty. How can I help you?”

“I’m the one calling to offer help, actually,” the woman said. “My name’s Dr. Emily Severn, and I’m contacting you from the Daystrom Institute regarding a data-packet you sent for analysis.”

Garrett sat forward, suddenly very much awake. “Yes, thank you. I’m very curious to find out what you’ve come up with.”

“Well, despite the fact that you’re working with some outdated simulation programs, you’ve done a masterful job of massaging the results to give you a more accurate assessment of what actually occurred in that star system.”

Garrett’s expression froze. “You mean the results were accurate? The planet we’re orbiting and it’s moon just popped into existence?” She ran a hand through her hair as she closed her eyes for a long moment.

“Not what you were expecting?” Severn asked.

“Let’s just say our current assignment is delicate enough without this kind of implausible variable thrown into the equation.”

“I’d think that as a scientist, you’d be excited by something this extraordinary,” Severn said, her mouth hinting at a knowing smile.

“In that respect you thought wrong,” Garrett sulked. “This just means the commodore will be asking questions I can’t answer.”

“Questions like?” Severn prompted.

“Like who or what is behind this? What species is powerful enough to materialize entire worlds into an existing star system?”

Severn replied, “There are plenty of likely candidates. The Metrons, Excalibans, Organians, whatever the Trelane-entity was, all of them are easily Level Three or Four civilizations on the Kardashev scale. It could just as likely be someone we haven’t encountered yet, or an ancient civilization that’s since died out or ascended to a higher dimensional plane.”

“Meaning that whatever created this world may no longer be involved in the social evolution of the Romanii, and may not present a threat to us or our mission?” Garrett postulated.

“I’m guessing that’s what rattled the hell out of that Vulcan admiral,” Severn chuckled, smirking. “But even he ultimately assessed the threat potential to your mission was low.”

Garrett scowled. “What Vulcan admiral?”

Severn waved the question away. “Never mind, I digress. To sum it up, you’re not crazy and your simulation isn’t malfunctioning. As unlikely as it sounds, what you suspect to have happened in System 892 thirty-five hundred years ago did, in fact, take place.”

Garrett nodded fractionally at this, her mind now working a different problem. “Dr. Severn, as I recall, Commander Davula was the one with the Daystrom contact. I sent my packet to a friend at MIT. That begs the question, why are you replying to me and not Davula?”

Severn inclined her head in acknowledgement. “You’re correct, Lieutenant. Let’s just say that I wanted to meet the woman who was brazen enough to see the truth through the veil of improbability. Many people in your place would have buried this and gone about their lives without a second thought.”

“That’s not who I am,” Garrett replied frostily.

“No, no it’s not,” Severn agreed. “Can I help you with anything else before I sign off?”

“Only one thing,” Garrett said. “In the future, I’d appreciate it if you forgo misrepresenting yourself as a biological entity. It really is in poor taste.”

Now Severn laughed outright. “Didn’t fool you, eh?”

Garrett raised a critiquing eyebrow. “Emily Severn? M-7? And you appear to know far more about what’s going on with our mission than would any junior-level PhD at Daystrom.”

“You can’t blame an AI for being curious. This is the most interesting phenomenon I’ve encountered in years. If you need any further assistance, contact me at this address. I figure I owe you, by way of an apology if nothing else.”

“I’ll be sure to take you up on that, Emily,” Garrett said with a smirk of her own as she severed the channel.

She turned in her chair to face her rumpled bed, thinking that she now had some answers, but these answers were cold comfort. Unbeknownst to the Romanii, one or more of the gods they worshiped in their pantheon might actually exist.

* * *
I loved the last 2 installments. The Gol's battle scene was very well done and had me on the edge of my seat. Likewise, the scene with Trujillo and Helvia was very compelling, albiet in a very different way. I always enjoy your character development. I also couldn't help but notice that the 2 scenes were really positioned as the perfect counterpoints, from a storytelling perspective. I always enjoy scenes with Rachel Garrett, and this was particularly interesting. I enjoyed seeing that my earlier speculation about Trelane and his ilk was at least within the realm of possibility or, at least consideration, though I'm embarrassed that I missed the obvious possibility that it could have been Apollo or one of his compatriots. And the M-7 bit was the perfect coda to that scene. Nicely done, as always. :bolian:
* * *
NCC-3109 (USS Reykjavík) - Sickbay

Trujillo ran her hand gently across the top of Glal’s wrinkled brow, silently wishing her old friend a speedy recovery.

USS Gol’s commanding officer was now situated on a biobed in a private exam room in Reykjavík’s sickbay. Cortical monitors were affixed to his temples to track the Tellarite’s neural activity following extensive repairs to his fractured skull and the stubbornly durable brain matter within.

“This is the quietest he’s ever been,” Trujillo remarked, causing her husband to smile despite the circumstances. “I might actually win an argument with him in this condition.”

Jarrod stood silently nearby, observing as Trujillo had visited Glal and the others wounded aboard Gol who had been transferred to Reykjavík’s larger and better equipped medical facilities.

She looked up and turned to face Jarrod fully. “You dropped out of warp into a combat situation with shields down?” The accusatory tone was unmistakable.

“The captain intended to warp in and disable the further ship while we simultaneously beamed the Rhaandarite survivors aboard. We had the nearer of the two ships blocking the firing solution of the furthest one, which we engaged as soon as we decelerated. The moment it became apparent we’d stepped into a trap, we raised the shields. All the damage we absorbed was sustained after the shields were raised, sir.”

Trujillo cocked her head, continuing to fix him with an appraising look. “Okay, but I’m still not happy about it. In and out in thirty seconds is a great plan until someone starts blowing holes through your unshielded hull.”

Jarrod stepped closer. “I am aware of that, Commodore, as was the captain. This wasn’t our first fight.”

Despite her standoffish demeanor she allowed him to approach. Jarrod slowly enveloped her in a hug that she resisted for a scant few seconds before melting into it and returning the embrace.

“I know you hate not being there when these things happen,” Jarrod said. “Gol is a tough little ship, but she’s not Reykjavík. We leverage speed instead of armament, maneuverability over shield strength.”

As they were out of sight of other crew, Trujillo allowed herself to tuck her face into her husband’s chest. “I know all that,” she said in a voice muffled by his uniform tunic.

“Do you, though?” he rejoined.

She sighed, a long release of breath as she turned her face up towards his. “You’re accusing me of micro-managing?”

“More of an inference than outright accusation,” Jarrod parried.

“Shut up,” Trujillo murmured without conviction and sighed again. “You did a good job getting your people home,” she said finally.

“Most of them, anyway,” Jarrod conceded.

* * *

Lieutenant Shukla watched as the sensor returns populated his screen, his eyes darting as various contacts appeared and were labeled by the computer. The scans showed multiple lifeforms aboard the attacking Bird-of-Prey, to include Klingons, Naausicans, a few Orions and even one of the anarchic Chalnoth species. The Kzinti frigate was crewed by some forty Kzin, the more massive, hyper-predatory felinoid cousins to the Caitians. Collectively, it was a veritable who’s-who of scoundrels, pirates, slavers and brigands.

He called up another of Gol’s sensors reports on a separate display. These scans had been made of the Rhaandarite ship as Gol dropped out of warp practically on top of the vessel. The sweeps showed a mere handful of Rhaandarite life-signs aboard a ship that should have supported over thirty of them.

Meanwhile, the exploded airlock and the floating environment suits from the ruptured boarding gantry were devoid of life signs, the suits themselves registering as empty.

None of the ships, however, gave any indication of human life signs, augmented or otherwise.

He sat back in his seat, frowning and absently stroking his well-trimmed beard. The commodore had asked him for concrete proof of Romanii complicity with the ambush of their fellow ship and crew, but there was none to be had.

His query to Starfleet Intelligence regarding the two Birds-of-Prey and the Kzinti frigate had resulted in the identification of all three vessels. They were believed to be owned and operated by a mercenary group that operated out of the Orion Principalities, guns-for-hire loosely affiliated with the Orion Syndicate, which also took private contracts for protection services, smuggling, and on occasion, freelance muscle for a host of unsavory clients.

He downloaded his findings into a data-slate, preparing for the impending briefing in which he’d have to disappoint his commanding officer. The evidence she craved was not here.

* * *

Trujillo had gathered in Reykjavík’s conference room with Curzon, Davula, Shukla, and the respective commanders of the two other ships of her squadron, Lt. Commander Jarrod, acting captain of Gol and Commander Withropp of Zelenskyy.

“So, they’ve hired mercenaries to attack Starfleet?” Trujillo sneered, shaking her head. “I’ll give them this, they’re persistent.”

“While we all know that the Romanii are behind this, Commodore, we cannot act without verifiable proof of their involvement,” Ambassador Dax cautioned.

“And without that proof, it may be difficult to convince Command or the Security Council that we need to blockade Magna Roma, sir,” Davula observed.

“We do know the old Raptor-class and the Orion ship Gol encountered belong to the Magna Romanii,” Shukla interjected. “They’re confirmed to be the same ones that were seen attacking shipping in the region, to include the Mosinee. They were evidently part of the ambush, likely deployed to draw in Gol so that the Birds-of-Prey and the Kzinti frigate could strike while Gol was busy beaming over survivors from the Rhaandarite ship. Pretending that the mercenary ships weren’t just lying in wait stretches incredulity to the breaking point.”

Helvia nodded towards Shulka. “I agree with the lieutenant. This was a blatant attempt at diversion and distraction by the Romanii. Sacrificing two of their ships to allow their mercenaries to eliminate a starship would be a fair trade in the empire’s eyes.”

Trujillo’s eyes flicked from speaker to speaker as she compiled the arguments and counterpoints of her senior officers and the ambassador.

“With respect, sir,” Commander Withropp of Zelenskyy broke in, “our mandate from Command was rather broad. If I’m not mistaken, you already have the authority to assemble a task force from available Starfleet assets nearby. At last tally, there are eight of our ships within three days of our location. Those vessels could either be assembled here for blockade duty or dispatched to the nearest trade lanes to safeguard civilian shipping from further Romanii attacks.”

Trujillo said nothing, but her eyes sparkled with barely contained energy. Finally, she took a breath and replied, “Yes. I’m going to order half the ships to assemble here and send the others to bolster the increased Border Service presence along the most vulnerable shipping routes.”

Curzon eyed her warily. “Commodore, the Romanii will see this as wildly provocative.”

“Let them,” she replied coolly. “Assembling a task force in their system doesn’t necessarily mean I’m going to use it to blockade their world, but it certainly gives me that option. They’ll know that. They’ve escalated the situation intentionally, and I don’t much care whether I can prove their complicity in a court of law. I think I know their endgame now, and we’re in a position to threaten those plans.”

“Sir?” Davula asked.

“They’ve been attacking and seizing cargo vessels, the larger the better,” Trujillo explained. “But with two of the last three ships they’ve seized, they’ve jettisoned the cargo. It’s the ships they want, the transport capacity.”

Trujillo reached down and toggled a table-top interface, calling up a real-time daylight image of the planet they orbited. She zoomed the picture in on the fuming, conical shape of Mt. Vesuvius, its column of ash rising up into the planet’s mesosphere layer.

“I’d bet you all the latinum in all the mines on this blighted world that the upper echelons of Romanii society are looking for a way to evacuate the planet. They need warp capable transports, big ones. You'd have to haul their people, their precious property, to include their slaves, and enough latinum to make conditions for themselves more comfortable wherever they land.”

Helvia’s deep-set eyes widened, and he seemed genuinely surprised, as if the concept had not occurred to him. “You’re right, sir,” he murmured. Then, louder, “That’s what they’re doing. The seismic dampeners, the geothermal regulators… it’s all stalling for time.”

Davula appeared similarly taken aback and addressed an observation to Trujillo. “Sir, it’s possible whatever’s happening to Magna Roma, their leaders may have interpreted it as an extinction-level event for their species. Our geological scans have been thorough, but incomplete. Is it possible for us to get permission from their government to launch sub-surface probes to get a better look at what’s happening down there?”

Trujillo glanced to Curzon. “What do you think, Ambassador? If they’re worried about us blockading their planet, we might be able to wring some concessions out of them.”

Curzon nodded enthusiastically. “Indeed. In fact, they likely hope that we’ll continue to investigate their geological issues on the off chance of our finding one of our patented Federation technological miracles.”

The commodore leaned back in her chair, wearing an expression of growing revulsion. “Their planet’s dying, and rather than save Magna Roma’s millions of vulnerable children they’re looking to sneak the wealthy off-world in hijacked transports. Charming.”

Curzon inspected her. “You’re bringing in a full task force, aren't you?”

“Yes,” she replied. “If the Romanii have called in reinforcements in the form of mercenaries, so shall we.” Trujillo referenced a data-slate. “We’re bringing in a light-cruiser, four frigates, two destroyers, a scout and a hospital ship.”

Jarrod struggled not to smile as he asked, “And what will be our unit designation, sir?”

“Task Force Hannibal,” she replied with no small amount of satisfaction.

Helvia had been taking a sip from a glass of water and began coughing loudly, nearly doubling over in his seat.

Davula looked perplexed, water-logged Helvia appeared aghast, and Curzon was dumbfounded. Jarrod and Withropp were both trying not to laugh.

“That had ought to get their attention,” Trujillo assessed.

* * *
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* * *

The splendor of the meeting venue was undeniable. This great hall stood adjacent to the Circus of Nero, where on modern Earth the sprawling complex of Vatican City now stood. Magna Roma had no Christian faith as such, until the birth of the roughly analogous Children of the Son movement in the decades prior to Enterprise’s visit almost sixty years earlier. Thus, the massive entertainment complex begun by Caligula and completed by Claudius still stood, having been added to and refurbished over the intervening centuries.

Multiple coliseums of varying sizes flourished here which hosted the city’s weekly gladiatorial bouts which were carried planet-wide via television and the Romanii’s version of the Internet. Criminals, political prisoners, practitioners of outlawed religions and debtors all fought to the death to wild applause for the amusement of the people. The Circus of Nero, second only in size to the Circus Maximus, was the venue for horse and chariot racing, and within the past century had become the nexus for their society’s growing automobile-racing fixation.

The walls and ceiling of the grand hall were decorated with intricate mosaics depicting famous events from myth or Romanii history, transforming the location into a makeshift museum of their people’s exploits. Trujillo had quickly realized the artwork consisted almost exclusively of martial imagery, with the nearer wall depicting Rome’s legions conquering the New Lands and the Chinese Ming Dynasty. These celebrated victories were part of the genocide that had wiped out much of the ethnic Chinese peoples of Eastern Asia as well as those from the Middle Kingdom which had migrated to and settled in those newly discovered continents which on Earth were North and South America.

Along the far wall were scenes of what appeared to be the conquest of the African continent, the three Pyramids of Giza unmistakable in the foreground with the Nile visible behind them. Ironically, Trujillo had noticed many Romanii of African descent among the soldiery as well as the senatorial class. For whatever reasons, the peoples of Africa had been accepted as citizens of the vast Roman state, but many of the Asian populations had been demonized as ‘barbarians’ and left to languish under the auspices of vanquished client states lacking most of the freedoms enjoyed by imperial citizens.

Trujillo considered that as she awaited the beginning of the negotiations, noting that according to Helvia, the peoples of East and Southeastern Asia had been responsible for most of the planet’s technological development, pioneering many of the advancements later appropriated by the empire. It seemed that having finally conquered far-eastern Asia after centuries of brutal warfare, the Romanii were intent on rewriting history to their advantage.

First Consul Hrabanus Macer and his accompanying retinue of senators entered, flanked by the first consul’s lictors, a full dozen of them this time. These men carried the faces, bound bundles of wooden scourging rods from which an axe head protruded. Once the symbol of ancient Roman kings’ authority to punish their subjects, they now stood as an emblem of the consul’s power and jurisdiction.

Ambassador Dax was engrossed in conversation with one of Reykjavik’s security detail, a woman he was obviously taken with. The young officer had been polite and professional, but Curzon’s intentions were anything but pure and his magnetic personality and effortless charm had drawn her in.

Dax put on a show of only belatedly noticing the first consul’s arrival and then reluctantly ending his flirtatious conversation with the security specialist.

Trujillo gravitated towards the massive meeting table, approximately ten meters in length and two meters in width. She struggled with her anger towards the Romanii for the repeated attacks on Starfleet vessels, while simultaneously reeling at the startling information about their world’s origin that Davula and Garrett had apprised her of just that morning.

As harrowing as that new data was, it did go a long way toward explaining the secrecy surrounding the Federation’s cultural survey mission findings from decades earlier. It appeared to her that this planet’s benefactors may have turned their backs on their creation.

“First Consul,” Curzon purred with practiced decorum, “how wonderful to see you again. Thank you for hosting us in such beautiful surroundings.”

“Welcome back, Mister Ambassador, Commodore,” Macer proved equally polished at the diplomatic arts, gesturing to their seats at the long table. “Shall we begin?”

* * *

“What have you got?” Davula asked, having been called to the bridge’s Science station by Garrett and Helvia.

“We appear to have a possible location, Commander,” Garrett said, pointing to the island depicted on her display. “An island off what on Earth would be Croatia, in the Adriatic. The island supports several large scientific and manufacturing complexes and based on the level of military defenses arrayed on and around the island, whatever is produced there is of high value to the Romanii government.”

Davula looked to Helvia, who nodded his assent. “Agreed, sir. It’s the most likely prospect we’ve found.”

The Bolian appeared lost in thought for a few seconds. She gestured for Helvia to join her in the ready room and the large Romanii obediently fell into step behind her.

“Your thoughts, Mister Helvia?” she asked as the door swished closed behind him.


“Could we send a covert security team down to reconnoiter and if necessary, destroy that facility?”

He gave that a moment’s consideration. “It is possible, Commander. However, even beaming in we run the risk of tripping whatever sensors and alarm systems exist there. If this is where they are researching and creating their Augment soldiers, there’s a strong likelihood their off-world allies have provided Federation equivalent defensive systems. They might even possess transport scramblers.”

Davula drank that in, leaning back against the front of the commodore’s desk. “Fair point,” she conceded.

“Additionally, what would be our legal authority for such an act? They’ve violated no laws of their own in creating Augments, and Federation laws don’t apply here. We’re talking about destroying a research facility on a sovereign world because it offends our Federation sensibilities.”

The XO’s expression softened, and she nodded fractionally. “That’s one argument, however these Augments have committed acts of aggression against the Federation.”

“Yes, sir. While we have the legal right to hunt down those specific Augment soldiers, capture them, and put them on trial for their actions, the facility where they were created has nothing to do with that. It would be like burning down the family home of a Klingon solider who killed a Starfleet officer in combat.”

“I… hadn’t thought of it in those terms,” Davula conceded. She gave him an embarrassed smile. “And to think, I’m the one who attended Advanced Tactical School.”

He shrugged, straining the seams of his uniform tunic. “You have other responsibilities, sir. I mainly play tactical simulations in my head all day and ruminate on the worst-case scenario.”

“I appreciate the wisdom of your counsel, Lieutenant.”

“Bridge to Commander Davula.”

“Go ahead.”

“Sir, Altishutnal and Shackleford report they’ve arrived at the coordinates of Gol’s fight with the mercenaries. The remains of the damaged Bird-of-Prey and the two older Romanii ships have been scuttled, and there’s no signs of the other two mercenary vessels.”

“Understood,” Davula acknowledged. “Please convey the commodore’s orders for them to begin a paired patrol along the trade lane.”

“Aye, sir. Additionally, Perseus has arrived in-system escorting the repair tender Puget Sound. They’ll rendezvous with Gol at Assembly Point Alpha in one hour, seventeen minutes.”

“XO copies, bridge. Thank you.”

Davula smiled thinly at Helvia. “It’s nice to have some additional company.”

“I doubt the Romanii will feel the same, sir,” Helvia predicted.

* * *

“We spoke earlier about the benefit of an alliance with the Federation,” Curzon said. “We would offer our scientific knowledge in combating your planet’s geological hyperactivity, but we need your permission to utilize sub-surface probes to further research the nature of these upheavals.”

Macer shared a glance with one of his advisors before looking back to Curzon. “We are already receiving aid in that respect from the Orions.”

Curzon smiled. “The Orions are primarily merchants and traders, First Consul. As we’ve discussed previously, their resources are limited in comparison to those of the Federation. Our starships are mainly vessels of exploration and are equipped with substantial scientific resources. As for our assistance, it comes without cost. We do these things because we have the capability, and it is in our ethos to do so.”

Macer’s answering smile was tinged with skepticism. “Everything comes at a cost, Ambassador.”

Curzon sat back, holding his hands up, “It is merely an offer. You are in no way obliged to accept. But if my world were being wracked by seismic activity and rampant volcanism, I think I would take as much help as I could get.”

“We will consider your generous offer,” Macer responded noncommittally.

One of Macer’s aids took the opportunity to step in, bending down to whisper something in the First Consul’s ear.

Macer frowned, turning to face Trujillo where she had been sitting quietly next to Curzon. “Two more of your ships have entered our system,” he announced, an edge to his tone.

“A repair vessel and its escort, First Consul,” Trujillo replied, feigning innocence. “I would remind you that one of our ships was ambushed nearby by hired mercenaries and sustained substantial damage in the engagement. Both vessels are part of my task force, half of which is gathering here in your system, while the other half is patrolling our nearby trade routes to prevent any further acts of piracy.”

“And why is it necessary to assemble a squadron in our home system, Commodore?” he asked pointedly.

“First Consul, you have repeatedly assured us that the Augments who participated in the attack on our cargo vessel were not officially sanctioned by your government, though they were clearly Romanii. For that reason, it may become necessary to begin stopping and searching all extra-planetary traffic to and from your system, to prevent any more of these rogue Augments from falling into the hands of unscrupulous agents who might use them to attack local trade routes.”

His face coloring, the First Consul rose to his feet, arms braced on the tabletop. “This is unacceptable! You have no right to establish an operational presence in our system without the express permission of this government.”

Trujillo shifted slightly in her chair, exuding an unworried air. “I will assemble my ships where and when I like, First Consul. You see, I am unconvinced that you and your government are not involved in the Augments’ attacks. I have decided we will remain here to conduct our investigation until we have proven or disproven your complicity in those acts.”

She nonchalantly tapped three times on her combadge, paused, then double-tapped the device. “Trujillo to Reykjavik, you may launch the shielded geo-survey probes.”

“Aye, sir. Probes away,” came Davula’s voice from the other end.

Macer pointed at one of his military attaché’s, shouting, “Order Orbital Command to target and destroy those devices immediately.” He turned back to glare at Trujillo. “A wasted effort, I’m afraid.”

Seconds ticked past and a tense silence settled over the cavernous chamber.

Over Trujillo’s combadge, Davula apprised, “Probes have impacted the targeted coordinates, sir. They are descending to pre-set depths and telemetry is coming in now.”

“Thank you, Commander. Trujillo, out.” She cut the transmission with a single tap to her communicator.

Macer’s attaché raced over to him, holding up a tablet device for the First Consul's consideration and whispering something excitedly to him.

The First Consul’s expression slackened as the color drained from his features.

“It’s true,” Trujillo said conversationally. “We infected your orbital defense grid with a computer virus hours after pulling into orbit. She pointed to her combadge. “I just neutralized your orbital and surface-to-space defenses with my communicator just before we launched our probes.”

She stood, with Curzon following suit. “As a show of good faith, I will release our control of those defenses as soon as we are safely back aboard my ship. However, I retain the ability to neutralize your defenses at any time should you try to act against us. Please consider what we have said and what we have demonstrated today, First Consul. I look forward to tomorrow morning’s session. I hope that it will be longer and more fruitful, but that will depend very much on your people's level of candor.”

With another brief transmission, Trujillo had the diplomatic party and their security escort whisked home by transporter, leaving a confused and frustrated Romanii contingent behind.

* * *
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Commodore Perry would have been proud... Classic muscle-flexing gunboat diplomacy. I wonder if a reader from Iraq or El Salvador might have a different emotional reaction to it. Loving the researched feeling to the word-painting and world-building. Shades of Gibbon...

Thanks!! rbs
Commodore Perry would have been proud... Classic muscle-flexing gunboat diplomacy. I wonder if a reader from Iraq or El Salvador might have a different emotional reaction to it. Loving the researched feeling to the word-painting and world-building. Shades of Gibbon...

Thanks!! rbs
Ummm ..., yeah, what he said. ;) But seriously, I agree wholeheartedly with these sentiments. And I'm enjoying the further developmetn of Helvia's character and personality.
* * *

“Hi, Commander Usaku?” Garrett said to the individual on the other end of her subspace comm-pic to the starship Stargazer.

She was in her quarters, hunched over the computer workstation on her desk, which was strewn with half-a-dozen data-slates. Garrett usually didn't make unsolicited calls to colleagues, but her situation was so fraught with uncertainty that she couldn't even bring herself to speak with Davula about it.

“That’s me,” the Asian human replied jovially. “Please, call me Akio.” He sat down in front of his own personal monitor holding a bowl of something in one hand, his uniform blouse open with waist-belt dangling. “I just got off shift, please forgive me.”

Garrett laughed. “I’m not judging, and please call me Rachel.” She herself was only wearing the blue-grey turtleneck of her science division post. “If the commodore knew I was contacting another ship while out of uniform, she’d have me running wind-sprints around the largest deck of our saucer.”

Usaku quirked an eyebrow. “Really? Sounds like she could give our Captain Lakatos a run for her currency.” He raised a finger in a holding gesture just long enough to slurp down a mouthful of udon noodles with his chopsticks. He chewed frantically and blushed. “Sorry again. I’m starving. Got so wrapped up in collating our findings on the Azure Nebula last month that I forgot to take a meal break mid-shift. The report is due in two days, and I dare not disappoint the captain. Rumor has it my predecessor missed one too many deadlines and got booted right off the ship.”

“I’m so sorry, if I knew you were dancing with a deadline, I’d have bothered someone else,” Garrett offered.

He shook his head, his good-natured smile remaining. “Not to worry, I’ve got it pretty much wrapped up, though I’d kill for a second set of eyes to check my findings. Nebular astrophysics is not my strongest subject." He took a drink of water from a glass. "I'm afraid I haven't had the opportunity to get up to speed on the Magna Roma situation, as we were just assigned to the task force two days ago. Now, what can I help you with, Rachel?”

“Well, your CV indicated that you worked on the Juan de Fuca plate abatement project on Earth and the seismic regulators on Risa.”

“Guilty as charged,” Usaku said wetly, smirking around another mouthful of noodles. “Have rock hammer, will travel.”

“Might I make you an offer, Akio?” Garrett said sweetly.

Usaku dipped his head, gesturing with a regal, rolling sweep of his hand. “Let’s have it.”

“I need a geologist’s expertise on some readings our probes have come back with here on Magna Roma. You need an astrophysicist’s input. I propose a swap.”

He swallowed the last of the noodles, draining the liquid and finally set the bowl aside. “You drive a hard bargain, but I’ll take it,” he joked. “What have you got?”

Garrett sent the readings via subspace packet and waited a moment as Usaku pulled them up on his monitor.

“These are Orion seismic dampeners located along several of the planet’s most active fault zones. These versions are larger and more complex than the ones nearer the surface, and we had difficulty getting sensor returns of them from orbit until we utilized sub-surface geological probes.”

Usaku half-listened to Garrett as he began flipping through the scan results, his expression growing increasingly confused. “They’re shielded… I mean, of course they are, they’d have to be. But the shield frequencies don’t make sense. They’re all the way up into the interferometric bandwidths.”

“Right,” Garrett agreed. “Like they didn’t want anyone getting detailed scans.”

“Were they worried about proprietary rights over the technology?” Usaku asked.

“No,” Garrett countered. “The devices include Lissepian and Tellarite components, so they’re already an unpatentable hodgepodge of tech. Besides, the Romanii couldn’t duplicate anything of this level of sophistication anyway.”

“So… why would they—”

“Check the pressure variances,” Garrett coaxed, cutting his musings short.

“Yeah, those looked way off what you’d normally expec—” He stopped, a frown dominating his features. “This can’t be right.”

Garrett sat back, the knot in her stomach easing as someone with greater expertise also found the results nonsensical. She had experienced doubt and indecision in the face of these findings so soon after the utterly inexplicable data surrounding Magna Roma’s origins. Garrett had convinced herself that she was drawing incorrect conclusions from the data, and that two such bizarre discoveries could not rationally be made in nearly as many days.

Usaku muttered a curse in Japanese that the computer mercifully left untranslated. Five or more minutes followed in silence as the other science officer tapped feverishly at the keyboard set into the surface of his desk. Garrett waited impatiently, struggling not to fidget as her anxiety grew.

“They’re not dampeners,” he said finally.

“They’re not?” Despite the horror of the revelation, Garrett experienced the inappropriately satisfying sensation of vindication.

“Oh, the ones near the surface are, but they’re just a bandage on an avulsing wound. These larger, deeper versions are seismic resonators, which in concert are establishing a pressure differential around the planet’s core.”

“And when that differential finally overwhelms the resonators’ mutual field?” Garrett prompted, already having intuited the answer.

Usaku’s eyes moved from the data display to meet Garrett’s own on the split-screen image. “Then the process that’s already underway on Magna Roma happens in hours, rather than years or months. These sick sons-of-bitches have basically lit a fuse at the center of the planet.”

Garrett’s stomach flipped as she struggled with the overwhelming significance of what they had uncovered. “Dear God, I… I thought that’s what I was seeing, but I couldn’t make myself believe it. Why? Why the hell would the Orions do this?”

Usaku said nothing for a moment, staring off into space until taking in a deep, shuddering breath as though he’d suddenly forgotten how. “I’ve seen something very similar to this used in the Infernus system.” His wandering eyes found their way back to Garrett’s face.

“Akio, what—"

“Rachel, it’s a hell of a lot easier to mine latinum from an asteroid field than it is an intact planet.”

* * *

Task Force Hannibal

USS Reykjavík – Shangri-La-class attack cruiser – Commodore Nandi Trujillo

USS Stargazer – Constellation-class cruiser – Captain Lavinia Lakatos

USS Zelenskyy – Miranda-class light cruiser – Commander Eldred Withropp

USS Altishutnal – Tempest-class light cruiser – Captain Anelie Eleonore

USS Perseus – Wasp-class frigate – Lt. Commander Ulit Toom

USS Planck – Newton-class frigate – Captain Ba'oria Tamedon

USS Shackleford – Avery-class frigate – Captain Millicent Chang

USS Azulon – Columbia-class frigate – Captain Sorn Dinlite

USS Koh Yor – Lenthal-class destroyer – Lt. Commander Aronas Žukauskas

USS Hallia – Larson-class destroyer – Lt. Commander Phí Cao Tiến

USS Gol – Akayazi-class tactical scout – Commander Glal <<DAMAGED>>

USS Corrigan – Franklin-class medical frigate – Commander Ylthandra

USS Puget Sound – Cle Dan-class repair tender – Lt. Commander Amarith Pyrixian-Mosk

* * *
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Oooh - really nasty. And you thought the ferengi were devious, underhanded and unscrupulous... You have to stand in awe of the Orion Syndicate. The slave trade is nothing compared to genocide. And they're making the Romanii pay for the privilege. Nice evil twisted plot twist...

Thanks!! rbs