It didn’t take long for the Starfleet delegation to understand just what a monumental task mediating a successful outcome between these two blocs would be. The arguments went round and round in circles for fifty minutes like a political merry-go-round, but with absolutely no merriment.
“As I have already told you, the Romulan population of Vinex will not follow Resak. We wish to remain part of the Romulan Star Empire.” Velan argued.
The Reman bloc’s leader, Kretuk, sneered. “The Romulan Star Empire is dying,” he shot back with his gravelly bass voice, “we refuse to be dragged down with it.”
“You’d like that,” Joint Governor Velan grumbled, “to see the Star Empire brought to its knees by a Reman.”
Kretuk’s sneer intensified. “If the Empire falls now, it will not be because of Resak’s actions but those of the Star Navy.”
“Yes,” Velan begrudgingly agreed after several seconds of silence, “you’re right about that. The military’s stupidity and lack of foresight have led us to this point.”
Forrester leaned forward and, a little too cheerily, announced, “Well, at least we can all agree on something.”
“Right now, Captain, it is all we agree on.” Velan’s shoulders slumped. “Both sides are so entrenched, and I don’t see how you can move either of us from our respective positions.”
Kretuk nodded in silent agreement. “I know it’s difficult for you to see a way forward right now,” Forrester said with a sigh, “to be honest, neither do I. But I’m confident that as my team and I get to better understand your people and your situation here in the coming days, we will be able to figure out a way forward.”
“I hope you’re right, Captain.” Velan looked across the conference table at Kretuk, “I fear the consequences of failure will be most grave.”
No pressure then, Forrester thought sourly. “Why don’t we take a short recess while I confer with Commander Bentley. We’ll reconvene in forty minutes.”
“Very well,” Kretuk replied. The sound of multiple chair legs scraping on the marble floor filled the room. The Joint Governors stopped at the door and turned back to face Forrester’s group. “We have planned a reception and banquet for your senior officers tonight.”
That sounded less like an invitation than an instruction. “We’d be honoured.” Forrester glanced from Kretuk to Velan, “thank you, gentlemen.”
When the doors closed, leaving the three Starfleet Officers alone, Forrester slid down in his chair. “On a scale of one to ten, how do you feel that went?” An answer wasn’t immediately forthcoming. Forrester chanced a glance at Bentley, whose grim countenance said everything. “That’s what I thought.”
“Finding a solution isn’t impossible,” Bentley assured him, giving with one hand before taking with the other, “but we have one hell of a mountain to climb.”
Forrester sat up and activated his PADD. “Alright, let’s go through everything we learned in that session.” With Dal watching over them, Forrester and Bentley huddled together and began comparing notes, any tension between them set aside for the good of their mission.
An uneasy knot tied itself in Oreth’s stomach as he paced the alley. He was beginning to think that coming here had been a mistake, but his curiosity got the better of him. The coordinates in the message led to this darkened alley on the capital’s outskirts. Oreth still hadn’t figured out how they’d managed that. Did someone on the Vilinat break into his quarters to deliver the message without leaving a trace? Or had the message been delivered by some other means? Had his ship’s computer been compromised?
A noise at the end of the dark alley startled Oreth. He swiftly turned and drew his disrupter pistol, pointing it in the direction of the noise, but there was nothing there.
He spun in the opposite direction to find himself pointing his disruptor pistol at a fellow Romulan dressed in a familiar officer. “The Tal Shiar.” Oreth sneered. “I should’ve known.”
“You won’t need your disruptor, Commander,” the Tal Shiar officer told him, “If we had wanted to kill you, we would not be having this conversation.”
Oreth hesitated before slowly sliding the disruptor into the holster attached to his right hip. “How reassuring.” He commented dryly. “What does the Tal Shiar want with me?”
“You served with Governor Velan when he was in the military.”
The statement drew a slow nod of agreement from Oreth, “I was his first officer for three years. Why?”
“We want you to get close to him.” The mysterious officer announced. “I’m sure he’d welcome his former first officer’s advice during this difficult time.”
Oreth was beginning to see where this was going. “And you want me to advise him to lead Vinex into the warm embrace of the Free State.”
“Precisely.” The Tal Shiar officer offered a cold smile. “Soon, the Romulan Star Empire will be consigned to the pages of history. Would you see this world fall into the hands of the Reman, Resak? Or become an annexe of the Federation? We only want what’s best for Vinex.”
Oreth scoffed. “Best for Vinex,” he repeated, “You want Vinex’s rich pergium mines.”
“I won’t deny that the pergium mined on Vinex would come in useful, but our overriding concern is the welfare of the Romulans on this world.” The Tal Shiar officer’s sincerity was dubious.
The smirk on Oreth’s face clearly indicated he didn’t believe the stranger. “Of course.” Convincing Valan to follow the Free State wasn’t going to be easy. “Valen has no love for the Free State. What if I’m unable to convince him?”
“Then he must be eliminated.” The casual way he spoke of murder may have shocked someone else, but not Oreth. “And we will find someone to replace him who is more sympathetic to the Free State.” That cold smile returned. “We believe you have some experience in eliminating planetary leaders.”
It was true that he’d arranged the murder of the Prime Minister of Darox III in the Gamma Quadrant at the end of last year. He would’ve gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for the meddlesome Captain Forrester. “What’s in it for me?”
The Tal Shiar officer pulled a small device from a pocket on the inside of his jacket. Activating it, the holographic image of a Dhailkhina-class warbird materialised above it. “How would you like to command one of our most advanced warbirds?”
Oreth was quickly mesmerised by the image of the warbird slowly rotating. It was beautiful. Before the supernova crisis, he’d been in line to command one of the latest Valdore-class warbirds, the most prestigious of commands. Instead, he’d been handed a hastily upgraded, century-old D-7. He snapped back to reality as it dawned on him who he was talking to. “Complete with its own Tal Shiar agent, no doubt.”
“A small price to pay for command of such a modern warbird.” The Tal Shiar officer replied as he deactivated the holo display and replaced the device in his pocket.
Even if Oreth was able to convince Valen, that still left the issue of the Remans. “No matter how the Romulan bloc is persuaded to join the Free State, that still leaves the Remans. They will not support such a move.”
“The Remans will not be a problem for much longer. Their bloc will splinter, and we’ll pick up enough support.” The mysterious officer replied cryptically.
There was still one fly in the ointment. “And what of the Federation ship? Captain Forrester will undoubtedly interfere, especially if there is even a whiff of foul play.”
“Captain Forrester will not pose a threat to our plans. His ship will soon be forced to withdraw,” the Tal Shiar officer replied, “Even if the Federation sends another, it will take days to reach us. The Federation will not pose a threat to our plans.”
Oreth remained silent for a few moments, his decision already made.
The mysterious stranger took several steps closer. “So what is it to be, Commander Oreth? Advancing the interests of the Free State and earning command of a state of the art warbird? Or continuing to serve a dead empire in an ancient D-7?”
“Tarnek, my old friend.” Valen welcomed his former first officer with open arms. They embraced warmly, with much back-slapping. “What brings you to Vinex?”
Oreth had already concocted a believable story, and it was unlikely that Valen would have reason to doubt him or contact Rator to confirm it. “I’ve been sent to advise you during these talks.” It was an easy lie for him to tell because it wasn’t an outright lie but a lie of omission. He had been asked to advise Valen, just not by the Empire.
The Romulan Governor looked visibly relieved. “I’m glad you’re here, my friend. I’ve always valued your counsel.” Valen led them to an area of his office that had more relaxed seating, lowering himself slowly into an armchair. “The Remans will not see reason. They want to follow this Resak. They cannot see the folly of that choice.”
Oreth agreed that following Resak would be a mistake for any world. “Remans were always short-sighted. Better suited to working in the mines.”
“I once felt the same,” Valen replied slowly. “But I have found Kretuk to be a reasonable, thoughtful and pragmatic partner in government. But on this matter, he is as stubborn as you would expect a Reman to be.”
Oreth had to school his features to mask the disgust at hearing his old commander refer to a Reman in such glowing terms. “Well, I am at your service once more.” He replied smoothly.
“Thank you, old friend.” Valen leaned forward and patted Oreth’s leg. “That means a lot.” A warm smile lit up his features. “Now, how about a drink. I still have that bottle of kali-fal you gave me.”
Oreth’s smile slipped once Valen’s back was turned. The old man’s time on Vinex, working alongside the Remans had made him soft. Whatever hesitation he felt at killing his old friend was gone. The Valen in front of him wasn’t the same man Oreth remembered.