While Commander Pierce oversaw their scientific mission, Captain Armstrong had been ensconced in his ready room to continue planning for their initial sojourn into the Talvath Cluster. His prior assignment commanding a Parliament-class utility vessel had largely meant following orders closely and going where he was told. Now, he had the ability to chart his own course and see what was out there. Little was known about the Talvath Cluster, but data was already starting to pour in from the Daren Array, and there were a wealth of options open to him: would it be observing a black hole consume a pulsar or surveying a system where there appeared to be at least seven M-class worlds.
Armstrong’s uniform jacket was hanging from a peg on the side of his standing-style desk while he read through reports and snuck in a quick bicep workout with the variable weight dumbbell set he kept in the ready room. He had trouble with idle time, and the only time he was really comfortable sitting still was when he slipped into the captain’s chair on the bridge; otherwise, he was up and active as long as he was awake.
“Incoming holographic transmission from Commodore Brett Logan. Priority One,” the computer reported.
After setting his weight back into its clip under the desk and quickly putting his jacket back on, Armstrong tapped a button to answer the call. Commodore Logan appeared in front of his desk, his hands clasped behind his back. Nothing from Starfleet ever seemed to be lower than priority one, so he wasn’t particularly excited by the interruption.
“I wasn’t expecting to hear from you so soon, sir,” Armstrong said. After their briefing on Deep Space 17, Logan had taken weekly reports from each of the captains in his squadron, but Armstrong’s had been just the previous day. “How can I help you?”
“I’ll cut to the chase, captain. I just got an urgent communiqué from Fourth Fleet Command. The Romulan Free State has been protesting our construction of the Daren Array for months now, and Command has decided to offer them an olive branch to prove that we’re not spying on them and we’re not developing a new anti-cloaking system,” Logan said. “You and the Antares will be that olive branch.”
“How do you mean, sir?” Armstrong asked, his eyes narrowing slightly.
“We’ve offered to cooperate with the Romulans on a joint exploratory mission with full transparency. They’ll get access to your scans and the data from the Daren Array, and we’ll get their scans,” the commodore replied. He waved his hand, and a star system appeared next to his hologram. “They’re particularly interested in this system, Omega Termini, but they won’t say why.”
“Typical. Do we have anything on it?” Armstrong asked.
“There’s a G-type star and three planets, one of which is M-class,” Logan replied. “It’s not particularly interesting, but if I were trying to get a baseline on our sensor capabilities, I’d probably pick an unremarkable system, too.”
“We should’ve invited them to join our examination of this planetoid, sir,” Armstrong joked.
“Careful what you wish for. As soon as we agreed, the Romulans said that they have a ship in the area and it will rendezvous ‘soon,’” Logan said. “You’ll be working with Commander Detrama. I’m sending you everything Starfleet Intelligence has put together on her, but it’s not much. Your orders are to accompany Detrama and her ship to Omega Termini and perform a standard survey. Any questions?”
“Do we really have no idea what they’re after in Omega Termini?” Armstrong asked.
“Nothing so far. If I had to guess, they think they already know enough about Omega Termini to reverse engineer the capabilities of our telescope. Consider figuring out their motivations a secondary objective,” Logan replied.
“Stay alert and good hunting, captain,” Logan said, before his hologram disappeared and the transmission ended.
“So much for charting my own course,” Armstrong muttered.
The captain gestured sideways towards the holographic display projected above his desk to move the prospective reports on a dozen more interesting star systems back to his inbox to pull up the sensor data on Omega Termini and Commander Detrama’s dossier. Before he could get too far into reading either of them, the alert klaxon sounded.
“Red alert. Captain Armstrong to the bridge,” the first officer said over the intercom.
From the forward-facing viewports of the ready room, Armstrong could see a Romulan warbird decloaking. Evidently, when the Romulans said that they had a ship in the area, they were speaking very precisely. Armstrong straightened his uniform and walked onto the bridge, entering to the starboard side of the viewscreen. Senior officers were taking their stations, and Armstrong could sense the anxiety in the room.
“Stand down red alert,” Armstrong ordered.
“Sir, they’re right on our bow,” Pierce pointed out.
“Yes, I can see that. I just learned about a minute ago that we’d be having company. We’ve been ordered to cooperate with them. Tactical, stand down before this changes from a misunderstanding into a crisis,” Armstrong reiterated.
“Aye, captain,” Lieutenant Commander Lykaios replied through a scowl.
“Captain, the Romulan ship is hailing us,” Lieutenant Burke reported.
“On screen,” Armstrong said as he took his seat.
The viewscreen switched to an interior view of the warbird’s bridge, which was illuminated with an unsettling green hue. Sitting on the command throne was a Romulan woman in a black uniform trimmed in leather. Her long obsidian hair was gathered so that it was draped forward over one of her shoulders.
“This is Commander Detrama of the Romulan Free State. I do hope I didn’t startle you and your crew, Captain Armstrong,” the Romulan said, smirking the entire time.
“Not at all, commander. I have to credit your timing, though: we just received our orders a few minutes ago. If you had been here any sooner, we may have had a miscommunication,” Armstrong replied.
“Yes, and that would have been such a shame,” Detrama replied, the sarcasm dripping from her voice. “It was fascinating to observe your studies of this useless asteroid. Was it some sort of trial of faith for your scientists? Or a punishment perhaps?”
Armstrong chuckled. “I think you’re fully aware that we were assisting in the calibration of the telescope array your government is so interested in,” he replied. “I can share our findings if you like.”
“No need. While you were carving away, we transported a sample from the center of the asteroid. It’s just iron and carbon,” Detrama said. “I assume if we give you our findings, your ‘business’ in this system will be complete, and we can proceed on our mission?”
“How thoughtful of you,” the captain replied. He tapped a few commands into the screen on the arm of his chair to access the navigational database. “Omega Termini is three days away at warp eight. That should be plenty of time for the two of us to get on the same page. We’ll follow your lead, commander.”
“Excellent. Detrama out.”
Armstrong exhaled through his nose. This is not how he saw his day going. He watched as the Romulan ship did a pirouette and began heading away from them. He wished he could just let them go—or lob a few torpedoes at them. Nothing with the Romulans was ever simple, and he was expecting a few more shoes to drop at any moment.
“Sir, they are sending flight data and offering a handshake protocol,” Lieutenant Burke reported from the communications station. “I can set up a firewall around the rest of our systems.”
“Transmit everything we have on Omega Termini but decline a direct interface, Lieutenant. We’ll let them earn that later,” Armstrong said. “Helm, match their course and speed. Engage when they do.”
“Aye,” both lieutenants replied.
“Commander, I want the senior staff in the briefing room in twenty minutes. I need a chance to read the dossier that Starfleet sent along. The Romulans timed their arrival to throw us off balance, so we’re going to have to get a grip on this mission in record time,” Armstrong said to Pierce.
Pierce nodded. “Of course, sir. We’ll be ready for your orders.”
“Engaging warp drive,” the helmsman reported.
When Armstrong looked up, there was a flash of light from the Romulan ship jumping past the lightspeed barrier before Antares herself followed moments later. The jump to warp filled the screen with the streaks of energy and light that marked travel at speeds far above standard cruising velocities. The captain stood up from his seat.
“You have the bridge, Commander Pierce. Keep an eye on our new colleagues.”