Not yet in orbit of Foshir III, the Ahwahnee edged tentatively forwards at half impulse. The planet grew bigger on the viewer, lush emerald continents specked with mountain ridges. Ice caps gave way to swirling grey-blue oceans peeking through tempestuous blankets of churning cloud. The Foshirran sun cast the small starship into an abyssal shadow. Its running lights blinked out through the inconsequential nothing. Now within the planet’s gravity well, she crept further.
A whirl of bending light distorted the view ahead, another behind. Two warbirds revealed themselves, looming over the Ahwahnee, casting her into shadows deeper still. Hulls of brownish green formed accusatory spikes that leapt forward like the poised claws of mantises ready to tear their hapless prey asunder.
On the bridge, the red alert siren punctuated frantic reports. Every station was manned, every face tense apart from one, in the centre. Captain Felrak Vordenna, knowing full well the tactical inferiority of his vessel, scratched at the moss that grew on his wrist, “Report on those warbirds,” he said simply.
Alex Lupulo stood behind the curved beam of the tactical station, eyes glued to the sensor information as it populated the screen. The dimmed lighting cast a ghostly pallor over the tall man’s sallow skin. More colour drained from his face when he read out what he saw, “Both Dhailkhina-class, shields and weapons powered up. Looks like they’re arming plasma torpedoes too, sir.”
Felrak didn’t look away from the viewer, “Hail the lead warbird.”
“Channel open,” Delfino replied.
“This is Captain Felrak Vordenna of the Federation starship Ahwahnee,” the Argosian rattled off the standard greeting in a cordial tone, “we have detected a level of spatial distortion from the surface of Foshir III indicative of a quantum singularity,” He paused, inviting a reply from the other side, but there was none. He glanced at Tursk. The Tellarite shrugged in response. Trying valiantly to dispel the sarcasm from his voice, Felrak continued, “Might you be in need of some assistance?”
Immediately the main viewer flicked over to a warbird’s bridge. Turquoise panels backlit the figures of its crew, concentrating on their work every bit as intently as the Ahwahnee’s own personnel. In the middle of it, a prideful complacent smirk adorning his face, sat the commander of the Romulan invasion force, “This is General Prelyet of the warbird Gereldas,” he sneered, “Captain you have violated the territorial sovereignty of the Romulan Free State. The Federation has no reason to be in this region. I suggest you leave, immediately.”
“General,” Felrak stood, “a singularity represents a significant danger to all life on the planet. Just under a hundred million people from what we can see. As friends of the Romulan people, we only wish to help avoid a catastrophe occurring.”
Prelyet grew visibly irritated, “Your concern is unnecessary, Captain. As is your presence here. Leave now.”
Felrak smiled, “I’m afraid I must disagree. We understand there is currently a power struggle ongoing in this system. If the singularity is somehow a result of this conflict, if it is perhaps to be used as a weapon against forces opposing you, then it is my responsibility to ensure such a war crime does not take place.”
A peal of mocking laughter shot from the General. He took a while to collect himself, “Hah! And how do you hope to achieve this with an ancient light cruiser? Captain, you embarrass yourself,” abruptly, the mirth vanished from his eyes, “Leave now, or I will crush you like a shavab beetle.”
“Captain,” the urgency in Lupulo’s voice cut through the air, “reading a power surge in the Gereldas’ forward disruptor cannons.”
Felrak considered the General’s words, “I need not remind you, General, of the Starfleet operation in the Velorum sector.”
Prelyet, about to cut the channel, stopped in his tracks, “And what of it?” he glowered.
“The precedent is clear. The Federation stands ready to support the self-determination of any oppressed people. I ask you, General, if a Starfleet vessel is destroyed here today, what do you imagine the response would be? Can the Free State to make another enemy on another front?”
“This is an internal Romulan affair,” Prelyet spluttered.
“On the contrary, this concerns the rights and wellbeing of an entire planet. On which, I’m reliably informed, the Romulan population forms a distinct minority. What of the Foshirrans? Or the Remans? Are they not entitled to some say in the future of their home?
The Romulan rolled his eyes, “You talk and talk of representation and rights and self-determination. You Federation types will always talk. What will you actually do, Captain?”
“I won’t be doing anything. My atoms will be scattered across the system alongside pieces of my ship,” Tursk threw a nervous glance Felrak’s way, “Just look at Velorum if you want to see what happens if you do subjugate these people, though.”
“You have made your point,” Prelyet made a petulant sigh, “Seeing as I cannot seem to rid myself of you as I’d like, you are free to stay. But you will not interfere with Free State governance in this system. Do you understand?”
“Very well, then. Have a pleasant visit,” the General’s mouth twisted into possibly the most unnatural smile Felrak had ever seen. Less than a second passed before Prelyet was replaced by the red winged symbol of the Romulan Free State.
“Well, we’re not dead,” Lupulo looked up from tactical, “for now.”
Tursk growled, “So we’re here to observe. They don’t wanna start anything now. What’s to stop them carrying on with whatever they were doing as soon as we leave?”
Felrak returned to the centre chair, “Tursk, do we have any telepaths on board?”
J’Iral leant against a storage pod in the administration compound’s shuttle bay. She kicked a long leg out in front of her, exhaling loudly, “I’m not doing it.”
A look of alarm came over Therran, “It would be most unwise to defy the General,” she continued prepping the shuttle for launch.
J’Iral’s gaze dropped from the ceiling, zeroing in on Therran with frustration, “So you’ve done worse for the Tal Shiar? Not your first genocide?”
Therran stopped, lowering the datapad to her side she looked at J’Iral intently, “The Foshirrans are a security threat to the Free State. We must prioritise our resources for long term survival. If they must die to ensure the arathamite remains in our hands, then so be it.”
“So be it?” J’Iral balked, “I’ve done covert ops, I’ve gone undercover as a Klingon, I’ve assassinated people, but nothing like this. We’ve been here for three years, Therran. Have you ever had an unfriendly exchange with a Foshirran?”
Therran was silent.
“So no then. They’ve treated us with respect from day one. We ate their food. They taught us how to grow treplet vines. When you got sick, the healer from Seraco forest ground up your root powder and got you back on your feet. We lived on their planet. And now what? We just kill ‘em and move on to the next assignment?”
“You’re compromised,” came the calm response
“Ah, khoi-udt you heartless hnaev.”
“Listen!” Therran’s voice was high and her lip began to quiver, “I know what you think, and I’ve seen what happens to those who refuse orders. There’s… Unimaginable pain. I just want to go home, J’Iral.”
“This is your home.”
J’Iral’s tone softened, “They would look into your eyes and see a murderer. The butcher of Foshir.”
A low moan came from Therran’s throat. She backed away, coming up against the cold metal of the shuttle’s nacelle housing. A single sob escaped her lips. J’Iral approached slowly, reaching out a hand, gingerly placing it on Therran’s shoulder, “We can stay here. We can make this our home, with no more blood on our hands.”
Therral slumped motionless for a time. Then, with mustered strength, the lifted her head, “Let’s go,” she said.
An electric jolt shot through J’Iral, “Where?”
The forest clearing formed an irregular shape. In its centre was a large grassy mound damp with evening dew. A great fire had been lit, the smoke from which floated lazily up free from the dense canopy’s obstruction. Through the firelight orange, stars began to emerge from their daytime hiding places, as the Foshirrans were want to describe the passage of dusk into night.
A helka deer rotated slowly on a great spit. Seasonings and rubbed-in fat dripped with hisses onto white hot ash beneath. Its skin had hardened into thick crispy morsels, raised along lines scored with the hunting knife that had taken the animal’s life. They gave thanks to the land. Their land, that had brought forth all that enabled their culture, customs, and way of being. Every evening the Foshirrans made a choice not to forget this.
Alch leaves were laid out in a long row along an earthen rise. Upon each one was placed a measure of bayla grains, grown along clearwater tributaries and streams. These converged into a channel that sluiced through the clearing’s upper edge. From it, water was drawn and placed in wide-bottomed cauldrons, themselves placed over the fires to steam vast quantities of edible roots and bulbs. Some were mashed, to be placed within the leaves as a complement to the grains and meat. Others were taken whole, mixed with green leaves and fermented beans before being set out across the great long tables.
The air that night was clear and temperate. Foshirrans arrived slowly at first, lumbering out of the dense brush in groups of three and four. Their thick, trunk-like legs thudded along the ground, compressing sandalled feet into the flattened vegetation. Their clothing was modest, barely necessary given the protection from the elements offered by their thick mauve hides. Young and old, separated by height and facial wrinkles, they trudged over to the food. Each wrapped a leaf around the mixture and moved to the tables. Neighbours, workmates, and trading partners joined. Conversation meandered from the day’s labour to the weather, the growth of the current crop to what the Romulans were up to. Bulbous blue noses and sunken eyes grew animated on hearing of green fire that had poured from the sky. Some of their number had helped subdue the Romulan government in the preceding days. For their troubles, they had now received a new Romulan government. These Foshirrans of the interior maintained a stoic demeanour as they reported the news. The mining settlements mattered for little but gossip. A change in power there would no doubt affect the prices their food commanded, however.
That night, in the forest town closest to the arathamite mines, something different would happen. As thousands of hungry Foshirrans began to eat, the conversation stopped. The sounds of chirping insects and rustling leaves were all that filtered through the silence. From the far edge of the clearing, the Remans appeared. They walked neatly, as was their habit, in two quiet columns. Their dark features found comfort under the stars. Tyrothan was comforted, too, at the thought that this would be the end of their slavery one way or the other. Norvult was to his right, Therran and J’iral behind. The four of them climbed the earthen rise as the Remans, hundreds in number, fell back in a semi-circle. Not a single Foshirran rose. They instead looked on with curiosity at the first off-worlders to venture so far into the forests.
There was a heavy pause. Tryothan looked out over uncountable unblinking eyes. He stared back, rooted to the spot, the humid air tightening around the collar of a black coat that was far too thick for this climate. He looked to Norvult and thought of what the Remans had endured. Then he began, “Friends, we must apologise for disturbing your sacred meal. My associates,” he gestured to Therran and J’Iral, “told me I could find you here at the time you celebrate the fruits of your labour. We Remans wish to celebrate the fruits of our labour, too. Like you, we work day after day. In return we get nothing. The Romulans take what we produce and use it to build machines of war. Like you, we were told this new Romulan government, the ‘Free State’, would be different. This was a lie to secure their control over the arathamite mines.”
Therran stepped forward, “Some of you have met me. You’ve trusted me. I believed the Free State would build a better life for Foshirrans. But I was lied to all the same. The Free State is not your friend. The Tal Shiar has ordered your extermination,” a murmur shook through the audience.
“The time has come to take Foshir back from the colonisers,” Tyrothan was sure his voice had only reached the first few rows of those who sat before him, yet the eyes still tracked him from as far as his own could see, “they see you as a burden, more mouths to feed. The truth is they’re scared. With Remans in the mines and Foshirrans in the forests, why do we need them? If they want the product of our sweat and toil, they can pay us a fair price! I’m told your tree network can communicate this to Foshirrans across the planet. We can use it to spread the message that the future of Foshir lies with those who produce what’s needed to sustain our home.”
Another murmur rumbled through the Foshirrans, and Tyrothan stepped back. The quiet was eerie. Many had stopped eating their food altogether, and it was as if every Foshirran now looked to him with a sense of expectation. From the front row, a single child rose. She stepped towards Tyrothan, climbing up the rise on her stout legs. Her hand reached out to his, three thick prehensile fingers extended. Tentatively, he lifted his own hand. The fingers quickly wrapped from his palm to his wrist, and he almost pulled away. His vision flashed white, “You’re… Telepaths…” he gasped.
How do we know they won’t obliterate Foshir. The singularity has been activated once.
We move quickly. At dawn we move on all Romulan facilities.
It’s not enough. We want him.
Transporter room one had seen the coming and going of many delegations over the past week. Now, for the final time, the forms of two Starfleet officers materialised on the platform, “I must thank you for your assistance again, Lieutenant Aurel. A stroke of luck indeed to have someone of your abilities aboard.”
“And for the Foshirrans to be so receptive,” The young Betazoid hoisted the container strap over a teal shoulder, “I don’t think I’ve ever been able to communicate with so many at once.”
“An extremely efficient way to establish a planetary government,” Felrak smiled, “or the beginnings of one at least.”
“Well, I’ll be in sickbay if you need any more governments establishing. Good luck with the Romulans, sir,” she gave a quick nod as they parted ways.
A turbolift ride later, Tursk rose from the Captain’s chair as soon as Felrak entered his field of vision, “Welcome back, sir. How go the negotiations?”
Felrak raised his eyebrows, self-satisfaction shining through, “The Romulan Free State has agreed to grant a ‘high degree of autonomy’ to the newly formed government of Foshir III.”
“So the Velorum situation did get to them,” Tursk surmised.
“It seems the Velorum sector’s independence has rattled a few cages, yes,” Felrak agreed, “Now it seems the Free State can be quite flexible when it needs to be.”
It was Tursk’s turn to raise an eyebrow, “Once genocide’s off the table, of course.”
“Captain,” Delfino interrupted, “we’re being hailed by the Gereldas.”
“Here we go,” Tursk muttered.
“On screen,” Felrak called after a quick side-eye.
“Captain Vordenna,” General Prelyet could barely conceal the contempt that dripped from his words, “your continued interference in the sovereign affairs of the Romulan Free State has ridden roughshod over galactic norms. If you had half as much respect for the legal principles as you claim, you would leave our territory at once.”
“General,” Felrak sighed, “as I have explained to you many times, I was invited to oversee the formation of Foshir III’s Legislative Assembly. As such, the Ahwahnee is now here at the request of a Romulan Free State member world. We’ll leave when we want to. Further to this, I believe President Jm’Belb’s first decree was for all Tal Shiar assets to be removed from the system. If we’re talking about legality, Prelyet, then it is you who needs to be leaving this system now. Oh, and another thing. If there is so much as an attempt to erode Foshir’s autonomy, militarily or otherwise, you will find yourselves on the wrong side of a Velorum situation very quickly. You can have all the arathamite you want, General, but not at the expense of the Foshirran people.”
“I can see you are impossible to reason with,” Prelyet huffed, “In different times you would have been dead before you even crossed the border, Vordenna. Don’t get too smug, force feeding us your Federation ideals. Times can change.”
The channel closed. Tursk and Felrak watched silently as the Gereldas spun away from its position facing the Ahwahnee. The warbird pulled up from Foshir III, accelerating while a rippling cloak descended upon it once again. In an instant the ornithine green hull disappeared, as if it were never there.
“Enjoyed that, didn’t you?” a wry smile crossed Tursk’s face.
Felrak ignored him, “I think it might be time for us to be on our way too. Lieutenant Delfino, inform the Foshirran government of our departure. Set course for Deep Space 17. Warp six.” he then leaned across to Tursk with a sparkle in his eye, “Far too much,” he said quietly.