by Travis Anderson
The Memory Alpha team met Romaine with excitement. Taurig wanted to know how the food had been. Pollachek inquired as to what Romaine had learned while away. Standish wanted to know if she’d “met any babes”. T’Ling, though…T’Ling was surprisingly complacent.
When Romaine had a quiet moment after the staff briefed her on their progress and their preparations for tomorrow’s departure, Romaine questioned T’Ling’s apparent lack of interest.
T’Ling arched an eyebrow. “Do not mistake my lack of inquires as a lack of interest. You did not seem predisposed to directly answering inquiries, so I refrained from asking any.”
Romaine was once again impressed with the Vulcan’s insight. “Okay, good answer. Just for that, I’ll answer one question if I can.”
“Very well,” T’Ling accepted. “Do you feel adequately prepared for the task ahead?”
Romaine struggled to keep a straight face. What did T’Ling know about her multiple missions? Did she suspect something?
“I feel I’m fully prepared,” Romaine managed to answer honestly.
“Let us hope you are,” T’Ling replied and excused herself.
“Just who the hell are you?” Romaine wondered aloud.
The next day, the archivist team transported aboard the USS Lexington. The Constitution-class starship hadn’t begun the refits that had so drastically altered the Enterprise. All new Constitution-class hulls would be built along the refit lines and the original starships would also be rebuilt to fit the new design.
Captain Dexter O’Reilly was still ecstatic about his ship though. The Captain made it quite clear they would have to drag him out of her in order to begin the rebuilding process. He’d met the Memory Alpha team in the transporter room and helped his yeoman, one Peter Burnett, guide the team to the ship’s guest quarters.
Romaine had served aboard a ship of this type, so she knew approximately where those quarters would be. However, every CO designated which of the crew’s quarters would be allotted to visitors, so there was always the random element of chance that something completely out of the norm had been decided.
O’Reilly explained to the team that they were already en route to the Romulan Neutral Zone. The starship would stay on station at the border for four weeks, even though they were only embarking on a two-week mission. Starfleet’s orders were specific that they were not to cross the Neutral Zone regardless of any provocation.
Romaine felt the weight of Knight’s constant warnings bearing down on her. She did her best to ignore it and put on a brave front, but inside she was terrified. No one else seemed to notice the stark terror in her eyes. It seemed to be coming off as normal anxiety.
That myth was dispelled when T’Ling visited her assigned guest quarters. The Vulcan had said she wanted to discuss something with Romaine. Romaine was left stunned by the Vulcan’s opening statement.
“Commander, the Romulans will detect your terror. You must control yourself or you will jeopardize our position with the Tal Shiar,” T’Ling began.
Romaine ruefully thought that she wondered why she even bothered trying. T’Ling also seemed to sense this as well. “Do not disparage yourself, Commander. You are fraught over dealing with a hostile culture. Such distress is a given. However, the Tal Shiar will prey upon it.”
Romaine recalled from T’Ling’s briefings that the Tal Shiar were the Romulans’ secret police. Sort of like Earth’s Gestapo, KGB, and foreign intelligence agencies combined. She said it was believed by some circles that the Director of the Tal Shiar wielded as much power with the Praetor as the Proconsul.
“It seems to be natural for everyone but you, Ensign,” Romaine remarked ruefully.
“My facade of pure logic is useful in that regard, Commander. My training and discipline enable me to control my emotional expressions, but those emotions are still present. Even now, they are on the verge of spinning out of my control,” T’Ling admitted. “We are all in the unknown now. What happens next may shift the nature of the relations between our nation state and that of the Star Empire.”
“That’s still a cold comfort, T’Ling,” Romaine said dryly.
“It was not my intention to comfort you, Commander,” T’Ling expressed, “only to advise you that the Romulans, and especially the Tal Shiar, will expect nervousness on your part. But only to a certain degree. After that threshold is exceeded, their suspicions will be aroused.
T’Ling left at that point and Romaine was left wondering once again why she had volunteered for her “extracurricular” assignment.
It took a few days to traverse the Alpha Quadrant and arrive at the Romulan Neutral Zone. The Lexingtonwas hailed by Starfleet’s Observation Command staff. Starfleet traffic in the region had increased recently. Several starbases were being built near the zone with accompanying starships that would be assigned to them. Usually a starbase received one to three starships under its nominal control. This was especially true of these starbases since their assigned ships would be conducting border patrol sweeps.
The Lexington’s captain acknowledged the observer’s scrutiny. O’Reilly squinted over the bare essentials of the data regarding his ship’s current assignment. The commodore receiving these orders informed O’Reilly that she was well aware of why he was there. A Romulan flagged D7 was lingering near the Neutral Zone. She’d send a message for them to contact the Lexington and arrange for the personnel transfer.
The Lexington dispatched a shuttle into the Neutral Zone. While the Romulans had agreed not to penetrate the zone with their starship, and insisted upon the same from Starfleet, they did allow the shuttle to approach within transporter range of the Romulan side of the border.
The Memory Alpha team stood by as the shuttle crew communicated with the Romulan cruiser. It had an ominous ring that the cruiser’s Romulan name translated into Dagger Thrust in Federation standard. The Starfleet officers felt the tug of the transporter and it was strangely new and overly familiar at the same time.
The Memory Alpha team materialized to find themselves staring down two armed guards. A rather amused woman was standing next to the transporter tech. Her amusement seemed to grow by the second as the Starfleet personnel tried to ascertain what kind of situation they’d suddenly been thrust into.
“Oh, do behave,” the Romulan officer scolded her security personnel.
The guards lowered their weapons but they didn’t holster them, either. The ranking officer stepped out from behind the transporter control console. Her uniform surprised the Starfleet officers. The ablative armor the security guards wore distracted from the fact the Romulan military had also altered its uniform code since the Enterprise’s fateful encounter with their forces.
Gone were the faux togas and body wraps. This woman wore a simple grey tunic with dark pants. Over the tunic she wore a black jacket that the others lacked. She also wore a gun belt. A disruptor was holstered halfway between her hip and her knee. Her ease with it seemed to demonstrate her acceptance of its intended purpose.
“I am Commander Alera,” she announced in Romulan. The team’s universal translators rendered the words in Federation Standard. “I command this vessel. I hold the lives of its crew, and now yours as well, in my hand. Do not give me cause to close my hand.”
Romaine thought it best to derail any and all tensions. “I’m Lt. Commander Mira Romaine. I’m here to vouch for the conduct of my fellow officers.”
Alera nodded while holding Romaine’s eyes in a sharp gaze. “Very well, Commander Romaine. You shall be responsible for them and you shall be responsible to me.”
Alera tapped a control on her wristband. “Subcommander Elic, report to the transport chamber.”
She turned back to Romaine. “My second will be here in a moment to sort you out. Do as he says as though I am saying it. Understood?”
Romaine tipped her head. “We understand and will comply.”
“Good,” Alera snorted and exited the room.
Subcommander Elic met the Memory Alpha researchers with open disdain. He led and they followed. Of course, the armed guards trailing them would probably shoot any stragglers. He brought them to a dead end corridor.
“These three rooms are our only guest accommodations,” Elic said diffidently. “You will decide how to distribute them amongst yourselves.”
“What areas of the ship are we restricted from?” Romaine asked.
Elic laughed harshly, “You are restricted from the entire ship. Guards will monitor this corridor. You have access to one another’s rooms. Do no attempt to stray out of these accommodations or you will be dealt with.”
Romaine could tell that being dealt with implied a permanent solution. “Very well. How far are we from Romulus?”
“You should have done your homework already, human.” Elic spat the last word.
Romaine suddenly recited the actual distance in both kilometers and their Romulan analog. She gave him a wry look. “What I was really wondering is how long it would take us to get there. Starfleet estimates three days there and three days back, which would leave us four days to transfer the data.”
“You are lucky you will even have that,” Elic snapped and stormed off.
The team appraised their surroundings. There were three nondescript doors facing them. There were also two guards whose hands couldn’t stray away from their disruptors. They were in the mood for some sport and Romaine’s team might occupy them for a few seconds.
“Standish, you and T’Ling grab a room. Pollachek and Taurig, you’re roommates now,” Romaine ordered.
“But he snores,” Pollachek accused Taurig.
“Like you don’t?” Taurig riposted. “And what makes you think bunking with her will be any better?”
“At least she’s more pleasant to wake up to,” Pollachek shot back.
“Gentlemen,” Romaine impatiently interjected, “settle this inside of your quarters.”
They settled down with some good-natured grumbling. The next three days — and it did indeed take three days —were largely spent hopping between rooms. T’Ling’s arcane knowledge of all things Romulan came in handy during meals. She was the only one who could read the food dispenser’s menu and she also knew what the dishes were.
At the end of their voyage, Alera contacted the Starfleet team and ordered them to prepare for transport. Elic shepherded them back to the transporter. This time, he goaded them in an attempt to provoke an incident that would be deemed worthy of their deaths.
Alera stood by, waiting inside of the transport chamber. She waved her hand and the guards prodded Romaine’s team onto the pads. It seemed Alera was coming with them.
A rather severely dressed male Romulan awaited them at their destination. Four other Romulans stood by, two male and two female. Romaine idly wondered if this was a response to the composition of her team. The Romulan in the foreground broke into a smug smile.
“It seems you have developed a sense of urgency after all, Commander Alera,” he said with hidden meaning.
“I serve the Empire,” Alera replied. “The Praetor guides the Senate. The Senate serves the people, and the proconsul and the Tal Shiar serve the Praetor. So when the Tal Shiar beckons, I will comply as though ordered to by the Praetor herself.”
Alera cocked an eyebrow at the Romulan provocateur. “But you already knew this, Agent Moren. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have sent me on this fool’s errand.”
“You military officers are so closed-minded and parochial. We stand to gain quite a bit from these Starfleet archivists. Things that could ensure we can defeat a foe that humbled both the Klingon Defense Force and Starfleet,” Moren countered.
“Starfleet bested the entity,” Alera retorted, “and it never drew near to our territory. So why the alarm?”
“Wouldn’t you like to learn how Starfleet defeated it?” Moren asked condescendingly, “or has that thought never occurred to you?”
“Like they’ll tell you!” Alera spat.
Moren chuckled. “Their species are wonderfully naive. They’ll tell us anything we want to know in the name of peace and friendship.”
“Why are we discussing this in front of them?” Alera’s hindbrain suddenly kicked in. “Their bloody universal translators are giving them everything we say.”
“Do you think I’m really that great a fool, Alera?” Moren was pained by the thought. “A damping field has shut down their translation devices. They will not reactivate until I allow them to do so.”
“Why did you ask for me?” Alera wondered. “Elic could have handled this handover. It’s his place, not mine.”
“What is your impression of these people?” Moren suddenly asked.
“I would hardly call them ‘people’. They are our inferiors, just as the officials dictates have spoken of for a century,” Alera proclaimed.
“You of all people should know better than that, Commander,” Moren softly chided.
Alera’s cheeks burned. Most were too afraid to mention the accursed contamination in her gene pool. Her sister shared her bloodline, yet she’d not only come to terms with it, she’d embraced it. Which is why Aelynn was merely a first officer on a misbegotten privateer scout.
“Is this a test of my loyalties?” Alera wanted to know.
Moren sighed, “Hardly. Your faithfulness to the orthodox way is well proven. What I am hoping for is some insights into these creatures based upon inside information you should possess.”
“They are weak,” Alera asserted. “They deserve to live out their lives as slaves to a proper house.”
Moren sighed, “This is gaining me nothing. Perhaps I should have asked Elic to come down after all.”
Alera’s eyes narrowed at the slight. “If you and your fellow agents have things in hand, my troops and I will return to our ship. We will be here when you should require our services again.”
“I’ll keep it in mind,” Moren replied half-heartedly.
Moren turned to face the Starfleet officers as Alera and her soldiers transported out. He activated the control on his wristband. “I think you should be able to understand me once again.”
“Trouble in Paradise?” Romaine quipped.
“Commander Alera feels she has a lot to prove and compensate for. Sometimes her zeal outweighs her practicality,” Moren shared.
“And what happens now?” Romaine asked warily.
“You have arrived in the middle of the night here in Ki Baran,” Moren revealed. “Now you will be taken to your assigned domicile and await the dawn where you will begin work on our joint project.”
“Interesting that you refer to it as a joint project,” Romaine commented. “Especially since I’ve come under the impression that we’re simply here to do you a service.”
Moren smiled. It was more like a lazy cat assessing its prey. “Nonsense. We have data you have no other means of acquiring. And you have the same in regards to us. So we have a meeting of the minds and perhaps our cultures reach a state detente if not trust.”
“Well said,” Romaine said skeptically. “Let’s see if it actually happens.”
“It will,” Moren assured her. “Now if you would all follow me, I have transportation to your barracks arranged.”
Romaine signaled the others and they dutifully traipsed after Moran as he ventured outside. The obligatory guards accompanied them. As stated, the skies were dark, but there were lights all around.
The evening air was cool and humid. Although the Romulans derived from Vulcan’s deserts, they had settled a not-quite-tropical world. Romaine and her team expected high temperatures, uncomfortable for them and quite pleasant for Vulcanoids, and choking humidity.
They traveled by troop carrier to their destination. Romaine was disappointed to discover that they were literally staying in a military barracks. Romulan soldiers surrounded the dormitory.
“Is this really necessary?” Romaine inquired of Moren.
“It is for your own safety, I assure you,” Moren replied.
“I bet,” Romaine said ruefully.
They were assigned to three rooms once again, so the living arrangements remained the same. Romaine was escorted to a small room that was locked. Inside, a communications panel awaited her.
Moren had granted her the chance to send a five minute to message to Captain O’Reilly aboard theLexington. Moren had been quite pleased to boast that the Romulan military knew where the Federation starship was at all times. Romaine could only assume that she was being monitored just as stringently as Starfleet Intelligence had monitored her at the Advanced Tactical Training Center, if not more so.
She had enough time to explain she had no time for pleasantries. She reported that the team had made it safely to Romulus. They were expecting to get five or less hours of sleep and then begin work in the morning. O’Reilly admitted that while he didn’t envy them, he and his crew had been under that kind of pressure before. Romaine was surprised as the comm link was broken.
Romaine sighed as she exited the comm station. She wondered what her crime had been. It had all been innocent enough in her estimation.
Romaine was led back to the team’s temporary quarters. The entire team was gathered in the common area and they looked quite put out. Romaine inquired as to what had happened.
“They searched us,” Taurig grumbled. “Not only did they physically paw at us, but they also manhandled our belongings and equipment.”
Moren suddenly appeared and beckoned for Romaine to approach. She turned to Taurig. “It seems it’s my turn.”
“Screw peace,” Taurig urged. “It’s time to break someone’s hand.”
Romaine sighed as she approached Moren. She knew his hearing was sensitive enough to overhear it, but she didn’t care. These people’s paranoia was getting on her nerves. Elic’s open hostility beat this slippery discrimination any day.
“All right,” Romaine said sourly, “I’m ready to be groped.”
“I assure you that is not our way,” Moren tried to console her, “but even the most modern of scanning technology can be fooled. We can’t leave anything to chance.”
“I’m certain that Starfleet feels the same way about your operatives within the Federation,” Romaine quipped.
“I am certain I have no idea of what you are referring to,” Moren said straight-faced.
“Good boy. Stick to your official lie,” Romaine smarted off.
“I have my Optio standing by to frisk you,” Moren informed her. “She is an Immunes recruited from the Imperial military. Her specialty is criminal investigations.”
“So we’re criminals now?” Romaine sharply inquired.
“You are classified as enemies of the state. So of course you’re criminals. But your freedom is being purchased by the data you carry,” Moren explained frankly.
“Then why not arrest us and just crack the data rods?” Romaine asked.
“Many of my superiors would have me do just that,” Moren admitted, “but the Praetor has instructed the director to try this approach instead.”
“So the Praetor is willing to foster a dialogue between the Star Empire and the Federation?” Romaine guessed.
“The Praetor’s predecessor begrudgingly embraced the concept behind the tripartite colony on Nimbus III. Despite continued misgivings, and the apparent failure of the colony’s aims, our current Praetor does desire to normalize relations between our two states,” Moren explained. “This would include establishing diplomatic relations.”
“I’m surprised you’d even consider a diplomatic mission after what happened to your ambassador on Nimbus III,” Romaine confessed.
“We will never forget what happened,” Moren warned her, “but we can expand our paradigm enough to work around it.”
“Thank you for sharing,” Romaine said at long last. “I’ll pass your message along to my superiors.”
“That, above all else, is why you and your officers were brought here.” Moren wore a tightly controlled smile. “The entity you call V’Ger is just a timely pretext.”
“But you still want our data,” Romaine said cannily.
Moren allowed himself a small chuckle. “Of course.”
Romaine drew herself up. “Okay. Point me at your second.”
“She awaits you in the quarters you claimed for yourself,” Moren divulged.
“Well, if I’m going to be molested, I guess it should be in my own room,” Romaine said darkly.
Moren decided that maybe human humor was more like the Romulan variety than anyone was willing to admit.
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