Bridge, Tholian Heavy Cruiser Antrex
       "Korath is being a Klingon," Communications Worker Jex said with what little humor was acceptable on the bridge.
       "But he is making it all sound so reasonable," Weapons Worker Baxx replied. "He may be showing off his authority, but he's not ordering anyone to do anything they wouldn't do on their own."
       "A Federation commodore would have 'proposed' that all ships disarm their weapons," Captain Lorexxt said.
       "You certainly don't want me to disarm our weapons, do you?" Weapons Worker Baxx asked.
       "Hardly," Captain Lorexxt snapped. "We are not under the command of this 'joint squadron' and in case anyone forgot it is the Tholian border that is closest. Our fire control systems are to remain fully on line."
       "Very well," Baxx said.
       "Now," Lorexxt asked," where is that Romulan?"
       "Still five hours away," Communications Worker Jex said. "At least that's what the last navigation notice said. The reports from the border station scanners confirm this."
       "Science Worker," Lorexxt said into the intercom, "are you getting the data you need?"
       "I am collecting very interesting readings," the scientist replied. "Can we obtain the data from the Federation or Klingon probe drones? That data would be invaluable as it was taken from much closer range."
       "I don't know," Lorexxt said, "and I'll have to think about that before asking them for it."
       "No need," Weapons Worker Baxx said, "the Federation probe drone is broadcasting its finding in the clear and to all stations, not just to the Federation ship."
       "Communications Worker," Lorexxt said, "make the signal to the Federation ship, as follows: 'We appreciate your sharing of the scientific data. We will transmit the data our ship collected before your arrival if you will indicate the proper format and channel for this.' Make sure the Klingon cannot hear that. Use a tight beam with the special code."
       "Doing it now," Jex said.
       In the weeks since the Juggernaut incident, the Federation and Tholian fleets had agreed upon a special cryptographic cypher that the Klingons could not break. The stated purpose was to allow Federation and Tholian ships, even if not allied, to communicate privately in situations involving  anyone else. What the Federation had not mentioned to the Tholians was that it had also secretly agreed to a different cryptographic cypher with the Klingons, for situations in which they needed to talk privately even if Tholians, or anyone else, were present.
       No one considered it likely that the Klingons and Tholians, which had been at war for years, had agreed to a similar code.

Bridge, Klingon D7 Devastator
       "The Federation and Tholian ships are exchanging signals," Junior Lieutenant Xenost said. "I cannot read them. They must be using a private code like the ones we have with the Federation. I have recorded the message for a later attack by starbase computers."
       "What are you playing at, Grey?" Korath muttered.
       "The Tholians transmitted first," Junior Lieutenant Xenost said. "The Federation ship just replied to him. Wait, I am getting a signal from the Federation ship on the private code channel." She studied her screen. "The message says that the Tholians have offered to exchange the data that their ship has collected and asks if you want to be part of this exchange."
       "Tell him yes," Korath said. "Use the private channel. Include my personal thanks for the professional courtesy and ask him for the signal protocols he wants us to use. Then send a message to the Romulans updating them, and use the private channel and code 42 for that one."
       "As you will, Sir," Xenost replied.
       What is going on? Kyrolian found himself wondering. Korath should be drooling over the thought of Grey's blood but instead they're exchanging "professional courtesies?"
       "Oh, one more thing, Dunkar," Korath added. "Create a message consisting entirely of gibberish and send it on a tight beam to the Tholian. Make it look like a communication in some super-cyber code or other. Let Grey puzzle that one out."
       "Commodore?" came the voice of the science officer, Lieutenant Berinarias, over the intercom.
       "What is it?" Korath said.
       "Can we launch a shuttle?" I'd like to get some better readings from 120,000 killikams. Better than what the drones can get. I have a scientist ready if you approve the mission."
       "Very well," Korath said. "Kyrolian, make that happen, but do not launch. When ready, I will have ... the Dunkar ... notify the other ships."

Bridge, Tholian Heavy Cruiser Antrex
       "Can we launch a shuttle?" Science Worker Jolkks asked at nearly the same moment as Berinarias, and for exactly the same reason. The foreign probe drones only had a limited ability to gather information, and anyway, Tholian ships didn't have drones. A manned shuttle could respond to changing conditions on the star in real time.
       "Very well," Captain Lorexxt said. "Get an appropriate technician to the shuttle bay. And no, you cannot go yourself. You need to stay here. It is dangerous to go any closer in so fragile a craft as that."
       "We have received a transmission from the Klingons," Communications Worker Jex reported. "I can make no sense of it. Perhaps it is in some code we do not know."
       "Do we have any old Klingon codes in the computer?" Lorexxt asked. "One the Federation might not know?"
       "Three possibilities," Jex said. "I cannot guarantee any of them to be unknown to the Federation."
       "Make this signal, using that code," Lorexxt said with a laugh. "Your last data package was corrupted. Please repeat. We understand your plan for the other ships."
       "As you command," Jex said.

Bridge, Federation Command Cruiser Excalibur
       "The shuttles are ready, Captain," Lieutenant Aarie said.
       "Very well," Grey replied. "You can launch them."
       "Belay that," Commander Barretta said. Grey looked at her with surprise. "In this situation, we need to advise the other ships first. We need to avoid confusion."
       "Very well," Grey said. "Rollins, make that happen."
       "The Tholian is launching a shuttle," Lieutenant Katsunaga reported. "Maybe he's doing what we're doing?"
       "Probably," Grey said.
       "It's not like it could be a scatter-pack," Commander Barretta said. "Not from a Tholian ship."
       "The Tholians just sent a coded message to the Klingons," Rollins said. "It's in an old Klingon code. I cannot break it, not right away, because we don't have the code-key block. I can set the computer to guessing that, but it could take anywhere from a minute to three days to break it."
       "Good grief, what next?" Grey asked. He waved to Rollins to set the computer to the task.

Bridge, Klingon D7 Devastator
       "What did the Tholian do?" Korath asked.
       "He launched a shuttle," Korm reported.
       "Probably harmless," Kyrolian said. "The Tholians have refused to accept your command of this situation."
       "Message incoming from the Federation ship," Junior Lieutenant Xenost said. "They are launching two shuttles for scientific investigation purposes."
       "Very well," Korath sighed. Now it looks like we're copying them. Very well, so it will have to be. "You, Dunkar, send the message that we're also launching a shuttle for scientific investigation and that our shuttle will broadcast all of its data in the clear. Advise the others to do the same ‹ so there is no doubt as to what the shuttles are doing."
       "It is done, Commodore," Xenost said. "I have a message from the Tholians in one of our old codes. It reads 'Your last data package was corrupted. Please repeat. We understand your plan for the other ships.' What does that mean?"
        "It means the Tholians are being Tholians," Kyrolian said. "They want to make the Federation distrust us."
       And you lot are being Klingons, Xenost sighed to herself.
       "Send a message to the Tholians," Korath said. "Use that old code they used. Tell them 'Stand ready. You will know the time to act.' And send all of the data we send them in that code from now on. Anything we send the Tholians, use that code."
       What are you playing at? Xenost thought to herself. And do you realize just how dangerous it is to play at all?
       Kyrolian continued to monitor the track of every ship in the area. He had already told his executive officer to maintain target tracking on every foreign shuttle and drone, and to reload the second drone rack with nuclear-tipped war shot drones.

Bridge, SparrowHawk Formidable, Four Hours Later
       "We will be at the star in half an hour," Ante-Tribune Decentius  said. "Shall we notify the 'squadron commander' of our imminent arrival?"
       "Certainly," Sub-Commander Fenius said, "but tell the communications officer to be vague. Tell the Klingons we will arrive 'within the hour'. I have a plan. The Praetor wants us to show off our new ship, so we're going to impress them."
       "How so?" Decentius asked.
       "We will drop from Warp 8 to Warp 3 at a million kilometers from the ships and engage the cloaking device," Fenius smiled. "Then maneuver in and suddenly appear within their midst.  The new cloaking device should be more effective than the old ones, and they have never seen a ship able to move under cloak as fast as the Furious can move. We're going to put on a demonstration of our technology, and our skill, to impress all three of them. The Emperor wanted us to show off, and we shall."
       "No doubt, their sensors have improved as well," Decentius said. "Perhaps they will detect our arrival?"
       "In the glare of that burning star?" Fenius laughed. "Perhaps, but this is a non-combat situation. They aren't watching their backs because diplomatic protocol, navigational notices, and our known patterns of maneuver will tell them that it is not necessary. We will perhaps startle them, but it will be a momentary thing. Be prepared to broadcast friendly greetings and assurances that our weapons are not armed."
       "Other than the plasma-Fs," Decentius noted. "You had me arm them before we left Romulan space. And the phaser capacitors are still fully charged."
       "They won't know that," Fenius said, "but they will assume it. Just as we can assume that all of their phasers are armed and their drone racks are loaded."
       "If I may recommend," Decentius suggested, "as we decloak, we should fire a probe, and of course activate our scanners. We might even launch a shuttle, even two, for scientific information gathering. As you say, Sub-Commander," Decentius said, "we shall put on an impressive display of our new ship."
       "A most impressive display," Fenius answered.