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Onias Sector: Federation/Romulan Neutral Zone Border

Stardate: 54500.1

The SFN evening news broadcast played from the holoscreen in the Pershing's mess hall. However, most crew members ignored it as they laughed and chatted over dinner.

"Finally, bad news for all the lovers of intergalactic alcohol and spirits out there," the announcer said shrugging her shoulders at the screen. "The Federation Council voted today to extend further sanctions against the Romulan Star Empire including a complete ban on the import or sale of several popular consumer products. Among those is the beverage, Romulan Ale. Effective immediately, possession of Romulan Ale is once again a Class B Misdemeanor.

In a statement, Councilmember Surana Bronus from Denos IV justified the regulations with:

'The sale of popular export goods, including Romulan Ale, provides direct financial support to a dangerous and unpredictable regime that is proving every day to be a greater threat to galactic peace and stability.'

Romulan Ale has developed a small, but devoted following among those who enjoy buffing the mainstream since regulations were relaxed during the Dominion War. We visited 'Saturn's Rings' a popular bar in San Francisco's mission district whose signature cocktail, 'The Demon's Breath Martini' is based on the Romulan spirit also known as Kali-fal:"

The screen changed to the image of a perturbed Agrosian. The banner beneath his face read, "Tresso Mukastho: Proprietor."

"It's ridiculous!" he said shaking his head at the camera. "People should be allowed to put whatever they want in their bodies. How does the government have the right to just arbitrarily make something illegal that wasn't hurting anybody?"

The screen cut back to announcer who continued her report.

"Despite his objections, Mr. Mukastho said that his bar would obey the new regulations and search for a suitable substitute for the potent, blue beverage. Hopefully, whatever they find will be a little more forgiving the morning after…" she concluded with a smirk.

On the far side of the mess hall, Katie held up a PADD as she showed a series of holophotos from her honeymoon to Laria, T'les, Doctor Katan, and Annabeth. Phil smiled as he stood over their shoulders. Scharr listened with one ear as he wolfed down a tray of Andorian Kilm steak at the other end of the table.

"And here we are at the top of Uluru in the outback," Katie said showing a photo of her and Phil smiling in hiking gear as they posed on top of the huge, sandstone monolith.

"Cool!" Laria said examining the details of the scene.

"It was so hot!" Phil said. "Summer in Australia is no joke. I must have sucked down three liters of water on the way up."

"And he turned red as a lobster the next day," Katie said chuckling.

"Lack of proper SPF protection is a serious consideration in humans, Phil," T'les said turning to him. "Just because we have developed a cure for melanoma does not mean you should not be vigilant."

"I appreciate the public service announcement, T," Phil said trying not to roll his eyes.

"She's right you now," Katan said. "I couldn't have said it better myself, T'les," he added with a smile.

"Much appreciated, Doctor," she replied with a nod. "Now, if I can just convince Mr. Scharr to limit the amount of cholesterol he consumes on a daily basis."

"You know, being mouthy can be hazardous to your health as well," Scharr said barely taking a break from his carnivorous meal. The other laughed.

Katie flipped to the next holophoto. The couple was enjoying two massive beers while on a harbor tour of Sydney. The white sails of the old opera house gleamed in the bright sunlight behind them.

"I've always wanted to see that," Annabeth said.

"You've never been to Australia?" Katie asked surprised.

"You know, it's funny," Annabeth said shaking her head. "You live on Earth your whole life, but you never get around to visiting the sites."

Katie was about to flip to the next photo when she glanced over at Tigranian. He had a half empty mug of raktajino in one hand as he mindlessly stared out the window towards the stars.

"Are you sure he's alright?" she asked concerned. "The boss has seemed a little distant ever since we got back."

"Don't worry about him," Laria said shaking her head. "He's just been nervous ever since Starfleet Command lost comms with the Soldiers of Akarath last month. I think he takes a lot of personal responsibility for them."

"I can understand why…" Annabeth muttered.

"It is not logical to assume responsibility for that which is out of your control," T'les said.

"Oh, T," Phil said glancing at her. "How long is it going to take you learn that there is nothing logical about our captain."

Annabeth began slipping back into first officer mode as she grumbled in Phil's direction.

"Let me go talk to him," Laria said holding up her hands. She walked across the room towards Tigranian. When she was out of earshot, Katie turned to Phil.

"You better not get that moody," she said sternly. "I'm not spending the rest of my life trying to cheer you up."

"She's right, pinkskin," Scharr said as his antennae straightened. "I don't know how the Bajoran stick deals with a guy like that. My three wives have fewer mood swings than that one human male."

"Mein Gott," Annabeth said rubbing her eyes. "You know I'm the first officer of this ship and you're talking about my captain?"

"The captain did state we were family," T'les said matter-of-factly. "In my experience, human families talk about each other's flaws when the objects of criticism aren't present all the time."

Everyone but Annabeth laughed.

Across the mess hall, Laria slowly walked up behind Tigranian.

"I keep telling you," she said with a hint of condescension in her voice. "raktajino after dinner is the reason you can't sleep."

"You know," Tigranian replied not taking his eyes off of space. "Your father warned me that marrying a Bajoran woman would come with a lifetime of nagging."

Laria grinned.

"Yehahvn nal arok puhar ktrash shan k'eel varaghn," she replied.

"What did that mean?" Tigranian asked glancing towards her.

"It's a very old saying on Bajor about women," she said. "The sweetest fruit is found behind the sharpest thorns."

"Appropriate," he quipped.

"Alright, Daniel, what's going on?" she said crossing her arms firmly.

"I'm sorry," he said looking back out at space. "I just can't shake the feeling that something's happened to Rellas and the others. I've talked to Admiral Yoshizaki, Admiral Murphy, and Admiral Paris. All of them say the same thing…"

"And that is?" Laria asked.

"We'll call you when we know something…" he muttered. "They've been saying that for over three weeks now.

"Daniel," Laria began carefully choosing her words. "I know you don't want to hear it, but that's all the Admiralty can do. Maybe Rellas' comm unit went out and they haven't been able to repair it. Maybe they're in some situation where they think radio silence is better…"

Tigranian turned to her.

"Maybe they're all dead," he said raising his eyebrows.

"That…" Laria said with a deep breath, "is also a possibility. However, I would hold back on that Death Howl of yours until we know for sure."

Outside the window, space flashed bluish white and then the stars began streaking by.

"qaStaH nuq jay'?" Tigranian said.

"Did we just jump to warp?" Annabeth asked walking up with the others in tow.

"We did," Tigranian said. "I'm guessing you didn't order it?"

"Of course not," Annabeth said. "I was going to ask the same thing to you."

"What is going on up on the bridge?" Tigranian was reaching for his comm badge when the duty officer called.

"Ensign Gleeto to Captain Tigranian."

"Tigranian here," he replied. "What happened, Ensign? Why did you order the ship to warp?"

"We just received a priority one message from Starfleet Command, Sir," Gleeto replied. "They ordered us to immediately proceed at maximum warp to Sector Z-9 and rendezvous with the USS Aurora."

"The Aurora?" Tigranian asked. He turned to the rest of his senior staff and shook his head.

"It's a science vessel," Laria said. "Oberth Class. Their CSO was in my class at the Academy. Gnass was hopeless in Intro Quantum Dynamics…"

"Why are we rendezvousing with a science vessel, Ensign?" Tigranian asked into his communicator. "Are they under attack?"

"Negative Sir," Gleeto replied. "Starfleet didn't give any more details, but they did say that Admiral Paris wants you to contact him immediately on a secure channel. They said something about how 'he finally had an answer for you.'"

Tigranian looked at Laria.

"I guess they know something," she said with a deep breath.

"I'm on my way to the bridge," Tigranian replied with a resurgent confidence in his voice. "Bring the ship to Yellow Alert. We don't know what we're jumping into. Prep a secure channel to my ready room," he said.

"Acknowledged Sir," Gleeto said.

"Tigranian out."

"I'll get the senior staff assembled in the ward room," Annabeth said turning to rally the troops.

"Good," Tigranian said walking out the door. "I want an updated Intel Report, Logistical Status, and Running Estimate from every section waiting on me when I get off this call."

"We'll have it all ready," Annabeth said confidently.

"Fascinating," T'les said as Tigranian disappeared into the corridor.

"What, T?" Katie said asking.

"His focus returns so quickly upon indicators of a crisis," she said raising an eyebrow

Laria grinned and Annabeth crossed her arms.

"Would you have it any other way?" Annabeth chuckled.
****

As the USS Aurora slowly pulled away, the Pershing was left sailing alongside the Starfleet hospital ship, USFS Refuge. Most of the Akarath survivors had been transferred to that ship for triage, however, Rellas and Lucretia were sitting in the Pershing's ward room with Tigranian and the rest of his staff. Admiral Paris, Admiral Murphy, and the new Klingon Ambassador to the Federation, Lady L'Stok, Daughter of Choss, were dialed in from San Francisco on the room's holoscreen.

"On behalf of the United Federation of Planets," Paris began, "Let me express my deepest condolences on the loss of your forces, Councilor Rellas. However, we are very relieved that you were able to save so many others… "

"Spare me your empty words, Human," Rellas said turning towards the screen. "We were ambushed and defeated. It was only by the sacrifice of our bravest warriors that I now sit in the comfortable surroundings of your starship. We have failed and are stained with the shame of defeat."

Lucretia shifted in her seat but remained silent. Tigranian held back as well. He understood Rellas' pain, perhaps more than anyone else.

"With respect, Councilor," Murphy said. "We don't see it that way. Your rebellion caused more damage to the Romulan Star Empire than we could have possibly imagined. It was because of you we now stand with them on equal footing, and for that we are grateful."

"It doesn't matter how you see it," Rellas said. "Millions of our brothers, our sisters, our fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters…" he said pausing long enough to make eye contact with each person on the screen, "…are still in chains. As long as they do not have their honor, we cannot have ours."

"Ambassador L'Stok," Paris said. "Perhaps you should inform him now."

"I have just spoken to Chancellor Martok. He agrees with our Federation Allies that you and your followers have nothing left to prove. You have fought with honor and therefore are worthy of our respect. In the Suvik system, there is a planet that was recently…liberated…from the enemies of the Empire…"

Tigranian and Laria exchanged loaded glances.

"It is wild, and inhospitable," L'Stok continued, "but it is uninhabited. As of this morning, it is also yours."

Rellas and Lucretia both turned to the screen in surprise. Tigranian actually smiled.

"All your people have been granted jeghpu'wI' status," L'Stok added. "They and their descendants are now under full protection of the Klingon Empire and can live on Suvik without fear of repatriation to the Romulan Empire. However, you, Lady Lucretia, and any others who have physically raised arms against the Romulans have been granted full citizenship by special decree. You will rule the new colony as governor and have full equality in the Empire. I shouldn't have to tell you how rare this is for a non-Klingon. Congratulations."

Tigranian nodded towards Rellas.

"Well done, old friend," he said. "You have done it."

We are honored to have you as a new brother. Po'tajg," Laria added. Paris and Murphy rolled their eyes on the screen. The fact that two of their officers were such proud dual citizens of a foreign power still made them uncomfortable.

"I am honored for the Empire's vote of confidence," Rellas said. "That being said," he said firmly. "Lucretia will take our followers and rule as Governor. I am returning to the Romulan Empire."

"For the love of God, why?" Murphy said shocked.

"may'meyDajvo' Haw'be' tlhIngan," Rellas replied.

"A little help?" Murphy said with annoyance while looking in Tigranian's direction.

"A Klingon does not run away from his battles," Tigranian translated with a sigh.

"I could live a long and comfortable life on Suvik," Rellas said. "But I would be betraying everything I claim to stand for."

"Captain Tigranian," Paris said clearing his throat. It was obvious he wanted the captain to try to talk him out of it. Tigranian's crew looked at him nervously. They were genuinely unsure of which side he would take.

Tigranian paused.

"They are right, Brother," he finally managed to choke out. "Your war is over. You have earned a long and happy life in peace. You can also be an example for others to follow and provide a haven for those who want to flee Romulus. After all, 'the wind does not respect a fool.'"

Rellas gritted his teeth before slowly pushing back from the table. He rose to his feet and stared at Tigranian.

"Iv wInej?" he asked. Tigranian paused. "Iv wInej!?" Rellas asked more forcefully.

"Kahless," Tigranian replied standing as well. The rest looked on in startled amazement.

"chay' wISam?" Rellas said turning to look at Ambassador L'Stok. She rose to her feet and replied:

"matay'taHvIS."

"jIjaHmeH yIwovmoH!"Rellas howled towards the ceiling of the wardroom.

"Forever…" Tigranian said bowing his head.

"wInejtaHvIS reH So''egh'a'?" Rellas said glaring at the other occupants of the room.

"not!" L'Stok said from the screen.

"pIyajchu'," Rellas, Tigranian, and L'Stock said in unison before making the sign of the tIq ghob across their chests.

"I will inform Chancellor Martok of the change in the colony's leadership. I see you are truly worth of the Unforgettable, Son of the Western Stars. Die Well." she said placing her heart over her fist. Rellas bowed in gratitude.

"Excuse me," Admiral Paris said holding up his hands. "Can someone please explain to me what the hell just happened?"

"Sir," Tigranian said turning towards the screen. "Rellas is going back to the Romulan Empire whether we agree to it or not."

Lucretia reached out and grabbed Rellas' hand. She looked up at him with sad, but deeply respectful eyes. They said all that needed to between them.

"Very well," Paris said quite perturbed. "He is not a Federation citizen and can do what he wishes. However, the Romulans have already sealed their borders. Any ship that attempts to enter their space without crossing through a checkpoint will be destroyed. I can assure you that Starfleet will not risk any vessel in the attempt to infiltrate the Empire. That includes the Pershing. Is that absolutely clear?"

"I am afraid that you will receive the same response from Chancellor Martok," L'Stok added. "Though we respect your motives, we cannot risk a full scale conflict to support one warrior's vengeance."

"Even the strongest fortress must have a weakness," Rellas replied. "I will find a way back in."

Tigranian looked to Annabeth, and then the rest of his crew. He polled their expressions. Every one of them was troubled, but they knew they had to help.

"Sir," Tigranian said turning to the holoscreen. "I think I know a way to get Rellas safely back into Romulan space without involving any Federation or Klingon ship at all. With respect, I believe we should at least try. We owe him that much at least."

Paris and Murphy exchanged glances. Finally, the Chief of Operations nodded to his companion.

"Alright, Dan," Murphy said. "We're listening…"


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