“Captain on the bridge!” Rhys announced, and Keyla and everyone else seemed to take a breath at once.
“Nice to hear that you missed me, Mr. Rhys,” Captain Lorca said as he strode to his chair, which Saru graciously relinquished.
“Captain, have we reached an agreement with the Romulans?” Saru asked as he returned to his station.
“We have, Mr. Saru, though negotiations were certainly strenuous.” The Captain’s tone, by contrast, seemed strangely relaxed to Keyla’s ear. She wondered if she was just imagining it. “Airiam, are we prepared to use the Spore Drive?”
“We are, sir.”
Captain Lorca tapped the console on the arm of his captain’s chair. “Coordinates are keyed in. Get us out of here.”
The lights dimmed. The Black Alert announcement sounded. Discovery slid away from space.
“Of course, your Highness,” Centurion K’prek said to the life-sized holographic display of the Praetor which appeared to sit unceremoniously in mid-air in the center of the conference room in the Tal Shiar’s orbital command center. “We have a full array of options at our disposal. The dissident’s deaths can be as quick or protracted as you wish.”
“If it’s quick” the Praetor mulled aloud, “the people will see the power of the Empire. But if it’s slow, it’ll be more horrific and they’ll understand the consequences of defying my will. So many decisions…”
K’prek sighed. It seemed he would once again be forced to move his hand inside the puppet. “If I may, Your Highness, we could--“
And then the alarms went off. The conference room door slid open as his personal guard burst into the room. Behind him, screams rolled down the corridor. “Sir, we are under attack! A starship emerged from nowhere and…”
“Attack? Starship?” The Praetor's holographic form looked horrified, as if the attack was happening at his location.
“Highness,” K’prek struggled to sound placating. “I’m sure it’s simply--“ And then the room tore apart around him.
“Take us home,” Captain Lorca ordered, while the dying station lit the bridge in orange hues. A moment later it and the space around it was gone, replaced by familiar stars and nebula. “Excellent work, all,” he said firmly. “As it happens that base was transmitting the same false signals as the so-called shipyard where we were ambushed. In actuality it was a giant Potemkin village. Its technology, personnel, capabilities all just sensor ghosts.
“It seems the rulers of the Romulan Empire have decided that, rather than confront the threats at their borders, they’d rather hide behind illusions like this, while the ruling oligarchs get rich. In the meantime, the Klingons have been encroaching on their borders. Admiral N’Vel--my…counterpart in the negotiations--represents a cadre of naval officers who have been unsuccessfully trying to convince the Empire they need to push back. So, as it happens, our interests were aligned.
“As a matter of fact,” Lorca continued, “our attacks on their listening posts were just the provocation they were looking for. So they built a trap to capture a Klingon warship.” He held up his hands, palms upward. “They got Discovery instead. Once N’Vel and I got past our mutual suspicions, we discovered that our interests were aligned more perfectly than we imagined. She agreed to keep all records of their encounter with Discovery a secret as long as we attacked a target of her choosing. One deep in the heart of the Empire that would make the government feel most vulnerable. In exchange, she will begin prosecuting a border action against the Klingon Empire."
"Sir," Saru asked. "The Romulan...no one has ever seen one..."
"I'm afraid until I fully debrief Starfleet Command I'm not at liberty to share the details of my encounter with the Romulan Admiral."
The bridge wilted a little in disappointment.
“But,” he concluded, “our mission was a success. Starfleet will never acknowledge it, will never give this crew the commendations it so richly deserves. But you all can take heart knowing that you took one of the most crucial steps to date in turning the war to our favor.” He clapped his hands together loudly and continued clapping. Soon the bridge crew joined in.
Keyla saw a message light blink on her panel. Joann sent her direct message: THAT MAN IS AMAZING.