by Travis Anderson
A few hours after their arrival, the Starfleet team was roused by their Romulan minders. Agent Moren gathered them up and once again they used a military transport to traverse the city of Ki Baran. The enclosed space of the transport’s passenger compartment was also completely shrouded so that the Federation specialists couldn’t see anything as they passed over it.
The transport settled down and Moren opened the hatch. Romaine led the others out of the transport. She found they had arrived at a pristine-looking multistoried glass building surrounded by a glen of trees and grasses.
“This is lovely,” Romaine confessed.
Moren beamed with pride. “It is the city’s central library. We take great delight in it.”
“You don’t have all of your literary works and factual treatises on your central commnet?” Romaine wondered.
Moren’s visage darkened a bit. “No. Certain works are widely available, but the bulk of our factual documents are housed in repositories such as these. Here, one can find the digital copies and the original written tomes that were produced before the digital age swept over us.”
“And this way you get to control who accesses the information,” Romaine guessed.
“Very astute, Commander,” Moren mused. “I suppose the lofty Federation hasn’t such controls in place.”
Romaine wore a bemused expression. “Actually, our facility houses data and documents that are considered ‘too provocative’ to be allowed access to unauthorized personnel. Fortunately, there aren’t many cases like that and authorization is relatively easy to come by.”
“A pity,” Moren commented. “I had unexpectedly begun to have some respect for your culture. You have just dashed my hopes of reaching an understanding.”
Romaine gazed around. “I can’t help but notice that troops have surrounded the building.”
Moren fed her the often-said line, “That is to insure your safety.”
“Wouldn’t it be safer to say you’re protecting your people from us?” Romaine gibed him.
“Perhaps,” Moren allowed.
Romaine sighed, “Somehow I think today is going to be one exceptionally long day.”
“It may indeed,” Moren mused philosophically.
She found she hated him for all the same reasons she’d hated Knight.
“What kind of weapon did Kirk use to destroy the entity?” an intelligence analyst shouted.
“None!” Romaine finally raised her voice after he’d posed the same question five times already. “You have the Enterprise’s sensor logs and Admiral Kirk’s after action report. They say the same thing I’m telling you.”
“These are obvious forgeries,” the analyst scoffed. “No entity with this much strength would simply…vanish!”
“That’s what happened,” Romaine grated. She really wished T’Ling could handle this portion of the briefing but the Romulans were great respecters of the chain of command. In fact, Romaine had observed that while the Vulcans employed the use of logic and absolute suppression of emotion to quell their passions, the Romulans used martial discipline to achieve the same effect.
While that made her the mouthpiece for the Federation team in their eyes, she was also discovering that they were hard-headed sons of bitches. They couldn’t grasp even the simplest concept outside their established paradigm. It was infuriating.
“Look!” Romaine tried again, “V’Ger effectively mapped out our galaxy. Rather than just travel to another, it shifted itself into a parallel reality. Who knows exactly why, but it did. We’ll have to ask it when we cross over the dimensional barriers and arrive in another quantum universe.”
“A pretty face and a pretty tongue to espouse Federation lies,” another “expert” chimed in.
“I appreciate the fact that you find me attractive, but can we focus on the material at hand?” Romaine fired off a salvo of her own.
“You claim this entity was composed of technology beyond our reckoning, yet you also claim that its centerpiece originated on your backwater home world,” yet another voice added to the debate. “How is that so?”
“We don’t know,” Romaine admitted. Seeing all of the astonished stares directed at her she threw up her hands, “We don’t! Earth launched a series of Voyager probes three centuries ago. Somehow — no one knows how — this simplistic probe traversed the cosmos and was found by an alien civilization that modified and highly augmented it and sent back toward Earth. How that was accomplished when it had no thrust is a topic of heated debates like this one.”
“It had no thrust?” A fourth, who’d been introduced as an engineer, sought clarification.
“It was on a ballistic course when it left Earth’s solar system. It hadn’t even migrated out of Sector 001 when its handlers lost track of it,” Romaine explained. “Quite simply, it was declared ‘lost’ for all intents and purposes until it showed up back on our doorstep.”
There was a lot of muttering and grumbling. Finally, the Romulan with the most clout asked yet another question. “What was the purpose of this probe?”
“The same as Starfleet’s. To seek out new life,” Romaine answered wearily.
“Isn’t it true this probe was launched with the sole purpose of gathering intelligence on alien cultures so that Earth could conquer them?” the intelligence analyst barbed.
“Of course! That’s it!” Romaine laughed a little hysterically, “That’s why we marched all over Romulus and Remus when we had the chance.”
There was a general outcry over this that basically amounted to, “You’d never stand a chance.” Romaine opted to take this as an encouraging sign.
Moren intervened at long last. “Enough of this prattle. The Commander doesn’t know what’s beyond her brief. She wasn’t there and she certainly isn’t an expert in these areas.” Moren chastised them all, “Now show them the flight telemetry.”
“I object,” the intelligence guru declared. “Why equip our enemies with knowledge they could use to construct another of these monsters and send it towards the Star Empire?”
“Do you really believe the Federation has the wherewithal to construct one of these entities?” Moren inquired sharply.
“No, but they might be able to,” the analyst asserted.
“Be silent!” Moren commanded. “I don’t have time for your prattle. Now show them the data.”
“But…” another expert protested.
“Are you questioning my authority in this matter?” Moren asked in a soft, yet distinctly threatening, tone.
Information was released to the archivists’ data slates. Chief amongst the items was a parabolic course projection for V’Ger before it entered Klingon territory. It had traversed the territory of the Holy Order of Kinshaya before plunging into Imperial space. Romaine and the others had never heard of the Kinshaya. The fact that the Romulan Star Empire was on good enough terms with them to have this sort of telemetry was telling.
The projection theorized an entrance into the Beta Quadrant from the Delta Quadrant. Just as Starfleet’s ventures into the Beta Quadrant were severely limited, their knowledge of the Delta Quadrant was completely lacking.
The obnoxious analyst theorized V’Ger originating from the depths of the Delta Quadrant. What he said was of limited interest. What he didn’t say was intriguing. The Romulans had no firsthand knowledge of the Delta Quadrant or its races, either.
The Romulans concluded their portion of the briefing and Romaine and the Starfleet officers were herded into an antechamber. Taurig was quick with a comment. “Now they’re going to shoot us for sure.”
“Not necessarily,” Romaine replied. “I think the Romulan Praetor is actually on our side. Or at least enough to keep us alive as a goodwill gesture.”
“I don’t know,” Pollachek griped. “You antagonized the hell out of them.”
“Who was the one always advising me to never show a weakness to Romulans?” Romaine pointedly asked.
Pollachek’s cheeks colored but he stayed quiet.
Standish quietly spoke up. “Whatever happens next, I think our trip here just ended.”
“Commander, Agent Moren is fast approaching,” T’Ling broke her silence.
Moren entered with a rueful smile. “It seems you shall be returning home earlier than originally anticipated.”
“How soon?” Romaine asked.
“Tomorrow morning,” Moren informed them. “It would be sooner, but Commander Alera has other important business to attend to. Seeing as how she is your official minder between borders, you shall remain overnight.”
“This could have gone a lot easier,” Romaine commented.
“Nonsense,” Moren chuckled. “Now our vaunted ‘experts’ know you have a spine. A lesson they should already have learned from historical experience.”
Moren went on, saying he regretted that the information exchange had to end so abruptly, but such were the political winds on his world. Romaine hardly heard him. She’d synched her data slate into the library computers and that link was still active. It had to be.
Because she only had tonight in which to accomplish her mission. She didn’t have time to test out the rhythms of the library’s nocturnal browsers. She had to commit and launch her own probe this very evening. She’d never get another chance.
Romaine bid everyone an early night after the evening meal. Standish was a bit surprised, especially when she was put in charge of making certain everyone packed and was ready to go in the morning. Taurig gave a non-committal grunt as he and Pollachek, seemingly over their differences, tried to coax Standish and T’Ling into a game of gin rummy.
The first thing Romaine did after securing her door — she’d found the lock pick could lock items as well as the reverse — was change out of her uniform. She wore black utility pants with a grey tunic. It resembled an Imperial military uniform as it was designed to. She slipped on the black jacket marking her as an officer and also draped a duster-like cloak over it. The cloak had a copious hood in case she needed to disguise her ears and decidedly pink complexion as she moved through the public.
Romaine had already opened up the biometrically sealed computer and retrieved the lock pick. She slipped that into a cylindrical pouch on her belt. Now she retrieved the phaser. The spare power back went into another pouch in the small of her back while the phaser itself glided into a half-holster. It had a rounded receptacle for the emitter while the body was held like the last generation of Type II phasers and merely adhered to the length of her belt.
She slung a messenger bag’s strap over her torso. Romaine really wished all of this would prove unnecessary but Knight had stressed to be prepared for the ugly incident before it occurred. So she sat down at her “desk/table” and called her data slate out of “standby” mode. It showed it was still linked into the Romulan library catalog. Romaine allowed herself a slight smile. Now she had to decide what to do.
Her next act could provide an excuse for a war no one wanted. It could also get her and her entire team executed. She suddenly mused that this was hell of a burden to throw on top of a glorified librarian.
Still, it was a task custom designed for a librarian/archivist. She wasn’t after military secrets, after all. Just maps and coordinates. She thought she’d be able to throw trade routes in as well since those would give an indication of the flow of resources. A list of colonies couldn’t hurt either, she decided.
Knowing she’d already committed herself, Romaine plunged into the actual work.
The hammering at the door began as Romaine was beginning her withdrawal out of the library network. Despite having a translation matrix, and not tripping over any alarms that she could detect, the system had suddenly locked her out and was trying to trace her signal.
She quickly disabled the transceiver. She removed the actuator so the transceiver couldn’t be remotely activated either. This also had the effect of disabling it so her position couldn’t be given away even by accident.
Romaine stuffed the data slate into the bag she wore. Pulling her phaser free, she checked its settings. It was currently setting for “minimum disrupt,” also known as “stun.” She thumbed up the power level and took aim at her computer case. Firing, she slagged the case. Its metals components melted as the polymers and plastics burned. She took aim directly at the crystal core and fired.
Although nothing was stored on the data core, she had to make it look as though there had been. So while the Tal Shiar’s analysts sifted through its stored code, their attention would be diverted from her. Still, she acknowledged, the whole damn planet was going to be dogging her heels. She had to get out and get out now. It was just that the only entrance/exit to the bloody room was currently blocked.
Romaine heard the lock cycle. She thumbed down her phaser’s setting through sheer reflex. The door slid open and she fired on the first guard she saw. One fell and another took aim. Still poised in a modified Weaver stance, Romaine shifted her aim to her left and dispatched the second guard into slumber land.
She heard shouts as more guards filed into the barracks. Keeping her own phaser in hand, she approached the fallen guards and retrieved their disruptors. Setting them at the table, she laid her own phaser down where she could easily scoop it up. She thought she had just enough time to accomplish her task.
Exposing the disruptor’s power cell, she first pulled the power pack free. Then she crosswired the terminals and flipped the polarity switch. Now the disruptor would build a massive feedback and detonate.
She began work on the second disruptor when she heard footfalls and a muttered curse approaching. She snatched up her phaser and waited. Controlling her breathing like she’d been taught her heart still raced and the blood pounded in her ears. She knew the nausea was from the adrenalin coursing through her veins. Yet that same adrenalin was giving the sharpened senses and reflexes she needed to accomplish her task.
The newest Romulan swung around the corner. Her disruptor lashed out blindly in an arc across the room’s confined space. Romaine instinctively dropped to one knee and waited for the Romulan to present her torso. Romaine was rewarded for her patience a few seconds later.
She could hear hushed whispers beyond the door frame as the guards conferred. Romaine slapped the power cell back into the altered disruptor. She then came to the doorway and tossed the disrupter around the frame. There was a sudden shout and Romulans scattered.
Romaine saw that one of them ran into her room. He gave a startled look around, trying to deduce where she could have gone. His shoulders slumped as he turned around in resignation.
The rigged disruptor detonated and energy washed throughout the open areas of the barracks. Romaine saw the Romulan perk up. She shook her head sadly and shot him.
Romaine modified the other disruptor while confusion reigned. She picked it up and lifted up her own phaser as well. She jacked up the power setting on her phaser to “maximum disrupt” and fired at the rear wall of her quarters. The wall vaporized as its atomic cohesion came undone.
Romaine was free to move now. She spotted a couple of military transports parked alongside the barracks. She slipped the power cell into her other modified disruptor and slid it under a transport. She then ran away.
The explosion that lit up the night sky further plunged the Romulan security forces into disruption. Crowds began littering about outside so her exit was camouflaged. After walking a few blocks, the crowds had thinned. They were mostly headed for the sights and sounds of destruction.
The riot sentries were being deployed to push the populace back, so there was a logjam as the retreating crowds ran headlong into the approaching crowds. Things were getting tense and civil unrest was mere moments away.
Romaine found an air car and unlocked it. She disabled the positioning beacon and then used the lock pick to activate the ignition. She flew off and headed off into the overhead traffic lanes.
She fished the data slate out of her messenger bag and scrolled through its menu options. Finding the one she wanted, she set course for the arranged destination. She had to manually fly the car since the missing positioning beacon cut the autopilot off from the Global Traffic Network.
Romaine soon discovered that Romulans were very aggressive drivers. She’d thought her fellow Martian colonists had an exclusive claim to that honor, but these people drove like they were in a professional race. Romaine had raced some as a teenager so she recognized the mentality. It was a cutthroat world and every opportunity for advancement would be seized.
She landed a dozen blocks away from her destination. She walked the rest of the way. Fortunately, her hood and cloak weren’t unusual in the Romulan night. Eventually, she arrived at a tavern. She thought a public house was an odd choice for a rendezvous, but she knew Knight knew what she was doing.
She entered without any fuss and she chose a booth in the back of the establishment. She couldn’t see the entrance, but she could unobtrusively observe anyone that entered the room. Here, hooded features were a rarity. She knew the longer she stayed, the more she was in danger of being discovered. And it wasn’t like she could fake her ears, so they’d know right away.
A Romulan woman wearing an insufferably familiar smirk sauntered Romaine’s way. She came to stand at Romaine’s table and she placed a hand on the table top. “Do you mind if I have a seat?”
The statement wasn’t shocking. The fact that it was spoken in Federation Standard was. Romaine panicked.
The Romulan plopped down without permission. “Have no fears, Commander Romaine. I am your contact.”
“Who are you?” Romaine blurted.
The Romulan laughed lightly. “I don’t think that’s the question you have for me. Think and the proper question will be recalled.”
Romaine was embarrassed. She’d forgotten the damn code phrase. Rummaging around in her own mind she finally stammered the expected phrase.
The Romulan dutifully gave her counter sign despite threatening to break out into a fit of hysterical laughter at any second. “Have no worries, Commander. I shall get you out of here. But we must leave now. The subspace bands and public address nets are full of your acts of ‘terrorism and sedition.’ Already calls for war have arisen.”
Romaine blanched and the Romulan gave her a wry grin. “Have no fears. There are always call for war.” She rose. “Follow me.”
They exited the tavern and the Romulan tapped a wrist comm. “Aelynn to Darkstar. Two for a site to site transport.”
“It’s about time, Subcommander,” a gruff voice replied. “They’re closing down the launch windows.”
“Then transport us already so we can be away,” Aelynn sighed.
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