Wow...so she's from the ENT era, hopped to the late TOS era, then time-hopped again to the late TNG/DS9/mid-Voyager era (just post-Dominion War), and then hopped AGAIN to 2400, was assimilated by the Borg, then decided that she wanted to quit the Collective?
No wonder she acts like a genre savvy nutcase. With a backstory like that...
And I thought I went overboard with Nemesis unit designation Three and her accidental trip into a television show.
The Tal Shiar base is cool and airy, the greenish light in its corridors familiar, almost comforting. My heels click smartly on the decking as I walk confidently up to the security checkpoint.
"Subcommander Aneia, requesting security archive access. My clearance code is Tango Four Seven Zulu Niner Two." The armed uhlan at the doorway consults his data console. It is almost a game, this; we break their security codes and subvert their computers, they discover the intrusion and lay traps for us. Now, I get to find out if we are one move ahead in the game, or one move behind.
"Access granted, sir." The uhlan stands to one side as the door hisses open. I stride through without acknowledging him. Even with a faked security access code, the attitude is all-important when dealing with the Tal Shiar. I'm inclined to think I could have got into the archive with subcommander's insignia and a sufficient degree of arrogance alone.
The archive room is a tiny glass-walled alcove with a single workstation; behind the glass, the computer banks stretch out a long way. They are in vacuum, in a cavern excavated into this airless planetoid - it is one way to restrict unauthorized access. We considered the possibility of sneaking in with an EV suit, and discounted it once we realized just how many sensor devices we would have had to deceive. In that cave full of motionless cuboid shapes, anything living or moving would stand out like a sore thumb.
I key in my queries, transfer the data to my PADD for later analysis. There are many questions I would like to ask, but the Tal Shiar compartmentalizes everything, and I cannot obtain a security clearance that will let me drain those data banks. Even the PADD is a risk, though I have legitimate excuses for it if I am questioned. Ideally, from the Tal Shiar's point of view, I would come here, ask one single question, and carry the answer away in my head alone....
The PADD indicates the download is finished. Everything the Tal Shiar knows about High Admiral Valikra, we now know too. Time to leave.
I turn to go, and the door hisses open. A man stands there, a massive figure in the uniform of a Tal Shiar Colonel. I stiffen into a salute, reflexively. "Sir," I say, "I was just leaving."
My heart is in my mouth. I know this man. Plectan - one of Colonel Vorkov's sycophants, back in the old days, before I came to join the Republic. I know him; he will know me, if he looks past Tal Shiar arrogance and deigns to take notice of a mere subcommander.
He returns my salute without looking at me, and for a moment I feel relieved. Then he frowns. "I did not know anyone else was cleared for access, today. Subcommander -?" And he looks at me.
"Subcommander Aneia, sir," I say as calmly as I can, but I see the light of recognition in his eyes. My right arm is across my chest, still, in the salute; I whip it around into a strike at his throat. My left hand twists, releasing the spring-loaded wrist sheath, and the dagger pops into my palm. I stab at his side, feel the blade sink home, thumb the release catch -
Then his fist catches the side of my jaw, and I am knocked sprawling into the glass wall of the booth. Plectan is bigger than me, stronger, he always was. And he is high enough rank to carry arms, here. He draws his disruptor pistol, and aims it at my head. His other hand goes to his side, where my knife has caught him.
"T'Laihhae," he says. If he is the type to use that disruptor, I am dead. If he takes the time to gloat -
"Oh, this is a pleasant surprise," he says. Of course he is a gloater; when was any of the Tal Shiar not? "T'Laihhae. And with nothing to protect you but such a little knife. You were foolish to come here, T'Laihhae. General Vorkov will be very pleased t'see you...."
Vorkov has been promoted, then. Well, of course he has. "What happens now?" I ask him, although I know better than he does.
"Now? Y'get to ans..anshwer queshtions." He blinks, realising his speech is slurring. His gun hand is drooping, and he steadies it with a visible effort. "You 'n your... Republic... traitorssh..." Tal Shiar dogma to the last. I reach out and take the disruptor from his enfeebled hand.
"Dimorus rodent toxin," I say, "in a reservoir in the knife handle. It is very hard to get, and I rather regret wasting it on you. Enjoy your death, Plectan. I have already reserved a place in hell for you - under Vorkov's, naturally. Be ready to welcome him when I send him after you." Plectan is on his knees, slumping sideways, his eyes glazing, his breathing failing as the poison races along his nerves. It is fast. I have heard it is not particularly painful, although I cannot imagine how anyone would know.
"Colonel Plectan is not to be disturbed," I say to the uhlan as I leave.
That will not work for long - I have a few minutes, I think, to reach the beam-out point. I do not hurry, because Tal Shiar officers never panic. I do, however, walk briskly.
I am still three decks and a hundred metres of corridor from the beam-out point when the alarms go off. Red lights whirl and shrill sirens sound, and all of a sudden a lot of people are in a hurry indeed. My hand clenches on Plectan's gun. If I am to die, I will die fighting -
But the troops who fill the corridors race past me without a word. The security alert, it seems, is nothing to do with me. A relief, in many ways - a further worry, in others.
I move as swiftly as I dare up the ramps to the next level, and there I stop - or am stopped.
The being standing by the security checkpoint there is not Romulan, and my skin crawls at the sight of it - the spindly limbs, the soft white mushroom-like hide, the small bulbous head. Elachi. If there is one species that has earned the undying hatred of all Romulans everywhere -
And this one is in my path to the beam-out point, and I very much doubt my access codes will stand a check under security conditions -
So I don't try. I bring round Plectan's disruptor and fire. The nanite-enhanced beam buzzsaws into the Elachi's personal shield, and blue lightnings shimmer over its body. It makes a strange noise, something my universal translator can't handle - maybe, not even words at all - and it raises a weapon and fires back at me. I am already diving to one side, and the crescent wave of green destruction tears the air and expends itself harmlessly in a wall. I fire again, dodge again as the creature shoots back. My third shot breaches the shield, and the skinny body bursts open, and the Elachi falls and is still.
I stand up, cursing silently. There is no chance that exchange of fire went unheard -
And, indeed, a security squad is coming up the ramp right now. I think fast, decide to brazen it out. "Intruders!" I say. "That way! Follow them while I guard the checkpoint!"
The air of authority is enough to convince - the uhlans hare off in the direction I indicate, though one, a heavy-built woman with mousy blonde hair, gives me a second glance as she goes. I take a deep breath, and consider my position. Messalina's transporters are targeted on a storage cubicle close to the planetoid's surface - it is outside the main screens of the base, but with a security alert in effect, those screens will be extended and supplemented.
Footsteps behind me. I turn. It is the blonde uhlan, and her plasma-disruptor rifle is pointed in my direction. "Subcommanders aren't authorised to carry sidearms in this facility," she says. Damn it. Just my luck, to run into the one bright one.
I'm still thinking what to say next when the lights go out and the whole base shudders.
Red emergency lights come on, and I take advantage of the confusion to kick the uhlan hard in the gut, knock her rifle out of her hands, and slam my gun against the back of her neck. She goes down in a heap. Beneath me, the metal deck quivers. Things are clearly going out of control.
No time to worry about being discreet: I need to know what's happening. I hit the emergency button on my wrist com. "Messalina. Come in. Status report."
"Six battle groups of heavy warbirds just warped into the system," Subcommander Aitra reports. "They've wiped out the pickets already and are bombarding the base. Tal Shiar and Elachi forces are rallying, though. Sir, we can't get a transporter lock on you where you are now."
"All right. There must be a weak point in the screening, somewhere. I'll find it, you can beam me out from there. In the meantime, stay out of the fight." I think for half a second. "Whose heavy warbirds?"
"Unknown at this time. Not Republic, that's for certain."
"All right. I'll contact you again when I've found a location for transport. Out."
Unbelievably, a weak voice comes from near my feet. "There's an observation dome... it's outside the main shields. If the pickets are gone, the chances are the satellite shields are down too, so it'll be exposed."
The blonde uhlan is looking up at me. I train my pistol on her. "I thought I'd broken your neck."
"You damn near did. But I've got a thick neck."
"So I see. How committed are you to the Tal Shiar?"
She smiles wryly. "They drafted me at gunpoint and gave me a choice between security grunt work or being an Elachi experimental subject. How committed do you think I am?"
"In which case - welcome to the Romulan Republic." I kick her gun back towards her. "Where's this observation dome?"
"Not far. It'll be sealed off, if there's a fight going on, but I can crack through the blast doors on manual override. It'll leave a weak spot in the base's defences, of course."
The decks quiver again. "Somehow, I don't think that's our problem," I say. "Lead on."
She gets to her feet. I'm glad to notice she's still a little shaky - I thought I was losing my edge. "This way." And we are off down the corridor at a dog-trot.
The corridors are deserted. This is a bad sign. It means nobody is moving about - either because they cannot leave their assigned posts, or because they are already dead. And that means the base is in bad trouble.
The uhlan reaches what looks like a dead end, pulls open a wall panel, and starts working on - something. I can't quite see what. "What's your name?" I ask her.
"Dellis. And you?"
She stops working, turns, and stares. "You're... you are her, aren't you?" She shakes her head in disbelief. "Walking around openly on a Tal Shiar base? You must be insane."
"Is it a bad idea? For me in particular, that is."
"Well, you're not on the most wanted list, I suppose. But your description gets circulated - I've seen plenty of pictures, come to think of it -"
"But no one actually expects to see me in the flesh," I say. "If there is one thing we have learned, as a people, it is the strength of being unexpected...."
"Sounds like a quotation. Who said it?"
"A friend... used to say it. He's dead now. What are you trying to do?"
"I've cut the security circuits and the power feeds to the solenoid bolts. Now it's just a question of cranking the hydraulics until the damn door comes open." Dellis is clearly working hard at something. "Another reason to hate the Tal Shiar - I'm a technician, damn it, not a security grunt."
"Can I help?"
"There isn't room for two of us to get at the levers." Something clangs and groans, nearby. The blank wall at the end of the passage suddenly moves upwards, with a jerk. Dellis grits her teeth and grunts with effort. There is a line of black at the base of the wall, a line which expands into a gap -
The base quakes again. "Damn it!" Dellis steps back. "The hydraulic line just broke. There's another one on the other side, but -" She is big, heavy-boned; there is no way she will pass through the gap.
I lie down. "I'll try it." I wriggle through, somehow, the edge of the metal panel scraping painfully over me. "Same thing this side?" The light is very dim, but I find the maintenance panel. I tear it open, and - more by feel than by sight - locate the levers for the hydraulic actuator. It is hard work moving them, but the door panel edges up another few centimetres, and Dellis squeezes through. Her Tal Shiar rank insignia is torn away in the process. "Thanks," she says. "You could have -"
"Could have what?"
Her tone is thoughtful. "You could have closed it. Or just gone, instead - the dome is only down that corridor -"
"We had a deal, I thought."
"Yes.... So, Romulan Republic commanders keep their word." She flashes a wry smile again. "I want to learn more about this exotic foreign culture and its peculiar customs."
"You should get the chance soon. By the way - my ship is an adapted battle cruiser that we liberated from the Tal Shiar. I'm telling you this so you don't think it's a Tal Shiar trap when we beam over. I hate having gunfights in the transporter room."
The unlit corridor is about fifty metres long, and ends in a blank metal door. This one slides open easily when I push it, and beyond it is the observation dome - a bubble of transparent aluminium, sticking out of the planetoid's surface, partly shielded by an outcropping of rock. I feel light and unsteady on my feet; the artificial gravity is weak, here.
Outside, space is too bright; lines of light are lancing across the sky, the dire glow of plasma torpedoes is everywhere. Even as I watch, I flinch from the eye-hurting flash of a core breach. I touch my wrist com. "T'Laihhae to Messalina."
"Transporter room." Retar's voice; the rangy auburn-haired engineer is one of my better people, and I'm glad to have her steady hands on the controls.
"I'm in an observation blister on the planetoid surface. Get a lock, somehow, on my signal, and there are two to beam up."
"Two? You don't make life easy, do you, sir?" I hear Retar sigh. "We can do it... but we'll have to drop the cloak and come in close. Two minutes."
I turn to look at Dellis. "If you want out, now is your chance."
Another wry smile. "Which way is out?"
"Up to you, I guess."
"Like I said, I've no reason to love the Tal Shiar. Does the Republic not have background checks, though?"
"It does. Most of us have failed them. The Republic... takes every willing helper it can get. Don't be misled; it's a lot of hard work, and we have a lot of enemies."
"I can work. And I'm not afraid of enemies - not when I think about my supposed friends."
Outside, the stars suddenly shiver and ripple, and the monstrous shape of the Messalina appears, a hollow crown of thorns wrapped around the evil green pulsation of the warp core. Dellis swallows. "I've never seen one of those this close up."
"We're about to get closer, I hope." And even as I speak, green light sparkles around us, and the view fades away, to be replaced by the homely interior of the transporter room.
"Nicely done," I say to Retar as I step off the pad. "This is Dellis, she's a technician, see if you can find a job for her in engineering."
Retar nods in greeting. "I'm Retar. We can always use more people who know what they're doing."
"Right," says Dellis, a little blankly. The reality of her defection is starting to sink in, I think. I reach for the intercom. "T'Laihhae to bridge. Status report."
"Being hailed by both sides now we're uncloaked," Aitra's voice replies. "Tal Shiar calling upon us to defend the homeland... the others are asking us to surrender, or to declare ourselves for the Hegemony of Bresar, they say."
"Hegemony of what?"
"Bresar. Does it mean something?"
Shivers run up my spine. "It means we choose option C, neither of the above. Max evasive out of here, cloak if possible, max transwarp soon as we can. Move us out, never mind which direction, so long as it's out."
Aitra has questions, I know. He also has more sense than to ask them now. Messalina shudders a little as her drive goes to maximum output. I find the repeater viewscreen in the transporter room, call up an image of the battle outside. Plasma torpedoes are streaking in, now, overwhelming the last of the base's defences, turning the Tal Shiar archive into a smear of glowing lava on the bleak surface of the planetoid. Disruptor light glitters across the starfield, the flash of exploding ships dotting the sky like fiery punctuation.
Starships will fly, and starships will burn, Thyvesh said. He was right. What else is he right about?
I whistle the main theme from Indra as I stroll through the corridors of my ship. We're heading back to Spacedock at a comparatively leisurely pace; the last of the Vulcan casualties have been transferred to a science vessel for transport home, Stiak and the rest of his team have already departed... the ship feels calm and almost empty. On an impulse, I swing by the science lab, to see if anything's new, there.
Harley Haught is at the main workstation, his high brow furrowed in concentration. "What's up?" I ask him.
He looks round at me, apparently startled. "Oh. Hello, sir. I was just -" he waves at the console display. "Trying to figure something out."
"Is there a problem?"
"Not exactly. Just... something a bit odd. You recall we detected kironide, coming in?"
"Well, it wasn't there when we left. I'm trying to figure it out. What do you know about kironide, sir?"
He nods. "I think that's as much as anybody knows, really. It acts like it's element 139 of the periodic table... except that isn't actually possible, there is no configuration of nucleons that will hold stable at that number of protons. It was discovered on Vulcan, and that doesn't make a lot of sense either, since it doesn't fit in to the normal pattern of elemental abundance for that planet. And, in circumstances that we can't consistently determine, it acts as a psionic amplifier. And that's about it. Which is not a lot, when you think about it, for a substance that's been known for a couple of thousand years."
"So... where does that get us?"
"Well." Haught calls up something on his console, and points to it. It means nothing to me, but I'm damned if I'm admitting that. "There's the energy signature in the 348-nucleon range, and kironide is the only thing that will produce that. It's vanishingly faint, at the limits of our detection capability - and this ship's sensors are good. So it's either that kironide is a very, very small part of this planet's composition, or...."
"Or it's a single mass. A point source. All we can tell is that it's there at all, we can't be more exact than that. But when Zaz ran another scan, for the IDRA guys, just before we left -" He points to another readout display on the console, and even I can see there's something different. "Gone."
Zaz? I say to myself, silently. "So - it's possible this was a relatively small object? Something that came aboard with the archaeology team's specimens, maybe?" The Vulcans - those of them that were able to speak - did insist very loudly on rescuing some of their specimens.
"It might be an object small enough to slip into someone's pocket," says Haught. "If it's any help, I ran a shipboard scan, and there definitely isn't any kironide on board now -"
"But the archaeologists have all transferred to other ships, now," I say thoughtfully.
It's possible, of course, that they just didn't know about this - whatever it is. But it's also possible that someone - Stiak, most likely - knew, and didn't tell me, that they were bringing something as potentially hazardous as a kironide-based device onto my ship. That is a worrying thought.
"OK," I say, at length. "Well, there's clearly nothing we can do about this right now.... Let me know if you and Zaz -" I put a little bit of emphasis onto that "- come up with anything else."
I walk out, leaving Haught blushing all the way up to his hairline.
The ready room on the Spirits of Earth is a reasonably spacious office adjoining the bridge. There are shelves behind my desk; every time I look at them, I remind myself to find something to put on them, some day. Somehow, I just never seem to get around to it.
I'm going through some routine reports when my comms console chimes at me. "Shohl here."
"Skipper." F'hon Tlaxx's voice. "Subspace call for you, from an Admiral Hengest at Starfleet Command."
Hengest? I don't know the name. "OK, thanks, F'hon, patch him through."
The face that appears on my viewscreen is that of a dark-skinned human male, bearded, his cropped hair almost Andorian white, which suggests advanced age in humans. "Vice Admiral Shohl? Paul Hengest. I'm with Starfleet Intelligence."
"Intelligence? OK.... What can I do for you, sir?"
Hengest frowns. "Something of a situation has arisen, and you might be able to provide some... insights. You've recently had dealings with a High Admiral Valikra, yes?"
"We've... met, yes. We both, umm, participated in the rescue of some Vulcan archaeologists in the Chara system."
"Yes. What were your impressions of Valikra?"
I think I know what's happening here. Something is wrong, Hengest doesn't want to tell me what it is... he doesn't want me to have a context for his questions, so that my answers will be unbiased. "Romulan fanatic, basically," I say. "Driven, humourless, prickly. I didn't find her easy to get on with."
Hengest nods. "Charismatic?"
"Um. If you like driven and humourless - I suppose that sort of, of intensity could be appealing to some people. She definitely has presence."
"Did she mention any political views to you?"
"As far as I could gather, she is, or was, some kind of Unificationist opposed to D'Tan. A splinter faction of some sort - might be the sort that has a membership list of one, though."
Hengest nods again. His face gives nothing away. "Tell me about the Vulcan archaeologist, Dr. Stiak. What was his great discovery?"
"Relics of a pre-Surak Vulcan leader, a guy called Bresar. Stiak was excited about it - well, as excited as Vulcans ever get. Frankly, I think there's a touch of the fanatic about him, too. He put his team in a fair amount of danger -"
"Your personal impression of Stiak?"
"Well - not fanatical on the same level as Valikra. Altogether, a lot more... low-key. He must have something, though - his assistant, T'Nir, was pretty obviously devoted to him."
"Did he mention politics at all?"
"Politics? No... nothing contemporary, anyway. Politics of Vulcan maybe two millennia ago, yes, but nothing modern."
"I see," says Hengest, slowly. "Bresar.... Starfleet has just had official word that High Admiral Valikra has announced the re-establishment - her words - of the Hegemony of Bresar. She's appointed this Stiak as her liaison to the Vulcan government. And she's backed this up by a series of military strikes against Tal Shiar facilities all across Romulan Imperial space."
My eyes widen. "She can't stand a chance, surely! The Tal Shiar and the Elachi will tear her to shreds."
"Possibly. She seems to have caught them off-balance with a hard, early military strike, though - and we still don't have a full picture of the Elachi threat, but we know they've had some significant reverses thanks to our Republic friends. So we're trying to work out whether this is a mere flash in the pan, or a serious challenge for the leadership of the Romulan Empire. And we need to know the ramifications of the Vulcan involvement - and the significance, if any, of this Bresar."
I start to get a distinct sinking sensation in the pit of my stomach. "Something you should be aware of, then, sir," I say. "There's a possibility - and I should say, no more than a possibility - that one of the artifacts recovered from Chara V was some sort of kironide-based device."
"The psi amplifier stuff?" Hengest and I look at each other.
"I think," I say, "we'd better come in for a thorough Intelligence debriefing."
I can't believe I had missed this, it is a good job I did a search to see if you did any previous stories. I read Fallout as well, and had it favourited, chgecking several times a day for the final chapters. (I only found it shortly beofre the end. Maybe a week.)
Another great story from you. Any chance of figuring out(ish) howmany chapters are left?
It's going to go on for a while yet, as I need to develop the situation further before the ending I'm aiming for... can't put a ballpark figure on the number of remaining instalments yet, though. (The next one's going up immediately after this post, if that's any help )
The Falcon comes out of warp into the middle of a blaze of weapons fire, disruptor bolts and plasma torps stabbing through the darkness of space.
"Quite a pretty little furball," I say, as the tactical display settles.
"Scans read as IRW Mas'athae, IRW Khopesh - and our old friend the RRW Red Talon," Tallasa says. "Sir, all three ships are firing on each other - three-cornered fight."
*/*factional conflict as predicted---inefficient---assimilate and subsume*/* Oh, be quiet, Two of Twelve, you're not helping.
"All right. Put me on comms, let me be the voice of reason, I can do that."
"Hailing frequencies open," says the comms ensign, while everyone else is still too gobsmacked to comment.
"Romulan vessels. This is the USS Falcon. You are engaged in acts of hostility within Federation space, and you are ordered to stand down." Wow, that actually sounded quite professional. Bit more practice, I could get good at this starship commander lark.
The result is more or less what I expected. All three ships are Mogai warbirds, reliable workhorses - workbirds - whatever - of the Romulan fleets, and three of them could actually give the Falcon a pretty rough time. Except they've been fighting each other, their shields are failing, their hulls scarred and leaking atmosphere and warp plasma... they are in no shape to take on a fresh ship.
So, the guns fall silent... and the comms channels become anything but.
"We were attacked without warning or provocation!" Commander Utia looks even more cross than the last time I saw her. Of course, she's got sound enough reasons.
"We are engaged in legitimate operations against traitors to the Empire!" So that's the Imperial commander, then. He looks very sleek and self-satisfied, or at least he would if his bridge wasn't on fire behind him.
"We will pacify all hostile elements in the name of the Hegemony!" Aha, I think, so the Khopesh is due to update its transponders to read HBW instead of IRW. How many of these are out there? This commander is a tough-looking character, another driven type, all hollow cheeks and smouldering eyes. Obviously he is too busy furthering the Hegemony's cause to bother with eating. His bridge isn't on fire, but he has nasty emission spikes in his ship's drive, I could see his mission of pacification ending in a nacelle burn-out pretty darn soon. */*failure probability 56% rising to 78% over next 100 hours if maintenance is not performed*/*
"OK," I say, "first things first. You don't do any pacifying or legitimate operations in these parts without the Federation's say-so, which you're not getting. So let's have those disruptors powered down, now. Also, two of you are going to yell at me about not recognizing the so-called Romulan Republic - well, the Federation does, so save your breath."
"We cannot render ourselves defenceless against these traitors and renegades!" shouts the Imperial commander.
"I can render you defenceless," I say. "All it'd take is a quick arpeggio on my forward phasers, so back off, Commander. What's your name, anyway? I'm Veronika Grau, call me Ronnie, everyone does." I start typing, unobtrusively I hope, on my command console, below their line of vision so it doesn't show on their screens. I need to give some orders - or at least hints - quickly.
"I am Subcommander T'kralik," the Imperial says, grudgingly.
"Great. Super. And I can introduce you to Commander Utia of the Red Talon, so that just leaves the hero of the Hegemony here. You got a name?" I ask the Hegemony captain. The important thing, right now, is to keep them all talking.
"I am Commander Sardahn," says the Hegemony guy. This Hegemony thing is really starting to bug me, now. "If you think you will dissuade me from carrying out my orders, you are sadly mistaken."
"What are your orders, exactly?" I ask. In my peripheral vision, acknowledgements of my text messages start popping up. This is good. Well, good for me, anyway.
"I do not propose to discuss military secrets on an open channel with my enemies!" Sardahn barks.
"OK, see your point, there. Still, they must be pretty tough orders, right? I mean, do they really mean you've got to take on two-for-one odds? Me, I'd worry about that. I'm one of the old-fashioned types when it comes to tactics - you know the old saw, right? The one about if you're in a fair fight, you're already doing something wrong? If I get into a two-to-one fight, I want to be one of the two. If you see what I mean." */* 2/12, 2ndary adjunct---*/* - oh, that is so not what I mean.
"Federation weakness!" Sardahn spits. T'kralik just looks deeply unimpressed.
"Oh, come on, I was in the first Romulan war, you guys took every sneaky tactical advantage you could, I remember it well. Don't give me that." They both look taken aback by that.
"The first Romulan war?" T'kralik sneers. "Either you are over two hundred and fifty Earth years old, or you are dangerously insane."
"Hey," I say, "I'm versatile, I can do both."
At this point, the first of my surreptitious messages pays off. The Red Talon's nacelles flare, and the Republic ship is suddenly gone, off at maximum warp, leaving nothing but a brief streak of light behind. Result.
"Trickery!" T'kralik howls, and "You have balked me of my prey!" snaps Sardahn.
"Yeah, well, I'm not balked of mine," I say. "So this leaves you two to deal with. What I suggest is, you both take off in different directions and, well, do whatever the heck you want... so long as you settle your differences well outside Federation space. Sound like a plan to you?"
T'kralik looks around, affecting to notice the damage behind him for the first time. "We are in no immediate condition to depart," he says.
"You're not any worse hit than Utia was. Don't try and kid a kidder, Subcommander."
"It seems," Sardahn grinds the words out, "we have no option but to comply with your orders."
"That's about right." I lean back in my command chair, trying to project an air of calm and unflappable superiority. "Let's see some movement, now."
The two remaining warbirds swing around, coming onto new headings. "Commander Sardahn," I say, "not so close to the Red Talon's departure vector, if you don't mind. Heading two two three mark two four should do nicely." This has him pointed about thirty degrees galactic spinward of Utia's line of flight... with enough delay, he will never be able to catch her before she gets back to Republic-controlled space. He knows it, and he looks daggers at me.
"So, that's just about it, gents," I say. Unobtrusively, I reach for my console and tap out a get-ready message to Jhemyl at the tac station. "Have a nice day and all that."
The Romulan ships begin to move. I count down, silently. Three, two, one - "Now!" I snap at Jhemyl.
Roms. They are so predictably treacherous. T'kralik has swung around enough to fire off a plasma torp salvo at both me and Sardahn, while Sardahn picks the same moment to deploy his tractor mines. If I hadn't been expecting it, we'd be in trouble.
As it is, there's a lot of ordnance flying around out there; Jhemyl has her work cut out, nailing each and every torpedo and mine with the phaser arrays. She manages it, though. She's good.
"Let that be a lesson for you, boys," I say over the still open channel. "Play nice, or auntie Ronnie will take your toys away. T'kralik. Your departure vector is six three mark three eight two. In sixty seconds' time, I'm putting a volley of photon torps through the space you're in now, so, y'know, get departing."
"And know this," Sardahn snarls, "it will not save you. I will hunt down both you and the so-called Republic traitor, T'kralik, and then - then - I will deal with this insolent madwoman as she deserves."
I nod to Jhemyl, and another lance of golden light flashes out from our phaser arrays. It's not much, actually - but it's enough to slice through the Khopesh's weakened shields and lick along the ship's starboard nacelle. And, with the damage his engines have already taken... it does the job. I see the sick despair spread across Sardahn's face as he realizes his warp drive is out of commission.
There is another streak of light, and T'kralik's ship is gone. "OK, I won't bother with the photons, then," I say. "Those things cost money. Commander Sardahn, I guess I'll see you around. I know you won't be going anywhere for the next day or two, anyway."
Sardahn snarls. "We will meet again, madwoman. Depend on it." He cuts the channel.
Tallasa is the first to speak. "That... went better than I expected, sir."
"Could have been worse," I say. "I am really starting to wonder about this Hegemony thing, though. Better get in touch with Starfleet Command, see if they know any more than we do...."