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Valkyries

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2340

One, two. One, two. There's nothing like pushups to make her arms ache. One, two. It was easier to stay in shape back when exercise was just part of the job - one, two - when the job was running field ops for SI, packing a heavy surveillance kit and a heavier phaser rifle all over some wasteland or jungle of a planet. One, two. It was easier when she was the Fleet's best intelligence operative, not its newest second-in-command of a starship.

But then, the starship is a hell of a lot more comfortable than most of the planets she's been to. One, two.

Across the room, her combadge chirps. "Bullock to Commander Nechayev."

Alynna pushes up once more, gets to her feet this time. She takes a moment to catch her breath before responding. "I'm here, Captain."

"Lynn, I know you're not on duty yet, but I need you as soon as you can make it. I have an assignment for you." There's something odd in the background of the transmission - a woman's voice, one that Alynna isn't familiar with. It can't be one of the crew. None of them would talk that loudly while Bullock's on the comm, not unless they wanted to spend the next few hours scrubbing plasma conduits.

She checks the chronometer. An hour and a half left before her scheduled shift - she's supposed to have time to finish her morning routine. Work out and shower, eat breakfast, read the FNS Daily, answer any messages from friends and family. All of it can wait, though, except the shower. "Yes, sir," she says. "I can be there in twenty minutes."

"Thank you, Lynn, I appreciate it. Bullock out."

Alynna smiles wryly. The captain does appreciate it, she's sure, but he wouldn't have taken no for an answer either. She may not have been here long, but she's learned already that Isaiah Bullock always gets his way.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Twenty minutes later on the dot, she reports to Bullock's current location. Which, oddly, is the observation lounge, not the bridge or the captain's ready room.

The second she walks in, she's assaulted by noise. "-and he said to me, would you BELIEVE, that *I* somehow was at fault! As if I could have known that the viceroy was allergic to icoberries! The nerve of him to even SUGGEST that I would sabotage negotiations that way -"

The owner of the voice - the very loud voice, which as it turns out is addressing Bullock - is a tall, shapely brunette, human by the look of her. She's wearing a form-fitting iridescent dress that's far from modest, for all that the hem skims the floor. There are cutouts all along it, strategically placed, the largest of them exposing most of her back. There's another showcasing her cleavage - and quite a cleavage it is. Alynna has to make an effort not to stare.

The woman is still talking, and Bullock is nodding along with her diatribe. The second he sees Alynna, though, he plasters on the most strained smile she's ever seen him wear and calls, "Commander! Come on over here." At his interruption, the woman finally pauses her speech. "Mrs. Troi," Bullock says, "I'd like you to meet Alynna Nechayev, my first officer. Alynna, this is special envoy Lwaxana Troi of Betazed. Heir to the Holy Rings and, ah, Holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx... Do I have that right?" he asks the woman, Troi.

"You forgot Daughter of the Fifth House," Troi says, but she's smiling. "Pleased to meet you, Commander."

Betazoid, and a dignitary, and married, Alynna thinks, and shoves all thought of cleavage as far to the back of her mind as she can manage. "A pleasure to meet you as well," she says as she shakes Troi's hand.

"Mrs. Troi is her government's consul to the Bolian capital," Bullock says. "She's travelling with us to Starbase 241 to help mediate the border dispute between Bolarus and Sauria. It's outside of her normal role, but the Bolians have asked for her specifically to join the mediation panel."

"They have very few telepaths of their own, the Bolians," Troi says. "It's only natural that they'd turn to someone with my talent for reading people. It takes work to build that kind of trust with an alien species, but I -"

"Commander, about your assignment," Bullock cuts in again. "You'll be aiding Mrs. Troi for the remainder of our journey. Her usual aide was unable to accompany her, and I need someone of rank to attend to such an important guest."

Alynna stares, reading the apology in Bullock's eyes. No, he does not need "someone of rank" to valet for this woman. An ensign could do that. The lowest-ranked NCO could do that.

"And that ensign who I was assigned at first, Lulu or whatever his name was, just terrible," Troi says. "His attitude was atrocious. I'm sure you and I will get along much better, Commander."

"Ah - I'm sure we will, madam," Alynna says diplomatically. "Captain, I'll need someone to relieve me at 1300 hours, I have to meet with Engineering about the impulse drive recalibration -"

Bullock holds up a hand. "Not to worry, I'll handle that myself. I need to track down Mekemett anyway about a personnel matter. Our chief engineer, Lieutenant Commander Mekemett," he says as an aside to Troi. "Now if you'll excuse me, ladies, I have a lot of work to do... Commander, the envoy's quarters are on Deck 10, forward section. I'm sure you'll take excellent care of our guest. Mrs. Troi, it was wonderful chatting with you." He smiles, and nods, and leaves with remarkable speed.

"What a charming man," Troi says. "And handsome too, if I wasn't married - well, I'm sure you don't need to hear that about your commanding officer." She pats Alynna's arm, wearing a condescending little smirk.

Alynna resists the urge to tell Troi exactly how "charming" Bullock is for dumping this assignment on her. "Well. Madam, I can show you to your quarters if you'd like, or -"

"Oh don't be so uptight, dear! 'Madam', really. You Starfleet officers are far too bound up in protocol. Call me Lwaxana." Troi slings an arm over Alynna's shoulders, too familiar, too close. "Those quarters are so cramped and stuffy... What I really want to do, Alynna, is see the rest of the ship. It's all right if I call you Alynna, isn't it? Oh, of course it is, we're going to be best of friends."

Oh, god. Alynna manages not to roll her eyes, but it's a very near thing.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

By 1400 hours, any attraction she might have felt for Troi has long since been subsumed by annoyance. The woman is maddening. She hasn't paused for breath in hours.

"So then I asked him to get something from the replicator, and he just blew up at me!" Troi is saying, recounting her experience with Ensign Lu. Or "Lulu", as she calls him. "I couldn't believe how rude he was! And after he'd been having the most obscene fantasies about me - he has issues with women, I'm telling you. He just can't handle being around an attractive, confident woman like me. Sad to see that kind of bigotry in someone so young."

Alynna has stopped bothering to censor her thoughts by this point - Troi's not paying attention to them anyway. She can't blame Ensign Lu in the slightest for getting frustrated. And she is sure, very sure, that Lu was not having sexual fantasies about Troi. His significant other is a Vulcan who is the opposite of Troi in every way possible. Including the fact that he's a man.

"Well, enough about me," Troi says unexpectedly. "Tell me about yourself, dear." She plants herself on the couch opposite Alynna and stares at her, with a warm, friendly, expectant expression on her face.

"Ahh... Me?" Alynna hasn't spoken in so long that she feels like she's forgotten how. "What would you like to know -"

"Oh, anything, don't be shy! Where are you from? What are your hobbies?"

"I... I'm from Odessa -"

"My Ian has family near there!" Troi exclaims, delighted. "Or at least I think it's near, San Antonio? They have some cousin or other who lives in Odessa, apparently it's close enough to take a hovercar instead of transporting."

Alynna blinks, takes a moment to parse that, and comes to a hilarious conclusion. Or it would be hilarious if it weren't so exasperating. "I'm from Ukraine," she says. "Not Texas."

"Really? I never would have guessed," Troi says, completely unabashed. "Your Standard is flawless, not the least little trace of an accent."

"It took a lot of practice," Alynna says, keeping her tone mild. If she were talking to someone else, she might tell them just how much practice it was, and just how adamant her parents were that she learn to speak Standard the way that FNS newscasters do. An accent is still a marker on Earth, an indicator of class. For most people and most careers accents don't matter much at all, but for positions of prestige, a General American or Oxford English accent is almost a requirement.

"I suppose that includes Starfleet as well," Troi says. "Admirals and the like."

Alynna furrows her brow, trying to understand how the conversation turned to Starfleet - and startles when she realizes that it's not what she said, it's what she thought that Troi is responding to. She's not used to having her thoughts read, much less treated as if they'd been spoken.

"It -" Flustered, she fumbles for words. "...well, yes, it does," she finally manages, deciding to just be honest. "As much as the Fleet would like to pretend that it's entirely meritocratic."

Troi opens her mouth to say something, but at the same moment the ship rocks wildly, the sound of an impact reverberating through the hull. Sirens start blaring. Red alert.

Alynna is out the door before she realizes it, on autopilot, her goal clear. Battle stations, and for her that means the bridge. She jogs toward the nearest turbolift.

"WAIT!" That's Troi, behind her. She whips around, just as the ship's hit again, and has to catch herself on the wall of the corridor. Two crewman nearly collide with her, thrown off course as they hustle toward the lift. Troi stumbles out of her guest quarters, nearly falls. "Where are you going?! What's -"

"We're under attack," Alynna calls. "Stay in your quarters, Mrs. Troi, you'll be safe there." There's no telling whether that's true, but better to have Troi out of the way than underfoot on the bridge.

She turns again, runs lightly down the hall, ready to find balance if another impact overwhelms the inertial dampers. She's almost reached the turbolift when the next hit comes - a big one, enough of a jolt to drop her to hands and knees. An EPS relay whines as it overloads, and nearby panels blow out, casting sparks. The lights flicker and die, all but the red emergency strobes.

"Warning," the computer intones. "Hull breach on decks 10 and 11. Structural integrity failure in three minutes. All personnel, evacuate decks 10 and 11."

"Damn," Alynna whispers, and climbs to her feet. She jabs the turbolift call button - no response. The lift's offline. "Damn, damn, DAMN IT."

There'll be an access hatch for the Jefferies tubes just down the corridor, back the way she came. Alynna lopes toward it, careful in the darkness. She can only hope that Troi is unhurt - the woman's fifteen centimeters taller and probably close to twenty kilos heavier than Alynna is. Hauling her up to the next deck would be no small feat.

She hears Troi before she sees her. "HELLO?! You can't just LEAVE me here like this, in the middle of this, this CHAOS!" She catches a glimpse of Troi's face flushed red by the lights, panicked and desperate - but Troi is still standing. Good.

"I'm right here," she says as she crouches down to search the base of the wall with her hands. The light's too low to see it, but the hatch is here somewhere - there. She grabs the handle and twists, pulls the hatch open.

"Warning. Hull breach on decks 10 and 11. Structural integrity failure in two minutes. All personnel, evacuate decks 10 and 11."

Troi huddles next to her, clutches her arm. "Deck 10, aren't we on deck 10? What does it mean, structural inte-"

"Mrs. Troi," Alynna says firmly. "This is our way out. Go through the hatch, up the ladder straight ahead, and keep climbing until you reach an open area. I'll be right behind you."

"You want me to crawl into that, that dark hole? I can't see ANYTHING in there, how am I supposed to -"

There's no time to debate this. Alynna summons the spirit of the fiercest instructor she ever had, the woman who taught wilderness survival skills to her class of SI trainees. "You WILL get in that hatch," she says, "if I have to stuff you in there. You are GOING to get in, and you are going to CLIMB. IS THAT CLEAR?!"

In the flash of the red alert strobes, she sees Troi gaping at her.

"*MOVE*!" Alynna screams, and that does the trick. Troi scrambles through the hatch.

"Warning. Hull breach on decks -"

She ducks into the Jefferies tube, not waiting to hear the rest.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Ahead of her on the ladder, Troi's struggling, her ridiculous high-heeled shoes making her slip. Behind her she can hear the computer begin a thirty-second countdown.

"Almost there! Keep moving!" she calls to Troi. And is rewarded with a shoe falling in her face, and a shriek from Troi as she nearly falls off the ladder. Alynna mentally curses civilians and all they stand for.

The ship's shuddering around them as they climb. Evasive manuevers, they must be banking too hard for the inertial dampers to compensate fully.

With no warning, the shudder turns into a quake. Alynna is slammed against the ladder, her right wrist bent back between a rung and her body. She cries out, but holds on with her left hand grimly, and both feet stay planted on the rungs. Above her, Troi wails, but manages to hang on too.

"Keep going, keep GOING," she yells, as soon as the worst of the shaking stops.

Light pours into the shaft as Troi pulls herself out of the way, into the safety of a Deck 9 service junction. Alynna grits her teeth and follows, using her right elbow and left hand to climb. It doesn't hurt if she doesn't think about it.

She clambers up into the junction with Troi helping, hauling on the back of her uniform jacket. Immediately she turns and gropes for the right panel, hits the button to close off the tube they just climbed. The hatch cover starts to swing closed, then is sucked into place with a clang, decompression below sealing it tight.

Alynna locks the hatch cover, twisting the handle clockwise with her left hand. And then sags against the cover, lets her forehead droop to touch the cool metal. She breathes in deep, lets it out slowly. Safe for now.

Her wrist is starting to throb.

"You're hurt," Troi says, as Alynna sits up and begins to gently probe her injury. Another blow to the ship's shields rocks her, almost tips her over again.

"It's not bad," Alynna says, once she's confirmed that it isn't. "Not broken, just a sprain." It hurts like hell, though. She cautiously tests her hand's range of motion and right away finds a movement that makes her wince and hiss with pain.

There's no medkit here - nothing she can do about it. She looks up at Troi, who's slumped in a corner with her legs splayed out in front of her, breathing hard. Troi's hair is disheveled, falling out of its complicated style into tangled loops around her head. Somewhere along the way she acquired a nasty scrape along one cheekbone. Aside from that, though, she seems to be unharmed.

More weapons fire impacts, more hard jolts running through the ship. For a moment the lights flicker, and this time the gravity generators do too. Alynna finds herself floating for just a moment, a centimeter or two off the floor, before the generators kick back on and pull her down.

All of a sudden, the ship goes still around them. All stop, Alynna thinks. Either their propulsion systems have been knocked offline, or the battle's over.

She takes another deep breath and sighs, relieved. "You did well, Mrs. Troi," she says, and doesn't add for a civilian.

Troi smirks, and then starts to giggle. "Didn't I - Alynna, dear - didn't I tell you to call me Lwaxana?"

Alynna snorts, which makes Troi start laughing aloud, and that sets Alynna off too. She laughs so hard that she tears up. She laughs so hard that it makes her wrist hurt from all the shaking.

"Oh," she breathes, wiping her eyes, trying to calm herself. "A couple of madwomen, we are." They're not insane, not really. They're just venting stress, like a warp drive does plasma.

Troi - Lwaxana - sighs. She takes off her remaining shoe and throws it, sending it tumbling across the floor.

"Computer," Alynna says, recovered enough to get back to business. "Identify the ship that attacked the Melbourne."

"Two Teral'n-class warbirds have fired on the Melbourne. Identification unknown."

"Romulans." That's not much of a surprise. Their course takes them right along the edge of the Neutral Zone.

"I can hear them," Lwaxana says, with a faraway look on her face. "They think -" She frowns. "The Romulan commander thinks they're winning. She thinks they've won, actually. Captain Bullock is talking with her... Oh." She turns to Alynna, her gaze wide-eyed. "He's going to surrender."

Shit. That explains why the ship seems stable now. They've stopped taking fire, but for the wrong reason.

"Bullock wouldn't just hand over the ship though, not to Romulans," Alynna says, thinking out loud. "They can't be allowed to capture the Melbourne. It just went through a refit two months ago - new shield modulators, weapons upgrades. Technology that we can't let the Empire get its hands on. He'll order us all to escape pods and trigger the self-destruct..."

Unless he can't. Unless the auto-destruct system is offline, which could be the case if the command processors were damaged in the attack. Or... She hates to even think it, but he might be the only senior officer left alive on the bridge. It takes two of them to initiate the self-destruct sequence.

"I think you're right," Lwaxana says, responding to her thoughts again. "He's worried about turning the ship over, but he can't see anything else that he can do."

Alynna kicks herself mentally for not being there, even though it was Bullock's orders that stranded her on Deck 10. And she makes a decision. Bullock may be cornered, he may have no choice but to surrender - but Alynna still has options. She's not giving up the Melbourne without a fight.

She pulls off her combadge and lets it fall to the floor. With no comm signal to lock onto, the Romulans won't be able to find her and beam her out of here. Not easily, anyway.

Static crackles as the shipwide comm activates, and Bullock's voice fills the room, somber, defeated. "All hands, this is the captain speaking. I have been forced to surrender this vessel to Romulan forces. To avoid further loss of life -"

Alynna deliberately tunes him out. He's going to tell them not to resist, but an order she doesn't hear is one she doesn't have to follow. She reaches for a nearby access panel and tugs it open, clumsy with her left hand. Behind the panel are circuits and isolinear chips, the workings of the backup sensor control module for this area of the ship. She pulls out a few chips and discards them, then swaps around a few more to disable the safety interlock that would shut down the module in the event of a power overload.

"What are you doing?" Lwaxana asks, over Bullock's continuing drone.

"Making us harder to find. There should be a toolkit in this junction somewhere -" She searches the room and spots it, right by Lwaxana's elbow. "There it is, right next to you. Would you hand me that?"

Lwaxana does as asked, and Alynna opens the kit and retrieves a coil spanner. She uses the tool to adjust an EPS tap, her injury forcing her to work more slowly than she'd like. With two hands this would take only a few seconds, but with one she has to keep setting the coil spanner down in order to adjust its settings. It still doesn't take long, though, to recalibrate the EPS tap to increase the power feed to the backup module by a factor of five. There's no power running through this subsystem yet, but she's about to fix that.

"Stay away from this panel," she tells Lwaxana, and moves across the room to open another panel. It's only a moment's work to pull the right set of isolinear chips and take the primary sensor control module offline.

In a moment more, the backup module switches on automatically. It emits a whine, a piercing noise that builds and builds - Lwaxana covers her ears. Electrical sparks dance across the module's surface, and it burns out in a blaze of glory. All around Alynna hears the muffled sounds of smaller explosions, sensor system components sizzling and popping as they're fed more power than they can handle.

The comm goes silent, Bullock's message to the crew concluded.

"That'll take out internal sensors for half this deck," Alynna says to Lwaxana. And half the deck above them, and the one below, although the latter is useless now. "We're not done yet, though. The Romulans can still scan for our lifesigns from their ships. We need to go twenty-five meters that way." She points to a Jefferies tube entrance set in one of the walls.

"What's down there? Something that will hide us?"

Alynna nods. "Gravimetric field generator. Once I take off the shielding, it'll mask our lifesigns." It'll also expose them to radiation, but not enough to cause real harm, not unless they're stuck in the tube for more than six hours. She doesn't plan on staying there for anywhere near that long. She bends down to replace the coil spanner in the toolkit and snaps the kit closed.

"And what's the plan after that?" Lwaxana says, surprisingly matter-of-fact. "You don't seem like the type to just hide and wait to be rescued. Or captured."

"Capture is definitely not on the agenda," Alynna replies, standing again with the toolkit in hand. She knows all about Tal Shiar interrogation methods, and she has no intention of falling into their custody. "We'll lie low for a while and I'll find out what shape the ship is in, and where my crew members are being held. And how many of our Romulan friends have boarded."

"And then?"

Alynna smiles. "And then I'll come up with a plan."

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Two hundred and ninety-two of them. Two hundred and ninety-two Romulan troops aboard the Melbourne. Versus one injured officer and one civilian.

Alynna stares bleakly at the data on the toolkit's tricorder, which is patched into the main computer. It really is just the two of them. Three large groups of crew members are being held prisoner in the cargo bays, but there are too many guards, and too much risk that they'd open the cargo bay doors and space their captives if someone mounted a rescue attempt. And not one of those captives is a senior officer. Everyone with a rank higher than lieutenant is missing - either they're dead, or they've been beamed onto one of the warbirds.

Even if she could take the ship back, it's crippled. Subspace communications are down. Forward phasers are at half power, aft aren't functioning at all. Neither are most of the shields. The photon torpedo launchers are offline, as is the warp core. Overall structural integrity is at 36 percent. The Romulan ships are damaged too, but not nearly as badly. The Melbourne wouldn't last a minute against them.

There's only one option in a scenario like this. Destroy the ship.

She'll have to do it manually, since she can't initiate a self-destruct on her own. She'll have to go to Engineering, which is swarming with Romulans, and try to start a core breach before they have the chance to shoot her. And she'll have to disable the warp core ejectors while she's at it. If the Romulans dump the core, they'll still have the rest of the ship to pick apart and study.

"So either they'll shoot you or you'll blow yourself up with the ship," Lwaxana says. "Some plan."

Alynna sighs, exasperated, and rests her head against the wall of the Jefferies tube. "I could really use some mental privacy right now."

"No, you couldn't," Lwaxana says, and this time her tone is fierce. "You're just like my husband. You Starfleet types are always looking for ways to sacrifice yourselves. There has to be a way to beat them that doesn't end up with you dead."

"I'll get you to an escape pod before I -"

"I *KNOW* you will! I heard you think it the first time! I'm talking about YOU."

"What do you expect me to do?" Alynna snaps. "I have a duty to keep this ship out of enemy hands. If I don't, they could use what they learn to attack us, and more of us Starfleet types will wind up dead. Even if I had control of the ship I couldn't fight them, or even run away, they have warp and we don't -"

The Romulan ships have warp. Their lead ship is towing the Melbourne through the Neutral Zone at warp. The Romulan ships have weapons and shields and functioning communications arrays. And the lead warbird is operating with half of its crew, maybe less. The crew complement of a Teral'n-class is around three hundred and fifty, and two hundred ninty-two troops from both ships are here on the Melbourne. Most of those troops will be from the lead ship - it suffered less damage in the battle, so it can spare more of its crew members.

"Now you're thinking," Lwaxana says.

"But how would we get aboard?" Alynna wonders aloud. "If I use the Melbourne's transporters, they'll know right away that we're there, and where we beamed to. And I can't tap into their transporters from here. They have a link to our computer system, but I would have to know their command codes in order to do anything with it."

Command codes. She realizes with a shock that she may actually have the right codes. Six months ago, when she was still a lieutenant commander assigned to SI, her team acquired some valuable intelligence from a Romulan double agent on Narendra III. Including a set of codes used by the Tal Shiar, some of them in the same format as a Romulan starship's command codes. She still has that data, double-encrypted and locked away among her personal files.

Hardly daring to hope, she says, "Computer, unlock file Nechayev Personal Wagner 5. Authorization Nechayev Gamma 3 2 Epsilon." The data is disguised as a piece of music, a 500-year-old classical composition that was one of her favorites as a child.

"File is unlocked,” the computer announces.

“Now access section 47 of the file and apply decryption algorithm to be specified manually.”

“Awaiting decryption sequence.”

Alynna props the tricorder up against her knees and keys in the sequence left-handed. Words and numbers scroll down the tiny screen - she picks out the set of codes that she needs, then taps into the lead warbird’s connection to the Melbourne computer.

“This won’t work,” she tells Lwaxana, even as her fingers fly over the tricorder controls. “These codes are more than six months old. In intelligence terms, that might as well be a millennium. They’ll have changed the codes twenty times over by now -”

On the third code she enters, her tricorder screen fills with Rihannsu text.

“You’re joking,” she blurts out. Mouth agape, she brings up the file system structure - she hasn’t accessed the top level of the Romulan computer core. She’s deep within some subsection of the core, looking at filenames that don’t seem to map to a starship’s systems at all.

It takes her several minutes of digging to realize it, but what she’s got here is a Tal Shiar agent’s secret cache of files. And that agent is one suspicious son of a targ. There's data in here on the commander, the subcommander, all of the senior officers on the warbird - surveillance data, surreptiously captured, and labelled with phrases like "rebellious statement" and "criticism of the Empire". The Tal Shiar must have been looking for traitors among this crew.

In a file that's named the Romulan equivalent of "Plan B", she finds command and authorization codes, encryption keys, and the agent's plan for an emergency takeover of his own vessel. The bastard planned a mutiny just in case.

She turns to Lwaxana, incredulous, and finds her grinning from ear to ear. "See?" Lwaxana says. "I told you! There's always another way."

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

The green light of the transporter beam fades, leaving Alynna, Lwaxana, and an assortment of supplies from the Melbourne in a dim, empty storage area aboard the lead Romulan ship.

Alynna raises her tricorder to scan the area, but Lwaxana's already shaking her head. "No Romulans anywhere close to here," she says.

The internal sensors on the warbird gave her accurate data, then. "Good," Alynna says. "You never know with the Tal Shiar. <Computer, lights to full>," she says in Rihannsu.

The Romulan computer complies, revealing a long, narrow room with only one exit door. The supplies Alynna beamed over are stacked along one wall - they're the only useful items in the room. It's completely bare, there aren't even shelves set up for storage.

"Keep alert, let me know if anyone gets close to this room," Alynna says to Lwaxana. She kneels on the floor next to their supplies and sets down her tricorder, swapping it for a medkit. She changes the setting on the dermal regenerator to repair tissue that's a little deeper and passes it over her right wrist - and lets out a sigh of relief. The sprain has been throbbing painfully for a solid hour now, but now the pain is fading, the swelling receding until her wrist is back to its normal appearance.

She flexes her fingers, rotates her wrist, makes a fist. None of it hurts. All better.

She resets the dermal regenerator to heal superficial wounds. "Come here," she says, gesturing to Lwaxana. "There's a cut on your cheek, I'll fix it."

"Is there really? I didn't even notice." Lwaxana bends down and turns her head, giving Alynna access to the wrong cheek. Alynna reaches out to grasp her chin gently, turn it the right way - and that puts Lwaxana's face very close to her own. Lwaxana's eyes are closed, her expression slack, trusting. She has the longest eyelashes that Alynna's ever seen. Her skin is soft under Alynna's fingertips.

Alynna swallows and mentally shakes herself. She flicks the regenerator on and gets to work - this is not a sensual moment, she tells herself. They're close by necessity. It's probably just adrenaline that's making her feel this way, or endorphins, or finally getting relief from the pain in her wrist. She reminds herself that she likes sharp, competent women, preferably Starfleet. Not soft civilians. Not flighty women, not women whose job it is to talk and talk and never do.

None of those thoughts get her heart to stop racing.

She can only hope that Lwaxana isn't listening in on all this. It might be just her imagination, but she thought she felt a twitch in the envoy's jaw.

She finishes healing the scrape as quickly as she can and releases Lwaxana, then looks down to fit the regenerator back into the medkit. Reaching into the pile of items next to her, she picks out a pair of Starfleet-issue boots and a pair of socks. "These are for you," she tells Lwaxana. "I hope they fit, I had to guess at the size."

"Oh, you shouldn't have!" Smiling, Lwaxana drops down to sit next to her, surprisingly nimble in her tight dress. "That was very considerate of you."

Alynna smiles back. "Well, I am your valet, after all."

"Although, combat boots, with this dress? I can't say much for your fashion sense."

"Better than going barefoot." She grabs a backpack and starts tossing items into it, the medkit first, then an engineering toolkit. Then a hand phaser, and another hand phaser, and another, and another.

Once the backpack's stuffed with weapons, she clips two more phasers and her tricorder onto her belt. She picks up yet another phaser, a tiny Type 1. "Lwaxana, this one's yours. You'll have to hide it... somewhere." There's not a lot of room in that dress.

Lwaxana has her boots on, and she's in the process of pinning up her hair. "Well, I don't have any pockets," she says. "Where do you suggest?"

Cleavage springs unbidden to Alynna's mind. She tamps down that thought as quickly as possible and tucks the phaser into the top of one of Lwaxana's boots, careful not to brush her fingers against skin.

"Why thank you, dear," Lwaxana says, and grins wickedly. "They are marvelous breasts, aren't they?"

Alynna feels her face heat up. She wavers for a moment between deciding to apologize or to deny it, and finally just sighs. "I just would have inappropriate thoughts around a telepath," she says, self-mocking.

"An extremely attractive, charming, and well-endowed telepath."

"A *MARRIED* telepath," Alynna says with a laugh, "who's also a representative of the Betazoid and Bolian governments." Starfleet Command would have her head for interacting like this with a dignitary - she really does have to get her thoughts under control.

"Don't think of a purple Gunji jackdaw," Lwaxana says. Which of course brings up that exact mental image. "There are some things you can't control, dear, and thoughts are one of them. That's why I dress like this, it gives me an edge in negotiations. People speak and think more honestly when their attention is split. They can't censor themselves as well."

That's something Alynna's never thought of before, and it rings true. This could turn into a long conversation, though, and there's no time for that.

"I'd love to chat, but we have to keep moving," she says, hauling herself to her feet. "Last I checked we were almost halfway through the Neutral Zone, and we've got to get this done before we reach Romulan space." She picks up the backpack and slings it over her shoulders, then offers her hand to Lwaxana.

Lwaxana takes it and pulls herself up. Alynna unclips her tricorder and accesses the warbird's computer core, bringing up their next destination and using the scanners to pinpoint Romulan comm signals in that area. With the press of a few buttons she finds two places where their beam-in won't be noticed, one spot for herself and one for Lwaxana. She quickly programs those locations into one of the ship's transporters and makes sure that no logs will be recorded, either by the transporter or by internal sensors, just as she did before they beamed aboard the Romulan vessel. Wouldn't want the security officers to receive an alert.

"Ready?" she says to Lwaxana.

Lwaxana doesn't look ready. She looks terrified. "As ready as I'll ever be," she says. "But... Are you really sure this will work? You people take risks every day that I just, I can't fathom... Just INSANE risks, and I don't know if I -"

"Lwaxana." Alynna keeps her voice calm and rests a hand on Lwaxana's shoulder. "I'm as sure as I can be. It's a good plan, it will work. And no matter what happens, I promise, I'll get you home to your family."

"Well, the Bolians need me first," Lwaxana says, and cracks a nervous grin. "I'll just..." She closes her eyes, lets out a puff of breath. "I'll have some great bedtime stories for my Deanna. Mama Versus the Romulan Hordes, she'll love it."

Alynna smiles softly. "You'll do great," she says, and gives Lwaxana's shoulder a squeeze. And then drops her hand back down to the tricorder. "Here we go."

Lwaxana takes another breath and nods sharply.

She activates the transporter. The storage room disappears in a haze of green.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

Alynna stays as quiet as possible, her back pressed against a wall, and waits, phaser drawn, for her cue. Not three meters away, just around a corner, Lwaxana is conversing with a Romulan guard.

"But I don't KNOW how I got here!" Lwaxana wails. "Oh, please don't point that thing at me! I was talking to some subcommander, and he said he was going to take me in for processing, and then I was transported and I somehow ended up down the hall there. It was Subcommander, um, Lulu I think his name was -"

Lulu. That's her cue.

Alynna swings around the corner, and sure enough, the guard's back is turned to her. She has her phaser against his neck before he can even notice her presence. "<Drop the weapon>," she hisses, and the guard complies - his disruptor clatters on the deck. He raises his hands in surrender.

She herds the Romulan through the nearby door, into the warbird's brig. And there's her senior staff - Mekemett, Tholev and Fischer, the CMO Murakami and science officer Joral - all safe, all alive, in the brig's three holding cells. All of them perk up at the sight of her. Even Tholev's normally stony blue features show the hint of a smile. Mekemett is practically bouncing with glee - the tiny Tellarite woman comes right up to the front of her cell, so close to the force field that it starts to buzz. "I knew you were still alive, Lynn, I knew it!" she says, grinning wide.

Alynna can't resist grinning back. She manuevers the Romulan guard toward Tholev and Fischer's cell - Tholev is the Melbourne's chief of security, he's the one who she wants freed first. Both he and Fischer were off duty when the attack came, and as a result, they both look a bit ridiculous. Fischer’s missing her uniform jacket and shoes, and Tholev is wearing only a pair of pajama pants.

"<Deactivate the force field>," she tells the guard, and digs her phaser into his neck when he's slow to move.

The force field shimmers and drops, and Tholev immediately punches the guard, snapping his head to the side. Alynna steps back as the unconscious Romulan falls. Tholev catches him and pulls him into the back of the cell, letting his limp body drop to the floor. He and Fischer step out into the room, and Alynna reactivates the force field, turning guard into prisoner.

"The lowest button," Mekemett is telling Lwaxana, who presses the button and frees Mekemett from her cell. Across the room, Fischer does the same for Joral and Murakami.

Alynna clips her phaser back onto her belt, then takes off her backpack and sets it on the floor. "Weapons depot, right here," she says, and starts handing out phasers to her crew. "Where's Captain Bullock?"

"Interrogation room," Tholev says, and nods toward a door near one corner of the brig. "There's at least one guard."

"Two of them," Lwaxana says. "Two Romulans in that room. And the captain, poor man."

Alynna nods - next item on the agenda, rescue Bullock. "And Acosta, where's he?" she asks.

Fischer shakes her head sadly. Joral says, "Before he was taken for interrogation, the captain informed us that Lieutenant Acosta did not survive."

Damn. That's a blow. Acosta was a good man, and a fine helmsman. And young, far too young to die. He was only a few years out of the Academy.

"I don't suppose you brought a medkit, Commander," Murakami says. Alynna points him to the backpack and takes a closer look at her crew, wondering who's injured. She notices for the first time that Joral has a head wound, green blood glistening on her dark skin.

"My injury is not severe," Joral says.

"Like hell it isn't." Murakami has the medkit out - he waves a tricorder over Joral. "You're concussed. You should be lying down."

Joral raises an eyebrow. "In an ideal situation, I would agree. But our situation is not ideal, Doctor. I am able to assist with our escape."

Murakami starts to protest, but Alynna interrupts him. "She's right, Ken, I need her. Give her a painkiller and patch her up the best you can for now. That's an order," she says, when Murakami opens his mouth again. He shuts it and gives her a mutinous glare, but obeys.

"Out of the way, though, both of you," Alynna says. "I need you two out of the line of sight through that door. Lwaxana, you stay behind them, there's going to be weapons fire. And get your phaser out. Tholev -"

"I'll take point," Tholev says.

"Right," Alynna says, and nods. Tholev is itching for battle, she can tell. His antennae are pointing straight up. "Mekemett, Fischer, you take cover behind that console. Be ready to fire if Tholev or I go down."

Once everyone's in position, Alynna raises a hand. The room falls silent as Murakami switches off whatever medical instrument he's been using. Alynna checks once more to make sure that everyone's ready, then meets Tholev's eyes. He nods.

She swipes her hand down through the air.

Tholev palms the door control, turns, and fires before the door even opens fully. He charges into the room, still firing. Alynna's right on his heels. One Romulan's already down, the other's raising her disruptor - Alynna and Tholev's phasers catch her simultaneously. She crumples against the wall.

Alynna kicks away her disruptor, then checks the other Romulan - a Tal Shiar major. Probably the same agent whose files she broke into. Tholev's already disarmed him.

Bullock is in the center of the room, strapped to a chair. His eyes are open, but unfocused. He's moaning. There are devices attached to each of his temples - mind probes.

"Doctor!" Alynna yells. She's not sure whether it's safe to pull the probes away, so she pulls at the straps instead, working on freeing one of Bullock's arms while Tholev helps with the other. Murakami comes rushing in, tricorder at the ready. He peers at the probes, taps a button on one of them - the lights on both devices go dim. Bullock sags forward in the chair.

"Captain," Alynna says, trying to rouse him, but just then she hears weapons fire in the brig - disruptor blasts as well as phasers.

"We've got company!" Mekemett yells over the din.

Shit. "They must have detected our phaser fire," Alynna says. No time to relay the whole plan now, she's going to have to just do it. "Hang on, everyone," she calls, flipping her tricorder open. "We're going up top." Her crew will know what that means.

It would take too much time to program the transporter to differentiate her friends from their attackers. Instead, she locks onto every lifesign in a ten-meter radius, Starfleet and Romulan, and beams them all to the bridge.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

The bridge is chaos. Lights flash as weapons discharge, green and orange. Alynna brings her phaser up as, in what seems like slow motion, a Romulan subcommander swings his disruptor toward her. She fires. He drops.

She keeps firing, targetting sources of green. Within seconds, there is no more green.

Alynna looks around her - no Romulans standing. Tholev is down, but still breathing, clutching a disruptor wound in his side. Murakami rushes to his aid. Lwaxana is on her knees next to Bullock’s prone body, covering him, her phaser extended in a shaking hand. Fischer's been winged, her arm's bleeding, but she'll be fine. Mekemett and Joral -

Mekemett and Joral are fine. Everyone is fine, or will be.

"Computer," Alynna barks. "Lock down the bridge, authorization Vei Set Phra - " She looks up the rest on her tricorder. "Re Thi Mnek, confirm!"

“Authorization code confirmed,” the Romulan computer says, and force fields snap into existence around the perimeter of the bridge. No one’s getting in or out of here, not unless Alynna lets them.

“Initiate program Nechayev 1,” she tells the computer, “and confirm.” Her program will send every console except those on the bridge into a Level 1 diagnostic cycle.

“Program is running,” the computer confirms.

“Everyone, find your stations,” Alynna says. “Joral, you’re on tactical for Tholev. Target the other warbird’s weapons systems - “ She moves to assist Joral, who won’t be familiar with this station. “Weapons, shields, propulsion,” she says, pointing out each location on the target ship. “Fire on my mark.”

Joral taps the controls, her fingers moving furiously despite her otherwise calm appearance. “Targets locked,” she says.

The next part of the plan is something Alynna couldn’t accomplish except from Engineering or the bridge. Her tricorder’s interface would only allow her to control one transporter at a time. “Mekemett,” she says. “Scan for Romulan lifesigns aboard this vessel and lock transporters onto all of them. And while you’re at it, scan the Melbourne for all non-Romulans and get a lock on them, too.”

“Ohohoooo,” Mekemett says brightly. “We’re going to make a little trade, aren’t we, Commander?”

“You’ve got it,” Alynna says, grinning. “Both of you, on my mark. And in three, two, one - MARK.”

The Romulans lying unconscious on the deck disappear in a swirl of green. On the viewscreen, disruptors and torpedoes lance through space, tearing into the other Romulan ship. It drops out of view abruptly as its warp drive goes offline.

“All stop,” Alynna says. “Shields up. Mekemett?”

“I got everyone,” Mekemett says. “Our whole crew’s aboard. And all the Romulans are aboard the Melbourne.”

“Good work.” And that’s the end of it. The battle really is over now, and this time, they’ve won.

Alynna lets out a huge sigh and drops into the command chair in the center of the bridge. “Computer, disengage bridge lockout. And end program Nechayev 1.” The computer beeps in compliance, and the force fields fizzle out. “Fischer, cut the computer link between this ship and the Melbourne, and block any further access attempts from the Melbourne’s position. We wouldn’t want them getting in the way I did.”

“Yes, sir,” Fischer says. “And sir? The Melbourne is hailing us.”

Alynna smiles. “I was expecting that. Let them wait, put me on the shipwide comm first.”

“Aye, Commander.”

The comm system emits a warbling noise. Alynna straightens up in her chair and speaks out, loud and clear. “All hands, this is Commander Nechayev. We have taken control of this vessel. The captain is alive, he'll be fine, but right now I'm in command. We'll be proceeding to Starbase 241 with the Melbourne in tow."

She pauses, takes a breath. "I want everyone who’s not injured to find the nearest thing to their usual station. This is a smaller ship than ours, so we won’t need everyone on duty. The highest-ranking officer at each location will decide who stays. Anyone who is not required at their usual post should report to the nearest transporter room, where we'll be assembling several away teams to retrieve shuttlecraft from the Melbourne.” The shuttles are much slower than the warbird, with weapons that are far less powerful, but all twelve of them used in concert could provide enough of a distraction for one to escape. And the Romulans might do some real damage if they thought to ram a few shuttles into the warbird's shields. Alynna doesn't want to leave those options open to them for long.

“This has been an extremely rough day for all of us," she tells her crew, "and I commend you all for your endurance. You’ll all get leave when we reach the starbase. Nechayev out.”

To her right, Murakami is helping Tholev sit up. To her left, Bullock is finally stirring, while Lwaxana makes soothing noises in his direction.

“Joral, Fischer,” Alynna says. “You’re both relieved until Murakami can take a look at you. We’ll get a few ensigns up here to take your posts. Mekemett, would you put the call from the Melbourne on screen?”

Mekemett chuckles and says, “You got it, Lynn.” She never has been much for protocol.

The viewscreen fills with the image of an irate Romulan commander. “What is the meaning of -” The commander stops mid-speech, staring at Alynna in horror.

“Oh, hello, Commander Irem!” Lwaxana pipes up cheerily. “I’m afraid Subcommander Hedrok is unavailable. Alynna shot him. And he's aboard your ship now.”

“Indeed he is,” Alynna says, smiling. “Irem, I’m Commander Alynna Nechayev of the USS Melbourne. I assume this is your vessel that we’ve taken over?”

She watches with satisfaction as the Romulan woman's face turns a lovely shade of green.

“Commander, you have two options,” Alynna says. “You can try to fight us, but the Melbourne’s in bad shape. No photon torpedoes, no aft phasers, forward phasers at half, shields along only one side of the ship. No atmosphere in two decks, structural integrity at 36 percent.”

She leans forward, moving in for the kill. “You can TRY to fight us, but we’ll just destroy the Melbourne, and you and your crew along with it. Or, you can surrender, and we’ll take you with us to a Federation starbase. Starfleet will treat you well. Much better than your own government would, if you had to answer to them for this incident.”

Commander Irem is grinding her teeth, her face a mask of rage.

Alynna steeples her fingers. “You have fifteen seconds to decide.”

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

The Melbourne is almost shipshape again. There are engineers swarming everywhere, some from the ship's own crew and many more from the starbase, traversing the halls in twos and threes with PADDs tucked under their arms and tools and replacement parts in hand.

Alynna is greeted a dozen times as she walks through the corridors. She smiles and nods and politely moves on each time. She's getting to be an expert at it. Being a hero is hard work, as it turns out - the population of Starbase 241 is treating her like some kind of celebrity, and it seems like every last one of them wants to meet her and shake her hand. Her cheeks hurt from smiling so damn much.

She finally arrives at Bullock's quarters and presses the call button outside the door.

The captain's voice sounds over the comm. "Come in!”

Alynna steps forward, and the door slides open in front of her. She enters to find Bullock reclining on his couch, sipping from a mug of some steaming liquid. Raktajino, probably, he’s addicted to the stuff.

“Ah, come on in, Commander,” Bullock says, and sets his mug down on the table. “You’ve got that status report?”

“Right here, sir,” Alynna says, and approaches to hand him the PADD she’s holding. “Repairs are going well. We should be ready to leave the starbase in four days’ time.”

“Wonderful,” Bullock says, thumbing through the PADD. “Excellent work, Lynn.”

“Thank you, sir.” She takes a seat across from him, in a plush armchair that turns out to be even more comfortable than it looks. “How are you feeling, Captain?” she asks. “Getting ready to return to duty?”

Bullock snorts. “The doctor’s not letting me off easy,” he says. “I’m stuck here at least through tomorrow, and after that it’s light duty for a week. I’m just lucky he’s not forcing me to stay in sickbay for round the clock observation.”

“That’s our Murakami,” Alynna says. “Always overprotective.”

Bullock smiles at her. “His overprotectiveness is letting you stay in command of the ship for a while longer. And there’s not a person aboard who’s objecting to that. Especially if they’ve had a chat with Mekemett - she makes it sound like you personally shot every Romulan aboard that warbird.”

Alynna rolls her eyes, but can’t help a grin. “I only shot three Romulans at most, and one was a tag team with Chief Tholev.”

“Still,” Bullock says. “I’ve read all the reports by now, and...” He shakes his head, his expression a mix of pride and amazement. “You’ll get a medal for this, Lynn. Even though you were disobeying a direct order.”

“I'm afraid I couldn’t hear the order, the comm system in that junction was -”

“Don’t give me that crap, Nechayev! I know better.” Bullock sounds gruff, but his eyes are twinkling. “Save the bullshit for official reports.”

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir,” Alynna says, trying to suppress a smirk. “Well, I can’t take all the credit. The senior staff were incredible, all of them. And Mrs. Troi too. I couldn’t have done it without her.”

That reminds her, there’s something she hasn’t told Bullock yet. She smiles and says, “And as it turns out, I also owe a debt of gratitude to the Romulan Senate.”

Bullock arches an eyebrow. “Is that so?”

“The engineers found an interesting little background program running on the computer console in our Tal Shiar friend’s quarters. It was tagging every file that he accessed with a particular code - one that the Tal Shiar used several months ago, but it’s not current. We’re guessing that that code was what the senators used to gain access to this agent's files in the first place. They just never changed it after that. In fact, they made sure that that old code would keep working. And every once in a while, they’d piggyback onto a subspace transmission and download everything they could get.”

Bullock whistles. "So our spy was being spied on. How do you know it was the Senate, though?"

"Fischer found evidence," Alynna says. "There was a slight anomaly in the form of the subspace carrier wave every time the files were accessed remotely. Fischer did a cross-check and found that the only times that that anomaly showed up in the comm logs were when the warbird was communicating with someone in the Senate building."

"And was that a frequent occurrence?"

"At least once a month." Alynna smiles. "It just so happens that one of the warbird's crew is also the son of a senator. His mother would call him every few weeks."

Bullock laughs. "His mother! Oh, that is priceless. I suppose he was their man on the inside?"

"Probably. He's being questioned as we speak."

Alynna has an appointment to get to - she looks around the room and finds Bullock's chronometer. Almost 1200 hours.

She stands up and says, "Sir, I have to get going. Lwaxana - Mrs. Troi, I mean, is leaving us. Since the Melbourne won't be flightworthy for a while, she's getting a ride back to Bolarus from the Adelphi. I'm escorting her to the transporter room."

"I see you're on a first name basis now," Bullock says. "Glad to hear that you two have made friends."

"She's not so bad once you get to know her. Remarkable woman, really. You should have seen her go up against the Saurian negotiator. If the man had tear ducts, he would have cried."

"If nothing else, she's certainly memorable," Bullock says, grinning. "One more thing before you go, Lynn - any word from HQ on how they plan to respond to the attack on the Melbourne?"

Alynna shakes her head, frowning. "No, sir. I get the feeling though that their hands are tied. The Romulan government is claiming that the attack wasn't authorized by them, and the Federation Council wants to believe it. They don't want a war."

Bullock snorts derisively. "Twenty-seven of my crew dead *IS* a war, if you ask me. And if those warbirds had gotten us through the Neutral Zone, I guarantee that their mission wouldn't have wound up being so-called unauthorized." He shakes his head. "Politicians."

Alynna privately agrees, but she also knows why the Federation can't afford to start a war right now. Their relationship with the Klingon Empire is still fragile, and along their other border, the Cardassians are shaping up to be more and more of a threat. Making a move against the Romulans now could spark a quadrant-wide conflagration.

"Well," she says. "Sir, I'll let you get some rest now. Feel better."

"If I get any more rest, I'll go out of my mind!" Bullock calls after her as she walks through the door. Alynna smiles.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

" - and the canapes were just FABULOUS, Alynna, I have to get you to try them. I asked the chef what kind they were, but I can't remember what he said, Lurian or something -"

"Sounds good," Alynna says, only half listening as Lwaxana continues chattering. The case she's carrying for the envoy is ridiculously heavy, and she knows why - it's stuffed to the gills with dresses and shoes and jewelry. There's more in here than Lwaxana could wear in a month, even though her trip has only lasted five days.

She lugs the case down the corridor with effort, concentrating to keep from dropping it, and makes vaguely affirming noises whenever it seems appropriate. Lwaxana, for her part, blithely forges ahead with her story about last night's diplomatic function. " - as if I couldn't SEE that he was ogling me because it was only his third head that was looking," she's saying as they finally enter the transporter room. "Really, men are so dense sometimes."

"Mmhmm," Alynna replies, and hoists the case onto the transporter pad with a grunt. She nods to the transporter chief, Petty Officer Singh, who nods back and starts keying in coordinates on his console.

She turns to see Lwaxana giving her an indignant look, hands planted on her hips. "You weren't listening to a word I said."

Alynna blinks. "You said the chancellor was ogling you -"

"I said that the ARKENITE chancellor had three heads!"

Arkenites have one head, or at least every Arkenite that Alynna's ever met has only had one. She decides to feign ignorance, though - she knows Lwaxana well enough by now to know that the outrage is probably an act. Putting on an innocent expression, she says, "I thought it might have been a genetic condition."

"Oh, you did not," Lwaxana says, rolling her eyes. "Telepath, remember? If I bore you, dear, just say so." There's just a bit of a curve to her lips now, a smile threatening to appear.

"Lwaxana, I assure you, boring is the last thing you could ever be."

"Which is why you were listening so intently to what I had to say."

"I was a bit distracted. That case is heavy, as I'm sure you know."

"Then I'll be glad to have my regular valet back. He's capable of carrying things and listening at the same time." That would be an insult, except that Lwaxana's eyes are twinkling and her hint of a smile has turned into a full-blown grin.

Alynna tries, but she just can't think of a good retort. She grins back at Lwaxana and shakes her head. "You win this one."

She meant what she said, though - Lwaxana doesn't bore her. She may tune out some of the constant patter of words, but having someone around who's so vivacious, and so much more sociable than Alynna herself... It's been different, in a good way. She's felt more relaxed over the past few days than she has in years, despite all the stress of getting the ship repaired. It's as if Lwaxana's company has worn off her sharp edges.

She could almost see them staying together, bantering like this every day, their relationship turning romantic in the long run. Almost. If Lwaxana weren't married already, of course.

"And if you weren't married to your work," Lwaxana says, reading her thoughts. And then embraces her. She's soft and warm, and her perfume smells wonderful, some sort of floral scent. "I'll miss you too, dear," she says.

"You too," Alynna says. "I'll miss you." Maybe saying so is redundant, since she's already thought it and Lwaxana already knows. But it still feels right to say it out loud.

They release each other, and Lwaxana lays a hand on each of Alynna's shoulders. She studies Alynna for a moment at arm's length - she's up to something. Her eyes are twinkling again. "I suppose Ian wouldn't mind just one," she says.

Alynna is about to ask One what? when Lwaxana leans down and kisses her. Quite thoroughly.

She doesn't have enough time to get over her shock before Lwaxana pulls away - wearing a wicked grin, of course - and steps onto the transporter pad. "Well, I'd better be going. Beam me up, would you, Mr. Soong?"

"Commander?" That's Singh, standing behind her at the console. He needs her permission to initiate transport - Alynna nods without turning to look at him. Her face is bright red, she's sure.

"Energizing," Singh says. Lwaxana waves goodbye, still smiling, as her form fades into the sparkle of the transporter beam.

Alynna clears her throat. "Singh, not a word to anyone."

"A word about what, Commander?" She looks over her shoulder - Singh is managing to keep a straight face, but barely.

"Good man," she tells him. "I'll keep you in mind when it's time for promotions."

She marches out of the transporter room, trying to keep some semblance of dignity, but as soon as she's out in the corridor she lets the act drop. She leans against the corridor wall, puts a hand to her mouth. Lwaxana kissed her. And she didn't have the good sense to kiss back...

Her next stop is supposed to be Engineering, where Mekemett and Joral have yet another round of updates on the ship's status for her. Then a subspace call with Starfleet Command - they have more questions about the Romulan attack. Then a meeting with Starbase 241's commander, then another with Tholev and his officers to brief them on what the starbase's security personnel have found out from their Romulan captives. Then bridge duty, despite the fact that the Melbourne won't be going anywhere for at least four days.

Without Lwaxana Troi around, it all seems incredibly dull.

She doesn't want to go back her normal routine just yet. Maybe she'll beam over to the starbase first, and ask the chef there about Lurian canapes.