USS Oregon: Pilot

Chapter 1:

Captain Joshua Jackson sat quietly in the Nimitz Captain’s Lounge in Starbase 12, sipping at a glass of water. As per usual, he was seated alone in a corner booth, staring out of the transparent aluminum window that gave him a stunning view of the star field that surrounded the New Holland colony. His icy blue eyes impassively gazed at the scene before him. Outside, three ships were hovering around the massive structure. Two Nebula-class cruisers, the Astarte and the Holland, were lazily moving around the starbase. Closer in was a massive Galaxy-class starship, the San Francisco standing stationary as its crew took some rest.

Incidentally, Joshua’s only other companion in the lounge was from the San Francisco. That person was, of course, Captain Eina Zeiss, the redheaded commander of Jewish-Ukrainian descent. Josh, of course, knew her quite well. She had been his commanding officer a few years previous when he had been the co-chief tactical officer on board. He had considered going over and saying hi, but decided against it. The new captain was not interested in conversation, having had more than his share of it in the last six months. Besides, something told him that she was expecting someone. Captain Zeiss was up much later than Josh remembered her usually being.

A flash of light caught his attention. Shifting his gaze back to the window, Jackson noticed the momentarily elongated shape of another Federation Starship warping in to the system. Curious, Josh took another sip and patiently waited for the ship to approach. A couple of minutes later, the ship resolved itself into the colossal form of a Sovereign­-class ship gliding swiftly for the station. Another minute and the vessel was close enough that Josh could read the registry painted in bold black letters on the saucer section.

A hint of a smile passed over his lips. The ship was the Sovereign herself. This explained Captain Zeiss staying up so late; she was expecting a date. The Sovereign was commanded by one of Josh’s few friends, Jonathan Gardner. He and Captain Zeiss had met when he first took command of the Sovereign about five years prior during Legate Matan’s incursion in the Maelstrom. Since then, a friendship between the two captain’s had deepened into a romance. Of course, few in the fleet actually knew this for certain. Jon was almost as closed as Josh and Eina was little better. Jackson was one of the few who really knew what was going on.

Intrigued by what Jon might do this time, Josh casually turned his gaze towards the older captain. She was sitting quietly by herself, sipping some synth-ale and going over some sort of report on her PADD. A moment later, a shimmering light appeared, which soon revealed itself to be a bunch of red roses. Eina sat up in her chair and with a sheepish, yet wistful, smile on her face lovingly picked up the flowers and admired them. So lost in the flowers, she did not notice another, and bigger, shimmer of light that appeared directly behind her. With a finger to his lips, Captain Jonathan Gardner motioned for his friend to remain quiet. Josh inclined his head in a nod.

A tap on the shoulder made Zeiss jump and spin around—directly into the arms of Gardner. The look of shock melted into look of joy, which made her punch meaningless. An embrace and kiss signaled that Josh should probably leave them alone, and so he returned his gaze back out the window.

Seeing his former captain and his friend put Josh in one of his rare, but deep, nostalgic mood. He had been having more of those over the last several days. The man was getting antsy and he knew it. After all, it had been six months since he had last been on a starship (the piddling shuttles that took him around didn’t count).

The last six months had been very, very long. When Joshua was promoted captain, he was thrilled; when he found out what his ship was, he was ecstatic. Joshua Jackson was now in command of the USS Oregon, a Prometheus-class vessel. To be promoted to captain at his age, 28, was rare; to be given the command of one of the most advanced vessels in Starfleet was unheard of.

This could, of course, be either good or bad. It could be that Starfleet had such trust and respect for one of the most accomplished tactical officers in fleet history that they wanted to give him command of one of its best warships. Or it could mean that they fully expected the ship to fall apart and so they did not want to waste one of their better and more experienced captains on something that was liable to self-destruct.

The Prometheus had been through some interesting times in its short service. It was a revolutionary ship that expanded on the principles of ship separation that were incorporated in the Galaxy and Sovereign class vessels. The ship had the ability to separate into three completely functional ships, which could be independently piloted or slaved to the bridge. This, in essence, tripled the fire power of the craft. It was like the captain had a small taskforce under his command at any given moment. He could attack an enemy at all angles and avoid taking heavy fire himself. In the Prometheus, a captain had more punch than if he had a Sovereign and more maneuverability than a Defiant. And now Josh was that captain.

There was, of course, a major drawback. Due to the fact that most of the ship was computer run, it was remarkably simple to operate. The original Prometheus required only four crew members to fly it. This caused some problems when it was captured by a Romulan force, who quickly figured out how to use this new ship. However, Josh had been involved in the building of the Oregon and had gotten some things custom designed to fit his needs and wants. For one, he downgraded the level of automation, giving him more direct manual control. This was something that he felt was absolutely necessary for him. It was not that Josh did not like or appreciate computers, it was simply that he did not trust them to like he did a pilot or a gunner that he could easily and directly command. That being said, the Oregon still was one of the most automated ships in the fleet and Josh had already taken the liberty to preprogram some of his personal tactics into the ship after looking at its capabilities.

The downgraded computer control meant he needed more tactical officers and more pilots, something that he was fine with. Flight was still controlled by conn on the main bridge, although each section had its own bridge and helm. There was always a helm officer standing by in each, in case Josh felt that independent piloting was necessary. The same was true for tactical, although the station on the main bridge could be divided into three sections, just in case. So essentially, Josh had three tactical officers and three helmsmen that would be reporting to him during any given combat situation, if necessary. Josh fervently hoped that it would not be.

Something else that Josh had done was to slightly rearrange the bridge. Instead of tactical being the in the back left corner of the bridge, like it was on most Prometheus vessels, he moved it to the front, next to helm. There was still only his captain’s chair in the center. Jon was relegated to his right at the mission ops station, which was much more elaborate than that of a Galaxy or Sovereign. He was still close enough. The science and operations station was positioned where tactical had been and engineering was directly behind the chair, not that Josh expected that station to be used much.

Josh grimaced as he thought about the last six months. Despite being at the Utopia Planetia Shipyards, the vast majority of the last six months had been spent in meetings with technicians, politicians, admirals, other captains, and the like explaining to him his responsibility as a captain of the Federation, how his ship worked, what he was expected to do with it (avoid getting killed or starting a war, essentially), what his ship could do and so on. Joshua hated meetings with a passion, yet even these had not been his most grating exercise. No, that honor belonged to all the red tape he had to work through.

It was a private suspicion of his that Starfleet had an odd love affair with paperwork. He did not know where or who, but he was certain that someone was getting a great deal of pleasure by requiring everyone in Starfleet to fill out at least three times the number of forms that Josh believed necessary to assume command. He had had to fill out applications, forms, and take tests on things like: security clearance (at least one form for every different level in every different department, such as science, intelligence, politics, new members into the Federation, exploration, technology and development to name a few), authorizations of command, medical testing and fitness reports, certifications for the use of different parts of his ship, and the list went on.

Then there was the task of picking his crew. That was a headache, as he had about 150 positions to fill. One thing that made it easier was picking his first officer first, to whom he could then slough off the work of picking the lower ranks. There was only one person in the entire galaxy that Josh trusted to be his first officer.

That person would be Commander Jonathan Jackson, his identical twin brother. They had raised each other in a way since they were twelve in the greater Seattle. Somehow, they managed to live alone without parents, something that was puzzling to everyone else.

Another thing about them was how they managed to grow so tall. Each measured around 203 centimeters (6’8”) with brown hair and piercing blue eyes. Jonathan had kept his hair cut fairly short since entering the Academy, whereas Josh let his grow to a shaggy mane that was halfway between his ears and his shoulders, which made telling the brothers apart possible.

While neither was Adonis, they were not particularly bad looking either. At least, they did not used to be. Jonathan was missing part of his left ear, something that theoretically could have been replaced, but Jon was not the sort for prosthetics. He had lost that during a vicious fight with a Jem’Hadar during the Dominion War. Josh had a nasty scar that ran diagonal across his left eye. That was courtesy of a Cardassian disrupter that had nearly blinded him. It had scarred due to lack of attention because at the time Josh figured that the doctors had more serious patients to worry about. He was probably right.

Despite growing up alone, they were standout athletes, particularly in basketball, and students. They were recommended to the Academy and applied as soon as they were old enough. There they became legends. In addition to leading the Academy to win the Federation Collegiate Basketball League two years in a row, it was obvious from the beginning that the Jackson Twins were warriors. The prowess and intelligence they displayed actually caused a few of the Academy’s textbooks on tactics to be revised. There was a legend about them that they had never missed a shot. While not strictly true, it was closer to actuality than most people realized.

Jonathan and Joshua were pushed through the tactical and command training sections, while acing the rest of their classes. Despite their reputation, neither was sociable. They even got reprimanded for not going to several of the school dances. This lack of sociability gave them time to focus on their studies, something they took full advantage of. It looked like they were going to graduate in three years and be on the fast track to captain, maybe even admiral.

Then, during the summer break between their sophomore and junior year, the Borg invaded Sector 01, Earth. Pressed into immediate duty, the boys fought well. Their daring and skill led to the rescue of the crews of three ships and inflicted severe damage on the Cube, which led to its destruction. The stunned Starfleet Command demanded that they graduate immediately and sent off. So, they left Earth, not to return again.

For the first couple of years, the twins muddled about on separate vessels and rose to the rank of Lieutenant (j.g.). There was not much for a warrior to do in years of peace. So they whittled away their time largely pursuing historical interests and practicing.

Then the Dominion War broke out and they were suddenly relevant again. Their talents and skill won several battles for the Federation and salvaged even more defeats. As such, they shot up the ranks, going from Lieutenant (j.g.) to Lieutenant Commander by the time the two-and-a-half year conflict was over.

After the Federation’s victory over the Dominion, both Jacksons got transferred the San Francisco, Eina Zeiss’ ship. It was an odd situation at first, having two Lieutenant Commanders at tactical. To solve this problem, they became co-chief tactical officers. Again, peace reigned in their corner of the galaxy and there was not much for Joshua and Jonathan to do.

That did not last too long, however. Remarkably soon after the Dominion War, the Cardassians decided to pick a fight with the Federation again. This time it was a rogue faction of the Union, under the leadership of Legate Matan. Officially the Cardassians had nothing to do with the conflict, a fact that Joshua strongly doubted.

Apparently what had happened was that Matan had made an alliance with a previously unknown alien species known as the Kessok. At first, the unique Kessok technology gave Matan’s troops the upper hand. The Federation lost the first several engagements, including losing the Savoy One space station and nearly losing Starbase 12.

It was the Battle of Starbase 12 that was the turning point of the conflict. By then, Starfleet had figured out the Kessok and Matan and then turned their full might against them. Lead by Captain Gardner and the rest of the Sovereign’s crew, they spearheaded the counter-attack that eventually crushed the Cardassians at the Battle of Omega Draconis.

Joshua was not present for that battle; the San Francisco was in dire need of repairs at the time, but he heard plenty about it. Using his Romulan ally, Terrik, and the Geronimo, Gardner led a surprise attack against the Kessok home base. During the course of the engagement, it became clear that the Kessok had been tricked by Matan. When this fact was presented to them, the Kessok turned against their allies and Matan was destroyed by the Sovereign.

Of the three conflicts that the brothers had been a part of, this one had been the most pleasant. Pleasant of course, is a relative term as war is never really pleasant. Despite the initial losses, there was little doubt as to the outcome and so losses were fairly minimal. In addition, there was the added benefit of a first contact with the Kessok, although the ‘Frisco was not part of these.

Great as these were, there were other reasons why the Jacksons looked back fondly on Matan’s Incursion. It was during this conflict that they became acquainted with Captain Gardner, who soon became one of their few friends. This also led to the current romance between Captain Gardner and Captain Zeiss, much to their combined entertainment and joy.

They had met during the Incursion when, despite Josh and Jon’s best efforts, the ‘Frisco was completely overwhelmed by a massive force of Kessok and Cardassians. The Sovereign rushed in and helped save the day. That earned Zeiss’ gratitude, and interest, in the dashing young captain who warped into to save the day. Josh and Jon personally felt that they could have still won the day, but their pride did not mean they were ungrateful. Despite the need to be rescued, judging from the hulks that littered the space around them, he was rather impressed with the skill of the two commanders.

Over the course of the next four months, they fought several engagements together, including both Battles of Savoy One and the campaign to rescue Lieutenant Commander Data from the Sevirus system. After that, the San Francisco was relegated to guard duty around Starbase 12, since she had taken a real beating to retake Savoy One Station.

This is when Captain Gardner, along with Commander Terrik of the Chairo and Captain (now Admiral) Gregory MacCray of the Geronimo, an Akira-class heavy cruiser, struck the death blow against Matan and his cohorts. In the process, Lieutenant Commander Data managed to make first contact with the Kessok, explaining what was going on. This, in turn, convinced the Kessok to switch sides.

Josh was not pleased to have missed out on the fun, despite the fact the ‘Frisco was still being patched up and could only shoot one phaser at the time. Captain Zeiss was not much more pleased either. With a wry smile, Josh remembered her pacing back and forth across the bridge, waiting for news of what had happened. Although everyone could tell that there was something there, she maintained that she was simply concerned with a close friend.

Jon, on the other hand, did not mind being stuck at Starbase 12. He would not have participated in the battle even if the San Francisco had gone. He had actually missed most of the conflict with a series of vicious injuries he had gotten during the First Battle of Savoy One. Jon had been assigned to lead a security team to help evacuate the personnel from the station before the Cardassians completely overwhelmed it.

During the process of getting the medical personnel out, they were ambushed by a strike force of Cardassian troops. Jon set up a perimeter to defend the beam out point and they managed to hold off the Cardassians just long enough. However, just before Jon could beam out himself, he got shot twice by the Cardassians and a nearby conduit exploded, rendering him unconscious.

This should have and would have killed him, had it not been for a rebellious young doctor who had stayed behind to make sure everyone was alive. She managed to drag Jon away (not an easy task) from the firing enemy, stabilize him, and then got both of them beamed out before they were killed. For this, she was awarded the Christopher Pike Medal of Valor.

Even though she had done a good job of getting him out alive, keeping Jon that way was a much more difficult task. The young doctor insisted that she become the primary caregiver for Jon Jackson, something that was a matter of professional pride for her. She was the one who operated on Jon to repair his internal organs and she was the one who did the follow-up on him to ensure that her charge was recovering.

Her name was Kirsten Roberts, who was at the time 27 and had just finished her residency, which was on Savoy One. As she began her care of Jonathan Jackson, she read up on his file and was repulsed by him. He and his brother were warriors and death-dealers. She, on the other hand, was a healer, a life-giver. Everything this man did and was about was diametrically opposed to everything that she had devoted her life for. Kirsten was disgusted as she read through all the campaigns and battles that these two had both participated and led in. She shuddered as she thought about the tremendous loss of life that these brothers had inflicted.

More than once, Kirsten asked herself why she was doing this and if she should actually save him. It would not be that hard to let him die and no one would probably notice, but her conscience held her back. Roberts knew that if she did that, she would be no better than him, and so she continued to tend to him.

One of the first people that she met was, of course, Josh, who was naturally quite concerned about his brother’s health. She had imagined him being a cold, almost robotic killer. Yet he was not. Instead, she was shocked by his deep concern for his brother. When the San Francisco was around, Josh literally lived by his side.

That was a real shock to Kirsten. The thought that someone could actually not truly enjoy his job had not occurred to her, neither had the thought that warriors were people too. Yet here in front of her was a man who deep cared for his brother. Josh was terrified that he was going to lose Jon, something that he could not imagine. This began to soften Kirsten’s cold heart.

However, Josh was still pretty cold and closed and Kirsten made no bones about her disdain for both him and what he did. Oddly enough, Josh never tried to defend what he did, other than tell that Starfleet is a more employee-friendly organization than the Dominion or the Borg or the Cardassians. Most of their interactions were limited to Josh asking how Jon was doing and what his prognosis was. The rest were Kirsten making veiled, or not-so-veiled, insults and derogatory remarks about the brothers.

Jon did eventually wake-up from his coma after about three weeks. Josh was not there, as the ‘Frisco was busy helping retake Savoy One at the time. Kirsten though was. Unlike her disgust at him, Jon was instantly in love. The first thing he saw was her tired and somewhat worried face with her blond hair tied back in a ponytail. When he was told what she had done to save him, Jon was hopelessly hooked, something that he did not even try to hide from his doctor.

This highly irritated Kirsten. While she had to admit that he was not the monster that she assumed he was and that he was ruggedly handsome, Jon was a killer and therefore not worth her time. She could not accept or believe that he was anything but a cold-blooded killer. So having this man attempt to woo her was quite awkward for her.

Over the course of the next four weeks, as Jon slowly healed, he relentlessly pursued her. Kirsten kept her guard up, but she found herself being more and more intrigued with this man. She was surprised to find him intelligent, engaging, and surprisingly kind. She found herself beginning to look forward to when she would see him. Yet, Roberts determined not to fall in love with Jon and sternly reminded herself that he had killed thousands of beings with no regret.

That all changed one night when Kirsten was working the night shift. Jon was having a nightmare, something that plagued both Josh and Jon, about the people that he had killed. He was replaying parts of the Dominion War that night and started to yell in his sleep.

Kirsten at first panicked, thinking that his body was suddenly falling apart. Then she began to listen to what he was actually saying. She listened to his emotional pain of seeing companions die in front of him and needing to kill others in front of him. She listened to the excruciating debate in his mind before pressing the fire button. As she listened in stunned silence to the struggle that he was going through, she finally begun to understand this “killer” and her last defenses melted. Kirsten finally understood that he did what he did, not because he wanted to, but because he had to in order to protect people like her.

The sheer pain and turmoil that she witnessed in his dreams was too much for Kirsten and she began to cry. Her crying shook Jon out of his dream. After blinking away the sleep, he was quite surprised to see his doctor crying. He asked her what was wrong and everything just spilled out. As she talked, Kirsten realized that whether she liked the fact or not, she had fallen in love with Jon.

Hence Jon was quite content to stick around Starbase 12 with Kirsten. It took a little bit of time for Josh and Kirsten to warm-up to each other, but eventually they got around to liking each other and developed a sibling-like relationship. Jon and Kirsten’s relationship continued to grow until Jon proposed to her and they had gotten married just less than a year previous. This made getting his chief medical officer easy.

Shortly after the victory over Matan, Josh accepted a position as first officer on the Saber, a Nebula-class starship where he served for the next three years, and a promotion to the rank of commander. Jon had remained as the tactical officer on the San Francisco and stayed as a lieutenant commander, which was largely the result of spending the vast majority of the conflict in the hospital. Captain Zeiss kindly had Dr. Roberts transferred to the ‘Frisco.

The three years on the Saber were largely uneventful, which left Josh largely bored. However, Josh considered bored much better than excited, considering the implications of keeping him entertained. He found the duties of the first officer rather tedious, something that he was very glad to slough off to Jon now. Besides, he had had time to read a lot more and dig deeper into his fascination with history.

Still, he learned a tremendous amount about command watching Captain Basra work. The Saber spent most of its time cruising around the Maelstrom, keeping an eye both on the Romulans and the Cardassians. During this time Joshua took the opportunity to expand his horizons. He was part of several scientific missions to various planets in the Maelstrom, especially around the Vesuvi Sector, exploring the remnants of the supernova. He found the process quite fascinating and was impressed and frightened by the power of the Kessok sunformer.

It was also at this time that he learned some diplomatic skills, something that he had never had much of a use for during war. Captain Basra and the rest of the Saber were part of the team that established relations with the Kessok, and so Josh ended up a part of those discussions. He found the Kessok fascinating, but really could never get the hang of diplomacy. After the three years, and very few conflicts (just a couple border skirmishes with the Romulans), Josh was getting more and more bored, but hung in there. After all, he was only 28, so he could expect to remain as a first officer for quite some time.

That is about when everything changed. Shinzon’s rebellion began, which had little impact on the Federation until he assassinated the entire Romulan Senate and took power as proconsul. The subsequent events that involved Captain Jean-Luc Picard and the Enterprise-E resulted in Shinzon’s death. This left a massive power vacuum in the Star Empire, which was now beginning to fracture.

This presented a major problem for the Federation. Soon it became clear that there were two factions that emerged as dominate: a pro-Federation faction led by Admiral Terrik and a very anti-Federation faction led by an Admiral Pelliad. Pelliad’s faction had the backing of the more powerful families in the Empire, as well as most of the fleet at his back, which gave him the much more powerful force of the two. As such, the Federation was beginning to anticipate another war.

Shortly after the incident with Shinzon, Josh was offered the promotion and command of the Oregon. The timing was not lost on Josh and he was certain that this was the reasoning behind his promotion at such a young age. To him, it appeared that Starfleet was expecting war to break out within the next couple of years and so they were getting prepared for it by placing their most tactical competent officers command. Jon had also been offered a command, but he had turned it down. He had no desire for command just yet.

All this brought Josh to where he was sitting in the Nimitz Lounge. After six of the most grueling months of his life, sifting through mounds of digital paperwork, he was finally ready to take command. Inside the giant mushroom-shaped space dock of the station was the Oregon, his ship. Unconsciously, Joshua breathed a sigh of contentment. Tomorrow, he would officially take command and then he would be off.

“Can I sit here?” a male voice jerked Jackson back to reality.

“Sure Jon,” the younger captain motioned, “Date end early?”

“Hardly,” Jon snorted, “Eina has to leave early tomorrow, even before you I think. So we thought it best for her to go to bed early.”

“How long you here for?” Josh queried.

“Until the repairs get done and MacCray gives us our new orders,” Gardner replied, “Apparently, what that old man has in store for us next is sensitive enough that he is going to give the orders to us in person.”

“What do you need repairs for? Get in a fight?” Josh pressed.

“No,” Jon almost looked disappointed, “Just the typical wear and tear of space, especially from the Vesuvi Sector.”

“Still doing research on the area?” Josh got a nod in reply, “That ought to make Miguel happy.”

“Yeah, he’s certainly enjoying himself,” Jon sighed, “Truth be told, it is pretty cool stuff. We’re getting a chance to see the development of a nebula, which is fascinating. Felix is about to go crazy, though.”

“I’ll bet. Anyone give you trouble?” Josh asked.

“Unless you count irritating scientists, no,” Jon replied sardonically, “The most action we’ve had is shooting down a couple errant asteroids that were threatening one of our shuttles. Saw a Galor about two weeks ago, but it was harmless. No Klingons or Romulans.”

“Do you think your new orders have anything to do with what’s happening in the Empire?” Josh posed.

“Possible, even likely, but I don’t know,” Jon shrugged, “Whatever command has up its sleeve, it is serious enough that MacCray didn’t want to risk giving it over subspace. Personally, I’ll be glad to have something new to do. After spending three weeks babysitting scientists, I am more than ready for some action. Any action.”

“How’s Saffi taking it?” Josh questioned, referencing Jon’s uptight first officer.

“Highly irritated,” Jon answered with a wry smile, “She was having fun on the expedition. You know, she could really use someone to consol her…”

“Yeah, no,” Josh returned.

“Hey, you loosen her up a little,” Jon protested.

“Indeed,” Josh assented, “but I sincerely doubt it is the kind of ‘loosening up’ that either of us would find beneficial.”

“Last time you were together, she broke a couple of Starfleet protocols,” Jon pointed out, “That’s a big step for her.”

“Yeah, assaulting a Starfleet officer,” Josh reminded him, “She can really pack a punch, in case you’re wondering.”

“I don’t doubt it,” Jon nodded, “Hence, I avoid angering her when possible, which is unfortunately rare.”

“Still keep your bridge pretty tight?” Josh asked.

“Not as much as the last time you were around,” Jon answered, “I’ve flexed my captain’s muscle a little bit and gotten her to relax on the bridge. Still though, she is a stickler for following Starfleet protocols, which is irritating. Although, I suppose I should be thankful; she keeps me from getting court-marshaled.”

“There is that,” Captain Jackson agreed.

“Still, want to trade first officers?” Jon requested.

“Hahaha, no,” Josh turned his friend down, “Saffi and I would kill each other in the first six months.”

“You and Jon together,” Gardner mused, “I give it those six months before you get court-marshaled.”

“We’ll try to avoid that,” Josh sipped at his water, “I would much rather face five Warbirds in a runabout than be stuck with Commander Larsen countermanding half my orders.”

“With the way things are shaping up, you may get your wish,” Gardner’s voice changed to one of seriousness.

“Heard anything new?” Josh asked his friend.

“Not really, hence I am here,” Jon pointed out, “I do know that we got a communication from Ambassador Spock about three months ago saying that the situation was deteriorating rapidly. That is the last we’ve heard from him. Terrik sent me a message that only partially got through about two months ago. The only words that came through were ‘help’ and ‘it’s’, which is so far useless.”

“Think it means the Empire is in a civil war?” Josh pondered.

“That is my opinion, but Intelligence—now there’s an oxymoron—refuses to act on that, saying that there isn’t enough information to support such a conclusion,” Jon groaned.

“What do we know?” Josh probed, knowing that he was getting into some seriously classified information that he, as a new captain, was not necessarily privy to.

“Again, not a whole lot,” Jon sighed, “That has always been our problem with the Romulans; we don’t know enough. They are a secretive lot. But what we know is that after Shinzon, their Empire is divided into two factions; Admiral Terrik’s and Admiral Pelliad’s. Terrik is, as you can imagine, very much pro-Federation. Pelliad is old-school though, and has a deep hatred and distrust for the Federation. He blames us for all that is wrong in the Empire and feels that the Empire has neglected its policy of conquest. Unfortunately, according to our intelligence provided by Ambassador Spock, Pelliad has the backing of most of the military and the aristocracy.”

“In other words, he has a lot of ships and very deep pockets,” Josh clarified.

“Yeah,” Jon acknowledged, “He has laid claim to the title of ‘emperor’ if he wins out, which means he will have a military dictatorship over the Empire.”

“Julius Caesar,” Josh groaned, seeing where this was going.

“Essentially. Terrik maintains that this goes against all that the Romulan Empire has stood for and has promised to fight this tyrant,” Jon explained.

“What are the chances that Terrik wins?”

“Not good,” Gardner answered, “He has the skill to hold out a little while, but truth is, defeat is all but inevitable, and when that happens…”

“When that happens, the Empire goes to war against the Federation or Klingons, not that it matters. Either way, we’re at war,” Josh finished for his friend.

“Yeah.”

Silence reigned for a few moments as both contemplated the next couple of years.

“Why is it that we seemed doomed for war?” Josh posed.

“I don’t know,” Gardner shrugged, “We don’t choose our circumstances, just what to do with the circumstances we’ve been given.”

“Ever wonder if we were born for this?” Josh probed deeper.

“Like fate or god?” Jon got a nod, “I suppose it could be. I’ve seen some weird stuff, so I don’t doubt it. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves; war is still a long way off and might not happen.”

“Yeah, something tells me not to believe that,” Josh replied darkly.

“I know,” Jon concurred, “Me too, me too.”

Chapter 2:

Ugh, Captain Joshua Jackson thought to himself. It was murderously early, he thought, checking his chronometer. 0530 hours. After stifling a yawn, his face returned to its typical frown, which was exaggerated this morning. In addition to being up far earlier than he liked, Josh was also wearing his dress uniform, which was tight and uncomfortable.

“This is supposed to be a happy day, lad,” Admiral Gregory MacCray admonished his subordinate, “Try look the part.”

“It’ll be a happy day when it is day,” Josh grumbled back before adding, “sir.”

“Oh come now laddy,” The old admiral grinned, “You’ve got to make a good impression on a new crew. Looking like that, you’ll terrify them.”

“Good, maybe they’ll listen to me,” Josh returned, “sir.” Josh had an odd respect for rank. While he followed orders and expected his orders to be followed, he also did not follow the typical decorum of different ranking officers. He rarely called them by “sir”, stood at attention in their presence, or in general treated them any different than an equal. Josh did call people by their rank, but even that was rare and often used when someone was in trouble or when he was angry. As a general rule, Josh used people’s names when talking with them.

For the most part, people got used to his unusual attitude. Subordinates quickly figured out two things: first, it highly irritated the captain when he was treated as a superior. Josh wanted his people to speak their mind and not be afraid of the captain. The other thing that subordinates learned is that Jackson was in command and his orders were to be followed. In addition to his imposing figure, Josh had the personality and the record to command the respect of those under him. Few could do that. So, in time, those under him got used to his casual style.

On the other hand, it tended to rub most of his superiors the wrong way. Most of the admirals were old-school and felt entitled to the respect that their record and rank were due. Perhaps they were right. Regardless, there were several admirals who found Josh’s relaxed demeanor insulting and disliked him. Those who knew him though, eventually got used to it and even found it refreshing. It was a polarizing thing and it often took a couple months to break in a new admiral.

Rear Admiral Gregory MacCray had known both Joshua and Jon a long time and had gotten used to their odd quirks. Yet for some reason, this morning, Josh was at least trying to be polite and diplomatic. He was failing, of course, but the old admiral appreciated the effort. Of course, it could be that Josh was simply trying to irritate him, which was also likely.

Beside them, Jonathan was looking even more tired. Josh did not ask, nor did he want to know, what time his brother had gone to bed. The Commander Jackson simply had a glazed look in his eyes as he mechanically followed his superiors around. Both had been hoping that Admiral MacCray would be content with a simple transfer of command on the bridge with minimal fanfare, but both knew that was a pipe-dream. He was of the old-guard who loved big ceremonies. So he was going to get the full ship tour with everyone in full dress uniform.

After the winding tour through labyrinth that were the corridors of the Oregon, they finally reached the Main Bridge. There, formal introductions were made. This was for the Jackson’s benefit as much as the admiral’s, as neither Josh nor Jon had actually met the majority of their senior staff in person. Granted, they had sifted through enough service records, background information, and such that they felt as if they knew these people intimately well. But most of the crew had not met their commanders, and so it was a fresh experience.

The first person to be introduced was their second officer and chief of operations, Lieutenant Commander Rio Arden. She was also the only person on the senior staff, besides Doctor Kirsten Jackson, that knew the Jackson boys. She, like them, was 28 and had gone to the Academy with them. The three of them would have graduated in the same class, but circumstances forced the twins to miss the last two years. Being in completely separate departments, Rio in Astronomical Physics and the Jacksons in Tactical Training, they saw very little of each other and had only spoken on rare occasions. Rio was a scientist’s scientist, who valued quiet and privacy. Josh and Jon disliked people and valued privacy. She had considered them “pistol jocks” with thick heads whose solution to life’s problems was to blast it; they considered her a stuck-up and arrogant scientist who could only see the value in something if it could be turned into a formula. The last eight years had matured both parties into seeing the value of the other.

Lieutenant Commander Rio was a Bajoran, whose grandparents had escaped from Bajor just before the Cardassian occupation and lived as refugees on Vulcan. As such, she had acquired the Vulcan love of logic and a rather stoic demeanor. While she was highly intelligent, a by-product of the mental discipline of Vulcans, she was also a little OCD. A work-out freak who kept everything just so, she had maintained a very athletic figure and an excellent health record, having never missed a day to illness or anything else in her six-year career. Josh noticed when they shook hands at the formal introduction that her long brown hair was tied up in a perfectly symmetrical bun and that her family earpiece hung just so on her ear. The white dress uniform was pressed smooth and clean.

My frumpy look must be driving her insane¸ Josh silently mused to himself with an equally silent chuckle, Ah, it is things like these that make life so much fun.

Next to her stood the massive chief engineer Commander Ax’chadgic or Ax. Ax was a Royadainian, a reptilian species that lived in a remote system on the far edge of the galaxy in the Beta Quadrant. Royadainians looked very much like giant lizards, with elongated snouts and long prehensile tails. Inside his mouth were fangs, instead of teeth, and a long forked tongue which was used to “smell” the air. The two longest fangs at the front of his mouth were connected to venom sacks at the back of his head, which gave him a unique advantage in battle.

Something else that gave him a distinct advantage was his massive size. Ax was an imposing figure, standing 200 centimeters (6’7”) and weighing around 138 kilograms. Much of his weight came from muscle, but also from the rock-hard green scales that covered his entire body. In addition to providing excellent armor, even against low-power energy weapons, they also had the benefit of being able to change color, though they were naturally green.

Despite his fearsome appearance, Ax was not a warrior, but an engineer, and a darn good one too. He was the oldest on the senior staff by far, being 18 years Josh and Jon’s senior at 46. As a policy, the Jacksons preferred green crew members, as they were easier to teach and train. Amongst many things, Josh and Jon were teachers. Though cold and critical, they were also dedicated to make their subordinates better officers. Hence, they preferred younger and less experienced officers because, as Jon put it, they had “less to unlearn.”

Engineering and warp dynamics were something that was far beyond them, however. History, tactics, battle strategy, phasers, torpedoes, grenades, starship operations, and such were right up their alley, but when it came to how the engines work and other stuff of engineering they never really got a handle on. Their minds simply were not wired for the technical babble. Given that there were four warp cores, one central core and three smaller ones that power each individual section when separated, they needed a top-notch engineering staff. Hence, Josh and Jon looked not for someone to be taught, but someone to teach.

Commander Ax was the highest qualified engineer available. He graduated at the top of his engineering class at the Academy and held a doctorate from the Daystrom Institute in warp field dynamics. Josh jumped at the chance to pick him up and Ax was certainly not going to pass up the chance to work on the complex engine systems that powered the Oregon. Although they had never met, Ax had already given him a long list of ideas for streamlining the power system and squeezing more juice out of them.

Given his expertise and distinguished Starfleet career, the Jackson’s found it odd that he had only advanced to the rank of commander. This was partly because Ax had taken three years off to get his doctorate at Daystrom, but mostly due to a subconscious prejudice against Royadainians. This was rarely intentional or conscious; it was just that they looked like lizards, which made them very hard to take seriously. Most who joined Starfleet became either tactical officers or marines, mostly the latter.

After wincing under the huge engineer’s handshake, Josh and Jon finally met their chief tactical officer and chief of security, Lieutenant Mark Rubio, who was the only human on the senior staff, other than the captain, first officer, and doctor. He was young, only two and a half years removed from the Academy. Enthusiasm and excitement bubbled out of the blond haired, blue eyed young man. Whatever else he was, he was passionate about his job.

Which only made sense given his heritage; Starfleet ran in his blood, going back three generations. Interestingly enough, none of his ancestors had risen above the rank of Lieutenant Commander, but Mark was determined to be the first to make captain. After reviewing his record, Josh sincerely doubted that was going to happen. He seemed to have hit his ceiling as far as a tactical officer was concerned.

Josh and Jon had both noted that he was an excellent security officer. Given their own expertise at tactical, they were not worried about Rubio messing things up. If they were in a battle and things went south, then Jon would simply take over. Both Jacksons would be giving orders to the three at tactical anyway, so again there was little worry of Mark getting in the way. Given the sensitive and advanced nature of the Oregon, the issue of security was more worrying. Josh fully anticipated espionage being a problem, as well as idiots poking around where they should not be. Towards that end, Josh felt that they needed someone who could sniff out a problem and deal with it quickly. Mark Rubio was that man.

In his short career, he had already solved two murders aboard a starship, prevented the theft of a starship, and had been involved in breaking up a Cardassian spy ring at Starbase 32. His enthusiasm hid a shrewd mind that could read people well. In addition, his demeanor engendered trust, which he used to his advantage.

Still, he was of average intelligence and average skill, when it came to warfare. Josh figured he would be useful in keeping his ship safe and could learn a few things from the Jacksons. Jon was opposed to this, namely because of Mark’s enthusiasm and reported romantic view of Starfleet. He had a tendency to put himself in dangerous and rather foolish situations by his belief that every battle can be won and that one should die honorably, rather than runaway to fight another day.

The last person of the senior staff was the youngest, Ensign Shras th’Zarath or Ras, an Andorian who was fresh out of the Academy. He graduated in the middle of his class, but was an excellent pilot whose goal was to become a fighter pilot. Before that would happen, he would need to pay his dues onboard a starship. Josh had been impressed by his talent as a pilot, watching him in a couple simulations, although the Andorian did not know it at the time. Although not particularly bright, though not stupid either, Ras was an incredible pilot, which is precisely what Josh needed, given the maneuverability and complex nature of the ship.

There was a concern raised by Jon about his inexperience and his personality. Ras was known for being a rather typical Andorian, quick-tempered and impatience. Jon and Josh’s tactics often relied on patience and letting their opponents make a mistake. But Josh was rather enamored by his skill and by all accounts, Ras was a rather amiable guy, which offset the impatience. The big, blue Andorian also had a reputation for being a bit of a ladies’ man, which Josh figured would be amusing, although Jon considered it another possible complication on a ship with a crew of around 150 people to get entangled with.

Introductions done, Admiral MacCray and Captain Jackson faced each other in the middle of the bridge. Technically, the admiral was the one in command of the vessel, until Josh officially took command. This was it; Joshua Jackson was to officially become the commanding officer of a starship.

“Captain Joshua Jackson, do you request to officially take command of the USS Oregon, NCC-80121?” MacCray asked with his thick Scottish-accent. Privately, Josh wondered if this was a marriage. The next thought that occurred to him was how appropriate that metaphor was.

“Yes admiral, I do,” Josh said with an even voice.

“Computer, transfer command and codes of this vessel to Captain Joshua Jackson, authorization MacCray Beta-6-2-6-Gamma,” MacCray nodded.

“Confirmation, Captain Jackson?” the computer politely requested.

“Confirmation Jackson Theta-7-3-7-Upsilon,” Josh returned.

“Confirmation confirmed. Captain Joshua Jackson has taken command on stardate 5542.4,” the computer chimed. Cheers and claps broke out all over the bridge. Josh’s stoic expression did not change, but inwardly he took a deep sigh of contentment. This ship was finally, now, his.

*************

Hunched in the corner, sobbing, was a small woman. She was sitting in the Romulan Warbird T’Rel, which actually did not explain why she was weeping. Her name was Saehir Aelhih, a Romulan Centurion, and she was stuck there.

Saehir thought about how she had gotten herself into this miserable mess. Shortly after Shinzon’s death left the power vacuum, various generals, admirals, and surviving senators started grasping for power. As a military officer, she could hardly avoid the controversy. There was no doubt that she did try, but as various different warlords fell off, it became increasingly difficult to stay neutral. It also became quite clear who the battle for the Empire was going to come down to: Admiral Terrik and Admiral Pelliad. Neither had really liked each other, as Terrik was an advocate for opening up diplomatic relations with the Federation and Pelliad was old-school Romulan, all for conquest and the death of the Federation. After a couple of months, Saehir could no longer avoid having to choose.

This placed her in an awkward position. She knew Terrik and had served in his fleet. He had regarded her as one of the rising stars in the Empire, as she was a skilled warrior and tactician. But she also hated the Federation. When she was eleven, both her parents had been killed by a Starfleet captain in Romulan space when all they were trying to do was escort a couple of people to Romulus from near the Neutral Zone. While most of the details of what had happened were unclear, she blamed the captain for the death of her parents and had harbored a burning hatred for them ever since. Aelhih had joined the Romulan Navy with the hopes of exacting revenge on her parents’ murderers.

That said she could not bring herself to support Pelliad. As much as she hated Starfleet, she had hated Shinzon even more. Thousands of Romulans, including a few friends, were killed during his brief rule. Saehir regarded him as the brutal tyrant that he was and was glad for that his rule was brief and over. Although she hated the Federation, she did not support Shinzon’s genocidal plans or his dreams of conquest. Fighting them every now and then was one thing, but conquest cost lives. Lots of lives.

Pelliad wanted to conquer the Federation, like Shinzon. Like the former Procurator, he was power driven and ruthless. He would coerce, bribe, threaten, extort, or outright kill anyone who was in his way. Pelliad was more than willing to fight a civil war to gain power for himself, something that would undoubtedly lead to the deaths of thousands, more likely millions, of Romulans. Terrik, though he was pro-Federation, was much more interested in preserving the Empire than gaining power. Thus, he opposed the power-hungry admiral. So, despite the fact that she despised the Federation, she finally threw her lot in with Admiral Terrik.

At this point, though there was tension, war had not broken out yet. Most of the players were waiting for a general consensus from the people to decide who would lead the Empire as it was being restored. Aelhih was serving in a ship loyal to Pelliad when she made her decision, so Terrik placed her there as a spy. No one was truly expecting a civil war, as there had not been one in the Empire in centuries. This was a political battle, not a military one. At least, this is what they had thought.

For a couple months, or so, things went well. Saehir discreetly fed Terrik information on things like Pelliad’s fleet movements, the names of division commanders, who were Pelliad’s confidants, and who were Pelliad’s supports. Because of her efforts, at the risk of her life a couple of times, Terrik knew about as much of Pelliad’s fleet as his counterpart. Terrik had used some of the mini-library that Aelhih had sent him to coerce two families to switch sides, which both delayed the war and gave his side some badly needed support. In addition, Terrik used Saehir’s intelligence to “persuade” another admiral to switch loyalties and place his division under Terrik. This was the sorest blow for Pelliad’s side and had infuriated the elder warlord.

That also may have been too much. The leaks of information and losing an entire division were enough to frighten him into start a civil war. The military irreparably fractured as Pelliad’s fleet attacked Terrik’s at a so-called “conference” which plunged the Empire into a civil war. Because of the split in the military, Saehir had a problem: she was serving on ship in Pelliad’s fleet and could not just simply transfer to Terrik’s side. Such an action would label her a traitor and she would not make it to warp before getting blown to hell. In fact, it is highly unlikely she would even make it to the shuttle bay.

This is what led her to her current predicament. Neither she nor Terrik had planned any extraction planned because they had not expected things to get this bad. So Aelhih was stuck fighting on the wrong side. Given that this was a civil war, suspicion paranoia were very high, even by Romulan standards, which says a lot, she had to play the part or get killed. She could not just quit, neither could she under perform. Even though Pelliad outnumbered his opponent 3:1, Terrik was the superior strategist, so it was not going to be an easy victory for the old school. Saehir was forced to fight her hardest for the wrong side.

Aelhih had fought in three engagements in the last three months of war. As the preeminent tactical officer on the T’rel, she was pressed into service in each one that had led to the destruction of four of Terrik’s warbirds. Given her friend’s numbers, each loss was devastating. Inwardly she winced every time she saw her shots hit home, tearing into the green hulls.

It was the last battle that had ended only four hours earlier that had shaken her to the core. In that battle, she had made herself scarce until someone found her “sleeping” and brought her to the bridge. They were losing, but Saehir soon fixed that and ended up obliterating their enemy. After the battle, the registry identified the warbird as the IRW Devrim, the same ship which her best friend was serving as an engineer. A little digging revealed that she was most likely on board when Aelhih blew it to dust. Saehir had just killed her best friend. Claiming she was ill, she dashed from the bridge and had been sobbing since.

Anger welled up inside her. This situation was something that she did not create, but she was suffering the consequences. She was furious at Terrik for abandoning her. She was furious at Pelliad for starting this whole war in the first place. She was furious at Shinzon for destroying the centuries of Romulan government. Above all, she was furious at the Federation. They had been the Empires enemy for the last two centuries. They had been the ones to interfere when Shinzon took over. They had killed Shinzon, leaving the power vacuum that led to this war. They had killed her parents. Gritting her teeth through the tears, her hatred against the Federation deepened even further. They were the ones responsible for all the misery in her life. She would get revenge, one way or another, she would get revenge.

*************

Meanwhile, and totally oblivious to all this, Josh returned to his bridge shortly before they arrived at their destination at Savoy 1. He had gone to change uniforms and decided to rearrange his quarters while he was there. Taking a deep breath, he stepped back on the bridge.

“Captain on the bridge!” Lieutenant Commander Rio called loudly. Everyone, except Jon who had been much more efficient with changing, stood at rigid attention.

“Absolutely not!” Josh growled. Everyone, except Jon, looked at him quizzically.

“So you’re not the captain?” Ras’s blue face showed a wry smile as he jabbed.

“As you were, ensign!” Rio ordered harshly.

“Oh relax, commander,” Josh allowed himself a brief smile, “Everyone relax, goodness.”

Once again, everyone looked at him quizzically, as if not understanding.

“At ease, as you were, whatever,” Josh clarified. Everyone nodded and returned to their stations. Jon, who had not bothered to even look up, knowing what was coming, chuckled quietly to himself.

“Did you set them up to that?” Josh hissed at his brother.

“No,” Jon laughed, “But I saw it coming and that was hilarious.”

“I need their respect and that wasn’t helping,” Josh grumbled.

“Oh relax, I think their petrified of you now,” Jon grinned, “If anything, I think you need to win over their friendship.”

“Didn’t you explain the, uh, unique bridge rules here?” Josh queried, knowing the answer.

“Nope, that’s your job captain,” Jon answered, looking back at the report, or novel, he was reading.

“No commander, that’s your job. First officer means you do all the boring grunt work for me,” Josh groused, “That’s what I did for three years.”

“I’m not your typical first officer,” Jon replied, “Besides, your ship, your bridge, your rules, your problem.”

“Fine,” Josh conceded, knowing that it was not worth arguing. Besides, despite their banter, he knew his brother would follow his orders when push came to shove. He needed someone to push him anyway.

“Attention, everyone,” Instantly Josh knew that he had made a poor choice of words. The entire bridge immediately stood ramrod straight at their stations, except, of course, Jon. Josh put his head in his hands and Jon chuckled again at his side.

“No, not literally at attention. At ease, or whatever,” Josh watched the confused crew sit back down, “I meant listen to me. There are some protocols we need to go over. First, I am not one for your typical bridge nonsense. I would prefer that you call me Josh, but captain will do. Don’t call me sir. Don’t stand attention when you are talking to me. Just talk, alright. I am your captain, this is true, but I am also a person. Treat me as such. If you have something to say, say it. Each of you are experts in your areas and know more about science, piloting, engineering, and operations than I do. I need you to tell me when I’m wrong and what to do; that’s why I choose you. I want and need a relaxed atmosphere on the bridge where everyone feels free to speak their mind. I appreciate those jokes, Ras.

“At the same time, I want all of you to remember that I am the captain. When I make a final decision that is the decision we are going with. You may protest in private, but I expect you to carry out your orders as befits a Starfleet officer. So if I tell you to shoot shoot then ask why later. I don’t do things without thinking and so there is a reason for why I do what I do. Am I clear what I want?” Josh looked around the bridge and saw several heads nod and smiles on everyone’s face but Rio’s, who looked either grim or constipated, Josh could not tell which. “One more thing. The next time some yells, ‘Captain on whatever!’ is getting thrown out the nearest airlock, clear?” The bridge dissolved into laughter.

“Captain, we have reached the Savoy system,” Ras informed the captain.

“Very well, drop us out of warp, Ras,” Josh commanded, “Proceed to Savoy 1 station.”

A few minutes later, real space conformed around them and the Savoy 1 training station loomed ahead.

“Josh, we’re being hailed by the station,” Ras told him.

“On screen,” Josh replied with a gesture. A face appeared in front of them.

“Hello, um, Captain, um, Jackson,” the man seemed to be fumbling through a datapadd. Inwardly, Josh cringed. This person’s disorganization was irritating.

“Greetings commander,” Josh said evenly, “We are here to do some weapons test for our ship. Are you ready?”

“Yes, I, um, believe so,” the man continued scrolling through the padd, “This is Captain Jackson of the Oregon?”

“Correct, and you are?” Josh did not remember the station’s commander being so inept.

“Uh, Commander Richard Picks,” the commander replied haltingly, “Captain George is back on Earth on leave. Were you not informed?”

“No,” Josh kept his voice calm. He hated these bureaucratic screw ups, although Jackson did not think that this would have much effect on him.

“Ah, here it is,” Picks finally looked up, “I see you are scheduled for area 4. Permission to begin tests granted. If you’ll make your way over to area 4, I’ll give the order to have the targets put in place.”

“Thank you commander,” Josh nodded to Ras, “Oregon out.” The screen went blank.

“Moron,” Ras muttered under his breath.

“Ensign, that is enough,” Rio ordered sharply.

“Give it a rest, commander,” Josh ordered his frustrated Bajoran, “Besides, Ras does have a point. The man has the competency of a Klingon counselor.”

“But captain, he was insulting a superior officer,” Rio protested.

“Arden,” Josh sighed, using her given name, “Ras hardly insulted him. His lack of organization and awareness did that. Our young ensign here merely pointed out a fact.”

“Yes captain,” Rio assented with a glare.

“Come on people, let’s relax a bit. We’re doing a weapons test, not fighting a battle,” Jon pointed out.

“Josh, we’ve reached area 4,” Ras informed them, clearly uncomfortable using his captain’s first name.

“Thanks Ras,” Josh acknowledge, “Arden, have the targets been placed in position?”

“Yes, sir,” Rio answered, emphasizing the “sir”.

“Good,” Josh ignored her word choice, “Target 1 on screen. Tactical, shields up and red alert.” The lights in the bridge dimmed and the familiar red glow emanated complete with the obnoxious alarm.

“Lock forward phasers on target one and fire two shots,” Josh ordered, “Helm half impulse.” Two orange lines burned through space ahead, striking the asteroid dead on.

“Helm, flight pattern alpha,” Josh continued, almost lazily, “Tactical lock phasers and fire.”

As soon as the order was given, Ras threw open the throttle, aiming the Oregon directly at the floating rock. The distance closed to less than 10 kilometers, at which point Ras twisted the ship in a ninety-degree turn and rolled the Oregon on her side, opening up her belly phasers. Mark was desperately trying to keep up with Ras’s turns, but Josh noted with irritation that more than sixty-percent of his tactical officer’s shots were missing. The turn had been completed so that the rear of the ship was facing the asteroid.

“Lock photon torpedoes, full spread, and fire,” Josh ordered his voice even. Four red dots dropped behind them, impacting on the rock, obliterating it.

“Lock on target two. Helm, slow to half impulse and attack pattern beta,” Josh commanded. Ras nodded and put the ship in a wide, slow arc towards the second asteroid. As they approached the rock, Ras began to corkscrew the ship.

“Fire phasers only,” Josh said flatly, facing the viewscreen with his hands resting behind his back. Given that they had slowed down, Mark was much more accurate, connecting on eighty-percent of his targets, though that was still far too inaccurate for both Jon and Josh’s taste.

“Bring us about 180 degrees and full reverse,” Josh suddenly said, “Lock forward torpedoes and fire.” There was a second pause after Ras jerked them back around before eight dots raced away, slamming into the asteroid.

“Quarter impulse, fire full phaser spread,” Josh continued, watching as the asteroid was reduced to dust. “Alright people, I think that’s enough of the kid stuff,” Josh sighed as the Oregon glided towards the next target, “Now the real fun begins. By the by Mark, any particular reason you’re missing?”

“Sir?” Mark’s eyes shot up in surprise. He had felt pretty good about his performance, given the conditions.

“Your accuracy rate was around sixty-percent, Lieutenant,” Jon commented, looking at his notes, “Which is unacceptable. If this were a battle, we cannot win out if we are hitting on 3/5s of our shots. This is not baseball; a three-hundred average is not good.”

“What should my accuracy rate be at?” Mark asked, feeling a little put on the spot.

“Ninety-percent would be a good start,” Josh answered his eyes boring into the now very uncomfortable Lieutenant.

“Yes sir,” came the automatic response. Mark had heard that these guys were perfectionists, but this was unbelievable. No one had ninety-percent accuracy in practice, let alone combat. No one, except maybe these two.

Josh and Jon looked at each other and silently communicated their disappointment. Rubio had been Josh’s idea for Chief Tactical Officer, even though Jon had told him it was a bad idea. Josh thought that with a bit of training, he could blossom. But now it was obvious that would not happen. Mark had failed the test.

Both Jackson’s knew that chiding Mark in front of the crew was a harsh thing to do. That is why they did it. If he could stand up to them for their harshness and lack of propriety, then maybe he had what it would take to be a captain some day. But instead, Mark had meekly accepted his reprimand.

“With all due respect, captain,” Rio glared at the twins from her position at ops, “we are conducting tests on our weapons systems, not the officers in charge of them. In addition, it is highly damaging and inappropriate to call out an officer in front of his crewmates, regardless of how bad a shot he is. If you have a problem with him, I suggest you take it up with him in private.”

The bridge instantly got quiet. Rio’s face grew white, as she realized that she had just reprimanded her commanding officer, in front of the entire bridge crew. She had the sinking feeling that her career was not goint very far. Ras coughed, probably allergic to extreme awkwardness. Mark stared very hard at his tactical display, not daring to turn around.

Josh did not move from his chair, but did hazard a look over to Jon, who had not moved from his place at mission ops. Jon returned the look with raised eyebrows and almost imperceptible smile. This one would go far, if they had any say about it, was the silent thought that was communicated.

“Very well,” Josh nonchalantly responded, “let us resume the testing, then.” No one moved. Everyone was stunned. All had been expecting at the very least a reminder of who was captain. Instead, this captain shrugged it off and carried on as if nothing had happened.

“Excuse me, I believe I gave an order,” Josh reiterated, his voice dropping a couple of degrees.

“Aye,” the three other officers on the bridge answered in unison.

“Good,” Josh stood up in front of his chair, “Operations, locate our second target. Tactical lock on, helm prepare for Multi-vector-assault-mode.”

“Aye sir,” the three voices chimed in.

“Commander, alert the crew to their assigned stations,” Josh ordered his second.

“On it Josh,” Jon replied with a smirk.

“Target located,” Rio informed.

“We are locked on, ready to engage MVAM, Josh,” Mark said. Ras nodded in confirmation.

“Engage MVAM,” Josh ordered. There was a slight jolt as the ship split gently into three parts, now tripling Mark’s work load.

“Helm, attack pattern alpha, full impulse, engage,” Josh ordered. The Oregon(s) launched forward, looking as if it had just barely separated. The ship now bristled with twenty-four Type XII phaser arrays and eight quantum/photon torpedo tubes.

“Tactical, target all ventral phasers on the target,” Josh ordered as the ship glided closer and closer to the rock.

“Aye,” Rubio reported. There were a couple moments of silence as they got closer and closer.

“Helm flight pattern omicron, wide,” the captain commanded. Instantly the ship’s parts reoriented themselves to form a large “O” shaped pattern that began to envelope the asteroid.

“Fire,” Josh ordered. Mark nodded and lit up the asteroid as the ventral phasers pounded away at the rock.

“Pattern alpha. Tactical lock on and fire photon torpedoes,” Josh sat back down. The ship reassumed its closed formation and four red dots flared out behind them, obliterating what was left of the rock.

“Ops, third target?” Josh requested.

“40,000 kilometers to starboard,” Rio supplied.

“Thank you, tactical lock on, helm engage at full impulse,” Josh lazily waved his hand. The Oregon wheeled to the right and shot forward, rapidly closing the distance.

“Helm, wedge pattern,” the Alpha, or command section, moved ahead of the other two sections, forming a wedge.

At 20,000 kilometers, Josh stood up and ordered, “Tactical fire Alpha phasers, maximum firepower.” Orange beams shot out from the command section, tearing into the rock ahead of them.

“Attack pattern Jackson-2,” Josh commanded, implementing one of his personal tactics that both Mark and Ras were aware of. Mark continued to pound away at the rock for a couple more seconds. Just then, Ras pulled the command section up, clearing the way for the bottom two sections. At that very moment, Mark fired a full spread of photon torpedoes, which essentially finished off the rock.

“Helm, assume flight pattern alpha,” Josh sat back down, “Ops locate the next target and tactical lock on.”

“Captain, two vessels incoming,” Rio informed from her station.

“Acknowledged,” Josh nodded, “Identity, please.”

“Uh, the Sovereign and the San Francisco,” Rio supplied, “They’re on an intercept course.”

“All stop,” Josh ordered.

“Captain, we are being hailed by the Sovereign,” Ras spoke up from helm.

“Very well, put him on screen,” Josh sighed, wondering what in the stars this could be about. Captain Gardner’s mischievous popped on the screen.

“Well, not bad Josh,” Gardner complimented, “You sure can beat the tar out of rocks. How would you and your crew like a shot against a real opponent.”

“Have one in mind?” Josh raised an eyebrow.

“I think Eina and I could take you and your toy boat,” Gardner smirked.

“I thought you said a real opponent,” Jon retorted from behind Josh, which caused the other Jon to raise a couple of eyebrows.

“Touché, commander,” the Sovereign’s captain acknowledged, “So, do you accept our challenge?”

“Not sure how much of a challenge it will be, but yeah, we could use the excitement,” Josh allowed a small grin. This would be fun.

“Very well, war games commence in five minutes, captain,” with that the link went dead.

“Sir, are you sure about this?” Rio queried, “I mean, it’s just some war games exercise, but losing could be problematic.”

“You are, of course, assuming that we’ll lose,” Josh answered.

“To be frank Josh, we’re outnumbered and severely out-gunned by a Sovereign and a Galaxy. Plus, both Gardner and Zeiss are known for their tactical expertise,” Mark observed from tactical. “With all due respect, I don’t think we can win.”

“Let’s do it anyway!” Ras enthused from helm, “Besides, you’ve already committed. It would be highly dishonorable to back out now.”

“The captain has never put honor above victory,” Rio countered sharply.

“Ax, what do you think?” Josh asked the engineer who had just walked onto the bridge.

“About what captain?” Ax had missed what was going on.

“We are about to do a war games exercise against the Sovereign and the ‘Frisco,” Jon explained, “Rio and Rubio are against the idea, but Mark and I are for it.”

“Is this a democracy?” Ax looked quizzically at Josh.

“No, but crew input is important,” Josh answered. “So again to my question: what do you think?”

“Hmm,” Ax’s prehensile tail pulled up a PADD to his face and he studied it for a moment. “The Sovereign and ‘Frisco pack a pretty mean punch. In addition, both crews have experienced plenty of combat. So the odds are against us. But the real question comes down to this: do you think we can win, captain? If you do, then we certainly stand in good stead. If not, then the battle is over before it even begins.”

Josh and Jon exchanged subtle grins. “That was precisely the answer I was looking for,” he told the engineer, “And yes, I do think we can win. In fact, I expect to. Tactical, set weapons to simulation mode. Ops, record all sensor data so we can analyze some it later. Helm, take us to the war games zone.”

“Aye Josh,” the Andorian’s blue antennae were almost wiggling with anticipation. Mark and Arden looked a little more dubious. Ax merely shrugged and took his station at engineering.

“So Josh, what are you thinking?” Jon whispered from his seat.

“I’m thinking we give these kids a scare before we thrash Jon and Eina,” Josh’s face did not change expression, but his blue eyes danced. This is what he lived for.

“Inverted pincer, then?”

“Exactly.”

“We’re being hailed,” Ras reported.

“On screen,”

Captain Jon Gardner and Captain Eina Zeiss shared space on the Oregon’s viewscreen.

“The battle now commences,” Jon informed. Eina nodded and then both cut the channel.

“Ops, display the position of the ‘Frisco and Sovereign,” Josh request. The viewscreen showed a two-dimensional display of the area in which the San Francisco and Sovereign were marked with red Starfleet symbols. Both were splitting off in a V-formation, which is exactly what Josh had predicted and wanted.

“Sir, the Sovereign is opening fire!” Rio called as the ship gently rocked, “Now the San Francisco!”

“Shields holding,” Rubio informed.

“Good, helm assume flight pattern alpha and set coordinates bearing-115 mark-218, half impulse, engage,” Josh ordered, “Ops, transfer tactical readout to my personal display.” Instantly, the viewscreen cleared to show the Sovereign unleash another salvo of phaser fire.

“Should I open fire?” Rubio asked.

“No, hold your fire,” Josh responded.

“What!?” four confused voices answered.

“You have your orders,” Josh simply replied, “Trust me.”

“Aye, captain, holding fire,” Mark’s eyes were big. If this was real combat…

“Shields on Alpha section down to 80%,” Rio reported, “Beta and Gamma shields are holding.”

“Excellent,” Josh responded, “Recharge the shields Ax.”

“Yes sir,” the Royadainain responded from his console. “Shields will be at maximum strength in two minutes.”

“Very well,” Josh acknowledged.

Sovereign and ‘Frisco are firing torpedoes,” Rio’s voice was rising in anxiety.

“Evasive maneuvers, sir?” Ras looked back.

Josh consulted his personal display for a moment. Almost there. “No, maintain course and speed. Let them hit us.”

“Aye, maintaining course and speed,” Ras acknowledged with a sigh. This was not looking good.

A moment later the blue and red balls slammed into them, shaking the entire ship.

“Alpha shields at 10 percent, Beta holding at 30. Gamma down to 25, captain!” Rio fairly shrieked. The captain was not even trying to fight back.

“Rerouting energy to shield regeneration,” Ax informed, not waiting for the command, “Full shields in four minutes.”

“We don’t have four minutes,” Rio complained, “One more direct shot and were finished.”

Josh once more consulted his personal display. They were there.

“Full stop,” he ordered.

“Captain?” Ras looked curiously back.

“Full stop ensign, now,” Josh’s eyes bored into the young Andorian, who simply nodded.

“Full stop, aye.”

“Are you crazy?” Mark and Rio gasped at once, bridge protocol be damned. “Commander?” they looked over at Jon, who simply smirked and shrugged.

“Just follow your orders,” Josh held up his hand.

The ‘Frisco and Sovereign could not believe their good fortune. The already wounded Oregon had just stopped dead in space directly between them. They were now sitting ducks. Both captains fired with everything they had.

Which is exactly what Josh had been anticipating. The moment the other two ships opened fire, he began to act like a captain.

“Helm, engage starburst pattern now,” he ordered sharply, “Tactical, target Sovereign’s shields and impulse and engage attack pattern Jackson-2, full spread.” Instantly, the three parts of the Oregon shot apart in different directions, leaving any empty hole in space where the Sovereign and ‘Frisco’s phasers and torpedoes harmlessly passed through.

Almost harmlessly. The Oregon was completely unharmed, but rather the weapons travelled on straight into each other. The quantum torpedoes from the Sovereign slammed into the ‘Frisco moments after her phasers had weakened the shields. The same thing happened to the Sovereign.

Meanwhile, the Oregon assumed a wedge formation and hammered at the weakened Sovereign’s shields before they could get a chance to regenerate. At the last second, the Alpha section pulled up and the Beta and Gamma sections unleashed their own salvo of torpedoes. Within seconds, the Sovereign was defenseless and immobile.

“Tactical, lock Alpha’s phasers on the Sovereign’s warp core,” Josh ordered his stunned crew, “Helm, direct sections Beta and Gamma towards the ‘Frisco. Put them side-by-side so their forward shields overlap. Target shields and impulse, tactical.” The crew mutely nodded their acknowledgement. They watched as the other two parts of their ship raced towards the limping San Francisco.

It really never stood a chance. Josh ordered a full torpedo barrage that completely blew out her front shields. Though she valiantly tried to responded, the Beta and Gamma sections of the Oregon were far too maneuverable and Ras was far too good a pilot, even from afar, to get shot down. Only minimal damage was done to the mostly recharged shields. They split over and under the ‘Frisco, lacing her with phaser fire before coming back together and leaving one last torpedo salvo that completely collapsed her shields. One more pass with phasers finished off the ‘Frisco’s impulse drive.

“Bring them to a full stop and target their warp core,” Josh finally stood up from his seat and stepped down to the lower platform of the bridge. “Hail them both.”

A moment later, Jon and Eina’s irritated faces appeared on-screen.

“I’ll take your surrender now,” Josh raised his right eyebrow.

“You know we’re not supposed to surrender,” Jon answered, with a smirk.

“Very well, Mark fire on their warp cores,” Josh said to his tactical officer. Mark looked shocked for a second, as his captain was casually telling him to obliterate two starships.

“Alright, alright, I surrender,” Jon chuckled, holding up his hands. “That was a helluva move back there. Felix is fuming.” Josh could see the Sovereign’s tactical officer scowling.

“Refrain from destruction, Lieutenant,” Josh held back his surprised officer, “Eina, do you surrender as well?”

The furious redhead looked at her displays for a moment, and then sighed in resignation. “Looks like I have no choice. Fine, you win this round Josh.”

“Josh, we need to come aboard and talk,” Jon’s faced turned serious.

“Really?” Josh’s eyebrows shot up in surprise, “What about?”

“We’ll tell you in person,” Jon replied, “It’s about your new orders.”

“Alright, come aboard,” Josh nodded and killed the communication. “Tactical, stand down. Ops save the data, we’ll go over it later. Ras, put the ship back together, Mark send someone down to transporter one to fetch our guests. Jon and I’ll be in the conference room. Rio, you have the bridge.”

The Bajoran nodded and Josh and Jon disappeared into the conference room. All the senior officers looked at each other in astonishment.

“Did you see that coming?” Mark finally asked Ax, the oldest one there; right after he had sent some security down to fetch Eina and Jon. Another officer filed in to fill Rio’s position at ops.

“Nope, gotta say that’s a first for me,” Ax admitted, “That was some pretty flying there,” he acknowledge Ras.

“Thanks,” the young ensign smiled.

“I heard that they were good, but that was incredible,” Mark continued, “He just whipped a Sovereign and a Galaxy without even breaking a sweat. Didn’t you go to the Academy with them?” he asked Rio.

“Yes I did,” she nodded, not entirely believing what had just transpired herself. “But I never hung out with them or anything. Besides, while they were off in tactical, I was in the science department. Our paths really didn’t cross much.”

“We’ll, I’m pretty sure we’ve all heard how good they are, but I guess you don’t really understand it until you see it,” Ras bubbled, “I mean, did you see how suckered those two into attacking each other.”

“Yes, I saw it quite well,” a male voice boomed behind them, “thank you for the reminder.” The young officers whirled around to see Captains Gardner and Zeiss standing there, with their escort.

“Sirs!” Ras was aghast. Josh he knew was quite cool with the lack of bridge decorum. These two he was much less sure about.

“Captains on the bridge!” Rio called, but Jon put his hand up.

“Don’t bother, please,” he countered, “That stuff makes me nauseated. Don’t worry Ras, give credit where it is due. Your captain did pretty good today; still can’t believe we fell for one of his favorite tactics. Besides, isn’t the craziest stunt I’ve seen him pull; after all this was only a friendly war games competition. In the conference room?”

Rio nodded and the two captains disappeared behind the door. The four senior officers looked at each other and smiled. Yeah, they had one awesome captain.

***************

Inside the conference room, Jon and Eina found Josh and the other Jon conferring on the far side of the table.

“Sit,” Josh asked, gesturing towards the table. The defeated captains sat opposite the victorious duo.

“Well done out there,” Jon commented, “That was a pretty impressive move. I thought we had you.”

“Thank you,” Josh nodded curtly, “Now what’s this all about. You didn’t come here just to play games.”

“Quite right,” Eina confirmed, “It’s your new orders.”

“New orders?” Jon raised an eyebrow, “We’re still doing our crew shakedown cruise. We’re scheduled to run some warp tests, see where we max out and such.”

“Yeah, well things change,” Jon slide a PADD across the table. Josh picked it up and scanned it.

“This for real?” he asked, looking back at the other two captains.

“It carries Spock’s personal ID code,” Zeiss answered, “Only way if it isn’t is if someone managed to pull the code out of his head. It confirms was out listening posts seem to be observing, though one can’t quite tell what’s going inside.”

Jon read the PADD for himself and whistled. “So the Romulan Empire is officially in a state of civil war,” he shook his head, “I never thought I’d see that.”

“Well, neither did we expect to be picking up the pieces around San Francisco after someone other than the Borg attacked, but we did that too,” Josh returned, “So this has been going on for what, three months?”

“A little more, yeah,” Jon answered, “Apparently, Pelliad suckered Terrik into a ‘peace conference’ to see if they could work out some sort of deal for the benefit of the Romulan people…”

“And it was really a trap that Pelliad sprung,” the other Jon finished.

“Classic Romulan,” Zeiss added.

“Terrik escape?” Jon queried.

“Barely,” Captain Gardner confirmed, “It was close though. That happened before he sent me that message. Spock also mentions seeing him.”

“What took Spock so long in getting this out?”

“Well, everything blew up and there was kind of a witch-hunt for him,” Jon explained, “Spock’s existence on Romulus wasn’t exactly that huge of a secret, but most considered him harmless. Besides, with tensions between us cooling during the Dominion War, no one was that concerned about the ambassador. Anyway, he had to go to ground for a couple of months. In fact, I don’t believe he is even on Romulus anymore.”

“Has he been extracted, then?” Commander Jon queried.

“Unlikely, though I’m not Picard so I’m not privy to that kind of info,” Gardner answered. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the Klingons were sent to fetch him.”

“That’s good at least,” Jackson nodded.

“What’s not good is that this Admiral Pelliad has a four to one advantage over Terrik, He’s a solid tactician and strategist, but he’s not that good,” Gardner was obviously stressed over his friend’s plight. “Especially not good enough to go against a very experienced soldier like Pelliad. It’s just a matter of time before he loses.”

“Which brings us back to the mission,” Eina brought her boyfriend and former subordinates back to the task at hand. “Starfleet is sending its more advanced ships on reconnaissance missions to keep an eye on things in the Empire. Not to do any espionage, just listen in.”

“I take it we’re one of those ships?” Josh got a nod. “Alright, where are we going?” he sighed.

“Don’t know,” Gardner answered. “And no, I can’t tell you where I’m going. Hell, Eina doesn’t even know. Wherever it is you’re going, it is so secret that they couldn’t even send the location over subspace. They put on this PADD, which I’m told has been hand delivered from the commander-in-chief of Starfleet himself.” Jon tossed the PADD over to the other captain.

“I feel honored,” Josh sardonically replied.

“Well, your ship is designed for long range tactical missions and you’re the best tactician in Starfleet, so don’t look so stunned,” Captain Gardner pointed out.

“Despite your green crew, you’re probably the best ship for the deepest assignment into Romulan space, which makes it the most dangerous,” Eina added.

“Thanks for the note of encouragement,” Josh grumbled. “Of course, we don’t know where we’re going. At least not yet.”

“You will soon enough captain and it’s probably best if all Eina and I know is our private speculations, so we will take our leave of you sirs,” Gardner stood up. “Good to see you again, my friend.”

“You too,” the Jacksons answered.

“Always a pleasure to learn from my former officers,” Zeiss gave a wry smile. “Though next time, I fully expect to teach you a couple of lessons.”

“Look forward to it,” Jon returned the smile. Handshakes were exchanged and the captains departed, leaving the twins alone in the conference room.

“Let’s find out our mystery mission, shall we?” Josh said as he keyed the password to unlock the PADD. Josh read it first and groaned. Then Jon took his turn and shared his brother’s sentiment.

“Well that wasn’t very helpful,” he commented.

“At least it tells us that Eina’s suspicions were right,” Josh pointed out and read over the orders again.

“Proceed at warp nine to Quebec VI. There you will meet a Bajoran man in beige civilian clothes at the Jazear Café. The greet code is, ‘Enjoying the view?’ The correct response is, ‘I prefer the one on Romulus.’ He will instruct you further on your mission.”

“Have the captains returned to their ships?” Josh asked as he and his brother returned to the bridge.

“Yes sir,” Rio responded.

“Ras, set course for Quebec VI, warp nine,” Josh commanded. Everyone on the bridge looked a little startled by the announcement. The ensign dutifully entered the course.

“Captain, that’s right on the border of the Neutral Zone,” he said matter-of-factly.

Josh stroked his chin for a moment. “Why so it is, ensign, so it is,” he confirmed. “Engage.”

With that, they leapt into warp.

 

Chapter 3:

Saehir Aelhih sighed. It had been three weeks since her emotional breakdown after destroying the Devrim, but she had managed to pull herself together. Instead of just moping and weeping, Aelhih had focused her mind on the task of escaping and getting revenge.

She knew that the T’rel was due for some repairs and refitting at a space dock at that time. She also knew that several other warbirds should also be docked there, which made the perfect time for her to strike. Saehir had in mind to destroy the T’rel, the space dock, and the other warbirds. This would be a vicious blow to Admiral Pelliad’s bid for power. She would leave her cage a burning wreck behind her, vengeance for her friend all the other thousands that they had forced her to kill.

Her plan was actually rather simple. When they docked at the space station, the quantum singularity that powered the warbird would be shut down and the station would power the ship during the repairs. Now if the singularity was powered up, it would cause a feedback in the power line, which would shortly build up in both the singularity on the T’rel and the space station, causing them to overload and explode. While this is going on, Aelhih would steal a scout ship from the shuttle bay of the T’rel and flee, leaving behind a burning mess.

This is what the Romulan woman had spent the last three weeks working on. She had spent her time in the computer room doing the necessary programming to set in effect the chain reaction that would blow up the station and everything else. Oddly enough, few people bothered to interfere. Pretty much all of the ship’s crew assumed that she was working on tactical simulations or going over some data in preparation for their next engagement. Saehir, though, hardly noticed this oddity among the highly suspicious Romulans.

“Centurion Aelhih to the bridge,” a voice commanded her over the com in her room. Saehir stretched, donned her uniform, and walked to the bridge. They were arriving at the space dock now and everything was ready. There was almost the hint of a smile on her face as she walked to the bridge. Today she would avenge her friends.

Arriving on the bridge, she took her station and looked out on the viewscreen. To her surprise, and horror, there were only two other warbirds docked at the space dock. Suddenly her plans for a grand and devastating pay back were greatly reduced. Three warbirds and a space station were not exactly a crippling blow to a man who had over two thousand such ships under his command. Neither were the eight she had previously planned on taking out, but it sounded a lot better.

“Where is everybody?” she asked from tactical.

“What do you mean?” the commander, a smug Romulan that Saehir deeply loathed. He was arrogant and amoral.

“Seems there isn’t anyone here,” she pointed to the screen. “I was certain that there would be at least eight or nine ships here.”

“That’s what happens when you lock yourself away in a computer room,” the commander pointed out. “Seems you missed the news that the Federation has been increasing its patrols along the Neutral Zone, even to the point of sending a couple of ships across. We may already have a war going on, but we also must look to our own borders. Starfleet has a nasty habit of interfering and we wouldn’t want them to aid Terrik. As such, most of our ships have been reallocated to the border.”

“Ah, that is good,” Aelhih nodded. Inside, she was furious. Once again, the Federation had stuck its do-good nose into her life and screwed it up. Why could they not just let people be? It was not as if what happened inside the Empire was their business anyway. Saehir’s fists balled up underneath the console, but she managed to keep her visage calm.

Thirty some-odd minutes later, the T’rel was safely docked. Saehir and the rest of the bridge crew were excused to their quarters to prepare for a short shore-leave on the station. Fuming at the unfairness of it all, Aelhih decided to put her plan into action. Sitting at her computer terminal, she checked to make sure that the station was powering her warbird and the singularity was powered down. It was, she saw. Tapping a few keys the Romulan set the cascade program into effect. She grabbed her things and checked the computer one last time. The program was running smoothly, she noted with some satisfaction. No, her revenge would not be quite as thorough or destructive as she had hoped, but this would at least be something.

However, she had only about ten minutes to get far away before two quantum singularities went boom, a very big boom at that. Grabbing a disrupter and a pack of clothes, she quickly headed for the shuttle bay, where a scout ship was waiting.

Saehir almost made it all the way before someone noticed her. All the crew of the warbird were supposed to be on the station, not on the ship. Only security and engineering personnel were allowed onboard. Saehir was obviously not one of these. Just as she rounded the corner to the shuttle bay, she ran into an engineer who was on his way from engineering.

“Hey, you’re not supposed to be here,” he called to her. He reached for his communicator, “Secu—”

Saehir’s disrupter blast cut his call short. Stepping past the dead body, she sprinted for the door. It opened and to her great relief, there was no else in there. Finding the scout ship, she opened the cockpit and jumped inside.

“Computer, begin power up sequence, authorization S-A-Siriaq-3-7,” she ordered breathlessly.

“Power up confirmed,” the voice responded and the scout ship began to come to life.

“Sever connection with main computer. Transfer all command functions to this port,” she continued.

“Transfer complete,” the computer informed. Saehir sighed. Now there was no way they could control the ship. Unfortunately, the shuttle bay doors were still closed and there was no chance she could get them open.

“Warning!” the computer intoned. “Disrupter fire detected.”

“Huh? Raise shields and power weapons,” she commanded, noting the security personnel filing in, shooting at her. “Engage engines.”

“Shields and weapons cannot be powered inside shuttle bay,” the computer pointed out calmly. “Security protocol.”

“Override,” Saehir countermanded. “Authorization S-A-Siriaq-3-7.”

“Override accepted. Shields and weapons are online,” the computer acquiesced.

“Thank you,” Aelhih muttered. Taking manual control, she aimed the pulse disrupters at the massive shuttle bay door. Depressing the trigger, she fired a couple of volleys at the door, blowing it to smithereens. With a gaping hole to fly out of, she punched the impulse engines and the scout craft shot forward and zipped out into open space. Past her flew the bodies of security officers who were sucked out with the decompression. Saehir grunted, figuring that they would be dead in about six minutes anyway, so what did it matter?

Pushing the ships engines to the max, she raced to the edge of the system. Something bothered Saehir. Her going AWOL could not have possibly escaped notice, so why was not anyone pursuing her? Were they content to let her go? That made no sense. Shrugging, she held up her ship and turned to watch the impending destruction. The remaining five minutes ticked off and the countdown reached zero.

Nothing. To her horror, the station, the T’rel, and the whole damned system were still there. Not even a shudder. How was that possible? Had she miscalculated somehow?

“Computer, confirm that program Vendetta was implemented in the IRW T’rel?” she requested.

“Program confirmed,” the computer responded.

“Then what the hell is going on?” she growled. If the program was initiated, then the station and everything else should be a pile of dust right now.

“I think I can answer that for you, Centurion Saehir Aelhih,” a smug and irritatingly familiar voice piped through her comm system. “We’ve known all along about your little plan.”

Saehir’s eyes went wide in surprise. How? She had been extra-careful not to let anyone see what she was working on and that all her programs were locked. Only she could open them.

“One of the problems with being a lowly Centurion is that anything you secure isn’t really that secure,” the commander continued. “Remember, we are Romulans, not trusting fools like humans. So of course when you started making stuff private, we had to take a peek. Quite clever, I must say, but sadly you don’t have enough security to afford privacy. No one has the right to privacy in this Empire.”

Aelhih sighed sadly and leaned back in her chair. Of course, it all made sense now. This was why no one bothered her while she was creating the program; this was why no one was chasing her. They already knew and now it was going to come to nothing. Letting out a yell of frustration, she pounded the console.

“Temper, temper,” chided the arrogant commander. “Now if you’ll please power down, we don’t want to make a mess of things. Not yet, anyway.”

Immediately, two warbirds decloaked in front of her, weapons trained. Saehri gritted her teeth. This was not how it was going to end. There was no way that she would let herself be captured and then executed. She was not done yet. Turning the ship away, she cloaked and warped out of the system.

“She’s cloaked sir,” a centurion informed the commander aboard the station. “Shall I sweep the area for her?”

“No, she’s warped out anyway,” the centurion waved him off. “Besides, she is still useful to me.”

*************

It had taken the Oregon around two weeks to arrive at Quebec Outpost VI. This was the last outpost in a string that defended the Hyralan Sector of the Neutral Zone. To Josh’s perspective, it seemed like a rather lonely place to be. Of course, it was a rather lonely place.

The last two weeks had been for the most part uneventful. Except for a minor mishap in engineering, when one of Ax’s experiments went awry, nothing had happened. The crew spent most of their time getting to know each other. True to character, Josh spent most of his time alone, reading reports or playing basketball on the holodeck. Jon and Kirsten spend most of their time getting settled in. Everyone else did what they did.

Rio, Ras, and Mark seemed to be getting along quite well. This amused Josh, who did not think that the uptight Bajoran would click with energetic and enthusiastic youngsters. But they did. Jon and Kirsten were Jon and Kirsten. Ever since his marriage, Josh’s brother had become much more relaxed and comfortable around people. He was certainly the more gregarious of the twins, though gregarious is hardly a term that could be attributed to him. There was a sense still of aloofness to him, but he was becoming well-liked among the crew. On occasion, he and his wife would join the younger ones to a game of poker.

Ax was becoming the ships counselor, in addition to her chief engineer. His easy going manner and dry sense of humor made him approachable and his experience made him wise. Often, young ensigns or lieutenants would pester him about this or that in life. Never did the Royadainian turn them away, either. He enjoyed passing on his wisdom to eager minds.

Everyone had gotten largely use to the new bridge protocol, though Rio had privately insisted that she be referred to by her family name, Rio, or preferably her rank. Josh had obliged, as it was her right, but still insisted on a relaxed bridge that encouraged peoples’ opinions.

The captain himself was an enigma. On the one hand, he had a very relaxed and cool mannerism about him which made it easy for a person to speak their mind. He also had a sarcastic, dry sense of humor, which was entertaining. Josh fully expected his people to be frank and honest with him and not hold back. Even if he disagreed with one of them, he would still be respectful and listen to them. This made him a very approachable captain.

On the other hand, Josh did not like his time being wasted. Meaning, if you had nothing to say, then you should not bother him, at least if you valued your career. He was also very much task oriented. While he was relaxed about him, there was this driveness, intensity about him. This made him almost unapproachable as a person. If there was one rule that superseded the Prime Directive, it was to not bother the captain unless you had something pertinent to tell him.

As such, he was a bit of mystery to the crew. Josh did not take any steps to remedy this. Most of his time was spent in his ready room or his quarters. He was on the bridge a fair amount as well, but often silent. Jackson trusted his officers to do their job and simply read their reports. Occasionally, he would pop down to engineering to check on things there, but never stayed long. He viewed everyone as officers, not people.

Jon had suggested that Josh try to branch out a little, but he did not feel the need for it. Josh had a job to do and so did everyone else. It would be best if everyone focused on that, especially given that they were headed to the Neutral Zone. Besides, he just did not like people that much.

“Arriving at Quebec Outpost VI Josh,” Ensign Ras informed the bridge crew, which was all assembled at the moment.

“Good Ras, inform them of our arrival when we’re in range,” Josh acknowledge.

“We’re getting a message from them,” Ras reported. “They’re telling us to dock at pylon 4. It sounds like their expecting us, Josh.”

“They probably are,” Josh affirmed. “After all, this is an outpost on the Romulan Border. It’s their business to know things, I guess.”

“Probably a Section base,” Mark posed.

“It would be wise to keep such speculations quiet, Lieutenant,” Rio cut in sharply. When off duty, Rio was more easy-going. Still a little OCD, but she was more of a person then. But when Rio Arden was on duty, she was a whole other person. More of a robot, really. “It is very unwise to speculate without facts. When it comes to Section, it is never wise to speculate.”

“Ease up commander,” Josh chided. “Though she does have a point Mark. Speculating about Section stuff is very unwise.”

“What if I’m right?” Mark grinned.

“All the more dangerous,” Jon commented.

“Captain, what are our orders here?” Rio queried.

“Wish I could tell you,” Josh sighed. “But I haven’t a clue. I’m just told to meet someone here and then we’ll go from there.”

“I bet we’re going into the Empire,” Mark enthused from tactical.

“Speculating again,” Rio chided.

“Sorry sir,” he apologized.

“Dock us Ras,” Josh ordered his helmsman. The Andorian nodded and glided the dagger-shaped ship towards the Regula I style station. A minute later, Ras informed them that they were secured.

“Very smooth, ensign,” Josh’s eyes were raised in surprise.

“Thank you, captain.”

“Alright Jon, inform the crew that we will be docked here for the next 24 hours. Permission is granted to visit the outpost when they are off duty. I’m off to meet our mystery man, so you have the bridge,” Josh headed towards the turbolift.

“Perhaps you should stay here and I’ll go get our mission info,” Jon told his brother.

“Jon, I’m going into a Federation outpost to get our orders. This is not an away mission. Besides, you probably don’t have the clearance to get these orders anyway,” Josh smirked and disappeared in the turbolift.

An hour later, Josh found the Jazear Café. His tall frame made him stand out, but given that almost everyone here were wearing uniforms, he still felt comfortable. Scanning the room, he quickly located one of the very few civilians in the room. It was a Bajoran male, wearing some beige robes and trousers. Immediately Josh strode forward.

“Enjoying the view?” he queried to the man who was staring out of the window.

“Hmph,” the man groused. “I prefer the view on Romulus, Captain Jackson. You’re twenty minutes late.”

“Wasn’t aware we had this scheduled down to the minute,” Josh countered.

“We weren’t,” the man responded. “I was testing you. You passed. I suppose you’re wondering what your orders are?”

“That would be helpful,” Josh confirmed.

“Come with me,” the man stood up and headed for the door. “Bring your engineer, too. Have him meet us in Cargo Bay 3.”

Josh nodded and topped his combadge. “Jackson to Ax.”

“Ax here, what’s up Josh?” the Royadainian asked.

“Can you meet me in the stations Cargo Bay 3 right now? Our informer needs you there,” Josh told him.

“Sure, be there in about five,” the lizard acknowledged. “Ax out.”

It was another seven minutes before they reached the doors. Outside the doors they found Ax’chadgic standing impatiently.

“For some reason, I can’t get in there,” the green being growled. “Now if there is really a reason for me to be here, I would appreciate it if we get to and you stop wasting my time.”

“My apologies, sir,” the Bajoran bowed slightly. “Allow me.” He stepped forward and pressed a few keys on the door’s keypad. A moment later, the door opened up and they entered in.

“Feel needed now?” the Bajoran smirked as Ax stared at the machine laid out on the floor.

“Indeed,” he muttered as he walked forward, examining. “This looks like a planet based listening array. But I’ve never seen one designed like this before.”

“And you still haven’t, understood?” the man growled.

“Understood,” Ax gave his version of a grin. “What am I not looking at?”

“A type-XIV planet based listening array. Several advances in subspace communications have allowed us to greatly reduce the size of arrays,” the Bajoran explained. “As such, we can observe all subspace communications for twenty sectors or so from a device that can fit in half a cargo bay. Dismantled, the pieces can be stored efficiently in a runabout.”

“Which brings you to our mission,” Josh had a hunch were this was going.

“Indeed,” the mysterious Bajoran nodded. “Your mission is to take this array and set it up on a planet inside Romulan space. You are not to take the Oregon in, but simply go in a runabout. Aside from your chief engineer here, you are to choose two other officers to go with you.”

“Alright,” Josh took a deep breath. He was not surprised, but still, to cross the Neutral Zone… “Exactly where are we going?”

“I do not know that,” the man shrugged as he pulled out a PADD. “This will explain everything. It will open only by your command codes and your chief engineers. This contains your mission destination, parameters, and the technical specs of the array. Only Commander Ax’chadgic may view the schematics, not even you. You may brief your senior staff, but the rest of your crew should not know where they are going.”

“Understood,” Josh nodded as he took the PADD.

“I will return in one hour,” the “civilian” added. “This place should be cleared out by then. Oh and captain, good luck.”

“Thanks,” Josh shook his counterparts hand as he departed, leaving him and the Royadainian alone.

“Well, this’ll be fun,” Ax commented.

“Oh yeah, a boatload of fun,” Josh quipped.

************

“Quinterex? That’s about a day inside Romulan space, isn’t it?” Commander Jackson asked his brother inside the latter’s ready room.

“Yeah, if our maps of the Empire are accurate,” Josh nodded. “About halfway between Rator and Vendor. Anyway, according to our meager information on the place, it is supposed to an uninhabited system. The fifth planet, Quinterex V, is a Class M planet. That’s were Ax and I will set up the array.”

“Ax and you?” Jon looked dubious.

“I know what you’re going to say,” Josh held up his hand. “But this one is mine. Only Ax and I can open up the PADD and we both have to do it. So in case something goes wrong, I have to be there anyway to get at them. Besides, my work on the Saber has better prepared me for stuff like this. You know I did a couple of duck blind missions there, right?”

“Yeah, I suppose,” Jon regarded his superior. “But that’s not your real reason, is it? Because this still flies in the face of Starfleet protocol.”

“What are you talking about?” Josh figured he could dodge Jon for a couple more minutes.

“I am not supposed to let the captain go into a highly dangerous situation,” Jon recited. “A captain’s place is on the bridge or at least on his ship. As your first officer, I should lead the mission to Quinterex. I mean what happens if you get killed?”

“Then she’s your ship,” Josh replied. “Come on, I’m going to an uninhabited system to babysit Ax while he sets up the array, then come home. What could be so dangerous about that?”

“You mean besides the fact that you’re going a day into Romulan space?” Jon raised an eyebrow.

“Well there is that, but Intelligence reports that hardly anyone goes by there. It’s not on any major space lanes,” Josh defended.

“Since we know so much about the travelling habits of a people that invented cloaking technology,” Jon retorted. “What’s this really about? It wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that I’m married and you’re not, would it?”

“Yeah it does, to be frank,” Josh admitted. “Look, as a general rule, you get to lead away team missions and you’re going to go a lot of dangerous ones. But Kirsten would kill me if I sent you on a mission like this and you didn’t come back. You have someone to come home to, I don’t. Therefore, it’s best if I risk my neck over you, at least this time.”

“What about the crew on this ship? Don’t they count?” Jon demanded.

“Yeah, but they aren’t madly in love with me like a certain doctor is with you,” Josh countered calmly. “Look, this is not going to be a usual occurrence. Trust my judgment on this one. Given all the factors involved and the need for secrecy, it is just better if I go.”

“Alright, you win,” Jon threw up his hands in surrender. “Who’s the third person?”

“I’m thinking Mark,” Josh answered. “It couldn’t hurt to have another phaser with us, in case something does happen.”

“True, but I don’t like the idea of three out seven senior officers gone,” Jon commented.

“Neither do I, but that is where the whole secrecy thing comes in,” Josh countered. “The orders specifically restrict knowledge of what is going on to senior officers only.”

“True, but how do we keep this quite from everyone else?”

“The Oregon is going to officially patrolling the section of the Neutral Zone between Quebec Outpost VI and Romeo Outpost I,” Josh answered.

“Hence the Oregon stays here and only a runabout goes over; preserves the story and the secrecy,” Jon nodded his understanding.

“Yeah,” Josh confirmed. “Alert the senior staff to a closed meeting at 0700. I’ll explain what’s going on then.”

“Alright,” Jon sighed. “And Josh?”

“Yeah?”

“You damn well better comeback.”

“Aye sir,” Josh smirked.

*************

With all the senior officers gathered in the briefing room the next morning, Josh filled them in.

“As you all are aware, since Shinzon’s death and the Battle at the Bassen Rift, there has been a lot of political unrest in the Romulan Empire. Four months ago, the Empire officially collapsed into civil war,” Josh paused for a moment, letting the news sink in. Jon, of course, knew and therefore so did Kirsten. The other four jaws collectively hit the conference table.

“As such, Starfleet Command has given us a special mission to keep an eye on developments inside the Empire. Officially, we are taking up a week-long patrol of the Neutral Zone between the Quebec and Romeo Outposts,” Josh continued. “Unofficially, we are setting up a planet-based listening array on Quinterex V, which is about a day into Romulan space. The listening array is locked in cargo bay 1. Ax already has it ready for delivery. The mission is for Ax, Mark, and I to take the Mekong to Quinterex, set up the array, and then come back.”

Silence reigned over the crew for a couple moments. Finally, Rio cleared her throat.

“Uh, captain, shouldn’t Commander Jackson lead this mission?” she questioned. “Starfleet protocol dictates that the captain’s place is on the bridge of his starship.”

“Normally I’d agree,” Josh nodded. “But after discussing this, we feel that, given my experience with duck-blind and other espionage-type missions, that I was much more suited for this mission than him. In addition, the orders require my codes and voiceprint to unlock any information we might need. All in all, for this mission, we decided that it would be best if I led it.” He looked directly at Kirsten, communicating the real reason for why Jon was being held back. In return, she mouthed a silent “thank you.”

“As far as the crew is to know, the mission is a week-long patrol of the border,” Josh continued. “I cannot stress enough the need of secrecy on this. If the Romulans on either side caught wind of this, that array would be destroyed and it could be enough of an incentive to unite the factions and cause for open war.”

“So I am to be on this mission then?” Mark was grinning from ear to ear.

“Yes,” Josh answered succinctly, not relishing the prospect. Mark was competent enough and he was a solid fighter, so he was a better option than anyone else. Still, his gung-ho attitude wore on Josh, so three days with him did not seem enjoyable.

“Cool,” he said.

“Sweet, man,” Ras was also grinning and gave him a pat on the back. “Just make sure you come back alive.”

“AHEM,” Rio coughed, which calmed them down. She could not help grinning a little bit, as her friend had just been handed a career-making mission.

“So when do we leave?” he asked.

“The three of us have mission prep after the Alpha shift,” Josh ordered. “The specifics of the mission will be discussed on holodeck 1 this afternoon. We will arrive on our patrol route during the Gamma shift. Then we will depart on our mission at the switchover from the Alpha to Beta shift the following day. Quinterex is about 24 hours from the drop-off point. A day there, a day, more or less, to set up the array, and a day to get back. We should get back 72 hours after we leave.”

“What are you orders for us?” Rio asked.

“Proceed as if you were doing a border patrol,” Josh commented. “However, do not stray more than five light-years from the drop-off point.”

“What are you orders if you don’t come back?” Jon queried.

“I imagine that we are to report you missing and return to Starbase 12,” Rio commented.

“Hell no,” Josh raised an eyebrow. “You’re to burn space to save our tails. If we have not returned within 84 hours of our departure, assume that something has gone wrong and come investigate.”

“What about starting a war and Starfleet protocols?” Ras questioned.

“We are already violating the Treaty of Algeron by crossing the Neutral Zone and by setting up decidedly espionage equipment in Romulan Space. You coming over won’t change anything that,” Josh pointed out. “If anything, it can help.” Eyebrows were raised.

“Think of it like this. What looks more suspicious: a runabout with sensitive equipment ‘lost’ in Romulan space that Starfleet has abandoned or a runabout with sensitive equipment ‘lost’ in Romulan space that a Starfleet ship comes looking for? Which has the more believable alibi?” Josh questioned. “If such a vessel is abandoned by Starfleet, then it looks like a mission that went wrong and Starfleet is distancing themselves from it. If a ship comes to rescue them, then it looks more like something went wrong and the runabout was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It looks more legit. Any other questions?” No one raised their hands, so Jon dismissed the meeting.

“Thanks Josh,” Kirsten whispered to him on the way out.

“Don’t get used to it,” Josh shot back, knowing that he had seriously bent Starfleet Protocol to protect his sister-in-law.

*************

Sixteen hours later, Josh entered his quarters and threw himself down on his couch. It had been a long day. The Alpha shift had gone fairly smooth, nothing really had happened, but the next eight hours of rehearsal were grueling. They all knew the basic procedure which was get in, set up, and get out. The set up Ax had down, as he knew the schematics forwards and backwards and could reproduce them in his sleep. Since he was a Royadainian, he did not require nearly as much sleep as a human did, so he was spending his night practicing assembling and disassembling the array, which gave Josh some peace of mind.

It was Mark that was stressing Jared. Since they did not have time for practicing the entire three-day mission, they went over some possible scenarios. The most likely one was no one being around and peacefully setting up the array. But they practiced against potential Romulan interruption. The essential protocol here was either hide or run like hell. Occasionally they were to contact the Romulans and feign distress.

None of these options were particularly glorious or memorable. Apparently this fact bothered Mark greatly, who wanted to do something. Half the time he started a fight to protect the array, rather than destroying it and getting out of there. Once he even suggested that they try to board the Romulan vessel and capture it. That was about when Ax and Josh stunned the poor lieutenant.

Josh sighed. He was excitable, energetic, enthusiastic, and idiotic. There was too much of a romantic and heroic attitude in him. Both senior officers, who had fought through several wars, desperately tried to explain that heroes always end up dead and that was not their purpose. Wiser to retreat from a battle that you cannot win than fight hopelessly to the death. Dead men are of no use to anyone. The captain had the sinking feeling that it had gone in one ear and out the other. Josh just hoped that no Romulans would show up because if they did, Josh knew his team was in deep trouble.       Groaning he stood back. He was too tense to sleep and he needed to bleed of that tension. Grabbing some clothes he headed down to the holodeck.

“Computer, run program Jackson-1,” he sighed. The yellow grid faded away and was replaced by a hardwood floor with gently curving lines. At the far end stood an orange metal circle that stood exactly ten feet off the ground. Josh grabbed a thirty-inch diameter orange-with-black-stripes sphere and gently tossed it through the hoop.

He ran after and picked the sphere up. Doing a quick pivot, he turned and launched it again at the hoop, sinking the fade-away jumper. Sighing deeply, he chanced a smile. Playing basketball had always been his vest stress reliever. As he spent the next hour shooting jump shots, he could feel the tension wick away.

In the middle of a three-point shot, he heard the door open behind him. “Having fun?” a familiar voice called to him. Josh turned to see his brother streaking down the court past him. Without looking, he tossed the ball up. A moment later, he heard the rim shake as the pair had completed the alley-oop.

“Wanna go?” Jon asked holding the ball. Josh nodded and was checked the ball. Over the next thirty minutes or so, they duked it out on the court. It ended with the more rested Jon sunk a fade-away three to win 51-49. Sweating, they both leaned back and panted.

“You doing okay?” his brother asked.

“Yeah, I’ll be alright,” Josh waved off as he dabbed himself with at towel.

“Worried about the mission?” Jon probed.

“I shouldn’t be,” Josh groaned sitting down on a nearby bench. “I mean we’re going to an out of the way, uninhabited system. What’s the worst that could go wrong?”

“Besides getting a bunch of warbirds to come down on your head?” Jon raised an eyebrow.

“Yeah, besides that,” Josh fired a wry grin.

“You know how well they treat ‘guests’?” Jon reminded.

“Of course and it’s not pleasant,” Josh leaned back. “That’s not what worries me. We can get out of most situations. I’m more concerned about Mark screwing things up.”

“That bad, huh?” Jon grunted. “I told you he was a bad fit.”

“I know and I should have listened,” Josh grumbled. “He’s got this hero-complex that’s going to get people, including himself, killed. If we do run into any Romulans, we are in serious trouble with him.”

“Want me to take his place?” Jon offered.

“Kirsten would kill me and I would much rather face the Romulans with Mark than her wrath,” Josh quipped. “I appreciate the offer, but you need to be here in case something goes wrong.”

“You’ll need me there if something goes wrong,” Jon countered.

“Hardly,” Josh returned. “Who am I going to rely on to save my tail? Rio? Please. She’s got potential, but she’s not command material yet.”

“Point taken,” Commander Jackson chuckled. “Just be quick and don’t get killed.”

“Hey, this is hardly the most dangerous assignment I’ve been on,” Josh defended.

“True, but I’ve got a feeling,” Jon argued back.

“Yeah, me too. But hey, it’s just a feeling,” Josh admitted. “Anyway, I’ve got to get to bed, early day tomorrow and all.”

“Alright, see ya tomorrow,” Jon agreed as they headed out of the holodeck.

Chapter 4

“Terrik, you sneaky bastard,” Saehir muttered to herself grinning at her superior’s cunning. She was floating just above the planet Remus, just a stone’s throw from her twin, Romulus, the center of the Empire. Since the Shinzon coup, the planet had largely been left alone as no one wanted a repeat. The Remans had begun to build their own society there.

But now Terrik was using it as his headquarters, hiding in plain sight. Strategically it was a brilliant location. In addition to building ties with the Remans, who were renowned warriors in their own right, he could also keep an eye on the opinions of Romulus without interference. Also, it placed him on all major shipping lanes which flowed in and out of Romulus. Therefore he could keep track of Pelliad’s movements and disrupt him when necessary with ease. The final advantage was that it was the last place anyone would look for him.

Anyone except Saehir that is, who knew the admiral quite well. She knew that he would try something not bold enough to be idiotic, but bold enough that few would consider it. Placing his base on Remus was just such a move. It also helped that she had overheard him mention it once. After analyzing his movements over the last two months, his placement was obvious to her. She just hopped that Pelliad was not so intuitive.

To the naked eye, all that was there were a few administrative buildings and dilithium and duranium mines that the Remans worked. But to Saehir’s trained eye, she could spot the signs of a military base in the northwest corner of the planet, far away from everyone else. Aiming her scout ship, she made for that spot. Sure enough, she passed through the cloaking shield that hid the base. Immediately she was hailed.

“Romulan scout ship, identify yourself!” a stern Romulan voice commanded her.

“This is scout ship 1774 of the Warbird T’rel. I am Centurion Saehir Aelhih and I am calling for Admiral Terrik,” she responded.

“Please hold your position,” the officer responded. Saehir sighed, knowing that they would be suspicious. She would too, if she were in their shoes.

“Centurion Aelhih proceed to hangar three and power down,” the voice returned a few moments later. It sounded almost venomous, which struck the young Romulan as odd. Shrugging it off, however, she nosed her ship in the right direction and landed in the hanger and powered down. She hopped out to find a dozen disrupters pointed her direction.

“What’s going on here?” she demanded wisely keeping her hands off her own weapon.

“You’re under arrest for suspected treachery,” Terrik’s smooth voice answered her as he stepped out from their ranks. “I thought I could count on you.”

“What are you talking about?” Saehir asked.

“You joined the enemy in this war,” Terrik told her.

“I absolutely have not!” Saehir growled in response. “In case you’ve forgotten, you put me there and then abandoned me to their hands. This whole spy operation was your idea.”

“Regrettable that I put in a situation that you could not handle,” the admiral admitted. “Tell, me how did they manage to turn someone as resolute as you?”

“They didn’t ‘turn’ me,” Aelhih retorted.

“Then why did you fight for them?” Terrik pressed.

“I didn’t.”

“Lying will get you nowhere,” the Romulan male warned. “We know that it was you who destroyed the Devrim and the A’aloth.”

“How?” Saehir demanded.

“Come now, you didn’t think we wouldn’t recognize the moves of our most skilled tactician?” Terrik allowed a slight smile. “I understand having to fight to protect your cover, especially since we left you alone. But you could have only killed Karina if you had turned.”

“I had no choice!” she yelled at him, prompting the security to tighten their grip. “You’re the one who abandoned me! If you want to blame someone for her death, blame yourself! I’ve burned my bridges, or haven’t you heard? I nearly blew up a space station to get here.”

“Ah yes, we heard about that,” Terrik was unfazed by her outburst. “But you did not succeed in your attempt. Now tell me, when does Saehir Aelhih fail?”

“There’s a first time for everything,” Saehir shot back. “I came here looking for a place to belong and something worth fighting for. Obviously you cannot offer that, so I will be on my way.” She turned to reenter her ship.

“You can’t leave,” Terrik warned. “You know where our base is, which means that you could go right to Pelliad and destroy us. Since we have betrayed you, it would only make sense for you to betray us. Besides, information like this would certainly provide you the place of ‘belonging’ that you’re seeking.”

“So what am I, your prisoner?” Saehir glared.

“Until further notice, yes,” Terrik answered “Gentlemen,” he raised his fist. Two of the Romulans raised fired their disruptors, stunning her.

“Take her to the holding cells, but treat her gently,” Terrik ordered. “She still might be one of us.”

“Yes sir,” they bowed and then dragged the unconscious form away.

It was several hours before Saehir awoke. Immediately she wished she had not, as her head rebelled violently against the situation. She groaned and leaned back against the wall of the cell and looked around her. The typical three olive green walls with the open end guarded by a force field that she knew was there. Underneath was a bed that lacked a mattress; instead was a tough metal slab. Gingerly standing up, she made her way to the water dispenser that she also knew was there. Splashing her face, she took stock of her situation.

Things had certainly not gone according to plan. First, she had been sent as a spy, something that she was not specifically trained for. Then Saehir found herself abandoned behind enemy lines with her only chance at survival was to pretend to fight for the other side. She had managed to sabotage Pelliad as much as a lowly centurion could, but still had to do many things that would haunt her for the rest of her days. When she managed to escape, her entire plan for revenge fizzled in his face, leaving to run with her tail tucked between her legs. Finally, when she came to the one place that she might find acceptance and belonging, she found herself rejected, imprisoned for all sorts of crimes; crimes she knew that she would be convicted of.

Checking the chronometer, Aelhih discovered that she had been unconscious for almost 12 hours, which explained the headache. Once again, she was completely alone. She had been alone when her parents were killed. On the T’rel she was alone because she was secretly fighting for the enemy. Now, among the very people she had counted as friends, she was the enemy. The weight of loneliness and fear overwhelmed Saehir and she collapsed into tears.

A rocking sensation brought her somewhat back to reality. Apparently she had fallen asleep. Another shake brought her fully back, as did a voice calling for her.

“Centurion Aelhih!” the voice called again. Saehir raised her head in recognition. “You’re wanted in the command center. Come with me.” The force field dropped and the Romulan dragged her to her feet and took her down the passage ways. In the command center, they found Terrik staring tersely at a large viewscreen.

“Thank you for joining us, centurion,” he ground out. Saehir knew enough about that tone to know that he was furious. “Would you like to explain this?” he shot his hand towards the screen. Saehir looked up and her heart dropped.

“Oh no,” she breathed. Blinking hard she tried to convince herself that she was dreaming. But the face remained.

“You have done so well, Centurion Aelhih,” the smug face of the T’rel’s commanding officer. “Thank you for your assistance.”

“YOU!” she screeched at the screen. “How did you find us?” Her green eyes were burning with fury.

“You can drop the pretense now, but putting a homing device on your ship was ingenious,” he grinned maliciously.

Saehir’s shoulders slumped as she realized her own foolishness. It had been far too easy to get away; she should have suspected something was wrong. If they had really been on to her, they would have blasted her to oblivion then and there. They certainly could have. But instead they let her go. Of course they were tracking her.

“Terrik, I’m so sorry. I had no idea,” she pleaded with her former friend. His fist greeted her plea’s, throwing her across the room.

“Silence!” his voice thundered. “Your treachery has done enough damage.”

“Admiral, please, I didn’t know,” Saehir was nearly in tears now. But Terrik was not going to listen.

“I said silence!” he roared again. Once again, he slammed his fist into her temple, knocking her out.

“Temper, temper,” the commander warned. “Now, to your surrender. As you can see, there are ten warbirds trained on your position. There are another hundred that will be here within two hours. You cannot win this battle and escape would be foolish. You’ve already lost thousands of men and nearly a dozen warbirds. Any reinforcements of yours are days away. Surrender now and your remaining troops will be spared. There is no need for further bloodshed.”

Terrik looked about his destroyed command center. Whether he liked it or not, the commander was right. This was a battle he could not win. His eye caught Saehir’s unconscious form lying in a heap and idea came to him. He might not be able to win, but he could get away.

“Very well, give us one hour to assess our wounded and damage. Then we will surrender to you,” he assented with all the sadness he could muster.

A wide grin split the face of the commander. “Good, very good,” he said. “I will see you in one hour.” The viewscreen went blank.

“Is that it then admiral,” one of his officers asked. “Are we done?”

“Don’t be ridiculous, of course not,” Terrik retorted. His anger at being betrayed had not fully worn off yet. “Prepare the men for evacuation.”

“What about her?” the man pointed to Saehir.

“I have a special mission for her,” Terrik allowed a small grin. “Sedate her and load her in her ship and send her off on autopilot.”

“A decoy sir?” the young Romulan asked.

“Precisely,” the Admiral answered.

“Where should I send her?”

Terrik scratched his chin for a moment, thinking. It had to be somewhere far away and out of the way. A system suddenly popped into his head.

“Quinterx V should do nicely.”

*************

“You absolutely sure about this?” Jon asked one last time as the senior officers gathered in the shuttle bay. Because of the sensitivity of the mission, no one else was allowed to see the captain depart.

“Yes Jon, for the hundredth time, I’ll be fine,” Josh let out an exasperated sigh.

“You know, I am married to a certain doctor who could declare you unfit for this mission,” he pointed.

“So that you, my husband, could go off in his place?” Kirsten chimed in. “I don’t think so.”

“Alright, fine,” Jon surrendered. “Just be careful.”

“Yes, mother hen, I will,” Josh gave a weary smile. “Remember to come get me if I’m not back in three days,” he called over his shoulder as he headed to the runabout. “Until then, keep my ship in one piece, or three if necessary.”

“Ready, Mark?” Rio straightened the young ensign’s uniform.

“Of course,” the man beamed. “This is a career opportunity.”

“Yeah, one that won’t show up on your service record,” ensign Shras th’Zarath joked.

“Oh ignore him,” Rio ventured a rare smile. “He’s just jealous. Some admiral will see this and give you a command.”

“That’s true, as long as you avoid any heroics,” Ax walked up behind him. “Grab your bag and let’s go.” The big Royadainian walked towards the shuttle.

“Thanks Rio, Ras,” the lieutenant nodded, grabbing his pack and turning to the shuttle.

“Hey, just come back safe, alright,” Ras called after him with a rare moment of seriousness.

“I’m with Captain Jackson, what’s the worst that could happen?” he waved back and disappeared into the shuttle.

“Given the Joshua Jackson I know,” Kirsten commented beside the two officers, “just about anything.”

***********

Her headache had gotten worse, Saehir noted ruefully. Blinking aside the cobwebs, she looked around her. To her utmost surprise, she was back inside her scout ship. Shaking her head, the Romulan tried to remember what all had happened. They had been attacked and then Terrik had cold-cocked her. That explained the severe headache, but not why she was back in her ship, adrift.

Quinterx V? she mused at the sensors that indicated her position. That was nearly four sectors removed from Remus, so what in the name of the emperor was she doing here? How did she get here? Why was she here? As far as she knew, Quinterex was an uninhabited and largely useless system that was light years from anywhere.

Had Terrik just dumped her out here, exiled her from everyone so that she could not do anymore damage? That made sense, except why leave her the ship instead of just dropping her on the planet? Now she could probably fly to whomever she pleased. Unless, of course, he had disabled her warp drive.

No, it was still working, she discovered checking her systems. In fact, everything seemed to be fine, which only added to her confusion. Why had she been dumped here?

Not that it really mattered, she mused to herself. It was not where she was, how she got, or even why here that really mattered. It was what she was going to do next that was important. Unfortunately for her, that question of the future was even more difficult to answer than the question of the past.

Saehir knew that ultimately, she would have to leave the Empire, at least for now. Pelliad would tear her to pieces (literally) if she was caught. By now he had figured out that she was behind his repeated security leaks over the last five months. She also knew how well he took attempted sabotage. Besides, being a known traitor made it impossible to be accepted back into the fold. Romulans were not the trusting sort to begin with; someone who has already been a traitor once is never trusted with even the tiniest amount.

That fact also made trying to find Terrik again impossible and pointless. He would either execute her or turn her out, again. Either way, she would never be accepted there. As her parents were dead and all her friends were on one side or the other, she had nowhere to go and no one to turn to.

Despite the fact that she was a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Klingon Empire, she guessed that as a Romulan, she stood a better chance with Pelliad. The Breen did not like outsiders and would not like Romulans given their alliance with the Dominion. Cardassians were not any better. Tholians hated everyone and it was way too hot there anyway. The Gorn were, well the Gorn. She might fit in there, but the Gorn were Klingon allies and hated Romulans.

With all of these choices, there was one major problem that stood in her way: the Federation. No matter where she went, except to the Klingon’s, she would have to cross Federation space at some point. Despite the fact that she did not have the prominent eyebrow ridges, something that was like being able to curl your tongue, as in half the population had them and half did not, her identity would not long stay hidden. A Romulan in Federation space could not be good thing.

Of course there was always the option of joining the Federation itself. It was the largest country in the quadrant by far, so it should not be that hard to slip between the cracks. At least it would not be, if she were not a member of the Federation’s longest and most famed enemy. Saehir did not have the control to pass off as a Vulcan; to even try would drive her insane. Besides, the moment she needed to go to a hospital, the game would be up and all of Starfleet Intelligence would descend on her.

Aelhih could go directly to Starfleet and ask for an asylum, which would mean betraying her people, finally living up to the name that everyone had given her. The thought of helping the people who she hated the most made her nauseated. She would rather die than help them.

As Saehir sat in her cockpit contemplating her options, her sensors beeped. Curious she looked at it and saw that there appeared to be several ships approaching at high warp. However, they kept fading in and out, like they were almost there, but not quite. Wrinkling her forehead, she adjusted her sensors to get a clearer reading, to no avail. The blips would reach her in just over a minute. Once again they faded in, then out, almost like…

Saehir’s eyes went wide with recognition. Instantly she powered her weapons and her shield and turned her ship about. She considered running, but where would she go? She was just about to make a break for Federation space and deal with the consequences when it was too late. Directly in front of her, the massive form of the T’rel shimmered into view.

The tactical officer did not waste any time, unleashing a barrage of disruptor fire at the ship. While it outgunned and outsized her, the couple of seconds it took to decloak left the ship with its shields down, making it vulnerable. When that time was up, Saehir veered away and behind the ship.

For all its awesome weaponry and size, the Romulan Warbird had two vital flaws. One it was big, which made it very hard to maneuver. Secondly, for some reason the only rear weaponry was a single torpedo tube. Since Saehir was in a small, yet highly maneuverable scout ship, she had one, albeit slight advantage. All she had to do was get behind it and stay there.

This she did and started to pound away the massive ships rear shields. Unfortunately her small disruptors would take some time to bring down the mighty shields of the Warbird. Just then, it cloaked.

Well two can play at that game, she smirked and was about to hit her cloaking device when she stopped. One question she had yet to ask herself was how they had found her. The tracking device was still on her hull, which meant that if she cloaked, she would be a sitting duck.

Her sensors screamed at her that a ship was decloaking directly behind her. Saehir nosed dived, frowning. They could not have gotten behind her that quickly, could they? The awful realization sunk in that she was up against more than one as the green beam swept across her shields, depleting them even further. Setting her jaw, Saehir determined to give them a fight to remember.

As she did her twist, she raked the ship’s belly, which was a useless gesture. Another Warbird materialized beside her, weapons already brought to bear. Saehir hoped that it would miss and hit her other antagonist, but no such luck. Whoever was behind this bird’s disruptors knew their business as her shields dropped lower. Aelhih slipped under and around the one Warbird, putting it between her and her attacker.

Looking down at her tactical display, Saehir realized that she did not have much of a fight left. Her shields had dropped below forty percent; a few more direct hits and she was done for. Unless a miracle happened, she would not be able to even dent her enemies. It was right about then a miracle happened; in the form of a Federation runabout.

**********

“What the hell?” Josh yelled as he entered the main cabin. He had been sleeping and Ax had just now awakened him as they entered the Quinterex system.

“It would appear we have stumbled across a battle,” Ax pointed out dryly from his side.

“So it would seem. Mark, get us out of here, maximum warp,” Josh ordered. Mark did not move, but kept them on a course for the engaging warbirds. “Lieutenant, I gave you an order,” Josh reiterated sharply.

“What about the mission?” Mark asked pushing the vessel to full impulse. Josh could not believe what he was seeing.

“Mission is over,” Josh pointed out. “Even if we managed to set up the array, the Romulans would destroy or even worse capture it within an hour. We’re getting out of here before we get killed, so for the last time, turn us around and head back for Federation space at maximum warp.”

“We can’t abandon that ship,” Mark pointed to the small vessel doggedly zipping through space, lashing out occasionally. “It needs our help.”

Josh had had enough. “Ax, take the Lieutenant into custody and get us out of here,” he ordered harshly. This was pure insubordination.

“We can’t leave her,” Mark protested as Ax strode forward. The lieutenant then proceeded to do the absolute stupidest thing that Joshua Jackson had ever seen in his 28 years.

He fired.

Ax and Josh both froze as a burst of micro-quantum torpedoes sped through space, impacting on the nearest warbird’s shields.

“Mr. Rubio, consider your days as a free man over,” Josh’s voice was colder than the Andorian moons. “If it weren’t for the fact that I am a Starfleet captain, I would have you executed right now. I still might.”

“You just signed our death warrants,” Ax’s voice was not much warmer. The Royadainian’s skin turned black, belying the rage that he and Josh most certainly felt. “What did I tell you about not being a hero?”

“Somebody’s got to help her,” Mark defended. Ax strode forward and ripped him out of his chair, flinging the human across the room. They were already far too close to the action. Ax turned them around when the worst possible thing happened.

Not one, but two warbirds decloaked directly ahead. Josh leapt into the command chair and immediately pulled the shields up. Ax spun them away from the spewing disruptor fire.

“Warp engines offline,” Ax informed as a hail of sparks lit up the cabin.

“Fix it, if you can,” Josh ordered. “Mark, get your sorry ass up here and pilot this damn thing. We’ve got to survive long enough to get out of here.”

“Yes sir,” the humiliated lieutenant limped to the pilot’s seat.

“Get behind them and stay there, but keep jinking around randomly,” Josh rattled off. “By my count, that’s five ‘birds out there.”

“Aye,” Mark replied and pulled the runabout into a banking curve around the two ships. Josh expertly locked on phasers raked the nacelles of the warbirds outstretched wings, the place he knew the shields would be weakest. Once behind, he let loose the most vicious volley that the runabout could muster. It was enough to dent the shields, but not break them. Wisely, the massive ships cloaked.

Josh swore in frustration as fired his phasers at the vanishing figures, knowing they would at least scratch the paint, but probably little else. He had wasted his torpedo salvo and could not fire them until the tubes reloaded.

“Ax, how are repairs?” Josh called back.

“Not good,” the Royadainian grunted. “They did a real number on our port nacelle. It’ll take another couple of hours at least.”

Josh mused over his possibilities. There was no way they could stay out here and fight for a couple of hours. The Oregon was over a day away. Their only chance was to make for the planet and hope to land it.

A Warbird materialized behind them, spewing disruptor blasts. Mark managed to dodge most of it, but a couple of the green balls of energy slammed home. Josh’s mind was now made up.

“Screw the engines Ax,” Josh commanded. “Send a message to the Oregon that we’ve been attacked and now have to make for the planet.”

“Aye,” Ax shuffled out from behind and went to the communications station. “Uh oh, not good Josh. Long range communication is down.”

“Perfect,” Josh growled under his breath as he lanced the Warbird with phaser fire. “How about transporters?”

“Their functioning fine, why?” Ax was confused.

“Mark, make for the planet at full impulse. Ax lock on to whoever’s in that scout ship and prepare to beam them aboard. You wanted to save them Mark? We might as well,” Josh ordered.

The runabout surged past the Warbird, going into a spiral to avoid the pulsing disruptor blast. Mark managed to dodge the feared green beam that was trying to knock them out. Josh let loose another barrage on the three warbirds attacking the tiny scout ship. Whoever was flying it knew what they were about, Josh noted.

Saehir could not believe this Federation ship’s increasing stupidity. Now they were in full attack mode, taking on five warbirds. They had bought a little more time by their stunt and she had actually managed to knock out one of the disruptor cannons, but that was only delaying the inevitable. A ringing alarm informed Saehir that her shields were finally done for. One more hit and her hell would finally end. She looked out the window to see her tiny ally hurtling towards her, phasers blazing. With slight glee, she saw an explosion destroy one of her tormentor’s forward disruptor beam. A ship decloaked behind her and fired. This time, she could not get out of the way and soon flames began to engulf her cockpit. Sighing, she knew this was the end as a tingling sensation washed over her.

And she suddenly found herself on the Federation ship.

“Got her Josh,” a big creature called from behind her to one of the two humans at the front. Strong arms grabbed her and she instantly began to struggle.

“Calm down, this’ll make the landing a lot more pleasant for you,” he whispered to her.

“Shields gone!” the one on the right warned.

“Hang on this is going to be rough!” cried the other. With that they plunged into the atmosphere. Saehir felt the being holding her curl into a ball around her. She felt herself fly through air, then nothing.

************

Ugh, Josh silently groaned as he slowly came to again. He gently shook his head to clear the cobwebs and began to sit up. Pain rocketed through his entire body.

“I would try to keep movements to a minimum if I were you,” Ax’s deep voice cut through the haze. Josh just nodded and lay back down.

“What happened?” he asked groggily. The details were hazy, as Mark had managed to run them through the gauntlet and hit the atmosphere. After that there was a lot turbulence and finally Josh was thrown from his chair. He did not remember anything after that.

“Mark managed to crash-land us somewhere in the northwestern corner of the planet. The runabout is completely trashed and I destroyed the array. You got a three broken ribs and your right knee is sprained. Overall, you’re pretty lucky,” the chief engineer informed.

“Oh, I feel lucky,” Josh sardonically replied, chancing sitting up again. It hurt like hell, but not the worst he had felt. It was not like he had not broken any ribs before any way. Blinking, he opened his eyes and held his aching head.

“Right, almost forgot,” Ax continued. “You got a concussion, too.”

“Lovely,” Josh commented, looking around at his surroundings. They were in a coniferous forest that reminded him of his former home in Seattle. It surprised him how much he had missed the smell of pines and firs and the freshness of these forests. The feel was invigorating. Or at least would have been, if he had not had the dull ache that consumed his entire body. Ax, he noticed, was busy working on a tricorder with an assortment of parts strewn about him.

To his left was a small Romulan woman. Josh noted ruefully that she was wearing his coat, leaving the captain his undershirt. This woman was the cause of their current troubles. No, Josh corrected himself, that was neither true nor fair. She had not asked to be rescued. It was Mark’s stupidity that was the cause of their problem. Just then, the captain realized the absence of his chief tactical officer.

“Where’s Mark?” Josh queried.

The Royadainian stopped what he was working on and sighed. “He’s dead, Josh,” the lizard informed.

“What happened?”

“Not sure, but it would seem during the crash, he got impaled on one of the support beams that had broken loose,” Ax explained.

“So you’re sure he’s dead?” Josh wanted to make certain that they did not leave a comrade behind, even one as foolish and incompetent as Mark.

“Unless he doesn’t need a heart, functional lungs, or a windpipe I’d say so,” Ax chanced a glare at his superior officer. Ax liked and was liked by everybody, so Mark’s death was not easy for him.

“I suppose that’s justice,” Josh noted the irony.

“Where I come from, we try not to speak ill of the dead,” Ax’s scales darkened visibly. “While Lieutenant Rubio may have been incompetent, Mark was a good hearted man.”

Josh absorbed the mild reproof and nodded. “I suppose you’re right. I guess I’m just numb to the whole thing. It’s easy for me to see officers and forget the people behind them.”

“It’s okay captain, but it is good to be reminded now and again,” Ax waxed eloquent.

“Yeah, it looks likes she owes him her life,” Josh gestured to the unconscious woman. “Speaking of which, how is she?”

“Probably in better shape than you,” Ax allowed a grin. “She had better protection than you and her Romulan physiology helped too. All she has are some cuts and bruises, which the dermal regenerator helped out with. The only thing she still needs help with is her concussion, which isn’t as bad as yours.”

“Of course,” Josh snorted. “What’s our situation?”

“Not good,” the reptile shook his head. “Oregon’s still at least three days away. The shuttle is completely smashed to smithereens. Plus the Romulans know we’re down here and have been looking for us.”

“How come they didn’t just scan for us?” Josh raised an eyebrow.

“That’s my doing,” Ax gave a sly smile, gesturing to the pile of parts in front of him. “After the crash, I managed to keep us moving to avoid them catching up to us. Then I modified the tricorders to project a damping field around us that keeps anyone’s sensors for finding our bio-signs.”

“Anyone?” the obvious drawback immediately occurred to the captain.

“Yeah, that’s what I’m working on right now,” Ax pointed to the communicator and tricorder. “I’m trying to modify the communicator to cut through the field so that we could contact the Oregon. Of course, we have no idea when they arrive and the Romulans will be able to trace the communication, though it will confuse them.”

“How’s that going?” Josh asked, slipping back into CO mode.

“Rough,” the engineer admitted. “If I was on the Oregon, this would be a snap. Of course if I was on the Oregon, I wouldn’t have to do this.”

“What happened to your toolbox?” Josh frowned.

“Destroyed. This is all that’s left,” the lizard picked up a handful of tools. “Still, it’s enough. We have three days and I’ll get something figured out. I got to go test something, plus scout around a bit. The Romulans are still prowling around and the fact that only Mark’s body was found will lead them to believe that somehow we survived. Oh, I managed to salvage a couple of phaser rifles and three hand phasers. They’re over there and I suggest you arm yourself, just in case things get nasty.”

Josh nodded as the Royadainian bounded off. Gently he stood up and hobbled over to where Ax had gestured. He decided that for the moment all he need was a simple hand phaser, which he made sure was armed. Hobbling back, he leaned against a tree and soaked in the unspoiled atmosphere.

His meditation was broken by a groaning from the woman’s direction. Stifling the urge to aim his weapon, he simply stood there patiently. For the first time Josh actually looked at his guest. She was, he noticed, a strikingly beautiful woman. She was very short; Josh thought not over 5’1”, with her black hair in its typical bowl cut. He noticed that if she had the eyebrow ridges, they were not pronounced. Her oval face had a pale, yet olive color. The long black eyebrows were swept back in the typical Romulan “V.” She slowly sat up and blinked her eyes.

Saehir was really getting tired of waking up with headaches. It seemed like every time she did, something bad was happening. This time her eyes fell on a very tall human male standing there wearing a red, long-sleeved undershirt casually holding a phaser. He appeared to be studying her carefully. She almost shivered as she felt his icy blue eyes pierce into her.

“Welcome,” his clear voice greeted her. He wore a stern expression on his face and her eyes travelled to his neck, where she counted four round pips. That made him a Starfleet captain, she noted as anger started to seep into. The indignation of being rescued by a Starfleet captain, the person that she hated the most, was infuriating.

“What do you want?” she glowered at him.

“Many things,” he shrugged gingerly in response. “Namely survive until my ship get’s here. I would prefer it if you wouldn’t interfere with that process.”

“Oh don’t worry, I wouldn’t dare interfere with anything that you would do, mighty captain,” she mocked. “I wouldn’t lift one finger to help you.”

“Suit yourself,” Josh responded, curious as to the animosity that he felt. “Oh, but your fate is tied to mine. I die, so do you.”

“Is that a threat?” she glared at him. “I thought Starfleet officers didn’t threaten. Of course, they also don’t cross the Neutral Zone.”

“It’s not a threat, little one,” she was beginning to annoy him. “It’s simply that I’m your only ticket off of this rock. I suppose those Romulans aren’t looking for you to make a social call.”

He made a certain amount of sense, she had to admit, but at the same time, Saehir would rather die than be rescued from Starfleet. “What makes you think that they’ll come for you? You’re on the wrong side of the Neutral Zone.”

“I know my crew,” Josh answered, giving nothing away.

“What were you doing over here anyway?” she determined to not back down from his steely gaze.

“Something that we’re not doing know,” Josh cryptically replied. “More importantly, what did you do?”

“Who says I did anything?” Saehir coyly responded.

“Because I’m certain that Pelliad doesn’t send mini-armada’s after nobodies,” Josh reasoned.

“Who says that was Pelliad?” Saehir had to admit that she was intrigued.

“Because Terrik doesn’t chase down traitors; he leaves them to the dogs. Oh,” the light went on for Josh. “What did you do to piss of both Terrik and Pelliad?”

“That is none of your business!” Aelhih snapped at him. “Who are you to question my choices or my loyalties? Just like a Starfleet captain; you pompously show of your ‘superior morality’ when you can’t possibly comprehend the positions I’ve been in, the choices I’ve had to make.”

“I wasn’t questioning any of that,” Josh calmly responded. “I’m merely inquiring as to what happened to you to better understand the situation I’m in and how to get out of it.”

“Of course you are,” Saehir sneered. “Like every other ‘inquiring’ captain who is really trying to tell everyone what to do and butt into things that are not their problem.”

“Well, it’s my problem now, whether I like it or not,” Josh commented with a touch of irony in his voice.

“Not for much longer,” Saehir’s green eyes burned into him as she began to move forward. “I swear that I will kill you.” At that moment, she lunged for him.

Josh realized quickly that despite the fact he was half a meter taller than her, she was in much better shape than he. His ribs and knee made impossible for him to fight back and he knew by the look in her eye that she intended to make good on her threat. Josh sighed as he managed to keep her off him long enough to bring his phaser to her neck and fire. Her eyes went wide and she slumped to the ground.

Sighing again, he slumped back down against the tree and sat. His head perked up to a crashing sound that resolved itself into Ax, who came bounding through the forest, phaser raised.

“What happened?” he gasped. Then he looked at Saehir’s form on the ground. “What did you do? Come on, Josh, she was the one redeeming point on this entire mission!”

“Oh, keep your pants on,” Josh waved him off. “She’s only stunned; I’m not that dumb.”

“Good, but why?” Ax was still confused.

“She threatened, then attempted to kill me,” Josh said nonchalantly.

“Why?”

“Not entirely sure,” Josh was a little lost himself. “It seems that she has some deep-seeded hatred against Starfleet. In away, I’m not really that surprised. 200 years is a lot of hate to overcome.”

“But still, you’d think that she would be a bit more grateful for us saving her life,” Ax persisted.

“I don’t think she wanted to be saved,” Josh shook his head. “I don’t know, but she’s been through a lot and I think she is looking for someone to blame. She’s blamed Starfleet and I am the personification of all that she hates.”

“So she takes it out on you?” Ax finished.

“Basically,” Josh nodded. “I’m no psychologist, but that’s my theory. I’ve seen it in war before. Everyone and everything around you falls apart, so you direct your anger on something external as the cause of all your problems. Intelligence will figure it out when we get her to her.”

“You’re not going to try?” Ax raised his version of an eyebrow.

“I don’t particularly feel in her debt,” Josh shrugged. “Besides, people who want to kill me are not people that I enjoy spending my time with. We’re stuck here because Mark decided to play hero and rescue her, so the least she could do would be to show some semblance of gratitude. This attitude I don’t appreciate at all. So we collect her and deliver to SFI and be done with her.”

“That’s it then?”

“Like I said, I’m a captain, not a psychologist.”

************

After spending the rest of the day hobbling and hiding, Ax and Josh collapsed in exhaustion for the night. They had taken turns carrying the gear or the girl, which was exhausting work. So far the damping field was working, as twice Romulan patrols had walked right past them, but their scanning devices had not registered the Starfleet officers’ presence.

They made a meager campsite. Josh fired his phaser to create a warming rock since making an actual fire was out of the question. Having grown up in a very similar area, the captain knew it would get really cold, which was a big problem for the reptile. Ax was already slowing down, so he took the rocks and tucked them under his body as he went to sleep.

Josh shivered a little, too. There was a good chance at rain, but they had tucked themselves under a thick “fir” that would keep them dry. Dry, but not warm and it was frigid. He wished that his assailant did not need his overcoat, as his standard issue undershirt did not keep him very warm. But Ax had countered that the girl did not like him as it was and if he forced her to go topless, then there was nothing that would stop her from killing him. As Josh toyed with the phaser rifle in his hands, she stirred again. This time he did not repress the trained reflex to aim his smaller weapon at her.

“Welcome back to land of the living,” Josh commented dryly.

“Huh?” she took a few moments to get her bearings straight. “Hey, you shot me!”

“Yes, well sorry about that, but you were trying to kill me you see,” Josh sheepishly explained, surprising himself.

“And that justifies you in shooting me?” she glared at him.

“It was set on stun!” Josh shot back. “Wait, why am I defending myself? You tried to kill me.”

“Still am,” she corrected. “Don’t think I’m going to let you get out of this alive.”

“Why, what did I do?” Josh was confused by this hatred.

“You’re a Starfleet captain,” she hissed venomously. “You are always sticking your noses into other peoples’ business, trying to tell people what to do. Except that not everyone thinks and acts the way you do. So you end up making things worse.”

“That’s why we have the Prime Directive,” Josh argued. “It’s to prevent that.”

“But your hallowed ‘Prime Directive’ stops once a culture reaches warp capability,” Saehir countered. “Then all bets are off! You will give people whatever they want and tell them exactly how to live and think. Your policy of noninvolvement ceases to exist there. Look at what has happened in my Empire! If it wasn’t for you gallant Picard, we wouldn’t have a civil war.”

“A) Shinzon asked Picard to come and b) it was because of Picard that a tyrant was removed,” Josh countered.

“Better one tyrant that can hold order than a hundred enemies and chaos,” Saehir retorted. “Besides, it’s not like you’re here on a sight-seeing trip.”

“True,” Josh conceded, “but if the Federation was fighting a civil war, wouldn’t you people want to know what was going on?”

“I suppose,” Saehir admitted. “So what were you doing here?”

“Setting up a planetary listening array so we could keep apprised of the situation here,” Josh figured that since the mission was completely shot by now there was no point in covering it up.

“So you were spying on us,” Saehir concluded matter-of-factly. “Typical Federation, busying themselves with other people’s business. Don’t you have enough to worry about inside your own borders?”

“I suppose, but given Pelliad’s decidedly anti-Federation stance, it is our business to pay attention to your little spat,” Josh countered. “Given that he is likely going to win out and then declare war on us, we need to get ready for that.”

“That’s assuming he wins out. Terrik is better than you give him credit for,” Aelhih glared in the dark.

“I don’t doubt that he is. Captain Gardner certainly vouches for him, but that does not make up for the fact that the numbers are decidedly against him,” Josh pointed out calmly. “Can he win? Yes. Will he? Most unlikely. So to protect our people, we are doing everything we can to prepare for the worst possible scenario. We won’t be caught with our pants down/”

“Pants down?” Saehir raised an eyebrow.

“Earth expression, means caught unprepared; surprised,” Josh explained. “Not that it matters now. Thanks to your lover’s quarrel and my idiot of an officer, the array is completely destroyed and I’m on the hobble for my life.”

“Where is the other one anyway?” Saehir realized that the there had been three Starfleeters, but now there were only two.

“He’s dead,” Josh flatly replied. As much as Mark deserved his fate, Josh still hated the fact that one of his officers had died under his command. It was not the first time and Josh sincerely doubted that it would be the last.

“Oh, what happened?” Saehir suddenly felt a little awkward.

“He was stupid enough to try and rescue you,” Josh acidly answered her. “It’s because he directly defied my orders and tried to be a hero that you’re not a small pile of ash floating somewhere up there. You own that Starfleet officer your life.”

“I didn’t ask to be rescued,” Saehir defended herself.

“Well I didn’t want to rescue you, but we’re here now so we might as well make the best of it,” Josh coldly told her, his phaser tensed in his hand.

“It’s not my fault, alright,” Saehir was undaunted. “I haven’t asked for any of this to happen. I didn’t ask to be Terrik’s spy. I didn’t ask to be trapped behind enemy lines, fighting against my friends. I didn’t ask to be betrayed by Terrik and dumped out here like some worthless decoy. I certainly didn’t ask to have some damn fool of a Starfleet officer idiotically to try to come riding to my rescue and the stuck on this forsaken planet with you. This is not how I expected to spend these days, alright?”

“Alright, I’m sorry,” Josh conceded realizing that she had gone through a much worse time than he. “Though you could show just a touch more gratitude for us having saved your skin.”

“I’ll show gratitude to the one who deserves it, which by your own admission isn’t you,” she retorted.

“Fine, but we’re keeping you alive,” Josh pointed out, exasperation returning.

“For now, but you’ve got a ways to go yet on that one,” Aelhih returned. “And you’ve got to stay alive for that. I still plan on killing you, because you’re the closest I can come to avenging my parents and my entire life’s problems.”

“Your choice, I suppose,” Josh sighed letting silence descend on the forest. By now the rain was falling hard and the temperature had dropped greatly. He shivered again as a damp air gripped at him, chilling his bones. A quick glance at the tricorder told him that the temperature had now dropped to 8°C. His lack of warm clothing made him worry about getting sick, though the medkit should keep him healthy.

Near him, he heard the woman’s teeth begin to chatter, despite her best efforts to control it. Smiling gently, he realized that she must be as cold as him. Her large Romulan uniform shirt had been ripped to shreds in the crash. Ax had then put Josh’s overcoat on her to keep her warm. But this was still rather thin and did not provide much protection. The two shirts together were fairly warm, but not separate. He realized that they were both freezing, which meant that they had the same problem and therefore the same solution.

“Come here,” he sighed to her.

“W-w-what?” she shivered.

“We’re both freezing and it’s only going to get colder,” Josh explained. “So if we want to avoid hypothermia, we need to huddle together to keep warm.”

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Saehir snorted. “There is no way I’m going to ‘cuddle’ w-w-with you.”

“Would you r-r-rather freeze to death?” Josh chattered.

“N-n-no,” Saehir admitted. “But you might take advantage of me.”

“Seriously?” Josh shook his head. “Now, versus the hours you’ve been unconscious?”

“F-fine,” Saehir shuffled over to the big captain. “This doesn’t mean that I like or trust you.”

“B-b-b-believe me,” Josh shivered slightly as he embraced her warm body. “The feeling is mutual.”

Saehir said nothing as she snuggled up to Josh’s body, feeling the warmth gently flow into her. Rubbing each other’s back to maintain their body heat, she slowly warmed up. The captain felt the warmth too and slowly both drifted off to an uneasy sleep.

Chapter 5:

Josh woke up the next morning with something hard and cold pressed into his neck. He gently opened his eyes to find himself looking down the wrong end of a phaser rifle. At the other end, gloating was the Romulan woman. Despite the fact that now the woman who had threatened to kill him now had him at phaser point, the first thing that occurred to him that he did not know her name. Josh simply returned her gaze, his typical stoic placidity in place.

“I told you that I was going to kill you,” the woman grinned furiously. “And now here I have you at my mercy. Oh this is going to be the best day I’ve had in a long time.”

“Really now?” Josh raised an eyebrow. “So this ‘best day’ of yours ends with you dead?”

“What do you mean?” Saehir cocked her head confused.

“Let’s say that you kill me,” Josh explained calmly. “The sound of the shot would certainly awaken Ax, who would take you out. Supposing that somehow you manage to kill both of us, how are you going to survive against the Romulan search party that is scouring this planet. Supposing, and this is a lot of supposing, you manage to dodge them, how are you going to get off this planet. Can you survive here with nothing but the sticks?”

Aelhih tensed and relaxed and tensed her grip on the rifle as doubt raced through her mind. Setting her jaw she told him, “I’ll take my chances.” With that, she squeezed the trigger.

To her horror, the only sound that met her ears was Josh’s chuckling, then laughing. She stared hard at the rifle and lifted it up. Saehir noticed that the lights were not functioning and the realization dawned on her.

At that moment Josh sprung into action. He firmly grasped the barrel and wrenched it from the stunned Saehir’s hands. Saehir looked down to see Josh’s hand phaser pointed directly at her. From her vantage point, she saw the level indicators all green, telling her that it was on maximum setting. This time Josh was not going to stun her. Aelhih realized that this Starfleet officer was unusual, one who was willing to kill if he felt it necessary.

“Looking for these?” Josh held up the power packs that charged the powerful rifle. “I didn’t get these four pips by being an idiot, despite what you think. I figured you would make some sort of move, so I hid this phaser and removed the power packs from the rifle. Kindly sit down, I’d really hate to fire this thing.”

It was at that point that Ax appeared behind her and forced her to the ground. She turned to see the upper half of the naked lizard. The lower half of his body faded into the background. Obviously the reason for his nudity was that he could not change the color of his clothes, just his scales/ Shortly, the massive Royadainian dressed himself and aimed his own rifle at the frustrated Romulan. Josh, who was feeling slightly better, gingerly stood up and reassembled the rifle. Then the pair went about setting out some sort of breakfast and scouting around.

“I hear something,” a strange voice called out less than ten minutes later. All three froze.

“You sure?” another called back. “Wait, I’m getting some sort of reading, like an energy field. That’s not right, is it?”

“I’m getting it too,” a third, then a fourth confirmed. “Definitely not natural.”

“Oh crap,” Ax whispered still frozen. “The one drawback to the dampening field is that it gives off an unnatural energy signature. It’s faint, but detectable if you are looking for it.”

“Can we shoot them?” Saehir offered from behind.

“No, phaser fire will draw all of them to us,” Josh replied. “We got use that as a last resort. Ax, your venom sacks still working?”

“Oh come on Josh,” Ax protested. “You know how much I hate that. It’s so barbaric and disgusting.” His long black tongue flicked out in disgust, “Besides, it is really looked down on to poison sentients. It is just not proper.”

“Ax, I giving you an order and besides, it’s both our hides on the line here, not to mention the miscreant’s back there,” Josh replied. “We’ll cover you from the front two while you take the rear two.”

“So that’s an order?” Ax sighed in resignation.

“Yes, now go,” Josh ordered.

Shaking his large head, the engineer stripped of his clothes and vanished into the background, astonishing Saehir.

“How’d he do that?” the Romulan gapped.

“Royadainian, my dear,” Josh tossed her a rifle. “He can change the pigmentation of his scales to match the background, essentially making himself invisible.”

“Wait, you’re giving me this?” Saehir stared dumbfounded at the weapon in her hands.

“You do know how to use it, right?” Josh glared at her. “I can’t take out both simultaneously, so I want you to take the one on the left and I’ll take the one on the right. But don’t get any ideas, remember Ax is still out there and I’m faster than you, broken ribs notwithstanding.”

Saehir nodded and joined Josh crouching down and poking the muzzle out from among the fir. Josh zeroed in on the lead Romulan who was scanning ahead; totally oblivious to what was going behind. The trailing scout suddenly disappeared into the foliage. The rustling noise caused the next rearmost Romulan to turn.

“What happened to Almak?” He called. Suddenly, with a muffled cry, he too fell into the foliage.

“Koval? Almak?” the other Romulans both turned to find their companions missing.

“Readings indicate some sort of huge lizard, but I can’t see it,” the leader reported confused, closing in on the bodies, which were now dead.

“What in the name of the Emperor?” he said, examining the ashen form with greenish froth at the mouth. On his shoulder were two vicious puncture wounds.

“We’d better contact the T’rel and inform them of hostile wildlife,” the leader decided.

“Now,” Josh whispered quietly and squeezed the trigger. Saehir followed suit, intending to out-do the Starfleet captain, followed suit. Two orange blobs streaked towards the shocked Romulans, dead on both. Immediately, both Saehir and Josh instantly whirled around, phasers aimed in each other’s face.

“Good shot,” Saehir admitted.

“You too, going to put that down now?” Josh replied, not flinching.

“No, you?”

“No.”

“It seems we are at an impasse,” Saehir noted, her green eyes not flinching under Josh’s icy stared.

“So it would seem,” Josh consented. “However, since it is my gun, stand down.”

“Since you’re in Romulan space, and I’m a Romulan, stand down,” she countered.

“Since you intend to kill me, stand down,” he countermanded.

“Since you have me under arrest, stand down,” she demanded.

“How does that make sense?” Josh raised an eyebrow. “Since you can’t possibly get away from me and Ax, stand down.”

“I’ll take my chances, Human,” she glared back.

“Very well,” Josh nodded as he took a step to his left, which Saehir followed.

Instantly she found herself hoisted into the air. Wildly she fired a shot that harmlessly burned through the boughs of the tree. The phaser was knocked out of her hand and skittered to the foot of the tree. Meanwhile, Ax resumed normal coloration, calmly holding the struggling Romulan aloof by his long prehensile tail.

“Put me down!” she hissed.

“As you wish,” Ax shrugged and let go. Saehir fell face-first with a thump on the ground. Humiliated she picked herself up and brushed off the needles from her face.

“Always one step ahead, aren’t you?” she glared at Josh, who allowed a rare smirk.

“Of course,” he told her. “You made the foolish mistake of informing me that you intended to kill me. I happen to take such threats, especially from Romulans, seriously and so am always prepared. Now come on, we’ve got to get moving.”

“Fine, but don’t think for a moment that I won’t get you somehow,” Aelhih growled at him, getting between him and Ax as they vanished into the woods.

*************

On board the Oregon, Jonathan Jackson was going insane. The three days after his brother had left had been miserable enough. The ships back and forth patrol vaguely imitated its current commander’s pacing on the bridge. In the twelve hours since the three days were up, Jon had paced so much that his nervous bridge crew had relegated him to the ready room and called the doctor up to calm down her husband. The commander checked the chronometer. It was officially 84 hours since Josh and company had left, which meant that it was time to go.

“Commander Jackson to Bridge,” he tapped his communicator, grimacing at the fact that he had to use his rank and last name because there were three Jacksons on the senior staff.

“Bridge here,” Rio’s flat voice came back.

“Any sign of the Mekong?” Jon queried.

“No sir,” Jon could here Rio sigh in response. She too knew that they would now go gallivanting off into Romulan space. Right on cue, Jackson appeared on the bridge.

“Helm, set course for Quinterex V, maximum warp,” Jon said quickly.

“Aye sir,” Ras did not even bother trying to hide his nervousness. Mark was his friend. “Course set, eta 16 hours.”

“Engage,” Jon commanded. The Oregon stretched out and then blipped into warp.

*************

“Ouch!” Saehir hissed as Josh suddenly pulled her to the ground. Looking from underneath some fern-like plants, the two of them observed a pair of Romulans come into view. The little fight the previous day had saved them from immediate detection but had put the Romulans on the right trail. This was the third time that they had seen a scout poking around near them. That was too many to be a coincidence.

The Romulan scanned around for a bit. His “tricorder” picked up something and he went off after it in the opposite direction. After going several meters, he was fell down and shook violently for a few minutes before being still. Moments later Ax, who had long given up wearing clothes and was acting as a decoy, materialized beside them, wiping some greenish liquid from his mouth; Saehir decided she was going to be sick.

“This is an insult to my sentience and to my honor. Josh, if you ever make me do this again, I swear I will resign there and then,” Ax spat on the ground. He looked sick too. “They don’t even taste good.”

“I’m so sorry,” Saehir retorted.

“Hey, look, I don’t like this either,” Ax defended. “This is barbaric; we gave up the practice of biting people centuries ago, save in extreme circumstances. It’s demeaning to us and to our prey. Only in the hunt do we use venom.”

“Consider this ‘extreme circumstances,’” Josh put in. “I’m sorry Ax, but you know we’ve got to be as discreet as possible. You’ll get a medal for this.”

“Oh yippee,” Ax sarcastically replied. “I know Josh, but it still is nauseating. I just hate to think about what they’ve gone through.”

“Let’s keep moving,” Josh decided to change topics. “The Oregon should be around, so I’m going to try hailing them.”

“Okay, just a warning though: the communication will be like a flare for the Romulans too, so they’d better be around or things are going to get exciting real quick,” Ax warned.

“Cheery,” Josh commented as he pressed his badge. “Captain Jackson to Oregon.” He waited a few seconds for a response and got none. “Captain Jackson to Oregon, please respond.” Nothing.

“I guess they’re not here yet,” Ax shrugged.

“But they are,” Saehir dropped down into the bushes as two Romulans transported in. Josh tried to get out of sight too, but with his size and injuries he simply could not move fast enough.

“I saw one of them,” one shouted and pointed in the captain’s direction.

“You sure?” the other questioned. “Wait, I’m getting some really strange energy readings. That has to be them.” Pulling out their disruptors, they stalked towards the trio’s hiding spot as two more beamed in.

“Give me a phaser,” Saehir hissed.

“No,” both Josh and Ax answered simultaneously. Josh tossed the lizard a rifle and took aim with his own. By now there were six Romulans fanning out.

“We know you’re here. Come out and surrender the girl and we’ll leave you alone,” one of them spoke out.

“Tempting offer,” Josh admitted.

“Not really, they’re lying,” Saehir’s voice remained even but her eyes betrayed the terror.

“Keep my shirt on,” Josh answered her. “I’m not going to give up the most valuable intelligence find in Starfleet history.”

“Thanks for the validation of my personhood,” Saehir rolled her eyes. “Now give me a phaser. You two can’t take them all out.”

“I can try,” Josh smirked as he fired. Saehir watched in stunned amazement as he rapidly picked off the Romulans one by one. Six seconds and six shots later, all were gone. “Let’s get moving,” Josh ordered as he stood. Two more Romulans beamed in.

“Josh, they’re going to keep coming to keep us pinned here,” Ax concluded, dodging a disruptor beam. “You take the girl and go and I’ll hold them off.”

“Do it,” Josh nodded and then grabbing Saehir’s wrist, ducked further into the bush. Behind them, they heard the sounds of phaser and disruptor fire.

***********

“Anything?” Jon asked. They had just arrived at Quinterex and found nothing, which was disconcerting to Jon and the rest of the crew.

“All I’ve found is the wreckage what appears to be a Romulan scout craft,” Rio informed from ops. “The radiation in the area is consistent with Romulan disruptors and Federation phasers. There was a battle here, about three days ago by the radiation decay. Hmm, that’s odd.”

“What?” Jon looked over at the ops officer.

“Nothing now. For a moment, it was like we were being scanned,” Rio scratched her head.

“Odd indeed,” Jon agreed, something tickling at the back of his head. “Set up a sensor diagnostic for when we’re finished. Scan the planet. My hunch is that Josh crashed there to wait it out.”

“I’m reading the wreckage of a Federation runabout in the northwest quadrant of the planet,” Rio said. “Sir! I’m getting weapons fire. Romulan and Federation. I’m reading three Romulans and one Royadainian.”

“No humans?” Jon anxiously asked.

“Sorry sir, no,” Rio sighed. That meant that Mark and the captain were dead.

“Beam Ax up now,” Jon commanded.

“We’ve got him sir,” the transporter chief informed a moment later, “and sir, he’s naked.”

“I’ll be on the bridge in a moment,” Ax chimed in. Forty seconds later, he was on the bridge with a facsimile uniform impressed in his scales.

“What happened?” Jon asked.

“We ran into a fight and got shot down,” Ax said hurriedly. “Rio, scan for a .7nm frequency.”

“I’m getting a reading, about two clicks east of where you were,” the Bajoran wore a confused look. “What is that?”

“The captain and a new friend, if she hasn’t killed him yet,” Ax informed. “Or him her.”

“Huh?” Jon raised an eyebrow.

“Never mind,” Ax waved him off. “Set the communicators to broadcast at that frequency.”

“Aye,” Ras answered at the conn. “Where is Mark?”

The bridge got deathly quiet as all eyes were on Ax. He sighed, knowing that he’d be the bearer of bad news for the second time. “Mark didn’t make it,” he informed them gently. “Now hurry or the captain won’t either.”

“Ready, commander,” Rio told him.

“Jon, you’re on,” Ax pointed to his XO.

Oregon to Captain Jackson,” Jon spoke out.

“Glad you could make it for the party,” Josh’s sardonic voice came back, to the relief of all. “What do you say to getting us out of here?”

“No problem, just drop the damping field and we’ll be set,” Jon replied smiling.

“Grand idea,” Josh growled. “How do I do that?”

“Open your tricorder and take out the blue node attached to the emitter,” Ax guided.

As Josh was working on that, the T’rel decloaked directly in front of them.

“Whoa. Sorry Josh, gotta go,” Jon informed as he raised the shields. Given the nature of the mission, he was subbing as a tactical officer.

“Warbird?” Josh queried.

“Yeah,” Jon answered back. “You’ll have to hold out down there.”

“Could be a while. There are five of them,” Josh informed.

“Joy, just hang on,” Jon told his brother and cut the communication.

“Commander, we’re being hailed,” Ras apprised Jon.

“Federation starship, this is the Imperial Romulan Warbird T’rel. You are in violation of the Treaty of Algeron and I demand that you return at once to Federation space or be destroyed,” a smug voice commanded them.

“Sorry sir, but we have some officers who got lost that are in need of rescue,” Jon answered. “As soon as we collect them, we’ll be out of your hair.”

“Your officers have aided and abetted a traitor to the Empire. Therefore they will be taken into custody and tried by Romulan law. Again I advise you to leave now,” the voice reiterated. Jon found it odd that he did not use the viewscreen, but decided to just go with it.

“Sorry, but we’re not leaving without them,” Jon said.

“Then prepare for destruction,” the smug voice almost cackled on the other end.

“We’ll see,” Jon retorted as the T’rel opened fire.

Down on the planet, Josh leaned against a tree and grimaced. At least Ax was safe, but with dampening field gone, the Romulans could track them with ease. Plus his knee and side was throbbing, making him lightheaded. If that was not enough, his companion was a woman who had sworn to kill him. And now he had to hold out for a few more minutes while the Oregon fought for some breathing room.

Deciding that standing around mopping was useless, he motioned to Saehir to keep moving. Stumbling through the trees, they found themselves on the shore of a small lake. Looking around, Josh saw an outcropping of rocks over the water.

“Come on,” he jerked his head towards the rock. “Hope you’re not scared of the water.”

“Certainly not,” she answered as she took off her shirt.

“What are you doing?” For once, Josh was dumbfounded.

“I’m not going to try to swim that when I’m already swimming in this shirt,” Saehir informed him. “What? Never seen a woman naked before?”

“Outside of biology class, no,” Josh informed her as he averted his eyes. They had to swim to the rocks and climb up that way. The beach was the only feasible approach as there were thick woods on one side and water on the two others. This way, their enemies would be funneled to them. Taking off his shirt and pants, leaving on his shorts, he waded into the frigid water. Saehir was only in her underpants. Josh figured the lack of modesty must be a Romulan thing.

The swim was excruciating for him as his entire torso screamed with every breath he took and his knee almost refused to work. The six-meter climb was even worse. By sheer grit, Josh managed to make it to a little niche where the rock slanted up and out, providing some basic cover. Rolling onto it, he took off the rifle and lay there, panting on his back.

“You’re pitifully weak,” Saehir pointed out as she clamored up after him. She sat against the back of the rock, not having broken a sweat. “Killing you is almost going to be no fun. You can’t put up a fight.”

“Sorry to spoil it,” Josh face was screwed up in pain. “But I’d like to see you spend three days hiking with a torn up knee and three broken ribs.”

“You humans are pitiful,” Saehir smirked. “I made it through the crash fine.”

“You had Royadainian armor,” Josh pointed out. “It helps. A lot.” Rolling up into a crouch, Josh examined his position. Creeping to the edge of the rock, he set up his sniper lair.

“Take it I’m just going to sit and watch?” Saehir snorted. Josh cocked his head for a second and tossed her the hand phaser.

“Knock yourself out,” Josh told her. “Literally would be preferable.”

“Funny,” she retorted as she crouched up beside him. “Here they come.”

Out of the woods a couple of Romulans walked, weapons raised. Josh signaled for Saehir to hold her fire as they approached their position. Another three came into view behind them. Motioning silently, Josh ordered Saehir to target the front two while he would take on the three farther back. Saehir nodded and waited for her signal.

NOW! Josh motioned and Saehir fired. Simultaneously Josh launched his own salvo. It took Saehir less than two seconds to take out her targets. A moment later, the last Romulan fell. Instantly, nearly a dozen Romulans came rushing towards them, firing wildly. Josh and Saehir fired at will, desperately trying to stave off the attack. Meanwhile, rocks around them started getting blown apart. In the midst of the fight, a high ranking Romulan appeared in the middle held up his hand, signaling a cease fire. Josh and Saehir honored it, as he had something to say.

“Starfleet officer, our quarrel is not with you. It is unfortunate that you got mixed up in this and we are willing to overlook you breaching the Neutral Zone,” he called out loudly to them. “I believe your ship is waiting for you above, but is currently engaged. Surrender the centurion and you may go on your way.”

Saehir looked at Josh for a moment. Reason and logic demanded that he surrender her. They were not going to survive long enough for the Oregon to rescue them and that was provided that the ship survived. It was his only option. Yet there was a strange resoluteness in his hard blue eyes.

“You want her?” Josh called back. “Come and get her.” With that he fired a well placed shot that hit the Romulan square in the chest. Immediately the air around them was filled with green beam and the smell of ozone.

Josh and Saehir crouched side-by-side retaliated with marvelous accuracy. Romulan after Romulan went down, but both knew it was not going to be enough. Not unless the Oregon had some special magic trick up her sleeve to whisk them away, they were going to die.

Saehir hazarded a glance over at her uneasy ally. Josh’s eyes were focused on his targets which he hit with deadly accuracy. He seemed either oblivious or indifferent to the disruptor beams that grazed passed him. Here he was, the man that she had threatened and attempted to kill sacrificing his life to save her, even if it was likely to be in vain. No one had ever done that for her before. For a Romulan, you never laid out your life for someone like that. They were always quick to betray you; yet here was this human doing that for an enemy.

Aelhih thought that she should feel disdain for his idiotic sense of duty and morality, but rather she felt respect. Time and time again he had had the opportunity to kill her or hand her over, yet each time he had passed it up. Somehow he had managed to get them out of whatever scrape they were in and he was always making sure that she was okay. It took a special kind of being to do that. Not that it matter at this point, though.

**************

“Incoming disruptor fire gamma!” Rio yelped as the third of the Oregon’s sections got slammed. “Shields at 85% and recharging.” Before Jon could fire back, the offending vessel cloaked. Another one appeared directly in front of the alpha section. This time Jon was ready.

“Flight pattern delta!” He ordered Ras, who brought the parts into a triangle pattern. Already Jon was lashing out with the alpha sections forward phaser array. Before the Warbird could fire, a salvo of torpedoes was racing towards the mighty ship, tearing into the shields.

“Enemy shields at 40%,” Rio reported triumphantly.

“Helm, full impulse, spread pattern on my mark,” Jon commanded as the Oregon leapt towards the Romulan ship. True to form, the enemy let loose one volley of disruptor fire and turned to cloak.

“Mark!” Jon commanded as the three parts deftly spread out, letting the bolts harmlessly pass by. Jon locked on and fired at the fading vessel, landing a serious blow. But before he could celebrate that success, two warbirds decloaked on either side and hammered away.

“Starburst!” Jon called out, but not before the beta and gamma shields dropped to sixty. By the time they were oriented again, the warbirds were gone.

“They’re good,” Jon admitted. Never more than two at a given time and only for a brief moment; that cloaking device was a serious advantage. “Helm pattern alpha. Recharge shields,” he ordered thankful for that little bonus of regenerative shields. That meant that for the Oregon to lose shields, the shield generator would have to be completely destroyed.

Behind them another warbird appeared. But Jon had anticipated this. As soon as the green shimmer appeared, he let loose a vicious volley from his rear torpedo tubes. Immediately after that the nimble Oregon looped around and faced her opponent with her weapons grinning. Jon burned through the black sky with the ship’s Type XII phasers that shredded an already weakened shields system. Another torpedo salvo blasted through.

“Warbird weapons offline!” Rio allowed herself a grin. “Warbird decloaking port side.”

“Evade helm,” Jon ordered, some calm restored. Targeting this one’s weapons, he lanced her wings with the phasers, pulverizing the shields. Quickly she faded back. “What is happening on the planet Rio?”

“Detecting heavy weapons fire half a click further east of where they last were. I’m reading one human and thirty-four, no thirty-one Romulans. I doubt they’ll hold out much longer.”

Jon knew that he could not buy them more time by fighting a space battle. Have Ras pull them into an omicron pattern, he fired back at a warbird attacking their rear. Although they had suffered minor damage, they could not get away and they could not do any real harm to them either. The Romulans were trying to wear down their patience and get them to do something very foolish. Meanwhile, Jon needed to rescue his brother.

“Ras, put beta and gamma overlapping above alpha drop the alpha section to the upper atmosphere,” an idea had suddenly occurred to him. The young ensign nodded and put them in position. Apparently the Romulans figured out what he was going to attempt for four warbirds decloaked and hammered at the beta and gamma sections.

“Engineering, reroute power to the beta and gamma shield grid. I need those things to hold,” he ordered through is badge.

“Aye, will do,” Ax’s gravelly voice responded.

“Shields down to 60%!” Rio nervously informed. “Commander!” Rio fairly shrieked when Jon dropped their shields altogether.

“Transporter room lock on to the Josh’s bio-signature and the Romulan closest to him,” Jon ordered as he lashed back with the beta and gamma weapons. This pushed the Romulans back a bit.

Down on the planet the fight had taken a turn for the worse. Despite their near heroic efforts, the Romulans numbers were starting to take a toll. The rocks upward slant that had acted as a mini-bulwark had been slowly eaten way, leaving the pair more and more exposed.

“I hate to say it, but it has been an honor to fight by your side,” Saehir admitted. “If the Klingons were here, they would talk about how our fight would be remembered for all generations in song.”

“Then let’s be glad they’re not here,” Josh retorted to his antagonist. “I don’t plan on dying just yet.”

“Good, because I’m the one who’s going to kill you,” Saehir claimed.

“Full of comfort you,” Josh grunted as he took down another. Josh noticed something odd. There were fewer and fewer disruptor blasts aimed at them. Taking a moment to look down, Josh saw that the Romulans were instead eating away at the rock underneath them.

“Lady,” Josh realized that he did not actually know her name, “we got tro—”

His sentence was cut off as the stone beneath him gave way and he started to plummet down. Instantly Saehir reached down grasped his arm. She swung him back and forth to avoid the incessant disruptor fire that was pouring.

“What the hell are you doing?” Josh demanded as a beam singed his side. “Let me go or you’ll get us both killed.”

“Like I said, I’m going to have the pleasure of killing you,” with that she heaved both of them to her left and off the rock towards the water. Midair, the tingling sensation washed over them as they were beamed away.

“Got ‘em,” the transporter chief informed them. “Apparently that planet has something against clothing.”

“Get her some clothes and Jon send someone to meet me with a uniform now,” Josh ordered. Jon sighed with a smile; it was good to have him back.

“Commander, beta and gamma shields down to 30%. Romulan shields are at 75%, 40%, 63%, and 50%,” the Bajoran informed with a touch of worry in her voice. Just then Josh entered, wearing a clean uniform that did not match the rest of his disheveled look. Behind was a short Romulan wearing a Starfleet over-shirt and not much else. So much for bridge decorum.

“Situation?” Josh demanded.

“Five warbirds, ones weapons are disabled. Other four shields are draining. Our shields are at full and 30% with minor damage on decks 3 beta and 9,” Jon reported.

“What the hell did you do to my ship?” Josh growled looking at the grim situation. Not the worst he had been in, but still not easy.

“If you like it back down there, I suppose we could do better,” Jon raised an eyebrow.

“Point noted,” Josh gave his brother a wry grin. “And thanks.”

“Excuse me geniuses, but there is a battle going on that we happen to be in,” Saehir snapped at them. Rio nearly fainted.

“Quite right,” Josh assumed command again. “Ras set course for the center warbird full impulse. Jon, target weapons and fire all weapons at will.” With the alpha section in the lead, the Oregon charged forward, burning path through. The sudden onslaught blew through the Romulan’s shields and then her weapons, leaving the warbird toothless. However, the Oregon’s shields took a beating to, reducing them to an average of 55%.

“Fire rear torpedoes,” Josh ordered as they moved on. Now that they were behind the warbirds, they were safe for the moment. “Bring us about and strafe.”

Just as the Oregon turned, all four warbirds began to cloak. But that did not matter as Jon had not targeted anything in particular and raked the powerful phasers across space, lighting up the defenseless, but invisible vessels.

“Good,” Josh commented coolly. “Engineering, reroute all available power to recharge the shields.”

“Doing the best we can Josh, but half the EPS conduits on beta and gamma have been blown to hell. I’ve got repair teams on it, but I can’t be hopping around from section to section,” Ax reported in from engineering.

“Do what you can, I need shields pronto,” Josh sighed. “Helm, pattern alpha and fly randomly.” He hoped that this would throw the Romulans off the trail. But soon enough, underneath and to the rear of them another warbird decloaked, launching a torrent of disruptor fire and locking on with their beam, which tore at gamma’s shields.

“Match angle and fire rear torpedoes,” Josh ordered. The salvo dented the ship’s shields, but before any really damage was done, she cloaked. Above and behind, another warbird attacked.

“Perpendicular angle and fire alpha phasers,” Josh commanded. The command sections fairly fresh shields took the blow and the Oregon’s counterattack weakened the Romulan’s craft even further. Yet before any real damage was done, it was gone.

“That cloaking device is starting to really irritate,” Josh grumbled. “You, Romulan, do you know how to get around their cloaking?”

“I’m no engineer, so I don’t know how to crack it,” she admitted, “but I think they are using standard Romulan cloaking tactics, so I have a pretty good idea of where they’ll be.”

At that moment, another warbird decloaked portside and hammered at their side, forcing the Oregon to turn as Jon returned fire. Saehir looked at the situation and grinned. She knew just what to do.

“Human, may I take tactical?” she requested. Everyone looked at Josh, especially Rio. This was probably one of the worst violations of Starfleet protocol.

“Go ahead,” Josh motioned. He was certain the he could probably beat them anyways, but he was not too proud to ask for help. Just then a warbird decloaked behind them but recloaked immediately. Adjusting the angle slightly, Saehir fired a volley of torpedoes that tore into the defenseless ship, destroying the cloaking device and leaving it dead in space.

“Finish it,” Josh ordered icily.

“Certainly,” Saehir nodded to Ras, who turned the ship around. Aelhih targeted the quantum singularity and with a short phaser burst incinerated the unfortunate vessel.

“Helm resume original course,” Saehir requested as she studied the tactical readout. “Full impulse.” Three seconds later, she fired all weapons at nowhere in particular, strafing the space.

Explosions lit up the black sky like fireworks as three shieldless ships felt the full force of the Oregon’s devastating weapons rake through them. Immediately the Romulan vessels dropped their cloaked tried to evade Saehir’s onslaught.

“Captain, all three cloaking devices have been disabled and two of their shields are down,” Rio informed. “The third is at 15%.”

Josh nodded his acknowledgment. For the royal pain in the tuckus that she had been, the Romulan had come through. But now it was his turn to show off.

“Target impulse drives, maximum fire power,” Josh commanded from his chair, realizing that he had no idea when he had sat down.

“Which one?” Saehir looked a little confused.

“All of them. This ships got three fully functional parts so let’s use them,” he glared at her. The Romulan looked at the console for a moment, trying to figure it out. Ras had already lined them up, she just needed to knock them down. Taking a deep breath for luck, she guessed as how to target multiple targets and her fingers flew across the display.

She was dead on. Within moments, all three ships had come to a screeching halt. Silently, Josh was impressed with how quickly she had learned the fairly complex tactical station. Definitely an amateur to be sure, but still quite impressive for the first time working with Starfleet technology.

“Target their singularity and fire all weapons, maximum power,” Josh leaned in. Saehir nodded and once again the Oregon’s impressive armament blazed away, obliterating the three massive ships in an impressive shower of sparks.

Josh sighed. He did not like this slaughter; indeed he knew that he was going to have nightmares about this. But Josh also knew that in battle, mercy only got you killed sooner or later. Dead enemies do not shoot back.

“Warbird decloaking dorsal side and firing,” Rio noted. Valiant as it was, the warbirds attempt was also hopeless.

“Starburst,” Josh ordered lazily. “Tactical, target her cloaking device. Helm, attack pattern Jackson-2. Engage.”

Though Saehir was not quite sure what the attack pattern Josh had specified was, she went with the flow. Ras brought them behind the warbird and Saehir blasted at it, following what she guessed the plan entailed. The command section blazed away with phasers and as it peeled off, she launched a torpedo salvo that slammed home.

“Cloaking device destroyed,” Rio apprised.

“Good, take out their impulse and warp drive,” Josh ordered. Saehir nodded and moments later both systems were inoperable.

“Target their singularity and prepare to destroy them,” Josh directed.

“Josh, we’re being hailed, video this time,” Ras called back. Josh and Jon exchanged glances and shrugged.

“On screen,” Josh told the ensign.

Before them was the very distraught and disheveled face of the Romulan commander. Behind him they could see the bridge was in total disarray and at least two officers looked to be in critical condition.

“I demand that you let us go!” he began. “You have violated our borders and therefore have declared war on the Empire.”

“This would be the same Empire that is currently fighting a civil war?” Josh raised an eyebrow. “So who exactly are we at war with? We certainly can’t be fighting both sides.”

The commander bit his lip in frustration. Then his eye caught Saehir. “You! How did you escape?” he shrieked.

“Hello again commander,” Saehir gave him an evil smile. “How does it feel to be on that end of the viewscreen?”

“You are assisting an enemy of the Empire,” he turned his attention back to Josh. “We demand that you hand her over to us for prosecution. You may leave, though be certain that we will file a complaint against you for this.”

“Hand her over?” Josh shook his head. “I’m afraid that’s impossible. You see, she has been granted an asylum which means that she is currently part of this ship. That means that I decided whether or not she is to be extradited and I say no.”

“But you can’t. This is Romulan space!” the commander protested. Clearly he was trying to come away with something after being so utterly humiliated.

“She is part of the Federation, which means she is under our protection,” Josh lowered to boom, “under my protection. Now you have thirty seconds to lower you shields and power down your weapons before I have your former officer tear you apart.”

The commander knew that he had no options. Looking over at one of officers off-screen he made a quick motion.

“Shields and weapons are down,” Rio informed.

“Glad to see you so cooperative,” Josh smiled sardonically. “Have a good day,” he said as he cut the communication.

Josh leaned back and sighed. It had been a miserable three days, days that he was mildly surprised to have survived. Still, everyone had performed admirably, with the exception of Mark. Josh inwardly rebelled at the thought of having to replace him, but that was life. A good, albeit rocky, start to the tale of the USS Oregon.

With a painful effort Josh stood back up. “I suppose your wife will want to see me,” Josh sighed to his brother.

“Of course,” Jon smiled. “She already sent me a message to affect. You too, ma’am and we need to get you off the bridge anyway.”

“Come on,” Josh growled at Saehir as he hobbled gingerly to the turbolift. Turning around, he ordered, “Join back up and get us home maximum warp.”

“Aye sir,” the bridge broke out in smiles.

Epilogue

Josh sat alone in the main lounge watching the stars race by. True to her skill, Kirsten had him patched up for the umpteenth time since he had known her, though she told him that he was going to be stiff and sore for a few days. It felt so good to sit and relax for a few minutes and drink some nice, cold water.

“What are you thinking?” Saehir sat down. Josh instantly tensed up into a defensive position. “Relax,” she waved him off with her purplish drink. “I’m unarmed.”

“Comforting,” Josh did relax, a little.

“Killing you here would be no fun,” she snorted at him. “So what are you thinking?”

“I was thinking how nice the peace and quiet was,” Josh retorted. “Emphasis on was.”

“Don’t think you’re going to get an apology from me,” Saehir countered.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Josh sighed and let a moment of silence descend.

“Thanks,” Saehir finally said.

“For what?” Josh was a little surprised.

“For saving me,” Saehir said slowly. “Even after I tried to kill you, you had ample opportunity to turn me over and leave, but you didn’t. And don’t tell me it was because I’m the biggest intelligence find in Federation history because that’s not the real reason.”

“Shoot, there goes my cover,” Josh shook his head. “You’re welcome.”

“Don’t think that this means I like you; I don’t,” Saehir waved a finger at the captain. “You have that Starfleet captain’s arrogance and penchant for being an insipid do-gooder at the risk of your crew and you can’t take a compliment. You’re cold, harsh, and totally unapproachable. But you’re also smart enough to know when to take risks and when to fold. You’re willing to put aside your Starfleet rules to do what you believe to be right. You do what it takes to protect those around you. You may not be the most diplomatic captain ever, but I’d be willing to bet you’re one of the wisest. You do what you believe is right regardless of the cost and have the highest integrity I’ve ever seen, though coming from a Romulan that doesn’t mean much. I may not like you captain, but I respect you.”

“Ah, I feel all warm and fuzzy inside,” Josh rolled his eyes, causing Saehir to chuckle.

“See what I mean about being able to take a compliment?” she smiled. “By the way, I never did ask for an asylum.”

“You asking for one now?” Josh asked.

Saehir paused for a moment and took a deep breath, “Yes, yes I am.”

“Then as captain of the USS Oregon, I welcome you to the Federation,” Josh said in his formal voice. “I’ll enter it into the records later. What’s your name, by the way?”

“I can’t believe we went three days without learning each other’s names,” Aelhih shook her head.

“Well, we were a bit preoccupied with running from Romulans and you trying to kill me and all,” Josh pointed out. “My name is Joshua Jackson. Most people call me Josh,” he stuck out his hand.

“Saehir Aelhih,” the Romulan woman responded in kind. “Thanks,” she said standing up and turning for the door. “Thanks for saving me and giving me a new home.”

“No problem,” Josh waved off, lying. “Hey one thing: does this new respect mean the death mark is off me now?”

Saehir paused at the door, turned, and gave Josh a sly smile. “Good night captain,” she winked.

 

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