Star Trek: New Horizons Season 7, Episode 6 (Crosshairs) by captaintigranian
Summary: With the "Top Gun" trophy on the line, Phil's final exam proves to be one of character. Meanwhile, Trallian must choose whether to risk his family's safety or his soul.
Categories: Expanded Universes Characters: None
Genre: Action/Adventure, Drama, Family, Friendship, Romance
Warnings: Adult Language, Adult Situations, Character Death, Violence
Challenges: None
Series: Star Trek: New Horizons
Chapters: 7 Completed: Yes Word count: 11138 Read: 4878 Published: 21 Oct 2018 Updated: 21 Oct 2018

1. Chapter 1 by captaintigranian

2. Chapter 2 by captaintigranian

3. Chapter 3 by captaintigranian

4. Chapter 4 by captaintigranian

5. Chapter 5 by captaintigranian

6. Chapter 6 by captaintigranian

7. Chapter 7 by captaintigranian

Chapter 1 by captaintigranian
Government District, Ki-Baratan: Romulus

Stardate: 54815.2

Midnight chimed on the clock in the sitting room of Trallian's townhouse. The senator sat at his desk while staring at the wall on the far side of the room. Fear gripped him like a nhiadh in the talons of a mogai. His vocal support of Semachs over the past few weeks had earned him just enough trust to be appointed as the interim head of the Tal Shiar. This new position gave Trallian unprecedented access to all the secrets of Romulus, but it was also just enough rope to hang himself with. Rellas' few remaining forces were powerless to act while Shinzon held the upper hand. Trallian knew he could be the conduit of information to change that and give the rebels back the momentum they desperately needed. However, the slightest misstep could be a death sentence for him and his family.

The young senator stared at his computer monitor. His access codes into the intelligence databases were now active. He could spend from now until dawn reading every dirty secret available on troop movements, fleet construction, and the disposition of known dissidents and no one would be the wiser. After all, he could easily claim it was his new responsibility to learn it all. However, the terrifying possibility remained: what if he found something useful?

If Rellas and the rebels used that information to gain an advantage, the leak would obviously be traced to Trallian. If he didn't contact Rellas, how could he consider himself any different than all the other spineless Romulans trying to secure their place in Semachs' new order? Would he be able to live with himself if the rebels died because of something he could have stopped?

More painful hours passed as Trallian just stared at the login screen. Finally, as the first hints of dawn appeared outside his windows, a beam of sunshine caught a frame on the far wall. Trallian looked up to see the beautiful portrait Samilla had presented as a gift when he first won election to the Senate. In the painting, his wife sat overlooking the beautiful blue fields behind their villa. Her arms were wrapped around Sevon and Sepina. His daughters gently rested on either side of Samilla's lap. The artist had captured their expressions perfectly. The girls stared back at him with absolute adoration and confidence that their father was a man of his word. Samilla's face was happy, yet calm. Her eyes gazed down on him as if to say, "I love you, I trust you, and I believe in you," with one serene expression.

It was then Trallian knew what he had to do. No matter what, he had to keep the three most important women in his life safe. If Semachs was able to crush the rebellion and secure his new power, Trallian knew that would be impossible. The moment Semachs found out that Trallian had spent years aiding the rebellion, all of them would be shot, bayoneted, and vaporized to dust in that order.

However, if he kept Rellas strong, if he prevented Semachs and Shinzon from fully closing their grip on the government, there was a still a chance that they could all escape to a place far away from the machinations of Romulus' new tyrants. Slowly, he reached up and keyed his access code into the terminal. In a flash, the whole scope of Semachs and Shinzon's private armament campaign came into blunt focus.

Trallian spent about an hour just trying to grasp of the details. Billions of talons worth of latinum and raw materials had been transferred to the Reman Heavy Military Industries consortium. It was obvious that Shinzon was fast building a huge conventional force that would soon be able to rival even the Romulan Imperial Navy. It was also obvious from Semachs' comments in the margins of the daily intelligence briefings that he fully understood and indeed supported this turn of events. However, there was something amiss that kept bothering Trallian. He just couldn't put his finger on it.

Before his father died and left everything to him, Trallian's main job in the family kali-fal brewery was balancing the accounts. The senior Trallian was an absolute stickler for efficiency. They young Trallian learned very quickly that every single talon and kernel of kheh grain had to be accounted for. Woe to the farm worker or brewery employee that tried to skim off the top or stole a few cases of Romulan Ale for their own personal consumption. Trallian's father could catch even the smallest scheme by merely studying the spreadsheets, and he ensured his son learned it as well.

Now, as Senator Trallian looked at the treasure flowing from Romulus to Remus, he realized that another scheme was going on. However, this one was much larger than a few missing cases of kali-fal. To put it simply, the Remans were not producing enough vehicles and weapons to account for all the resources Semachs' was giving them. Worse yet, the proconsul seemed none the wiser. It seemed that as long as Shinzon was getting results, Semachs didn't care how he did it.

After another three painful hours of analysis, Trallian had finally cut through enough lines of accounting to see where the gaps were. Just before he had to leave for the Senate building, he finally identified two mysterious hemorrhages. The first was at the Reman shipyards themselves. Over 5 million tons of tritanium and duranium were unaccounted for along with over 2 million liters of refined deuterium. The materials were prime shipbuilding material, but not enough vessels had emerged from the yard to account for them all. The second gap was even larger: 10 million tons of polyduranium. The only hint to its fate was that a civilian ship of the "Romulan Mining Consortium" called the "Narada" had been contracted by the Remans to run several heavy shipments to the Hobus system over the past five months. What didn't make any sense at all was that Hobus was a useless star in the middle of nowhere. There were no habitable planets or space stations in its orbit. It was simply a fading point of light on a starmap. Trallian didn't know if these two discrepancies were connected, but he did feel that Semachs was so blinded by ambition and arrogance, he didn't have a clue about Shinzon's true intentions.

The most logical explanation was that the Reman general was merely a thief. Shinzon was stealing valuable commodities and slowly shipping them to the outskirts of the empire to sell to pirates or smugglers. However, Trallian's gut told him that the logical explanation was just too simple and that something far more dangerous than embezzlement was going on right under the ears of the Romulan government.

Trallian slumped back in his chair and rubbed his hand over his unshaven facial stubble. Then, he pinched the bridge of his nose between his green, blood-shot eyes.

"What in the name of the gods are you doing out there, Shinzon?" Trallian muttered. Whatever it was, the senator was now more concerned than ever.
Chapter 2 by captaintigranian
Fighter Weapons School: Tellar Prime, Federation Space

Phil stepped into the main auditorium and removed his sunglasses. Kickstart waved to him. His Sizzo was holding their usual seats next to Overdrive and Kickstart. The kid was more excited than usual because today was the day that everyone had been waiting for almost two months. The final mission of the cycle had been flown, the points tallied, and graduation was in four days. Today, the instructors would announce which aviator team would be going home with the big one: The "Top Gun" trophy.

Phil pushed his way down the aisle and dropped down into the chair.

"So, you excited, Sab?" Overdrive said tapping him on the elbow.

"We've all met graduation requirements," Phil replied nervously. "That means we did what we came here for. We all should be excited."

"Bullshit!" Kickstart said nearly jumping out of his seat. "I came here to win and that's just what we did!"

"Don't count on it, Bud," a terse voice shouted from the front row. Quiet didn't even look back at them over her shoulder.

"We were neck and neck until the end and your last engagement looked a little sloppy from my canopy," Riot added nervously tapping her boot on the ground and twirling a pen through her fingers. The pair was as always, right front and center. Both of them had been wound tighter than the strings on a Ferengi's latinum purse for the past three weeks. Neither had enjoyed a single second of leisure. Right after classes ended for the day, Quiet Riot would head straight to the simulator until well after dark. They both wanted to destroy Phil and Kickstart since the day they bagged Godfather. It also aggravated Quiet Riot to no end that despite all their extra practice, the competition still managed to keep up.

"Who you calling sloppy?" Kickstart shouted back. "Riot, I've gotten better sensor readings than you with my pants around my ankles taking a shit."

"Now, listen here you little twerp!" Riot shouted jumping to her feet and raising a fist. Phil groaned as he realized he would have to back up Kickstart even though he knew Riot was right. Their last mission was sloppy. Phil was focused on graduation and he missed a maneuver that almost allowed the enemy to get weapons lock. He had recovered just in time, but with the standings so tight, he was sure it had cost them the number one spot. He had already prepped the speech he was going to tell Kickstart to take full responsibility.

"Would all of you just shut up!?" Berserker, the giant Caitian pilot, growled. "Just wait five more minutes and then the winner can talk all the trash they want." His ferocity stymied the argument long enough for Blaster, Hardtack, Selat, and the other instructors to enter the room. Phil noticed Godfather wasn't among them. Blaster stepped behind a podium with a PADD.

"Alright," he said with his usual gruff voice. "Sorry to keep you waiting, but the point totals this cycle were so close, we had to triple check them…"

Phil's heart skipped a beat.

"It can't be possible…" he thought to himself.

"In third place," Blaster began, "with 416 points, is Berserker and High-Speed."

There was a polite amount of applause from the audience. However, no one really cared about third place.

"In second place," Blaster continued, "with 748 points…"

The instructor paused long enough for Phil to glance down at Quiet Riot. They were literally gripping each other's hands so tightly Phil could see their skin turning pale. It was obvious how badly they wanted this trophy. It was almost like they "needed it."

"…is Saber and Kickstart."

Phil's Sizzo instantly dropped down and covered his face with his hands. Quiet Riot both shrieked with glee, jumped to their feet, and threw their arms around each other. However, before the other students could applaud, Blaster shouted at everyone:

"HOLD ON!"

Quiet Riot froze and turned to look at him. Kickstart lowered his hands and looked back up with a renewed sense of hope. Phil didn't know what to feel. He thought the only thing he wanted was to get back home. Now, he realized that a part of him still wanted to win.

"ALSO in second place with 748 points," Blaster said, "is Quiet and Riot. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a tie."

A hushed murmur went through the crowd.

"What does that mean?" Kickstart shouted out. "Do we have to share the trophy with them?"

"NO WAY!" Quiet Riot shouted together. "ONLY ONE TEAM CAN BE THE BEST!" With all their practice, they seemed to be telepathically locking together at random now.

"Well, Ladies," a voice shouted out from the rear of the auditorium, "you're certainly right about that."

"CAPTAIN ON DECK!" Blaster shouted as Godfather walked down the steps of the center aisle. The entire room reflexively jumped to their feet.

"As you were…" Godfather said removing his aviators and crisply placing them in one of the breast pockets of his flight suit. He then gingerly jumped up onto the stage and took a position next to Blaster. He may have been the oldest person in the room, but the man in charge still did things with the swagger of an officer half his age.

"Ladies and Gentlemen," Godfather began. "A situation like this has never occurred in the entire history of this program. It is a credit to the extreme skill and abilities of both your teams," he said looking back and forth between Phil, Kickstart, Quiet, and Riot. "However, we still have to find a way to pick the top pilot/Sizzo pair in this class and that decision has fallen upon me."

Quiet and Riot's entire demeanors both dropped like lead weights. It was no secret that Godfather had a strange admiration for Phil. It became even more amplified when Saber had become the only student to ever score a kill on Top Gun's senior instructor. The Betazoids were terrified that Godfather would simply award the trophy to Phil and Kickstart for that fact alone. A few rows away, Phil had the same thought, and though it probably would have been acceptable for Kickstart to win that way, it was definitely not how he wanted it to end.

"Tomorrow at 0600," Godfather said crossing his arms, "we're gonna settle this once and for all. Quiet and Riot and Saber and Kickstart will take off in separate directions each escorted by an instructor. I will set my A8 in open space in the middle off the Phinda range. The two flight teams will rendezvous at my position, and dogfight it out for all the marbles. The first T-Bat to get weapons lock gets the trophy. I'm the referee."

"THAT'S FINE BY US," Quiet Riot said still speaking as one.

"And by us!" Kickstart said speaking for him and Phil.

A cheer went through the rest of the auditorium. The students were all excited to get one more chance to see some fireworks before walking away with their diplomas.

Overdrive, Tick-tock, and the other students started slapping Phil and Kickstart on the shoulders. A few other students were even giving some encouragement to Quiet and Riot. Despite their arrogant attitude, their dedication to excellence had actually started to win a few back over into their camp.

Phil, however, didn't care anymore. Win or lose, he just wanted this crazy competition to be over. If the fastest way was taking down Quiet and Riot tomorrow morning, well that's just how it had to be.
Chapter 3 by captaintigranian
Romulan Planetary Protectorate of Viochin: Romulan Frontier

Two hundred Viochinians had crammed into a dilapidated warehouse on the edge of the village. Most were already cheering in anticipation of the action to come. An older Viochinian man stroked his long beard and walked over to the corner where Valaa was standing.

"Ke krawp sa me haw loap!" he shouted with a bit of annoyance.

"Dar mang che hak mi!" Valaa said returning his frustration with more of her own. The old man scoffed and took another long drag on the claw pipe hanging from his yellowed needle-like teeth.

"What's the problem?" Seebo said as he wrapped Rellas' hands with old strips of burlap.

"The old man is just wondering what the hold –up is," Valaa said dismissively. "Looks like the crowd is getting restless."

"And what did you tell him?" Esrak said as his eyes nervously looked up to the rows of Viochinians eagerly holding out their paper betting slips.

"Something not appropriate for polite conversation," Valaa muttered.

"Are you sure we should do this?" Seebo asked Rellas with a deep breath. "It seems a little beneath our dignity, Boss. We're supposed to be warriors."

"Is eating beneath our dignity too?" Valaa said sarcastically. "You know the funds have dried up. That Reman asshole has got us hiding on this planet like Tormallan cockroaches under a rock."

"But pit-fighting!?" Seebo said bitterly. "I thought we weren't slaves anymore. Why are we acting like them?"

"We're not slaves," Rellas said checking the tightness of his hand-wraps to his satisfaction. "But Valaa's right. We can't just keep scraping by. We need hard currency to continue our fight. The wind does not respect a fool, but it respects a broke fool even less."

"Then I hope the money is as good as Valaa claims it will be."

"Oh, trust me," the Orion said looking at the giant wad of cash piled on the table behind the old referee. "The money is good."

"My Lord," Esrak begged Rellas. "Maybe we should have one of our other soldiers do this. You are the leader of our movement…"

"Who is also a Klingon warrior and a former gladiator," Rellas interjected as he stretched the muscles in his back and rolled his shoulders a few times. "This isn't my first time in a ring. At least this time, I get paid."

"But your opponent," Esrak said even more desperately. "Just look at him!"

They all looked across the wooden floor to the massive Carmallian growling in their direction. Several long scars covered his furry torso and his snout was so mangled they wondered how he could still eat.

"The opponent doesn't matter, Esrak. As long as the battle is worthy," Rellas said confidently.

"May the ancestors bring you victory," the Sarcassan chirped as he resigned himself to his leader's stubborn decision.

"I am ready," Rellas said with one final breath. He tensed the blue flesh of his bare chest and took three steps onto the floor. The crowd roared their approval.

"Da nang chi how mei. Kang cha ri gong ma," Valaa said to the old referee. His long face contorted into a grin as he beckoned both Rellas and the Carmallian forward. Rellas' hairy opponent raised his long arms toward the ceiling and bellowed out a roar. The crowd started chanting his name over and over, confident that he would win another easy victory over the Gralluscan newcomer:

"Basab! Basab! Basab!"

"Remember, Boss," Valaa called out to Rellas one final time. "There's no extra points for creativity. It's submission, knock-out, or…" she paused.

"Or what?" Seebo said sharply.

"Or death…" Rellas answered for her as he continued to step forward.

"gods…" Seebo spit out under his breath.

Rellas crouched down onto the balls of his feet and raised his fists to the ready. His stoic expression betrayed nothing as Basab took position two meters away. The Carmallian had so little respect for Rellas, he didn't even bothering getting into a fighting position.

The old referee stepped between them and raised up one of his long fingered hands.

"Bao di?" he asked turning to Rellas. The Gralluscan nodded. Then, the referee turned to Basab. "Bao di?" The creature growled again. "SANG TAP!" The referee shouted throwing down his hand and jumping out of the way.

Basab charged straight at Rellas snapping his jaws. Rellas grabbed the neck and torso of his opponent. He fought with all his strength as the Carmallian literally tried to rip his throat out with his fangs. The crowd went wild again. Rellas dug his feet in to the sand covered floor boards just trying to stay upright. Basab immediately drove his knees into Rellas' side causing the Gralluscan to wince in pain. The blows broke his concentration long enough for Basab to lift Rellas up and heave him to the ground.

"My Lord!" Seebo shouted. He was about to leap into the fray to help, but Valaa grabbed him and pulled him back.

"Are you crazy?" Valaa shouted above the cheers of the spectators. They would rip us all apart if we interfered."

"But he'll die if we do nothing!" Seebo countered.

"He's been fighting a lot longer than you have!" Valaa said. "He can take care of himself."

Rellas and Basab rolled over and over again across the floor. The Carmallian tried several times to get his full weight on top of Rellas. The old gladiator was able to keep from getting pinned, but with each roll, Basab's claws dug into his flesh and drew blood. It drove the crowd deeper into frenzy.

Finally, Basab rolled too hard and drove himself off-balance. Rellas was able to push his feet into the floor and drive his hips skyward. He bucked the Carmallian off of him like an angry Rukullian bronco. Basab flew two meters across the floor and crashed to the boards with a loud thud. Rellas flew forward and jumped onto his back. He locked one arm around Basab's stocky neck. As Rellas tightened his grip, he started using his free hand as a bludgeon against the creature's head in an attempt to knock the Carmallian senseless. Rellas only landed two blows before a stout elbow flew backward and landed straight in the center of his face. The impact knocked him backward. Both fighters flailed around in a daze for a few moments before climbing back onto their feet.

The crowd began chanting Basab's name again. They wanted their money.

Rellas managed to get his fists back in front of him. He spit out a mouthful of blood that had dripped down the back of his throat from his shattered sinuses. Basab was angry now. He pointed a claw directly at Rellas' chest.

"YOU...NECK…BREAK…I…NOW!" he shouted in pigeon Romulan.

Rellas reared back his head and actually laughed. Valaa, Seebo, and Esrak looked on disbelief from the sidelines at their leader's resilience.

"Go for it," Rellas said with a grin. "En'chA!"

Basab howled with rage and leapt forward blindly. This time, Rellas was ready. He side-stepped, held out his leg, and tripped Basab with his own momentum. The Carmallian tumbled forward onto the ground and slammed his face into the floorboards. Rellas was instantly on him again. Learning from his past mistake, he held his opponent's torso close to his before putting his stout spear-throwing arm back around Basab's neck. The Carmallian was stronger, but also heavier. He couldn't lift himself out of Rellas' grip and quickly began lapsing into unconsciousness.

"Submit!" Rellas commanded. "Tap out!"

"NO!" Basab fought to get out. "WHEN…I…WAKE…" he said as he started blacking out. "I..KILL…YOU…AND…ALL…OTHER…SLAVES!"

"We are no one's slaves!" Rellas shouted suddenly twisting his hips with all his might. Basab's neck snapped with a loud a crack and he fell limp to the ground.

The crowd gasped and fell silent.

"Tu mak bae tran," the referee said surprised. He walked over, helped Rellas to his feet, and lifted his hand into the air. The crowd began voicing their displeasure with boos and taunts. Valaa instantly ran over to the table with an empty duffel bag and started shoveling the cash in with both hands. Then, she ran over and grabbed Rellas.

"Sir, we need to go before it gets even uglier," she whispered. Rellas dusted himself off and walked out proudly as the booing increased. Soon, empty bottles started flying through the air. The referee started angrily yelling at the patrons as Valaa led her leader, Seebo, and Esrak towards a side exit.

"We can't keep doing this!" Seebo said angrily.

"You're right about that," Valaa said raising her brows. "Also, I wouldn't go showing your faces for a few days out in the village. They are NOT happy right now."

"It doesn't matter," Rellas said wiping beads of sweat from his brow. "We have enough money now for a few more weeks."

"A few weeks?" Esrak said looking back and forth as they exited the warehouse into the cool night air. "Shinzon is still out there and we can't do anything. We have to find a way to get off Viochin."

"WE WILL!" Rellas shouted loud enough to silence the others. "Kahless will guide us back towards the path of victory."

"Well, I hope he does it soon…" Valaa said. "I'm starting to run out of planets to hide us on."

Her words cut straight to Rellas' heart. He had fought so hard to bring down the Romulan Empire. His fight had freed many and even earned him the title of Klingon Warrior. However, now it seemed like after years of struggle and countless lives lost, he was right back to where he was at the ludus on Dacen before the arrival of the Son of Tigranian.

As the group of rebels quickly made their way back to their hiding place, Rellas looked up at the heavens and silently said a prayer to himself:

"Unforgettable, I have not lost my faith in your purpose. I implore you, speak to us. Send us word on how to fight our way back to the path of justice. I refuse to believe that after everything, we are destined to live the rest of our lives in shame and defeat while cowering in a cellar. Please, give us a sign…"
Chapter 4 by captaintigranian
Fighter Weapons School: Tellar Prime, Federation Space

The bright sun of Tellar Prime was still well below the horizon as Phil and Kickstart walked towards their T-Bat for pre-flight. The other pilots and Sizzos had also woken early to watch the fireworks on the auditorium's holoscreen. Most had lined up along the tarmac to wave and cheer for the only two crews that were still wearing pressure suits. Kickstart was strutting along like a showboating boxer before a match much to the delight of the others watching. Phil walked with his helmet under his arm and a face like stone. Everyone except him wanted a show. He just viewed this ridiculous match as the last thing in his way before graduation.

The memories of Quiet and Riot's condemnation on this spot three weeks ago were still fresh in his mind. He had been accused of many things in his career, but never before had someone accused him of putting pride before the safety of a teammate. Now, he would be going against those same women in a fight to take away the accomplishment they wanted most. Phil wasn't sure if beating them this morning would make him feel better or just prove once and for all that he was really just in it for himself.

Overdrive and Tick-tock were waiting for Phil and Kickstart outside their T-Bat.

"Are you boys ready?" Overdrive asked slapping the crew on the backs of their thick suits.

"You know it!" Kickstart shouted jumping back and forth from one foot to the other and punching his fists in the air.

"Now," Tick-tock said as his blue, Andorian antennae straightened towards them, "I know you want to get it over quick so you can touch back down and start drinking, but if you could put on a show for a while...at least for nine minutes…that would be great."

"Hey, Asshole," Overdrive said turning to his Sizzo, "did you really place a bet on how long this dogfight would last?"

"Hey, I didn't bet against our boys here," Tick-tock said defensively, "I merely placed a friendly wager with Sunspot that Quiet Riot would give ole' Saber and Kickstart a challenge…"

Phil was mostly ignoring them. He looked across the flight line to see Quiet and Riot already finishing up their checklists. No other crews had come to wish them well. They were getting ready for this all by themselves.

"They weren't in the locker room when we were suiting up," Phil said leaning on the boarding ladder of his fighter. "How long have they been here?" he asked Overdrive.

"They were here when we got out here, Brother," Overdrive replied. "I think that's the second time they've gone through the list. They want everything to be perfect."

"Ain't gonna matter!" Kickstart said climbing past Phil to get into the cockpit. "I called the engravers last night to let them know to go ahead and start putting our names on the plaque."

"Alright, Sab," Overdrive said noticing Phil's discomfort. "Is there anything you need? Last cup of a coffee? A small bite to eat?"

"No," Phil said shaking his head. "I'm ready."

"Alright," Overdrive said with a nod. "Good luck, good hunting. We'll be watching down here."

"Thank you, Brother," Phil said reaching out and shaking his hand.

"Don't mention it. Do your thing," Overdrive said as he turned and walked away with Tick-tock to join the other students.

"Remember! At least nine minutes!" the Andorian shouted before Overdrive slapped him across the shoulder.

The sound of a spacecraft throttling up caught Phil's attention. He looked over to see Godfather's A8 roaring down the permacrete runway with his impulse engines at full afterburner. The captain's wheels left the ground. Then, he roared spaceward against the backdrop of the rising sun. As Godfather's bird passed through the sound barrier, the crack of a sonic boom echoed through the cool, morning air. This was it. It was time to go.

Phil looked back to Quiet Riot's T-Bat. They were already in the cockpit preparing for engine start. He didn't know how Betazoid telepathy worked. He wasn't sure if his thoughts were muted at this distance or they could hear every confused thing passing through his cranium at this moment. Either way, for his own self-worth, he still wanted to try.

"Hey!" Phil shouted inside his mind. "I have no idea if you can hear me, but 'good luck.' I really mean it."

Suddenly, the two women simultaneously looked towards him and stared for a few seconds. If they did respond, his human brain didn't process it. Then, Quiet Riot both reached up and dropped their dark visors over their faces.

"Yo, Pilot guy!" Kickstart shouted down from the cockpit. "I kinda need you up here to finish going through all the bullshit we gotta do to take off in this thing!"

Phil didn't say anything. He merely took one final breath of unprocessed atmosphere while staring at the beautiful dawn. Then, he threw on his helmet, locked it to the neck collar of his suit, and climbed up the boarding ladder.

****

Phil and Kickstart's T-Bat shot through space at full impulse. Selat, their instructor-safety, followed far behind them in her A8 just inside of visual range. At this point, the instructors were here just to check the block. They knew they weren't in control anymore. In fact, the instructors were pretty sure they would learn a thing or two this morning.

"Alright, Alright, Alright," Kickstart said making adjustments to his instruments. "I have Godfather's transponder loud and clear at 357 Mark 061, Range 188,000 nautical miles. You're taking us right to him."

"Roger," Phil said quietly as he scanned the blackness of the void through the canopy.

"C'mon, Saber," Kickstart said referring to Phil by his callsign. "You gotta loosen up. No pilot ever got weapons lock by being tight on the stick. It'll be alright. We got this."

"Right, Brother. Sorry," Phil said pretending to shake out his limbs for the benefit of Kickstart. His Sizzo still had no idea why Phil was actually nervous. It had nothing to do with whether or not Phil believed he "could" take down Quiet Riot. Instead, he was concerned with whether or not he "should."

"I have both of you on my sensors, Kids," Godfather's voice sounded on the instructor subspace net. "You are cleared to engage. Tally Ho!"

Suddenly, Kickstart's instrument panel chirped out a warning.

"Here we go! Unknown contact, bearing 017 Mark 127 Range 278,000 nautical miles and closing at full impulse," Kickstart shouted out.

"Don't jump the gun, Mate," Phil cautioned. "We're near the inbound shipping lanes to Tellar Prime. It could be a 'civvie.' I'm gonna change heading. If they change to match, then we know for sure."

Phil gently slew the controls to point the nose of their T-Bat straight at the unknown signal. Kickstart watched the blip on his screen turn to perfectly match their movement. Then, he sucked in a breath when it actually started to accelerate towards them.

"Contact turning to 0-0-0 Mark 0-0-0!" Kickstart shouted. "Range 198,000 nautical miles and closing. WE ARE HEAD TO HEAD! They just kicked in the after burners."

"Alright, Ladies," Phil said arming his targeting sensors and raising his shields. "Game on!" Without warning his Sizzo, Phil engaged their after burners as well. A fifty meter long trail of burning fusion exhaust spit out from their spacecraft. The sudden rush of raw acceleration pushed the men back into the seats.

"AHHHHH!" Kickstart grunted as he squeezed his leg muscles to prevent from blacking out. "DAMMIT, SABER!"

"Hold on back there!" Phil screamed.

"110,000…nautical…miles….89,000….62,000" Kickstart shouted gasping for breath as he overburdened diaphragm attempted to suck in air from his helmet.

As the blood slowly pulled away from Phil's eyes, his ability to see colors slowly began to fade. However, he could just make out a strange red star directly to their front. It shimmered with an odd, irregular glow and Phil could definitely tell it was getting larger by the second.

"You wanted a chance to prove you're the best," Phil whispered to the strange object. "Well, we're right here!"

The glowing object quickly transformed into the silhouette of another T-Bat. Despite starting out on opposite ends of the system, the two spacecraft were now screaming straight at each other at a significant fraction of the speed of light. They shrieked past each other. The two pilots: Phil and Quiet, adjusted their headings to prevent a collision at the last possible nanosecond. The T-Bats passed back to back only ten meters apart. The massive shockwaves of their after burners hit so hard, it almost cracked the transparent tritium of their canopies.

"HOLY SHIT! WE ALMOST DIED!" Kickstart bellowed as he turned around to look out the back of their cockpit.

"You've never played chicken before?" Phil said keeping his eyes focused directly in front of them. "They're just screwing with us."

"Now would be a great time for some of that crazy pilot shit you do…" Kickstart said still watching Quiet Riot's spacecraft. Phil was about to perform his trademark "U-Turn" maneuver when Quiet Riot gunned their maneuvering thrusters and performed it first. The back of their bird spun around perfectly one-hundred eighty degrees to point their weapons directly at Kickstart and Phil. Suddenly, the two men were on the run.

"THEY STOLE YOUR MOVE!" Kickstart yelled.

"What did you think they were doing all those hours in the simulator?" Phil replied without any hint of surprise. "I'd be shocked if they hadn't figured it out yet."

"Shit, Man! We are totally defensive! Go! Go!"

The beeping of Quiet Riot's targeting sensors sounded inside their helmets. Their opponents were moving closer and closer to weapons lock. Phil gunned his engines again pushed his stick hard over. They entered a steep dive while barrel-rolling to the left and to the right.

"Where the hell you going, Man?" Kickstart asked as his head bounced from one side of the cockpit to the other.

"Away from them!" Phil said. "What's our range to the Belt of Phinda?"

"What?" Kickstart said shocked.

"The range to the asteroid belt!" Phil screamed. The beeps of Quiet Riot's sensors grew closer and closer together. Once they became a steady tone, it meant that they were dead.

Kickstart looked down at his sensors.

"187,000 nautical miles 285 Mark 310!" the Sizzo answered.

"Alright then," Phil said diving hard down and to the left.

"You'll never make it!" Kickstart said desperately.

"I know that," Phil said. "But I want them to think I'm running…"

"WHY?" Kickstart shouted. Quiet Riot had now closed to almost perfect firing position. Phil estimated they were less than five seconds from locking them up.

"Because," Phil replied calmly. "I haven't given up all my tricks yet."
Chapter 5 by captaintigranian
In the main auditorium, the rest of the students and instructors sat on the edge of their seats.

"What's the time? What's the time?" Tick-tock shouted desperately.

"Three minutes, fifty six seconds," Sunspot said with a satisfied grin. "It is over my friend."

"Come on, Sab!" Tick-tock said desperately.

"Would you both shut up?" Overdrive screamed over his shoulder. He was on the edge of his seat with steepled fingers.

"Come on, Man," Berserker said leaning back in his chair. "Quiet Riot's got 'em dead to rights. Saber is never gonna make it to the asteroids. I don't know what the hell he's thinking."

Overdrive looked up at the holoscreen as Quiet Riot moved in for the kill. Suddenly, Phil fired his nose mounted maneuvering thrusters at full blast. The RCS system glowed with a bright flash of plasma as Phil and Kickstart's T-Bat flew straight up and over and somersaulted backwards around the pursuing spacecraft like a ski-jumper coming off a ramp. For a brief second, the nose of Phil and Kickstart's bird glided less than a meter away from Quiet Riot's canopy. The two women looked up in shock as a waving Phil and a screaming Kickstart passed behind them. Then, the men came to a stop directly between the impulse engines of Quiet Riot. It was a total reversal. Suddenly, Saber was in absolutely textbook firing position.

"OHHHHHHHHHHH!" the other students said leaping from their seats.

"WHAT WAS THAT!?" Beserker shouted putting his paws behind his peaked ears. "How did he do that!?"

Now, Quiet Riot were the ones that had no choice but to try and run towards the Belt of Phinda. The pair tried rolling laterally to dump some speed, but Phil was already anticipating that desperate move. He moved right with them and stayed on their tail.

"That's my boy!" Overdrive screamed. "Get 'em, Saber! Get'em!"

****

"OH MY GOD!" Kickstart yelled from behind him. "What just happened?"

"We got behind them," Phil said bringing the crosshairs of his targeting sensors online.

"Where did you learn to do that one?" Kickstart asked.

"Don't know," Phil replied shaking his head. "I've never tried that before. Just got lucky I guess."

"WOOOO!" Kickstart said as his fear finally gave way to exhilaration. "Yeah, Boy! Let's go!"

"I'm on you now!" Phil shoutedas Quiet Riot continued screaming towards the relative safety of the asteroid belt. He and his machine were working perfectly together. Phil could feel what it wanted him to do. No matter what his opponents tried, he was one step ahead of them. His move was too much for Quiet Riot. They were expecting him to fold when they came out so aggressively. Now, Phil could tell from their desperate maneuvering they had no idea what to do. Just like his wife's aikido in the martial arts ring, he had turned his opponent's momentum against them.

It was coming all rushing back: the pride in his skills, the thrill of the impending kill, and the rush of the glory to come. He remembered how badly he wanted to win, and how much he wanted that trophy. After today, no one would ever call him "Busdriver" again. Instead, he wanted them all to say that he was one of the best fighter pilots to ever live.

The steady beeping of his targeting sensors grew faster and faster. Quiet Riot gunned their engines to full in the final hope of escaping into the belt. Phil moved his reticle over their spacecraft. All he had to do was press the range finder button on his control yolk to get target lock. His thumb moved towards the toggle. Phil remembered all the taunting and demeaning comments from those two since he first arrived two months ago. All the terrible things they had said about his crewmates and his ship, all the rumors they had started about him, and finally the ridiculous charges that he didn't care about anyone but himself. Now, Phil would show them who they had been messing with. He moved to press the range finder…

"You better show those fighter jockeys what the crew of Lady Blackjack is made of. Good luck, Mr. Lexington."

Phil's mind flashed back to the last words Annabeth had said to him before he left the Pershing. Then Katie's words in his quarters flashed through his consciousness.

"If you wanna play, play. If not, don't give it a second thought. Just do what you gotta do to finish with pride."

That's when Phil finally understood what had been bothering him. Winning would bring short term glory, but it wouldn't bring pride to his ship, his family, or himself. Quiet Riot loved flying just as much as he did. They wanted to win just as much as he did, but they didn't have a Pershing to return to. All they had was their barren asteroid base and their endless patrols along the Neutral Zone.

Phil was part of a crew that regularly received accolades from the highest levels of Starfleet and the Federation. Quiet Riot never received any praise at all. Instead, they just did their thankless but essential job day after day, week after week, month after month. They wanted that trophy not for the glory it would give, but because it would remind them that they were still in the fight with the Federation's enemies. It was a symbol that they mattered too...

Phil knew that the real way to bring pride to his ship and to himself would be to let others have what they deserved. Slowly, he pulled his thumb away from the button.

"SABER!" Kickstart screamed. "They're almost in the asteroids! Lock them up!"

"No," Phil said shaking his head. "No joy! It's no good! It won't lock up…"

"What!?" Kickstart screamed as he frantically ran diagnostics on the T-Bat's systems. "Everything is perfect! I don't know what's wrong."

"It's ok," Phil said as he watched Quiet Riot scream into the Belt of Phinda. "We'll go after them and try again."

Phil burned his thrusters and altered course to follow into the asteroids. In a few seconds, he was dipping and dodging around rocks the size of skyscrapers.

"Do you have a fix on them?" Phil called back to Kickstart.

"No!" his Sizzo desperately replied. "There's too much interference!"

Phil continued maneuvering around for a minute, visually scanning for any sign of Quiet Riot's T-Bat. He was forced to cut his speed to almost nothing to keep their spacecraft from hitting pieces of floating ice and debris.

Suddenly, the shrill sound of a steady tone echoed through their helmets. Phil and Kickstart spun around to see Quiet Riot's T-Bat directly behind them with weapons armed.

"I found them…" Kickstart said dropping his shoulders with utter disappointment. Phil was glad his helmet's visor was still down, because he was smiling underneath.

****

Phil landed their fighter on the runway alone. He slowly taxied to their parking spot and opened the canopy. The crowd of other students was already out of the auditorium and running towards the tarmac yelling and hollering at the top of their lungs.

A sonic boom echoed through the bright, blue morning sky as Quiet Riot brought their T-Bat through the stratosphere into a screaming victory loop around the airfield. The mighty roar of their impulse engines still couldn't drown out the cheers as they dropped a single burning victory flare from their fuselage. Then, they circled around to touch down themselves.

Phil watched from his cockpit as the two women parked their spacecraft, threw off their helmets, and slid down their ladder into the waiting arms of the crowd. All the tension and conflict of the past was forgotten as Quiet and Riot were hoisted up onto shoulders and carried around in jubilant victory. The women held their helmets high as the other crews chanted their names.

Phil finally unbuckled his harness and climbed over to the ladder. He looked back to see Kickstart still burying his head in his hands.

"I don't know what happened! We had them dead to rights!" he shouted angrily.

"Shit happens, Man," Phil said giving him a supportive tap on his shoulder. "Come on, we did incredible this class. We got nothing to be ashamed about."

The two men climbed down to the tarmac where the only two people to meet them were Overdrive and Tick-tock.

"You did great, Man," Overdrive said supportively. "You alright?"

"It's all good, Brother," Phil said looking back over to Quiet and Riot fifty meters away. They both were holding each other in a bear-hugged embrace. Out of nowhere, Beserker pulled out a bottle of replicated champagne, shook it up, and started spraying them. Quiet and Riot opened their mouths and started gulping the bubbly down. Soon, their faces were covered in a mix of sweat and synthehol.

"I still can't believe it…" Kickstart said shaking his head. Tick-tock threw his arm around Kickstart's shoulders.

"Don't worry, fellow Sizzo," he said. "Everyone knows it's always the pilot's fault."

Phil burst out laughing.

"Besides," Tick-tock continued. "You guys lasted nine minutes and eighteen seconds! That's means I'm ten strips of latinum richer!"

"Good for you…" Kickstart grumbled.

"It also means the first commiseration round is on me tonight," Tick-tock said leading them all back towards the locker room. "You can order anything you want…as long as it's not expensive."
Chapter 6 by captaintigranian
After the graduation ceremony, the cadre held a reception for the newly minted "Master Flight Instructors." Now, they were no longer teachers and students. All the officers decked out in their dress whites and polished medals were now peers in the Corps of Aviators. Besides, this would probably be the last time all the classmates would ever be together again. The next morning, they would all be head back to their home squadrons.

A team of civilian Tellarite caterers had turned one of the maintenance hangers into a ballroom complete with decorations, hors d'oeuvres, and giant punch bowl filled with a strange and sugary concoction of fruit punch and cheap booze.

Quiet and Riot were the belles of the ball. Former students and instructors alike gathered around them as they held their giant trophy of a gilded, plastic T-Bat. The engraved plaque on the polished walnut base read:

LIEUTENANT KIMA "QUIET' VAACE

LIEUTENANT DASTRA "RIOT" REL

"THE BEST OF THE BEST"

STARFLEET FIGHTER WEAPONS SCHOOL CLASS 04-78

The pair was all smiles as they recounted the story of their last kill for the hundredth time in the last two days for everyone who would listen.

Kickstart, for his part, had finally calmed down after a few drinks and news from his home squadron. His commander had decided to promote him to full lieutenant when he arrived back on the USS Hikaru Sulu. It wasn't often that an officer as young as him went from alternate to graduate with honors at "Top Gun." The Sizzo had profusely thanked Phil and swore that, "this wouldn't have happened without you" despite the outcome of their final dogfight.

Phil had managed to sneak away from the crowd into a quiet corner of the hanger next to a T-Bat that was undergoing a maintenance overhaul. He nursed his plastic cup of pale ale and quietly marveled at the intricacies of the Rolls-Royce Merlin impulse engines currently pulled out of the fuselage and resting on giant jack-stands next to the fighter.

"I'm glad to see someone who can appreciate the inside as much as the outside," a voice sounded from behind him. Phil spun around and saw Godfather standing there in his whites. The captain was examining the EPS harness on the outside of the tritanium engine housing.

"Sir!" Phil said snapping his back straight to something resembling attention.

"Relax, Lexington," Godfather said with a chuckle. "I'm just here to have a conversation."

"Yes Sir…" Phil said unsure of what was going on. "He didn't know very much about Godfather, but he did know Captain Vaskin wasn't someone who enjoyed small-talk with people whom he significantly outranked.

"I told myself," Godfather continued as he placed a hand on the edge of the deuterium intakes into the fusion chamber, "that if I didn't make pilot, I would resign my commission and enlist as a flight mechanic. I would have done anything to stay close to them, even if it meant getting my hands dirty.

Starfighters aren't like any other spacecraft in the galaxy. They're even different than those giant tubs like the Pershing you sail around in. You don't live in a fighter. They don't haul around passengers or cargo. A fighter is your partner. It works together with its pilot to accomplish a goal."

"I think I understand that, Sir," Phil said with a nod.

"I'd say so, Saber," Godfather said. "I went back and pulled your Academy transcripts after it became obvious your reputation wasn't all hot air. You do realize that the commissioning board didn't appreciate you listing only 'Aviation." You're damn lucky they didn't throw your paperwork in the trash for that little stunt."

"It's what I felt I needed to be doing, Sir," Phil replied.

"You still feel that way?" Godfather asked raising an eyebrow.

"Yes Sir," Phil said confidently.

"Really…" Godfather grinned. "I know what you did, Son."

"Sir?" Phil said confused.

"Don't bullshit me, Lieutenant," Godfather said shaking his head. "I was watching both of you up there the whole time. When you and I went head to head, I was diving for that same asteroid field. You locked me up in a negative 3 'g" dive to port. With Quiet Riot over there you were only in a negative 2.5 'g' dive straight ahead. I've been doing this long enough to know that means you either lost a lot of skill in the last three weeks or you let them have it."

"Sir," Phil said as his gut went cold, "I can explain..."

"Explain what?" Godfather replied. "Explain how three years ago you took a job that most of your fellow fighter pilots would spit on because you thought it was a better way to serve? That instead of staying on that cushy starship, you put your doubts aside to come back here and face them? That while you were a student here, you not only forced your fellow crews to push themselves to the limit, but you also taught them new techniques to do it? Oh, and most of all, when you had a chance for easy personal glory, you put your own ego aside to give somebody else the spotlight? Do I have a clear picture of just who the hell Philip Lexington is or do you wanna correct me?"

Phil was speechless.

"Look around," Godfather said pointing to the crowd twenty meters away. "I got a hundred hotshot pilots who can fly the hell out of anything with thrusters. What I have a shortage of is leaders. And, Son," Godfather said looking him straight in the eyes, "you are a leader."

Phil still didn't know what to say.

"I don't give a shit what Annabeth Geist says," Godfather added. "There's an instructor position waiting for you here. Just give me a call when you're ready."

"Thank you," Phil said. All the trophies in the galaxy wouldn't have mattered more to him in this moment.

Godfather reached out his hand. Phil reached forward and shook it.

"Wait a second, Sir," Phil said suddenly putting two and two together. "You said 'leaders put their own ego aside to give others the spotlight.' Back in our dogfight, did you let me lock you up?"

Godfather smiled and laughed before walking away.

"Sir?" Phil asked slightly louder. Godfather ignored him as he strolled back towards the rest of the reception. "SIR!"
Chapter 7 by captaintigranian
Romulan Planetary Protectorate of Viochin: Romulan Frontier

Rellas stood on the beach near their safe house. It was a warm, clear night. He stared up at the brilliant blanket of stars dotting the blackness above him. It was a different sky than the one he looked up on Grallus IV as a boy; different still than the one he gazed out while one of Selonia's gladiators on Dacen Prime. However, he still took comfort when he found the familiar points of light that had always been his guides before.

Suddenly, without looking down, a grin crossed his face.

"If you're going to just stand there and stare at me," he said with a chuckle, "you might as well give me some company while you smoke your cigarettes. After all, you bought them with the money I won."

"I'll admit," Valaa said stepping out from behind from behind a palm tree a few meters away, "nicotine withdrawal was a factor in me getting you that fight." She walked over and stood next to him before blowing out a puff of smoke. Rellas caught a strong whiff of it in his face.

"Harsher than usual," Rellas coughed.

"Viochinian tobacco isn't quite up to the standards of the Yridians yet…" she said taking another drag. Rellas went back to looking at the sky. Valaa studied him for a few moments before speaking again. "What are you looking for, Boss?" she asked.

"The holy texts of Kahless teach us that if we salute the stars, sometimes they will salute back with an answer," he muttered back.

"An answer?" Valaa replied confused, "an answer to what question?"

"Which way forward we should take on this path?" he answered. Then, he pointed to a ball of light near the western horizon. "Do you see that? That's Grallus, where I was born." He pointed to another star just off center of the sky. "That's Dacen, where the Son of Tigranian helped me fight for my freedom." He turned and pointed to a third star near the eastern horizon. "That's Qo'noS, the Klingon homeworld where the Unforgettable first brought the words of honor to the galaxy," finally he pointed to a smaller, dimmer star a few degrees away. "And that is Boreth, where Kahless said he would one day return."

"I appreciate the astronomy lesson," Valaa said blowing out a lungful of smoke, "but why exactly do you think the stars will have your answers?"

"I've been to more of those points of light than I ever thought I would," Rellas said. "But it's still filled with places that I desire to see. How can we know where to go if we don't remember where we've been?" he asked.

"I couldn't tell you which one of those things is Orion," Valaa said dismissively, "and to be honest, I don't really give a shit. It's not good to keep your eyes on the sky, Rellas. It's best for people like us to keep our focus right there," she said pointing to the ground at their feet. "It's how we stay alive." She took a final puff on her cigarette.

"So, you mean to tell me you've never once looked up at stars and hoped?" he asked. Suddenly, Valaa's eyes grew very distant. She flared her green nostrils and angrily blew out two puffs of smoke. Then, she threw the burning butt of her smoke into the sand and stamped it out.

"I did look up…once," she remembered. "I never knew my father and I never spent much time with my mother. She was too busy dancing for our owner who also owned the cheapest, seediest nightclub in the city of Durghe. It was a great reminder of where we stood in the order of things.

The day after I turned thirteen, a pair of men put down two bars of latinum, locked a chain and collar around my neck, and hauled me off towards the spaceport." She tensed her back as she wiped her eyes. "My mother wouldn't even look at me as they led me away. I didn't do her the honor of screaming or crying. I wanted her to know she meant as little to me as I meant to her…

It was the middle of a night much like this when we reached a parked slave ship. Just before they threw me in the bottom of hull with all the other humanoid cargo, I looked up. I begged to the stars for anything, ANYTHING: a god, an angel, an ancestor, to come down and rescue me. Instead, those things just twinkled back like they were laughing at me.

I learned that night that the stars don't care about you. There're no mystical beings or spirits up there guiding our destinies. Those dots are just burning balls of plasma floating in infinite cold and blackness. The only thing in this universe you can count on is yourself.

The next eight years of my life were absolute hell," she said sucking in a deep breath of air and looking down at the surf. "If you hadn't freed me, I probably would have ended up killing myself."

She expected some kind of forced sympathy followed by a lecture to "suck it up." Instead, Rellas' answer genuinely surprised her.

"Valaa, your faith is stronger than you know…"

"Excuse me?" she replied with disbelief.

"Do you really think I started following the teachings of Kahless because the Son of Tigranian promised me an easy life or a way to quick and painless salvation?" Rellas said. "I began to believe because even in the face of utter hopelessness and excruciating suffering, the Unforgettable's message kept that human moving forward. It gave him a code of honor and an unflagging belief that despite the indignities performed on him, that he would have final victory over his captors…and he did.

Two years ago, I was about to die at the feet of a hundred wealthy Romulans who thought I was their plaything. Then, in a flash, they were cut to pieces at our hands. A year ago, you were adrift in a sea of pain and suffering. You could have remained hopeless and afraid. Instead, when presented with a new path, you chose to fight. Whatever you call it: faith in Kahless, faith in gods, or just faith in yourself, you picked up a weapon, and took the hard path. That is why your faith is strong."

Valaa's face dropped.

"You really don't understand me," she replied ashamed. "I'm not doing this because I'm fighting for some notion of equality, or justice, or a better life for other people's children. I don't think for one second anything I'll ever have some greater meaning or impact…

I'm doing this, because I want to hurt them like they hurt me. Every time they take something away from me, I want to take something away from them. I want those Romulans to suffer like they made me suffer. That's what keeps me going! I'm not some noble warrior looking for honor and glory. I'm just a broken thug who doesn't know when to quit…"

She buried her head in her hands. She was about to walk away when she felt a gentle hand under her chin. Rellas lifted her eyes to meet his.

"Motivation doesn't matter," he said calmly. "It is our deeds that live on through time. Some of the greatest good can be done for the wrong reasons and some of the greatest evil can be done in the name of altruism.

I am forever grateful to you, Valaa. Without you, we would be dead a hundred times. You cut a path through Shinzon's armies for us to escape Daxos. You found us a new safe harbor. You kept us alive. Because of your strength and your wisdom, we fight on. That is noble too."

"I'm sorry," she said shaking her head. Tears were now streaming down her face, "but I've spent my entire life being told that I'm worthless; being treated like I was worthless. I don't think I'll ever be able to believe anything else."

Rellas smiled as he lifted her chin again till her eyes pointed to the heavens.

"Then let me believe it for you."

Without thinking, she threw her arms around him and openly wept. He held her close and let her cry to the sound of the waves lapping against the sand.

Suddenly, Gras ran outside of the hut and shouted at them.

"My Lord! We're receiving a transmission."

Valaa and Rellas pushed apart. He turned to face Gras while Valaa looked away to steady herself.

"We're on our way," he replied. Valaa cleared her throat.

"I'll go and help them with the decryption," she said jogging towards the ramshackle building. Rellas took one final look upwards. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Boreth twinkle at him. Then, he grinned from ear to ear.

"majQa'," he whispered under his breath.

****

Rellas ran down the stairs into the basement. It seemed like a jolt of electricity had shot through all the rebels in the room. Trallian never called them unless it was important news. Seebo was readying their small visual terminal on the map table while Gras and Valaa worked at an old subspace console to bring the signal into focus.

"I think we have it," she said punching three keys in quick succession.

"Onscreen, My Lord," Gras said with a nod.

Rellas looked down as the haggard face of Trallian appeared in front of him.

"You look tired," Rellas said with a hint of levity.

"I don't have time for games," Trallian replied nervously looking around. "I'm leaving within the hour for my villa across the Apnex Sea. The Senate won't be in session for the next two weeks, which means that Shinzon will have time to act without being interrupted. You should be concerned as his current pet projects are probably related to destroying you."

"Pet projects?" Rellas said concerned.

"I don't know what's going on," Trallian replied, "but something is happening in the Hobus system. Tons of money, supplies, and fuel are being rerouted to the Remans under Semachs' authority. I don't think the proconsul knows what's going on, but he doesn't seem to care as long as Shinzon keeps your forces on the run. Go to Hobus, and see if you can find out what's happening. If you can stop whatever it is, I think it will force Semachs to purge Shinzon…"

"Which means we will be able to go on the offensive again," Rellas said with hope.

"Exactly," Trallian replied.

"Thank you, my friend," Rellas said smiling.

"There's something else," Trallian said nervously. "I don't know how much longer I'll be able to keep passing you information. Semachs is using the Remans to rip the entire establishment apart looking for plots and treason. Position and family connections are meaningless now. It's all loyalty to the proconsul." He paused. "I won't let anything happen to my family, Rellas. I'm being watched too closely to plan their escape myself. I need you to find a way to get them out of the Star Empire. Please, help me like I've helped you."

Rellas looked right back at him.

"I give you my word as a Klingon warrior," Rellas replied. "I will find a way."

"Thank you," Trallian said before disconnecting the transmission.

"He's signal's gone," Gras said putting his controls down.

"Hobus!" Seebo said turning to the others triumphantly. "We're getting out of here!" A cheer rang up through the room, but Valaa shouted them down.

"Wait!" she shouted checking a read out on the subspace unit. "Something's wrong."

"What do you mean?" Rellas asked walking over.

"There was something strange going on with the transmission," she said checking the data. "The time stamps don't line up. There was an extra few milliseconds of delay between when Senator Trallian spoke into his terminal and when we received it. It's almost like someone was intercepting the transmission before relaying it forward."

"You mean the Romulans have detected where we are?" Gras said bolting up from his chair.

"No," Valaa said shaking her hands. "There's no indication that they knew where the signal was going," she said turning to Rellas with wide eyes, "but they knew EXACTLY where it was coming from…"

"By Kahless," Rellas exclaimed doubling over. "Trallian…"

"Somebody really was watching him, and a lot more closely than he thought. Now, they have exactly what they need," Valaa said.

"Fuck him," Seebo said flippantly. "He's a rich Romulan asshole anyways."

Rellas bolted across the room and slapped him across the face with all his might. Seebo collapsed in a heap onto the floorboards.

"THAT MAN," Rellas shouted loud enough to bring dust down from the rafters, "has risked everything for us: his fortunes, his family, his very life! He could have betrayed us but instead he has ALWAYS kept his word! I just gave him mine that we would protect his family. I have no intention of breaking it."

"My Lord," Esrak said slowly walking over, "They're on Romulus, and already under heavy surveillance. To get to them would mean walking straight into the heart of our enemy."

"That would be suicide!" Gras agreed. "We haven't got this far by being stupid." Rellas looked around the room and saw similar doubt in all the other fighters' eyes.

"Does everyone else feel that way?" Rellas asked. Their silence broke his heart. "Fine," he answered, "then I wish you long, comfortable lives running away to hide in safety. I don't fight with cowards anyway. I'll go alone…"

"No you won't," a voice sounded from behind him. "He turned around to see Valaa standing strong. "I'm going with you. If you believe in this man…" she said stiffening her spine, "…then that's good enough for me."

Rellas smiled and bowed to her.

"I'm going as well," Esrak chirped. "Because of you, my daughter will grow up in freedom. If that comes at the cost of my life, so be it."

"Thank you my friend," Rellas said putting a hand on his shoulder. "Is there anyone else here who believes that honor is more important than life?"

One by one, the rebels climbed to their feet. Gras shook his lead and laughed.

"Why not?" he exclaimed. "I'd probably be dead by now anyways if I had stayed a slave. At least this way I had some fun on the way down."

Finally, it was down to Seebo. He stood back up rubbing his bruised face.

"And you?" Rellas said firmly. "What is your choice?"

"I'm not doing this for any Romulan," he said. "I'm doing it because I don't want to let this group down."

"That's good enough," Rellas said extending his hand. Seebo grabbed his wrist and shook. Then, the Gralluscan turned to the others. "We leave in half an hour. Grab every single weapon you can carry. We're going to need them."
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