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Queen's Gambit

Posted on Jun 04, 2017 @ 2:55am by Captain Michael Turlogh Kane

Mission: The Romulan Way

"QUEEN'S GAMBIT"

(Continued from "Deciding His Own Direction")

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Captain's log, supplemental - we have departed Starbase 56 for our planned patrol route along the Neutral Zone. With our new duty comes a raised level of alertness that seems to permeate everyone and everything on the Phoenix. The Romulans are out there, and they are probably watching everything we do, and that has raised tensions across the ship...

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Location: USS Phoenix, patrolling the Neutral Zone
Stardate: [2.17]0603.1855
Scene: Captain's ready room - deck 1, saucer section


Michael Turlogh Kane motioned for Jake Crichton and Cantor Von to sit down. Now that the Phoenix was out among the stars, flying the flag of the Federation along its most heavily militarised border, it was time to speak of hypotheticals and procedures. If the Phoenix met a Romulan starship, the outcome was not likely to be a friendly one. The current political situation was messy - up until their latest incursion two years ago, Federation-Romulan relations had been governed by the Treaty of Algeron. That treaty, ratified over a century ago, had redefined and reinforced the boundaries of the Neutral Zone, but since the Romulan siege of Bolarus, nobody knew if it was still in effect.

A week ago, the Federation Council transmitted a message into the Romulan Star Empire, calling upon the Romulan Senate to reaffirm its commitment to the Treaty of Algeron, but no answer had been forthcoming. It made for a tense time in the Starfleet installations along the Neutral Zone - the Romulans had withdrawn to their own space, but they might come back, and there would be no warning when they did. They would simply decloak in force, and a volley of plasma torpedoes would obliterate whatever lay in their path. It didn't bear thinking about, really.

Jake sat on the couch and Cantor Von sat down in the chair in front of Kane's desk. The Phoenix had been on patrol now for twenty-four hours, and there had been no events of note except the detection of a Yridian freighter at extreme sensor range, moving slowly along a known shipping lane between the Federation and the Empire. Although trade had broken down between the two powers, there were always those who saw opportunity in conflict, and nobody was surprised to see a Yridian ship sailing calmly through what might soon become a war zone.

As soon as they were both comfortable, Kane opened the conversation. "Gentlemen. The Romulans." He looked out through the viewing port at the alien starfield. "Mister Von, you're something of an expert on them, correct?"

Cantor Von nodded slowly. "I'm not sure how much you know about my previous assignment, Captain - "

"Assume we know nothing, Lieutenant."

"Yes, sir." The black-eyed Betazoid thought for a moment. "I served aboard a Romulan scoutship for five years on a long-term spying mission into the Dominion. It was a joint Starfleet-Romulan venture. Very few people know about it."

Jake sat forward. "You were on a Romulan ship? For five years?"

"Yes. The mission ended last year. We - that is, myself and my Starfleet colleagues who were on the mission with me - returned to a Federation that we did not recognise, to a Federation that was on a war footing with the Romulans. We knew nothing about the deterioration in relations until we came home." Cantor shifted uncomfortably. "The rest of the Phoenix crew do not know about it either."

"And there's no reason to inform them - at least, not yet," said Kane, giving a meaningful look to Jake. "Lieutenant Von's mission was a legitimate one, and although the conditions that began it did not exist when it ended, it was still of service to Starfleet and the Federation. Whether or not your mission remains classified is still a grey area, but we will assume for now that it is, and inform the senior staff on a need-to-know basis."

Jake nodded, and Cantor smiled. "Thank you, Captain."

"Tell us what you know about the Romulans," said Kane, and he and Jake gave Cantor their full attention.

"I'm not sure where to start," thought the Betazoid aloud. "Very well. The Romulan Star Empire is a xenophobic, totalitarian interstellar power centred on the planets Romulus and Remus. Romulans are genetic off-shoots of Vulcans, and they have forged a mighty empire through the conquest and extermination of most species they encounter. They have been at odds with the Federation for almost three hundred years. Their society is totalitarian with a veneer of republican democracy - they are ruled by a Senate, whose highest officer is called the Praetor. This Senate passes all laws for the Empire, and is as factionalised as any governmental body on any world. The Romulan secret police, called the Tal'Shiar, are so fearsome that they keep the population in line through reputation alone." Cantor paused a moment. "You see, I mentioned a veneer of democracy, and that's true. Romulan society is an oligarchy, controlled by powerful captains of industry or property magnates who have accrued so much power as to be almost untouchable. The population is fed a constant diet of negative propaganda - the enemies of the people are everywhere, they want to bring down the empire, which is the only thing keeping you safe, that sort of thing."

"Sounds familiar," murmured Jake. "Klingons, Cardassians, Romulans, take your pick. Different cultures, similar governments."

"Right," nodded Von. "Although it claims to be a democracy, not all Romulans are allowed to vote, for example. It depends on lots of factors - criminal record, military service, things like that. Although the Senate deliberates, debates, and votes, who actually can be elected a senator is quite limited. People tend to end up voting for one oligarch or the other, and oligarchs always work to protect their own interests first."

"Also sounds familiar," said Kane. "All of Earth's great historical powers ended up going that way."

"That's not to say that all Romulan citizens are corrupt, though," interjected Von. "Quite the contrary. The Romulans are a people who are keenly aware of their own history and draw strength from it. There is an undercurrent of strong solidarity among the average citizenry and soldiery. They call it D'era - The Romulan Way."

"What's that?" asked Jake.

"It is a philosophy that unites all Romulans everywhere," explained Cantor. "It's part lifestyle, part propaganda, part altruism, part racial imperative. The Romulans see themselves as superior to all other races in the galaxy, but they know that they must work to remain so. D'era is the idea that all Romulans must work together for the betterment of their society as a whole. There is no better way for a Romulan to live their life than in the service of their empire -whether it be soldiering in the military, working hard in a factory, running society in the bureacracy, or politicking in the Senate. It's a concept ingrained in them all from childhood."

"The idea of 'the empire' must be a nebulous one, though?" asked Kane.

Cantor nodded. "Yes. Loyalty is emphasised - to family, to geneaology, to the state. Obedience to those things is important. Discipline, and the self-discipline required to be disciplined, is highly prized. Hence, Romulan crews are tough and band together well, and personality clashes often do not dictate interpersonal relations. Both parties would remind themselves of their obligation to D'era, and work professionally no matter their dislike of one another."

Kane shared a glance with Jake. The Romulans were different than the Klingons and the Cardassians, and of those other two empires, the Romulans were the only ones left standing. Klingon martial prowess had collapsed under a Romulan onslaught fifty years ago, and Cardassians had broken themselves against the unyielding rock of the Federation not long after that. The Romulans' continued existence and burgeoning strength was testament to the strength of their philosophy and the power of their guns - either way, the Romulan Star Empire was a formidable foe, and one at a polar opposite to the Federation. The fate of the quadrant hinged on the turning of that fulcrum.

"Your knowledge of the Romulans is impressive, Mister Von," said Kane. "My compliments. I will be looking to you for input if we do actually make contact with them."

"Of course, Captain."

"Commander Crichton and I need to discuss some operational business," said Kane. He stood up. "Thank you for sharing your knowledge, Lieutenant. You're dismissed."

"Captain. Commander." Cantor Von strode briskly out through the doors, leaving Kane and Jake alone.

The conversation that followed was grim.

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The Federation Role Playing Game Presents
A Mind's Eye Production of a Collective Film

STAR TREK PHOENIX: THE ROMULAN WAY

Starring
Sarah Albertini-Bond as Iphigenia Bonviva
Shawn Collins as Commander Jake Crichton
Kenneth Field as Lieutenant Tomas' Vukovic
Alix Fowler as Major Kassandra Thytos
Jamie LeBlanc as Dr. Aerdan Jos
Susan Ledbetter as Lieutenant Eve Dalziel
Justin Owens as Ensign Arak Schad
Tiffany Reeve as Ensign Sofia Andersson
Ranjani Sabarinathan as Lieutenant Jasmine Yu
Marko Sertic as Lieutenant Cantor Von
Phillip Wright as Ensign Lynette Ryan
Jerome McKee as Captain Michael Turlogh Kane


FEATURING A CAST OF MILLIONS
WRITTEN BY THE CREW OF THE USS PHOENIX

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Location: Somewhere in Romulan space
Scene: A computer monitor, relaying coded real-time instant messages


++ How goes the project?

++ Well enough. We estimate completion by the end of the year. Will there be a testing phase?

++ Unlikely. Once word breaks, we will not have long to act.

++ Understood. What of the primitive inhabitants of the second planet?

++ Still no word. The bureaucracy moves slowly. We may yet be fortunate enough to complete the project before the order reaches the Senate.

++ The Praetor still opposes us?

++ My friend, the Praetor has no idea we even exist. She is still deliberating her response to the recent Federation peace initiative. Her eyes are turned elsewhere, and while we are shrouded in shadow, we must do our work. Jolan Tru.

++ Jolan Tru. For our People!

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Location: USS Phoenix, on patrol
Scene: Main Bridge - deck 1, saucer section
Time Index: 24 hours later


The yellow alert bars were flashing on the main bridge as the Phoenix moved into Alert status. Below decks, the corridors were cleared of non-essential personnel, and those department heads who were not at their duty stations quickly hurried back to where they should be. Warp power was shunted into the shields and weapons systems, ready for activation.

Jake vacated the centre seat and he and Kane both stood in the middle of the bridge. "Report," said Kane.

"Sensors have detected a Romulan Valdore-class Warbird inside the Neutral Zone," said Jake. "They're not even bothering to cloak themselves. Captain, they are on an intercept course with the Phoenix."

Kane felt his chest tighten. In the vast eternity of space, an intercept course was never a coincidence. The Romulan starship was seeking them out. He checked to see who was on duty - Asta Elgin sat at the bridge engineering station, Arak Schad beside her at science, and Tomas' Vukovic was at the conn. Cantor Von was at Ops, and Jasmine Yu stood at Tactical.

He felt resolve harden within him. The Federation had dispatched the Phoenix here specifically for this job - warding off Romulan incursions. If the Romulans were coming looking for a fight, then there were no officers on the ship he'd rather have at those stations. "If they're not cloaked, then they want us to notice them. It's possible that there may be more Warbirds hidden nearby, moving into position around us."

Jake nodded. "Yeah. Can we take the chance that they're alone? They might just want a look at the Federation's dreadnought."

"Perhaps." Kane turned to Jasmine Yu. "Hailing frequencies."

The reply was immediate. "Open, Captain."

"Attention Romulan Valdore-class Warbird! This is Captain Michael Turlogh Kane of the Federation starship Phoenix," said Kane, in a voice so hard he could have driven nails with it. "Under the Treaty of Algeron, no Romulan vessels are permitted to enter the Neutral Zone unless they are committing an act of war against the United Federation of Planets. State your intentions, or we will assume hostility and move to defend ourselves!" He drew a thumb across his throat, wordlessly ordering Jasmine to cut the connection. "Shields up, arm weapons."

"Red alert!" called Jake, moving to the ExO's seat and activating his tactical computer. The alarm klaxon began to blare.

"Phasers and quantum torpedoes armed," reported Jasmine. "Shields fully charged."

"Captain," reported Von, "the Romulan vessel is within visual range."

"On screen!"

The viewer winked, changing from dead space to a speckled starfield. Out in that long night, something was moving, a sleek, gull-winged starship that projected menace and danger. Thick, feather-shaped ablative armour was bolted to its superstructure, and its fixed wings were bristling with weapons. A Romulan B-type Valdore-class Warbird.

"No response to our hail," said Jasmine.

"Captain," reported Cantor Von at Ops, "the Romulans are scanning us. Our shields are inhibiting their sensors."

"Go ahead," muttered Kane to the oncoming Warbird. "Have a good look at us. See how much power we're putting out, how many guns we have aimed right at you. A fight with us is the last thing you want."

"Consider first strike, Captain," said Jake from behind him. "If there are cloaked Warbirds approaching, we can't afford to wait to let them shoot first."

Kane nodded. "Noted."

Jasmine Yu's black eyebrow raised in a Vulcan-esque gesture. "Captain, the Romulan vessel is hailing us. Full visual."

Kane nodded. "On screen."

When the screen winked and changed again, the crew of the Phoenix got Starfleet's first look at a Romulan bridge in fifty years. It was roughly circular, with several control consoles arranged around a small central dais. This central dais held what must have been a command console. Romulan officers, male and female, were seated at each of the stations surrounding it, and standing behind the central dais was a dangerous-looking male Romulan. He seemed to be an older man, with lean cheeks, a taut lined mouth, and quick, dark eyes. He was dressed informally, in just a simple charcoal grey shirt, with his silver uniform jacket lying on the seat behind him. As the crew of the Phoenix watched, the male Romulan came around the command console and approached his own main viewer.

{{I am Commander Jaron, commanding the Imperial Romulan Vessel Shai'Dan. I am surprised to hear you refer to the Neutral Zone as if it still existed, Captain Kane. Has Starfleet not paid for that kind of arrogance with enough of its own blood?"}}

Kane set his jaw. "If you attempt to enter Federation space, Commander Jaron, I will prevent you, by any means necessary."

Jaron cocked his head and looked at Kane, seemingly trying to decide if he was bluffing. There was a certain impersonality to brinkmanship over a main viewer - the other party could never truly tell what you were thinking because you weren't standing in the room with them. To a certain extent, Kane knew, he *was* bluffing - there might be half-a-dozen Warbirds poised to decloak and obliterate the Phoenix at this very moment. But there was something about the way that the Shai'Dan had approached - leisurely, uncloaked. They had wanted to be seen, and Kane's gut told him it was because the Romulans didn't know what to make of the Phoenix. They would probably be using this encounter as a means of gaining intelligence.

Eventually, Jaron spoke. {{Then it is most fortunate for us all that I am not here to cross into Federation space.}}

"Then what are your intentions, Commander?"

{{I am here to deliver a message. To you and your crew personally, Captain Kane. This message comes from the highest echelons of the imperial government, and is in response to your Federation Council's desire for a peace between us.}}

Kane shot a glance at Jake. The ExO came to his shoulder. An unspoken question was rippling around the bridge as each officer digested what Commander Jaron was saying. "We're listening, Commander."

Jaron nodded, and moved back to his console. He keyed in sequence of commands, and the main viewer changed again. Now it showed a Romulan woman sitting behind a desk in an ornate, plush office. Behind her was a window that looked out into green fields and a blue sky. The desk she was sitting at was made of a rich, dark wood. She herself was wearing a fashionable cream-coloured suit, brown hair cropped into a bob that was both fashionable and pleasing to the eye. She had a familiar face, too - it was none other than Admiral Delora Radaik, the commander of the Romulan Warbird that trailed the Phoenix to Limbo over two years ago. Having heard of the launch of the Phoenix, the Romulans had sent Delora Radaik to follow them into the Triangle. She was one of the most distinguished fleet commanders in Romulan military history, being in admiral in command of the Romulan fleet that crushed the Klingons at the Battle of Prygus sixty years ago, in a confrontation that changed the tide of the Klingon-Romulan War. Desperate to ward off the Romulan invasion of the Federation, Kane had revealed Edgerton's position as leader of the Neo-Essentialists to her. Realising that the rise of a new, militaristic Federation might spell a new, bloody war for her people, Delora Radaik had returned to Romulus to attempt to persuade the Senate to withdraw from Federation space. It had always been assumed that she succeeded, but this was the first time Kane had seen or heard from her since they sat around a table one night on Limbo two years ago.

Delora Radaik began to speak. {{To the people of the United Federation of Planets. I am Delora Radaik, Praetor of the Romulan Star Empire. I greet you in the name of civilisation and mutual respect.}}

Kane's mind was awhirl. Beside him, Jake was shaking his head. "She's the Praetor now?"

"If she is," said Cantor Von, "then Delora Radaik is the first female Praetor in Romulan history."

{{In response to your government's call to reaffirm the Treaty of Algeron, I am sending you this message. The Senate and People of the Romulan Star Empire are willing to discuss new terms to this treaty - it is our hope that you will dispatch an ambassador with plenipotentiary powers to Romulus at your earliest convenience to begin talks for a new peace between our peoples.}}

The bridge crew were looking at each other in wonder.

{{As a pre-cursor to the arrival of a Federation ambassador, and in acknowledgement of its presence along the region of space known as the Neutral Zone, I hereby extend an invitation to the crew of the starship Phoenix to visit Romulus and be our guests, pending the arrival of your ambassador. The Praetor has not forgotten their efforts at making the peace between us two years ago, and we believe that they should be adequately honoured for their efforts.}} Delora Radaik paused, and there was a hint of a smile at the corner of her lips. {{Given by my command on this stardate, at the Senate House of the Romulan Star Empire. This transmission ends, now.}}

The screen winked off, leaving Commander Jaron's impassive face staring at the bridge crew. {{I am to await an answer from you, Captain Kane. If in the affirmative, I am to escort you to the presence of the Praetor. If in the negative, I am to bear your answer back instead.}}

"Mute." Jasmine cut the audio, and Kane looked around the bridge. "Reactions."

"An incredible opportunity, Captain," said Cantor Von. "If Praetor Radaik is genuine, then we are entering a new era in the history of both our peoples."

"And if she isn't?" said Jasmine. "The farther this ship moves from the Neutral Zone, the more danger we're in. That could be the Romulan plan - lure the Federation's dreadnought to a place of their choosing, and then destroy it. The playing field between the two fleets would be levelled at a stroke."

"That makes sense," said Jake.

Kane was frowning. "You might both be right. We need to play for time here, not show our hand just yet." He stepped forward, indicating to Jasmine to open communications. "Commander Jaron?"

{{Yes, Captain Kane?}}

"I regret that I am not in a position to immediately accept the Praetor's kind invitation. I must consult with higher authorities before agreeing to this proposal."

The Romulan commander nodded. {{Of course, Captain. I had expected this would be so. We will remain here until your superiors instruct you in a course of action.}}

Kane nodded. "Very well. Phoenix out." The screen winked off, showing the menacing form of the Shai'Dan holding station nearby. He looked around the bridge. Everyone was still absorbing what was happening. He gestured to Jasmine. "Open a channel to Starfleet Command. I'll be in my ready room."

The great chess game with the Romulans continues, he mused, as he headed for his ready room. This was just the opening gambit.

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NRPG: How are your characters going to react to this unexpected development?

Also, there is a new entry for Delora Radaik in the FRPG Wiki (under R).


Jerome McKee
the Soul of Captain Michael Turlogh Kane
Commanding Officer
USS PHOENIX


"He speaks an infinite deal of nothing!"
- Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice", Act 1, Scene 1.117

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