Wing and Talon by Komodo13
Summary: Captain Lorca has begun attacking Romulan listening posts along the Klingon/Romulan Neutral Zone in an attempt to draw the Romulans into the war against the Klingons. However, a crafty Romulan Admiral is watching and waiting, and has plans of her own for the USS Discovery.
Categories: Discovery Characters: Burnham, Michael, Ensemble Cast - Multiple
Genre: Action/Adventure
Warnings: Adult Language, Adult Situations
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 22 Completed: Yes Word count: 16346 Read: 548 Published: 10 May 2020 Updated: 19 Jan 2022
Story Notes:
This work is heavily indebted to the ship designs of the FASA Star Trek Strategy Game, which can be found here: http://www.ststcsolda.space/romulans/romulans.html#visual

1. Chapter 1: How it Began by Komodo13

2. Chapter 2: Night of the Assassin by Komodo13

3. Chapter 3: That Long Slide to Obsolescence by Komodo13

4. Chapter 4: A View From the Cheap Seats by Komodo13

5. Chapter 5: The Feel of Teeth on Throat by Komodo13

6. Chapter 6: Nibbled to Death by Ducks by Komodo13

7. Chapter 7: Back in the Cheap Seats by Komodo13

8. Chapter 8: Baiting the Hook by Komodo13

9. Chapter 9: The Lure's Irresistible Flicker by Komodo13

10. Chapter 10: Patience by Komodo13

11. Chapter 11: The Run by Komodo13

12. Chapter 12: Trigger Break by Komodo13

13. Chapter 13: The Blessing of a Dull Blade by Komodo13

14. Chapter 14: Sitting Duck by Komodo13

15. Chapter 15: The Counterpunch by Komodo13

16. Chapter 16: Stalemate by Komodo13

17. Chapter 17: Standoff by Komodo13

18. Chapter 18: Parlay by Komodo13

19. Chapter 19: Positions of Compromise by Komodo13

20. Chapter 20: Conditions of Surrender by Komodo13

21. Chapter 21: One Last Visit to the Cheap Seats by Komodo13

22. Chapter 22: The Shape of Things to Come by Komodo13

Chapter 1: How it Began by Komodo13

Keyla Detmer tamped down the anxiety that was coiling between her shoulder blades and kept her fingers poised above the navigation controls as the USS Discovery slid off this tendril of the mycelial network and dropped into Normal Space. There was the customary blur as the enhanced image of space beyond the transparent tritanium of the viewscreen changed, and the slight shudder through the deck plates as if the ship was flexing its muscles. Immediately her hands went to control board before her.

“Detmer, set course one-seven-six by three-three-five. Full impulse.” Captain Lorca ordered, standing in the center of the bridge, his hands balled into fists at his sides. He was feeling the tension, too, Keyla thought. Or maybe he was just always wound that tightly. She’d seen plenty of evidence to support both theories.

“Aye sir, coming to course,” she dutifully replied. Beyond the viewscreen, unfamiliar stars blurred to the left as the big ship pivoted starboard on her X-axis and her impulse engines kicked in.

“Astrometric charts confirm we are again in Romulan space,” Saru worried from his station.

“We sure are, Mr, Saru,” Lorca said with nonchalance that felt like a provocation. “Mr. Rhys, scan for enemy vessels, passive sweeps only. We don’t need to advertise our presence here.”

“Aye, Captain.”

“Captain,” Saru pleaded, “as your First Officer I feel the need to remind you that we are in violation of the Treaty of Algeron.”

“Noted, Mr. Saru,” Lorca said, then, without skipping a beat: “Mr. Rhys, what have you got?”

“Um, no apparent vessels on passive sensors, but we are reading a high-frequency micro-burst transmission from the sector.”

“Locate and put it on the main viewer. I’m pretty sure I know what it is.”

“We’ll have to go to active sensors, sir,” Rhys said, gulping his words slightly. Keyla knew he was wrestling with his inherent terror of disappointing the captain, and inwardly she groaned at the prospect of their next lunch together and Rhys's latest iteration of “he never gives us any support, just criticism…just like my dad!” She decided she’d let Lieutenant Owosekun pat him on the back and say consoling things this time. She was better at it, anyway.

“Go ahead, Mr. Rhys. If that’s what I think it is, they already know we’re here.”

“Um, aye sir.”

“And stop saying um, Lieutenant.”

“Aye sir,” Rhys said in a stricken voice. “On screen now.”

The view wobbled and dissolved, replaced instead by an image of a large, cylindrical probe, its surface prickly with antennae and sensor wands, and topped with a large transmitter/receiver dish.

“Captain, scans indicate it is a Romulan sensor buoy,” Saru said, still worried. “It seems to contain several dozen forms of active and passive sensor systems. No doubt a listening post intended to alert them of any incursion across their borders.”

“No doubt,” Lorca said, almost buoyantly, and Keyla wondered if he wasn’t just screwing with them. If he hadn’t just used a super-experimental, civilization-altering means of transportation to endanger a peace accord just to get a rise out of his crew. She’d seen plenty of evidence to support that theory, too.

“Sir,” Saru said more firmly, “if the Romulans detect our presence here, they will regard it as an act of aggression on the part of the United Federation of Planets…”

“Well, then they better hold on to something, because we’re about to get a lot more aggressive.” Lorca turned to Rhys. “Target and destroy it.”

The bridge went silent, and for a moment, and all that was audible were the ambient sounds of the great ships systems--the hum of her bloodstream, the blips and pings of her brains--and then:

“Firing phasers, sir.”

The viewscreen lit up with the barrage of red bolts and the messy smear of white light as the listening post exploded.

“Engineering,” Lorca called out through the comm system, “Prepare to jump!”

“Standing by, Captain,” Michael Burnham’s voice came through the speakers.

“Get us home, then!”

The ship trembled, flexed its muscles again, and the stars on the viewscreen slid back to the familiar. Keyla wondered what Burnham would have done if she had been on the bridge a moment ago.

“Captain,” Saru said, sounding as shocked as Keyla had ever heard him, “We have just committed an act of war against the Romulan Star Empire.”

The bridge went silent again. So…we did that today, Keyla thought, feeling a pang of hysterical giddiness. She didn’t look around, didn’t want to see anyone else’s reactions, just kept her gaze on her controls.

“Someone sure did, Mr Saru,” Lorca said casually. “Someone did.”

Chapter 2: Night of the Assassin by Komodo13

They came at night, as N’Vel knew they would.

After the latest contentious council meeting it had merely been a matter of when and not if. Not even where, for the Tal Shiar would, of course, want her murdered in her home to maximize the terror of their message. They inserted low, their stealth-modified intra-atmosphere shuttle flying nap-of-the-earth over the desert, glittering black even against the dark of night. The shuttle ran on sensors alone, without any external light, appearing as only a dark blot against the distant aye mosaram”the “white winds” off the western cliffs, where phosphorescent particles were stirred up by the biannual winds from the northern plains into luminescent brushstrokes against the landscape.

That’s what got them.

N’Vel knew from long and bitter experience that the Tal Shiar were exceptionally good at strategy, but not tactics. Of course they would think masking their approach was enough, and of course the trio of assassins who leaped from the shuttle a short distance from her estate’s perimeter would be wearing sensor-deflecting jumpsuits. The Tal Shiar had the best technology, after all.

But sometimes the old ways were better. N’Vel’s surveillance drones had a visual on the blot the shuttle made against the aye mosaram, and, flagging it as anomalous, activated the ground’s pressure sensors. The assassins’ suits could shield them from active and passive sensors looking for lifesigns, movement, or changes in ambient, temperature, but they couldn’t do anything about the weight of footfalls. When the first assassin vaulted over the decorative wall to the estate, the wearable interface on N’Vel’s cheekbone sent a signal to her cerebral cortex, waking her immediately from her exhausted sleep, and projecting its data at her left eye line.

She rolled out of bed, and slid her feet into the tough, varanus-hide slippers she kept at her bedside. They were lined with orthopedic foam for comfort and support, while still being as tough as the massive reptiles themselves. The soles were a polymer optimized for traction and stealth.

The surveillance system was still relaying data to her left eye, and she saw pressure readings from three points at the west wall, moving toward the garden which dominated the center of her estate. Clearly, they knew the layout and where she spent her evenings. She could already see their plan: a man entered from either side of the bedroom unit, while one went straight in through the open-air walkway. A solid plan, if unimaginative. N’Vel reached over to the bedside table and scooped up the old, chemical-propellant projectile pistol she kept there. It was reassuringly heavy in her hands in a way that a disruptor was not. Holding it before her at high-ready, she darted out of her bedchambers into the bathroom, and out the small access hatch hidden behind the shower.

She rolled onto the soft cushioning of the lettier grass she’d had transplanted from the Northwest hemisphere and came up in a tight, shooter’s crouch. A de-prioritized part of her mind marveled at how the muscle-memory endured from the days of basic training in the distant past. The cool, dry air of the desert night raised the flesh along her arms and on the back of her neck, and N’Vel imagined it heightening her senses like a neuro-stimulant. The system in her cheek continued to relay data: one of the assassins was moving toward her position from her left. N’Vel pivoted in her crouch and brought the gun’s holographic sights up to eye-level.

Assassins, N’Vel knew, relied on stealth, surprise, and the myth those two elements garnered. Remove even one of those elements and put them in a stand-up fight and that myth fell away like a thin layer of mist on the desert plains. The one she tracked was no different, sprinting along the walkway, barely a silhouette in his light-absorbing jumpsuit. But he wasn’t invisible. N’Vel guessed his distance at fifteen or so meters. An easy shot, even with a pistol. She gently pressed the trigger and heard the gun cough as its stabilizing gyros compensated for the recoil and kept the sights on target.

That target, N’Vel saw, spun and fell like a cut tree. She didn’t waste time going for the safety shot through the face. The expanding slugs would have laid waste his chest cavity. If he wasn’t dead now he was certainly no longer mission-capable, and that was all the mattered. Besides, if they were as professional a team as they seemed they’d be monitoring each other’s vital signs, and were now well-aware that their colleague no longer had any.

N’Vel pivoted on her heel and sprinted to the edge of the structure which contained her bedchambers. It was a large hexagon connected to the various other portions of the estate by the long, open-air walkways that ringed her elaborate gardens.

She hoped the bastards weren’t trampling any of her rarer plants.

Stopping at the edge of the structure, she steeled herself with a deep breath. This was the tough part--but also the critical one. She braced her soles against the soft grass, then pushed off in a dead sprint toward the tentacle-like branches of the otheoloke tree twenty-five meters away to her 11 o’clock. She was about three meters away when she first heard the shrill whine of a disruptor and felt the air around her roil with heat.

Not good enough, she thought as she dove for the branches--they were barely dim outlines in the night, and they scratched and tore at her thin garments and skin. It was worth it for the cover. She knew the assassins likely had thermal-imagers, and that right now all they showed was a tangled mass of heat emitted from the otheoloke tree’s branches. They were cool to the touch, owing to the tree’s insulating bark, but the photosynthesis at work within the tree was at such an advanced rate it raised the plant’s core temperatures to nearly that of a Romulan’s body.

More disruptor bolts sizzled through the air, tearing into the tree a meter or so above N’Vel’s head and sending burning embers showering down on her head. She crouched lower amid the branches, made herself small, but also aimed out in the direction of the vivid blue beams.

It was why she used a slug-thrower: true it wasn’t as accurate or versatile as a particle-beam weapon, but it didn’t give up the shooter’s position, either. Most soldiers and security operatives had never used anything but particle-beam weapons and as such never knew a time when enemy fire was invisible. But N’Vel was a military historian.

She squinted through the holo-sights at the direction of the next wave of bolts and fired three quick bursts in a tight group. The opposing fire ceased, and the only sound in the cold night was the rustling of her trees. After a moment, N’Vel used the touch-sensing film on her fingertips to remotely access her estate’s systems and launch a groundskeeping drone. She moved it over the area where the two assassins had been and was saw their forms splayed on the ground.

“Lights!” she called out, and instantly the emergency lights came out, flooding the grounds with rough, white incandescence. Against the bottomless dark on the night sky, they made everything look hyper-real.

N’Vel stood up to the full two-meters of her height for the first time since being woken up and walked over to where the two of the intruders lay. The closer of the two had been hit in the throat and cheek and nearly decapitated, his night-vision helmet shattered and pulped into what was left of his skull. She didn’t pay him any mind, but walked over to the other. He writhed feebly on the long grass, clutching at a wound in his abdomen, his fancy jumpsuit growing greener by the moment.

“Tell ProConsul K’prek that it will take more a few assassins in the night to bring the military under his control.” She couldn’t see the assassin’s face, but his head turned to face her and she heard hoarse gasps as he attempted to summon the strength and aptitude to answer her.

“You know what?” she said. “I’ll tell him when I see him,” and put a shot through the helmet's visor. N’Vel dropped the gun, suddenly exhausted, and trudged back to her home.

Chapter 3: That Long Slide to Obsolescence by Komodo13

“Helm, take us in closer: one-six-three by two-ten,” N’Vel said easily from her place at the rear of the small bridge. The officer at the triangular control console answered her crisply, with all intimidation that comes with having an Admiral on the bridge.

“Yes, Admiral. Coming to basic station-keeping.”

On the small viewscreen, the massive spiderweb of the deep-space weapons laboratory crawled into view.

“Magnify,” N’Vel ordered and one of the conn personnel blew up the image enough that the long, cylindrical project with the metal scaffolding was easily visible. N’Vel marveled again at the sensor package on this ship--it might be under-powered and under-gunned, but by the gods it could see. From here and on the undersized viewscreen, N’Vel could even see the external conduits and wiring.

Of course the Tal Shiar had no objection to sensor technology. It was simply offensive and defensive and power plant technology that they did their level best to control.

The Starglider was N’Vel’s great accomplishment”and her great failure. Intended to be the first in a noble line of warships that would lead the charge and press the boundaries of the Romulan Star Empire deep into neighboring space, she was instead an orphan. Her sister ships lay half-built in forgotten shipyards scattered throughout the Empire, alongside the rest of N’Vel’s imagined fleet, the engineers and material needed to complete diverted to “other projects.”

Projects managed by the Tal Shiar. Of course, these projects were nebulous and never seemed to come to fruition, but then, that wasn’t their purpose. They were intended to starve the beast that was the Romulan military, because ProConsul K’prek would allow no one closer to the Praetor’s ear than he.

“How long before trials can commence?”

Commander S’Tonn answered her this time, turning from the control console and giving a stiff salute. Clearly he was concerned about the slipping standards of protocol from his crew.

“Admiral, Laboratory Seven reports trails on schedule for one solar week from now.”

“Thank you, Commander. I should speak with you alone now.”

“Clear the bridge,” S’Tonn ordered sharply, and the other three centurions filed out of the command center. It wasn’t an uncommon occurrence on this or any other Romulan vessel: only the bridge and engineering were secure enough to make it impossible for the Tal Shiar to plant listening devices.

When they were gone, N’Vel relaxed her posture, as did S’Tonn. He was shorter than she--most men were--but solidly built. He was getting old quickly, she noticed. In the days when he was her Commander and she a driven, but inexperienced sub-centurian he seemed large enough to wrestle the very galaxy to submission. Now, all she saw was a tired, middle-aged man.

For that, too, she blamed the Tal Shiar.

“They came for me last night, S’Tonn,” she said. Her mentor squeezed his eyes shut and bowed his head.

“I feared they would. It was only a matter of time before the Admiralty turned on you.”

“The Admiralty needs me,” N’Vel countered. “They need me to say the things they will not.”

The old officers who comprised the senior management of military had all been cowed into submission by K’prek’s machinations--a few targeted kidnappings, assassinations, and orchestrated embarrassing incidents had seen to that--and early on in her new rank, N’Vel had realized that they had made her their proxy, the fighter they could never be.

“K’prek would not have ordered the assassination unless they approved it.”

N’Vel felt a cold wind sweep through her. She recalled the afternoon’s Strategic Command meeting, and her latest rant against K’prek:

“The Klingon Empire has unified in their war against the Federation! The houses work as one! Already they have landed troops and begun mining operations on three worlds in the Neutral Zone to feed their war machine! If we do not act, they will be at our borders within the year!”

 “You argue from a false presumption,” K’prek had said in his silky, politicians voice. “As you say, the Klingons are at war. Their forces engaged. This is the time when we should fear them the least. Let the Federation bleed them. And while they do, the Empire will grow stronger.”

  “How can it grow stronger when our fleet is a decade old? Most ships more than that. Our technological advances have stagnated. Who knows what advances the Klingons or the Federation have developed, while our own war machine rots. War is the greatest driver of innovations. Our enemies will emerge from it with a technological advantage we might never be able to make up.”

 At this K’prek, turned to face the High Synod seated in their raised thrones at the end of the room. And between them, the Praetor, old and confused, seemingly drowning in his ornate robes. “How can we even consider making war against our enemies while our own people plot and plan against you, Your Highness? Why just yesterday, Tal Shiar agents smashed a dissident cell operating in the Ketel Province. We believe they intended to attack the power facilities there and cause a massive blackout.”

  “Kessel?” The old Praetor’s eyes widened. “No…no…they mustn’t…my people need power. Lights. Heat…”

 K’Prek pressed his point. “They would use the blackout to sow discord. Claim that the Great Praetor could not provide for his people.”

 "But that’s not true!” The Praetor had whined.

 “Fear not, my Lord. These traitors were caught and dealt with.” Of course they’d been dealt with, N’Vel knew. Dealt with so thorough there’d never been any record of their existence.

 “This is how an Empire grow strong: from within. By solidifying the will of its people behind its powerful leader. I think perhaps, young Admiral N’Vel fails to see this. I think perhaps her vantage from within her fancy warship obscures her sight.”

 It was clear, the Synod would not be diverting any personnel or materials to the long-abandoned Raptor Fleet project. Not while K’prek had the Praetor terrified of imaginary dissidents and revolutionaries.

 And all the while the Admiralty had sat in stony silence.

 “This weapon,” N’Vel said to S'Tonn. “It’s all we have left.”

 S’Tonn nodded and regarded the view on the screen. “We hid it well.” He turned to her. “But I fear it is not enough. Even if the trials are a success, the old Praetor will not be won over by it. He is too ruled by the fear K’prek has put in him. Like all old rulers, he fears losing his power to someone within his own kingdom far more than he does invasion.”

 “Then I will have to change his thinking,” N’Vel said.

Chapter 4: A View From the Cheap Seats by Komodo13

Keyla gave her pork chop an exploratory poke with her fork. The food replicators had been sketchy ever since they’d taken a Klingon torpedo amidship and lost secondary systems for a few hours about a week earlier. Yesterday’s attempt to order seafood curry had ended in tears and recriminations.

“I mean, did you see that?” Rhys carried on. His grilled chicken Caesar salad sat untouched on the table before him, but he was waving his fork around emphatically, and if anyone managed to escape lunch without a semi-serious laceration, Keyla would consider it a minor miracle.

“Of course we saw it, Gen,” Owosekun said gently from Rhys’s left. “We were all there on the bridge with you, you know.”

Not for the first time Keyla marveled at Joann Owosekun’s natural ability to impart a sense of tranquility and calm, even when she was being at least mildly sarcastic. Whereas Keyla would have involuntarily appended the word dumbass to the end of that sentence.

“We committed an act of war!” Rhys’s tone became almost petulant and he stabbed his salad heroically.

“Newsflash: we commit acts of war everyday. It’s weird. It’s almost as if, I dunno, we’re at war or something.” 

“Dammit, Keyla, not with the Romulans.”

“Maybe we’re at war with the Romulans, too,” Owosekun said.

“Because the one with the Klingons is going so well?” Keyla asked.

“They might have allied with the Klingons. Or perhaps this was pre-emptive strike to make sure that they don’t. Perhaps Captain Lorca received orders we were not privy to,” Airiam said.

Rhys snorted. “Captain Lorca doesn’t follow anyone’s orders but his own.”

“That, uh, I don’t think that came out right, Gen,” Keyla said and tried the pork chop. Acceptable. She almost felt bad about what she’d said about the replicator’s mother yesterday.

“You know what I mean. He does what he wants. It’s scary. It’s just damn scary.” Rhys then effected what Keyla assumed was his attempt at a thousand-yard stare.

“He’s the captain,” Keyla said simply. “End of discussion.”

“There’d have been plenty more discussion if Michael Burnham was on the bridge this morning,” Rhys scoffed and attacked his salad some more. “She wouldn’t have just followed those orders.”

“Easy on the Burnham-adoration, there, cowboy,” Keyla said. “One mutiny is enough for her record.”

“I’m just saying…she would have stood up to him. She’s the only person on this ship with the will to do that. Including me.”

Gen loves Burn-ham…” Airiam teased in a singsong.

Rhys colored and speared a slice of chicken. “I just think we should be more aware of what we’re actually doing.”

“Our job is to follow orders, whatever we think of them,” Owosekun said. “Without that discipline, command breaks down and this ship cannot function. It’s the fact of life we all accepted when we joined Starfleet and took the oath.”

“Everyone loved Burnham back on the Shenzhou,” Keyla said to Airiam, who sat between her and Rhys.

“Really?” Airiam’s eyes widened in surprise, and the faint LEDs that dotted her corneas glowed a little brighter.

“Really?” Owosekun echoed.

“Really. I mean, it was a small crew, so the selection was limited regardless of your sexual orientation. But yes, she had that icy Vulcan reserve thing going, which some people just wanted to melt and let loose the fiery passions deep in her heart.” Keyla suddenly became aware of everyone at the table staring at her. “What?” she asked.

“Did you just make that up?” Airiam asked.

“One of our engineers had me proofread the declaration of love he was going to leave in her quarters for Valentine’s Day. It came from that.”

“Ah.”

“I think the only woman in the crew who ranked higher on the Desire-O-Meter was Jira Narwani. I’m halfway certain that’s why Captain Georgiou made her tactical officer. Putting her in that big targeting helmet all the time kept the rest of the bridge crew from being distracted.”

“That’s command thinking, right there,” Owosekun said.

“So, yeah, it went, number one: Jira Narwani. Number two: Michael Burnham. And then I was like, number twenty-seven or so.”

“Poor thing,” Airiam said.

’Oh no, you certainly must have ranked in the top five,’ is actually the response I was looking for.”

“I’m glad you all can just blithely dismiss what just went on this morning,” Rhys moped.

“Gen, goddamn it, just stop,” Keyla snapped. “We get it: you’re uncomfortable with Captain Lorca’s orders. Fortunately, all you have to do is follow them.” 

Rhys snorted. “Figures that you’d defend him.”

Keyla put down her fork. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“He hand-picked you for this crew. Of course you’re not going to criticize him.”

Keyla folded her arms to keep from punching him. Rhys’s problem was that once he started a sulk, he never knew when to pull out of it. Keyla had been completely unsurprised when she learned he was an only child.

“I don’t criticize him because he’s a great captain and the Federation’s best hope for winning this war. And that’s pretty damn impressive. And that’s someone you follow without question.” She said it more forcefully than she’d expected.

Keyla loves Lor-ca…” Airiam chanted, and Owosekun laughed.

“Joann don’t encourage her,” Keyla said, trying to tamp down the flush she felt in her cheeks. She turned to Airiam. “I wish we’d never taught you that.”

“But you diiiid…”

Keyla sighed.

“I can’t do this. I can’t,” Rhys put down his fork and leaned back in his chair.

“So…can I have your salad?” Owosekun asked. “The salmon is a bit rubbery.” 

“So was my seafood curry yesterday,” Keyla said. “I think the replicator’s having trouble synthesizing marine life.”

“Surf-and-Turf Friday is going be a disappointment this week,” Airiam said.

Rhys glowered at the table. “I hate you all. And I’m eating my salad. You get none.”

Chapter 5: The Feel of Teeth on Throat by Komodo13

“All stop,” S’Tonn ordered, and N’Vel felt the deckplates below her feet shudder and twist as the ship’s impulse drive cut out and the station-keeping thrusters fired a short burst to compensate for their momentum. The internal-dampeners in the ship were always a fraction of a second late in keeping up with their motion, but they were a massive improvement over the old battlewagons leftover from the days after the Terran War, which required restraining couches.

“Scan for wreckage,” N’Vel instructed.

A young sub-lieutenant hunched over a sensor hood. “Showing…significant metallic debris, Admiral. Composite matches that of the superstructure and internal components of Sensor Station Twelve.”

“What caused this?” S’Tonn demanded.

“Unknown, Commander,” the sub-lieutenant said a little nervously. Some Romulan commanders had a reputation for cruelty, carrying on the tradition from the days of seafaring ships. N’Vel wanted to tell her not to be concerned, that S’Tonn had always seen cruelty as needless and regarded it a poor tool for command. But she said nothing. The young sub-lieutenant would learn for herself, just as N’Vel had.

“Scan for radiation,” S’Tonn said. “And put it the wreckage onscreen.”

“Yes sir.” A moment later the main viewscreen showed them a motionless shower of twisted, burnt metal.

“That’s blast damage,” S’Tonn said. “As surely as I’ve ever seen it.”

“But the debris field is too small, too tight,” N’Vel noted. “This wasn’t a missile or any other type of explosive, otherwise we’d be seeing debris thousands of meters from here.”

“It could be an energy weapon. We should know that as soon as our intrepid sub-lieutenant finished her scans…” S’Tonn said pointedly, causing the sub-lieutenant to flush.

“Yes…I believe…I do have the readings sir. Indications of a particle-beam weapon, but not consistent with Romulan disruptors.”

“So,” N’Vel said, feeling a rush of excitement. “We are attacked.” 

S’Tonn turned the bridge over to Centurion N’vek, his second in command, while he and N’Vel moved their conversation to the privacy of her quarters. Once inside the cramped officer’s berth--barely large enough to accommodate a single bed, closet, and desk that folded out from the wall (the sonic shower was shared with S’Tonn’s quarters on the other side of the bulkhead). They exchanged the banalities of command, while N’Vel swept the quarters for transmitter, and, when she was satisfied there were none, they switched to the conversation that had been looming ever since Sensor Station Twelve had gone offline.

“This is a bold move,” S’Tonn said, “even for the Klingons.”

“A renegade commander, I suspect,” N’Vel replied. “A young warrior trying to earn his stripes by poking the raptor’s nest.”

“An unusual way to go about it,” S’Tonn said skeptically. “One would think their war with the Terrans would provide ample opportunities--and targets--for such an endeavor.”

“Whatever the reason, we can use this. We have a real threat to Empire here, something that the Praetor should truly be afraid of.”

S’Tonn looked taken aback. “Admiral, I think perhaps you overstate this attack. It is, after all, just one listening post.”

N’Vel waved dismissively. “If K’prek can convince the Praetor that his empire teeters on the brink of insurrection simply by rounding up a few complaining food vendors, we can certainly turn this into a military crisis.”

“Perhaps, Admiral. But consider: K’prek has a limitless supply of dissidents. You only have the one destroyed listening post.”

“Meaning?”

“I believe in order to draw the Praetor’s attention away from K’prek’s imaginary threats you will need something more sustained.”

“So we hope for more attacks?”

“More than that, Admiral. We need to bring back an attacker.”

N’Vel nodded slowly, her mind racing with scenarios. “A foe. An invader. Someone whose carcass or whose ship’s hull we can present to the Praetor.”

“It would be best,” S’Tonn said deliberately, “if they were vanquished with the weapon.”

“We would show him the threat and the defense at one time,” N’Vel smiled coldly.

“Precisely, Admiral. We will need the weapon to be field-ready immediately.” 

“The first thing we need,” N’Vel said, “is bait.”

Chapter 6: Nibbled to Death by Ducks by Komodo13

“Helm, hard over!”

Keyla’s hands flew over the console, touching the controls in just the right way to make the big ship respond. In most ways related to piloting the Discovery was an improvement over the Shenzhou’s low-slung, thruster-attitude-controlled design (Keyla’s mental nickname for the ship in was der Ochsenfrosch--“the Bullfrog” in the Fatherland's tongue), but when it came to agility, the bullfrog bested Discovery’s gliding bat. As a result the ship shuddered with the impact of a handful of disruptor hits as she came around in an arc and opened her belly up to the swarm of ships that had emerged from a nearby asteroid when they opened fire on the listening post.

“Mr Rhys…” Lorca snapped.

“Locking on enemy vessels…they…damn!”

Through the main window, a half-dozen prawn-shaped little craft skittered into view, then split off in impossible formations. Keyla felt a stab of fear. Maneuvers like that should have overloaded the internal dampeners and liquefied the crew. How much more advanced were the Romulans…

“They’re just drones, Mr. Rhys,” Lorca said sharply. “Unmanned. Fight them like you would a computer simulation, don’t try and anticipate their course based on a standard starship.”

“Yes, sir, but their speed makes it difficult to lock--“

Rhys’s panicked update was cut short by another set of low rumbles as the viewscreen flared with disruptor fire.

“Minimum damage, captain,” Airiam reported. “Ememy vessel’s weapons output is approximately one-third our phaser power.”

“They could shoot at us all day and not penetrate our shields,” Saru noted, earning a look from Lorca. “Not that we’d want them to, of course.”

“Comms, increase the ECM. I don’t want these things getting word out to a real starship. Mr. Rhys…”

“Yes sir, um, I have an idea,” he said hurriedly, and though she couldn’t see him, Keyla could imagine the glitter of perspiration across his brow.

“Well, don’t keep it to yourself.”

“Lieutenant Airium, can you access the specs for the drones used during the Romulan War?”

“Yes. Stand by…”

“Transfer them to my console, please.”

“’Please,’” Lorca said archly, “So polite.”

“Transferred,” Airiam purred. Detmer wasn’t sure the new voice was quite the direction to go.

“Alright,” Rhys said, as if working up to diving off a cliff. “Main computer is searching for the energy out profiles and…weapons locked and firing sir!”

Discovery’s ventral phaser banks stuttered fire and a cascade of wreckage tumbled upward at the edge of the viewscreen.

“All targets destroyed,” Rhys reported breathlessly.

Lorca turned to him. “Excellent tactics, Mr. Rhys.” 

Keyla prayed Rhys would just take the compliment and not get all emotional on the bridge. To her great relief he gave a quick, “Thank you, sir,” and left it at that. She knew that she’d hear about it later.

Chapter 7: Back in the Cheap Seats by Komodo13

“Oh my god, he complimented me!” Rhys beamed, looking happier that Keyla had ever seen him. Happier, perhaps, than she’d ever seen any human being look.

“You did a good job,” Owosekun said as she stirred her oatmeal. She told Keyla that she’d just suddenly had a craving for it. Keyla suggested it might actually be a mental breakdown.

“I mean, at last. At last! This is it! Bring it on galaxy!” Rhys began throwing small punches at an invisible enemy.

“I’m so glad I wasn’t around when you lost your virginity,” Keyla said and took a bite of her chicken wrap.

“I…wait, what?”

“Be nice,” Owosekun chided her gently. “Han’s been waiting a long time to prove himself to the Captain.”

“And to think, he was just considering mutiny yesterday,” Keyla said.

“That was yesterday,” Rhys waved dismissively. “I’m ready to follow Lorca anywhere.”

“Gen loves Lor-ca,” Airiam chanted.

“Are you still on that?” Rhys asked her.

“Hey, that’s my man you’re talking about,” Keyla said, then caught Rhys’s look. “Lorca, not you.”

“Thanks for clarifying.”

“Are you willing to follow him all the way to Romulus?” Owosekun asked.

“Sure! Romulus, Qo’noS, whatever it takes.”

“You’d make a good German,” Keyla observed.

“I’d still like to know what the point of these strikes are,” Owosekun said. “Surely we could be better used elsewhere in the war.”

“I think it’s just a show of force,” Keyla said. “In case the Rommies get any ideas about throwing in with the Klingons.”

“Rommies?”

“What? It’s what they called them in the Romulan War.”

“I wonder what they look like,” Owosekun said thoughtfully. “I can’t believe we’ve still never seen on in a hundred years.”

“Humanoid,” Keyla said, “We know that from the bodies sighted during the war. But not much more than that.”

“Weird that no ship ever tried to take one aboard,” Rhys said. “Even just a corpse.”

“With the nuclear weapons they used at the time there was too much risk of radiation exposure,” Owosekun pointed out. “Remember, anti-rad drugs were still about twenty years from being discovered.”

“George Kirk saw one,” Airiam said.

“Who?” Rhys asked.

“Don’t tell me you believe that old story,” Keyla said, rolling her eyes.

“Who’s George Kirk?”

“He was the Chief of Security aboard the first Constitution-class ship under Robert April. He was aboard when it went for its shakedown cruise and there was some kind of a engagement. Starfleet’s records are sketchy about the whole thing, but that’s because subspace communication was notoriously poor at the time. Still, some people are convinced that they encountered the Romulans and Starfleet has hushed the whole thing up for some reason.”

“It’s a possibility,” Airiam said.

“It’s bullshit,” Keyla said. “I asked his son about it--he’s aboard the Farragut--and he said it was just a series of malfunctions in the ship’s systems. Part of the shakedown.”

“When were you aboard the Farragut?” Rhys asked, eyes alight.

“I wasn’t. Shenzhou parked at Starbase K-5 for resupply and Farragut was finishing up some kind of technical inspection. I met Jim in the rec facility.”

“Oh, too bad. I was hoping you could tell me what those Connies are like inside. Must be spacious.”

The junior officer’s quarters are pretty cramped, but they don’t have roommates, so they’ve at least got privacy. The bunks are tiny, though.” She became aware that everyone was staring at her. “According to Jim,” she appended with forced nonchalance.

"Wow, nice." Rhys said. Owosekun still looked at her narrowly.

“Shut up,” Keyla told her. Owosekun just arched her eyebrows and made a show of going back to her food.

Chapter 8: Baiting the Hook by Komodo13

“I fear, Admiral, that we may be setting too difficult a task to our mysterious attackers,” S’Tonn worried in his own stoic manner as he watched through the small viewport the workbees digging and welding on the small moon’s surface.

“Klingons won’t back down from a challenge,” N’Vel said with confidence she didn’t totally feel. The last Strategic Command meeting had gone like most had recently: the K'Prek had crowed about new roundups, new crackdowns, and the frail, old Praetor had retreated into his vestments. N’Vel had kept quiet--perhaps the reason there were no further assassination attempts against her--and the whole affair had gone on in a fog of gloomy resignation at the fact that the Tal Shiar had won.

Not if I can make this work…

But first she had to make it work.

“They could simply bombard the moon from a safe distance,” S’Tonn pointed out. “The weapon would be useless.”

“That’s why we’re burrowing so deeply,” N’Vel answered, watching the blips of light from the torches and burners in the icy vacuum beneath them. “We need them to see this moon as a hollow maze.”

“At last the reason you re-assigned all those Imperial mining teams makes itself know,” S’Tonn said. He was trying not to sound impressed, N’Vel knew.

“Indeed.” We needed a big hollow in that moon, and now we have it. The ship or ships attacking us will have to come into a sub-orbital position to target the transponder. Since we control where the illusory target is going to be, we control their attack vector.”

“Meaning we can give the cannon a clear shot,” S’Tonn said. “It’s an ambitious plan, I give you that, Admiral.”

“Ambition is the fire that forges the blade, Commander. And in these days, we need a very strong, very sharp blade.”

“Yes,” S’Tonn affirmed. I did hear that the V-Six project was officially killed.”

N’Vel flinched. The Wing of Vengeance was to be her new flagship, built in the same run as a dozen new Stargliders. Now, it was in pieces, hanging in an abandoned shipyard. It would only be a matter of time before the Tal’Shiar’s minions plucked the bones of those ships. “While we protect our borders with century-old drones,” she said bitterly. “I will not let this empire collapse, S’Tonn. Not because of some over-ambitious intelligence operatives.” 

“No,” S’Tonn said, looking out the viewport at the massive plasma cannon being hauled toward the moon. “I don’t believe you will.”

Chapter 9: The Lure's Irresistible Flicker by Komodo13

“This is what we’re looking at,” Captain Lorca said, throwing a schematic in the air with a flourish. The 3D tactical map took a moment to reconfigure itself, bouncing between emitters, then stabilized into a wire-frame of the top hemisphere of a celestial body. A moon, Keyla thought, if the craters were anything to go by.

“She has some kind of designation, but it’s just an alpha-numeric label. She so unimportant she doesn’t even rate a name. Except…” Lorca reached out and gently stabbed the display with two fingers. Their perfect stiffness and the inexorable penetration of the 3D model carried an unmistakable sexual fission.

“Here,” Lorca said with satisfaction, having found the moon’s G-spot. The map opened like a flower, revealing a vast spider web of drydocks and berths. “It’s a shipyard,” he explained, “right in the hear of a hollow moon. It’s ingenious.”

“Starfleet has also used asteroid-based facilities,” Saru said from his station. “This very ship was launched from asteroid base A-2011.”

“Not the point, Mr. Saru,” Lorca said with a touch of irritation. “This is an entire shipyard hidden away on their border. Well-hidden and well-protected beneath miles of solid rock, which is going to make reaching and destroying it very, very difficult.”

The bridge went silent. Of course they had known it was coming, but on some level none of them had imagined that Lorca would come right out and say it.

“Sir…” Saru said slowly. “Attacking a Romulan facility is…”

“An act of war, Mr Saru? It sure is,” Lorca stepped away from the holographic display and squared himself off to his incredulous crew. “And the Romulans are going to be very quick to retaliate against the people who did this--which, given the location and the recent activity on the border, will be assumed to be the Klingons.”

“That is…” Saru stammered. “Sir, that’s…the morality of such a tactic is highly questionable.”

“Questionable or not, It will open a second front against the Klingons and bleed their forces. Not to mention the fact that it will give the Federation a diplomatic entrypoint with the Romulans that they haven’t had in a hundred years.” Lorca’s predator’s gaze swept the bridge crew. When it touched on Keyla, she felt a familiar flash in her stomach, the kind she got with a dangerous lover.

“Let’s not forget,” he said, “we’ve not inflicted one Romulan casualty. We’ve attacked listening posts, drones, and this shipyard is completely automated. There are no life-signs. We haven’t drawn blood.”

“Still,” Saru said plaintively. “The risk we’re taking is immeasurable.”

“Immeasurable and immaterial,” Lorca said with certainty. “We’re fighting a war for our very existence. Any risk is a risk worth taking.”

“What do you need us to do?” The words were out Keyla’s mouth before she even knew she was thinking them. It didn’t surprise her, though. Lorca was right, and he was trying to save the Federation. More than that, though, buried not-terribly-deeply in her personality, was the instinctive need to give her all in service of her commander. Such a good German you are, she heard her father say.

Improbably, she was backed by a chorus of murmurs of agreement. The bridge was suddenly filled with a sense of building energy as everyone straightened up a little at their stations. 

“That’s what I like to hear, Detmer,” Lorca said with a conspiratorial smile that made Keyla’s pulse quicken despite herself. “Now let’s talk about how we’re going to attack this facility…”

Chapter 10: Patience by Komodo13

“They’ll come,” N’Vel said firmly, never taking eyes off the small viewscreen. She was aware that she was sounding increasingly delusional, but she didn’t care. I’m an Admiral. I’m entitled to sound delusional, she thought.

“Perhaps, Admiral,” S’Tonn said carefully, “But it has been nearly a solar day and we have seen no sign of them.”

“They need to plan an attack strategy,” N’Vel answered. “We’re presented them with a daunting target. They can’t simply rush in an hammer it with fire.”

“Perhaps we created too daunting a target,” S’Tonn suggested as he peered over the shoulder of his sub-lieutenant and checked his console, and then nodded slightly to himself, satisfied with whatever he saw there.

“I think not. This commander is a bold one in tactics and reckless in strategy. He or she will not be able to resist what we’ve offered them.” She considered the image on the screen, the small, chunky moon was barely the size of her fist on the projection, but that could not be helped. There was little cover in this system, and so the Starglider took up a position on the system’s edge, powered down and hanging in space like a dark smudge. They didn’t dare increase their sensors or get any closer.

“Perhaps our adversary has more prudence than you give them credit for,” S’Tonn said.

“Prudence is not a word often associated with the Klingon Empire, S’Tonn. They will come.”

“Admiral, if I may, the council is convening this evening. If you are not present, the Tal Shiar’s hold”“

And then a sensor rang out.

Chapter 11: The Run by Komodo13

Keyla knew something was wrong almost immediately after they began their run.

The arrival from spore space, her near instantaneous ignition of the impulse drive once they re-entered normal space all went fine, and there was a moment of something close to giddiness when Captain Lorca ordered, “Take us in!” and the ugly moon shifted and grew on the viewscreen as Discovery began what would be considered in an earlier era as a dive.

The plan was a good one, and she still stood by it. Lorca had been receptive to her ideas in a way that made her feel both affirmed and supportive in a way that was disturbingly intimate.

Discovery is a glider, not a jump-jet,” she’d explained to a silent chorus of blank expressions. “Her impulse drives are mammoth, so she can cover a lot of ground at sub-light, but she’s not built for sudden stops and course-corrections. Her nav thrusters are overpowered by a factor of about twenty to one. On the Shenzhou that ratio was, like, six to one. We could hop like a bullfrog. Discovery can’t. Those switchbacks inside the hollow moon are impossible for her to navigate, sir. She’s just the wrong ship for it.

“But here--“ and she poked a blip on the holographic display like she was putting out an enemy’s eye. “This control node is vulnerable from the moon’s surface. It’s buried in a canyon, but still exposed to space. If we could get in close enough, we can take that out with a torpedo barrage--“

“I’d go with phasers,” Rhys had opined and Keyla resisted the urge slap him upside the head.

“”or phasers. The point is, we could do it from space.”

Lorca looked over the moon’s profile thoughtfully, then turned to Rhys, whom Keyla was pretty sure was puffing his chest out. “Would that do any significant damage to the facility?”

“Yes, sir. Or rather, to the interior of the moon. That control node is processing and direction most of the energy for the shipyard. When that explodes, the whole interior of the moon will be rearranged. That shipyard will be torn apart. The difficulty, sir, will be getting into a optimal position to target and hit it.” He looked over at Keyla, who picked up the thread.

“It’s small and hidden deep in the canyon--about six kilometers. If we want to get in and out quickly enough not to be detected by the monitoring stations, we’ll have to take Discovery into that canyon nice and low. So, I recommend we make a planetary approach at these coordinates, here--“ she stabbed the display again, “use the big chunk of rock as a shield, then level out in the canyon.”

“But you said that Discovery doesn’t stop on a dime,” Lorca furrowed his brow.

“We won’t. We’ll have a lock on that node about two kilometers out and open fire. It’s a strafing run, sir. Like in that old movie from the 20th century they keep showing on the MWR channel. The one about the farm kid who flies his fighter into the trench of the evil empire's space station and blows it up.”

Lorca frowned. “The farm kid gets killed in that movie. His co-conspirators are all executed by the Empire.”

“I think we’re thinking of different movies. Anyway, we’ll make the run, knock out the node, then pull up. We can break safe-distance in about ninety seconds and jump.” She faced Lorca, felt his intensity surround her like a black hole’s gravity well. “We’ll be gone before that shipyard is done tearing itself apart.”

Lorca smiled, looked back and forth between her and Rhys, “Goddamn, you two are simply dangerous.”

But now, nestled deep within the dirty-grey groove in the moon, flanked by jagged peaks and fangs of rock, Keyla felt a snake of anxiety wake in her stomach and kill the lingering thrill of taking the massive ship nap-of-the-earth. She was suddenly ware of how low they were, how deep within the canyon. How exposed they were.

Her instruments flashed and wailed, begging for her attention, desperately announcing that the ship was not supposed to do this. She ignored them and concentrated on the small corner of her console that showed her the path ahead. This was the tricky part.

“We’re coming up on the narrows.”

“Shields on maximum and concentrated on our leading edge,” Owosekun announced.

“Everyone get skinny,” Lorca said a moment before the ship shuddered and moaned. On the viewscreen the canyon’s teeth closed around them, then cracked, crumbled, and tumbled away as Owosekun adjusted the shields to flow along Discovery’s flanks in a rolling sheath of protection.

“That wasn’t so bad,” Lorca said declaratively, as if putting to rest any debate there might be on the matter.

“We’re approaching the target,” Keyla said, keeping her gaze locked on the wireframe display of the canyon on her panel and the pulsing dot that was the control node.

Stay-on-target,” Airiam muttered loudly enough for everyone to hear, and bringing a cumulative chuckle from the rest of the bridge.

“Sir," Rhys yelped. "There’s some kind of energy build-up coming from the target point!” 

“What kind of build-up, Mr. Rhys?”

“I’m not…sir, energy readings have totally changed. They’re spiking!”

Keyla’s hands stabbed at the impulse-deck controls before she even knew what she was doing, her movements totally instinctive. In the back of her mind she thought that if the Discovery had a control stick she’d be yanking it back with all her might.

The canyon walls had just begun to fall away around them when they all saw the flash. A second later, before anyone could even verbalize a reaction, the bolt of energy--orange as the heart of a house fire--seemed to swallow them. Discovery spun like a top as Keyla’s console lit up frantically for a second, then died.

The bridge went dark.

Chapter 12: Trigger Break by Komodo13

N’Vel felt her pulse quicken in her breast as inhaled sharply through her nose and tried to make sense of what she saw on the viewscreen.

“That is not a Klingon vessel,” S’Tonn observed, voicing the bridge crew’s thoughts. “Andorian, perhaps?”

N’Vel shook her head. “Federation,” she said quietly. “Multiple hulls of differing designs…offset nacelles for a more stable warpfield…yes, Federation. Pity K’prek isn’t here, or he could tell us what type of ship.”

“Indeed,” S’Tonn said, “But that ship is a scale larger than anything we’ve ever encountered from the Federation before.”

“And when was the last time we encountered a Federation vessel?” N’Vel crossed her arms and watched the ship gracefully navigate the path they’d planned for it. “So powerful,” she said, shaking her head. “We are surrounded on all sides by enemies with more advanced fleets than ours.”

“Admiral,” the lanky centurion at the comms console called out as he saluted crisply. “The weapon crew on the moon’s surface reports the vessel in firing range.”

“Tell them to fire. And be quick about it.” N’Vel forced herself to keep calm as she watched the screen. A moment later she saw the flash and the orange bolt of plasma energy burned through space to meet its target.

The Federation ship spun on its central axis as plasma energy burned along its shields, never touching the hull. Its running lights flickered randomly. The ship’s momentum took carried it on an upward trajectory out of the canyon and high over the moon’s rough surface.

“I can’t believe they’re still intact,” she spat through clenched teeth. “Centurion, tell the gun crew to hit them again.”

“Admiral,” The centurion saluted again, much to N’Vel’s annoyance. “Weapons crew reports that the firing systems have overloaded. They are attempting to repair the problem, however…”

“It would seem the plasma weapon needs more field-testing,” S’Tonn said with his characteristic aridity. “But I would point out that they seem to have lost propulsion and guidance controls. Possibly more.”

“For all our sakes, I hope you’re right.” N’Vel said, then ordered “Full impulse! Lock disruptors on target!”

“Full impulse, Admiral,” the helmsman reported.

“Time to deliver the killing blow.”

Chapter 13: The Blessing of a Dull Blade by Komodo13

“What the hell is happening!” Lorca sounded apoplectic, which took some of the edge off of the panic that was crawling up Keyla’s spine.

The emergency lights had kicked in, bathing the bridge in harsh, white light, which only served to play on the subliminal sense that something was terribly, terribly wrong. Her console was flickering dimly, but not responding to her touch, and all she could do was gently tap the sporadically-presenting controls as if she were trying to coax a dying pet back to life.

“Bridge, engineering. Whatever that was knocked out our main and back-up energizers Structural damage appears minimal, but we have to reboot the system from scratch.”

“Without the energizers, we can’t direct the flow of energy from the warp core. We’re essentially powerless,” Saru noted, and a quick look over her shoulder showed Keyla that he was also poking uselessly at his controls. Discouragingly, she noted, his threat ganglia were freely exposed.

Oh, we're fucked now, she thought.

“Thank you for the lesson in Starships 101, Mr. Saru,” said Lorca through what Keyla imagined were teeth gritted so hard he was cracking enamel, “but right now we need options before whatever it is hits us again.” Then, to the bridge crew: “Give me a systems rundown”

“She’s not answering her helm,” Keyla reported.

“Navigation is completely dead.”

“Spore drive inoperable,” Airiam reported.

“We have limited sensor functionality, Captain,” Saru said, somewhat over-optimistically. “And life-support’s redundancies were unaffected.”

“Well, at least we won’t be running out of air any time soon,” Lorca said sourly. “Now what the hell hit us?”

“It appears to have been some type of plasma-based weapon embedded in the moon’s surface.”

“Was that part of the shipyard’s defenses?”

“It...sir, the sensors are no longer reading the shipyard’s presence. No energy signatures, no subterranean activity, nothing.”

Keyla felt an icy chill blanket the bridge as the realization set in: they’d fallen into a trap. Trap… the very word touched her with icicle fingers. When she was fourteen her class had taken a field trip to one of the botanical research domes on the moon, where she’d seen a Neuvallian Cage Plant devour a small mammal. As she watched the animal struggle, surrender, and finally die she’d been struck by what it must be like to be in that position: to have an entire mechanism arrayed against you, designed to make you submit to its will, not by chance but--insidiously-- by design.

Now she knew.

The Romulans had them. They had been bold and they had been fearless and they had gone precisely where they had been led. Soon the Romulan ships would arrive and she would either die in space or be captured. Either way, there was a good chance that she would have the distinction of being present at the ignition of two great wars.

An uncontrolled, aggravating part of her wanted to cry.

“Son of a bitch,” Lorca said, almost admiringly. “They played us.”

“Sir,” Saru said urgently. “There is a vessel approaching on a vector of Z-three-two by Y-twelve.”

“Shields?” Lorca asked.

“Non-responsive,” Rhys answered.

Lorca shook his head. ‘Well, let’s hope they want to take us prisoner, then. We might be able to fend off a boarding party.”

A moment later, Discovery shuddered with a series of hammer blows and spun violently on her axis.

Chapter 14: Sitting Duck by Komodo13

“They live!” N’Vel snarled as the glare from the disruptor cannons died down, exposing a blackened, but largely undamaged enemy hull. “A hit with the plasma cannon and a full disrupter barrage and their ship survives?”

“The Federation’s shipbuilding technology has advanced at an alarming rate,”S’Tonn said, his impassivity signaling his own chagrin. He couldn’t help it, N’Vel knew. He was the CO of a starship and as such couldn’t wear his emotion on his sleeve. Fortunately, as an Admiral, she was under no such restrictions.

“No, our technology has stagnated,” she spat bitterly, “while our enemies have reached out into the universe with both hands. I’ve never even seen a warp signature like the one that ship used to enter the sector.”

“Nor I, Admiral. It was as if they appeared from thin air.”

“Disruptors recharging in two minutes, Admiral,” the gunner informed them.

N’Vel felt a cutting mixture of tension and frustration pull taut along her shoulders and arms. The trap had worked perfectly, but the beast refused to die, its hide too thick for their spears. In a moment it would be gone, magicked away by whatever advanced technology the Federation had developed while the Tal Shiar spied on shopkeepers and university students.

The ship on the viewer--alien and beautiful--would be the herald of the destruction of the Romulan Star Empire, if N’Vel failed.

“Load and arm a nuclear torpedo,” she said.

“I must warn the admiral of the danger of deploying atomic weapons at these ranges. The Starglider is not one of the lead-clad ships of old.”

“I am aware of the dangers, Centurion,” N’Vel said. “But I’m afraid success is the only acceptable outcome to this encounter. And that outcome must be swift. We have only moments before they’re gone.”

S’Tonn stiffened up a bit, the meaning behind her words sinking in: if they lost engagement, then the only question left to answer was whose hand they would ultimately die by. The Federation? The Klingons? Or the Tal Shiar?

“Helm, bring us around to attack vector three,” he ordered crisply. “release safeties on my command.” 

The Starglider whined around them as the ship banked, swooped, and began its run.

Chapter 15: The Counterpunch by Komodo13

“Detmer, get us out of here!”

Keyla felt a million spotlights glaring on her, exposing her weakness and ineffectuality. “We don’t have impulse power,” she said, hoarse.

“Engineering, get our power back!” Lorca demanded.

“Energizers still down, captain. The whole system--“

“I don’t care! We’ll be dead in two minutes if you don’t do something!”

“Sir, we have allocated power in some of the phaser banks. Enough for a couple shots,” Rhys said excitedly.

“The ship is not heavily-shielded,” Saru noted.

“Maybe we can buy some time,” Lorca mused angrily. “All yours, Mr Rhys. Hit them where it'll hurt them the most. Make them bleed.”

“I…sir, we’ve only got power to the ventral portside banks, and they’re not pointed at the enemy. I have a lock, but no firing solution.” Rhys looked like he wanted to melt into the deckplates and seep through the conduits and crannies of the ship, away from this arena of powerlessness and failure.

“God-damn it!” Lorca snapped. 

The idea grabbed Keyla’s brain like a vice-grip. She looked down at her controls to confirm what she believed, and “yes! “We have attitude thruster control,” she called out quickly, excitedly. “Rhys, stand by to fire.”

“Do it, Detmer,” Lorca said tightly, but it was already done. A quick tap of a touch-screen, and the chemical-reaction thrusters along Discovery’s belly exhaled hard into space, tipping her on her centerline, and bringing the concentric rings of the primary hull up like an umbrella being tilted away from a face.

The firing indicator sounds from Rhys’s console called out to the silent bridge like a bird of the morning, and the drifting ship seized up as she spat all the burning energy she had. A moment later, Keyla saw through the viewscreen a distant sparkling shape tumble in an arc toward the artificial horizon, and she fought hard against the urge to laugh hysterically.

Chapter 16: Stalemate by Komodo13

“Damage Report!” S’Tonn’s voice, clear and strong penetrated the fog in N’Vel’s head she pulled herself off the deck. The small bridge was heavy with smoke, and she felt a stab of sorrow at the sight of the gunner sprawled on the deck beneath his ruined console.

“Our shields have been overwhelmed, sir,” a sub-centurion reported. Through the smoke, N’Vel could see his face, smudged with soot. He looked improbably young. “They used something…some kind of phased energy weapon. We have hull breeches on decks seven and eight. Those areas are open to space.”

N’Vel and S’Tonn shared a look. “Engineering,” she said.

“Damage control crews are attempting repairs, but major systems--weapons, propulsion--are offline.”

“Casualties?” N’Vel asked.

“No word from MED yet, Admiral.”

N’Vel pursed her lips as a wave of fury broke upon on her heart. This enemy had bloodied her, damaged her ship, killed members of her crew, and they had done so with a casual ease after sustaining blows from two of their most advanced weapons. They made not simply to best the Empire, but to humiliate it as well.

“S’Tonn, launch those warheads.”

“Admiral, weapons crews report the launchers have been destroyed,” the young sub-centurion reported tentatively.

N’Vel braced herself against a bulkhead, as fury gave way to exhaustion. “We can’t even throw stones at them,” she sighed.

“No,” S’Tonn said, “but they are not moving to attack or withdraw. As a matter of fact that ship hasn’t appreciably moved under its own power since the plasma cannon hit it. There was no power signature when they positioned themselves to fire upon us--that appears to have been facilitated by maneuvering thrusters alone.”

“She may be more damaged than we considered,” N’Vel thought aloud. “And her fire was merely the last throes of a dying animal.”

“We should not be overconfident,” S’Tonn said, “but we should also press our advantage.”

N’Vel nodded, and then spoke to the young centurion. “Tell damage control that their priority should be weapons systems and tell them to rig a detonator to that warhead we have loaded in the tube.”

“Yes, Admiral.”

“Do we have communications?”

“Only short-range ship-to-ship.”

“I would caution you, Admiral,” S’Tonn admonished. “No one has had contact with humans in generations. We do not know how they will interpret an attempt to communicate. They may well see it as a sign of weakness.”

N’Vel shook her head. “I don't believe so. The historical records of commanders and diplomats who communicated with humans during the war all agreed that they were refreshingly free of such pretense. Most preferable to the Klingons. No need to parse every word for signs of dishonor or offense or the like." She turned back to the bridge crew. "Comms, put out a hail on all ship-to-ship frequencies.”

The young comms officer looked at her over his console with shell-shocked eyes, and N’Vel felt a pang of sympathy. The poor thing had all heard of starship combat--had probably looked forward to it in his naval academy days when it all seemed so romantic and fraught with opportunities for heroism and glory--and now was face-to-face with the ugly reality of it. “Yes, Admiral,” he said in a kind of bleat. Hopefully his voice would be stronger when he made contact. She turned to S’Tonn.

“I hope you’re right about that ship,” he said.

“Negotiations will surely be brief if I am not.”

“Admiral, the Federation ship is answering our hail!” the comms officer reported, sounding like he had just witnessed a miracle.

“Open a channel. Audio only,” N’Vel ordered. She didn’t want to tip her hand by showing the human her damaged bridge. Under her breath she muttered, “Let’s see where this goes…”

Chapter 17: Standoff by Komodo13

“Captain,” Owosekun said sharply. “I believe we’re being hailed.”

The spotlight shifted to her, and Keyla and everyone else on the darkened bridge suddenly gave her their undivided attention.

“Excuse me?” Lorca asked sharply. “Lieutenant, the Romulans haven’t had contact with the Federation since the war. Are you sure that’s them and not some random transmission punching through space?”

“It’s them, Captain,” Owosekyn turned in her chair to face him, one hand mashing her earpiece into her ear as if it might transmit something that would make the situation make more sense. “Repeated lingacode on an array of subspace frequencies.”

“Fascinating,” Saru said, awed. “Captain, this is a great opportunity.”

Lorca ignored him. “Are they asking for our surrender?”

“Only to open channels,” Owosekun replied.

“Perhaps they want to negotiate,” Saru suggested. “Captain, if I may; perhaps diplomacy if the better method right now.”

Diplomacy? From Lorca? Keyla thought. You’re barking up the way wrong tree with that one, Saru…

“On screen,” Lorca ordered. The collective shock of the bridge was palpable.

“They’re sending audio only, sir,” Owosekun said to everyone’s disappointment. They all really wanted to see a Romulan.

“Whatever, Owosekun. Open the channel.”

“Aye,”

A moment later, a strong female voice filtered through the bridge speakers. “Attention Federation vessel, this Admiral N’Vel of the Romulan Star Empire warship Starglider. You have committed an act of war against the Empire. Surrender your craft and prepare to be boarded.”

“Direct, aren’t they?” Lorca said jocularly, then addressed Owosekun. “Okay, on-channel.” Then he stood an addressed himself seemingly to the bridge ceiling.

“Romulan vessel, this is Captain Gabriel Lorca of the Starship Discovery. You have taken unprovoked, hostile action against us in violation of treaty. Explain yourselves.”

There was a moment of silence, and Keyla marveled for a moment at the unmitigated gall Lorca possessed.

“You came here to continue your attacks against the Empire, Discovery. This time, however, we were waiting.”

Lorca shrugged as if the Romulan commander could see it and said casually, “Hey, our navigation system crashed unexpectedly. If we drifted off course, we apologize. We’re willing to remove ourselves from your space if that'll make you happy.”

“Really, Captain, are you going to hide behind so feeble a lie? We threw the bait into the water, and here you are.”

“Well, it was worth a try. Since we’re both aware we’re enemies, what are we talking for? You must know we won’t give up our ship without a fight, and that fight you will lose.”

“You don’t lie very well, Captain. Your ship is crippled.”

“We’re not in top shape, but we still back a punch--as that sparking gash in your hull would indicate...yes I can see it from here.”

Keyla stifled a laugh as her crush on Lorca just dialed up a few notches.

“Nothing we can’t sustain. Romulan warships are built for intensive combat. A single, short-duration burst from your weapons is hardly a death-blow, Captain.”

“No, that would have taken a slightly longer burst from the looks of it,” Lorca said.

“Whereas your ship is functionally crippled, and the weapon we used to do that is recharging, so I suggest you enjoy your sense of victory while you can.”

“I have faith in my repair crews, Admiral. I guess we’ll see who’s faster. Now, since I’m not in the mind to surrender, is there anything further we need to talk about?”

********

“He’s very confident,” N’Vel said, doing her best to hide her frustration.

“I sense we are at an impasse,” S’Tonn remarked. “It seems nether of us is particularly deceived by the other.”

N’Vel shrugged. “It was a gamble.” She addressed the gunner, “How long until the plasma cannon is repaired?”

“Unknown, Admiral,” the man replied meekly. N’Vel sympathized. He couldn’t do anything about repairs being affected thousands of kilometers away, but his neck was on the slab anyway.

“My gamble is looking less and less likely to pay off by the moment,” N’Vel said bitterly. She looked around the bridge--gods, how tiny it was compared the monstrous machine listing off their stern. She felt run through by a sense of vulnerability more massive than anything she’d felt before, and she imagined the entirety of the empire being split open like a pierce of ripe fruit.

She could not let that happen.

“S’Tonn, is the life-support still active on the listening post?”

The older centurion looked at her, perplexed. “Of course, Admiral. Maintenance crews spend week-long shifts there when they are upgrading the systems. Why? 

“We may still achieve our aims without destroying ourselves against the Federation,” N’Vel replied. “I think it might be time to offer a parlay.”

********

“What?” Lorca asked incredulously.

“As I said, Captain, the base we masked as a shipyard is actually a research outpost. I request a parlay at that location. I will send coordinates.”

“You know, if you’re trying to take me prisoner, you should put a little more effort into it.”

“Not at all, Captain. I will beam down to the location. You may scan it and when you’re satisfied that I’m alone you can join me.”

“Uh-huh. What keeps me from beaming you straight into our brig and ending all this now?”

“If you do that, then my crew will detonate the nuclear-tipped torpedoes we have loaded in our tubes. I don’t know the abilities of the ship of yours, but I suspect it wouldn’t fare the after effects particularly well.”

Lorca gestured to Owosekun, who cut the line. “Lady plays hard ball,” he said.

“Captain,” Saru said urgently, “surely you’re not considering her offer.”

“I’d almost do it to see what happens,” he said with a shrug, then keyed the intercom on his chair. “Engineering, how long until we have power?”

“Unknown, Captain. The energizer is still badly damaged. We’re going to have to replace--“

Lorca cut the connection, disgustedly. “Well, it looks like good options are off the table, Mister Saru.”

“But Captain…”

“We’re dead in space,” Lorca snapped. “And if this buys us the time to make repairs and get out of here, then we don’t have much of a choice.”

“Yes sir,” Saru said, somewhat sheepishly.

“If power comes online while I’m down there,” he pointed at the viewscreen, “shoot that ship out of the sky.”

“Aye sir,” Rhys said quietly.

“Open the channel, Owosekun.”

“Channel open.”

Lorca inhaled. “All right, Admiral. Transmit the coordinates. We’ll await your arrival…”

Chapter 18: Parlay by Komodo13

The sound of the transporter beam sent N’Vel’s hand instinctively to the holster at her hip, only to find it empty. She pushed aside the reflex and straightened up.

The human, when he materialized, was not what she expected. From the Tal Shiar intelligence reports she’d read, she knew that they were humanoid, and not dissimilar from Romulans, so she hadn’t been expecting something with three arms and three legs or the like. Still, there was the line in the most authoritative report on humans that had always stayed with her: “Many humans--and this seems especially true of their starship captains--project a sense of childlike naivete toward the world. They walk through life making no secret of their innate awe toward seemingly everything they encounter. In this, they resemble nothing so much as the Denorian Rockhopper bird, which is too stupid to understand the notion of ‘threat’ and thus are the favored prey of nearly every predator on the Denorian atoll.”

The man that stood before her did not fit that description. She could see nothing guileless or unguarded, and his eyes, in the moment before he squinted and held up a protective hand, flashed like a blade partially unsheathed. N’Vel felt a sudden, inexplicable sense of gratitude that it was this man who’d bested her in battle.

“Can you lower the lights,” he said in a way that didn’t make it sound like a vulnerability at all.

“Lights at seventy percent,” N’Vel ordered and the lights in the non-descript conference room lowered to a comfortable warm dim. “Are all humans sensitive to light?”

“It’s my burden,” the human answered, dropping the hand that had been shielding his eyes. “Captain Gabriel Lorca. And you must be N’Vel.”

“Indeed. You don’t seem surprised by my appearance, Captain. I was rather hoping for a bit more of a reaction from the only man to have laid eyes on a Romulan.”

“You’re not exactly floored to see me either.”

N’Vel shrugged. “We’ve infiltrated the Federation in the past. Our resemblance to Vulcans is useful in that regard.”

“Right. So what makes you think we haven’t done the same to the Romulan Star Empire?”

N’Vel laughed. “Modify a human to look Romulan? Don’t be silly, Captain.”

“So,” he said holding up his hands, “what do we do now? Arm-wrestle? Threaten each other face-to-face? Kiss?”

N’Vel’s lips curled into a wry smile in spite of herself. “Are you hoping for the latter, Captain?”

The human shrugged. “You’re one of the more attractive adversaries I’ve ever encountered, so I certainly wouldn’t take it off the table.”

“Is this the human method of negotiation: Open with flattery and flirtation?”

“I’m still not sure what we’re supposed to be doing here, so I figured I’d give it a try.”

N’Vel pulled out a chair near her and gestured to one near the human. “Let’s get comfortable, shall we?” The human grudgingly pulled out a chair and sat down. N’Vel did the same, her nose twitching at the dusty scent that the chair’s padding exhaled when it accepted her weight. The noticed the human had a similar expression.

“You folks kill all the servants or something?”

“This facility isn’t used very much,” N’Vel explained. “Which is why we were so easily able to send out a signal making it seem like a shipyard.”

“Ah.”

“Which brings me to the question, Captain. What are you doing here?”

“We got lost, like I said,” the human replied with badly-feigned innocence (though, in truth, N’Vel didn’t know how such a man could ever seem innocent--he didn’t look like he’d ever been innocent in his life.

“You should drop the lie, Captain, you’re just embarrassing yourself. You attacked our listening posts at Passis Three, Lheaton Seven, and engaged our drones at Cocolough Fifteen.” She hoped the human didn’t ask for proof, as she had none, and the lack of it would simply send them into a spiral of recriminations and denials and make this whole process worthless.

“We’re at war,” the human shrugged.

“But not with us.”

“We got confused. One enemy ship looks like another.”

N’Vel leaved forward and placed her elbows on the table. “It was a false-flag operation, wasn’t it? You struck targets along the Klingon border. You hoped we retaliate against them and inadvertently assist you in your war effort.”

“Well, wouldn’t you?”

To her surprise, N’Vel found herself laughing aloud”how long had been since she’d done that? When she recovered she asked, “Is the war going that badly for the Federation that you have to resort to such tactics?”

“My actions aren’t sanctioned by my superiors,” The human explained.

“So, this is all your idea? How diplomatically convenient.”

“It’s true. Starfleet thinks the war is going just fine, simply because we haven’t had a major rout.”

“And what do you believe?”

The human’s eyes flashed, the blade fully drawn now. “It’s not what I believe. It’s what I know.”

“And that is?”

He smiled coldly. “The Klingons will never surrender or sue for peace or stop fighting in any capacity until they’ve been utterly decimated. Or until they do the same to us. The brilliant tacticians and ambassadors who lead us either don't want to understand this, or their oh-so-evolved sense of morality precludes any possibility of them understanding this.”

N’Vel nodded, mulling this over. “So, it would seem peace has made the Federation soft.”

“But not your empire,” the human said. “You know the truth about the Klingons. And the truth about true power.”

“Indeed,” N’Vel said. “Your plan was a good one--worthy of a Romulan, Captain Lorca--too bad we weren’t as gullible as you had hoped.”

“It’s not over yet,” Captain Lorca said tightly. “The wreckage of your starship would achieve the same objective.”

“No more idle threats, Captain,” N’Vel waved airily. The conversation was headed for a cliff and she was trying to push back against that. “Unlike yours, my ship is capable of dealing a deathblow. Even at the expense of our own lives.”

The human smiled tauntingly. “See, I wonder about that. Not the killing yourselves part--I have no doubt you’d do something stupid and wasteful as that--but that you have the capability to do it. Two nuclear warheads don’t exactly amount to a doomsday weapon.”

N’Vel fought the rising tide of anger within her. The human captain was once again needling her weakness and the weakness of her empire. “Do not test me, Captain.”

“No? What if you blow yourselves up and it doesn’t make a difference? Either it doesn’t destroy our ship or it does and your fleet never notices because they don't get out to this neighborhood very much. Which begs the question: why does a vaunted Romulan Fleet Admiral only brought one ship to engage an unknown threat.”

N’Vel said nothing, her mind scrambling for a plausible lie. She couldn’t come up with anything the human would believe.

“Because if you had reinforcements they’d be here by now and you wouldn’t be threatening us with self-destruction. So, what’s really going on here, Admiral? Where are your ships? Are you a rogue? A mutineer? Or is the Romulan fleet less fearsome than we’ve been led to believe?”

N’Vel pursed her lips, sensing the conversation crumbling, but spying a glimmer in the distance--a slim chance to salvage the situation.

“I suppose I could lie and tell you that the Romulan fleet is still a thing to be feared, and the that thunder of our ships’ engines causes whole populations to fall to the knees keening in terror, but I suspect that you would ask the logical questions, captain.”

“Where are they?” Captain Lorca nodded.

“Indeed. As it happens, they are rotting in repair yards throughout the Empire awaiting upgrades, replacement parts, crew…” she sighed disdainfully. Some of it was performance, but only some of it. “Our once-great fleet is now but a paper-togrrteh.” It occurred to her too late that the human probably didn’t know what she was referring to, but to her surprise, the human seemed to understand.

“That would explain why the stiffest resistance we got was from some centuries-old drones.”

“Ugh. Don’t speak of them. Our exalted intelligence agency, the Tal Shiar, touts their existence as the reason we can afford to divert resources from the navy. Meanwhile they build more surveillance stations and sub-warp ships to project their power within our borders.”

Captain Lorca looked at her quizzically. “So this is all you could muster to engage a starship that’s invading your space? That sounds like suicide.”

N’Vel shook her head. “My government doesn’t know of this operation. If it did, the Tal Shiar would have seized control of it and claimed the glory for themselves--provided they didn’t make a hash of things first. No, I needed to bring you back as a prize to show our feeble Praetor that his navy is still the best defense he has against his various terrors--both real and imagined.”

“Too bad we had to go and mess up your plan,” Captain Lorca said with a rakish smile. N’Vel returned it with a sly one of her own.

“We shall see, Captain. The day is young.” Abruptly, she snapped her fingers and stood up. “Speaking of…” She walked over to the supply cabinet set into the far corner of the room. “No outpost would possibly be without…aha!” Victoriously, she held up a dusty bottle.

“What’s that?” Captain Lorca asked.

Gromluk. An intoxicant, however the effects can be overcome with a bit of concentration and willpower.” She rummaged around in the cabinet for glasses and was rewarded with two clear polymer tumblers.

“Almost takes the fun out of it,” Captain Lorca observed.

“It does, but when every hail or communication ping could well be the secret police, it’s helpful to be able to sober up at will and have your wits about you.” She returned to the table and poured a few fingers of the amber liquid into the glasses, then slid one to Captain Lorca.

“Do you have a drinking tradition, Captain?”

The human captain raised his glass in a kind of salute. “We do that.”

“Simple enough.”

“We don’t like to delay the drinking,” Captain Lorca said and took a sip. He swallowed without incident and looked appreciatively at the glass. “Say, that’s not bad.”

“We take our drink seriously, Captain,” N’Vel said, taking a mouthful of her own. The Gromluck was an inferior brew--off-brand and cheap--but it would do.

“I can’t imagine why we ever went to war with you folks.”

N’Vel smiled and was surprised to find it genuine. Her kind was growing warm with the drink. “So, however should we resolve this, Captain? Do we want to kill each other today in a desperate attempt to impress our governments, or is there, perhaps, some alternative we haven’t considered?”

“I’m open to ideas,” the human held her gaze and took a long sip.

Chapter 19: Positions of Compromise by Komodo13

“Sir,” Rhys said, and Keyla nearly slumped over her console in relief. She shot a look at Joann and saw her shoulders relax almost imperceptibly in her uniform. The tension in the air had calcified since Captain Lorca had departed and now the bridge felt as if some invisible layer had crystallized over the bridge, muted and stifling. Rhys’s strong, clear advice had broken that layer like a spoon through crème brulee.

Keyla’s stomach squawked and shuddered. She wanted crème brulee.

“Yes, Lieutenant?” Saru replied, sounding slightly startled.

“Repair crews report we have re-established main power to primary systems. They should come online--“ As if on cue the bridge came alive around him: consoles, systems, controls all alighting as if the great ship was taking a deep breath.

“Say the magic word,” Airiam said, earning her a bemused look from Saru before he returned his attention to the expanse of bridge before him.

“Excellent. Ensign Lupori,” Saru said to the backup science officer, “bring sensors online and scan that asteroid. I want to know if the captain and his counterpart are indeed the only ones down there. Lieutenant Airiam, make preparations to employ the DASH drive, should we need it.”

“Um, sir,” Rhys said tentatively. “Shall I target the enemy vessel?”

Shit! We still gotta kill the Romulans! Keyla had forgotten about the order at some point in the last hour. Probably when her stomach began complaining and she’d begun daydreaming about sauerbraten. Instinctively, she looked at her console and mentally plotted the best attack vector.

“Do not, Mr. Rhys. Run the scan first.”

“But our orders…”

“I’m aware of our orders,” Saru said with the peevishness he would reserve solely for Burnham when they were all aboard the Shenzhou. Keyla couldn’t hear it without feeling a stab of sympathy. Now, though, the tone with run through with iron. “But the fact is, we have all drive systems online, allowing us to leave immediately if necessary. We can attack and destroy the Romulans whenever we wish.”

“Aye sir,” Rhys said, slightly chastened.

And don’t you forget it! Keyla mentally appended.

“The scan, Ensign?”

Lupori answered, “Yes sir…lifesigns: two. One human, one non-human not in our database. Presumably Romulan.”

“Well,” Saru said, “it seems the Romulans showed good faith, at least to some extent. Let’s just hope the captain can rise to meet them in negotiations.”

********

“So,” N’Vel said, before polishing off her drink and placing the cup on the bedside table, “have we reached a diplomatic solution?”

The human captain eyed her wolfishly. “I’d say we both reached something.”

“Indeed,” she stretched out, feeling the tickle of the frictionless sheets against her bare flesh. She had known, of course, that there would be sleeping quarters on the station--support missions were often weeklong assignments--but it was just good luck that the technician assigned here was using the place as a romantic getaway. Instead of a regulation cot, there was a spacious bed with luxurious appointments and accoutrements--all of which, the human captain had enjoyed and deployed with surprising proficiency. “It seems our positions were closer than we initially thought.”

“Maybe there’s hope for relations between our people after all,” he said and finished his own drink.

“That’s better left to the diplomats. This was a meeting of warriors in battle of another sort.”

He laughed. “Is that a Romulan saying?”

“As a matter of fact it is. You don’t have something similar in your own language.”

“Not that I’m aware.”

“Pity. That’s one area where we’ve bested you.”

“I’d say you bested me a few times already,” the human smiled.

“But you were a tenacious opponent,” N’Vel whispered, then leaned in and kissed him. His tongue met hers, and she felt the response arc along the length of her body. Her hands gripped his unyielding biceps, and she lay back, pulling him atop her when her communicator shouted from someplace on the floor.

“Admiral!” S’Tonn’s voice, tinny as it was emanating from the small speaker, killed her lust as cleanly as a blade to the throat. “The human ship appears to have regained power! Shall we initiate?”

“Bloody hell,” N’Vel muttered as she rolled off the high mattress and rooted through the pile of their entwined clothing, searching for her communicator. Finding it, she keyed the mic. “S’Tonn, stand down! We’ve just about reached a compromise. Something acceptable to both parties.”

Very acceptable…” the human said. N’Vel glared at him. He smiled tauntingly back at her.

“Yes, Admiral. Does this mean your last order is superseded?”

N’Vel pressed her hand to her forehead. “Yes, S’Tonn. Stand by for further orders. Take no action against the Federation vessel.”

“Yes, Admiral. S’Tonn out.”

She closed the link and dropped the communicator. The human captain had rolled on his side, propping his head up on his elbow, and was surveying her nude body with nakedly predatory gaze.

“You ordered your crew to self-destruct of we regained power?”

N’Vel sighed. “Well if I had known we’d be doing this…

“It’s okay. I ordered my ship to fire on yours--Damn! I better contact them. Can you find my communicator over there?”

“What does it look like?”

“Not like yours.”

N’Vel found the device and tossed it to him. He caught it. “So,” he said, “have we reached a compromise?”

“Contact your ship,” N’Vel said and climbed back into the bed. “Then we can seal our compromise.”

Chapter 20: Conditions of Surrender by Komodo13

“Captain on the bridge!” Rhys announced, and Keyla and everyone else seemed to take a breath at once.

“Nice to hear that you missed me, Mr. Rhys,” Captain Lorca said as he strode to his chair, which Saru graciously relinquished.

“Captain, have we reached an agreement with the Romulans?” Saru asked as he returned to his station.

“We have, Mr. Saru, though negotiations were certainly strenuous.” The Captain’s tone, by contrast, seemed strangely relaxed to Keyla’s ear. She wondered if she was just imagining it. “Airiam, are we prepared to use the Spore Drive?”

“We are, sir.”

Captain Lorca tapped the console on the arm of his captain’s chair. “Coordinates are keyed in. Get us out of here.”

The lights dimmed. The Black Alert announcement sounded. Discovery slid away from space.

 

********

“Of course, your Highness,” Centurion K’prek said to the life-sized holographic display of the Praetor which appeared to sit unceremoniously in mid-air in the center of the conference room in the Tal Shiar’s orbital command center. “We have a full array of options at our disposal. The dissident’s deaths can be as quick or protracted as you wish.”

“If it’s quick” the Praetor mulled aloud, “the people will see the power of the Empire. But if it’s slow, it’ll be more horrific and they’ll understand the consequences of defying my will. So many decisions…”

K’prek sighed. It seemed he would once again be forced to move his hand inside the puppet. “If I may, Your Highness, we could--“

And then the alarms went off. The conference room door slid open as his personal guard burst into the room. Behind him, screams rolled down the corridor. “Sir, we are under attack! A starship emerged from nowhere and…”

“Attack? Starship?” The Praetor's holographic form looked horrified, as if the attack was happening at his location.

“Highness,” K’prek struggled to sound placating. “I’m sure it’s simply--“ And then the room tore apart around him.

********

“Take us home,” Captain Lorca ordered, while the dying station lit the bridge in orange hues. A moment later it and the space around it was gone, replaced by familiar stars and nebula. “Excellent work, all,” he said firmly. “As it happens that base was transmitting the same false signals as the so-called shipyard where we were ambushed. In actuality it was a giant Potemkin village. Its technology, personnel, capabilities all just sensor ghosts.

“It seems the rulers of the Romulan Empire have decided that, rather than confront the threats at their borders, they’d rather hide behind illusions like this, while the ruling oligarchs get rich. In the meantime, the Klingons have been encroaching on their borders. Admiral N’Vel--my…counterpart in the negotiations--represents a cadre of naval officers who have been unsuccessfully trying to convince the Empire they need to push back. So, as it happens, our interests were aligned.

“As a matter of fact,” Lorca continued, “our attacks on their listening posts were just the provocation they were looking for. So they built a trap to capture a Klingon warship.” He held up his hands, palms upward. “They got Discovery instead. Once N’Vel and I got past our mutual suspicions, we discovered that our interests were aligned more perfectly than we imagined. She agreed to keep all records of their encounter with Discovery a secret as long as we attacked a target of her choosing. One deep in the heart of the Empire that would make the government feel most vulnerable. In exchange, she will begin prosecuting a border action against the Klingon Empire."

"Sir," Saru asked. "The Romulan...no one has ever seen one..."

"I'm afraid until I fully debrief Starfleet Command I'm not at liberty to share the details of my encounter with the Romulan Admiral."

The bridge wilted a little in disappointment.

“But,” he concluded, “our mission was a success. Starfleet will never acknowledge it, will never give this crew the commendations it so richly deserves. But you all can take heart knowing that you took one of the most crucial steps to date in turning the war to our favor.” He clapped his hands together loudly and continued clapping. Soon the bridge crew joined in. 

Keyla saw a message light blink on her panel. Joann sent her direct message: THAT MAN IS AMAZING.

Chapter 21: One Last Visit to the Cheap Seats by Komodo13

“I think I’m in love,” Keyla said as she tore into her replicated sauerbraten. She almost felt sorry for it.

“They say it’s a mark of a great captain when his crew falls in love with him, just a little,” Joann said as she worked over her falafel plate. 

“Who says that?” Airiam asked, cocking her head quizzically.

“They.”

“But who is they?”

“Them.” She took a spoonful of yogurt dressing.

“Well, I’m not in love him,” Gen said, “I’m just privileged to be serving under him.”

“You’re in love with Lieutenant Bellino,” Keyla said. “And I got bad news for you: She’s back with Tamara from Botany.”

Rhys looked at her like she’d shot his puppy.

“Surely you didn’t think that break up would last, did you? Those two are going get married.”

“Besides, Joann said, “We’ll be stopping off at Starbase Thirteen next week. Maybe you’ll meet the girl of your dreams there.”

“No one loves Rhys,” Airiam said, adding extra dejection to her vocal synthesis.

“Shut up,” he grumped.

"I really could use a salad," Owosekun said. "I don't know why the replicators have such a limited menu during third-shift."

"Mid-rats," Rhys explained.

"You're eating rats," Airiam said, her synthesized voice somehow conveying delight. "Biologicals are gross."

"Midnight rations," Keyla explained. "Late-night food. Deep-fried. Unhealthy. At least that's the tradition."

"Now it's all healthy," Owosekun said, "but the menu is limited. I guess it's a nod to tradition."

"Are you sure you're not eating rats?"

"I don't care if I am, I'm famished," Keyla said as she shoveled a forkful of sauerbraten into her mouth.

"Biologicals are gross," Airiam repeated.

“Today was a hell of a day on the bridge," Rhys said.

“The Captain’s a damn force of nature,” Keyla said more effusively than she expected. No one seemed to have noticed.

“We’re lucky to have him,” Owosekun agreed. 

“I’d follow him anywhere,” Rhys said, hoisting his tortilla up for his first bite. “I’d follow him to hell.”

Chapter 22: The Shape of Things to Come by Komodo13

“And the Praetor has given his blessing?” S’Tonn asked N’Vel from beside her at construction station’s the massive view port.

“He sent word through emissaries. He hasn’t come out of his safe room in the palace since Tal Shiar headquarters was destroyed.”

“We may never see him again,” S’Tonn mused.

“No great blow to the empire as long he stays frightened of the right threat.”

“That will require some managing. His attention tends to wander.”

“Then manage it I shall,” she gave S’Tonn a sidelong look. “I learned a good bit from my sparring with K’prek.”

“No doubt,” S’Tonn said. They took a moment to silently take in the sight beyond the transparent aluminum, nearly a full kilometer away, but still visible to the naked eye: the skeleton of a great starship gestating within a construction scaffolding. Even still unformed, N’Vel’s imagination filled in the rest of the shape until it became whole in her mind. A graceful, arcing primary hull, longer than Stargliders’, shaped like a flattened teardrop. And unfurling from its mass, two muscular, backward-swept wings each clutching a stubby warp nacelle. It was both sturdier and more streamlined than her flagship.

“And did he agree to the signage?” S’Tonn asked.

“Of course. He can’t resist a sop to our myths and legends. You are looking at the Gallant Wing.”

“A bit awkward to say,” S’Tonn scowled.

“We're still keeping the formal nomenclature of V-Six.”

“Better. Also, Research Base Seventeen estimates ten to sixteen months to develop a ship-mounted version of the plasma cannon.”

N’Vel pursed her lips. “Longer than I’d like, but I have a better use for the weapon for right now.”

S’Tonn turned to face her. “You wish to capture a Klingon battleship?”

“Yes.”

“So you believe the human Captain’s tales of Klingon invisibility fields?”

The human captain…the words elicited a involuntary response from her body. She put it out of her mind until later when she had privacy. “He was being exceptionally honest when we met,” she said. “Besides, the Tal’Shiar researched something similar years ago, when they were still a branch of military intelligence. Perhaps the Klingons conquered someone who could make it work.”

“Such a technology…” S’Tonn trailed off.

“It would irrevocably change the balance of power,” N’Vel completed the thought. They were silent again, watching the great ship being built, watching the beginning of a new phase in the Romulan Empire. But even as they did, N’Vel’s thoughts went back to one her last exchanges with the human captain, after he had told her about the Klingon’s secret technology. She had asked him if he wasn't concerned that that eventually the Romulan Empire would use it against his people. His reply confused her still.

“These aren’t my people,”  he had said.

--end--

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