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Arias Nebula: Federation Zone of Occupation, Cardassian Space

Stardate: 53270.1

As soon as the runabout entered the Pershing’s shuttlebay, the U.S.S. Repulse turned around and headed back to Federation space.

Tigranian opened the port hatch and stepped out onto the deck. The rest of the senior staff was there to greet him.

“It’s good to see you back safe, Sir,” Annabeth said stepping forward.

“It’s good to be back, Number One. Even if it is a little ahead of schedule,” he said with more than a hint of annoyance. “Any sign of our favorite Romulan?”

“Not a damn thing,” Annabeth said with a bit of reserved relief. “If he’s out there, he’s certainly not drawing any attention to himself.”

“That’s some good news at least,” Tigranian said adjusting the shoulder strap of his bag across his chest. The rest of the group gathered around.

“Where’s Laria?” Alex asked looking back towards the ship.

“Right here,” she said confidently stepping out of the runabout and walking over to them.

“Oh my God…” Phil said looking down at her hand. “I guess miracles do happen.”

Alex and Annabeth shrieked with excitement when they saw the ring and threw their arms around Laria. She hugged them back and the three of them started jumping up and down. Tigranian smiled as Phil and Scharr stepped over to him.

“I guess congratulations are in order, Sir,” Scharr said reaching out his hand.

“They are, indeed,” Tigranian said shaking back.

“Congratulations, Sir,” Phil said echoing Scharr’s sentiments.

“Let me see it! Let me see it!” Alex said grabbing Laria’s hand. She and Annabeth examined the simple golden band with the Klingon symbol. They both looked over at Tigranian.

“Well,” Annabeth said sarcastically. “There’s no accounting for taste, but I suppose it’s the thought that counts, right Sir?”

“Hey,” Tigranian said somewhat defensively. “I would have you know that any Klingon woman would literally kill for that ring.”

“I don’t think he’s kidding,” Phil said.

“I don’t think he is either,” Alex said. “But Sir, does Laria look like a Klingon woman?”

Laria and Tigranian silently exchanged looked and grinned.

“Looks can be deceiving, Alex…” Laria said trailing off.

It was then they realized someone was missing from the crowd.

They all looked back to see Katie standing motionless. Her sad eyes stared at Laria’s ring as tears started streaming down her cheeks. Then the expression on her face turned to guilt.

“I’m so sorry, L,” Katie said apologetically. “I’m so sorry!” Then she turned and ran out of the shuttlebay.

“Oh Prophets, Katie!” Laria shouted. She started to move towards the doors, but Phil put a hand on the Bajoran’s shoulder.

“No, I’ve got her,” he said quietly.

* * * *

Katie sat cross-legged on her bed and stared down at her lap. She furiously ran her hands through her hair, nearly tearing it out. Then, the door chimed.

“Who is it?” she asked with more anger than she intended.

“It’s me,” Phil said through the intercom. “Can we talk?”

Katie sighed.

“Come in.”

Phil stepped inside, walked over to the bed, and took a seat behind her.

“What’s up, Katie bug? C’mon talk to me,” he said gently running his hand up and down her back.

“Oh nothing,” she replied sarcastically. “It’s just I took what should have been an incredibly special moment for one of my best friends and completely ruined it with my selfish insanity!” she spit out angrily.

“Hey,” Phil said starting to rub her tensed shoulders. “You didn’t ruin anything. Laria’s not upset. The captain’s not upset. No one is upset. We’re all just worried about you.”

“This crew has far more important things to worry about instead of me!”

“Katie, you are important. You’re important to all of us.”

She paused for a moment and then made a revelation.

“I’m thinking about resigning from Starfleet, Phil.”

“Why? I thought you loved being here?”

“I do!” she said whipping around to face him. “But this ship’s mission is too critical and dangerous to have an unstable person behind its tactical station.”

“When have you ever failed us, Katie? Name one time that you weren’t up to the task.”

“That’s not the point, Phil. I don’t want to put that to the test! All we were supposed to do today was welcome L and Captain T back from shore leave, and at the most innocent moment, all the memories of Paul and the Trinity came flooding back.

All I could think about was Paul and my old life. Then, I thought how I’ve found this new home…and then what would happen to me if I lost this ship too. I couldn’t handle it and I ran! What if that happens when we’re staring out at a fleet of Romulan warbirds with their disruptors charged?”

“I don’t think it will, Katie. We all know you how much you care about this ship and this crew, and that you’d never let us down. You’re too solid for that.”

Tears formed in her eyes and she buried her face in his uniform.

“Worse yet, I have this amazing boyfriend who deserves so much more than this broken, crazy mess in front of him and I don’t understand why I can’t give him everything he deserves!” She started sobbing.

“Hey,” Phil said pulling her closer. “You’re not crazy and you’re not broken, and you certainly give me more than I deserve. You’ve just been through some terrible experiences in your life and you’re working through them. We knew this would be hard, but we both agreed to get through it together.” He kissed her forehead. “I’m right here, and I’m not going anywhere.”

“Thank you…”

“You don’t have to thank me, Katie Bug.”

She managed to smile through her tears.

“Just don’t ever call me that in front of anybody else.”

“I wouldn’t dare risk it. I remember how hard your right hook is.”

“Am I really that abusive?”

“No, you’re not abusive. You just have a much more physical way of making your points than other women. I kinda like it, actually. Makes communication more simple.”

She laughed.

“Wow, I guess we’re both pretty messed up.”

“I think that’s why we work so well together.”

* * * *

“There’s a couple of ideas I can try,” Laria said. “However, the Romulans have had almost a century to improve on their cloaking technology. It’s pretty damn good.”

The senior staff sat around the table in the ward room finishing their morning synch meeting.

“So Kival could be watching us through that window right now and there’s no way we could tell until it’s too late?” Phil asked.

“There’s plenty of ways to detect a cloaked ship, Phil,” Laria replied. “However, most of them involve already knowing it’s there first.”

“What kind of ways?” Annabeth asked.

“The most reliable is a high yield tachyon burst, but that’s limited to a few thousand kilometers. I also know the Dominion experimented with concentrated tachyon beams that are good for a few light years, but those are only effective against point targets.”

“Keep developing some courses of action, L,” Tigranian said from the head of the table. “Use whatever resources or personnel you need from the other departments.”

“Yes Sir,” she said with a nod. “Mr. Scharr, if it’s alright with you, I’d like to pull in T’les. I could use a skilled engineer. Ideas are great, but I need help actually building them.”

“That’s fine,” Scharr replied. “Just don’t hold onto her too long. She’s one of the few people in main engineering I actually trust around my warp core.”

Annabeth and Tigranian flashed each other a look.

“We’re preparing for increased levels of casualties in the event of an attack,” Alex said. “We’re replicating some extra triage kits and placing them throughout the ship. We’re also making sure everyone with additional medical training gets re-certified in case sick bay gets overwhelmed.”

“I’m also running all the damage control teams through practice drills. By the time I’m done with them, they’ll be able to seal a ruptured plasma manifold blindfolded,” Scharr added.

“Good,” Tigranian said. “I think that’s the best we can do for right now. However, I want us to continue on as normally as possible. There’s no use getting nervous over something that’s just a contingency at this point.” The entire table nodded in agreement. “Alright, if no one has anything, else, let’s get to work.”

Everyone rose to their feet and exited onto the bridge. Katie, Laria, and Phil took their stations while Annabeth and Tigranian sat down in their chairs. Alex and Scharr were almost at the turbolift when Katie’s console started beeping.

“Sir,” Katie said with concern. “Priority one message from Admiral Murphy. He requests to speak to you immediately.” The entire bridge crew froze in place.

“Put him onscreen, Katie,” Tigranian said leaning back in his chair. The somber face of Admiral Murphy appeared in front of him.

“What can I do for you, Sir?” Tigranian asked.

“Welcome back, Dan. I wish I could just say ‘congratulations’ to you and Laria and be done with it, but the real world keeps pushing its way in.”

“It has a tendency to do that, Sir.”

“Are you ready to step through the looking glass?”

“Sir?”

“As soon as I get off comms with you, the U.S.S. Trieste is standing by to take me across the Neutral Zone to Romulus…”

“Romulus?” Tigranian said shocked.

“Yes, they’ve requested a face to face meeting. Suffice it to say, something of this magnitude wouldn’t happen unless the request came from the very top.”

“Why?” Tigranian asked.

“Not over subspace, but I’ll be able to explain it to you in person soon. I’m ordering you to meet me in orbit of Romulus in four days.”

“You actually want us to head back to that tyrannical hell-hole?” Tigranian said with more than a hint of disgust. He glanced back at Alex who had grown white as a sheet.

“I’m afraid so, Brother. The Romulans were very explicit that they wanted to talk to you in person as well.”

“I suppose that saying ‘no’ isn’t an option?”

“Afraid not, Dan.”

“Then, I guess I’ll see you there, Sir,” Tigranian said through gritted teeth.

Murphy sighed.

“I don’t like this anymore than you do. However, trust me on this one. You’re gonna wanna hear what they have to say.”

“I’ll have to take your word on that, Sir.”

“I know, Dan. I’ll see you in four days.”

“Yes Sir.”

“Murphy, out.”

The screen cut to black. Tigranian looked over to his first officer who looked even less thrilled at the prospect of traveling to the Romulan Empire than he did.

“Annabeth,” he said softly. “You had to put up with a lot while I was away. Why don’t you and Alex take some shore leave of your own over the next week or so? Head back to Risa and enjoy some alone time?”

“Sir,” he heard Alex’s voice from behind him. He turned to face her. “I mean this with the greatest possible amount of love and respect, but ‘Go to Hell.’ If I turn tail and run than I’m admitting to those pointy-eared bastards that they beat me. I want to look them in the eyes and show them what kind of woman I am.”

Annabeth looked at her and mouthed the words, “I love you.” Alex looked back at her and nodded.

“Alright then,” Tigranian said turning his chair back forward. “Mr. Lexington, set a course for Romulus.”

“Course laid in, Sir,” Phil said with a deep breath. Tigranian resolutely pulled down on the bottom of his uniform jacket.

“Engage.”

TO BE CONTINUED


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