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Continuing Committee Chamber: Ki-Baratan, Romulus

"Fellow committee members," Semachs said from the center of the long, semi-circular table. "This moment is one of pure victory," he said balling his fist closed. "The alliance between the Federation and the Klingons that has held our empire at bay for almost thirty years has ended!"

"Yes Proconsul," Senator Barchrus said from two seats over. "This is definitely a triumph for your policies. If only we knew the identity of those helping you," he said casting a skeptical look toward Chairman Koval of the Tal Shiar. "Then, we could thank them properly for their service to the Star Empire."

Koval looked back with the frustration of an individual completely in the dark about the proconsul's sudden success. As head of the Romulan intelligence service, it was a feeling he wasn't used to and it infuriated him. It was even worse considering his secret goal was feeding compromised information to the Federation via Section 31. Koval felt a stab of pain in his left arm and his throat went dry. He lifted a glass with his shaking hand and took a sip of water. The chairman's Tuvan Syndrome was growing worse by the month. He wasn't sure how long he would be able to keep control of the Tal Shiar and therefore maintain his usefulness to the Federation.

"Well," Semachs answered Barchrus while folding the trailing end of his long robe back over the edge of leather chair. "I believe those particular individuals wish to keep their service anonymous at this time. However, I can assure their absolute loyalty to our cause."

"Of course," Barchrus grumbled completely aware that as long as Semachs had control of the information, no one could challenge his supremacy as de facto head of the Romulan State. The proconsul had another good reason to keep his advisors a secret. If the rest of the Continuing Committee knew that he was taking advice from the disgraced Praetor Neral and his half-Romulan, half-human witch, Commander Sela, a dagger would be plunged into his back so quickly he wouldn't have time to resign his post.

Senator Trallian sat near the end of the table. He nervously wrung his hands in his lap. Every time he sat in one of these meetings, he was sure it would be his last. It was bad enough he had been aiding the slaves since the very start of their revolt. Now, he was also clandestinely passing information directly to Rellas since his return to Romulan Space.

Trallian felt trapped. He couldn't even get his family safely out of the Star Empire without arousing suspicion. His only hope was to weaken Romulus' grip on the rest of the empire enough that he could escape with his wife and daughters before getting caught. Now that the Federation made it clear they wished to step back from their military dominance of the galaxy, the task became infinitely harder.

"The end of the partnership between the Federation weaklings and their Klingon apes is all well and good," Senator S'trita said from her chair, "but how exactly can we turn it to our advantage in our current state? Our energy reserves are still critically low, our fleets are still undermanned, and you still have failed to bring all our slaves to heel, Proconsul."

"Oh Senator," Semachs said with a devious grin. "I'm glad you asked." He reached over and pressed a button on the console at his front. A set of doors opened and a pair of Cardassians entered the room. They both bowed their heads.

"Jolan Tru, honored members of the Continuing Committee," the taller Cardassian said proudly.

"Proconsul," S'trita said drumming her fingertips along the wooden table. "I'm very impressed that you were able to teach a pair of Cardassians to perform parlor tricks for our amusement, but I pray to the Raptor gods of Selaya that you have not hitched the hopes of our empire to these lizard-brained simpletons."

Both Cardassians suddenly exchanged nervous glances

"Please forgive Senator S'trita, Gentlemen," Semachs said holding up an apologetic hand. "She simply is more vocal than most about the Romulan belief that all other species are our racial inferiors."

"Of course, Pronconsul," the Cardassian leader said uncomfortably bowing his head again.

"These gentlemen have come before us with a rather interesting piece of news," Semachs said leaning back in his chair and steepling his fingers.

Barchrus leaned forward and stared at Semachs.

"I hope this 'interesting news' is worthy of the consideration of this committee, Proconsul," he quipped. "Our Cardassian allies have proven time and time again to be nothing but utter disappointments." He spoke as if the two men weren't even present.

"I don't think that will be the case this time, Senator," Semachs replied. "They may be giving us the opportunity to finally force our enemies' hands at the moment they are most vulnerable."

"Alright," S'trita said cocking her head to the side. "You have our attention."

"Ambassador Korhett," Semachs said to the taller Cardassian. The ambassador's assistant produced a small holoprojector and displayed a large starmap of the Military Demarcation Line between the Republic of Cardassia and the Cardassian State in mid-air.

"Esteemed Committee Members," Korhett began his briefing. "At the behest of Premier Harok, the official Geological Survey Team of the Cardassian State has been conducting exhaustive cartographic analyses of the Military Demarcation Line for almost a year. Our geographers have analyzed every line of the Treaty of Bajor to determine the exact dimensions of the original Romulan Zone of Occupation that now makes up our country when compared to the Federation and Klingon Zones that now comprise the Republic. They have discovered a 0.022 degree variance between the specifications of the treaty and the actual spatial markers laid down by occupation forces between Sectors 2341 and Sector 2353."

Korhett zoomed in the projected star map on a specific star system just inside Republic territory.

"To put it simply," he continued, "the border is in the wrong place. When we correct the variance, it moves nearly 50 billion kilometers." The MDL on the star map moved deeper into Republic territory. The highlighted star system now found itself inside Cardassian State space. "As you can see, this significantly changes the dynamic of our boundaries."

The members of the Continuing Committee suddenly looked quite excited. Semachs grinned.

"What system is that?" S'trita asked enthusiastically.

"The Celdis System, Senator," Korhett answered. Now, the Continuing Committee grew even more receptive. "The Intergalactic Red Cross facility operated on Celdis Prime by the Federation is illegally occupying a planet of the Cardassian State and the 3,542 civilians who illegally fled our borders and now live in its transient facilities should still be under our control."

"This couldn't be more perfect," Barchrus said falling back into his chair. "When confronted with this information, the Federation will be in violation of both the Treaty of Bajor and the Cardassian Non-Aggression Pact."

"It is my duty as Cardassian State Ambassador to the Romulan Star Empire to inform this esteemed body that Premier Harok is preparing to take back the Celdis System by force if the Federation does not withdraw within seven days. We were waiting to issue the ultimatum until we had informed you of our intentions," Korhett explained. "We cannot risk the loss of more Cardassian State citizens to the Republic. The news of the Federation withdrawal has inspired many of the most desperate to flee before the Romulus Pact gains a military advantage."

The mood of the Continuing Committee suddenly changed.

"You're going to do what?" S'trita shouted.

"You can't be that stupid!" Barchrus added. "Right now, we have the advantage of treaty and interstellar law on our side. If you start a war over one worthless planet, it won't matter where the damned border is!"

"That's enough, Senators," Semachs spit at his companions. "The Cardassian State's military mobilization is under my authority. In fact, we are going to mobilize our forces with theirs."

The room became so silent you could hear a pin drop.

"Proconsul," Trallian said finally speaking up from the end of the table. "Forgive me, but it sounds like you just said we're going to war."

"Hardly, Senator," Semachs replied. "Subterfuge and diplomacy are both noble traits, but we have reached the limit of their effectiveness. The recent election has shown the Federation is fractured and fading. They don't have the political will to go to war over one planet. When they see a combined fleet of Cardassian cruisers and Romulan warbirds massing on the MDL they will fold like a house of cards. We will also help influence their decision by sending all available ships and legionnaires to stage on our side of the Neutral Zone.

Once they feel surrounded by the might of the Romulus Pact, they'll run back inside their own borders so fast it will be like they were never an interstellar power in the first place. The Klingon mongrels and the pitiful remnants of the Cardassian Republican Guard will be powerless to stop our advances, and we'll carve up the Republic of Cardassia piece by piece like a fresh baked Viinerine."

"We barely have enough energy in reserve to keep our fleets in a defensive stance. You can't possibly think we're ready to go on the offense!" S'trita said rubbing her eyes.

"Are you listening, S'trita?" Semachs replied like she was an idiot. "We won't be going on the offensive. It's merely a posture that will only have to last a week at most. We don't have to be strong now. We merely have to give the illusion of strength."

"And if you're wrong," Barchrus countered, "we'll be fighting the Cardassians, Klingons, the Federation, and our own slaves simultaneously. Our fleets will be out of fuel in less than two months!"

"It is worth the risk," Semachs replied. "With the Federation out of play, we can reduce our presence in the Cardassian State enough to mount an effective push against the slaves. Once they are pacified, we will be able to increase our deuterium production back to pre-insurrection levels. In less than a year, we will have once again regained our place as the dominant power in the galaxy. If we do nothing, then we will slowly bleed to death. This is not merely my opinion. These are facts."

The Continuing Committee grew quiet again. They knew Semachs had a point but it was still a tremendous gamble.

"Esteemed colleagues," Trallian spoke up. "The proconsul has the authority to execute this plan with or without our approval. However, I vote in support of his motion regardless. He is correct. We can't remain in this stalemate forever. A fight is preferable to a gradual descent into irrelevance."

After a few quiet moments, Senator Taraka also raised his hand.

"I second Senator Trallian's motion of support."

"As do I," Senator Serkalla said raising her hand as well.

One by one, each of the other committee members raised their hands until only Barchrus and S'trita remained. Both knew that being the voices of dissent was suicide. If Semachs' plan worked, they would be purged. If it failed, then it didn't matter as the empire would be doomed anyway. The final senators raised their hands.

"The motion of support carries unanimously," Semachs said with a victorious grin. "I will order the Imperial Navy and Army to begin full mobilization in coordination with the Cardassian State at once. Jolan Tru!"

The proconsul wasn't the only scheming Romulan in the room. Koval immediately decided to pass this information to the Federation. He knew he had to convince them to hold onto the Celdis System to prevent a far greater catastrophe. Trallian also knew that Semachs' gamble might be just the opportunity he needed to push the Star Empire to the breaking point. As soon as possible, he had to get a message to Rellas…

TO BE CONTINUED


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