STAR TREK: SEVEN DEADLY SINS
Pursuit course. Stand by to divert power from the cloaking field to the shields on my order, and place all weapons on ready status.”
Standing among his subordinates on the confined bridge of the Romulan vessel Revoth,
Commander Larael watched as his crew worked to carry out his orders. None of them spoke, focused as they were on their individual tasks, but Larael could sense the tension permeating the cramped room. He could understand their anxiety, and it rivaled his own rising excitement as the Revoth
gave chase to the Starfleet vessel. For reasons that remained in question, the ship had crossed the Neutral Zone separating Romulan and Federation space, abrogating a treaty that had existed for generations almost without incident and thereby committing an act of war. Of course,
he mused with a degree of bitterness, neither side is innocent in that regard.
From where he stood at one of the four workstations positioned around the control hub at the center of the bridge, Centurion Bochir said, “Commander, the enemy vessel is proceeding without its defense fields, and its weapons do not appear to be activated.” Interesting,
Larael mused as he moved closer to Bochir’s station, peering over the centurion’s shoulder in order to observe the sensor readings for himself. “Why would they travel in enemy space without their defenses activated?” Even while it towed the smaller, weaker vessel
it currently held in its tractor beam, Larael knew that the Federation ship—a Constitution
-class heavy cruiser and one of the most formidable ships in the Starfleet armada—was more than a match for his own vessel. Still, the Revoth
’s primary plasma weapon, along with its cloaking technology, helped to balance the scales so far as any direct confrontation was concerned. Despite any apparent tactical superiority the Starfleet ship possessed and even if its captain felt he was not in any immediate danger, he had placed his vessel in a vulnerable position as it made way for the Neutral Zone and what he obviously presumed was safe harbor in Federation space.
“Commander,” said another centurion, Odira, from where he stood next to the bridge’s compact communications station, “we are being hailed by the Starfleet ship.”
Frowning at the report, Larael circled around the control hub. “What?” He moved to stand abreast of the centurion. “How is that possible?” A glance at the status display mounted over the console confirmed that the Revoth
’s cloaking field was still in operation. “Is he just broadcasting blindly?”
“I do not believe so,” Odira replied as he reached for a control. The centurion pressed one of the panel’s buttons, and an instant later the Revoth
’s bridge intercom system blared to life. “Attention, Romulan vessel. This is Commodore Robert Wesley, commanding the Federation
Starship Lexington. Our sensors have detected your ship following us on an intercept course. Your current distance is five point six million kilometers off our stern and closing.”
“He’s lying!” Larael snapped, unwilling to believe what he was hearing. He glared at Odira, who turned from his station, and saw his own disbelief mirrored in the centurion’s eyes.
Odira said, “Commander, he speaks the truth. I am not certain I have properly converted the distance measurements, but he is correct with respect to our angle of approach.” Unbelievable!
The thought echoed in Larael’s mind even as stared at the status monitor. Rumors had circulated for quite some time—ones naturally unsubstantiated by higher command echelons—of Starfleet’s apparent ability to detect a cloaked vessel—at least, one in close proximity. Larael had dismissed the unconfirmed reports. Some of the
best scientists from across the Empire had collaborated over several fvheisn
to redesign the proven technology and eliminate the acknowledged flaws in its design. As a result, this new incarnation was far superior to anything Starfleet might bring to bear in the way of countermeasures, even with the assistance of their longtime lapdogs, the Vulcans. Current events,
Larael conceded, appear to undermine that conviction.
If it was true, then it might well mean a shift in thinking on the part of the Praetor. By all accounts, the supreme Romulan leader seemed to be placing a lot of faith in this latest generation of the cloaking field. It was but one weapon in an already formidable arsenal, for which he had supervised one of the most costly and comprehensive replenishment and improvement programs in recent memory. Though no one would admit to having heard the Praetor speak the words aloud, there were many in the Romulan government who believed the aged leader might well be planning another war with Earth and its allies. Might that war begin here, today?
Ignoring the unwelcome thought, Larael folded his arms across his chest and nodded toward the centurion’s station. “Open the channel.”
In response to his order, Odira pressed several controls on the console, each button pressed emitting a short, high-pitched tone. Then one of the station’s three rectangular screens activated, a wash of multicolored static fading away as the communications circuit was completed to reveal a human male. Larael noted his gray hair as well as the creases along the human’s forehead and along his jaw. He wore the simple, now-familiar Starfleet tunic, and Larael recognized its gold hue as that worn by personnel in command positions. Rather than some young, inexperienced, and perhaps impulsive or even reckless officer, this human affected the appearance of a man with significant training and experience.
On the screen, the human said, “Romulan vessel, we regret our trespass into your space, but we are responding to a distress call. If you’ve scanned us, then you know the ship we’re towing has lost all main power. It was unable to avoid drifting through the Neutral Zone and into your territory. At this very moment, the Federation’s Diplomatic Corps is attempting to contact your government about this issue.”
“This is Commander Larael of the Romulan vessel Revoth.
” As he spoke, he kept his expression and tone neutral. “If what you say is true, then why not simply wait for our government to respond? I may well have been ordered to assist the freighter and its crew.”
To his credit, the human also maintained his bearing even as he said, “Commander, I think we’re both aware that there have been a few unfortunate incidents on both sides of the border in recent months—unarmed vessels being fired upon and so forth. I didn’t want this to be another such occurrence. I’m sure you know that wars have begun that way.”
“They have also begun after spies were captured committing espionage and sabotage,” Larael countered.
Wesley nodded. “Yes, and sometimes such tragedies were avoided, even when there was sufficient cause to proceed. Perhaps you’re aware of a recent example or two.”
Larael bristled at the obvious, veiled accusation. From reading a series of classified reports, he knew of at least two separate clandestine missions undertaken by Romulan vessels into Federation territory. While one of the ships had been sent on a circuitous route to a distant area of largely unexplored space currently disputed by the Federation, the Klingon Empire, and the Tholian Assembly, a second vessel had been dispatched across the Neutral Zone to test Starfleet defenses. It was the first such mission since the ending of the war between the Empire and Earth more than eighty fvheisn
earlier, and there was much to be learned about how far the enemy had advanced since that costly conflict. The lone vessel had carried out several successful attacks on Starfleet outposts stationed near the Neutral Zone, though it had not fared nearly so well after engaging another Constitution
-class starship near the border. Its commander was forced to destroy the ship rather than allow it to be captured, a fate which many believed to have befallen the first vessel, as well.
As the human had intimated, the incident near the Neutral Zone, along with other, more recent encounters, might well have been enough to pull the Federation and the Empire into a new and perhaps protracted, costly war. Cooler heads had prevailed on those occasions, and Larael did not relish the prospect of any action being taken today that might not be handled with similar restraint.
Maintaining eye contact with Wesley and making sure his voice
was loud enough for the human to hear, Larael said to Bochir, “Scan the smaller vessel again.”
The centurion leaned over his console, peering at several of the displays and the data scrolling across them. “As before, Commander, the vessel appears to possess only limited defenses, which are not active. Its primary power generators are off-line. I am unable to determine the reason for the power loss, but there is no detectable external damage to the ship.”
It certainly was possible that this was all a ruse designed to conceal espionage. Such a scenario was a likely if rather obvious cover for crossing the border and carrying out covert surveillance. If it was in fact an act of deception, then it lacked any manner of creativity, something Larael would not expect from the notoriously imaginative and unapologetically deceitful humans. There was also the fact that in addition to being a defenseless vessel, it as well as the Revoth
was nowhere near any target of worthwhile military value. If the people on that ship were spies, Larael concluded that they might be better off pursuing some other vocation.
“You will continue on your present course at your current speed, Commodore,” he said after a moment. “Any deviation, no matter how slight, will be considered a hostile act against the Romulan Star Empire. My further advice to you is to inform your superiors that future incursions into our space are unlikely to be indulged in similar fashion. Do I make myself clear?”
“Commander . . .” Bochir began, and Larael forced himself not to react to the centurion’s questioning tone. A simple glimpse was enough to silence the subordinate.
On the viewscreen, Wesley nodded. “You do, Commander. I appreciate your trust, and you have my word that it’s not misplaced. Safe journey to you and your crew. Wesley out.”
The image on the screen dissolved into static before being replaced by a display of the Federation ships continuing on their way.
“Helm,” Larael said, “mirror their course and speed, but maintain this distance. Place weapons on standby.” Turning to Bochir, he kept his voice low and steady as he regarded the younger officer with a hard glare. “Now, Centurion, what is it you wished to tell me?”
Bochir had the good sense to appear nervous as he replied,
“Commander, our orders are to protect the Empire’s borders. How can our commitment to security be respected by our enemies if we do not answer their defiance with force?”
“Soldiers do not attack indiscriminately, Centurion,” Larael said, allowing the merest hint of annoyance to creep into his voice. “The Federation ship was a match for us, and yet they did not raise their shields or bring their weapons to bear. They were at our mercy. I do not attack unarmed vessels, at least not until I have confirmed they are a threat. To do otherwise is to act no better than lawless thugs, and we hold ourselves to a higher standard. Do you understand?”
Nodding, Bochir replied, “I do, sir.” He paused, as though weighing the potential risks of what he might say next, before adding, “I only hope that our enemies do not mistake your compassion for Romulan weakness.”
The young officer had courage, Larael gave him that. Of course, being the son of a prominent senator tended to enhance one’s self-confidence, whether or not such feelings were justified. Larael supposed he should be wary of how he treated Bochir, knowing full well that any dissatisfaction would inevitably be relayed back to Romulus and his father’s sympathetic ear. The notion was as quickly dismissed. After nearly thirty fvheisn
spent in service to the Empire, Larael had long since tired of looking over his shoulder and worrying how the wrong action or spoken thought might be viewed by those in power. He simply was too old for such games.
Still, he was forced to admit that young Bochir had made a valid observation. With encounters between Federation and Romulan ships increasing as both powers continued to expand into previously unexplored space, it was only a matter of time before a more violent confrontation resulted. The Empire would be forced to act, lest it find itself trapped within its borders and at the mercy of its rivals. And on that day, will we once again find ourselves at war?
Larael took no comfort in knowing the answer to that question.