Bridge, Excalibur, Two Hours later
       "Korath?" Grey said as he walked onto the bridge. "Really? Here? Or rather, there?"
       "That's what the navigation notice said," Ensign Rollins, the communications officer, replied.
       "Well, at least you didn't wake me up for bad news," Grey shrugged. Kyrolian was an old dog, a veteran captain with no axe to grind, but Grey and Korath had clashed constantly, if only verbally, during the Juggernaut incident. Korath, in trouble, had maneuvered his ship to ruin Excalibur's attack and divert the Juggernaut's attention to the Federation ship, something Grey took exception to, and interstellar relations took a seriously wrong turn. The Darkslayer had been destroyed and Korath blamed Grey for the loss, even if Grey could never quite figure out why.
       "I don't suppose the Diplomatic Corps has sent me any 'suggested' messages I might send to Korath?" Grey asked.               "Something to put him in a better mood."
       "As a matter of fact..." the communications officer started, then stopped when he saw Grey's expression.
        "Very well," Grey said, "send him something friendly, something that means we aren't going to start any trouble and are confident he knows of our good will. And congratulate him on his promotion to commodore."
       "As you say, Sir," Ensign Rollins answered. "Perhaps he will congratulate you on your promotion to fleet captain?"
       "Don't bet on that," Lieutenant Katsunaga said.
       "When we get there, Katsunaga," Grey said evenly, "keep an eye on the Klingon ship. I'm not worried about Korath doing something to show off or show us up. He can have all of that he wants. I just need to know if he arms weapons."
       "Very well, Fleet Captain," Lieutenant Katsunaga said.
       "There is something else," Commander Barretta said. She was new on the ship, as the XO, and had been running combat simulations on the emergency bridge the last time Grey was in his chair. She was in training to take over another cruiser sometime next year. "The Romulans are also sending a ship, a brand new SparrowHawk."
        "What?" Grey sputtered. "Romulans? All the way over here? Why? They're coming a long way from home just to sightsee."
       "The Diplomatic Corps says that is just what they're doing," she answered. "Sightseeing ‹ or rather, scientific research. It is plausible. This is a unique stellar event, they have new ships they want to show off, and they've been known to visit the Klingons now and then. The Diplomatic Corps says it is working out a protocol for the situation and will send that within the hour."
       "This just keeps getting better," Grey muttered. "Anybody else showing up for this party? Maybe a Gorn or a Lyran? Anybody at all? How about a space dragon? That would really add some ‹ fire ‹ to the festivities."
        "No one else," she said with a sigh. "From the looks of it, nobody is sending more than one ship. One ship can gather just as much science data as 10 ships, and a whole bunch of ships right on top of the Tholian border is going to be ... tedious. I would venture that the Tholians are already sending a stern note of protest about so many foreign ships that close to the border."
       "Fewer ships also reduce the risk," Lieutenant Aarie said.
       "Risk?" Grey asked. "What risk? Aren't we just supposed to go look at this star and record ... something."
       "No one has ever seen a star do this before," she said. "We have no idea what else might happen. The star might explode, give off radiation, turn into a black hole or a pulsar, or maybe do something we don't even know stars can do. We didn't know until today that a star could do this, after all."
       "Better and better," Grey said. "When the Old Kings show up, would somebody let me know? In the meantime, I'm going to the wardroom for something to eat."

Bridge, Tholian Heavy Cruiser Antrex, an Hour Later
       "What?" Captain Lorexxt asked. "Read that again?"
       "It's a message from the Federation Diplomatic Corps," Communications Worker Jex said, reading aloud from his screen.        "Notice to all ships. The Federation cruiser Excalibur, the Klingon cruiser Devastator, and the Romulan cruiser Formidable constitute a joint scientific research squadron designed to collect and share scientific data on the unique stellar phenomenon at coordinates ‹ well,  here. The three cruisers are operating as scientific, not military vessels. All data collected will be sent to all interested parties including the Tholian Assembly. All ships will fully cooperate with the Tholian Assembly regarding navigational issues. To repeat, this is a scientific, not military, operation. Any questions can be directed to this office."
       "It would seem they have resolved their differences," Weapons Worker Baxx said.
       "How little you know of these organics," Captain Lorexxt laughed. "Some diplomats far away exchanged a few memos and created this 'joint expedition' but the captains are still military men who do not trust each other, or us. Opportunities abound, should we need them. Get me the files on all of these captains. Weren't Korath and Grey both in that fight with the Juggernaut a few weeks ago?"
       "They were," Communications Worker Jex said. "Their files are already on your panel. Korath hates Grey and will take any chance to kill him."
        "Very useful, Worker Jex," Lorexxt said.
       "And Romulans are coming?" Baxx asked.
        "Apparently," Lorexxt said. "We did get a report of a Romulan ship moving deep into the Neutral Zone, but no one suspected they were sending it here. Not that they wouldn't have to be within a few hundred parsecs if they were visiting the Klingons."
       "The Federation ship is coming into range," Jex said.

Bridge, Klingon D7 Devastator
       "Does the message say who is in command of this 'joint scientific research squadron' or did they leave that vague?" Korath asked. Diplomats loved vague memos that meant whatever the reader wanted them to mean. When everyone figured out that the agreement they negotiated meant nothing, soldiers paid in blood for the vagueness.
       "The memorandum," Junior Lieutenant Xenost replied, "notes that you are the senior officer present and are to 'coordinate the actions of the ships on the scene.' It is jointly signed by the Federation, Romulan, and Klingon science divisions. It is not a military directive, of course, because that would upset the Tholians and technically, it does not apply to them. For all purposes, the Federation and Romulans have agreed to you being in command."
       "Very well," Korath said. "Tactical display!"
       The scene switched to a close-scale view of the situation, showing the star, the Tholian and Klingon ships, and direction from which the Federation ship was approaching.
       "You," Korath snarled at the helmsman.
       "Lieutenant Korm, Sir," he replied. "Junior watch officer." The actual navigator was in auxiliary control, where Korm normally served. The weapons officer had been sent to the emergency bridge, and Kyrolian occupied that chair.
       "Move us to ... here," he indicated on the screen by manipulating the cursor. "That keeps us away from the Tholian and gives the Federation adequate space to take an equal station." You cannot complain about that, Grey. No one will say I dishonored you by a lesser station.
       "You," Korath snarled, indicating the communications officer.
       "Junior Lieutenant Xenost," the Dunkar female replied.
       "Send a message to Grey directing him to take station at the point I am indicating." He slid his cursor to a point where the three ships would form an equilateral triangle around the star. "And warn him to keep his forward shields fully reinforced and his weapons systems off line. Make sure that the Tholians get a copy of that message."

Bridge, Federation Command Cruiser Excalibur
       "Make the signal 'Understood,' Ensign Rollins," Grey said, trying to sound nonchalant. "Katsunaga, we have our 'orders' from the 'squadron commander' so be snappy about putting us exactly where he told us to be." Arrogant bastard, Grey thought. Damned Diplomatic Corps. They probably think that putting Korath in command is going to look good to ... somebody who doesn't matter ... at some cocktail party ... next year.
        "Nothing to stress about," Commander Barretta said. "He's just playing traffic cop. He sent you to the spot you would have taken anyway."
        "I know that," Grey said, more abruptly than he intended. It's just bloody annoying to have to take orders from that bellicose little fool. "Lieutenant Tazhurta, spin up a probe drone. Lieutenant Aarie, go ahead and launch a probe toward the star. Let's start collecting this fleet science prize we came here for."
       The ship shook, just enough they could feel it, but not enough to actually matter.
       "Minor gravity wave from the star," Lieutenant Aarie said.
        "The shield reinforcement held," Tazhurta added.
       Whatever, Grey thought to himself.
       "Captain," Lieutenant Aarie said, "given the risk, may I recommend that Ensign Rollins send our data to Starbase Seven in data blocks every five minutes."
       "What? Oh, yes, risk," Grey said. That's all I need, the star to blow up and kill me and Korath. "Rollins, set up something automatic. Send it to the battle stations as well. What's the nearest ship?"
        "Destroyer Suleiman," Rollins said.
       "Add them to the address list," Grey said.




Back