Star Trek: New Horizons Season 3, Episode 3 (Strength and Honor Part One) by captaintigranian
Summary: Laria, now in command of her own bird of prey, prepares to launch a rescue mission to find her husband. Meanwhile, Annabeth and the crew of the Venture are ordered to hunt her down as Tigranian loses hope that he will ever be found behind the Neutral Zone.
Categories: Expanded Universes Characters: None
Genre: Action/Adventure, Romance
Warnings: Adult Language, Adult Situations, Violence
Challenges: None
Series: Star Trek: New Horizons
Chapters: 8 Completed: Yes Word count: 10140 Read: 9704 Published: 06 Feb 2017 Updated: 06 Feb 2017

1. Chapter 1 by captaintigranian

2. Chapter 2 by captaintigranian

3. Chapter 3 by captaintigranian

4. Chapter 4 by captaintigranian

5. Chapter 5 by captaintigranian

6. Chapter 6 by captaintigranian

7. Chapter 7 by captaintigranian

8. Chapter 8 by captaintigranian

Chapter 1 by captaintigranian
Ludus Gladiatorum of House Cronenii: Dacen Prime, Romulan Empire

Stardate: 53325.4

As the light from Dacen's dual moons reflected off the quiet sands of the training pit, Tigranian grunted under the weight of the fifty-five kilogram log across his shoulders. He had apparently earned enough confidence with his captors that the guards wouldn't immediately return him to his cell after the evening meal. While the other gladiators who had earned this privilege usually spent their precious free time cavorting with the female house slaves and binging on cheap Romulan ale, Tigranian had taken to returning to the training pit while it was unoccupied.

His pain and shame over the injustices he had suffered at the hands of Selonia still ran deep. Somehow, he hoped the exertion would somehow replace his emotional anquish with physical pain. Unfortunately, no matter how many times he squatted the heavy log down to the ground and lifted it again, he still felt that woman's disgusting touch on his skin. The faith that he would ever leave this hellish place and be free from his supposed mistress' whims was fading by the day.

Finally, his rage became too much, and he angrily threw down the beam with a hollow thud. He looked up at the stars, sweat pouring from his bare skin, and shouted at the sky. His cries echoed off the stone walls.

As the sounds of his fury were again replaced with the quiet chirping of the local insects, he listened to his labored breathing. He knew his wife was up there, somewhere among the vast blackness and shimmering points of light. He did his best to remember her beautiful face, and prayed that if she thought he was dead, she was at least carrying on with her life.

"When I first arrived, I used to come out here at night as well," Rellas' voice sounded from the stone steps behind him. Tigranian turned around and viewed his fellow gladiator step out into the moonlight.

"I don't mean to sound unwelcoming, but I would prefer to be alone right now," he said trying to feign annoyance.

"No, you don't," Rellas replied. "If you did, you would have returned to your cell."

Tigranian stifled a laugh. He still didn't know if he should trust this man or not, but he was the closest thing in the ludus that Tigranian had to a friend, and he currently needed all the friends that he could get.

"Whom do you look for?" Rellas asked with compassion in his voice.

"What?" Tigranian said.

"There is only one reason why slaves like us look to the stars. It is to try to catch of a glimpse of someone we once knew, on a world that once was ours before it was taken." Rellas looked up, scanned the horizon, and then pointed to a speck of light. "That one, there in the distance, is my home. When I was younger, I would spend hours speaking to it, hoping that my mother would hear my words and remember her son."

Tigranian paused.

"Her name is Laria," he finally managed to get out. "She is my wife."

"Then I pray to my gods that your love visits her heart tonight," Rellas said before adding, "for your people have not slain them yet."

They both laughed.

"And I pray that your mother receives a visit from your love as well."

"Did you and Laria have many happy years together at least?" Rellas asked. Tigranian shook his head.

"No," Tigranian mused with a slight pause, "but what we had together was enough to last a lifetime. If I can somehow find a way redeem my honor in this blighted place, maybe we will reunite in Sto'Vo'Kor," Tigranian turned to return the log to the corner of the training pit.

"Maybe you can find a way to redeem your honor and hold your wife again, Son of Tigranian. I told you, there are many here who would fight if given the chance." Rellas' words caused Tigranian to freeze.

"What are you suggesting?" Tigranian said crossing over to his companion. "That we rise up? Start an insurrection? That would be beyond foolish. You're talking about naked gladiators with rusted swords against an Empire with disruptors and starships. Our bodies would be vaporized before we made it to the front gate."

"Is that the attitude of someone who claims to follow this warrior-emperor, Kahless?" Rellas replied indignantly.

"Kahless himself said that the 'wind does not respect a fool!" Tigranian shouted. "Jumping into a fight without hope of victory is not honorable, it is vainglorious and stupid."

"Very well, Son of Tigranian," Rellas said turning back towards the stone steps. "Then live the rest of your life here with us in this place of pain. Watch your comrades die in the arena for the pleasure of the pointed-ears knowing that it will soon be your turn to be slaughtered as well. If you will not die fighting for freedom, than die as an animal. I will leave you with your wife."

Rellas began to descend back towards the gladiator cells.

"However, I warn you," he said suddenly looking back over his shoulder. "It gets harder to imagine them speaking back to you. Trust me, I know."

Then he was gone, and Tigranian was alone in the moonlight again.
Chapter 2 by captaintigranian
Maranga System: Federation/Klingon Border

Stardate: 53325.5

"She did what?" Annabeth said in shock as she rose up from her chair and stared at the bridge's viewscreen.

"The Federation envoy on Nimbus III isn't exactly the most reliable of individuals," Wainwright said, "but his report was pretty clear. Lieutenant Tigranian walked into the only bar on the planet, killed ten people, and then beamed out with a Ferengi expat named Childar. Apparently, he's pretty well known in criminal circles as someone who can crack complex computer networks. Starfleet Intelligence is concerned she might try to breach either the Federation or Klingon border defense networks in order to cross undetected."

Annabeth collapsed back into her chair. She noticed Soloth was glancing in her direction with a raised eyebrow. She didn't appreciate it.

"The situation has become even more dire, Captain," Wainwright continued. "It is all the more imperative you find Tigranian Laria and bring her justice. She's shown she's willing to kill people to meet her aims and is far more dangerous than we anticipated."

"With all due respect, Sir," Annabeth said turning back toward the Admiral's image. "I know Laria. She wouldn't have killed anyone unless her safety or the safety of other individuals was at risk."

"Quite frankly, Captain, after speaking with Captain Grigsby, I'm not sure I share your assessment. In any case, your orders are crystal clear. Find her now and eliminate the threat she poses. Am I understood?"

"Yes Sir."

"Wainwright out."

The screen faded back to starscape.

"Captain…" Soloth began speaking.

"Not here, Commander," Annabeth interjected. "Ms. Rutaan, you have the bridge."

"Aye, Ma'am," the lieutenant said pushing back from the helm.

"Mr. Soloth, in my ready room," Annabeth said standing up and crossing to her office doors. Soloth obediently followed. It was increasingly obvious to Annabeth that obeying orders was all he knew how to do.

Once the doors closed behind them, Annabeth walked straight towards the replicator.

"Tea, Irish Breakfast, hot, one slice of lemon," she said shaking her head. Her beverage materialized and she picked up the cup before taking a seat at her desk.

"Captain, as I was saying on the bridge," Soloth continued, "I believe our greatest chance of intercepting Lieutenant Tigranian is to anticipate her motives. Then, we can ascertain her objective and find her."

"That's easy, Soloth," Annabeth said mindlessly stirring her tea over and over again. "Her objective is Daniel Tigranian." Her first officer's eyebrow rose again.

"That is not logical, Ma'am," he said shaking his head. "Captain Tigranian is dead."

"That's your problem, Number One," Annabeth mused as she placed her cup and saucer on her desk. "This isn't about logic. This is about love."

"I do not understand, Captain."

Annabeth rubbed her eyes in frustration.

"I wouldn't expect you to, Commander."

Soloth pursed his lips and briefly looked down at the carpet.

"Permission to speak freely, Ma'am?" he said plainly. Annabeth was intrigued.

"Go right ahead," she said waving a hand in his direction.

"I believe you are letting your personal feelings about Lieutenant Tigranian cloud your judgement in this matter. Our mission is very clear. We are to detain her and bring her in for court martial. To be a captain of a starship, one must put their relationships aside and remember their duty to Starfleet and the United Federation of Planets above all else. Tigranian Laria is now wanted for murder and is a threat to galactic peace. Her arrest will possibly safeguard dozens, if not hundreds of lives. The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few…or the one."

Annabeth laughed out loud. Soloth stared at her confused.

"You remind me a lot of myself when I first came aboard the Pershing, Soloth." Annabeth said leaning back in her chair. "However, my captain taught me that sometimes the right thing isn't as clear cut. Sometimes, you have to put the needs of the one in front of the many."

"Captain…"

Annabeth silenced him with a hand again.

"I absolutely intend to find Laria before anyone else does. However, it's not just to detain her. Something very strange is going on, and I intend on finding out exactly what it is." Annabeth stood up and turned to the window behind her desk and stared at the stars streaking past faster than the speed of light

"Laria seems to think that her husband is still alive and the Romulans have something to do with it. That's clear from every report she filed with Starfleet before Captain Grigsby cut off her ability to communicate. We won't find her in the Klingon Empire."

"Ma'am?" Soloth said cocking his head to one side.

"Set a course for the Romulan Neutral Zone, Warp 9."
Chapter 3 by captaintigranian
Onias Sector: Romulan Neutral Zone

The Dri'goth was cloaked and holding its position in relation to a Romulan communications buoy. Laria paced back and forth in her quarters, nervously rambling to her silent companion.

"I know it was risky to reveal ourselves on Nimbus III, but I had no choice! Without Childar's help, we'd have no chance of finding Daniel. I know you want to see him again as much as I do."

A pair of black, glassy eyes stared back at her from the metal bunk.

"Don't tell me that, Rijo! Out of everyone I know, I need your support the most. If we can get inside the Tal Shiar network, we might be able to locate him in just a few days. The less time we spend inside Romulan space, the better."

The pugabeast kept staring at her. Laria walked over, picked him up, and then hugged him close to her armored chest.

"I know you're scared. I'm scared too. But we have to find him. We've come too far to give up now."

She looked down at Rijo's snout, smiled, and then kissed it.

"Thank you, I love you too, Buddy."

The comm system chirped to life.

"Laria HoD, this is Commander Torg."

"Go ahead," she said placing her old friend back onto her bunk.

"Our guest reports that he is ready."

"I'm on my way," Laria said seriously. When the channel disconnected she turned back to Rijo.

"Now we'll see if that bastard is worth a damn…"

Laria entered the communication control room on her bird of prey and grinned as she saw her fat, Ferengi prisoner chained to a console. Two Klingon guards loomed behind him, each with a disruptor rifle trained on Childar's head.

"I'm told you're ready to commence our little operation," Laria said confidently striding over to him.

"I would have been ready a lot sooner if I didn't have these Klingon mongrels watching over my shoulder. They stink, and they make me nervous…" the Ferengi said, obviously regaining some of his old confidence.

Laria clenched her jaw before violently grabbing Childar's left ear. He winced with pain and let out another high-pitched squeal.

"Let's get one thing straight, Ferengi," she said barring her teeth. "Those Klingon guards are not for my protection. They're for yours. They remind me that I have an obligation to this crew to accomplish the mission I have given them. Keep throwing insults, and I may kill you anyways. Do you understand?"

He nodded his head.

"Good! Now, are we inside the database?" she asked releasing him from her grasp.

"Not yet," he said looking back down at the console. "However, I've unlocked the back door. When I press this button, you will have full access to everything the Tal Shiar possesses. However, they'll know we're inside as soon as I establish the uplink. I can guarantee they won't be able to trace our signal for at least a minute, but after that, even one second could mean the difference between staying alive and having a fleet of warbirds hunting us across the galaxy. I don't have to remind you that the Romulans hold grudges for a very long time."

"Then you better make sure you keep them off my back until I find what I'm looking for," Laria said taking a seat at a second console across from him.

"It doesn't work like that, Bajoran," Childar said shaking his head. "I'm using Klingon equipment on YOUR ship. They'll trace the connection back to you. You won't be able to get within twenty lightyears of Romulan space without getting intercepted."

"In that case," Laria said cracking her knuckles, "I'll make sure you're onboard this ship when a plasma torpedo blows us out of the stars." She took one last deep breath and readied herself for the fastest computer search of her life. "Standby to initiate uplink on my mark…"

"Standing by…" Childar said shaking his head.

"Talk to me, Daniel...show me where you are…" Laria whispered to herself. "Mark!"

Childar keyed the final sequence. "Uplink established! Sixty seconds till we're compromised."

The seal of the Romulan intelligence agency appeared on Laria's screen. An unbelievable treasure trove of material appeared in front of Laria. Information that Starfleet Intelligence would kill for on every conceivable topic of galactic security was displayed with perfect Romulan organization. However, she scanned with only one purpose, to find her husband somewhere across the vast distances of space."

"Forty seconds left," Childar said nervously.

"C'mon! By the Prophets, c'mon!" Laria shouted in frustration as she scanned file after file to no avail. She found documents on bribery payments to Cardassian officials, assassination plots against Breen dignitaries, even operations within the Federation, but she scanned past them all searching for one name: Daniel Tigranian.

"Twenty seconds left!" Childar shouted. "They've detected our signal and our closing in our position. I can't block them much longer!"

"You better keep them off my back or losing your ears will be the least of your problems!" Laria shouted back at him.

Nothing, she found nothing. Just as she was about to smash the console screen in frustration, Laria remembered something: and exchange between Daniel and the Lady Selonia on Romulus last year:

"Let me get one thing straight, we are no one's slaves, Romulan."

"Obviously not, Human, because if I was your Domina, I would ensure you were properly disciplined."

"Qu'vath guy'cha v'aka!" Laria exclaimed with such violent eloquence that even the two Klingon guards in the room raised their eyebrows.

"Ten seconds!" Childar shrieked. "We're almost compromised."

"Don't you dare cut the transmission until I say so!" Laria said furiously changing the parameters of her search.

"Five…four…three…two…"

"Cut the uplink!" she shouted and Childar eagerly obeyed. He let out a sigh of relief as he realized that the Romulans had not been able to isolate their signal.

Laria stared at the screen and began laughing with utter joy. It was right there, staring right back at her: an invoice dated the day Daniel disappeared for services rendered. 10 million Rihannsu-Talons worth of gold pressed latinum transferred from the Praetor's personal accounts to a gladiator school on the fringes of the Empire via a Tal Shiar courier shuttle. The item description was just two words: The Terran.

She fought back tears as she whispered a final, victorious affirmation.

"I'm coming for you."

"I'm guessing by your reaction," Childar said cutting into her happy haze. "That you found what you were looking for…" Laria wiped her face and composed herself. She rose to her feet and adjusted her armor.

"Yes, I did. Not that's it's any of your business."

"If that is the case, Bajoran," Childar said grinning. "I believe our business is concluded. Feel free to take me back to Nimbus III, or any world that doesn't have extradition agreements with the Federation, Romulans, or Klingons. I'll make my own way back home."

"That was never part of our agreement," Laria replied as she copied the information on her console to a PADD.

"What!" Childar said jumping to his feet. One of the guards violently grabbed the Ferengi and shoved him back into his chair. "Oww…" Childar said rubbing his bruised shoulder.

"I told you," Laria said heading towards the doors. "Our deal was for your life. That doesn't include transportation." Before exiting, she looked over her shoulder and addressed her soldiers. "Put him in an escape pod. Ensure that the transponder beacon contains all of his personal information so everyone knows exactly who is onboard."

"NO!" Childar said trying to climb to his feet again. "This time, both guards grabbed the Ferengi and held him down so tightly, that his bones started to crack. "I'll be defenseless!" Childar said as he shivered with pain. "If the Romulans or Klingons capture me, I'll be dead!"

Laria sharply turned around.

"Then you better hope that the Federation finds you first!" Laria spat back at him. "Then you can spend the rest of your life in a comfortable prison cell instead of facing execution, which is far more than you deserve. I'm tired of looking at you, I'm tired of hearing your shrill, pathetic cries, and most of all…" she said walking forward and leaning in close to his bulbous nose, "I don't like you."

Laria looked to the nearest guard.

"Eject him into space."

"Yes, My Lady," he said with a quick salute. Laria turned and walked towards the corridor.

"I won't forget this!" Childar said as she departed.

"I don't care," she replied with a snide grin as she disappeared down the hallway.
Chapter 4 by captaintigranian
Rendiath Expanse: Federation Zone of Occupation, Cardassian Space

Stardate: 53325.8

"Enter," Alex said nervously. The doors to her quarters parted and T'les stepped inside. The Vulcan saw the ship's doctor, Scharr, and Phil all huddled around Alex's dining room table. Each one held a very strong alcoholic beverage.

"You requested my presence, Doctor?" T'les asked with her usual placid tone.

"Yes, T'les. Please come in."

As the assistant engineer walked towards the rest of the group, Alex commanded the computer:

"Computer, lock doors. Alpha One Quarantine Procedure."

"Acknowledged. Quarters sealed on authority of the Chief Medical Officer."

"I didn't realize you were that sick, Doc," Scharr said taking a sip of his drink. "Hopefully, it's not something I can catch?" he said sarcastically.

"I think my attitude is, in fact, contagious, Tren," Alex said taking a sip of Canadian whiskey on the rocks, "But not even the captain can override Alpha One Protocol. That way we can have a conversation undisturbed."

"I take it that you're not happy with the ways things have been going onboard either?" Scharr said as his antennae perked up.

"That's the understatement of the decade!" Phil said slamming his hand on the table. "Laria is gone! The woman I love is in the brig, and a tyrannical madman is sitting in Tigranian's chair with Medusa at his right hand side!"

"Calm yourself, Phil," Tren said turning towards him. "We hate the bastards too, but losing our composure doesn't help a damn thing."

"You cold blooded, ice-skinned…"

"Phil…" Alex said rubbing her temple with her free hand.

"You wouldn't be so damn calm if it was one of your wives sitting alone behind a forcefield!"

"Probably not! But I wouldn't be cawing and flapping my wings like a Tavolian Buzzard!"

"THAT'S ENOUGH! BOTH OF YOU!" Alex said slamming her glass on the table. "We're not going to accomplish anything fighting amongst ourselves. The four of us are the only ones left who can do something…"

"And just what do you propose that the four of us do, Alex?" T'les asked cocking her head to one side.

Alex scoffed at what she was about to propose, but she knew it was absolutely necessary.

"Tigranian is probably gone forever, and Laria now with him, but we still might be able to save Katie. To do that, I'm proposing that we must find a way to remove Captain Grigsby and Commander Hardnett from command of this ship."

"There's a word for that, Alex….mutiny," Scharr said as his antennae nearly touched each other.

"If you want out, Tren, leave now."

"Oh, I never said I wanted out. I was just making it absolutely clear what our goal is."

"I'm in," Phil said without any hesitation. "I'll do whatever it takes to make sure they can't hurt Katie."

"Between my access to the engine room, and Phil's control of the helm and guidance systems, we can do a lot of damage," Tren said starting to formulate ideas. "But we still have a lot of ship to cover and we don't know who we can trust."

"What about Hawkins?" Phil said hopefully. "Tigranian was always very close to the marines. If we can get him and Sergeant Schultz on board, we can take the whole ship!"

"I don't know if they'll join us. Hawkins' loyalty is to the Corps. Any feelings he had for Tigranian might have died with the captain. That's why he's not here…"

"It will not work…" T'les said interjecting.

The other three conspirators looked up at her with shocked expressions.

"I owe my life and my freedom to the men and women of this crew, and I share your aims philosophically, but a takeover of this ship by force would not accomplish our goals."

"How do you know?" Phil said sharply.

"Please, Mr. Lexington, you must learn to govern your passions. Approach this problem logically. Let us theorize that somehow we were successful in gaining control of the Pershing. We would have freed Katie, but the most powerful vessel in the quadrant would be considered an enemy of the Federation and the entirety of Starfleet's resources, plus the combined resources of the other space faring nations of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, would be dedicated to pursuing us, engaging us, and destroying us. You, Katie, and the rest of the crew would be killed or incarcerated. Tell me, how does that accomplish your stated goal of keeping the woman you love free?"

There was an awkward pause.

"Point taken, T'les," Scharr said.

"Ok, then," Alex said. "What do you propose?"

The Vulcan stepped forward and gingerly took a seat at the table across from them.

"There is an old Vulcan parable told to children. It is a lesson in logical morality as it relates to utilitarian obligations. The names and places are not important for this audience, but it concerns a Vulcan prince and his father, a king in one of the ancient Vulcan city-states. This prince was a secret follower of Surak, but his father sympathized with 'Those Who Marched Beneath the Raptor's Wings."

"You mean Romulans?" Phil said.

"Not quite. You see, 'Those Who Marched Beneath the Raptor's Wings' are Vulcans who had not yet left the homeworld. Their descendants did not become Romulans until they arrived on Romulus centuries later…"

"That's also not important!" Alex said. "T'les, please get on with your story."

"As you wish," she said not at all phased. "The king dedicated huge amounts of his city's resources to pursuing a genocidal war against Surak's followers. The people starved as the slaughter grew worse and worse. The prince knew that logically, the king must be stopped to save his people. However, he also knew that the masses would never accept him if he publicly opposed the king, in direct conflict with the ancient Vulcan concept of patrilineal fealty. So, the prince did the only logical thing he could.

He slipped the poison of the Night Star blossom into his father's tea to make it appear his father passed away from cardiac arrest. The prince then ascended to the throne and used his new authority to bring peace to his city and introduce logic to his people."

"You tell that story to children?" Scharr said aghast.

"It is quite appropriate when you divorce yourself from the emotional connotations, Mr. Scharr."

"Are you suggesting we poison Grigsby and Hardnett, T'les?" Alex asked nervously.

"No, Doctor," T'les said calmly. "But I am suggesting we make their deaths appear accidental. Only then will Starfleet not pursue action against us."

"Remind me never to cross a Vulcan…" Phil said collapsing back into his chair.

"That is a wise decision, Phil," T'les said with an expression that was almost a hint of a smile.
Chapter 5 by captaintigranian
Stardate: 53326.0

Neral, Praetor of the Romulan Empire, stood rigidly and stared into Selonia's eyes.

"When will I see you again, my wife?"

"Soon, Husband," Selonia said adjusting the collar of her dress in a manner that caused his breath to quicken. She slowly stepped towards him and batted her eyes. "But I still have work here. Remember, our plan is not yet completed. We have removed our external enemies, but now we must consolidate our strength within the Empire itself."

"But is this the way?" he asked with great concern. "The Empire has long moved past the blood lust of our ancestors. The Senate will not share your obsession with reintroducing the old customs."

"Oh, Husband," Selonia said taking a final step towards him and running her right hand gently towards the point of his ear. "Lust is the most deeply held of Romulan virtues. It is what separates us from our cold, weak, impotent Vulcan cousins. It is what fuels our cunning, our drive to dominate and conquer. It is what causes our green blood to boil towards ultimate victory…" She leaned forward and let her lips brush against his. He gasped as he reached up to run his fingers through her long, blonde hair. Just as he reached forward to pull her into his grasp, she stepped away, leaving him gasping for more.

"Remember that passion, Husband. Use it to attract the Senators and their wives we discussed to Dacen next week. Leave it to me, and I will remind them what it means to be Romulan as well."

Neral's face parsed as he realized how his young wife was manipulating him, but he had come this far. He wouldn't dare turn back now.

"And what then, Wife? I will be known as the Praetor who sent the Empire into its worst war in history."

"Oh no, My Love," Selonia said with her trademark grin. "You will be remembered as Neral Augustus, the greatest Romulan to ever live. I have already proven that I can break the most defiant of those who would stand against us. Tigranian is but a preview of what is yet to come.

With the Senators and their Legions united behind you, we will sail to Qo'noS and slaughter the Noble Houses. The common, Klingon dogs will greet us as liberators and then we will rule the Beta Quadrant. Then, with our new Klingon auxiliaries acting as shock troops, our squadrons will crush the Federation. Cardassia will fall by default, then the Breen will bow down. Finally, our legionnaires will strip the latinum from the Ferengi Tower of Commerce and lay it in tribute at your feet. Even the Borg will fear you! The stars will become 'Galaxy Nostrum."

Imagine it, Husband: your visage, carved in marble fifty meters high, gazing out over San Francisco Bay. For eternity, it will remind the humans, Vulcans, and their rabble that they forever kneel in the direction of Romulus."

"You certainly have an imagination, Wife," Neral said with unease as he still attempted to get his baser instincts under control.

"I prefer to call it 'vision' My Love," Selonia said feigning bashfulness as she curled one of her golden locks around her finger. "And I promise, as our enemies' blood spills into the icy vacuum of space, I will stand beside you the entire time."

She could see his discomfort and walked back to his embrace. She allowed him to wrap his arms around her.

"We will become gods as we seize the heavens together…" she whispered in his ear before planting a kiss on his lips. Then, she pulled away again.

"But the first step is convincing our guests to come here for a demonstration of what a domesticated alien truly looks like."

"Yes, Wife," Neral said finally acquiescing to Selonia's wishes.

"Good!" Selonia said with another one of her childish smiles. "Now, if things continue to proceed as planned, I will return to Romulus within the month, and we will finish where we left off…"

Neral smiled.

"My love to you, Wife."

"And mine to you, Husband. Cease Transmission."

The holographic projection of Neral disappeared and Selonia shivered with revulsion. Even though Neral's touch was only a simulation of photons and forcefields, it still caused her skin to crawl. The creature had lusted after her since she was a child, and her own family encouraged it to get closer to the Praetor's chamber.

She simultaneously pushed the bile down in her throat while also suppressing the memories of her father, Senator Vreenak, leading her by the hand into the sunroom of her clan's country villa. Neral would wait for her there with spiced wine and fruit while his actual wife and child remained in Ki Baratan. When she cried to her mother, the woman who birthed her merely referred to it as, "the curse of beauty," and brushed it aside. Selonia shed no tears when she died. As to her father, if the Dominion hadn't murdered Vreenak, she might have done it herself when she was old enough.

Once the galaxy was hers, she greatly anticipated the elderly Neral's untimely death. With the Senate wrapped around her fingers, it should be no issue for her to be named Praetor in his place.

Selonia pushed open the doors and walked out into the courtyard of the Seranius' villa.

"Vrixia! Seranius!" she called with excitement. Her friend rushed forward with her husband right behind her.

"Is it set?" Vrixia asked grabbing Selonia's hands in hers.

"It is," Selonia replied with a grin. "Your home will host the most exclusive gathering in the Empire: twenty of the most influential Senators, their consorts, and their entourages. Your name will be spoken across all the Romulan stars with reverence."

"We have so much to prepare!" Vrixia said flushing green with excitement. "Everything must be perfect, Seranius."

"Worry not about a thing, my friends," Selonia said. "Order delicacies from across the stars. Buy the best slaves for dancing and entertainment from every market you can find. Ensure only the best gold, silver, latinum, and china is presented and bill everything to the Praetor's accounts. This is my gift to you all."

"You are truly the most righteous of Romulan sisters," Vrixia said nearly jumping up and down.

"Oh," Selonia said beginning to walk around the courtyard. She examined the large fountain with a flat, marble stage raised in its center. "This is to help us both. We will remind the leadership of Romulus what they could have again. We will have slave girls dancing in the fountains here," she said pointing into the water. "Then, after the main meal is served, we will showcase your gladiators' talents on this stage. Pick a pair of your best to fight to the death for our guests' entertainment."

"It will be done, all of it!" Seranius said obediently.

"Of course it will," Selonia said turning towards the veranda overlooking the training pit.

"Then, as a culmination to the evening, we will present our greatest prize. We will show them all even the most obstinate of opponents will eventually bow to Romulan superiority. He will be ready, will he not?"

She walked out towards the veranda with Seranius and Vrixia in tow.

"Yes, My Lady," Seranius said keeping pace. "The reports I have received indicate that he is finally starting to mesh with the training program. He works quite hard and is getting along well with the other gladiators."

"Excellent," Selonia said gazing down on the gladiators training in the pit beneath. Her eyes found Tigranian. "I look forward to showing him off."

On the sands below, Tigranian could feel Selonia's eyes gazing down on him. He suppressed the rage and disgust he felt and continued to focus on helping Rellas and Tulan work on a spear versus sword sparring match.

"Good Tulan," Tigranian said leaning forward again to examine the boy's technique. "Remember his reach is longer, so you must stay firmly planted. Parry his thrusts and wait for an opening to close."

Onorok was cooperating with the captain's tutelage today, providing guidance to Rellas. He actually felt that he and Tigranian were starting to become quite a pair, each serving the ludus in their own way.

"Yes! Keep the spear moving! He will try to get underneath you, so you must anticipate his motion. Watch his shoulders. They will betray his next attack."

"Careful, Onorok," Tigranian said with a grin. "If you keep coaching Rellas that way, you might actually be able to create a student who can defeat someone I teach."

Onorok laughed.

"You can fight, Human, but your skill in the arena will never match your arrogance."

"Some call it arrogance, I call it confidence!" Tigranian suddenly shouted at Tulan. "Now, boy! Strike!"

Tulan dipped down and grabbed the shaft of Rellas' weapon, pulling it from his grasp. The boy placed his blade at his opponent's throat, ending the match.

"Haha! Excellent, young one," Tigranian said grabbing Tulan around his shoulders and tussling his hair.

"Gladiators! Attention!" the voice of a guard echoed through the pit. Seranius entered, flanked by two Romulan enforcers. Training stopped as everyone gazed upon the master of the ludus, out of place among them in his pompous, expensive robes.

"Onorok," Seranius said beckoning his instructor forward.

"Yes Master," he replied bowing his head.

"The house will play host to a great feast in the coming days. Our patron demands a match to appease her guests and she will have it."

"Yes Master," Onorok said obediently. "I will begin evaluating the gladiators for our best…"

"No, Onorok," Seranius said raising his hand. "This match is a blood match, guaranteed to end in death. We cannot spare our best destined for the arena. These two you were coaching will do quite nicely."

Rellas and Tulan exchanged glances as they realized one would be executed at the hand of other for the satisfaction of the Romulans.

"Master!" Tigranian said feigning submission to gain Seranius' attention. "I volunteer!" If someone was going to die, it might as well be him and not his new companions.

"No, Human," Seranius said. "Your owner has special plans for you. These two are merely the evening's entertainment." Rellas planted his spear into the sand as the color drained from his face. Tulan looked equally disturbed.

As Seranius turned to leave, Onorok took a step in his direction.

"Master…" the instructor said. "Do we think it wise to sacrifice fighting stock in an exhibition match? Surely your guests would be happy with a spirited bout that ends with life?"

Seranius turned and puffed his chest out.

"Remember your place, Onorok!" he said angrily. "If this match goes well, we will gain enough money and prestige to buy a hundred gladiators that will put these two to shame. Our Lady demands death and she will have it!

Question me again, and I will remind you that you a merely a slave in this house as well by taking the place of one of these two."

Seranius haughtily turned and exited the pit with this guards. When the Romulan turned his back, Tigranian took a step towards him, but the hand of Tulan on his wrist stayed him.

"No, Son of Tigranian, you must live to bring hope to others. Our fate is sealed," he whispered.

A defeated and dejected Onorok took a deep breath before placing a supportive hand on Rellas' shoulder. In the decades he had served this ludus, Seranius had never addressed him in such a way. Tigranian walked over and stared into the instructor's face.

"Now, do you see? They are not worth your loyalty," Tigranian said angrily.

"The pointed-ears care nothing of our loyalty to them, Terran. They only want obedience. Remember that."

Tigranian looked around the pit at the other gladiators, now staring at him.

"How could I forget?" he said balling his fists at his sides.
Chapter 6 by captaintigranian
Bolarus Sector: Federation Approaches to Romulan Neutral Zone

Stardate: 53326.1

Annabeth walked quickly through the corridors with Lieutenant Cevastei trying to keep up.

"We picked him up ten minutes ago, adrift in a Klingon escape pod. He wasn't exactly cooperative and we had to beam straight into the brig."

"Hopefully you didn't have to stun him into unconsciousness," Annabeth said with a little concern.

"No, Ma'am. He's wide awake, but I can't guarantee he'll answer any of your questions."

As the pair approached the outside doors of the Venture's brig, Annabeth turned back towards her Chief of Security.

"Don't worry, Emma," Annabeth said with a grin. "He'll answer my questions or I'll make sure his stay onboard is even less pleasant than that escape pod."

The doors parted and the women stepped inside. Two security officers were staring at the forcefield as a very agitated Ferengi paced back and forth inside the holding cell, cursing and throwing obscene gestures in a medic's direction.

"This is out outrageous!" the Ferengi said. "I demand to be seen by a real medical professional and given better treatment than this! I thought the Federation embraced the concept of Universal Rights, Justice, and those detained were innocent until proven guilty. So let me out of this cage…"

"Please, hold still so I can get a better reading," the medic said adjusting his tricorder. "We treated your injuries, but I have to see if you have any other lingering issues…"

"I told you, hew-man, I demand…"

"YOU ARE IN A POSITION TO DEMAND NOTHING!" Annabeth screamed.

This immediately silenced her new guest. The two security officers stepped aside and let their captain approach the forcefield.

"What is his condition?" she asked.

"Two bruised clavicles and a bit of dehydration. I was going to conduct further scans, but as you can see, he's not exactly helpful, Ma'am."

Annabeth nodded before turning back towards the cell.

"I am Captain Annabeth Geist of the Federation starship, Venture. You are Berat Childar, known hacker, wanted in six separate jurisdictions for computer espionage, theft, and cyber-crime. If you don't want me to put you back in that escape pod and shoot it towards the Romulan Empire, you will answer every question I have…."

"Captain Geist," Childar began, "I happen to know that once a foreign national such as myself requests asylum, you are required by Federation law to consider their request…."

"I haven't heard any request for asylum."

"Well, I request asylum now."

"I've just considered it. Denied. The Federation has active warrants for your arrest, but we also have extradition agreements with both the Klingons and the Romulans. Your final disposition will be up to a Federation magistrate to decide. However, if you cooperate fully, I might be persuaded to put in a good word for you."

Childar paused.

"What do you want to know?"

"I want to know everything you know about the activities of a certain, young Bajoran woman named Tigranian Laria."

The color drained out of Childar's face and he collapsed back onto the padded bunk behind him.

"I just can't catch a break with females lately."

"I know she captured you on Nimbus III over thirty light-years from here. Do you mind telling me why she brought you towards Romulan space?"

"Rule of Acquisition Number 135: Listen to secrets, but never repeat them, Captain."

"I happen to know a few of the Rules of Acquisition myself, Mr. Childar. Rule Number 125: You can't make a deal if you're dead. That is exactly what will happen if anyone but the Federation takes you into custody. Don't push me, Ferengi. Where is Tigranian Laria?"

"I don't know, Captain," Childar said shaking his head. "All I know is that she kidnapped me, forced me to hack into the Tal Shiar's database. When she apparently found what she was looking for, she ordered her Klingon goons to shoot me into space."

Annabeth took a step back.

"Is it possible? Did she find him?" Annabeth muttered to herself.

"Have you ever been in a Klingon escape pod, Captain Geist? It is smaller than a coffin, hotter than the Trishnathi Desert at high noon…"

"Shut up," Annabeth said trying to gather her thoughts.

"The only things to eat are dehydrated packs of worms packed in powdered blood…"

"I said shut up!" Annabeth shouted, finally silencing her annoying companion. "Where were you when you hacked into the Tal Shiar database?"

"On board her ship in the Neutral Zone. We found a Romulan communications buoy around Alpha Onias that I used to gain access to their network."

"That means she might already have crossed into Romulan Space," Annabeth said tensing her jaw and staring down at the floor.

"I hope she's not that foolish for your sake. One Klingon bird of prey versus the entire Romulan Navy isn't exactly a winning proposition, but she did appear to be that crazy."

"Lieutenant Cevastei," Annabeth said turning towards her officer.

"Yes, Ma'am?"

"Keep him in the brig. We'll hold him until we can turn him over to Federation Security."

"Yes, Ma'am," Cevastei replied. Annabeth turned to leave the brig when Childar called out after her one more time.

"Captain Geist?"

"What?" Annabeth asked exasperated.

"I don't know what or who your little friend was looking for, but it was apparently more precious to her than the Grand Negus' life savings. I saw her kill ten people with my own eyes on Nimbus III and I think she's willing to kill a hell of a lot more if someone gets in her way. It might be better to let the Romulans handle the situation for you."

Annabeth turned back towards Childar and glared at him.

"Understand one thing, Ferengi. I know Tigranian Laria and I know who she's looking for. Yes, he is that precious to her…and he means a lot to me as well. If you so much as breathe in a way that disrespects her again, I'll personally beam you into vacuum."

Childar quieted down as Annabeth headed back towards the bridge.
Chapter 7 by captaintigranian
Ludus Gladiatorum of House Cronenii: Dacen Prime, Romulan Empire

Tigranian stood alone in his cell once more, the events of the day weighing heavily on his mind. Every single time he felt like maybe he could rise above his cursed existence, Selonia managed to remind him of how little dignity he had left.

Either Rellas or Tulan would die soon, and there was nothing he could do to stop it. Worse yet, Seranius said that Selonia had special plans for him. Would he have to face an opponent himself? Would he have to fight another brother-gladiator? Maybe Selonia merely wanted to parade him in front of her guests like some sick prize. In any case, Tigranian wanted no part of it. However, unless he somehow found a way to raise sword against her between now and that evening, it would be as inevitable as the rising dawn.

Tigranian paced back and forth across the dirt floor of his cell, the walls feeling even more claustrophobic than usual on this dark night. Emotions ran through his body, charging him like a lightning rod.

"I want nothing but their green blood flowing over my hands!" his soul screamed from inside his chest, but his mind knew that any hope of victory was futile. Even if he somehow managed to acquire enough weapons to arm his would-be army of slaves, the Romulan guards would cut them down like blades of grass in a hurricane with their particle weapons.

On the verge of tears of rage, he collapsed onto his knees and stared up at the stone ceiling overhead. The light from the burning wall sconces danced across its surface. He ran his fingers through his mangy head of dark hair, and took a breath. He yearned to hear Laria's voice speaking to him, telling him to stay strong, but just as Rellas had warned, his wife's words were nowhere to be found tonight.

There was only one left who could possibly help, even though he would laugh at the pleas of a fallen warrior.

"What else can I do?" Tigranian whispered as he felt his finger move to the ground. Slowly, he traced the tIq ghob in the sand in front of him. When it's comforting form calmed his eyes, he rose onto one knee and began to pray:

"Kahless the Unforgettable, source of all honor and glory, I know I have no right to speak your name aloud. I am a dishonored man, living a pathetic captive's existence. I have been unable to fulfill my oath to die. Instead, I live as a slave to my enemies. I deserve neither your mercy, nor your grace. Though, I beseech you, in your holy name, save those who I now suffer with.

They have not known your love or your honor. They did not choose this existence. They yearn to live and breathe as free men and women, striving forward towards your pure warrior ideals. Open their hearts and minds. Give them the means to fight and win against their oppressors. Lead them towards your eternal salvation! Give them victory, for I have seen their spirit and they are worthy of it!

If I have served you at all with honor in the past, make me your instrument in this noble quest. With fist, blade, or disruptor, give me the ability to strike back! Let my skill be of use for something more than the pleasure of honorless bIHnuchpu'. Let my hands taste the bile of my enemies one final time!

Even, if it costs the worthless existence of my life, I would gladly face Gre'thor and all the demons of Fek'lhr's hordes to make it so. For there is no greater dishonor, no greater shame, that I may face in this life or the next than to sit and do nothing while good men are slaughtered.

Send down your warrior angels, your Valkyries, from Sto'Vo'Kor and across the River of Blood. Have them ride forth on their wingeds'tarahkmey and guide our blades into the hearts of the Romulan beasts…"

Tigranian looked back towards the ceiling. He beseeched the heavens, hoping for even the smallest sign that his prayers were heard. However, only the agonizing quiet of his surroundings answered him.

He looked down again. Selonia's brand caught his eyes and his heart fell.

"No," he said shaking his head. "My pathetic prayers are not worth your consideration…"

He reached down to the ground and wiped away the symbol of his lost empire. The Heart of Virtue's valiant ability to rally the righteous around it, its deep symbolism of hope and glory, was lost to him forever.

With the last bit of energy left in his tired limbs, he crawled onto his wooden plank-bed and lay down. He closed his eyes and let the subterranean darkness wrap around him like a cold shroud. He felt like a discarded corpse left to rot away under the earth.

"I offered to Kahless to face Fek'lhr and all his demons when, in reality, I already have and failed…" Tigranian thought to himself. "This place is hell, and Selonia is the mistress of all the underworld's torments."
Chapter 8 by captaintigranian
Bolarus Sector: Federation Approaches to Romulan Neutral Zone

Stardate: 53326.2

Annabeth leaned forward in her chair and stared down at the blank PADD in front of her. She owed her daily report to Admiral Wainwright, but somehow was unable to put words to screen. She gazed up at the activity on the bridge.

Cevastei was busying herself at the tactical station on the arch behind her. Soloth was tormenting poor Rutaan at the helm, lecturing her on some minute course correction that would be more efficient, but in the end would only shave a few seconds off her previously chartered heading.

Annabeth couldn't get Childar's words out of her head. Had Laria really found the captain? It had been over a month since the funeral, and logically there was no way he was still alive. If Alex's experiences with the Romulans were any indicator, he would have been tortured for information until he broke, and then once he had nothing useful left to confess, he would be either executed or worked to death. She clenched her eyes shut.

"Alex…" she thought to herself. Just thinking of what those green-blooded barbarians did to her wife made her stomach heave. "No, not on the bridge. Keep your composure here. The crew needs to see it."

Her mind drifted back to Laria: alone, wandering the stars, fighting battle after battle to be reunited with her lost husband. It would be tremendously romantic if it weren't so utterly tragic. Even if the Bajoran was somehow able to make it across the Romulan border, she would stand alone against the entire Romulan fleet.

In her grief at Alex's capture, Annabeth once thought such reckless action was possible, but it was Tigranian himself who stopped her from going after Alex.

She shut her eyes again and remembered:

"What other choice do I have, Dan?...The Federation abandoned her."

She was standing in the Pershing's shuttlebay again, her captain pleading with her to lay down her arms and trust him.

"I'm just so scared, Dan. I can't lose her. I can't."

"Call the bridge. Ask them what our current heading is," Tigranian replied to her with the confident, reassuring tone of a brother.

"Geist to Duty officer…What's our current heading?"

"Ma'am, Captain Tigranian just ordered us to set course for the Romulan Neutral Zone. We'll arrive there in 68 hours, present course and speed." He seemed so sure of himself, so resolved to return Alex to her arms.

"Before they took her away, I told her this wasn't over," he said with the will to fight.

"What are you going to do?" Annabeth remembered asking with more trepidation than she wanted at the time.

"Whatever it takes."

And he meant it. Daniel Tigranian risked everything to get Alex back: his ship, his career, even his life, just for the chance that Annabeth could hold her wife again.

"Captain…Captain!" Cevastei's words jarred her from her mind.

"Yes, what is it, Emma?" Annabeth said shaking herself back to reality.

"We're being hailed…" Cevastei said with more than a little confusion in her voice.

"From where?" Annabeth said furrowing her own brow. The nearest vessel was over five lightyears away, well out of the range of hailing frequencies. Soloth's ears perked up and he crossed back towards his chair.

"I don't know, Ma'am," the tactical officer replied.

"What do you mean, 'you don't know?" Soloth asked.

"I mean, 'I don't know,' Sir. Every time I try to get a fix on the transmission, the computer freezes and resets."

"Curious…" Soloth said with more than hint of frustration. However, Annabeth immediately knew who was on the other end of the signal.

"Emma, open hailing frequencies. Onscreen."

"Ma'am?"

"It'll be alright."

Cevastei compiled. The image of the back of a Klingon captain's chair appeared in front of them. Slowly, it turned around and the face of Tigranian Laria stared back at her. The rest of the bridge gasped as Annabeth slowly climbed to her feet.

"Captain Geist," Laria said with a nod of her head, "I am Captain Tigranian Laria of the Klingon Bird of Prey, Dri'goth. I should have known you would be the one to figure out where I was really going."

"I know you very well, Little Sister," Annabeth said with a smile. The rest of the Venture's bridge watched their exchange in stunned silence. "I suppose it would be worthless to trace your signal."

"You suppose correctly. I've shielded the carrier wave with so many levels of quantum encryption, I doubt my own ship knows where it's coming from."

"But, if I know you, you're VERY close."

"I'll put it like this," Laria replied with a grin so large it made the braids on the sides of her head bounce. "I wouldn't make any sudden movements. Both for your sake and mine."

"Shields up!" Soloth shouted. "Ready a tachyon burst from the main deflector to detect cloaked vessels. Prepare a tractor beam…"

"Belay that order!" Annabeth shouted over her shoulder. "If I want your help, Mr. Soloth, I will ask for it…" she said through gritted teeth. Soloth silently took his seat.

"I see that your new first officer is just as protective of his commander as you once were, Annabeth. Hopefully, he'll learn to trust Klingon surprises as much as you have."

"I still don't trust all Klingon surprises, L," Annabeth said. "Just yours." Annabeth paused, readying herself to ask the question on her mind. However, Laria knew her friend well enough to answer first.

"I found him, Annabeth. He's alive."

"I should have known," Annabeth replied shaking her head. "Death hasn't been able to catch a Tigranian yet."

"I'm sending the details to your personal account now."

"Why?" Annabeth asked.

"Because I know you as well, Big Sister. You would never let family go into the lion's den alone. It's in your blood."

"Laria, if you know where he is, tell Starfleet! He got Alex back through diplomatic channels. We can get your husband back the same way. I'll lobby command on your behalf. There's nothing that's been done we can't fix."

"I can't do that, Annabeth. Too many people on Earth would rather see Daniel spend the rest of his life in captivity than admit the Romulans got the better of Starfleet. Besides, it's personal now.

I'm heading across the border. If you can't follow, I understand, but don't try to stop me."

"And if I do decide to follow?" Annabeth blurted out the words before she had a chance to stop herself.

"Give me just enough time to get him out of there and then come in with phasers charged. Remember, the Romulans don't exactly like you either."

"The feeling's mutual…"

"Goodbye, Annabeth. You will always be my family. If I don't see you again, be sure you give Alex a hug for me."

"Laria…" Annabeth said fighting back tears. "Qapla', Daughter of Amira."

"Qapla', Daughter of Geist."

The screen went blank and the Venture once again found itself alone.

Annabeth didn't even hesitate.

"Rutaan, Cevastei…"

"Yes, Ma'am?" The pair said in almost perfect unison.

"You're with me."

Rutaan pushed back from the helm and joined Cevastei next to the aft turbolift. Annabeth turned to follow, but Soloth interjected.

"Captain," he asked sternly. "What are you doing?"

"Out there is a man who saved someone I love when no one else would. Now he's waiting for someone to come save him. His wife is already on the way. I intend to join her."

"Ma'am," Soloth continued. "Might I remind you have an obligation to Starfleet Command and this ship? Taking your crew members aboard a Klingon vessel, violating the Neutral Zone, is not only against your orders to detain Lieutenant Tigranian, it is illegal."

"I don't need you to remind me of a damn thing, Soloth. Besides, I'm not going aboard Laria's ship…"

"Do you really mean to tell me that you are putting this ship at risk for a man who might not even be alive?"

"I'm not putting this ship at risk, Mr. Soloth," Annabeth said in an increasingly agitated tone. "I'm going to put half this ship at risk. Your orders are to evacuate all non-essential personnel to the saucer section. Once we separate, you will proceed at maximum impulse towards Starbase 10. If you signal Starfleet Command, they will be able to send a pair of warp tugs to recover you in less than two days. You can make whatever the hell report you want. I don't really care."

"Captain, I am afraid I cannot allow you to do this. If you proceed, I will be forced to take you into custody and charge you with dereliction of duty, disobeying Starfleet General Orders, and theft of Federation property."

"Try and stop me," Annabeth said turning back towards the open doors of the turbolift.

"Very well!" Soloth shouted. "By authority of Starfleet Order 104: Section C, I relieve you of command. Lieutenant Cevastei, place the captain into custody."

Annabeth looked over to her lieutenant. The Chief of Security did not move.

"Lieutenant!" Soloth said more forcefully. Still no response.

"There is a Starfleet officer, one who has been recognized for valor and heroism on too many occasions to count, being held captive by the Romulans. God knows what hell they are putting him through as we speak," Annabeth announced to the bridge. "Using my authority as captain, I am going to mount a rescue mission. However, this is in direct violation of our orders and no one is obligated to follow me. If you object, I will note it in my log and you will be free to remain with Commander Soloth in the saucer section. If you wish to follow…" she said turning to Rutaan and Cevastei, "…head below."

The two officers stepped into the turbolift without another word. Soloth turned absolutely green, using all his Vulcan discipline to suppress his growing rage. Annabeth grinned as she joined her helmsman and tactical officer.

"Commander Soloth," she added before the doors closed. "There's something I've always wanted to say to you…"

"Yes, Captain?" he said scowling in her direction.

"You suck as a first officer." He took a step backwards in surprise.

"Battle Bridge!" Annabeth commanded the computer. She held back laughter as the doors closed.

The turbolift doors parted and Annabeth and her skeleton bridge crew stepped onto the Battle Bridge, the smaller auxiliary control center deep inside the drive section of the Venture. It was a space designed for combat, not exploration. Cevastei and Rutaan took their stations, powered them on, and prepared for separating the ship into two halves.

Annabeth took her seat and began initializing the tactical display on her armrest.

"Ma'am," Cevastei called out from the station behind her. "Engineering reports they are at minimum manning, but still mission capable."

"Have all excess personnel been evacuated to the saucer?"

"Yes, Ma'am," Rutaan called out. "All decks report ready."

"Initiate separation sequence," Annabeth said leaning back and looking at the viewscreen. "Ten seconds from my mark."

"Aye, Ma'am," Rutaan called out.

"This is your last warning, Ma'am," Soloth spoke through the intercom. "It is not too late for you to reconsider."

"Mark," Annabeth said muting his audio.

Rutaan made a final check of her instruments.

"Separation in six, five, four, three, two, one..."

The magnetic interlocks holding the Venture's saucer to the neck of her drive section disengaged. The saucer gently rose away and continued towards the Federation at full impulse.

"Alea iacta est…" Annabeth muttered. "Red Alert! Full power to phasers, load all photon torpedo tubes. Shields up. All remaining hands, battlestations!"

Alarms echoed across the drive section.

"Set course 090 Mark 24. Warp 8. We're heading straight for those Romulan assholes," Annabeth commanded.

"Course laid in, Ma'am," Rutaan replied as she steadied herself at the helm.

"Engage," Annabeth said tugging at the bottom of her uniform jacket sharply.

The drive section came about and warped into the Neutral Zone…

TO BE CONTINUED…
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