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Sector Z-9: Romulan Neutral Zone Border/Federation Frontier

Stardate: 54499.8

Captain Bertram Bowling of the Starfleet Science Ship, USS Aurora, left his quarters for the bridge carrying a mug of hot Tarkalean tea. It was the same routine he followed every morning, and he was happy about it. In this command, he didn't have to worry about potential conflict, preparations for war, or galactic politics. His crew was half Starfleet science officers and half civilian researchers. All they concerned themselves with was the completion of their year-long survey mission to classify gaseous anomalies on the fridges of Federation Space.

Bowling himself had spent most of his twenty-five years in uniform as a xenobiologist drifting from one starship posting to another. He had spent the Dominion War at Jupiter Station working with a team from Starfleet Medical developing vaccines to the new and virulent tropical diseases that the Federation was encountering in the Cardassian Empire. After the Treaty of Bajor, he was offered command of an Oberth Class refit that Starfleet Command had pulled out of mothballs. He immediately jumped at the opportunity. Unlike many of his more unfortunate peers, the only enemies he regularly faced were those of middle-age: a receding hairline and an expanding waistline. He couldn't do much about the first, but he did his best to combat the second with a couple weekly trips to the treadmills in the ship's tiny gymnasium.

As he walked around the corner towards the turbolift, he took a deep breath. This was the only part of his daily routine that made him nervous. Doctor Rhonda Swenson, his civilian Chief Medical Officer was on her way to sickbay. She was 42, divorced, and Bowling had been working up the courage to ask her on a date for the past four months. What he didn't know was that the feeling had been mutual for just as long. As she came around the corner wearing her usual medical scrubs, Bowling casually wiped away the sweat from his palms on the sides of his trousers.

"Morning, Bert!" she said with a smile and wave.

"Morning, Rhonda!" he squeaked before clearing his throat. "Ready for another great day of medicine?" he asked before immediately regretting it.

"Yeah…" she replied with an awkward smile. "Ready for another great day of starshipping?" she asked trying to recover the conversation. Bowling wasn't sure whether to stop and try to make up for his stupid comment or just keep walking. This morning, he settled for a quick laugh and a passing nod.

A few seconds later, Rhonda turned back around.

"Oh, Bert!" she called. "I need a partner for the Euchre tournament tonight on the Rec Deck. Can I count on you?"

"Always!" he said forcing a grin.

"Great, see you then!" she said walking away.

"See you then…" he said with disappointment as he watched her walk away. His turbolift doors opened. He stepped inside and rubbed his eyes. "Another great day of medicine?" he muttered to himself as he slammed his head against the rear bulkhead. "Idiot…"

After mercifully quick ride, the lift opened onto the bridge and Bowling stepped out.

"Captain on the bridge!" Commander Metrasco, his Bolian first officer, belted out.

"Carry on and good morning everybody!" Bowling said trying to stay chipper. He walked over to his chair and placed his mug of tea into a cup holder he installed on the armrest. "What have we got going on?"

"Quiet evening, Sir," Metrasco said reading from the duty officer's report from the previous night. "Nothing significant to report."

"Any messages from Command?" Bowling said turning to his Taurisian communications officer, Lieutenant Hrorth.

"No Sir," she replied. "Commo logs are clear."

"What do we have on the schedule?" Bowling asked.

"Nothing major, Sir," Lieutenant Gnass, the Aurora's Denevan science officer said. "Just two sensor passes of the Class C Asteroid at Grid 87643 and a quick look at the Class I comet passing through the Kannaris cluster.

"Sounds good…" Bowling muttered. He couldn't help but sound a bit bored. After all, they had been doing the same things over and over again for seven straight months.

Suddenly, Gnass' console began chirping.

"Sir," he said looking at his controls, "I'm detecting twelve small ships entering the Neutral Zone."

"What?" Bowling said turning around surprised. "Romulan?"

"I don't think so," Gnass replied shaking his head. "They're too small. They look like long-range shuttles."

"What would a squadron of shuttles be doing in the Neutral Zone?" Commander Metrasco said walking up with Bowling at his side.

"I don't know, Sir," Gnass said, "I'm not detecting any kind of weapon systems, but I am detecting almost a thousand lifesigns in total."

"A thousand?" Metrasco said in total amazement. "That can't be right!"

"Confirmed Sir," Gnass said. "They're packed in those things like Antarian sardines."

"We better call this in," Bowling said towards Hroth. "Open a channel to…" Before he finished his sentence, Hroth interrupted.

"Sir, the lead shuttle is hailing us."

Bowling and Metrasco exchanged glances.

"Put them onscreen," Bowling finally ordered.

Hroth honed in on the signal and the exhausted face of a Gralluscan appeared on the main viewscreen.

"Shuttles, I am Captain Bertram Bowling of the Federation starship…"

"Starship," the Gralluscan said. "You need to bring us aboard immediately. We've been travelling through space for almost a month and are completely out of supplies. We no longer have the fuel to continue evade Romulan patrols…"

"Now, hold on one second," Bowling said holding up his hands. "First, I'm not going to bring you aboard my ship just because you order me too. Second, we're just a science vessel. We don't have the facilities to accommodate a thousand passengers."

"I don't care what you are or what you think you're capable of!" The Gralluscan shouted. "I have women and children who are starving. Your Federation has an obligation to help us."

Bowling furrowed his brow.

"What obligation exactly are you talking about?" he said skeptically.

"Call Starfleet Command," the Gralluscan said grinning. "Tell them you have Councilor Rellas and he'd like to speak to them. All will become clear."

"Alright," Bowling said. "I'll call Starfleet. However, please remain on the other side of the Federation border until I signal you…"

Gnass' console chirped again.

"Captain!" he said alarm. "Romulan Valdore class patrol vessel decloaking at 040 Mark 385. Range 800 million kilometers. It's heading straight into the Neutral Zone towards the shuttles. 42 seconds to intercept."

"We're helpless against that ship! You must let us cross. There's no time to argue!" Rellas screamed at Bowling. The captain took a sharp breath in.

"Lieutenant Gnass," Bowling said, "I want a wide-band sensor reading of the space dust in the Neutral Zone. Please launch a Class VII probe and set it for a reverse polarity scanning burst in the 10 THz range."

"What?" Gnass asked confused. "We don't need a probe to do that. Besides, that scanning range will disable any high yield impulse engine within 10 AU."

"I know," Bowling replied with a telling look. "Launch the probe."

"Aye Sir," Gnass said. The small metallic cylinder shot out from the Aurora's bow and began sending out huge bursts of energy. The Romulan patrol ship suddenly lurched to a halt as its impulse drive temporarily failed.

"Councilor Rellas," Bowling said to the screen. "My impulse engines are currently disabled. I will be unable to pursue you if you choose to cross the border at this time. Do you understand?"

"Thank you," Rellas said with gratitude as he ordered his ships to burn the last of their maneuvering fuel supply to slip across the Federation border. Once they were inside safe territory, the Gralluscan disappeared from the screen.

"I think that's enough data, Mr. Gnass," Bowling said adjusting his uniform jacket. "Shut down the probe."

"Yes Sir," Gnass said. The Romulan Valdore immediately reengaged its engines and flew straight towards the border. For a few terrifying moments, it looked as if they might cross, but they stopped at the last second. "They're arming weapons!" Gnass shouted as they stared straight at the green nose of the sleek upgraded warbird.

"Raise shields," Bowling said nervously facing the front of the bridge. "Hail them."

"Aye Sir," Hroth said. "Hailing frequencies open."

"Romulan vessel, I am Captain Betram Bowling of the Federation starship Aurora. My deepest apologies. We were conducting scans of the Neutral Zone and we didn't mean to interfere with the operation of your vessel…"

The image of a fuming Romulan sub-commander appeared in front of him. She was so angry, the veins on her neck were popping out and her eyes burned green.

"I am Sub-Commander Saronah of the Imperial Romulan Navy and I know exactly what you've done! However, I assure you, it will not go unanswered."

Her terrifying visage combined with her warship's powerful arsenal certainly made her words more than an idle threat. There was no way the Aurora could compete with this enemy and both commanders knew it. However, Bowling knew that his only chance was not to back down. It would be seen as weakness and his adversary would pounce. He did his best to hide his shaking legs and once again wiped his palms on his legs.

"And what precisely do you mean by that?" Bowling said throwing his shoulders back.

"I will make it simple for your small brain, Human," she said. "Those shuttles are full of wanted criminals and renegades. I am under orders to capture or kill them. This ends one of two ways: either you stand aside and allow me to fulfill my duty, or I will push you aside and fulfill my duty."

"Those shuttles are unarmed," Bowling replied. "They do not pose any direct threat to the Federation, and their occupants will be dealt with accordingly. However…" he said still digging deep for confidence, "the same cannot be said for you. If you move one centimeter into Federation Space, it will constitute an act of war. Remain on your side of the border. That is my final warning."

Saronah laughed out loud.

"The day I take orders from a fat human wearing a circus tent for a uniform is the day I jump out an airlock. That is MY final warning."

The rest of the bridge crew felt a twinge of pity for their commander as he grabbed the side of his chair. They were sure he was about to give in, and they wouldn't blame him. After all, it was suicide otherwise.

"You can call me all the names you want," Bowling said with a sigh, "but that doesn't change the facts. Yes, my ship is old and is no match for yours. You could destroy us, and then destroy those shuttles. And then you'll turn around and run back into your space…."

Suddenly, he stepped forward and crossed his arms in front of his chest. "However, let me put this so those pointed ears of yours understand! There are twenty Federation starships, including two Pershing class battlestarships within fifty lightyears of this spot. Combine that with a combined Federation and Klingon fleet of a thousand more vessels in this quadrant.

They will come with a vengeance, punch straight across the Neutral Zone, and they won't stop until Romulus is singing the Federation National Anthem and eating gagh for breakfast. Now, Sub-Commander Saronah, do you want to be known as the trigger-happy idiot who destroyed the Romulan Empire or do you want to turn around right now and pretend this incident never happened?"

She gritted her teeth and nodded to her tactical officer. The Valdore's weapons systems deactivated.

"That's what I thought," Bowling said. "Now, get the hell out of here before you really upset me."

"Your government will hear about this!" she spit back at him through the screen.

"I'm counting on it. Turn her off."

The transmission disconnected, the Valdore turned towards Romulan space, and cloaked. Bowling fell backward into his chair and nearly passed out.

"Sir," Commander Metrasco said in disbelief, "you just went toe to toe with a Romulan warship…"

"And won!" Hroth exclaimed.

Bowling held up a hand.

"Lieutenant Hroth, please inform Starfleet Command of the situation and ask for guidance. Then, contact Councilor Rellas and tell him to prepare to come aboard. Commander Metrasco, please take stock of our emergency rations and see what we can do for them. We'll hold them under guard until we figure out what the hell is going on."

"Aye Sir," they said in unison. The captain then pressed a button on his chair. He was shaking so hard he nearly knocked over his tea.

"Bowling to Doctor Swenson," he said.

"Go ahead," she said calmly unaware of what had just transpired.

"Rhonda, I'm afraid that card tournament tonight probably won't happen. I suspect we'll be pretty busy."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"We have about a thousand people coming aboard and I bet a lot of them need medical help."

"A thousand people!? From where?" she asked.

"When I figure that out, I'll let you know," he said holding back a laugh.

"And just how I am supposed to figure out how to take care of that many people on a ship that's only meant for 80?" she asked annoyed.

"I know you will," he said smiling.

"Roger that…" she replied barely hiding her annoyance.

"Tell you what," Bowling said. "Why don't I make it up to you with dinner in my quarters? Boy, do I have a story to tell you about my day of starshipping."

There was a pause on the other end.

"It's a date," she finally replied. "Now, apparently I have some work to do."

"Looking forward to it," Bowling said.

Across the bridge, Metrasco was standing next to Gnass. They both raised their eyebrows.

"Finally…" Gnass whispered with a grin.

Metrasco silenced him with a glare.

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