by Travis Anderson
The transporter chief grunted as Aelynn and Romaine finished materializing. “Commander Talus wants you on the bridge as soon as you can get there.”
“Why?” Aelynn wondered.
“He wants you to handle our launch while he placates the officials,” the tech explained and then added, “and you’d best watch your tongue, Subcommander. We may be loose-knit but we are still Romulans. The command structure will be adhered to. That includes respect.”
“Inform the commander that I’ll be up as soon as I stow our passenger,” Aelynn assured him.
“Just hurry,” the tech advised. “Commander Talus is ready to chew neutronium.”
“It’d probably be easier on his digestion than his usual culinary massacres,” Aelynn quipped. The tech chortled and Aelynn waved Romaine on to follow her.
Aelynn led her through the ship. Romaine had studied Romulans ship designs. This was reminiscent of aBird of Prey, yet it was distinctly different. Finally, she had to ask why that was.
Aelynn grinned, “That’s because we’re in a Bird of Vengeance-class. Essentially we’re a scout. This class of vessel isn’t military. Rather, we’re privateers in the service of the Empire. We engage in exploration, anti-piracy operations, and first contact missions.”
“So, you’re counting on your semi-legitimate status to get us through security,” Romaine guessed.
Aelynn nodded as she came to a halt. “That is right. If you’ll step in here, these will be your temporary lodgings.”
Romaine looked in. It was a small berth, barely big enough to hold the cot contained within. Aelynn recognized Romaine’s look of dismay for what it was.
“This area is shielded. When the hatch closes, it is flush with the bulkhead. For all intents and purposes, it and its occupant disappear,” Aelynn described.
Dawning awareness wakened in Romaine. “You’ve done this before.”
Aelynn’s eyes twinkled with mischief. “On occasion.”
“But why?” Romaine wondered.
Aelynn suddenly wore a somber mien. “I’ll explain it all later on, but for now I need you in this area and I need to report to the bridge.”
“You’re locking me in, aren’t you?” Romaine realized.
“Only for a short span of time,” Aelynn assured her. “You must trust me.”
For some strange reason, Romaine did. And it wasn’t because Aelynn was her contact. Rather, it was in spite of that. Aelynn, and by extension her crewmates, were risking their lives to extract Romaine. The least she could do was cooperate.
Romaine entered the room and sat on the cot. “Do it. Before I change my mind.”
“Rest easy. We’re very, very good at this,” Aelynn promised. She then closed the door and locked it.
“Like I have a choice,” Romaine grumbled to the encroaching bulkheads.
It took a nearly three hours for Aelynn to release the door. Romaine had nearly gone mad from feeling claustrophobic. She gratefully accepted Aelynn’s invitation to the ship’s mess.
When they arrived, four other crewmen were present. They all openly stared at Romaine out of curiosity. Romaine was a little unnerved.
“Why am I such a focus of attention? Haven’t they seen humans before?” Romaine wondered.
“Of course they have. They just never seen one that wasn’t a slave,” Aelynn informed her.
“Slave?” Romaine latched onto that singular word.
“My people brought quite a number of prisoners back from the war between our peoples. Most were given to the noble houses to serve as slaves. The nobles use a variety of slaves from the subject races as menial laborers,” Aelynn explained. “Surely you knew.”
“No,” Romaine confessed. “Starfleet has often wondered what happened to those missing in action, but we always assumed they were actually killed in action.”
“Not always.” Aelynn seemed to be enjoying a private joke. “I am proof enough of that.”
“Are you saying…?” Romaine couldn’t believe it.
“My paternal grandmother was human. She was a slave that caught the eye of her master. He was impressed enough with her to forsake his House and marry her. That is where I learned to speak your native language. The skill has been passed down through the family,” Aelynn revealed.
“Is that why you’re helping me?” Romaine asked.
“Partly.” Aelynn decided to share, “The primary reason, and the factor motivating my crew, is the Reunification movement.”
“The what?” Romaine was baffled.
“What do you know of the Vulcan Reunification movement?” Aelynn inquired.
“I’ve never even heard of it,” Romaine confessed.
“T’Ling never spoke of it?” Aelynn had to ask.
“No.” Romaine was now wondering what the hell T’Ling had to do with anything.
Aelynn wore an approving smile. “She’s always been a cagey one. That is why she was chosen for the mission.”
“What mission?” Romaine demanded to know.
Aelynn looked sad. “I hate to inform you, Commander, but your mission was a feint.”
“Excuse me?” Romaine was incensed.
Aelynn held up her hands. “I had nothing to do with it. Commander Knight selected you out of the very limited choices. You distracted the Tal Shiar and kept their focus on you while T’Ling carried out the true mission. I am sorry to have to inform you of this.”
“But you’re not sorry I did my part,” Romaine scowled.
“Truly, I’m not,” Aelynn admitted. “T’Ling is one of our number.”
“What number?” Romaine snapped.
“The Reunification movement seeks to reunite the Vulcan and Romulan peoples in a cohesive exchange of cultures such as we had before the Sundering,” Aelynn explained.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Romaine said dismissively.
“Over a hundred years ago, the Star Empire’s agents travelled to Vulcan and placed this idea in the minds of the High Command as a manipulative ruse. The movement took a life of its own, and now a century later, there are adherents moving in secret on both sides of the border,” Aelynn shared.
“You’re trying to tell me a bunch of idealistic dreamers schemed up this plan?” Romaine countered.
“No, we had assistance from factions within Starfleet,” Aelynn explained. “There were some unexpected variables thrown in during your transit here that threatened the mission.”
“What kind of ‘variables?’” Romaine wearily asked.
“My sister became involved,” Aelynn stated.
“Who is your sister?” Romaine had to ask.
“You have had the misfortune of meeting her. She commands the cruiser that brought you to Romulus,” Aelynn divulged.
“Commander Alera is your sister?” Romaine was astounded. “You’re saying she’s part human and she’s still such a…”
As Romaine faltered while searching for a word, Aelynn chuckled. “No matter which adjective you apply, they’ve been used frequently and often for Alera.”
“Why is she so…so…?” Romaine stumbled.
“Full of hate?” Aelynn suggested. Romaine nodded and the Romulan explained, “My sister feels she is contaminated by her human blood. It is a perceived impurity that drives her every ambition. She feels she must constantly prove her orthodoxy and goes to great extremes to demonstrate her loyalty to the Star Empire and to simply being Romulan.”
“So let me get this straight. Your sister was the great threat that could’ve been our undoing?” Romaine had to scoff.
“Alera knows of the Reunification movement,” Aelynn said. “She suspects everyone of being a traitor or a threat, especially Vulcans.”
“Why would a Vulcan pose a concrete threat?” Romaine wondered.
“Vulcans act as philosophical ambassadors when they travel into the Star Empire. Indigenous members of the movement act as spies and agents of influence and change,” Aelynn shared. “The Tal Shiar expressly demanded that Alera be your team’s minder en route. That bodes ill.”
“The Federation’s Prime Directive forbids interference in foreign cultures. Starfleet is bound by that law, yet you’re saying Starfleet Intelligence ran an illegal covert operation?” Romaine inquired.
Aelynn wore a mischievous smile. “Did I say it was Starfleet Intelligence?”
“Yes, you did,” Romaine said flatly, even as she recalled that Aelynn hadn’t specified which branch of Starfleet had concocted this fiasco.
“I must have misspoken,” Aelynn retorted.
Romaine was stymied and she knew it.
Two days later, Romaine was brought to a small room with a viewscreen. She was curious as to why. Aelynn’s answer surprised her.
“We’ve arrived for our rendezvous with the Longbow,” the Romulan XO answered.
“We’ve reached the Neutral Zone?” Romaine asked hopefully.
“Not quite,” Aelynn smirked. Romaine was beginning to hate that mirthful expression. Aelynn opted not to leave her guest hanging in suspense. “We’re still a day away from the zone. The Longbow crossed the zone a day ago and should be here waiting for us.”
“Waitaminute!” Romaine exclaimed. “The Longbow violated the Neutral Zone?”
“Your own precious Enterprise did so,” Aelynn pointed out. “What is another starship after that?”
Romaine caught up with Aelynn’s statements. “If she’s here, why don’t you know it?”
“I think you’re about to see why,” Aelynn offered.
Romaine was half tempted to risk Aelynn’s greater strength and attempt to strangle her. Then she noticed the ripple in the viewscreen. “What the…? Something’s decloaking!”
“Right on time,” Aelynn mused.
Romaine was suddenly concerned that she’d come this far just to be delivered over to the Tal Shiar at long last. Then, as the mystery starship coalesced into view, Romaine realized the viewer displayed an image of an Archer-class scout.
“What the hell?” Romaine blurted. “When did the Longbow get a cloaking device?”
“Shortly after the Starfleet Corps of Engineers finished examining the one stolen by Kirk,” Aelynn explained. “We can proceed to the transport chamber now. I think you’ve seen what you needed to see.”
“Why did I need to see this?” Romaine asked.
“Did Commander Knight inform you what the primary rule is?” Aelynn inquired in turn.
“Yes,” Romaine answered warily.
“Then you have your answer,” Aelynn said sagely.
Romaine decided it wasn’t too late to strangle the Subcommander after all.
Romaine appeared in the Longbow’s transporter room. Knight cheerfully greeted her and Romaine responded by taking aim at her with her phaser.
The transporter chief reached for the alarm, but Knight waved him off. “Why Mira, whatever do you intend to do with that?”
“I’m not sure yet,” Romaine admitted. “I just feel more comfortable having this pointed at you.”
“And why is that?” Knight was thoroughly amused.
“You set me up,” Romaine accused. “I was your dupe. I was the decoy so your real agent could do God knows what.”
“True,” Knight admitted. “But I didn’t enjoy having to do it.”
“I don’t give a damn whether or not you enjoyed it,” Romaine growled. “You still did it.”
“Yes, I did. And given the same choice, I’d do it again in a hot second,” Knight divulged.
“I should just shoot you and take my chances with the crew,” Romaine declared.
“Go ahead,” Knight suggested.
“Say what?” Romaine was baffled.
“Knowing you would feel this way when we picked you up, do you really think I’d give you a weapon that you could use against me?” Knight inquired.
“You’re bluffing,” Romaine ventured.
“Let’s see if you are and we’ll know for sure if I am,” Knight urged.
Romaine thought for about half a second and then pulled the trigger. She tried a couple of more times. “Damn.”
Knight grinned, “I didn’t think you do it for a moment there. I’d say you’ve come a long way in a short time. Are you certain you wouldn’t like a change in careers?”
“Get stuffed,” Romaine replied.
Knight shrugged. “You might change your mind someday. I’ve got time.”
“Now what happens?” Romaine wondered.
“Now we go to our guest quarters and I’ll answer as many of your questions as I can,” Knight shared.
“I guess I’ll have to live with that,” Romaine sighed.
“Well, you certainly won’t get a better offer from anyone else,” Knight chuckled.
They were sitting in their room and Romaine finally vented, “What the hell was so important that you had to use me like a pawn?”
“I’m afraid I can’t answer that. You’re not cleared for it,” Knight reluctantly stated. “I can say that what we’ve gathered could very well insure the lives of trillions.”
“So my data is useless?” Romaine asked wearily.
“No, your data is valuable. It’s just of secondary importance because we could have acquired it by other means. Assets like Subcommander Aelynn are valuable and resourceful, but they’re still Romulan patriots and won’t hand over any information that they feel would imperil the Star Empire,” Knight divulged.
“Just who the hell are you anyway?” Romaine wanted to know, “because you sure as hell aren’t Starfleet Intelligence.”
“What makes you think that?” Knight was curious.
“Call it a hunch,” Romaine shot back.
“I feel I owe you a glimmer of the truth, so I will admit that there are layers to Starfleet and some layers are hidden from the average person. Let’s just say you’ve had a brush with something far beyond you,” Knight revealed.
“But…” Romaine started to say.
Knight held up a hand to ward off the question, “That’s all I can say. I’m serious about you joining us though. You wouldn’t have to leave Memory Alpha. You’d just be on call to protect the Federation when asked to.”
“At what price?” Romaine asked sharply.
“You’d have to broaden your paradigm slightly,” Knight shared.
“Is there such a thing as ‘going too far’ with you people?” Romaine wanted to know.
“Freedom comes at a price,” Knight countered. “Most people aren’t willing to pay it.”
“And what is that price?” Romaine inquired.
“Join us and find out,” Knight offered. “Otherwise, get used to not having your questions answered.”
Romaine decided it was going to be a long trip back to Memory Alpha.
Knight offered Romaine another chance to join her shadowy organization one last time. Romaine declined once again, but Knight wore a knowing smile. “We’ll see.”
The Longbow departed and carried Knight away with her. Romaine returned to her duties. Someone had warned off her fellow officers from asking Romaine what had happened on Romulus. They were dying to know, she could tell, but they were literally afraid to ask. Romaine knew it was Knight’s heavy hand again. Her or her mysterious compatriots.
As Romaine had suspected would happen, T’Ling was immediately transferred out of Memory Alpha. The transfer was so immediate, in fact, she left with the Longbow when she broke orbit. It wasn’t a coincidence that T’Ling had packed all of her belongings before departing for Romulus.
Over the next three months, three unexpected events occurred. First, Commander Garth retired. He moved back to Earth and became the Chief Librarian for Starfleet Academy.
Second, Romaine was then promoted to Commander ahead of schedule. And thirdly, she was made Chief Archivist of Memory Alpha. Her surprise and delight ebbed when she received a congratulatory note from Knight. She felt the hand of manipulation again, but she also shrugged it off. Her new position could serve her newfound interests.
Romaine began to dig deeper into Starfleet’s Bureau of Personnel database. Mercy Knight didn’t exist. Her file and transcripts had disappeared. But a woman matching her description did, or had, existed.
Lt. Miranda Graves was a dead ringer for Knight. She’d apparently died in a shuttle accident on Izar. She’d been one of the first graduates of the Advanced Tactical Training Center. She had been awarded medals, citations, and letters of merit with no events attached. So Miranda Graves, like Mercy Knight, stank of covert ops.
Romaine realized that shuttle accidents could be arranged. Cloning of enough tissues could provide DNA evidence to substantiate a death. Graves had been far too competent to be caught by a hidden bomb. Basically, Miranda Graves had died so Mercy Knight could be born.
The question was why had Romaine been allowed to discover these facts? She knew it had been a controlled and intentional oversight not to erase Graves’ records. Whoever Knight worked for wasn’t that sloppy. They were playing a game with Romaine, still inexorably trying to draw her in.
And that begged the question of what kind of organization could convince a loyal and patriotic officer like Graves to fake her death and serve them as Knight. Personnel files seemed to be altered at will and fake orders generated at a whim. Who had that kind of access and power?
Also disturbing was the Longbow being equipped with the stolen cloaking device. Starfleet had made it official policy not to pursue cloaking technology. Part of the reason was idealistic. Starfleet operated in the open. They shouldn’t have to resort to skullduggery. And of course, there was the matter of having to admit where they’d acquired the technology.
It was also a matter of priorities. Cloaking devices were a first strike weapon. Starfleet’s primary function was exploration. Defense was a secondary priority. And defense meant what it sounded like. Defense was not offense.
Romaine had decided to unearth the powers that be from the shadows where they lingered. Unsurprisingly, after a few months of probing, she got a message from Knight. Knight seemed genuinely pleased to be speaking with her.
“Congratulations, Mira. I can tell you you’re on the right trail. In fact, you’ve come closer to the truth than anyone has in decades,” Knight bubbled. “I’m authorized to tell you everything if you’re ready to listen.”
“What’s the price?” Romaine warily asked.
“You give up your safe little career and use your talents in defense of the Federation full-time,” Knight shared. “And I can also tell you this is a one-time offer. Take it or leave it.”
Romaine graphically described which orifice Knight could shove her offer into. Knight was a little discouraged. “Don’t continue wasting your talents, Mira.”
“I’m not,” Romaine grated.
“I’m sure you intend to chase us down and bring us into the daylight. I can freely advise you not to bother. It could be dangerous to continue your pursuit,” Knight warned.
“Is that a threat?” Romaine sought clarification.
“A possibility,” Knight deflected. “A very real one.”
“I think we’re done here,” Romaine decided.
“Just think about it, Knight requested before signing off.
Romaine was more determined than ever. She vowed to uncover the secrets and hidden agendas or die trying. What she hadn’t realized yet was that could become a reality far sooner than she suspected.
Please send feedback and other correspondence regarding this story to Brin_Macen at yahoo dot com.
Please send feedback and other correspondence regarding this story to Brin_Macen at yahoo dot com.