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Archer Building, Starfleet Headquarters: San Francisco, Earth

"Sir," the technician said from the communication control station. "We're receiving an encrypted signal."

"Open a channel," Paris said pushing his shoulders back. The screen in front of them crackled through static and then reassembled into an image of Rellas, Onorok, Lucretia, and Senator Trallian.

"You said you wanted to speak to us Starfleet," Rellas said confidently. "Well, we are here."

"Councilmembers, I am Admiral Owen Paris, Chief of Starfleet Operations. To my left, is Admiral Ume Yoshizaki, my Chief of Intelligence, and Admiral Oliver Jenkins, my Chief of Logistics. To my right is Admiral Peter Murphy and you already know Captain Tigranian."

"Son of Tigranian," Onorok said to the captain. "You certainly travel quickly. Already back on the comforts of your Earth…"

"Glad to see you're still in high spirits, Instructor…" Tigranian replied with a voice chill as ice.

"Captain Tigranian briefed us on your discussions with him," Admiral Paris continued. "and we are prepared to enter into the following agreement based on your demands:

We will collaborate on engaging military targets within the Romulan Star Empire that further our mutual objectives of destabilizing the regime. Also, you will provide us with any additional intelligence from your operations.

In return, we will provide supplies and medical support, both for your fighters and your civilians. We will also provide you with regular, updated intelligence briefings on Romulan forces outside your normal scope to give you greater awareness of your enemies."

"A very generous offer, Admiral," Trallian said with more than a bit of skepticism, "but I sense there is a catch…"

"Yes, there is," Murphy replied.

"If you intentionally harm any civilian or non-combatant," Paris said firmly, "consider any relationship between us terminated, and you will be treated as any other criminal element within the Star Empire."

Rellas exchanged uncomfortable glances with his fellow councilmembers.

"Forgive me, Admiral," the Gralluscan said turning back towards the screen, "but it seems that places all the power in your hands. We grow more dependent on you, but you can sever ties at any time."

"Or worse," Onorok interjected. "You could offer us to the Romulans as a bargaining chip."

"Admiral Paris," Lucretia said trying to de-escalate the growing tension. "You must understand the stakes. There is no going back for us. There is no chance of amnesty or parole. If we do not succeed, we will be tortured, humiliated, and crucified."

"Yes, all of us…" Trallian added as a reminder that he had thrown his lot in with the slaves.

"Ma'am," Admiral Murphy said, "I promise you that is not how the Federation functions. As Captain Tigranian said, these are real deeds not words."

"I wish I could believe that with more certainty…" Rellas said. "So far, all we have for proof of your intentions are a few cases of field rations and some power generators."

"Then what about the word of a Klingon officer?" Torlek said stepping in front of the screen. "You claim to follow the teachings of Kahless? That should be more than enough."

Rellas and Onorok jumped to their feet at the sight of his battle armor. It was at that moment, Tigranian realized that it was the first time either of them had spoken to an actual member of the Klingon species.

"I am General Torlek, Son of Ro'vagh, Commander of the Klingon Defense Forces and Lord Governor of the Military Fortress Planet of Ty'Gokor. Chancellor Martok is aware of your desire for annexation and has given me complete freedom to speak for the Empire. It is YOUR words and deeds that will now seal your fate in our eyes."

"Lord Torlek," Rellas replied. His entire demeanor had changed. It was if he finally found something he had been searching for all his life. "Then the Empire is willing to hear our case for membership?"

"We are willing to consider it…" Torlek said crossing his arms in front of his chest. "The Federation is a battle-tested ally of the Klingon Empire. You are not.

The fact that you doubt them, even now, gives us pause. Only those with dishonorable intentions have reason to doubt the honorable. Kahless said that."

"The Son of Tigranian said we would have to prove our worthiness to join you," Rellas acknowledged.

"Then take the Federation's offer. If you prove you can fight with Honor, the Empire will consider you allies as well. As Starfleet knows, we give all we have to our allies," Torlek said glancing back at the Admirals.

"As you wish, My Lord," Rellas said penitently. "I vote to adopt Admiral Paris' proposal."

"I vote 'yes' as well," Onorok added. "If it brings us closer to union with the Klingons, then it must be so."

Lucretia looked unconvinced. Tigranian knew that Torlek's word would be enough for the gladiators, but his plan to sway Lucretia had yet to arrive.

"Where is Laria?" he silently asked himself. Murphy and Paris both looked at him with anxious eyes.

"Gentlemen," Lucretia broke their concentration. "I do not wish to insult you, but I still am concerned. If warriors fail, they die with honor, but what of our women and our children?" she turned to Rellas and Onorok. "Do you expect them to die as well or merely return to slavery?"

"Madame Lucretia," Tigranian said respectfully. "I understand your concerns, but do you not think a new life is worth the risk?"

"You don't have children, do you Son of Tigranian?" she asked curtly. "It is much harder to gamble with their futures when you look into their eyes…"

At that moment, the doors at the rear of the hall opened and Laria stuck her head inside. Tigranian gave her a pleading look. She looked back at him with a smile.

"Hold that thought!" Tigranian said to Lucretia's image as he darted off screen. A few seconds later, he called out to the councilwoman.

"We have another guest for this discussion, Madame, but please excuse her if she's a little tired. She just got off an all-night transport and is still a bit warp lagged…"

He re-appeared with a young Elohsian at his side.

Lucretia froze and placed her hands over her face. A hundred light years away on Earth, Crestia looked up at the screen and smiled.

"Mother, when Lady Laria told me you were alive and free, I didn't believe it…"

"My daughter…" Lucretia finally spoke as tears formed in her eyes. "I never thought I would ever see you again." The elder Elohsian reached out and touched the transmitter. The others kept quiet as they let this long-awaited reunion play out.

"Nor I you…" Crestia replied. "Mother, Lady Laria told me about the decision you must make. If it helps, life in the Federation for me is more than I could have ever dreamed of. These are kindest, most generous people I have ever known. I cannot say if they speak the truth to you now, but they have never given me any cause to doubt them."

"What do you see in your child's eyes now, Madame?" Tigranian said. "Do you think it is worth the risk now?"

Lucretia steadied herself.

"Just promise me two things, that you will find a way to protect the families here, and my family there, Son of Tigranian."

"Admiral," Tigranian said over his shoulder. Paris knew what he was asking without him saying another word. He nodded his ascent.

"Madame Councilor," Tigranian said staring into her eyes. "Join together with us, and the Federation will always stand with you. That is my promise.

Wherever you fight so your people can eat, we will be there. Whenever a corrupt master tries to beat you into submission, we will be there. When you shout your war cries and when you comfort your children, we will be there. When you stand free on your own worlds in homes you have built with your own hands…we will be there."

Lucretia looked to Rellas and Onorok, obviously moved by Tigranian's impassioned vow.

"Then I agree as well."

"It seems my vote is irrelevant then," Trallian said with a deep breath. "It is rare that a member of the Imperial Senate gets to speak directly to Starfleet Command free from the monitoring of the Tal Shiar.

Therefore, let me make myself frank. Support for these people will severely damage your relations with the current leadership of the Empire, and that is a very good thing, Admiral. They are weak and they are scared. However, the weak and scared are often dangerous. You will have to fight. Not talk, not curtsy, not simper…YOU MUST FIGHT!

Use this relationship as a chance to help us build a new Romulus: a free and inclusive Romulus. Do not waiver out of fear or convenience as you did during the War with the Dominion. Show my colleagues in the Senate that the Federation and Klingon Empires are peoples of their principles, unlike their own leaders. Do that and you will eventually have a meaningful peace.

I, for my part, will continue to try to assist this movement in the Senate, as much as I can without compromising myself. I'm sure that your Starfleet Intelligence has other operatives in the Romulan government that I am not aware of, but I promise to serve you as loyally as you serve us."

Yoshizaki's eyes lit up like a child presented with an early birthday present.

"Senator, it will be a privilege to work with you," she said.

"We shall see, Admiral," he replied with a nod of his head.

"Admiral!" the signal technician called out from his console. "I recommend we terminate this transmission. The Romulan sensors might start detecting it over the normal background transmissions if we keep the line open any longer. Paris nodded.

"We'll maintain regular contact once a week," Paris said. "Be prepared for another signal then."

"Crestia!" Lucretia called out one last time. "No matter what happens, live my child! Enjoy each and every day in freedom!"

"I will mother. Do not be troubled, for we will hold each other again in this life. I am sure of it." Crestia responded.

With those words, the screen cut to black.

"Alright," Paris said turning to his team. "We have a new ally inside Romulan Space. Let's not muck it up. I want proposals in writing for new joint operations on my desk from each Admiralty Department no later than 0900 hours tomorrow morning. Governor Torlek, we'll keep you and the Klingon High Command apprised of any developments as this plays out."

"Understood," he said with a nod.

"Thank you both for letting me speak to my mother," Crestia said to Tigranian and Laria. "It was like a dream. I just hope I helped you."

"Crestia," Tigranian said wrapping his arms around her. "You were amazing."

"Thank you," she said gratefully. "I never thought I would get to stand on Earth. Is there anything interesting I should visit before heading back to Gault?"

Tigranian laughed.

"Just a few things. Maybe Laria should give you some advice."

"Daniel!" Torlek beckoned him to come aside and speak with him. Tigranian left Crestia with Laria and walked to his brother. "Have you reconsidered my offer to take you back to Qo'nos?"

Tigranian looked back at the room, now awash in activity. The other Starfleet officers were discussing options they had never dreamed possible. Laria was trying to describe the Great Wall of China to a curious Crestia.

"Mr. Tigranian," Paris called out suddenly.

"Yes Sir?"

"Captain Quan and Captain Tarn are taking their ships back to Caleb IV for final checkout after their space trials. Combine them with the Shran, and that has the Neutral Zone pretty well covered. Do you think the Pershing is up to heading back to Cardassia so soon? I need a good ship with a good crew out there. We'll rotate you back as soon as we can get the others ready."

"Yes Sir," Tigranian called back to him confidently. "I think that's right where I need to be," he said turning back Torlek.

The old Klingon was not angered. Rather, a look of understanding mixed with admiration crossed his face.

"When I get back to the Empire, I'll send a case of good bloodwine your way, my brother."

"Qapla', My Lord," Tigranian said confidently.

"Qapla', Son of Tigranian, captain of the starship Pershing," Torlek replied proudly. "Give my best to your crew, especially Captain Geist and Doctor Hunter. I hope they know what a great honor your faith in them is."

"It's not faith when you know they won't fail," Tigranian replied with a pause, "but perhaps, if I play my cards right, they might agree to a little bat'leth practice every once in a while."

Torlek laughed deeply as he turned and departed for his ship.


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