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The next morning, Tigranian and Alex stood together in a private room off of sick bay. Two security men armed with phasers stood next to the wall behind them Tigranian thought they were unnecessary, but he was keeping a promise he made the previous evening to a perturbed Annabeth to "not to anything stupid while I'm on leave."

The two Romulans still slept on a pair of biobeds.

"Are you ready?" Tigranian asked his doctor.

"Oh, I've been ready," Alex replied. "Are you?"

Tigranian nodded.

She grabbed a hypospray and then took a deep breath. She injected their necks and the Romulans stirred awake.

The male opened his eyes and struggled to bring them into focus. As soon as he saw the outline of Tigranian, he bolted upwards.

"Sora!" he shouted looking around. The woman shook herself awake and nearly fell to the floor as she screamed in shock.

"Wait, please!" Tigranian shouted holding up his hands. "You are safe."

The man stared back at him with fear filled eyes. The woman retreated against the wall and reached for the man's hand. They were obviously terrified.

"My name is Captain Daniel Tigranian. We rescued you from the Cardassian ship as it was breaking up. You're onboard the Federation starship, Pershing."

"We know who you are…" the woman said not taking her eyes off him. "There's not a school child in the Star Empire that doesn't know your ugly, human face."

Alex looked over at her captain nervously.

"You're a war criminal!" the man shouted. "You killed all those people on Grallus and Gotanna. Gods know how many more you would have killed if the fleet hadn't scared you off."

Tigranian shook his head and crossed his arms.

"The reports of my cruelty have been greatly exaggerated. Forgive me, but I don't think you have the whole story about what happened on those worlds."

"Don't lie to us!" the woman spit back at him. "Your cruelty was so profound it drove the praetor into seclusion. He now spends his days praying for the sake of the Romulan people."

Alex couldn't help but laugh. Tigranian shot her a warning glance.

"The suffering you have imposed on us is funny to you animals?" the man said.

"This must be the famous Federation Doctor Alexandra Hunter…" the woman said. "Everyone knew that you didn't deserve mercy, but the lies of your captain fooled us. We won't make the same mistake again."

Alex shuddered.

"I'm sorry, Sir, I can't," she said. "I'll be outside if you need me." She quickly disappeared back into sick bay.

"She can't what?" the man said. "Be around us? She really hates Romulans so much?"

"No Sir," Tigranian replied shaking his head. "It's just in our culture, people are usually more grateful when you save their lives."

"What are you talking about?" the woman asked.

"You both had Stage III radiation poisoning," Tigranian said plainly. "You also suffered numerous broken bones, contusions, and lacerations when the polaric field inverter you were using to mine the protostar exploded. From the pattern of your wounds, you must have been right next to it. She spent the last twenty hours saving your lives."

"How did you know about the field inverter?" the man asked in shock.

"Because we're not stupid," Tigranian said walking over to them. "Besides, Captain Norbah was a bit more polite than you."

"I told you we shouldn't have trusted him with the details of our experiment…" the woman chided the man.

"We needed his help with the power connections," the man grumbled back at her.

"And look at the good it did," she replied.

"Look," Tigranian said. "If it makes you feel any better, I'm about as excited for you to be onboard my ship as you are to be here. You're inside Republic Space, but Starfleet is arranging for us to rendezvous with a Cardassian State Diplomatic skiff that will return you to the Romulan Embassy on Simperia. Until then, you will be our guests will full diplomatic courtesies extended. I give you my word, you will be treated with the utmost respect. I ask that you extend my crew the same courtesy."

The pair of Romulans exchanged nervous glances. Then, the man stepped off the biobed and straightened the suit he was wearing.

"My name is Dr. Jedras Vran. This is my partner, Dr. Sora Talv."

Tigranian bowed his head respectfully.

"Welcome aboard," he added. "Is there anyone else you would like us to contact on your behalf? The Romulan Science Ministry, perhaps?"

"Captain," Jedras said. "The Romulan Science Ministry was not exactly thrilled with our experiments. If they were, do you think we would be forced to carry them out in Cardassia?"

"They should be," Sora muttered. "No one else has come as far as we have to address the energy crisis."

"Sora!" Jedras shouted.

"Do you possibly think they don't know?" she shouted back. "Do you really think their surveillance outposts haven't seen our humiliation?" She turned to Tigranian. "The slave insurrection has shuttered almost every single fuel refinery. All available deuterium goes either to the military or to Romulus itself. Half our planets have gone dark at night because they don't have enough energy to keep the lights on."

"The situation is even worse in the Cardassian State," Jedras added. "Worlds experiencing winter are suffering food shortages. Some homes cannot be heated. We proposed an experiment to see if mining protostar plasma could be a viable alternative to refined deuterium."

"If it worked, the Science Ministry would have no choice but to let us attempt the same process in Romulan Space," Sora said.

"The Federation has offered both food relief and energy exports to Romulus and the Cardassian State as long as neutral observers ensure it doesn't go to military applications," Tigranian said. "The Ferengi offered to facilitate…for a small commission of course."

"What?" Sora said in shock. "That can't be possible."

"Our government would never let innocent people starve to death," Jedras said shaking his head.

"As I said," Tigranian replied. "Your government isn't giving you the whole story."

"Of course those noble bastards in the Senate don't care about the commoners," Sora said gritting her teeth. "They're not the ones lighting candles in their homes or burning logs to boil their rationed starch roots."

"Sora..." Jedras pleaded again.

"Jedras, you know as well as I do what the Empire is capable of. Does it really sound so far-fetched?"

He answered her with silence.

"We have arranged quarters for you while onboard," Tigranian said cutting through the awkwardness. "These two security officers will have to accompany you when moving around the ship. However, you will access to all unrestricted areas. The replicators can provide you with any toiletries or comfort items you require. If you need something else, ask one of your escorts. They will contact the appropriate staff head."

"Thank you, Captain," Jedras said. "Regretfully, I believe that if the situation were reversed, Romulan hosts would not be as accommodating."

The captain turned to leave. Just as he passed through the doors, he spoke under his breath.

"I can tell you that for a fact."

****

Jedras and Sora uncomfortably sat alone at a table in the mess hall pecking at their food. They had actually found two basic Romulan dishes in the Federation replicator. They slowly spooned blue broth into their mouths as they felt fifty pairs of eyes staring at them from all over the room.

Three tables away, Katie, Phil, and Laria were eating lunch.

"I can't believe the captain is just letting them eat in here with the rest of us," Katie grumbled under her breath.

"They're not prisoners, Katie," Phil said taking another bite of his corned beef sandwich.

"Well, maybe they should be…" Katie replied quietly. "We've all seen what Romulans are capable of. They probably rigged the whole accident just to get onboard the Pershing."

"Don't perpetuate conspiracy theories, Katie," Laria said shaking her head.

"Conspiracy theories?" Katie said incredulously. "Were you there when that entire warbird squadron chased us back across the border. They don't exactly like the captain…or you," she said with a hint of warning.

"My beef was with a very particular Romulan," Laria said taking a bite of an apple. "She's no longer with us."

"But her friends are," Katie replied.

Laria shook her head and picked up her tray.

"Where are you going?" Phil asked.

"Call it diplomatic relations," Laria said walking over to the other end of the mess hall. The two security guards posted with the Romulans nodded as she walked past.

"Is this seat taken?" Laria asked politely.

"Are you joking?" Sora replied looking up from her Teshralan stew.

"Not at all," Laria said. "I just figured that you could use some company."

"I can't remember, Jedras," Sora asked looking at her partner. "Do Bajorans age more slowly than other humanoids?"

"No, very similar to humans," he replied casually.

"By Gods, then she really is that young and na´ve," Sora muttered while shaking her head.

Laria grew tired of standing there awkwardly. She placed her tray down next to Jedras and sat down.

"I've spoken to a few Romulans in my life," Laria said picking up her apple again. "If you don't mind me making an observation, if you weren't such assholes, maybe you wouldn't have to be so isolated all the time."

"What does the word 'asshole' mean?" Sora asked Jedras. "My translator must be malfunctioning."

"Che'vaschurona'van," he replied in Romulan. Sora slammed her spoon down loudly enough to catch the attention of the security detail.

"Tread very carefully, Bajoran," Sora said glaring at Laria. "Most Romulans don't tolerate insults from outworlders very well…"

"I've insulted Romulans before," Laria said leaning forward and looking into her eyes. "It wasn't a problem…"

The confident tone in her voice made the pair think twice before pressing deeper.

"You know…" Laria said continuing. "There was a girl in my high school a lot like you both. She was arrogant, angry, and loved putting other people down. As a result, she was one of the most popular girls in our class."

"Is there a point to this ridiculous story?" Jedras asked.

"I'm getting to it," Laria said taking another bite of apple. "A few months before graduation, word got out that her farm was in trouble…I'm from a farming world, did I mention that?"

Sora rubbed her eyes.

"Anyways," Laria continued. "Her family's farm was in trouble. Their crop yields were dropping, her father was threatening to give it all up and was thinking about moving the family to a mining colony in the Ne'tral system. If you think Gault was remote and country, you've obviously never heard of Ne'tral…"

"By Gods, why are you still talking?" Sora exclaimed.

"That girl wasn't as strong and confident as she led on. It turns out, she was just scared and lonely all along."

"Hmmm….a green shirt, pathetic anecdotes, and overly friendly? Let me guess," Jedras said turning to Laria. "You are the ship's counselor sent here to analyze us?"

"No," Laria said leaning back in her chair. "Chief Science Officer. My specialties are Theoretical Astrophysics and Subspace Wave Spectral Analysis."

"You're a scientist?" Sora said with surprise.

"Yes," Laria said leaning forward. "Just like you two."

"My specialty is also Astrophysics," Jedras replied a bit apologetically. "Sora is a Chemical Engineer."

"Lieutenant Tigranian Laria. It's always a pleasure to meet colleagues."

"Tigranian?" Sora asked.

"Yes, I believe you already know my husband."

Jedras and Sora exchanged looks again.

"In the Romulan Empire," Jedras said with hesitation, "Relationships in a professional setting are strongly discouraged." Laria took note of how he glanced at Sora when he said that.

"I wouldn't say they're encouraged in the Federation, but at least we have the freedom to choose."

"Freedom is a relative concept…" Sora said glancing down at her tray.

"Until you're forbidden from doing something you feel is right…" Laria replied. The two Romulans remained quiet. "Well, I'll leave you two to your meal. Have a good day."

"You as well, Lieutenant Tigranian," Jedras said averting his gaze.

Laria stood up. However, as soon as she took two steps, she turned back around.

"You hypothesis wasn't flawed," she said.

"What?" Sora said.

"The polaric field was strong enough to contain the active plasma. However, you didn't account for the quantum variance in the protostar's accretion disk. You should have set your resonance compensators to 3.5682 terra-cochranes to compensate. That's why the unit overloaded and exploded."

"The Federation already knows how to mine protostars?" Jedras asked in amazement.

"No," Laria said calmly shaking her head, "but I do."

She smiled and walked away. The two Romulans bewilderedly stared at each other in silence.


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