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Captain Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise become involved in diplomatic negotiations with the Romulans in order to prevent war, but the peace talks are threatened by warring Romulan factions and by the presence of Ael, a Romulan renegade and wanted fugitive. Original.
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Diane Duane is the author of numerous science fiction and fantasy novels, amongst them the fan-favourite Star Trek titles DARK MIRROR and the 5-volume Rihannsu series of novels exploring the world of the Romulans (the first four volumes of which are now available as the omnibus THE BLOODWING VOYAGES 1416525777) released together with the fifth volume (THE EMPTY CHAIR 1416508910) in January 2007.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Sempach was one of a newer, experimental class of cruisers, the Constellation class, named in memory of Matt Decker's old ship that had been lost against the planet killer in the L-374 system not so very long ago. The class-name ship and Sempach had been the first out of the shipyards, with Speedwell close behind, and all of them were already busy performing their basic function -- trying out a new four-nacelle design that was supposed to provide starships with a more streamlined and reliable warp field, capable of higher speeds. The technology, referred to as "pre-transwarp" in some of the literature Jim had seen, was extremely interesting but technically somewhat difficult to understand, and Scotty had passed it on to his captain with a single comment: "Rubbish." Nonetheless, the technology seemed so far to be working all right, and the design crews had plainly been busy elsewhere too: the ship was very handsome from the outside, with a lean and rakish look to her. As the transporter effect wore off, Jim looked around Sempach's transporter room, surprised at its size and its somewhat nonutilitarian look; there was even a small lounge area off to one side, with comfortable seating. Kind of overdone, Jim thought as he greeted the transporter technician at the console and then raised an eyebrow at himself. She's affecting me. Still, it'd be nice not having to stand around waiting for visiting dignitaries to arrive.
The transporter room doors opened, and Commodore Danilov came in, looking much as he had when Jim had last seen him in San Francisco: a brawny man of medium height, dark with a combination of Polynesian and eastern European blood, the dark hair going silver-shot now above a broad, round face, surprisingly unlined for someone of his age.
"Sir," Jim said, "you hardly had to come down here to meet me..."
The commodore gave him a wry look out of his sharp dark eyes as they shook hands. "Captain," Danilov said, "I'm still learning to find my way around this ship. I know I could have sent a lieutenant for you, but they get lost too. Come on."
They went off down the corridors together, the commodore making his way quickly enough despite his disclaimer. Jim's feelings about his superior officers ranged from the respectful to the occasionally scandalous, but here was one man in whose case he came down hard on the respectful side: twenty-five years in Starfleet, the kind of officer who flew a ship or a desk with equal skill -- though he fought them more often than he simply flew them. Danilov's experience and effectiveness in battle had become legendary; in particular, he had probably scored more points during the last big war with the Klingons than any other commander except Captain Suvuk of Intrepid, until the Organians blew the whistle and stopped play. Jono Danilov had that invaluable commodity for a commander, a reputation for luck: he always seemed to come out only slightly scorched from any trouble he got into, no matter how the trouble seemed to seek him out -- and it did.
"She's a fine ship," he said to Jim as they turned a corner, "a little fidgety at first, but she's settled in nicely now. Fleet's pleased: they're already flying the keels for the two new ones -- Stargazer and Hathaway."
Jim nodded. "She's a real lady, Commodore. And she still has that new-ship smell."
"I want to keep it that way for a while," Danilov said, shooting Jim a look, "and avoid getting things all scorched and smoky. The question is, will I be able to."
He came to a door without a label and waved it open. Danilov's quarters were considerably bigger than Jim's on Enterprise, and the office was also a lot more spacious. "Palatial," Jim said. "Rank hath its privileges."
"Hardly. This is the standard captain's cabin for this model. Sit down, Jim, please. Can I offer you a brandy?"
"Thank you, Dan, yes."
He went over to a glass-doored cupboard and got it, and Jim sat looking around him for the moment at the furnishings, as spare as most field personnel's, but still individual: on the desk, a sleek, round old Inuit soapstone sculpture of a bear; a good amateur watercolor of the Ten-Thousand-Step Stair in misty weather, hanging on the wall behind the desk along with a brace of latoun-inlaid "snapdragon" flintlocks from Altair VI; a shaggy blue tree-pelt from Castaneda draped over the back and seat of the high-backed chair behind the desk.
Danilov handed Jim the drink in a heavy-bottomed crystal glass and seated himself. "Viva," he said, lifting his glass.
"Cheers," Jim said, and sipped.
They sat appreciating the drinks for a few seconds, but no more. "So," Danilov said, "tell me about this little engagement you had here."
"Little!" Jim gave him a look. "Seven ships against two, sir; not my kind of odds. And circumstances were less than ideal."
"It would have been seven against one," Danilov said, "had things gone strictly by the book."
"They didn't," Jim said, "because I used some latitude in construing the orders that Fleet had specifically given me."
"Might I inquire about the reasons, Jim?" Danilov asked. "Or was it just on general principle?"
"I had a hunch."
Danilov let out a long breath. "No arguing with those," he said after a moment. "They've saved both our lives often enough before now."
"And it turns out to have been a good thing, in retrospect. It proves I was correct to be concerned about leaks of information from -- " Even now Jim could hardly bring himself to say "Starfleet." "From Earth."
Dan sat back and looked at him. "No one but Fleet should have known where Bloodwing was going to be, or when," Jim said, "and regardless, there were seven Romulan vessels waiting for us there, cloaked. If Ael had been on site when originally scheduled, she would be dead now."
"Not a captive?"
"I doubt it. No one offered us the opportunity to surrender her. They just attacked."
"Your presence there might have affected their plans."
"That's occurred to me. But it doesn't matter, Dan. Bloodwing's commander wouldn't have allowed herself to be taken alive. She would have fought until her ship was destroyed to prevent the Sword, or herself, falling into their hands."
"You're sure of that?"
"You're sure," Danilov said, looking steadily at Jim, "that your thinking on this particular subject is clear?"
"Dan," Jim said, nettled, "'this particular subject' is a non-subject. My 'thinking' as regards Commander t'Rllaillieu is clear enough for my first officer, who is something of an expert on the clarity of thought, and my CMO, who is something of an expert on humans in general, and me in particular." Danilov's gaze dropped. "The commander is a courageous and sometimes brilliant officer who, at the cost of her own career, sought us out and gave us valuable information which kept the balance of power from being irreparably destroyed. If the effectiveness of that intervention has been rendered short-lived by subsequent events, well, such things happen. If one of us had done the things she's done, he or she would have been loaded down with enough decorations to make the wearer fall face forward on trying to stand. But because she's from an unfriendly power, no one seems willing to take what she's done at face value."
There was a short silence. "The point is," Danilov said, "she's a Romulan. And Romulans plot."
Jim got up and started to pace. "Dan, with all due respect, you know as well as I do why you were so glad to get away from that desk in San Francisco. Politics! Romulans have politics just as we do, though possibly in a more complex mode. But this time, politics is failing, as it sometimes does, to keep this culture's internal conflicts from erupting into a war that affects others outside it. Including us. And we still have a problem at our end, because somehow very detailed information about our reactions to this situation is leaking out of Starfleet and getting to the Romulans -- going straight to where it can do the most harm." Jim paused and gripped the back of his chair, leaning on it. "Something has to be done, and fast. Otherwise, when hostilities do break out, we're going to be in serious trouble."
Danilov sat back. "Your concern," he said, "is noted and logged."
"Which reassures me. But what's being done about it?"
Danilov just looked at him for a moment. "Jim, I can't discuss it."
Which meant he either knew something was being done, or knew that nothing was. "It's going to impair our conduct of this operation," Jim said, "if our personnel can't be sure that details of where they'll be aren't being piped straight through to the people who're going to be shooting at them."
"You leave the conduct of the operation with me," Danilov said, "since that's where Starfleet has placed it." The look he gave Jim implied that even enduring comradeship would not be allowed to interfere with some things.
Jim let the pause stretch out. "Yes, sir."
Danilov let out a long breath and reached out to pick up the smooth gray soapstone bear, turning it over in his hands. "Aside from that for the moment, Jim, message traffic has become an issue. It's way, way up on the Romulan side. We don't even need to be able to read those messages to know that a massive mobilization is under way, and to understand perfectly well where it's pointing."
"Lieutenant Uhura tells me that Starfleet message traffic has also been reaching unusual levels," Jim said, sitting down again.
Danilov nodded. "Yes. With that in mind, we're carrying some material for you that Starfleet didn't want to send out through the ether. Strategy briefings, general intelligence from inside the Imperium...other information."
"They are afraid that some of our codes have been broken."
Danilov put the bear back down on his desk. "Yes. Some have been allowed to go 'stale' on purpose, for use when we want traffic to be intercepted. We've hand carried in two new encryption systems for you; all the rest of the ships in the task force have them already. You're to have your science o...
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