Check out our latest Fleet Action!


Mortal Temples

The crew of the Challenger is sent to negotiate a partnership with the people of Antalla V

Mortal Temples – 1

USS Cernan NCC-92421/1
July 2401

The sweet scent of jumja tea filled Taro Niya’s nostrils as she lifted the cup and the plate of buttered toast from the replicator. They never got the Bajoran tea quite right, but it was a close enough approximation that Niya still enjoyed multiple cups throughout the day. She carried her breakfast to a nearby table where fellow Bajoran, Nybor Laan, was already seated.

“What’re you reading?” Niya asked, nodding at the PADD in Nybor’s hand as she slid into the seat opposite and placed her cup and plate in front of her. Nybor held out the PADD so she could see the title. “Richard II?”

Nybor nodded. “Captain Rix recommended it.”

“I’ve never understood the human fascination with Shakespeare,” Niya said.

“Neither have I,” Nybor agreed. “I can think of half a dozen writers who are better.” He set the PADD down. “I don’t dislike his plays, but I just don’t rate them as highly as others.” He shrugged his shoulders and added, “Maybe because they speak to something in the human condition, you and I will never understand.”

Niya considered that as he chewed slowly on a piece of toast. “So, how do you explain Rix’s fascination?”

“Poor taste?” Nybor shot back with a wry grin. He took a sip from his almost empty mug of coffee and looked around the small mess hall. “Where’s Henry?”

“He decided to skip breakfast,” Niya replied darkly. “I can’t say I blame him.”

Nybor let out a sigh. “Today must be really difficult for him.”

“Today’s difficult for who?” Lieutenant Marchand asked as he joined them.

“Henry,” Niya replied before clarifying.”Doctor Young.”

Marchand rolled his eyes. “Is he still crying about his husband dying?”

Niya was astonished but not surprised at Marchand’s callousness and how casually it flowed from him. In the short time she’d known him, Elias Marchand had proven himself incredibly insensitive; Taro would even describe him as heartless. She had yet to figure out whether it was intentional or not.

“Have some compassion,” Niya shot back. “The man lost his husband less than a year ago. Today would’ve been their wedding anniversary.”

The mission’s Chief Tactical and Security Officer greedily shovelled scrambled eggs into his mouth. “And don’t we know it? It’s all he’s talked about for the past three weeks. The guy died months ago. Young needs to get over it.”

“How, exactly, is he supposed to ‘get over’ losing the love of his life?” Nybor asked.

Marchand shrugged nonchalantly. “Simple. The best way to get over someone is to get-”

“I’m begging you not to finish that sentence,” Niya held up a hand to stop him.

“You’re a pig,” Nybor added, his voice dripping with scorn.

Marchand looked genuinely confused at Nybor’s remark and innocently asked, “What?”

Niya’s reply died on her lips when the familiar chirp of the comm system echoed through the mess hall. “Senior officers report to duty stations.

The three officers jumped from their seats, their breakfasts forgotten and their conversation. Niya was never so happy to be summoned to the bridge.

Antonia Carerra was a morning person and had been for as long as she could remember. While others could languish in bed for hours, Carerra needed to be up and doing something once she was awake. It wasn’t unusual to see her wander onto the bridge forty minutes before the beginning of her shift.

“Good morning, Captain,” The Officer of the Watch, Lieutenant Saju, quickly vacated the command chair.

Commanding the Cernan for the past few weeks had been a nice change of pace, but Antonia was looking forward to returning to her regular duties upon their return to the Challenger, which was due to happen in a little more than ten hours. 

“Anything to report, Lieutenant?”

“We detected a group of previously unencountered cozmozoans about five hours ago,” the young woman replied with a tired smile. “I took us as close as possible without spooking them.”

Carerra would have done the same thing, and she was already itching to take a look at the data Saju collected on these cozmozoans, but she managed to play it cool for now.

“Good work,” Carerra smiled. “I look forward to reading the reports.”

“Otherwise, it was a quiet-”

An alarm coming from the tactical console interrupted them, drawing their attention. “Captain, we’re receiving an automated distress signal.”

“Can you locate the source of the signal?” Antonia asked, immediately assuming command.

The duty tactical officer studied his console. “It’s coming from the third planet in the Morar system, bearing zero-three-three mark zero-six-zero.”

“Helm, alter course for the Morar system and increase speed to warp eight.”  Antonia settled in the command chair and opened a shipwide comm channel, “Senior officers report to duty stations.”

It didn’t take long for the senior bridge officers to arrive, one of the benefits of the smaller Aquarius-class escort compared to her much larger Odyssey-class mothership. They quickly relieved their Delta shift counterparts while Antonia brought them up to speed and set them to work.

“We’re approaching Morar III, Captain.” Lieutenant da Costa reported. Almost ninety minutes had passed since they’d received the distress call. 

Antonia pushed herself from her chair and came to stand behind da Costa. While command had never been a goal for Antonia, she liked to constantly challenge herself, and when this particular challenge was presented to her, it had proven impossible to resist. 

“Slow to impulse, Lieutenant,” Carerra ordered. She looked over at Thera zh’Vosia, who was her chief science officer on this mission. “Any sign of the ship that sent the distress call?”

The bridge fell silent as they waited for zh’Vosia to respond. “Negative.” The science officer replied. “But I’ve found the beacon transmitting the distress signal.” The viewscreen changed to show a metallic object resembling a probe in orbit of the planet.

“We should bring it aboard,” Taro suggested, “and deactivate the distress signal.”

Antonia nodded in agreement. “Lieutenant da Costa, take us into tractor beam range,” she ordered. “Mister Marchand, lock on a tractor beam and bring the beacon aboard.”

With the crew around her working seamlessly together, the distress beacon was safely secured inside the Cernan’s cargo bay, and Lieutenant Commander Nybor left the bridge to study the device and deactivate it.

“Captain, I’m detecting a large quantity of debris on the surface of Morar III,” zh’Vosia reported.

Antonia’s heart sank. “Is it the ship we’re looking for?”

“I believe it is,” zh’Vosia replied. “The materials in the debris match those used in the construction of the beacon. The wreckage is scattered over a wide area. It suggests the ship broke apart during atmospheric entry.”

Antonia already knew the answer but asked the question anyway; she needed zh’Vosia to confirm it. “Survivors?”

“I’m not detecting any life signs on the planet.” zh’Vosia announced sadly.

They were too late. They may have been too late before they’d even received the distress signal. The thought had occurred to Antonia, but she’d pushed it out of her mind, holding on to hope that they would arrive in time to save lives, but that wasn’t to be.

“Captain,” da Costa began, interrupting Antonia’s thoughts, “I’m picking up a faint ion trail leading away from the planet. It looks like someone tried to mask their trail but hasn’t done a very good job.”

Did this ion trail belong to survivors? Or did it indicate something more sinister? There was only one way to find out. “Yellow alert,” Antonia ordered. “Mister da Costa, plot a course to follow that ion trail and take us to full impulse.”

“Full impulse, aye,” da Costa replied instinctively.

The Cernan set off in search of the ion trail’s source. The Morar system had ten planets, each with at least one moon. Plenty of places to hide. Searching for them would be like hunting for a needle in a haystack if they figured out how to properly mask their ion trail.

Five minutes became ten, which became twenty. Thirty minutes later, the Cernan had followed the ion trail to the fifth moon of the Morar VII where they found a small courier ship adrift.

“I’m not detecting any power signatures,” zh’Vosia reported. “Life support is offline, and CO2 levels are reaching critical levels.”

Antonia leaned forward. “Lifesigns?”

“One, but it’s very weak.”

There was no time to waste. “Bridge to transporter room. Lock onto the life sign onboard the nearby ship and beam them directly to sickbay.”

Aye, Captain,” The transporter chief replied. Antonia could hear Commander Taro telling sickbay to prepare for an incoming casualty. Seconds passed before the transporter chief reported, “Transport complete. We have him.

Antonia hoped they had arrived in time to save at least one life, but that was out of her hands. Doctor Young and his team would work as hard as they could to save the stranger’s life.

“Lieutenant Marchand, lock a tractor beam onto that ship and take it under tow,” Antonia ordered. “Commander Taro, you have the bridge.” She started towards the door. “I’ll be in sickbay.”

Mortal Temples – 2

USS Challenger NCC-92421
July 2401

Matthias Bentley closed his eyes and tilted his head towards the sun. The heat felt good on his skin. He inhaled deeply, the scent of the ocean filling his nostrils. The familiar soundtrack of waves crashing on a nearby beach soothed his weary soul. Surrounded by the familiar sounds and smells of the ocean, Matthias felt at peace. He could forget this was all a simulation for a few fleeting moments.

Glancing to his right, Captain Tarven Rix sat astride his surfboard, looking out at the horizon, where the ocean met the sky. This had become a daily ritual for both men over the past month, visiting the holodeck first thing in the morning and spending an hour surfing or swimming. There was something different about the Captain this morning; tension radiated from him.

“Everything okay?” Matthias asked.

Rix’s shoulder sagged as he sighed heavily. “Just worried about our negotiations with the Antallans.”


“I’m an engineer, not a diplomat,” Rix replied. “I’ve never led a negotiation like this before.”

Mattias smiled. “Plenty of Captains have next to no diplomatic experience when they first take command. You’ll be fine.”

“They don’t have a Commodore breathing down their neck and a First Officer willing them to fail,” Rix replied.

Paranoia wasn’t a trait Matthais attributed to Captain Rix. “Captain Axelrod is not willing you to fail.”

“Yes, he is,” Rix replied emphatically. “Axelrod wants to command the Challenger, and I’m in the way.”

“You’re being paranoid,” Matthias replied with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. Axelrod was a humourless toady who was far too boring to be capable of the deviousness that Rix was attributing to him.

Rix shook his head. “I’m not.”

“Axelrod doesn’t have the necessary command experience,” Matthias reassured him. “He’s a bureaucrat who’s more interested in the trappings of command than actually, y’know, leading. I’d be surprised if he lasts another six months before the Commodore realises her mistake.” He studied Rix’s features and could see the worry etched on his face. “Has Wyatt given you any reason to think she doubts your abilities?”


“Then what are you worried about?”

Rix scrubbed a hand over his face. “Axelrod was her staff officer for years, he’s her creature. He has her ear, and I’m pretty sure he’s whispering poison into it.”

“I don’t think you reach the rank of Commodore by being easily manipulated by stuffed shirts like Axelrod,” Matthias said. 

From the look on his face, Rix remained unconvinced. “He managed to talk her into making him XO.”

“We don’t know Axelrod had any hand in that,” Matthias pointed out. “Besides, aren’t you and Wyatt old friends? Can’t you talk to her about this?”

“That was a long time ago,” Rix replied as his gaze returned to the horizon. “Another life.”

“Jorell Rix, right?” Matthias asked.

Rix nodded slowly. “My fourth host. I still remember the day a fresh-faced Ensign Elizabeth Wyatt reported on board.” A wistful smile pulled at his lips as he lost himself in memories. “Beth was a promising young science officer who was so eager to explore the universe.” The smile slowly faded.

“What happened?”

“War happened,” Rix replied somberly. “First with the Klingons and then the Dominion. It changed her; it changed everyone.”

Matthias sighed. He’d still been at the Academy during the war, but even he hadn’t escaped its effects. The Breen assault on Starfleet Command had left its mark on many young cadets. “War does that to people,” He said. “But if you have concerns about Axelrod, you should talk to her.”

“She’d call me paranoid and laugh me out of the room,” Rix told him.

Matthias quickly shot back wryly, “I can’t imagine why she’d do a thing like that.”

“Remind me why Forrester puts up with you?” Rix asked jokingly.

It had taken weeks before the mere mention of his missing boyfriend’s name no longer brought Matthais to tears. Forrester had disappeared without a trace during a mission on Janea II. They’d searched for a month, following one lead after another, all leading to dead ends. Despite all that, Matthais still believed Thomas Forrester was alive and that he would find his way home.

“I have certain skills that he finds very useful,” Matthias replied with a grin.

Rix snorted and muttered, “I’ll bet he does.”

“I dunno where your mind went to,” Matthias shot back feigning innocence, “but I was talking about my diplomatic skills.”

Rix wasn’t buying his innocent act. “Uh-huh. I’m sure he values your diplomatic skills a great deal.” The moment of levity, while welcome, didn’t last. “If these negotiations fail-”

“They’re not going to fail,” Matthias told him firmly. “You’re not going to fail.”

“You sound pretty sure.”

“I am,” Matthias replied simply. “Because I, and many others, have your back. We won’t let you fail.”

Matthias could see the gratitude written across Rix’s features. “Thanks, Matt. You have no idea how much that means to me.” Rix took a deep breath through his nose and let it out through his mouth. “If I’m going to succeed, I’ll be relying heavily on you.”

“Whatever you need,” Matthias told him earnestly.

Rix smiled warmly. “How about you brief me on these negotiations?”

“The Antallans are a humanoid race native to Antalla V,” Matthias replied, reciting the information he’d read in the briefing materials sent by the diplomatic corps. “Like most civilisations in this region, they spent centuries under Dominion rule. The Antalla system is rich in dilithium and magnesite, which the Dominion used slave and prison labour to mine.”

“And the Antallans want to reopen the mines?”

A gentle breeze washed over Matthais’ wet skin, leaving him with a pleasant tingle. “Without the slave labour this time. The Antallans want to kick-start their economy. Mining these valuable resources to trade and the paying jobs that come with that are important parts of their plan.”

“We’re to negotiate some sort of partnership?”

Matthias nodded. “They’re looking for partners to help them and provide ongoing engineering support.”

“What do we get out of it?”

“A share of the dilithium and magnesite they mine. How big that share is will form a central part of these negotiations,” Matthias replied. “They also want to hold preliminary meetings about a wider trade deal with the Federation.”

“Why isn’t an ambassador being sent to conduct these negotiations?” Rix asked, his frustration clear in his tone. “Or a representative from the diplomatic corps?”

“The diplomatic corps in the Gamma Quadrant is stretched thin,” Matthias told him.

The sound of the holodeck’s doors opening drew their attention, with both men craning their necks to see who their visitor was. They were greeted by the sight of Captain Axelrod walking on the ocean’s surface like a modern-day Jesus Christ in a Starfleet uniform; if Jesus were boring, had gone soft around the middle, and was rapidly balding.

“Walking on water’s quite a trick, Captain,” Matthias joked, squinting against the light from the sun. “Do you do others ’cause I’m parched and could use a glass of wine?”

“It’s zero-seven fifteen,” Axelrod replied humourlessly.

Matthis looked up at the First Officer, “Yeah, but it’s five o’clock somewhere.”

Axelrod’s scowl amused Matthias, and he had to control the urge to laugh loudly in the First Officer’s face. “Sir, we’ve received a message from Governor-general Neema.”

Rix looked at Matthias with a questioning look who answered, “She’s the King’s representative on the Antalla VI colony. The Governor-General basically runs the colony on the King’s behalf.”

“The Antallans still have a monarchy? You left that part out of your briefing,” Rix said before quickly adding, “It’s the twenty-fifth century, not the fifteenth.”

Matthias had spent the past few days studying the briefing materials provided by the diplomatic corps. “The Antallans were ruled by King Lesta XI when the Dominion occupation began,” he explained. “He was executed but his children were hidden away. A secret society was formed to protect and track the royal bloodline so that the monarchy could be restored when they were finally free of the Dominion.”

“I’m surprised they managed to keep a secret society from Dominion internal security,” Rix said. “We know how effective they can be.”

Annoyance radiated from Captain Axelrod, no doubt because he was being forced to listen to this history lesson. The more Axelrod got annoyed, shifting his weight from one foot to another or clearing his voice, the more it amused Matthias.

“Apparently,” Matthias replied with a shrug. “In the power vacuum created by the Dominion’s withdrawal, the society convinced the people that restoring the monarchy was right for them given the mess left behind by the Dominion. King Parth II was crowned less than three months after the last Dominion ship left.”

“And that’s who we’re meeting with?” Rix asked.

Matthias shook his head. “King Parth was killed in a shuttle accident three years ago. We’ll be meeting with his cousin, King Deo IX.”

“Which ones the Yorkist and which the Lancastrian?” 

Matthias rolled his eyes. “You read too much Shakespeare.”

“Or maybe you don’t read enough,” Rix shot back quickly.

Their banter was interrupted by Axelrod loudly clearing his throat. “Sir, if we can get back to the Governor-General’s request?”

“Did her message say why she wants to meet?” Rix asked, turning back to Axelrod.

Captain Axelrod stood stiffly beside Rix’s board. “No, sir. Just that she’s asking for fifteen minutes of your time.”

Rix looked over to Matthais, “What do you think?”

“Inform the Governor-General that Captain Rix won’t be available to meet with her,” Matthias told Alexrod.

“I don’t believe I was talking to you, Commander,” Axelrod sneered.

Rix quickly ordered, “Do as Commander Bentley says, and send the Governor-General my apologies.”

“Aye, sir,” Axelrod glared at Matthias, and once more, he had to resist the urge to laugh in the First Officer’s face.

Only once Axelrod had left, and the arch disappeared again did Rix ask, “Why can’t I meet with the Governor-general?”

“Diplomatic protocol,” Matthias replied.

Rix nodded slowly. “See what I mean? No diplomatic skills or knowledge whatsoever.”

“Don’t worry,” Matthias replied. “Before these negotiations are over, I’ll have you so well versed in diplomatic protocol, you could put Admiral Picard to shame.”

Rix laughed, and for that brief moment, he seemed less tense. He raised his hands and looked at his fingers. “We’re starting to resemble prunes. Let’s get out of here and start our day.”

“You go ahead,” Matthias told him. “I’m gonna stay here a little longer.”

Closing his eyes again, Matthias turned his face to the sun, revelling in the feeling of the sun on his face. For a few minutes, he believed that all this was real, that he was back on Earth surrounded by the sounds and smells of the ocean. 

He was at peace here and wanted to enjoy that feeling for a few minutes more. 

Mortal Temples – 3

USS Cernan NCC-92421/1
July 2401

They looked so happy. They were happy—newlyweds on their honeymoon, imagining a long life together. They had no idea of what was to come, no idea that one of them would have his life cruelly snuffed out on an away mission, leaving the other behind to grieve and try and build a life different from the one they’d imagined.

“I miss you,” Young whispered at the image of his late husband.

Henry Young lowered the photograph to his chest, holding it against his heart as tears rolled down the side of his face. It had been ten months since Dujan Young’s death, but the wound still felt as open and fresh as when he’d first heard the news.

Commander Taro had stopped by on her way to the mess hall, as she did every morning, but Young had sent her on without him. He wasn’t hungry and couldn’t face all the piteous looks he would draw. At least once he reported for duty, he could hide away in his tiny office for most of his shift.

Senior officers report to your duty stations.”

With a heavy sigh, Young rolled to one side and pushed himself off the bed. He dressed hastily before charging out the door to make the quick journey to sickbay. The handover was well underway when Doctor Young arrived. Their only patient this morning was Ensign Granger, a young man with an unfortunate tendency to consult the medical database to diagnose every minor symptom, turning them into some unfortunate malady.

“Good morning.” 

Doctor Philipson’s normally cheery tone was more cautious this morning as if she was afraid of setting him off. He could see the look of pity in her eyes. It was a look he’d become very familiar with these past few months and one he was very tired of. Henry wondered how long it would be before people stopped seeing him as the poor grieving widower.

“Good morning,” Young returned her greeting with a forced, tight-lipped smile. “Any idea what’s going on?”

“None,” Philipson told him with an air of frustration. “You know how it works; we’re the last to know anything.”

Young rubbed his face. “Okay,” he said, “let’s get the handover done, then wait for whatever comes next.”

The handover was brief this morning. Other than Ensign Granger, there were no other current patients, and there had only been one visitor to sickbay overnight, a Petty Officer who stubbed his toe. With the handover complete, Doctor Young retreated to the solace of his office and started working his way through the paperwork that awaited him.

Taro to Young,” The voice of the mission’s XO broke the silence in his office. “We’re beaming a patient directly to sickbay.

Henry tapped his commbadge as he shot out of his seat. “What can you tell me?”

Not much.” Came the rather unhelpful reply. “Just that CO2 levels on his ship are reaching dangerous levels.

It was better than nothing Henry supposed. “Understood. Young out.” He appeared at the door of his office and announced, “Let’s get prepped for incoming.”

Henry wasn’t sure how long his team worked on the patient that was beamed in. Once the stranger’s condition was stabilised, Henry was handed a PADD with the results of some medical scans on it. He studied it closely, his first look at the biology of a race he’d never encountered before.

“How is he?”

Henry’s head snapped up to find Commander Carerra standing several feet away. He checked the details on the PADD a final time before handing it off and approaching the Captain. “Stable,” Henry replied. “He was suffering from cerebral hypoxia when he arrived and had first-degree plasma burns on his hand. We’ve managed to bring his oxygen levels back to normal and have treated his burns with a dermaline gel.”

“Has he suffered any lasting damage?”

As he led Carerra to the patient’s bedside, Henry explained, “All my scans indicate no long-term brain injuries from his exposure to dangerously high levels of CO2. We’re lucky we got to him when we did.”

“Can I speak to him?”

Henry had been expecting this question. Naturally, he was curious about his patient and wanted to learn more. But he also had a duty to his patient, a duty he took incredibly seriously. He wasn’t about to wake the patient if he thought it risked making his condition worse. A glance at the stranger’s vital signs indicated it would be safe to allow the Captain a short conversation, “I’ll give you five minutes.” 

Henry returned to his patient with Carerra at his side. Once he was satisfied that he wouldn’t be in pain when he woke, Henry pressed a hypospray against the stranger’s neck and activated it. He roused slowly, to begin with, but woke with a start and immediately tried to push himself up.

“Easy,” Henry placed a firm hand on the patient’s shoulder and pushed him back onto the biobed. “You’re safe.”

The patient looked around, his eyes wide with fear. I’d probably feel the same in his shoes, Henry mused. If I was surrounded by unfamiliar faces in an unfamiliar room. He glanced at the biobed’s readout. An elevated heart rate was to be expected.

“Where am I?”

Carerra leaned forward. “You’re aboard the Federation Starship Cernan.

“My ship,” The patient tried to get up again, only to be pushed gently, but firmly, back by Henry once more.

“Your ship is safe,” Carerra assured him. “We’ve taken it under tow. Once you’ve fully recovered, my engineers can help you make repairs.” Henry continued to monitor his patient’s vital signs as Carerra asked, “What’s your name?”

The stranger eyed them warily, before finally answering, “Evin.”

“Can you tell us what happened, Evin?” Carerra asked.

“I was attacked,” He told them. “By pirates.”

In the few months they’d spent in the Gamma Quadrant, the crew of the Challenger had learned that the Dominion’s withdrawal from the Riada Sector allowed pirates, mercenaries and assorted other criminal elements to take control of small pockets of the region, and were using that foothold to expand their operations.

“By the ship that crashed on the third planet.” It was less a question than a statement but Evin nodded to confirm. “Why did they attack you?”

Evin frowned. “I’m a courier. They wanted my cargo. I told them my cargo bay was empty, but they didn’t believe me. They ordered me to prepare to be boarded, so I ran.” His frown deepened. “I just wasn’t fast enough.” He pushed himself slowly into a sitting position despite Henry’s objections. “I’d like to start making repairs on my ship right away.”

“Doctor Young is in charge here,” Carerra told him with a friendly smile. “You get to leave when he says so.”

Henry smiled at the way Evin turned expectantly to him, his eyes not unlike those of a puppy begging for a treat. He surprised himself by thinking how adorable he looked. Henry quickly gave himself a mental shake and banished the thought. 

“I want to keep you here for a little longer for observation, and the dermaline gel we’ve applied to your burns needs time to work its magic.”

Evin huffed. “Very well.”

“If you can provide us with the coordinates of your homeworld, we can lay in a course and return you and your ship.”

Evin’s expressive features darkened. “My ship is my home,” He replied, in what sounded like a well-rehearsed answer. “There’s a spaceport two days’ travel from here. If it’s not too much trouble, you can drop me off there, though hopefully, we can make sufficient repairs to my ship so that I won’t drag you too far out of your way.”

“If you provide us with the coordinates, we’ll set a course,” Carerra told him. 

Evin gave Carerra the spaceport’s coordinates and thanked her again. The brief darkness that passed over him was gone now, replaced by gratitude for his rescue. Henry forced yet another smile before he moved away from the biobed to allow Evin to rest. 

Carerra tapped her commbadge. “Carerra to bridge,” She began. “Take us to yellow alert and begin scanning for other vessels in the area.” 

Aye, Captain,” Taro replied immediately.

“You think the pirates who attacked him have friends in the area?” Henry asked.

Carerra considered the question, “Possibly. Their beacon was sending a distress signal to someone. I think we should be prepared in case someone else answers it.”

Henry nodded gravely before he stuck his hands in the pockets of his coat and returned to his office. He had only just sat down when he became aware of Carerra standing in the doorway. “Can I help you with something else, Captain?”

“Did you get dressed in the dark, Henry?” She asked with a lopsided smile.

Henry glanced at his reflection in the glass that separated his office from the rest of sickbay. His commbadge was askew, his hair stuck up at odd angles and his collar was missing it’s black pip. He looked like hell.

“Are you okay?” Carerra asked.

A good question. One he was asked at least once a day, usually more. The honest answer was that he felt…empty. Like part of him had died with Dujan. Henry wasn’t’ living anymore. He was just existing and even that was incredibly tiring. Not that he would admit any of that to Carerra, or anyone for that matter. That would guarantee him a one-way trip to regular counselling sessions, and he’d had more than enough of that.

“I’m okay,” He told her. Strictly speaking, it was the truth. He was ‘okay’, but that was about as good as it got these days.  

Carerra’s brown eyes watched him closely. “I know what it’s like to lose someone,” She told him. “My father was killed in the Battle of Sector zero-zero-one when I was eleven. If you ever need someone to talk to, you know where I am.”

“Thanks,” Henry replied, averting his gaze and picking up a random PADD from the stack in front of him. He held it up but he wasn’t reading, just looking at it and hoping Carerra got the hint.

Carerra tilted her head and smiled tenderly at Henry before saying goodbye and leaving him alone. That was how he really felt. That was how he’d felt ever since receiving the news of Dujan’s death; he felt alone.

Mortal Temples – 4

USS Challenger NCC-92421
July 2401

“The first time you address him, it’s ‘your majesty’ and ‘sir’ after that.”

Captain Tarven Rix marched through the Challenger’s corridors with Commander Bentley keeping pace beside him, providing a last-minute protocol briefing. Both men were attired in their dress uniforms and were en route to the transporter room, where they would greet King Deo IX and his senior advisors.

“Your majesty and sir,” Tarven muttered.

He could hear Bentley scrolling through the PADD in his hand. “And don’t forget to bow.”



Tarven let out an exasperated noise. “Anything else? Should I touch my forelock?”

“Couldn’t hurt.”

Tarven shot Bentley an irritated sideways look, only to find his CDO’s pale blue eyes twinkling with amusement. “You could at least pretend you’re not enjoying this.”

“You’d never believe that,” Bentely replied with a smirk.

Captain Axelrod was waiting in the transporter room when they arrived, his dress uniform hugging his ample frame. “The King’s already signalled, sir. He’s been waiting to beam up for a few minutes.”

“Well, we wouldn’t want to keep the King waiting for mere mortals like us,” Tarven had learned how to press Axelrod’s buttons, but the First Officer didn’t respond beyond a scowl as he turned to face the transporter platform. He followed suit and ordered, “Energise.”

The room was filled with the familiar deep hum of the transporter, followed by the high-pitched whine as three figures materialised on the transporter pad. King Deo was front and centre, looking resplendent in robes of deep purple made from a material that resembled silk. His raven black hair hung down to his shoulders, and he wore a diadem made of a gold-coloured material studded with various jewels and gems. He looked like he’d stepped straight out of the pages of Shakespeare.

“Your majesty,” Though he felt like an idiot, Tarven bowed as Bentely instructed. “Welcome aboard the Challenger.”

The King clasped his hands before him as he stepped from the transporter. “My thanks, Captain.” Deo’s beaming smile didn’t quite reach his eyes. “I hope our talks can mark the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership between our peoples.”

“I hope so too, sir,” Tarven replied.

The King quickly introduced his Chief Minister, Lord Jesaite, his Lord Treasurer, Lord Merlo, and his defence aide, Colonel Risley. The two ministers dressed in more modest and, as far as Tarven was concerned, modern clothes compared to King Deo’s robes, while Colonel Risley wore a military uniform. None of them spoke but bowed their heads when introduced.

“I thought you might like a tour of the Challenger before we begin our discussions?” Tarven offered.

The King smiled. “I would be most pleased to tour your mighty vessel, Captain.” He motioned to the nearby door. “Please, lead the way.”

The first stop was the bridge, after which they hit all the highlights: the main sickbay, the secondary bridge, the primary shuttlebay, and main engineering. Everything was going well. The Antallans were sufficiently impressed by the Odyssey-class starship, and Tarven had begun to relax. That was not to last. During their visit to engineering, the comm system chirped.

Bridge to Rix.

Commander Wescott wouldn’t be interrupting him if it weren’t important. He quickly excused himself and stepped away from the group, tapping his commbadge once he was out of earshot. “Rix here. What is it, Commander?”

Sir, we’ve been approached by an Antallan shuttle,” Wescott told him. “The sole occupant has beamed directly to the bridge and has requested asylum.

Bentley walked over. “What’s going on?”

Tarven quickly filled him in before addressing Wescott again. “Has this person identified themselves?”

She says her name is Neema, and that she’s the Governor-General of the Antalla VI colony.

Tarven’s stomach clenched and he shared a surprised look with Bentley. He glanced over his shoulder to see Lord Jesaite holding what looked like a communicator to his ear, listening intently to whoever was on the other end. Tarven suspected he knew what they were talking about.

“We need to hear her claim and consider her request,” Bentely told him quietly.

Although it would probably complicate their negotiations, Bentley was right. “Escort her to guest quarters and place a couple of security officers outside,” Tarven ordered. “We’ll meet her as soon as possible.”

No sooner had Tarven turned than he saw King Deo storming towards him with a scowl on his face and Jasite close behind him. Looks like someone’s been informed about Neema’s arrival.

“Captain, I demand you hand over Neema immediately!” King Deo thundered, drawing the attention of everyone in engineering.

Tarven kept an even tone in the face of the King’s anger. His tone may have gotten him whatever he wanted on Antalla, but Tarven wasn’t about to be cowed. “Governor-General Neema has requested political asylum,” He explained.

“She is a traitor!” Deo’s shouting did little to impress Tarven. “She must be returned to Antalla immediately to stand trial for her crimes.”

Tarven’s brow furrowed. “What crimes is Neema being accused of?”

“Neema was involved in the plot to murder King Parth,” Lord Jasite informed them smoothly. “And she is plotting to overthrow King Deo, to claim the crown for herself.”

That muddied the waters, though Tarven kept his shoulders from sagging. His first thought was that he should return Neema to stand trial and only grant her asylum if she’s found innocent. But from the way King Deo was talking, her guilt was already well established, and that probably meant a life in prison, possibly even death.

“I’m willing to hold a hearing,” Tarven told them. “To allow you to make your case for Neema’s asylum request to be denied.”

King Deo’s face had turned an interesting shade of red. “This is outrageous!” The King’s anger exploded, his voice ringing out clearly throughout the spacious engineering compartment. “Neema is a subject of Antalla and a traitor to the Crown. She cannot be allowed to escape punishment for her crimes. She must be returned to us immediately for trial.”

“I’ll listen to your arguments, and Neema’s for why we should grant her asylum,” Tarven said. “After that, I’ll make my decision.”

At five foot eleven, Tarven Rix was not an overly tall man. He felt like a giant, however, when King Deo took several steps towards him and invaded his personal space. Deo was a head shorter than the Trill Captain, Tarven would guess he was about five foot two. The King looked up at Tarven with flaring nostrils and narrow eyes. He jabbed an angry finger in Tarven’s chest.

“There will be no negotiations until Neema is returned to us,” The King warned in a menacing tone, that didn’t have the desired effect on Tarven. “And if you grant her request, you will make an enemy of the Antallan crown.”

Tarven nodded gravely. This mission had fallen apart faster than the Challenger at maximum warp. His worst fears were being realised.

“Who will represent Antallan interests at this hearing?” The King asked, apparently resigned to not getting his way.

Tarven supposed King Deo wasn’t told ‘no’ very often these days. “One of my legal officers will be assigned to represent you. You’re free to send one of your advisors to help them prepare their case.”

“Very well,” Deo huffed impotently. “We will return to the surface and I will send my Lord Chancellor to assist your legal officer.”

The King swept around and started stalking towards the door, his advisors scrambling after him.  Tarven glanced at Axelrod, who was actually smirking.  He glared at his First Officer and jerked his head in the King’s direction, a silent instruction for Axelrod to escort the King back to the transporter room.

“So,” Bentley clapped his hands together, “that went well.”

“He was smirking at me.”

Commander Elizabeth Wescott turned at the sound of Captain Rix’s voice in time to watch him round the corner with Commander Bentley in tow.

“He was not smirking,” Bentley replied firmly.

“He was smirking,” Rix shot back. “He couldn’t hide his delight at the negotiations blowing up in my face before they began.”

“You really ought to speak to the Counselor,” Bentely told him. “The crew can’t afford a paranoid Captain.”

Rix opened his mouth to respond but was silenced when Elizabeth approached him. “Governor-General Neema is waiting.” Elizabeth led Rix and Bentley into the VIP quarters she’d assigned to Neema and made quick introductions.

“I have evidence that King Deo and his courtiers were involved in the murder of King Parth,” Neema announced. Elizabeth appreciated a person who got straight to the point.

Rix and Bentley shared a look that Elizabeth couldn’t read. “The King has accused you of the same thing and in a plot to overthrow him,” Rix told her. “He says you want to claim the throne for yourself.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Neema replied emphatically. “I am not of the royal blood. The Brotherhood of Saint Lesta XI is responsible for matters of succession and they would never allow the crown to pass to me.”

Everything you just said is ridiculous, Elizabeth thought. Humanity had consigned talk of Kings, royal blood, brotherhoods and saints to the pages of history and fiction, where she believed they belonged. Absolute power being concentrated in a single person because they happened to be born of the right bloodline, believing they had some divine right to rule, was completely alien to Elizabeth and stood in stark contrast to everything she believed.

“Are you prepared to grant my request for asylum?”

“Your people are contesting your request,” Rix replied. “They claim you’re attempting to escape justice.”

“Do you believe his accusation?”

Elizabeth didn’t envy Captain Rix his job. His decision could determine not just whether Neema lived or died, but also the future of relations with the Antallans and a regular supply of dilithium and pergium. No doubt Starfleet Command would take a dim view if the latter did not materialise. 

“I don’t know,” Rix replied honestly. “There’s going to be a hearing, during which you’ll have a chance to make your case. Your people will also make their case. At the end, I’ll make my decision.”

“Who will represent me?”

“I will.” All eyes turned to Elizabeth, who’d been silent since making the introductions. “I’ll represent you.”

Rix studied her for a few silent moments before he nodded slowly. “Very well.”

“Commander Lightford can represent the Antallan Crown,” Bentley added.

“It will take us at least a day to prepare for the hearing,” Rix said. “We’ll begin the day after tomorrow at zero-nine hundred.” He met Neema’s gaze. “I hope you’ll understand that, under the circumstances, I must keep you confined to these quarters until this situation is resolved.”

Neema looked around the VIP quarters. “I couldn’t hope for a more luxurious prison cell.”

“Commander Wescott will get you anything you need,” Rix told her. With a tight-lipped smile, he left the room with Bentley close behind him.

Neither woman spoke until the doors closed behind Commander Bentley. Neema asked, “Now what?”

“Now you tell me everything,” Elizabeth replied, “from the beginning.” 

Mortal Temples – 5

USS Cernan NCC-92421/1
July 2401

Henry stepped to one side and ushered Evin inside. The guest quarters they’d set him up with were nowhere near as luxurious as those on the Challenger. Only a Starbase could come close to matching the levels of luxury found on the mighty Odyssey-class starships, but they’d provide him with a private space to continue his recovery.

“There’s a replicator,” Henry said, watching Evin intently as he moved around the room, “which can produce food and a small ensuite bathroom with a sonic shower.”

He couldn’t explain why, but Henry felt drawn to Evin like he’d never been to anyone except Dujan. At first, he’d found Evin charming, but the longer he spent in his company, the harder it was to deny his attraction to the mysterious stranger. It was like Evin had relit a fire within him, one he thought had been forever extinguished months ago. But that fire was tempered by guilt gnawing at him. Evin turned and caught Henry staring at him, not for the first time. Henry blushed as he looked quickly away.

“Thank you, Henry,” Evin said. Henry finally looked up to meet Evin’s gaze again, looking into his emerald green eyes. “I’ll be quite comfortable here. These accommodations are palatial compared to my ship.”

“If you think this is good,” Henry said with a smile, “you should see my quarters on the Challenger.” It took Henry’s brain a moment to register what he’d said, and he instantly began stammering. “I…I mean…I…what I meant to say was…”

Evin’s eyes sparkled with amusement as he watched Henry frantically trying to walk back what he’d said. “I know what you meant, Henry,” Evin said softly. “I would very much like to visit the Challenger sometime, but for now, my priority is repairing my ship.”

“I want you to spend the rest of the day taking it easy,” Henry replied, relieved their conversation had moved to safer ground. “I’ll give you a check-up first thing in the morning, and if I’m satisfied with your progress, you can begin your repairs.” He paused. “You seem eager to be on your way.”

Evin smiled at Henry. “I’m eager to put this incident behind me, though I must admit,” he paused. It’s been nice to be among people again, even if for a short time.”

“How long have you worked as a courier?”

“A few years,” Evin replied.

Evin liked to keep his answers vague. Was it that he didn’t trust the strangers who had rescued him? Or was the reason darker than that? Did he have something to hide?

“That sounds very lonely,” Henry commented softly.

Evin nodded slowly. “It can be, but I seldom have time to dwell on such things.” Evin silently studied Henry. It felt like his very soul was under a microscope. “I think loneliness is something we have in common.”

“What are you talking about?” Henry replied with a mirthless chuckle. “I’m not lonely. I’m surrounded by people.”

Evin looked at Henry with a sympathetic smile. “That is often when we are most alone.” After a moment, he asked, “Who did you lose?”

“How do you know I lost someone?” Henry asked, his forehead furrowed in confusion. “I don’t recall seeing signs of telepathic abilities on your medical scans.”

Evin’s soft smile fanned the flames burning in Henry’s soul. “It doesn’t take extrasensory perception to see your loss, your loneliness. It’s there in your eyes. You wear it like a cloak. Who were they?”

“My husband,” Henry replied, his voice barely above a whisper. “Dujan. He died on an away mission last year.”

Herny’s gaze drifted to his feet, and he could not meet Evin’s eyes, even though he could feel them watching him. “No wound cuts so deep as the loss of a lover.”

“You sound like you’re talking from experience,” Henry commented.

Evin didn’t say anything for a moment. “My wife, Ada, was killed eight years ago during the last days of the Dominion occupation of my world.” He took a deep breath and exhaled loudly. “I thought I would never love again.”

“But you did?” Henry asked. Intellectually, he knew it was possible to move on from his husband’s death; both Doctor Luro and Captain Rosetti were widowed and found love again in each other, but for some reason, hearing Evin say it was different, it felt more believable.

Henry looked up to find Evin nodding slowly. “I did. It took me completely by surprise. I’d spent years convinced that I would never love anyone the way I loved Ada.” A fond smile slowly crept across Evin’s lips.  “I fought it at first. I told myself I was betraying her by looking at someone else. But Jarrod,” Evin’s smile grew, “he was patient with me. He gave me space when I needed it, challenged me and eventually, I realised that Ada wouldn’t have wanted me to be alone.” He paused and fixed Henry with a piercing look. “I don’t think your husband would want you to be alone.”

“I don’t think he would either.”

Before Henry knew what was happening, they were rushing towards each other, their lips crashing together in a frantic dance of passion. Little thought was involved; he was acting purely on instinct. His hands quickly found Evin’s hips and pulled their bodies tightly together.

It was impossible to tell how much time had passed, but when a moan escaped from Evin’s throat, Henry’s brain forced a restart, and reality came crashing back, pouring cold water over the fire of their passion. He opened his eyes and suddenly pushed Evin back. “I’m sorry,” Henry said, his breathing heavy and uneven. “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“You don’t have to apologise,” Evin reassured him. “We were both willing participants.”

Henry leaned against the wall as he tried to steady his breathing. “I shouldn’t have done that.” He repeated as if Evin’s words had washed over him without registering. He could feel the heat racing up his neck and across his face as a toxic cocktail of guilt, regret, and shame quickly consumed him. Something about Evin had stripped away his defences, and he now desperately tried to restore them.

“I didn’t mean to upset you,” Evin said sadly. The hurt in his voice was apparent, and Henry hated that he was the cause of it.

Henry’s mind was racing, and suddenly, he felt claustrophobic. “I can’t do this.” He muttered as he stumbled out into the corridors. Henry’s heart thundered in his chest so hard that he thought it would leave him his bruised ribs.

After Henry rounded a corner, he stopped and braced himself against the bulkhead while taking slow, deep breaths. He knew he was hovering on the edge of a full-blown panic attack, and he needed to regain control. 

“Henry, are you okay?” Her voice was Henry’s first awareness of Commander Taro’s presence. She moved to his side, rubbing his back with a reassuring hand. 

Henry’s muscles tensed at her touch, and he straightened his back, pushing off the bulkhead. “I’m fine.”

“You didn’t look-”

“I said I’m fine,” Henry snapped. He left Taro looking nonplussed as he walked quickly away from the Cernan’s First Officer.

A few minutes later, Taro Niya stepped into the Cernan’s cramped Ready Room, joining Captain Carerra and Lieutenant Commander Nybor. “Sorry I’m late. I got held up.” She didn’t feel it necessary to go into detail about her encounter with Doctor Young, and it was unlikely that Carerra would ask for specifics.

Niya wanted to follow after Henry to make sure he was alright, but he’d brushed her off quite firmly, and she wasn’t going to push him yet. She would give him a few hours to cool down before checking on him. Parking her concerns for the moment, she quickly tuned into what Nybor was saying.

“…wasn’t just a distress buoy. It contained copies of mission reports and crew logs.”

Niya glanced at Carerra. “Didn’t Evin tell us he was attacked by pirates?” When Carerra nodded, Niya asked, “What kind of pirates keep mission reports or logs?”

“They weren’t pirates,” Nybor replied. “The crashed ship belonged to the Antallan military.”

“Antallan,” Niya repeated. “Isn’t Captain Rix negotiating with the Antallans right now?”

Carerra nodded slowly. “We’re due to rendezvous with the Challenger at Antalla V.”

“Do we know why the Antallans attacked Evin?” Niya asked as she leaned against the Captain’s desk.

“From what we’ve managed to ascertain from the logs,” Nybor began, “they were hunting a man variously referred to as ‘the target’ and ‘the traitor’. Their task was to apprehend this individual and return him to Antalla V.”

“And you think Evin was their target?” Carerra asked.

Nybor nodded. “Two hours before they crashed, their communications logs show they sent a message that was only three words, ‘we’ve found him’, along with their sensor records of Evin’s ship.”

“So why were the Antallans hunting him?” Niya asked. “And why did Evin tell us that pirates attacked him.”

Niya watched Carerra for a few silent seconds before the Captain answered, “Let’s ask him.”

Mortal Temples – 6

USS Challenger NCC-92421
July 2401

“Sir, I’d like to talk to you about my quarters.”

Tarven looked up at his First Officer. He was sure the exasperation he felt was written clearly on his features. PADDs with various legal precedents were strewn across his desk, and the Starfleet manual on asylum hearings was on his main display. He was roughly twelve hours from the beginning of said hearing, and Captain Axelrod’s most pressing issue was his quarters.

“Is this really the time?”

Axelrod was undeterred. “With all due respect, you’ve ignored the messages I’ve sent on this topic, so you’ve left me with little choice.”

“What’s your problem?” Tarven asked with a resigned sigh. “The VIP quarters we have you in not fancy enough for you?”

Tarven watched Axelrod fold his arms. “This isn’t about comfort. This is about-”

“You wanting to evict Commander Bentley from the quarters he shares with Captain Forrester,” Tarven quickly intervened.

Axelrod rolled his eyes. “Sir, Captain Forrester is dead.”

“According to you.” Tarven shot back.

The sharpness of Tarven’s tone didn’t seem to faze Axelrod. “Not just me. Commodore Wyatt, the Fourth Fleet and Starfleet Command all concur; he’s dead. For the crew and Commander Bentley, to move on, you need to accept that.”

“Oh, I see,” Tarven replied. “You want to evict Commander Bentley from his home to help him move on. How selfless of you.”

Timing is everything and the perfectly timed sound of the door chime cut across Axelrod’s reply. Tarven quickly ushered the new arrival inside. As if he could sense they were talking about him, Commander Matthais Bentley strode into the room.

Tarven wasn’t proud of taking pleasure in the way the colour drained from Axelrod’s face, but take pleasure, he did. “I’ve set the Antallan Lord Chancellor up in the VIP quarters on the port side.”

“Looks like you have a new neighbour, Mister Axelrod,” Tarven sat back in his chair. “Though maybe not for much longer if you have your way.”

Bentley smirked. “Still trying to get me evicted?”

“Those quarters are reserved for the CO or their Exec,” Axelrod replied. “You are neither.”

Tarven tried hard not to roll his eyes. “That’s for the Commanding Officer to decide,” Bentley pointed out, “which you are not.” His shoulders slumped, and he sighed loudly before announcing, “You can have them.”



Both men’s simultaneous reaction elicited a satisfied smile from Bentley, but it quickly disappeared. “Are you sure?” Tarven asked.

“They say home is where the heart is,” Bentely replied with a shrug. He rubbed his forehead before dragging his hand down his face. “Those quarters haven’t felt like home since Tom disappeared. If Captain Axelrod wants them so badly, he can have them. I’ll speak to the Quartermaster to arrange new quarters and move my stuff.”

The smug, satisfied smile on Axelrod’s face was unbearable. “Well, it looks like you’ve won, Captain,” Tarven announced. “Enjoy your new quarters. I hope they make you happy.” He wondered how a man who had led such a sad little life could have risen so high. “Is there anything else?”

“There is,” Axelrod said, placing his hands on the back of one of the visitors’ chairs. He leaned forward and continued, “I think this asylum hearing is a mistake. We should return Neema to her people. These negotiations are too important to have them derailed by one person.”

It would certainly make life easier to hand Neema over, but she accused King Deo of being involved in the murder of his predecessor. Meanwhile, they were levelling the same accusations at her. That crime would carry the death penalty on Antalla, and Tarven wasn’t willing to hand a person over to a certain death without attempting to get to the truth.

“Is this you talking or Commodore Wyatt?” Bentely asked.

Axelrod rounded on him. “What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

“When you spoke, you sounded a lot like Wyatt,” Bentley replied. “I thought maybe she was trying out her new hobby by throwing her voice while she has her hand up your-”

“That’s enough, Commander,” Tarven quickly interjected.

In two long steps, Axelrod closed the distance between him and Bentley. “It must be nice for you, wearing the red of command without any of the responsibilities or burdens that entails. You just sit at the Captain’s shoulder, giving him advice but never being the one to put your neck on the line, to stand front and centre and make the tough calls. It must be real nice.”

“Big words from a man who spent his career as a staff officer, advising others while they stood front and centre and made the tough calls.” Bentely snarled. “You puff yourself up all you want, Captain, but I see you for the empty shirt you are.”

While Tarven enjoyed watching Bentley lay into Axelrod, he couldn’t let them tear strips off each other like this. He jumped to his feet and slammed the palm of his hand on the surface of his desk. “That’s enough, both of you.” He roared, ignoring the pain shooting through his hand. “Captain Axelrod, I understand your concerns, but the decision is mine. If these negotiations fail, it’s on me. I’ll face the repercussions. Now, if there’s nothing else, you’re dismissed.”

Axelrod and Bentley hadn’t moved. Both men were standing nose to nose, staring each other out. A cold fire burned in Bentley’s ice-blue eyes. From what he knew of Matthais Bentely, he wasn’t prone to violence. But at that moment, Tarven believed the Diplomatic Officer was seconds from lashing out.

“I said you’re dismissed, Captain,” Axelrod snapped out of his starting match with Bentley. He briefly glared at Tarven before turning his heel and storming out of the ready room. When he was gone and the door closed firmly behind him, Tarven warned, “You don’t wanna make an enemy of him.”

Bentley snorted as he stepped around a chair and flopped down in it. “I think that ship’s sailed,” he said.

“Yeah,” Tarven rubbed his sore hand as he sat back down. “Are you sure you’re okay giving up your quarters?”

Tarven was glad Axelrod wouldn’t be hounding him about this issue anymore, but letting his First Office win and force Bentely out of the home he shared with his missing boyfriend didn’t sit right with him.

“It doesn’t matter where I’m living,” Bentely replied. “It won’t be home, just where I lay my head at night.” He let out a long sigh. “Y’know, I hate to admit it, but the Axe has a point.”

Tarven grinned. “The crew better hope that Axelrod never finds out that you guys call him that.”

“He’d probably like it,” Bentley replied.

Probably, Tarven silently agreed. The throbbing in Tarven’s hand wasn’t going away, signalling that a visit to Sickbay was perhaps in his future. “You think we should?”

“No,” Bentley replied emphatically. “These negotiations are important, but just because it’s the easy thing to do doesn’t mean it’s the right one. If she even got a trial, it would only be for show. We’d be condemning her to death.” 

Tarven motioned to the PADDs around him. “I should get back to brushing up on my hearing procedures.”

“Right,” Bentely pushed himself to his feet. “Oh, I almost forgot. The King has requested we broadcast the hearings to his people.”

That’s just great, Tarven thought with a groan. “Why?”

“Something about wanting a transparent process, not hiding the facts from his people, blah blah blah.”

Tarven looked up questioningly at Bentley. “You don’t trust his reasons?”

“I don’t trust him,” Bentley replied. “I think he’s going to use this hearing to establish Neema’s guilt in front of his people and box you in.”

Pain shot through Tarven’s hand when he slammed it down on his desk again, and his wince did not go unnoticed, judging by the look on Bentely’s face. Moving to the command track had seemed like a good idea at the time, but more and more, Tarven longed for the simplicity of working with warp engines. They didn’t play games, lie, obfuscate, or mislead. He envied Captain Rosetti. “And if we deny his request, he’ll accuse us of hiding something.”

“And that we’re in league with Neema,” Bentley added.

Tarven took a long breath. “Fine, allow him to broadcast the hearing.”

“And hope it doesn’t blow up in our face.”