written by Travis Cannon

Captain Benjamin Kelsoe sat in his ready room awaiting a call from Admiral Harold Anton, commander in charge of all operations in the So’ja system. The communications beeped and Kelsoe tapped his badge.

“Kelsoe, here,” Kelsoe said.

“Captain,” came Tracy’s voice, “Admiral Anton’s call as come.”

“Patch the channel to my ready room,” Kelsoe said.

He turned his chair around to face the view screen. In moments the stark image of Admiral Anton appeared from his DS-5 command center.

“Ben, we’ve got problems,” Admiral Anton said.

“Problems?” Kelsoe said, he had noticed Anton’s tone.

“The Romulans have crossed the Neutral Zone and have headed into So’ja space,” Anton said. “We here think that the Romulans plan on making an alliance with the So’ja Coalition.”

“I don’t like where this is leading,” Kelsoe said.

“To be frank, Ben, neither do I,” Anton said gravely. “However Starfleet sees that it is in the best interest of the Federation to get involved. Starfleet Command wants the Pioneer to rendezvous with the Romulan Warbird Khellian. Meet and talk with Commander L’mar of the Khellian.”

“What actually is our mission?” Kelsoe said. “We’re not just going to talk to him, right?”

“You read me like a book, Ben,” Anton said, with a smile. “What you really are doing is stalling the Romulans, until the fleet can dispatch the Independence and the Niagara to rendezvous with you and escort the Romulan Warbird out of So’ja Space.”

“With all do respect, Admiral,” Kelsoe said, “None of our ships are a match for a Warbird except the Enterprise. Why can’t you send Picard in?”

“The Enterprise is in the middle of escorting the President to a Federation Conference on Deep Space Nine,” Anton said. “Starfleet Command, and even Admiral Hayes, himself, recommended that you be given this assignment.” Anton raised his hand in defense. “I know this might not be the most exciting mission that you’ve been given, I have had time to look over your reports, but this is necessary to ensure the balance of power in the So’ja System. Chancellor Ar’kon seems to think that since the system has the same name as them, that the So’ja should control it. But the Federation doesn’t see it as such. The So’ja System is home to several new Federation planets, and we must protect our new comrades against the oppression of the So’ja Coalition.”

“Something tells me that the So’ja Coalition isn’t the only ones we should be worrying about,” Kelsoe said. “The Tealuians aren't very friendly either.”

“I know,” Anton said, “I read the report about the infestation, terrible business. We’ve sent a medical convoy to Velos to assist the Velosians in any medical problems caused by any of those spiders. I must commend your Chief of Medical Officer for finding a way to combat them.”

Kelsoe nodded.

“Thank you, sir,” Kelsoe said.

Admiral Anton shifted his weight.

“Anyway,” Anton continued. “I’m sending all the information that you’ll need to know about Commander L’mar. Be careful, he was personal trained at Romulan Intelligence on Romulus.”

“I will, Admiral,” Kelsoe said.

“Good luck, Ben,” Anton said. “Anton out.”

The image flickered to the Federation seal with the caption “Transmission Ended” below it. Kelsoe leaned back in his chair. He sighed. Dealing with the So’ja was one thing - he understood the So’ja. But he did not understand how the Romulan commander ticked. This would be his first time negotiating with a Romulan commander. Sure he had read and watched encounters of other Starfleet and Federation personnel dealing with Romulans, but that did not make him feel any better. This was like being blind, not seeing what was in front of him. He had an internal fear of the unknown. The Romulans would be new to this system, yes, however compared to a Romulan Warbird - D’Deridex Class the Pioneer would be no match. He still failed to see why Admiral Hayes and Starfleet Command had picked him to do this.

Reluctantly he got up out of his chair and stepped towards the door. He paused, glancing out the window at the brilliant streaks of stars as the Pioneer cruised along at warp factor five. He lowered his head and took a deep breath. He then raised his head, straighten is back and stepped out onto the bridge.

Commander Connor Burt stood up from his chair and looked up at Kelsoe.

“What’s the word, Captain?” Burt inquired.

“Romulans,” Kelsoe said.

With that said, Burt and the rest of the bridge crew understood what was happening. From his science station, Braxis raised an eyebrow.

“The Romulans, Captain?” Braxis asked in a calm - without the trace of any emotion - voice.

Kelsoe nodded, gravely, and said, “Yes, the Romulans.” Kelsoe continued as he stepped down into the center of the bridge. “It appears that the all mighty, using the term loosely - of course, Romulan Star Empire as decided to make a move to ally itself with another Federation enemy.”

“This is an illogical move for the Romulans,” Braxis said. “The So’ja are not a very logical people.”

“So are we!” Burt said, “As you’ve been so kind to remind me all the time.”

Braxis raised his eyebrow, yet again, and replied.

“I am merely stating the obvious,” Braxis said. “Humans do tend to make illogical decisions. That is to be expected when you allow emotion to govern your decision making process.”

“Why you green blooded son of...!”

“Now, now, you two,” Kelsoe said stepping in, “We’re on the same team here.”

Burt slowly backed away and took some time to cool off. Kelsoe turned to Ensign Eric Zimmer at the helm. He took a deep breath, and for those few seconds of silence he ran through all the possible scenarios that could happen, and was disturbed with some of the results of those scenarios. As he exhaled he gave his order.

“Mr. Zimmer,” Kelsoe said, as calmly as he could, “Set course to rendezvous with the Romulan Warbird Khellian.”

Zimmer turned around to the helm console, feeling strangely odd.

“Aye, sir,” Zimmer said. “Changing course to rendezvous with the Khellian.”

Kelsoe stepped back and sat down in his chair. For about a minute everyone sat in silence. Kelsoe could literally feel the tension in the room. Finally, Burt decided to speak up.

“Why’s Starfleet sending us?” Burt inquired. “Surely they can spare the Enterprise.”

“The Enterprise is busy according to Admiral Anton,” Kelsoe said. “Therefore, it is up to us.”

“Captain,” Braxis said, spinning around in his chair to face Kelsoe. “I am forced to agree with Commander Burt, Starfleet should not send us. Our ship is no match for a Romulan Warbird if she decides to become hostile.”

“Look,” Kelsoe said, standing up. “Please, people, try and think positively. We will get through this. According to Starfleet Intelligence the Romulan Warbird has been ordered not to use any force to meet with the So’ja.”

“Then perhaps the Romulans are just curious,” Braxis said. “As most living things are.”

“Precisely,” Kelsoe said, moving towards Braxis. “This may just be an example of curiosity from the Romulan Star Empire.” He paused and took a deep breath. “I’m be in my ready room, contact me when we’ve reached the Warbird.”

Kelsoe walked past Braxis and through the doors into his ready room. He stepped over to the replicator in the corner of the room. And cleared his throat.

“Ice water,” Kelsoe said.

A glass of water with ice cubes appeared on the small platform. Kelsoe picked it up and sipped it. He exhaled with relief. He needed that to cool him off. He stepped around his chair and sat down. He placed the glass on his desk and turned his small personal desk computer towards him. He punched the screen.

“Computer,” Kelsoe said. “Bring up all known files of a Romulan Warbird - D’Deridex class.”

The computer chirped and the screen flashed to a list of attachments to choose from. Kelsoe sighed. So much to review before his first encounter with Commander L’mar.

“Let’s make a game of it, Kavoc,” Craig said.

Kavoc looked curiously at Dr. Chase Braga and then back at Lt. Norman Craig. He then looked down at the board Craig and Braga had brought to the mess hall. Kavoc raised his eyebrow.

“What is the game called?” Kavoc inquired.

Craig looked at Braga and smiled.

“Chess,” Craig said.

“Ah, Chess,” Kavoc said. “I have heard of it. My former teacher, N’gem taught me this.”

“How long ago was that?” Braga inquired, grinning at Craig.

“It has been some time,” Kavoc said, lowering his eyebrows. “However, not enough to forget the basic principles of the game.”

“So, do you wanna play?” Craig inquired.

“Against you?” Kavoc inquired.

“Yes,” Craig said. “I’ll have to warn you, I’m very good.”

Kavoc attempted to make a laughed but failed completely. He noticed Craig and Braga’s puzzled looks.

“I am still trying to grasp humor,” Kavoc explained.

“Kavoc,” Braga said slowly. “I don’t think Norm was making a joke.”

“Ah, I see,” Kavoc said, looking from Braga, then back to Craig. “Then I accept you challenge.”

“All right,” Craig said smiling. “I’ll be black, you’ll be white. You...”

“Yes, I know,” Kavoc said. “I go first.”

Kavoc moved a piece forward and Craig studied the board. He moved one. Kavoc took no time to study the board before he moved his piece. Craig soon learned never to challenge a Vulcan to a game that involved mental tactics. Within five minutes the game was over.

“Check mate,” Kavoc announced.

“What?” Craig said, holding his hands beside his head.

“I believe that is the term used when one as won,” Kavoc said.

“It is,” Braga confirmed, and then turned to Craig. “He beat you.”

“I know,” Craig was still studying the board. “He must have made at least one mistake.”

“You should notice that I have made none,” Kavoc said. “The game is actually quite simple to some of the games Vulcan children play.”

Both Craig and Braga looked at Kavoc suddenly. Kavoc noticed the expressions on their faces.

“No offense intended,” Kavoc said.

“That’s okay, Kavoc,” Braga said. “We understand. You Vulcans have much higher mental abilities.”

“Indeed we do,” Kavoc said. “I have had... fun.”

Kavoc got up and left to resume his engineering duties. Craig sat there stumped. Braga moved over into Kavoc’s seat and began resetting the board.

“I’ll play you, Norm,” Braga said. “Let this be a lesson. Never play Chess with a Vulcan.”

After a while, Craig and Braga began to play. From over in the corner of the room, Braxis watched. He found the interaction that Kavoc was having with the humans fascinating. He was amused, as much as a Vulcan could be, by how shocked they were with how fast Kavoc won. Braxis looked back at his table towards his companion for lunch, a data pad with the latest updates on the Romulan Star Empire. Across from Braxis, Commander Rob Tuff, Lt. Commander Joanna Withrome and Ensign Tracy Carson sat at the table, waiting for Ensign Eric Zimmer.

Zimmer came over slowly with his tray and set it down. He looked up at all the rest, and noticed their expressions.

“What’s up?” Zimmer asked.

Tuff shrugged.

“We’re going to be encountering the Romulans in So’ja space,” Tuff said.

“No one saw this coming,” Joanna said, pushing her plate away from her. “The Romulans have never done this so early.”

“Huh?” Zimmer said.

Braxis looked up from his data pad.

“The Romulans usually do not try and make contact with a species such as the So’ja, who have only been associated with the known universe for less than three years,” Braxis clarified.


Tracy slowly nibbled on her food, glancing over at Craig and Braga. Craig looked over, smiled and waved. Tracy smiled and waved back. The rest of them at the table smiled, for the exception of Braxis.

“So,” Joanna said, leaning towards Tracy. “How’s it going?”

“Huh?” Tracy said, acting like she had no idea what Joanna was talking about.

“You and Craig,” Joanna said.

“We’re fine,” Tracy said, she lowered her head and smiled. “We’re great, actually.”

Braxis shifted in his seat and cocked his head as he listened to the conversation. Zimmer leaned forward.

“I don’t know how you guys do it,” Zimmer said, “Both being senior officers and part of the bridge crew.”

“It has been difficult at times,” Tracy said, “but I think its working out.”

Tuff sipped his coffee.

“As the oldest one here, beside Braxis, I feel I should say something,” Tuff said. “I know Braxis would never say it, so I will.”

Braxis turned his head and looked Tuff squarely in the eyes.

“Are you implying that you know what I am thinking, Commander Tuff?” Braxis inquired.

“Well, yes,” Tuff said. “What else would I have implied?”

“I am capable of feeling for another individual,” Braxis said. “And I am actually the oldest officer on the senior staff.”

“Sorry,” Tuff said.

“Then go ahead, Mr. Braxis,” Zimmer said. “Say what you were going to say.”

Braxis eyed Tuff, to observe Tuff’s expression, and then glanced at Zimmer.

“Very well,” Braxis said cocking his head towards Tracy. “I believe that inter-ship relationships are a very complicated form of humanoid friendship and such. It is no doubt that certain tensions, such as sexual and so on, will occur aboard a ship this size during a long period in space. And also taking in the fact that both you and Lt. Craig grew up on deep space stations, it is logical for you two to come together as a couple.”

“Wow,” Tracy said with wide eyes.

“You know,” Tuff said. “I was going to use fewer words.”

Braxis cocked his head back to Tuff.

“I apologize if my choice of wording did not fit your style, Commander Tuff,” Braxis said.

“Do I detect anger?” Tuff inquired.

Braxis raised his eyebrow and was about to saw something that he would later regret, as far as a Vulcan could, when Burt’s voice come on the intercom.

“All senior officers report to your stations,” Burt said. “We are closing in on the Romulan Warbird.”

Captain Kelsoe was already standing on the bridge when the senior staff made it to their stations. Zimmer walked up behind the pilot and patted his shoulder. The pilot got up and left. Zimmer sat down in the pilot’s chair and checked the sensors. Kelsoe turned around and looked at Commander Tuff.

“Rob,” Kelsoe said. “I want the security teams aboard the ship to be extra watchful. The Romulans may try something.”

“Aye, Captain,” Tuff said.

“Decrease speed to half impulse,” Kelsoe ordered to Zimmer.

Zimmer nodded, and the Pioneer dropped out of warp. On the view screen the stars slowed and soon they saw a glowing green Romulan Warbird in front of them. It was twice the size of the Enterprise-D, which in its time was the flagship of Starfleet.

“Lt. Craig,” Kelsoe said. “Keep your fingers near the shields and phasers.”

“Yes, sir,” Craig acknowledged with a nod.

Kelsoe stretched his neck and arms. He hesitated before giving his next order. Not much is known about the Romulans and their tactics. He was unsure whether he was prepared for this.

“Captain?” Braxis said. “The Romulan ship is obversely waiting for us to hail them.”

Kelsoe nodded.

“I know, Braxis,” Kelsoe said. “I’m just giving myself time to prepare.”

Braxis was about to say something more, but Kelsoe raised his hand to quiet Braxis. This was effective, for Braxis closed his mouth before any sound could escape. Kelsoe straightened his uniform and nodded towards Tracy.

“Open a channel, Ensign,” Kelsoe said.

The screen flashed to the symbol of the Romulan Star Empire - A bird of prey holding two planets in its claws. Within ten seconds the picture of the Romulan Star Empire seal was replaced by the bust of the Romulan commander. The uncanny Vulcan resemblance was unmistakable. All except his forehead was similar, if not, exactly like a Vulcan. He glared down at Kelsoe through the view screen.

“Captain Benjamin Kelsoe, I presume,” said the Romulan commander.

“Commander L’mar, I presume,” Kelsoe rebutted.

L’mar cracked a smile and nodded.

“It is I,” L’mar said. “Strange it is that you are the one to welcome the Romulan Star Empire to the Oralian system.”

“You mean the So’ja system,” Kelsoe said.

“It was the Oralian system last time we checked,” L’mar said with a sneer. “The So’ja have not conquered all of it yet. But I believe they will soon.”

“I am confused,” Kelsoe said. “What is the Romulan Star Empire’s interest in the So’ja?”

“The Praetor needs not answer you,” said L’mar.

“As a offer of our good well,” Kelsoe said. “I would like to invite you and your first officer aboard the Pioneer for supper.”

“Ah,” L’mar said, raising his eyebrows. “That would be interesting. I accept your invitation.”

“I’ll have arrangements made to have you and your first officer beamed over at nineteen hundred hours,” Kelsoe said.

“I shall be counting the minutes, Captain,” L’mar said. “Khellian out.”

The view screen flashed to the Romulan Star Empire seal again, with the words “End of Transmission” written in Romulan below it. Kelsoe turned to Tracy.

“Ensign,” Kelsoe said. “I want you to find out what is considered a Romulan delicacy, for our guests. As for us, steak for humans and a big salad for Commander Braxis.”

“That sounds fine, sir,” Tracy said standing up and heading for the turbo-lift.

Kelsoe turned to Burt and noticed Burt’s expression.

“We’re having them over for dinner?” Burt said.

Captain Benjamin Kelsoe and the senior staff stood in transporter room one, awaiting the arrival of Commander L’mar and his first officer. Kelsoe turned to the whistle bowler.

“Stay sharp, crewman,” Kelsoe said. “We are representing the entire Federation.”

The crew straighten his back.

“Yes, sir,” the crewman said. “Sorry, sir.”

Ensign Kavoc stood behind the transporter control console, with Ensign Jeri Manon and two other security crewmen. Standing outside with three other security personnel was Ensign Rick Soto. Despite the fact that there was no war to speak of going on, there may be some crew members on board with some very ill feelings of Romulans. Though Kelsoe agreed with some of their views, he still had to protect the Romulan commander and his first officer to ensure that actually war does not break out, because the Romulan fleet has a very high possibility of being stronger than Starfleet.

“It is time, Captain,” Kavoc said.

Kelsoe nodded.

“Energize,” Kelsoe ordered.

Kavoc acknowledged with a nod and looked down at the station’s console. He pressed a few buttons and raised his fingers up on the transporter key, and brought them back down. There was a humming noise, accompanied by a brilliant blue light. After it subsided Commander L’mar and his first officer were standing on the transporter pad. Kelsoe stepped forward and extended his hand as L’mar stepped down. L’mar grabbed Kelsoe’s hand firmly and shook it.

“It is nice to meet you - in person, Captain,” L’mar said, and then gestured towards his first officer. “This is my first officer, Sub-Commander Terrok.”

“Hi,” Kelsoe said, as he shook Terrok’s hand.

Kelsoe then stood back and gestured towards his senior staff.

“This is my senior staff,” Kelsoe said, going in order. As he introduced them, L’mar and Terrok shook their hands. “First, my first officer, Commander Connor Burt. My security officer, Commander Tuff. My science officer, Commander Braxis. And this is - .”

“Ah, Commander Braxis,” L’mar said, slightly smiling. “I’ve heard a great many things about you. Interesting, yes. And great.”

“I do not know what to say,” Braxis replied.

“I didn’t expect you to,” L’mar said. “After all you are a Vulcan.”

Braxis nodded.

“Naturally,” Braxis said.

Terrok gave a slight grim chuckle at this. Braxis ignored him. Kelsoe cleared his throat and continued down the line.

“This is our Chief of Medical Officer, Dr. Chase Braga. Our Chief Engineer, Lt. Commander Joanna Withrome. Our tactical/operations officer, Lt. Norman Craig. Ensign Eric Zimmer, our pilot. And finally our communications officer, Ensign Tracy Carson,” Kelsoe finished.

“Nice to meet you all,” L’mar said after he and Terrok had shook every hand that was required. “A assume that there will be no tour.”

“You are correct,” Kelsoe said. “Our governments are still not on good terms. I can’t let it be known that I gave a Romulan commander and his first officer a tour of my ship.”

“Yes, that is true,” L’mar said nodding is head. “As would I.”

“Follow me, and we’ll go to the dinning hall,” Kelsoe said with a slight bow. L’mar glanced over at the security personnel and nodded slowly.

“Lead on, Captain.”

They all sat around the table. The windows on one side of the room showed the stars in the distance with the green Romulan Warbird in the foreground. Kelsoe sat at the head of the table, with L’mar to his right and Commander Burt to his left. Beside Burt was Tuff. Across from Tuff, and beside his commander, was Terrok. Tracy and Craig sat next to each other. Across from them on Burt’s side of the table was Dr. Braga and Joanna. Commander Braxis sat at the opposite end as Kelsoe. Ensign Eric Zimmer was absent. Kelsoe thought it best to have at least one senior officer on the bridge.

L’mar slowly picked up his glass with blue liquid in it. He smiled slightly and chuckled.

“The captain has gotten Romulan ale,” L’mar said to Terrok, then looking back at Kelsoe. “If I am not mistaken, this is illegal in the Federation.”

Kelsoe chuckled and smiled.

“One benefit for not being in Federation space,” Kelsoe said.

“Not that we break Federation regulations every time that we’re out of Federation space,” Burt said. “But sometimes I feel like Romulan ale.”

Terrok laughed.

“Funny, it is,” Terrok said. “That you, a human, member of the Federation, enjoys our ale.”

They looked down at their plates.

“And I see you took the liberty of providing us with a Romulan delicacy,” L’mar said. “How thoughtful.”

Braxis raised his eyebrow as he watched the conversation between the Romulan officers, Burt and Kelsoe. He looked over and saw that Craig, Tracy, Tuff, Joanna, and Braga had already engaged in their own conversation. He leaned back and left his glass full, so that he could observe the Romulan officers.

L’mar gulped the Romulan ale down with a healthy laugh. He then stared across the table at Braxis and raised his eyebrow.

“Ah, come now, Commander Braxis,” L’mar said. “Surely you must enjoy life.”

Braxis cleared his throated.

“I do not see it necessary to show it as much as you,” Braxis said.

L’mar lowered his eyes.

“Ah, yes,” L’mar said. “Vulcans and my people do have a history together. When might we forget the past, Commander Braxis, and live in the present. You Vulcans are so stubborn.”

“We merely do the logical thing,” Braxis said.

“Logical!?” L’mar said, chuckling, glancing at Terrok. L’mar turned to Kelsoe and continued to talk. “Vulcans banished us when we were the same. Why? Because we believed it was not logical to hide our emotions. The Romulan Star Empire does not want war, Captain. We are growing tired of the Neutral Zone.”

“Then why, may I ask, are you heading towards the So’ja capital planet, Ka’al?” Braxis inquired.

Terrok looked up at L’mar. L’mar glanced at Terrok, who nodded. L’mar gave a quick smirk as he opened his mouth to speak.

“The So’ja have... resources the Empire is interested in,” L’mar said. “We merely want to open up trade.”

“But why wait all this time?” Kelsoe inquired. “The So’ja have been around long enough for the Empire to open up trade with, why wait until the So’ja Coalition as declared the Federation its enemy?”

“That I cannot answer,” L’mar said. “I am merely following orders. And what about you, Captain? Why is the Federation suddenly inviting Romulans aboard their ships for dinner?”

Everyone around the table became silent. Kelsoe could feel every set of eyes on him. All staring at him, waiting for his response. This was, indeed, a very critical question. There would be only one correct way to answer this without giving away the dinner’s true intention - as a way to stall the Romulans from making contact with the So’ja.

“We are not yet at war,” Kelsoe said. “It is merely a cold war. Back on Earth in the 1960s when Russia and the United States were bitter enemies, they met and chatted, as we are. They were going through a cold war, as well. It is a way of helping to improve our relations... so that war does not break out.”

“Ah,” L’mar said leaning back. It appeared that he was satisfied with the answer that was given him. However, Kelsoe was not quite sure whether L’mar really believed him.

The rest of the dinner progressed slowly until it was twenty-one hundred hours. By then they were back in the transporter room, saying their farewells. Sub-Commander Terrok stood on the transporter pad waiting for his commander. L’mar stood in front of Kelsoe. His eyes were twinkling and he wore an odd smirk on his face.

“What fun tonight was, Captain,” L’mar said gleaming. “We must do this again.”

L’mar extended his hand. Kelsoe took in and shook hands with L’mar. This hand shake felt strangely different from their first. Kelsoe sensed that L’mar’s hand felt different, almost plastic like. But at the time, Kelsoe ignored this.

L’mar smiled when they had finished their farewell and stepped up to the transporter pad. He turned and nodded to Terrok. Terrok took out his communicator and brought it to his mouth.

“Hteij'rhe...hna’h!” Terrok said in Romulan.

The room hummed and was engulfed with light as they transported off the ship. Kelsoe let his posture slouch. He inhaled and exhaled slowly. Tuff relaxed his guard and stepped towards the wall.

“That was interesting,” Burt said.

Kelsoe turned and nodded. He raised his hand towards his head and rubbed his forehead.

“Remind me to tell the galley never to serve Romulan ale, again,” Kelsoe said.

“Yes, Captain,” Braxis said.

Slowly they all left the transporter room, one at a time, until Braxis stood there alone. He raised his eyebrow.

“Curious,” Braxis said.

Kelsoe turned, from the doorway and stared at Braxis.

“What is it, Braxis?” Kelsoe said rubbing his forehead.

“Romulans, sir,” Braxis said.

“What?” Kelsoe said, he was not following.

“Are you familiar with the phrase, ‘beware Romulans bearing gifts’?” Braxis inquired.

“Yes,” Kelsoe said stepping back into the room. “Why?”

“We should be warned,” Braxis said. “I do not believe the Romulan commander.”

“Well, I don’t think he believed our reason either,” Kelsoe said.

“However, I do believe he was sincere when speaking about the hostilities between the Federation and the Romulan Star Empire,” Braxis said. “He, too, would not like to see war. He has a family. A wife and two children.”

“You got all this from just listening and watching him?” Kelsoe inquired.

“I searched the Federation database for Commander L’mar’s record,” Braxis said. “It was quite easy to find.”

“What do you suspect are the Romulans true intentions?” Kelsoe inquired.

“I believe the Romulans intended to persuade the So’ja Coalition to ally with them,” Braxis said. “It is after all, logical for one enemy to ally itself with another to strengthen themselves against a common enemy.”

“Let me guess, we’re the common enemy?” Kelsoe said.

“Precisely, Captain,” Braxis said.

Kelsoe nodded.

“Look,” Kelsoe said. “I’ve got to get some sleep, have a report on my desk at five hundred hours.”

“Aye, Captain,” Braxis said.

Kelsoe smiled and nodded, then left the room, leaving Braxis alone.

Kelsoe sat in his office going over Braxis’ report. Most of it seemed to be exactly what Kelsoe was thinking, but it was nice to see that someone agreed with him. As Kelsoe read the report, he saw that something was hidden within the lines of Braxis’ words. Something that was bigger than whether the Romulans would ally with the So’ja. The Romulans wanted So’ja space. Kelsoe could see it. The Romulans wanted the Oralian system. The Oralian system just did not hold the So’ja’s vast resources but races that still have not had first contact with the Federation. Races that may have more advance technology than the Federation.

Then suddenly something snapped in Kelsoe’s mind. L’mar’s hand had felt plastic. Kelsoe got up and exited his ready room. He stepped up into the bridge and turned to Braxis.

“Braxis, come with me to sickbay,” Kelsoe said. “Connor, you have the conn.”

Braxis followed Kelsoe to the turbo-lift. Upon entrancing the turbo-lift, the computer promptly asked for the deck destination.

“Sickbay,” Kelsoe said, almost automatically.

The computer beeped and the turbo-lift hummed as it began to move. Braxis stared at Kelsoe.

“Captain,” Braxis inquired, “does this have something to do with my report?”

“Yes, and no,” Kelsoe said. “I read between the lines, Braxis. And I agree with you.”

“You do?” Braxis said. “Interesting.”

“The only reason the Romulans are here are to make the So’ja feel as if they want peace, but that’s not true,” Kelsoe said. “The Romulans want to take over this entire system. Once they’ve taken control of this system, they’ll move on the Federation.”

“It is only a matter of time,” Braxis said. “But why are we going to sickbay?”

The turbo-lift doors opened and they stepped out into the hallway. They headed down the hallways towards sickbay.

“When I shook L’mar’s hand before he and Terrok left, I swear it felt plastic,” Kelsoe said.

Braxis raised his eyebrow.

“Plastic?” Braxis said. “Like he had something over his hand.”

“That’s what I have come to believe,” Kelsoe said as he turned and they entered sickbay.

Dr. Braga looked up upon their entrance.

“Captain? Commander?” Braga said. “What can I do for you?”

Kelsoe walked up to Braga.

“When I shook hands with L’mar, it felt like his hand was plastic,” Kelsoe said.

Braga lowered his eyebrows. He picked up a medical tricorder.

“Hold out your hand,” Braga said.

Kelsoe raised his hand and Braga placed the tricorder over it. As he scanned Kelsoe’s hand the tricorder beeped. Finally the scan was complete.

“Something has happened,” Braga said, “but I don’t know what. Something was covering his hand.”

“What?” Kelsoe inquired.

“Whatever it was,” Braga said glancing at Braxis and then back at Kelsoe. “I’ve never seen it before.”

The turbo-lift doors opened revealing Kelsoe and Braxis. Kelsoe’s expression was that of despair. Burt turned to see Kelsoe.

“Captain,” Burt said. “Something’s not right. We haven’t heard from the Independence or the Niagara.”

Kelsoe nodded and Braxis stepped over to his station. Kelsoe walked over to Tracy and stood behind her.

“Hail the Warbird,” Kelsoe said.

“Yes, Captain,” Tracy said. “Channel opened.”

Kelsoe turned to the screen and saw L’mar staring back at him.

“Ah, Captain,” L’mar said.

“Why aren’t we hearing from...,” Kelsoe started.

“We’ve created a communication jam,” L’mar interrupted. “They cannot reach you, and you cannot reach them.”

“Why?” Kelsoe said. “What were you wearing when we shook hands?”

L’mar chuckled.

“The time of your great Federation is going to come to an end,” L’mar said. “The Federation is old and out of date. The Empire will be your successor.”

“What did you do to me!?” Kelsoe said, stepping down into the center of the bridge.

“I have taken something from you that is unique, only to you,” L’mar said. “I have taken your very identity.”

“What do you mean?” Kelsoe said.

“I have taken a sample of your DNA,” L’mar said. “It is what makes up your genetic structure. You will be used as a prototype.”

“A prototype for what?” Kelsoe asked, very must enraged. He had been violated.

“Bye-bye, Captain,” L’mar said with a wicked smirk. “It was... a pleasure meeting you.”

The transmission was ended. The view screen showed the Warbird.

“Captain?” Burt said from behind Kelsoe. “What are you’re orders?”

“Prepare to fire,” Kelsoe said.

“Captain...,” Braxis said. “That is not logical.”

“Shut up Braxis!” Kelsoe said. “Lt. Craig - fire!”

“It’s too late, sir,” Craig said. “They’re cloaking.”

And so they were. Right in front of his own eyes, Kelsoe watched as the Romulan Warbird engaged their cloaking device and within seconds they were gone. Tracy turned around from her station.

“Captain,” Tracy said. “We have communications back online. I’m reading the Independence.”

Kelsoe stood there, red faced with anger. I have taken your very identity, L’mar’s words blasted in his mind... your DNA. It was all at an end it seemed. Everything that could have gone wrong did. The phase that Braxis reminded him of was true... Beware Romulans bearing gifts.