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Part of USS Challenger: Mortal Temples

Mortal Temples – 4

USS Challenger NCC-92421
July 2401
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“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.”