In the blackness of space, there was nothing.
And yet there was something. There was a pocket of nothing that moved in the nothing at speeds greater than what little light there was.
Within this pocket sailed a thousand-meter double-hulled warship, almost as wide as it was long, with a beaked prow like some enormous predatory bird over eighty stories tall, majestically silent in the nothing and appearing as nothing to any observer. On the side of the great beak, painted in stylized High Rihan script five stories tall, unlit by floodlights with the giant vessel cloaked, were two words: ch’M’R Aen’rhien.
To the solitary human aboard, the great words meant RRW Bloodwing. At the moment Lieutenant Commander Jaleh Khoroushi, Federation Starfleet, was the el’saehne khlu’enh, the officer of the watch in her native service’s parlance. Her official title was elsaenen ch’temivhen, operations officer. Six months ago the Iranian-born logistics officer had been given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As part of the Federation’s alliance with the Romulan Republic, she would take part in an unprecedented exchange program wherein she would serve aboard a warbird as a department head, tightening the ties between the Federation and the newly recognized Romulan splinter state. Jaleh was a natural choice for the assignment: She’d minored in Romulan Studies during OCS and spoke the language fluently, and her name was known to some of the Republic crews from Starfleet humanitarian work over a decade earlier. People back home sometimes joked she must be part-Romulan herself.
Of course, the job had its downsides. There weren’t any other humans on the ship and sometimes she missed the company. And very occasionally it meant assignments like this one, which everybody aboard agreed made no military sense. As Khre’Riov t’Thavrau had so eloquently put it at dinner after receiving the orders, “the Khre’dhhokh Mol’Rihan needs to focus on its own people for a while, not foreign adventurism, and certainly not on the other damned side of the galaxy.” But the Proconsul was determined that the Republic should get its name out there and build some outposts in the Delta Quadrant, even if all they could realistically spare for the op was two warbirds sent in opposite directions. (D’Tan had wanted five, minimum, but Khre’Enriov tr’Kererek and the Central Command had fought it down to two.)
It was the middle of the “night” shift and the bridge was quiet as the retrofitted Dominion War-era D’deridex-class vessel, stolen from the Imperial shipyards in the Dimorus system, approached a binary star system detected from the Jenolan Dyson sphere. The Undine had been mysteriously quiet for weeks now, so with some reservations tr’Kererek had finally given the mission the green light. That was nine days ago.
An uhlan passed by with a tray of tea and Jaleh retrieved a mug of the steaming, highly caffeinated Rihan brew. Funny how roughly every single culture and species in the entire galaxy had at least one version of a hot beverage with stimulant properties. The tea was bitter by itself but Captain t’Thavrau’s blend was flavored with khellid honey and spices, a practice she had picked up on her adopted homeworld of Virinat. “Khnai’ru rhissiuy,” she thanked the uhlan, who continued on her rounds without a word.
The turbolift door quietly whined open to her left and a slim green-eyed Rihanha with a dark red-brown ponytail stepped out and snagged a cup of tea off the passing tray. Arrain Sahuel i’Tlhira t’Khnialmnae, the warbird’s tactical officer, yawned and sipped her tea, grimacing. “I don’t get what Morgan sees in this stuff, I really don’t.”
“I think it reminds her of home, t’Khnialmnae.”
“It’s too sweet.”
“You could always, I don’t know, order it yourself,” Jaleh suggested, flicking a thumb at the replicator set into the back wall of the bridge.
“Rekkhai, as bad as this is, replicated just tastes fake,” the tactical officer answered, brushing a stray lock of hair out of her face.
“Well, you’re going to have to get used to it eventually. At the rate we go through the stuff the tea plants in the greenhouse won’t last the length of the trip.”
“Enarrain Khoroushi,” the helmsman interrupted, “we will be arriving in two minutes.”
“All right.” She pressed the intercom. “Attention, this is Enarrain Khoroushi. El’arahtih tr’Yalu, please report to the bridge.”
The turbolift door slid open again. “I was already on my way, Jaleh.” Braeg ir’Nequencia tr’Yalu, head of sciences, stood a little taller than Jaleh, with Asian-looking features and more Rihan-typical jet-black hair. Auburn hair like t’Khnialmnae’s was even rarer for Rihannsu than it was in humans, and blondes like the helmsman were practically unheard-of. “Siurrhan’saehne,” he addressed the sensor officer, “begin initial scans.”
The viewscreen flicked to a layout of the star system. Not exactly an inviting place, even to Jaleh’s limited understanding of astronomy. One red giant, and … “Braeg, is that a pulsar?”
The Rihanha nodded. “Clear as day. Classic accretion-powered pulsar with a severe axial tilt. Orientation explains why the astronomers at the Dyson sphere didn’t spot it.” He shook his head. “We will find nothing intelligent in this system.”
“Nothing that’s supposed to be there, anyway,” Jaleh agreed. “Helm, bring us out near that rocky planet five AUs from the primary. We’ll do a cursory scan for mineral content and on the off chance there’s anything interesting, but I don’t think we need to wake the leih or Riov tr’Sauringar.” She shook her head and ruefully muttered to herself in Farsi, “Another day in the great history of the Bloodwing.”
She took a seat at her console and t’Khnialmnae sat next to her. “Rekkhai, would you mind a personal question?” the Rihanha asked as she programmed in a diagnostic routine. The warbird’s engines rumbled as the ship dropped out of warp. Jaleh shook her head. “Do you have children?”
“Sort of. I was the second of five. My brother Ehsan and I were backup parents. Why?”
“Because my sister’s having a baby and—”
A ping from one of the computers interrupted. “El’saehne khlu’enh,” the communications officer, Erein Vanlhir t’Siedhri, addressed Jaleh, “broadwave subspace message coming in in the clear, audio only.”
“Let’s hear it.”
The audio was broken up by a frequent static crackle. She managed to make out, “…axian merchant vessel … under attack by K…questing aid! Mayday…”
Now Jaleh recognized the static. Interference from enemy weapons fire. “Lanat bar sheyan, that’s a distress signal.” She reached overhead for the intercom and bellowed in Rihan, “All hands to battle stations!”
“Khhae’saehne,” Sahuel ordered as klaxons began to wail, “isolate the source location and patch it to the helm!”
The intercom crackled and a soprano voice stated in lightly accented English, “t’Thavrau to bridge. Talk to me, Commander Khoroushi.”
“We’ve detected a distress signal from a civilian starship located—Sahuel! Where are they?”
“Looks like one system over, three-point-four light-years deeper into the nebula!” Jaleh repeated this to her commanding officer.
“Commander, you are to respond with all available speed. I will join you as soon as I’m dressed. Have a cup of tea waiting.”
“Ie, rekkhai! Gonaiih, set course!” She hit the intercom again. “Bridge to Engineering! Veril, I need maximum warp power immediately!”
In the nothing, a pocket of nothing moved onto a new heading and accelerated.
“Saxis, we can’t stay here forever.” The Axiana was safely hidden for the moment in the rings of a large gas giant. They’d managed to lose the Kazon raiding party with a dangerous low-altitude pass through the atmosphere of a Class L moon and were now lying powered down among ice and rock chunks, from specks of sand on up to floating boulders the size of a house. They’d been there for four hours.
“We don’t have to, Baz,” Saxis answered. “We just have to wait for the Kazon-Tarrik to get bored and leave.” He looked hopefully across the scanboard, then grumbled, “Rrrgh, bloody hairballs don’t know when to give up.”
“They’re getting closer, Captain.”
“Don’t you think I know that!?” he yelled back. “Damn it, what in the name of the Great Forest is in that crate?”
“Hey, wait a moment,” Sil’Ta Dror, the ship’s Haakonian scan tech, interjected. “Did you see that?”
“See what, Sil’Ta?”
“I don’t know. Some sort of flicker on the subspace scanners. It’s gone now.”
“Where was it?” Bazor, the Hirogen mercenary that Saxis had hired a few months back as muscle, looked over the scanboard as Sil’Ta swung the view around. The screen went staticky from a nearby detonation. “Kazon are still getting closer, Captain!”
“Maybe you’d prefer to be back in that thill-dung bar I dragged you out of on Daxus II.”
“Well at least I wouldn’t be facing a dishonorable death by the hand of unworthy prey—”
“Hey, there it is again,” Sil’Ta interrupted. “It’s on the other side of the Kaz—and now it’s gone again.”
“What are you seeing?” the Hirogen demanded.
“Look, here’s the playback.”
“There!” The Haakonian pointed at what a less-trained eye would’ve considered a glitch in the screen, which Sil’Ta supposed was still possible now that he thought about it.
“What is that?” Saxis asked.
“I don’t know!” the Haakonian yelled in frustration. “Okay?” There was another detonation. “Captain, if they get any closer they’ll pick us up just on passive infrared!”
The Talaxian grumbled something unintelligible and scratched his head, then pushed a button on the console in front of him. “Vanka!” he barked to the young female Rilnar in the engine room. “I got another idea. You think we can handle a deep dive into that gas giant?”
“Deeper than the Kazon, hopefully.”
“Yeah, gonna have to go with ‘no’ on that one. Those old Trabe ships have pretty good cross-bracing. They can probably go deeper than we can.”
“All right, get ready to—”
“Captain,” Sil’Ta interrupted, “we’re being hailed. It’s that guy Maje Tillih again.”
“No, tightbeam. They found us.”
“Power up! Run for it!”
Then for the third time in five minutes, the Haakonian saw something on his monitor. Only this time it wasn’t a small fluctuation. The disturbance was huge, over a kilometer across, as if space itself was ripping and tearing, and out of the purest nothing, something was forming.
And then that something opened fire and all hell broke loose.
“Arrain,” a slim, weatherbeaten-looking Rihanha with long ebon tresses with a couple patches of silver at the temples, calmly addressed Sahuel t’Khnialmnae from the chair at the center of the Aen’rhien’s bridge. “Target the lead Kazon vessel. Commence attack.”
“Deactivating cloak!” the younger redheaded Rihanha confirmed. “Firing forward battery!” As reality itself was tortured by the fall of the giant warbird’s fading cloak, triple eye-searing streams of confined plasma snapped out into space at relativistic speeds from the mounts on the vessel’s nose and the leading edge of the upper hull. The plasma bolts raced across the 150 kilometers separating the Aen’rhien from its target and slammed into the broadside of the older and much smaller Kazon raiding ship, not even as large as one of the warbird’s own warp nacelles, blasting straight through and continuing on into the distance.
“Allāhu akbar,” Jaleh murmured, squirming in her seat as the Kazon vessel disintegrated, its death coming as suddenly as the strike of a cobra. One of the hardest things to get used to about serving with Rihannsu? A Federation starship was supposed to try to defuse a situation without first resorting to violence. But Rihan tactical and strategic doctrines revolved around the surprise attack, had for centuries, and Khre’Riov t’Thavrau was old-school.
That meant she shot to kill. Every time.
“Imirrhlhhsenen nnea ri’nanovai didn’t even have his shields up!” Sahuel crowed.
“Language,” the older Rihanha chided her subordinate, then ordered, “Helm, take us straight past! T’Khnialmnae, target the Predator-class—it’s the only ship in that formation that represents a threat! Fire as she bears!”
Pale blue weapons fire spat from the side of the teardrop-shaped vessel, longer than the Aen’rhien but not as wide, as the warbird screamed past. The phaser fire splashed harmlessly across the warbird’s shields; those on the bridge felt nothing. Return fire blew glowing craters in the side of the bronze-colored ship. “Damage report?” t’Thavrau asked.
“None. Starboard shields holding at 97 percent,” Jaleh answered. “That was rather pathetic, actually. Their weapons are about as good as what we were using a hundred years ago. Shields are even worse.”
“Target his forward weapons array,” Riov Sarsachen tr’Sauringar, the executive officer, ordered. “Fire aft battery, then cloak and bring us around for another pass.”
“What in the Great Forest was that thing?!” Saxis yelled.
“I’ve got no clue!” Sil’Ta yelled right back. “I’ve never heard of a ship of that configuration before, never mind one that can turn invisible!”
“They fight well,” Bazor remarked, cracking his knuckles. “Worthy prey at last.”
Sil’Ta looked at the Hirogen incredulously. “They’re on our side, you idiot.”
“Damn.” Baz looked crestfallen.
“I think,” Sil’Ta amended, and the big guy started looking a little more hopeful.
“They vanished again.”
“Hey, listen to this,” Saxis said, hitting a key. “Tillih’s going thill-dung!”
The broadcast came through. “Where’d they go? Where’d they go? Who was that?” There was a pause. “This is Third Maje Tillih, calling for additional vessels!”
Then the console pinged. Incoming hail. “Merchant vessel Axiana, this is Optrican Assemblage Vessel Watchkeeper. We have received your signal and are eleven minutes out.”
Saxis grabbed the microphone. “OAV Watchkeeper, this is Axiana. Somebody beat you to the party, no idea who. Appeared out of nowhere and blew a Kazon raider to bits in one shot, then smashed up a Predator-class and vanished again. I’m sending you a screengrab. You recognize these guys?”
There was a pause. “I’ve never seen anything like it. They hostile?”
“To the Kazon, yeah, but they don’t seem interested in us. Oh, by the way, we just overheard the Kazon calling for reinforcements.”
“Captain,” Sil’Ta interrupted, “that disturbance is back!”
“T’Khnialmnae, target their engines with the forward battery. Other weapons, targets of opportunity. Commence attack pattern Valdore Three.”
“Decloaking! Firing main battery!” Again reality was tortured. Again, triple streams of green lanced out into space from the warbird’s bow and wings. This time the Kazon vessel had had the forethought to boost power to their shields, blunting the assault, but the plasma blasts still tore deep into the heart of the teardrop-shaped vessel. A secondary explosion tore a hole out the port side, shattering the nacelle. The D’deridex-class vessel’s secondary arrays went into rapid fire, swatting down a pair of fighters that managed to launch from the vessel and smashing the hangar bay; a fireball belched out from inside.
“We’ve got one trying to get on our tail!” the sensor officer announced.
Morgan barked, “Aft torpedoes! Fire!” Glowing green plasma torpedoes belched from the tail of the warbird; the Kazon raider firing at their engines quickly broke off and went evasive.
“Long-range sensors detecting several more ships entering the system! One from vector three-zero-three by one-two, unknown configuration, nine minutes out! Six from vector nine-two by three-five-four, definite Kazon or Trabe, thirty minutes out!”
“Helm, t’Haramliu Turn! One more pass on that Predator-class with the forward battery!”
The warbird pitched hard up, twisting to port as it did so to present a marginally smaller target. No sense taking unnecessary risks. The nose passed ninety degrees and into what had been upside-down from where they were, and the enemy entered the forward firing arc. “Firing, main battery!” t’Khnialmnae announced, and again streams of plasma lanced out at the enemy. They cut through the damaged forward shields with ease and ripped deep inside. Secondary explosions rocked the vessel, laying huge rents in the outer hull that belched debris, atmosphere, and bodies. Escape pods began to pop off the vessel’s flanks as more explosions shook the ship. Then the impulse drive failed, main power went out, and its orbit began to decay. The hulk would eventually spiral down into the gas giant or one of its moons, or be torn apart in the rings.
“They’re rabbiting, Captain!” Commander Khoroushi said of the remaining five raiders.
“Let them. See to the survivors. Lock transporters and bring them aboard, and see to it any weapons are lost in transit.” She signaled for a refill of her tea and pressed the intercom key. “Leih to tr’Khev, we have some unexpected guests about to come aboard. Have your troops ready to escort them to the brig, and be prepared to set up a temporary holding pen in one of the spare cargo bays.” She released the key without waiting for a reply. “Get me a full readout of that ship they were attacking.”
“Looks like a freighter, ID transliterating to Axiana,” Jaleh said, reading off her console. “Basic navigational weapons, phaser-equivalent. Decent shields, though, Federation military-grade a few generations ago. But their engines are pretty shot up—I don’t think they can go much faster than warp 3 right now.”
“Hail them.” T’Siedhri hand-signaled her. “Merchant vessel Axiana, this is the Republic Warbird Bloodwing, responding to your distress signal. Do you require further assistance?”
There was a pause and then a trio of humanoids on a dim, somewhat ramshackle bridge appeared on the viewscreen. At the center, a dark-skinned Talaxian. Morgan tensed upon seeing a Hirogen in the background but the presence of a Haakonian confused her. Based on Voyager’s records the Haakonians were conquistadors, the local equivalent of the pre-revolution Cardassians, and had taken over Talax and glassed its moon Rinax. A Talaxian working with a Haakonian seemed strange at best. “Uh, Republic Warbird Bloodwing,” the Talaxian said uncertainly, “we’re safe for the moment but we could use some re…pairs… I’m sorry, who are you? I’ve never heard the term ‘Republic Warbird’.” He turned and whispered something over his shoulder to the Haakonian, who nodded and walked out of the frame.
Morgan’s XO stepped into the picture, leaning his arm on the back of her chair. Sarsachen i’Amriel tr’Sauringar was tall, stout and powerfully built, ruddy-skinned and blue-eyed, with boyish good looks marred by a scar on his face from an honor duel he’d fought against another Republic officer who had taken exception to the former’s fifteen years in Starfleet. He came off needing stitches, the other guy spent a week in the hospital. “We are Rihannsu, most of us, anyway,” he explained. “We’re on an exploration mission and represent the Republic of ch’Mol’Rihan.”
“Nice to meet you, Mister Rihannsu. I’m Saxis, that’s Bazor, and the other guy was Sil’Ta.”
Morgan nodded. “I am Khre’Riov Morgaiah ir’Sheratan t’Thavrau, commander of this vessel. We detected your distress signal and responded in accordance with mnhei’sahe and international law.”
“In accordance with what?”
Khoroushi broke into the conversation. “Where we come from, international agreements require ships to answer any distress signals from groups we are not currently at war with.”
“It’s the same over here. I was talking about the ‘naysay’ thing.”
“‘Mnhei’sahe’,” Morgan corrected him, pronouncing it carefully. “It is difficult to explain to non-Rihannsu, but it is the single most important code of social conduct in our culture—”
“Rekkhai!” t’Siedhri interrupted. Morgan turned her head and glared at him, annoyed. “Forgive the interruption but the Axiana is in contact with another party!”
“Explain yourselves,” Morgan commanded, calmly but forcefully.
The Haakonian stuck his head back into the frame, leaning backwards for the camera to catch him. “Yeah, sorry about that. I was apprising the Optricans that you didn’t seem to be hostile. They should be here any minute.”
“Rekkhai,” Khoroushi added, “unknown vessel coming out of warp, three hundred klicks off our port bow.”
“Tactical analysis, please.”
T’Khnialmnae answered, “Looks like a patrol vessel, unknown configuration. Approximately 150 meters long and 180 meters wide. Very powerful impulse drive, six fixed-position weapons emplacements comparable to the spinal mount of a Jem’Hadar attack ship, four omnidirectional turrets covering the after arc. Secondary and tertiary shields, overall strength comparable to an early Ambassador-class Federation starship.”
“That’s a lot of juice. How in the hell are they powering that thing?” Khoroushi wondered.
“These emissions signatures are consistent with a polaric ion power source,” tr’Yalu replied.
“We’re being hailed, rekkhai.” Morgan acknowledged t’Siedhri and ordered him to put the other ship up on split-screen.
The other captain had a body configuration Morgan had never even heard of. He resembled a picture of a Terrhain centaur she had seen once, except he had six legs and was bright purple. “Khre’Riov t’Thavrau—I hope I am pronouncing that right—I am Senior Captain Shalbar of the Optrican Assemblage, requesting you to stand down.”
“Negative. I don’t know you, therefore I cannot automatically trust you.”
“It’s all right, Miss Rihannsu,” the Talaxian said. “The Optricans are good folk.”
“Khre’Riov, I am not interested in fighting you. Clearly we have a mutual enemy in the Kazon-Tarrik, and while their vessels are little match for our warships they are threatening civilian shipping. This independent trader was fortunate. Usually nobody arrives in time to do anything but collect the bodies. We suspect they have a supply base in a nearby system but we don’t know where.”
Morgan nodded. “We took some of them alive. I may be able to acquire that information for you.”
Tovan ir’Hfihar tr’Khev, the Aen’rhien’s chief of security, greeted them by the cargo bay door. “I took the liberty of putting the guy in charge in the cargo bay manager’s office. Somebody named Third Maje Jal Tillih.”
“Very well, I’ll handle this,” t’Thavrau said. “Make sure the interrogation is audible and visible to the others.”
“Rekkhai, are you sure that’s a good idea?” tr’Sauringar asked. He read off a datapad. “‘Strongly patriarchal culture’, ‘women are second-class citizens’, et cetera. I think your presence will just insult him.”
Khoroushi snorted. “Sounds like my homeland four hundred years ago.”
“Well, I guess we’ll just have to hope that his sense of self-preservation overrides his chauvinism.”
The four of them stepped into the cargo bay, where a dozen heavily armed Rihannsu and Havrannsu in riot gear stood watch over about fifty Kazon sitting cross-legged on the floor. They looked even more ridiculous in person than they had in the briefing materials. “Is that all of them, tr’Khev?”
“No, we’ve got sixty-two hot-bunked in the brig and about two hundred more in Bays Four and Six. I hope these ‘Optricans’ you mentioned have a transport handy; otherwise we’ll have to haul them off ourselves.”
Tr’Sauringar shook his head. “No, we’re playing prison barge for a little while. The ship they brought’s about the size of a Federation Defiant-class.”
“Fvadt,” tr’Khev cursed.
Morgan approached the quartermaster’s office. It was unused at the moment, since Cargo Bay Seven hadn’t needed to be stocked for this mission, and tr’Khev had put a folding table and two chairs in the empty room. A particularly hairy Kazon in a drab green vest with fur trim sat handcuffed in one of the chairs, staring at her in what looked like a combination of abject surprise and utter disgust. “They sent a woman?”
“I sent myself. I am Khre’Riov Morgaiah t’Thavrau, commander of this vessel.”
He made a dismissive grunt. “You lie like a fur rug.”
“Do I look like I make a business of lying, you mogai-faced buffoon?”
The Kazon launched into a rant of which her universal translator only bothered to translate about every third or fourth word, although the gist was pretty clear. While she waited for him to finish she idly wondered if the length of their hair and the strength of their stench had some correlation to their societal rank.
He was at the point of a description of the various ingredients of which she was supposedly composed, none of them hygienic and some she wasn’t sure actually existed, before she lost patience. “Are you finished?” Morgan interrupted in a disinterested tone, inspecting her fingernails. “Let me tell you how this is going to work. Your race has met people from my side of the galaxy once before. But they represented the Federation. I do not. I am Rihannsu. You will tell me the location of your base and the rest of your ships”—she suddenly looked him straight in the eye—“or I will take it from you.”
The Kazon began to tremble slightly. Briefly Morgan thought she was having an effect, but then quiet laughter started to echo through the room. She was decidedly nonplussed at this development. “Ha ha ha! Ha-hahaha! Yet another woman far too small for the role she claims!” Suddenly he stopped laughing and spat on the table. “You dishonor your ship by claiming a position that isn’t yours by right—”
Morgan shot to her feet and before Tillih could do anything more than jerk backwards in startlement she had thrown the table aside. As it hit the wall with a crash her left arm shot across the gap and grabbed hold of the Kazon’s neck, wiry muscles bunching as the furious Rihanha lifted the larger humanoid clear off the floor. “You dishonor yourself,” she icily told Tillih. “You prey on the weak and the innocent. You kill for glory like the worst kind of Khe’lloann’na. And now you dare to insult my honor?” The Kazon grunted something inaudible. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear that.”
“Die … in a fire.”
Through the window Jaleh saw t’Thavrau’s hand twitch. The human gasped and flinched away and heard a wet crunch through the speakers, louder than it actually was. She looked back as the commander dropped the maje to the floor, where he landed in a motionless heap. “Tr’Khev!” she barked. “Dispose of him and bring in the second-in-command.”
The second Kazon practically fell over himself in his rush to tell where the rest of the fleet was. T’Thavrau told tr’Khev to hand the prisoners off to the Optricans when possible, then strode briskly out the door.
Jaleh followed her. “Captain, what in God’s name was that for?”
“What was what for, Khoroushi?”
“What do you mean, ‘What was what for’? He was an unarmed prisoner!”
Without breaking stride, t’Thavrau matter-of-factly responded, “He was guilty of piracy and attempted murder, and likely murder as well considering the honorific ‘jal’. As an officer of the Galae s’Kreh’dhhokh Mol’Rihan I am authorized to deal with pirates as I like. Moreover he insulted my mnhei’sahe and my ability to command. One or the other, I would have let past.”
“You murdered him!”
“I executed him.”
“Kire asbe abi too koonet!” Jaleh snapped at her in Farsi.
The commander rounded on her and shot back in Rihan, “Urru Areinnye!” Her hands twitched again but she took a deep breath, visibly forcing them to remain still. “Are you finished, Enarrain?”
“Yeah, I’m finished,” she answered, grudgingly.
“Good. I’ll take the next watch.” She stepped into the turbolift and requested the bridge.
Tovan came up behind Jaleh. “Technically she’s right.”
“Tr’Khev, I may be elsaenen ch’temivhen on this ship but I’m still a Starfleet officer.”
“And I’m a cop, by training anyway. I don’t always like what Morgan does, either. When she’s acting as leih she’s a completely different person than the woman I knew on Virinat for ten years. But I could tell you easy that maje was never going to break, and the penalty for piracy under just about everybody except the Federation is death anyway.”
“Rekkhai, I’m not allowed to be judge, jury, and executioner. It violates Federation law and it’s immoral.”
“This isn’t a Federation ship and Morgan isn’t Lloannen’galae, or Terrhaha for that matter. And you didn’t kill him—she did.”
“I know that!” She spun away and started studying the wall. Finally she said, “I love serving with the Republic. I get to actually use those Romulan Studies courses and I learn more every day. I’m even putting out feelers with the Diplomatic Corps to see if they’d be interested in having me whenever I get out. But every once in a while she does something that I can’t possibly ever agree with and it just hits me that she still thinks of me as a guest, not a full member of her crew.”
“That’s not true.”
“Isn’t it?” She turned around and waved a hand. “She actually listens to tr’Sauringar and he’s been in Starfleet almost as long as I have!”
“Okay, point, and I even think I know why. Sarsachen’s Rihannsu, born and bred, and Morgan grew up pre-Shinzon, before the Havrannsu started pushing for equal rights and we all lost everything. I mean, look at you. I’ve studied Terrha’s history a little bit. How long did it take before those last holdouts in your part of the world stopped treating women like property?” She grunted noncommittally. “See?”
“So, what, she doesn’t trust me because my ears aren’t pointy?”
“I wouldn’t go that far, but she’s not going to go out of her way to court your affection because she doesn’t think it’s worth her effort to try and convince you. And ultimately she’s leih of this warbird and she’s going to run it the way she wants. If you want to change her, you’re going to have to work at it.” He reached out and touched her shoulder, hesitantly at first. “You want a drink? I could use a drink.”
“Ie, rekkhai,” she said out of habit.
“Call me Tovan. She doesn’t do it anymore and I kinda miss it.”
“All right, Tovan it is. Ale?”
“Better. I’ve got the last three bottles of the ’04 from Morgan’s winery on Virinat.” The tanned Rihanha grinned. “When we went back last year we managed to find some crates in her cellar that the khellids didn’t break.”
Jaleh laughed. “So your crazy ex-girlfriend actually did some good?” Tovan looked slightly crestfallen. “Sorry.”
He grunted. “It’s all right. Come on, it’s in my office.”
Around them the warbird, largely oblivious to the turmoil inside it, thrummed with power as it tractored the Axiana and followed the Watchkeeper into warp.