Chapter Three

            Commander Ael t’Ra’kholh of the Imperial Romulan Navy, captain of the Warbird -class cruiser Bloodsign, stared into her cabin mirror, her jaw set firm against the anger that burned within her.  She was of a noble house.  Her family name could be found intertwined in the very cloth of the history of the Rihannsu people since landfall on ch’Rihan.

            Indeed, her ancestors were among the original “eighty-thousand” who abandoned the oldhome in the time of S’task and travelled to the stars to begin a new world and a new people -- a people allowed passion and glory -- for whom the emotion-cold logic of Surak’s Vulcan was an abhorrence.  Even now, her father was one of the Emperor’s closest advisors.  There was never a disgrace in her line.  Until today.

            Her ship, her command -- her crew -- had been an instrument of dishonor and she had been powerless to do anything about it.  Forced to watch as the Centurion gave the command to fire on the unsuspecting Enterprise,  t’Ra’kholh had turned and walked off the bridge.  There was such a thing as honor, but this bore no resemblance to it.  She cursed softly.  How had she lost control?

            Her mind reeled back to the beginning, less than a tenday ago.  Bloodsign  had returned in glory from Kinshayan space with an unprecedented prize in tow.  In 234 years of on-again, off-again war against the Kinshaya (a Kll’inghann name for demon-possessed), no Rihannsu had ever captured a Kinshayan war vessel.  But she had defeated one in battle, then watched in surprise as its self-destruct mechanism failed.  Though the entire crew of the disabled vessel had committed suicide, t’Ra’kholh had been able to attach a tractor beam to it and, by sheer cunning and not a little luck, drag it back behind Romulan lines.  While the two vessels orbited ch’Rihan a week later, Ael’s father had watched proudly as the Emperor himself presented her with The Order of the Empire.  She seemed destined for high rank by the sheer force of her accomplishments in battle, even if she had not been of noble lineage.

            Four days later she’d received orders -- a milk run for Imperial Intelligence, I2, before returning to her battle group.  A week-long dash through the Neutral Zone to the edge of Federation space to trade four Fed spies for seven Romulan hostages.  Details were sketchy, but an I2 Enarrain (Senior Centurion) would be in charge of the mission from the start, and Bloodsign,  along with it’s mistress, his to command until they returned to ch’Rihan.  The thought of it made her burn all over again.

            A chime snapped her out of it.  She looked into the mirror, eying the door.


            The panels parted and her First Officer strode in, his face hardened, his eyes unreadable.  She whirled around to face him, taking in the glowing diodes of the charged blaster on his belt as she did so.  She set her jaw in contempt and stared straight at him, meeting his anger with steel.  If these were to be her last moments, then by Rhea she would stand tall in them.

            “A primed blaster aboard ship, Subcommander tr’Ahvran?” she demanded.  “By whose orders?”

            “By his orders, Commander.” he spat through clenched teeth.

            She stood, hands on hips in defiance.  “Then use that blaster or disarm it now.  Decide, erei’Riov.”

            His hand flew to the blaster, drew it from the belt -- and tossed it to her.

            Tr’Ahvran smiled.  “You use it, ‘Riov.”  He chose the formal term for Commander.  “You have been ordered to lead the boarding party to take possession of his prize.”

            Their eyes met.  They had been together many years.  Faced triumphs and troubles alike.  She had conquered and he had been at her side.  She realized with relief that it would go on that way.  But as the threat passed, her anger returned.  If she had her way, one corrupt I2 Senior Centurion would be set adrift -- preferably alive.  Tr’Ahvran read her thoughts.

            “Agreed, this ale burns the throat, Commander,” he continued.  “But there will be a time for action.  I recommend patience -- for now.”

            “Patience ...” She took a deep breath, let it out.  “Wise counsel, Subcommander.  But hear me:  that time approaches quickly.”

            T’Ra’kholh hooked the blaster on her belt and headed for the door.


©1989 Stephanie Holcombe and Steve Zachar