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Starfleet Headquarters: San Francisco, Earth

Two security guards escorted Tigranian into an empty hall deep inside the Archer Building. A raised platform supported a long, wooden table with ten places. Admiral Paris sat in the middle with Admiral Murphy directly to his right. The other eight spots were taken up with various senior leaders of Starfleet. Not a single one of them was below the rank of Vice Admiral.

"Thank you, Gentlemen," Paris said with a nod. "Please wait outside. We will call you if you are required."

"Sir," the senior guard said very concerned. "If he tries something…"

"I assure you," Paris said with a calm smile, "we may look old, but there's plenty of seasoned fighters sitting in this room. Besides, Captain Tigranian knows better than to put up a struggle, right?"

"Yes, Sir," Tigranian said snapping to attention.

"See, it will be fine," Paris said.

"Roger Sir," the guard said motioning for his companion. "We will be in the corridor."

Once the pair departed, Tigranian saluted.

"Captain Daniel Tigranian reporting as ordered to the Chief of Operations."

Paris returned his salute before rising to his feet. Murphy accompanied him as they walked around the table directly to Tigranian's front.

"At Ease, Captain," Paris said extending a handshake. "Well done. Not many people could have made it out of Romulan Space alive."

"Thank you, Sir," Tigranian said firmly grabbing Paris' outstretched palm. "It was my crew. As always, they performed beyond all expectations."

"Welcome back, Dan," Murphy said placing a hand on Tigranian's shoulder. "I would say you have nine lives, but you've used a least eight of them already."

"Roger, Sir," Tigranian replied, "I'll remember to be more cautious with the last one."

"We both know that's not true," Murphy said with a chuckle. "The good news is we've been monitoring Romulan transmissions with our listening posts. They seem to have bought the story about your court martial. They're pulling their ships back deeper into their territory."

"We'll see if they still buy it when I suddenly appear back on the bridge of the Pershing like nothing happened," Tigranian said with a hint of concern.

"Admiral Yoshizaki?" Paris said turning towards his Chief of Intelligence.

"We've already put together an official communique stating that though you acted without official sanction, you were exonerated of all charges based on new evidence you revealed to us. We'll transmit it out as part of our regular secret intelligence briefs to the fleet. We know the Romulans monitor those. It's our hope they'll drive themselves crazy trying to figure out exactly what 'evidence' we're referring to."

"Ma'am," Tigranian replied. "I have to admit, that is a level of deviousness that even Praetor Neral himself could respect."

"Thank you…" Yoshizaki said cautiously, not sure if it was meant as a compliment or an insult.

"Regardless," Paris said walking back with Murphy to take their seats. "I want to hear your report on the state of these rebel slaves. Do you believe they can really be an asset in our efforts to bring about change in the Romulan regime?"

"Not only do I believe that they are an asset, Sir, they are essential to the cause."

"Really?" Paris said leaning back in his chair and steepling his fingers. "Do tell, Captain."

"I met with their leadership council on an asteroid in the Pomparath Nebula. They are far more dedicated to liberating their peoples and much more organized than we previously believed. In a shocking twist of events, they have the direct support of a Romulan Senator who claims he's been part of the dissident movement for years."

"A Senator?" Murphy said in shock.

"Was his name Trallian?" Yoshizaki asked.

"Yes," Tigranian said very surprised.

"Admiral," Paris said turning towards her. "Do you mean to tell me that Starfleet Intelligence was aware of a dissident in the Romulan Senate and failed to inform any of the rest of us?"

"We only suspected, Sir," Yoshizaki replied evasively. "We keep tabs on the movements of senior Romulan officials trying to identify any unusual patterns. His have caught our eye in the past."

"I hope the Romulans haven't conducted a similar analysis," Murphy said. "Otherwise, this could all be for nothing."

"Doubtful Pete," Yoshizaki shook her head. "We only came to these conclusions based on corroboration from other several other deep cover sources."

"In any case," Tigranian continued, "They have agreed to limit their targets to only military sources in exchange for two things."

"And those are?" Admiral Rawlings, Chief of Fleet Management, asked nervously.

"The freedom to select their own objectives based on our intel and materiel and logistical support."

"The second is a given," Paris said with a furrowed brow. "The first might be a problem."

"Why do you say that, Sir?" Tigranian said.

"Because, Mr. Tigranian," Paris replied curtly. "If they choose the wrong target and a Federation weapons signature is discovered, it will be damned hard to explain any innocent casualties."

"Sir," Tigranian said shaking his head. "I guarantee that they won't go along with this if we treat them as subordinates rather than partners."

"Then we don't go along with this," Admiral Jenkins, Chief of Starfleet Logistics, said plainly. "We're already on thin ice as it is based on Prime Directive Concerns."

Paris sighed.

"We're already well past Prime Directive Concerns, Oliver," Paris replied shaking his head. "We're knee deep in Romulan internal affairs and actively hiding it. I'm inclined to agree with Captain Tigranian's assessment, risky as it is."

"If it means anything, Sir, I reminded them that if they wish to achieve their ultimate objective of joining with the Klingon Empire, they must act in a manner that the Klingons respect."

"The annexation question…" Paris said looking down at the table. "That is another dimension completely. Well, I can't control what they do, but if Martok recognizes their request, I won't recommend that President Zife or the Council try to block it."

I also promised, Rellas, one of their leaders I would deliver a message to you on his behalf, Sir," Tigranian said.

The Admirals exchanged piqued glances. Paris nodded for him to proceed.

"Whatever this council chooses," Tigranian said. "The Soldiers of Akarath want, as he put it, 'deeds not words.' They want real action on the Federation's part, not political posturing."

Some of the Admirals looked perturbed at the suggestion that Starfleet wouldn't fulfill a bargain in good faith, but Paris seemed more receptive.

"Mr. Tigranian," he said leaning back and looking the captain in the face. "I promise that we will not enter any agreement that we do not intend to live up to. Do they have the advanced communications array?"

"Yes Sir," Tigranian replied. "I had my team deliver it. The council is awaiting your signal."

"Well," Paris said looking to both sides of the table. "I think you have given us much to discuss. Once we have our answer, we'll let them know. I would also like for you to be present when we contact them."

"Yes Sir," Tigranian nodded. "I think that would be appropriate."

At that moment, all hell broke loose. Alarms echoed through the entirety of Starfleet Command. Paris tapped his comm badge.

"Central Control, this is the COO. Report!"

"Sir, a Klingon attack cruiser just decloaked in low orbit right over San Franscisco. I'm detecting a transporter signature aimed right at the Archer Building. Section 178 Alpha, 3rd Floor."

The Admirals all exchanged terrified glances. That was their precise location. Before Paris could order a full lockdown, the sound of phaser fire erupted in the corridor followed by silence. Then, the doors burst apart as the two security guards came flying through the plastic and laminated fiberboard.

The pair stirred enough to let them the room's occupants know they were still alive. Behind them, loomed a massive Klingon holding a bat'leth in the crook of his arm. His long black mane showing hints of grey streaks. A sash of golden chain mail hung from his right shoulder to his left hip. On it were three crests in descending order: The Klingon Defense Force, the seal of the Planet Ty'Gokor, and the crest of his house. It was Torlek, Son of Ro'vagh. He stormed straight into the meeting room looking enraged.

"Someone at that table better explain to me why my brother is your prisoner," the General said gripping his K'vel'kar blade at the ready. "Otherwise, blood will flow."

"Torlek, My Lord, mev!" Tigranian said holding up his hands and stepping between him and the assembled brass of Starfleet.

"Governor Torlek!" Paris shouted. "This is not only an egregious treaty violation, it could be construed as an act of war!"

"So could keeping your closest ally in the dark for months before placing the blame on the Chief of the Klingon Defense Force's family!" Torlek said raising a finger so straight it looked to pierce steel. "Chancellor Martok was already growing weary of your games. When I heard that Daniel was arrested, it was the final straw."

"Torlek, I am not their prisoner…" Tigranian said trying to drain the bloodlust from his brother's eyes. "It was all a ruse. Something to trick the Romulans."

"WHAT?" Torlek shouted in reply. "Does he speak the truth?" Torlek turned back to the Admirals.

"Yes," Paris said collapsing back in his chair.

An entire platoon of Starfleet marines appeared at the shattered doors. When they saw Torlek, they readied their phaser rifles. Torlek spun around and raised his sword over his head.

"False Alarm!" Paris screamed at them while rubbing his eyes. "It's alright. Stand down, Lieutenant."

"But Sir! He's armed!" The marine platoon leader said not taking his eyes off of the Klingon officer.

"Go away, Lieutenant!" Paris commanded again. "Post guards at the corridors and watch for any other guests. In the meantime, we obviously have some things to discuss with our ally. Please take these two fine security officers with you and have them checked out by a medic."

"Yes Sir," he replied. The marines grabbed the semi-conscious guards and then backed away slowly, still not taking their eyes off of Torlek. He growled at them as they disappeared. Then, the general turned back around.

"This better begin to make sense…rapidly."

"I think we better let Captain Tigranian explain," Admiral Murphy told his peers.

"Very well," Paris acquiesced. "And then maybe my staff can tell me how a fully armed Klingon Warrior could beam straight into the heart of Starfleet Command so easily…" The other flag officers looked down into their laps and turned bright red.

"And don't you ever forget that we can!" Torlek replied.

"My Lord," Tigranian said still trying to calm him down. "The Klingon Empire has heard of the Soldiers of Akarath, correct?"

"The Romulans slaves who are foolish enough to believe the Empire will allow them to join us?" Torlek scoffed. "Of course."

"Well," Tigranian said taking a deep breath. "There's a lot more to them than you think, and you may want to reconsider their desire to join the Empire…"

Tigranian spent the next ten minutes laying everything out for Governor Torlek: his conversion of his fellow gladiators, his mission to find them, the proposal to create an alliance, and even his feigned arrest to cover Starfleet's tracks."

"So," Torlek said finally resting the tip of his bat'leth on the ground. "You're saying that I crossed half the galaxy and risked war with the Federation over a misunderstanding? That you have actually engaged in a covert operation that could not only significantly strengthen the Federation and Klingon Peoples, but also critically weaken our most dangerous rival?"

"Yes, Brother," Tigranian suspected what was about to happen. A grin crossed Torlek's face and he looked genuinely relieved.

"Very Good, Daniel. Very good."

Torlek balled his leather clad fist and struck Tigranian hard across the face. Blood poured from the captain's shattered nose and split lip as he fell in a heap to the floor.

"Governor Torlek!" Murphy said running from his chair to Tigranian's side, but Daniel waved him off.

"What was that?" Admiral Yoshizaki said in shock.

"Honorable reason or not," Torlek began, "for a Klingon warrior from a noble family to hide information so critical to the Empire from the head of his house is wrong."

"Don't worry, Admiral. This is normal." Tigranian slurred his words as he spit blood from his mouth, "If Governor Torlek was truly upset, my head would be rolling across the floor."

"Indeed," Torlek said calmly. "This will satisfy both Daniel's honor and mine."

In a flash, he grabbed Tigranian's left arm and snapped it in half. The sickening sound of crunching bone echoed through the Admiralty's ears. They gasped in horror as Tigranian again went down to the floor, writhing in pain.

"STOP THAT!" Paris screamed. "Captain Tigranian was obeying my orders when he failed to disclose the operation to you!"

"As Daniel said, Admiral Paris," Torlek said as Murphy leapt to Tigranian's side once more. "I am not upset, merely restoring order. The Chancellor will refuse to hear information gained in a dishonorable manner." Torlek pointed to the tIq ghob on his sash. "Duty, Honor, and Loyalty: all in perfect balance."

Tigranian looked up at Torlek and placed his right fist over his heart while cradling his shattered limb at his side.

"jIyajchu' joHwI'," Tigranian said fighting to maintain composure through the pain.

Torlek smiled as he knelt down to the captain's eye level.

"You bore that very well, Daniel, I am proud of you as always." He then rose to face the other officers. "I have a secure subspace link to Qo'nos on the HoS. I will brief the Chancellor on your operations and remain in orbit until he transmits a response. If Daniel is free to go, I request to have him and his staff as guests on my flagship this evening after your physicians make the necessary repairs."

The other Admirals were still in shock after the sight of his casual brutality.

"Captain Tigranian?" Admiral Paris asked skeptically.

"I would very much appreciate it, Sir," he was fast growing pale and started to shiver from shock as the adrenaline wore off.

"Very well," Paris said slowly taking his seat. "But if anyone asks, say it is an interrogation. We don't want our cover story to fly apart at the seams already. If anything, the Romulans will think we're sharing Tigranian's new evidence with the Klingons."

"Good!" Torlek said. "Qapla', Ladies and Gentlemen," he said before departing. Once he was out of earshot, Admiral Fletcher spoke up.

"Jesus, Owen!" he said to Paris holding back the rising bile in his throat. "They might be our allies, but they're also animals!"

"They're not only our allies, Jason, they're our best allies," Paris said rubbing his eyes again.

"I will never understand you, gagh-eater," Fletcher said looking back at the broken Captain Tigranian.

"You don't have to, Sir, but there is a very old saying about men like you: 'qagh Sopbe'"

"Just what the hell does that mean, Captain?" Fletcher replied angrily.

"It simply means it is better to eat gagh than the alternative," Tigranian winced as Murphy helped him get to his feet. "If you'd like a deeper cultural perspective, perhaps Admiral Yoshizaki's fine Klingon analysts would be willing to help…"

Fletcher turned to Yoshizaki who merely shrugged her shoulders in ignorance.

"Sir," Murphy grumbled. "I think he's getting delirious. Permission to get him to Medical?"

"Yes," Paris said so bemused that he was almost laughing. "Get him out of here. We've all had enough excitement for one day."

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