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Part of USS Challenger: A Fragile Peace and Bravo Fleet: Sundered Wings

Communications Problems

IRW Vilinat
May 2400
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Fools. That was what Tarnek Oreth thought of the Admiralty. Bloody fools. They’d learned nothing from the Shinzon coup just over twenty years ago. Once again, they’d swept the Senate aside with disastrous consequences. This time, they’d precipitated the possible collapse of what remained of the Romulan Star Empire.

Oreth had no great love for the Senate, and he considered some of the recent decisions to be questionable in the face of a few outlying systems declaring independence. But the actions of the Star Navy had only caused the problem to escalate beyond the Star Navy’s control.

“Fools,” Oreth muttered to the empty room.

The chirp of the comm system snapped him out of his thoughts. “Bridge to Commander Oreth,” his second in command’s voice boomed, “we’re receiving a signal from Rator.” Oreth could hear the unsaid ‘again’ in the tone of the Sub Commander’s voice.

Maintain communications silence. Oreth out.” He cut the channel and released a long sigh.

The Vilinat had spent the past few days operating under cloak near the Federation border with an almost total communications blackout. He’d told the crew they were having problems with the communications system. Oreth had continued to monitor news feeds to keep himself up to date with the current situation.

Oreth didn’t doubt the loyalty of his officers. They supported him years ago when he stole the Vilinat, after becoming disillusioned with the Empire, and turned to a life of piracy in the Triangle. He had been forgiven those crimes once and knew that they would not be overlooked again. His crew had no great desire to return to that life, and they would not be dragged down with the rest of the Star Empire. The question would the junior members of his crew support him. He would put them off on the nearest friendly planet if they wouldn’t, as he had done over a decade ago with his last crew.

Seated in his favourite chair, Oreth thumbed through a copy of a human book, The Art of War. It was already well worn when he’d purchased it and had only become more so over the years. The music of one of his favourite composers, long since dead, played softly on his cabin’s comm.

His evening reading was interrupted by his first officer again. “Bridge to Commander Oreth. We’ve detected a Federation starship approaching the border.

“Can you identify it?” Oreth asked in response, already suspecting the answer.

The response was as he expected, “Not at this range, Commander.” 

That answer only fuelled Oreth’s frustration at his current situation. With more modern sensors, a newer ship would have had no trouble identifying the Federation ship. Even a thirty-year-old D’Deridex-class warbird would have had little difficulty. The Vilinat was over a century old. In the middle of the last century, she was retired but returned to service and upgraded to assist with the supernova crisis.

“Very well.” Oreth finally begrudgingly replied. “I’m on my way.”

Oreth instructed the computer to pause the music’s playback and tossed the book on his bed. He was growing tired of watching Federation starships violating Romulan space unchallenged.

***

Barber’s Adagio for Strings filled Captain Forrester’s quarters, providing the backing track to his evening. Lounging on his recliner, Forrester held a PADD above him, his free arm tucked behind his head, as he read a book on the history of the Romulan Star Empire written early in the 2360s by Ambassador Spock. He hoped the legendary Vulcan ambassador could provide some insight into the Romulan psyche that he could use during their upcoming talks.

Forrester’s body instantly tensed at the sound of the shrill door chime filling the room. He set the PADD down as he rose from the recliner and padded barefoot to the door. The instant he found his best friend standing there, the tension his body was holding melted away. “A.J.”

“Expecting someone else?” Mitchell asked knowingly as he brushed past his friend.

Since their conversation yesterday, Forrester hoped that a certain scruffy blond would stop by. He wanted to talk, but every time he tried to push himself to take that first step and seek Bentley out, he found himself frozen to the spot. 

“No.” Lying to his best friend was an exercise in futility, but he still hoped that he’d succeed this time even after a quarter of a century.

It was clear from his expression that, as expected, Mitchell didn’t believe him. “So,” he flopped down on the couch, “Matt’s back onboard. How do we feel about that?”

“Fine,” Forrester replied evenly as he retrieved two glasses from the replicator. One was filled with ice water, while the other contained a gin and tonic with several slices of lime.

Mitchell sat up and accepted the glass. “You wanna try that again?” He asked. “With feeling this time?”

“I’m glad he’s here,” Forrester admitted softly, hoping that would satisfy his friend.

If his friend’s eye roll was any indication, it did not. “Because you need a good diplomatic officer, right?”

“You spoke to him.” It was less of a question than a statement.

Mitchell took a sip. “If that’s what you wanna call it. After you two finished speaking, he tracked me down in the shuttlebay and tore me a new one.”

“Why would he-” The final piece of the jigsaw finally slotted into place. “You’re the reason he’s here. You and Tejara.” How had he not seen this coming? “You two have been as thick as thieves ever since that reception on Coltar.”

His friend’s satisfied grin was one of his least endearing features. “We felt you both needed a push.”

“You had no right-“

Mitchell leaned forward. “Look me in the eyes and tell me you didn’t miss him.”

There was no point even trying to deny it. Forrester could only glower at his friend. The satisfaction on his friend’s face was unbearable, but there was no smile this time. Mitchell was taking no pleasure in being right this time.

“If Kailir and I hadn’t intervened, you’d be here, he’d be on Earth, and you’d both be miserable,” Mitchell argued.

That drew a snort from Forrester. “We’re still miserable.”

“Fair point,” Mitchell replied with a grim smile. “But that’s easier to fix when just a few decks separate you instead of a few thousand light-years. You just need to talk to him.”

Forrester stared sadly at the half-full glass perched on his knee. “I don’t know if I can do it, A.J.”

“You can’t talk to him?” Mitchell asked, his face contorted in confusion.

The captain’s eyes never left his glass. “I don’t know if I can open up to someone like that. I don’t know if I can be what he wants or deserves.”

“Isn’t it better to try and fail than to spend the rest of your life wondering what might have been?” It pained him to admit it, but Mitchell had a point. “Worse, spend the rest of your life driving me crazy wondering what might have been.”

Forrester rolled his eyes. “Oh, well, we can’t have that, can we?”

The chirp of the comm interrupted. “Bridge to Captain.” 

“Forrester here.”

Lieutenant Commander Del’s disembodied voice reported, “We’ve just entered Romulan space, sir.”

“Take us to yellow alert and begin scanning for cloaked vessels,” Forrester ordered.

The Chief of Security’s reply was almost instant. “Aye, sir.”

“Forrester out.”

Mitchell watched him silently for a moment. “Do you really think the Romulans will send a ship to shadow us?”

“I dunno,” Forrester admitted with a shrug. “Given the number of fires they’re trying to put out combined with the sheer number of Starfleet ships pouring into the Velorum Sector, I don’t know if they have the assets to spare.” Forrester gulped down the last of his water. “But I’m gonna take any chances.”  

Mitchell nodded before draining his glass and shaking it in Forrester’s direction. “I’ll take another when you’re ready.”

With a dramatic sigh, Forrester pushed himself from his chair and took the empty glass from his friend as he grumbled something inaudible under his breath.

***

“Centurion, report,” Oreth ordered as he stepped onto the bridge. 

The young woman consulted her console. “We are tracking a Federation Galaxy-class starship, which has just entered Romulan space. It will enter visual range in three minutes.”

“And then we might actually be able to identify which of Starfleet’s much-lauded Galaxy-class ships we are dealing with.” Oreth took his seat, unable to do anything more than wait for the next three minutes to pass.

Those three minutes stretched into an eternity, at least from Oreth’s perspective. Finally, the centurion spoke again, “The Federation vessel has entered Romulan space and is now in visual range.”

“Show me,” Oreth ordered, sliding forward in his chair. The viewscreen changed from the sensor readout to an image of the Federation ship, unmistakably a Galaxy-class starship like the one they’d come face to face with one in the Gamma Quadrant last year. “Enlarge the image. I want to see its name.” 

A few seconds ticked by before the image changed again to show the name emblazoned on its hull: U.S.S. CHALLENGER NCC-71099.

“Well, well, well,” Oreth said slowly with a predatory grin. “Look who it is.” He turned to the centurion. “Can you determine their destination based on their current course?” 

The centurion worked her console. “It looks like they are destined for the Vinex System.”

“Vinex.” He repeated. He had been the first officer to Vinex’s Co-Governor when the latter had commanded a D’Deridex-class warbird twenty-five years ago. “Helm lay in a course to shadow the Challenger and engage.” The Starfleet captain had been responsible for Oreth’s failure at Darox. He wasn’t going to let this chance to get even slip through his fingers.

His first officer took a step closer. “Commander-“

“Captain Forrester and I have unfinished business.” Oreth hissed. “I will not sit here watching any longer. If you cannot follow my orders, I will find someone who will.”

The first officer bowed his head and resumed his position.

Oreth sat back and settled into his chair. If Captain Forrester believed he would steal Vinex II and its pergium mines for the Federation, he would be sadly mistaken.

Comments

  • Now this is what I have been waiting for! No more Mister Nice Romulan. No more welcoming Starfleet with open arms. This is a Romulan with a score to settle, and settle it he shall. I like how Oreth's personality shifts the second he learns that, not only is it a Galaxy, but it is the Challenger. All the while, poor Captain Forrester, busy dealing with his own personal issues that I'm sure will pale into insignificance once the dastardly Oreth reveals himself. This is the tension I need, the drama that I love. There's still hope that some of those pesky Romulans out there are as treacherous as ever, and I'm here to read it! A great read.

    May 31, 2022
  • Of course A.J. was behind it! Of course! Even the fickle finger of fate wouldn't be so kind as to drop a scruffy blond in Forrester's lap. A.J did it -- after helping Forrester to see himself and what he really wanted through "You Can't Go Home Again". I love their friendship, especially when it's spiky or lacking filters, because the care they share for one another shines through every interaction. “Worse, spend the rest of your life driving me crazy wondering what might have been" is such a damn good line! I can't wait to read if Forrester is going to take the first step to speak with Matt, or if AJ will have to orchestrate that for him too.

    June 1, 2022
  • Yessss antagonist perspective. I guess villain, this dude is pretty outright a villain as a complete renegade for his own interests, *so it seems so far.* Okay, okay, he's reading the Art of War, he's a villain. I like the parallels of both Oreth and Forrester reading and listening to music as they brood on their circumstances, though - and both reflecting on the other's culture, really. Aaaand the tone shifts for Mitchell's DELIGHTFUL interference. I love it. I particularly love his joking priorities "forget you being miserable forever, what if you drive ME crazy with it?" And here we go - a vendetta, Captain vs Captain, a world in the balance. Beautiful.

    June 1, 2022
  • To get me into the mood, I instantly put on Barber’s Adagio for Strings from YouTube and straight away I could feel the mood you were setting through this piece. I'm loving the fact that Forrester has an arch-nemesis in development here while at the same time dealing with a possible love interest. Though Oreth is certainly a fiendish villain, I feel he is quite the layered enemy. There's more to him here that we've yet to be exposed to. He is certainly struggling with his patriotism here and the fact he is now focusing that anguish towards Challenger will certainly make this adventure one to watch! Crackin'!

    June 1, 2022