PERSONAL RECORD; STARDATE 5024.05. UPON RETURNING TO THE SHIP, I LEFT M'RESS WITH THE OTHER CAITIANS AND HEADED FOR MY CABIN. AS I CHECKED MY CHARTS, I SAW THAT AMANDA WAS STILL ASLEEP.
THEN I CHECKED THE COMPUTER'S RECORDS...
"Nothing." Janet shook her head. "How the hell can there be nothing?"
"What are you looking for?"
Janet turned in her chair to see that Amanda was awake and had been watching her."A world- or a location- called Starlex-III. "She indicated the charts on the cabin walls." It's not on any of my charts- and Computer's never heard of it."
"What's on Starlex-III?"
"Maybe M'ress' sister."
Amanda slowly sat up as she spoke. "Put me through to Admiral T'Pel."
It didn't take long to make the connection, and soon Janet watched as Amanda made her report to the Vulcan admiral. She listened as Amanda told T'Pel all about Ballen's upcoming wedding. Then she told the admiral about the Caitians- and their need to find Starlex-III.
Janet spoke up when she was done.”. Admiral, the problem is that Starlex-III isn't on any charts I have access to."
"That's not surprising, "T'Pel told them. "And it's no fault of yours, Janet. Starlex-III is not a planet."
The two humans exchanged glances as Janet spoke. "What is it then?"
"According to our sources, it's one of three very large and very major Orion military bases, "T'Pel answered. "Thus the reason it's not on any federal charts."
"Any idea where it is?" Amanda asked.
"Doesn't matter," Janet stated with a shake of her head. "It's a military base- not like Admiral Turner's bio-weapons outpost last year. That place'll be packed with trained soldiers. There's no way we'd be able to force our way in and out."
"Unfortunately, that's correct," T'Pel stated." And while Sha'ress is an ensign- I called her record up while we spoke- we cannot risk interplanetary war for the sake of one person. If you are going to rescue her, any plan you come up with will have to center on the people with you."
Janet sighed in frustration. "Admiral, there's more than just one involved. How many slaves does an Orion frigate hold?"
T'Pel's eyebrow rose at this. "According to our sources at least five hundred- perhaps more."
Amanda's eyes went wide and her confusion was clear. "Why hasn't their government said anything?"
"They probably think they're all dead," Janet replied. "Phasers, disruptors- they don't leave anything behind to bury."
T'Pel sighed and nodded. "Very well, Janet. I cannot dismiss your point. I will speak to your uncle about sending a task force to the border. They will not cross unless you call for them." The Vulcan shook her head and red hair almost the same shade as Janet's bounced about her shoulders. "Be careful. If this goes wrong, the political ramifications could affect the entire sector- maybe even lead to war."
Janet grew thoughtful. "Political..."
Amanda looked over at her. "What are you thinking about?"
Janet met her gaze. "I'm thinking about crashing a certain wedding."
"About that, "T'Pel said," We do have information that may help on that front." As she continued, Janet's eyebrows rose- then she nodded.
STARDATE 5027.4- THREE DAYS LATER
The Orion homeworld
Ballen sighed as she stepped out onto a balcony that opened off the master bedroom of Maket's estate. Located in the countryside outside the planetary capital, it processed an air of peace and quiet that Ballen had actually come to like. There had been so much chaos over the last two months as the planet prepared for the wedding, that she'd actually considered calling it off. But that would have created an intolerable delay in her efforts to deliver the Orion Territories to the Romulan Empire.
The Empire. When was the last time she'd actually laid eyes on it? Not by scans or viewers, but actually saw it with her own eyes? She looked down at her hands. A darker, richer green than Romulan skin- and her body...she had a hard time these days remembering what she used to look like.
The Praetor himself had chosen her for this mission. No one else in the empire even knew she was still alive. Her family believes she died in a shuttle accident when she was sixteen.
All she had was her mission and the life that went with it.
In five more days, she would become Maket's wife- a roll she never expected to take on. But it was one she'd endure if her plan were to succeed. She. Her. Ballen shook her head and turned from the balcony. The flowing- and revealing- gown she wore, swayed and flowed with every movement even as her raven-black hair swung and bounced about her shoulders and fell to the middle of her back.
Upon returning to the bedroom, she passed the double-size bed and paused before a full-length mirror Maket had surprised her with three months ago. She studied the image it showed her. That female was athletic, shapely- feminine in every way and still able to command when she had to. It was an image Ballen had gotten used to. For the first several years after the Praetor had selected her, there had been nothing but training and surgery, then more training and injections, then more training to create the being that was now Ballen.
She turned from the image and began calling for the slaves.
SHIP'S RECORD, STARDATE 5028.2. WE'VE JUST ENTERED ORBIT AROUND THE ORION HOMEWORLD AND I'VE ORDERED COMPUTER TO START SCANNING FOR BALLEN'S READINGS. BEING THE MIX OF BIO-CHEMISTRY THAT SHE IS, SHE SHOULDN'T BE HARD TO FIND.
M'RESS WANTS TO COME WITH ME WHEN I FACE BALLEN, BUT I DON'T THINK THAT'S A GOOD IDEA. FOR ONE THING, SHE'S TOO CLOSE TO THE SITUATION THIS TIME- I CAN SEE HER KILLING BALLEN BEFORE WE GET ANY ANSWERS OUT OF HER. THEN TOO, I NEED SOMEONE UP HERE TO HANDLE BOTH THE SHIP AND THE REMAINING CAITIANS...
Janet turned off the recorder and looked to her cabin door at the sound of the knock. "Come." She watched as it slid aside for Amanda- who was up and around now- and Lt. Shev. "Come on in." The redhead looked to the Andorian as she spoke. "Do you know how things stand, Lieutenant?"
The Andorian nodded." Lt. Commander Stevens has explained your connection with Starfleet Intelligence and Admiral T'Pel. She's also briefed me on the current situation.
"Do you really think Ballen knows where the other Caitians are?"
"I intend to find out one way or the other," Janet told her. "If she doesn't know, she still has more resources to use in tracking them down than we do. But I think they're still on the same frigate they were on a year ago."
"What makes you think that?" Amanda asked.
"For one thing, the only rumors you heard about were centered on Oakene, right?" Janet asked. "You didn't hear about any Caitian slave markets or anything?"
The disguised human shook her head. "No- no auctions either."
Her friend nodded. "I think Captain Rokagene's been selling them a few at a time whenever he needed the credits. By keeping them on his ship, he controls the only supply. There's no way to steal them and he can keep them secret longer than trying to hide them planetside somewhere."
Janet turned to Shev once more. "You were hijacked and enslaved yourself. I won't force you to join in on this if you don't want to."
"But at least five hundred Caitians may be counting on us," Amanda noted. "We're the only chance they have of ever getting their freedom back."
The cabin's lights reflected off of Shev's white hair and her antennas wavered and shifted as she looked from one human to the other. "With numbers like that, you have to ask? Of course I'm in."
Janet nodded. "Good."
The computer spoke up then." Janet, I've located Ballen."
The redhead nodded once more, rose from her chair and walked over to one of the storage units above her bunk. From that unit, she handed Amanda and Shev civilian versions of the Starfleet type II phaser, while taking a type I for herself and placing it in her jacket pocket. After closing the unit, she turned to face the other two. "Let's go pay our respects to the bride."
At Maket's estate, a room just off the master bedroom had been pressed into service as a fitting room. Ballen was there now, once more trying on the wedding gown while it's designer and his aide made final adjustments. It was sleeveless and low-cut, semi-transparent in a shimmering material that reached to the floor in flowing folds that did not hide her figure. As Ballen stood before a full-length mirror and watched the two work, she could find no remaining fault with it.
"That looks incredible- it really does."
Ballen turned at the voice to see Janet and two women she didn't know come from the bedroom- after beaming down to the balcony. "You?!"
"I came to pay my respects," Janet told her. She indicated the gown. "I meant what I said. That's an incredible gown- you really do look good in it.
"I just hope the bridegroom gets to see you wear it."
Ballen's eyes narrowed. "What are you saying?"
The redhead indicated the dressmaker and his aide. "We need to talk- in private."
Maket's bride looked to the males. "Leave us."
Janet looked to Amanda and Shev. "Watch the doors." As the four moved off, she glanced around. "Is this room secure?"
Ballen studied her just as she did a year ago. "It's checked twice a day- the entire estate is. It's clear."
Janet sighed and nodded. "Then I'm going to lay my cards on the table- and trust you to do the same. Last year, when I was aboard your ship, you never had me searched. You know about the communicator I had in one pocket. What you don't know about- and what I had completely forgotten about- was the scanner in the other pocket. "Ballen's eyes grew slightly wider as Janet took a data disc from her pocket. "Scans of you- showing the surgical and bio-chemical changes you've been put through." She handed the disc over.
"Why give- ?"
"-you a copy?" Janet asked. "To prove I'm on the level. I know you're a Romulan agent- which means you're here carrying out some kind of plan to bring Orion in under the Romulan wing.
"All of which is beside the point at the moment."
Ballen watched her closely. "Then why are you here?"
"You made a deal with me," Janet reminded her. "You'd free all the Caitians in return for the location of that bio-weapons outpost."
Ballen nodded. "And I ordered their release- you heard me."
Janet returned her nod with one of her own. "But one of your captains- Rokagene- disobeyed, and kept the Caitians his crew captured. He's been selling them a few at a time ever since."
Ballen stepped toward her. "How do you know this?"
Janet explained to her about the last few days- leaving out Amanda's connection to Starfleet Intelligence."...We freed the four on Nellux-IV, but one had been sold to an Officer Borden stationed on Starlex-III." She stepped toward the Bride-to-be. "Am I correct in assuming that both then and now, you're head of the Orion Military and answer directly to Maket?" The green-skinned woman nodded. "Then you're facing a renegade officer who disobeys orders whenever it suits him- and this time, it's brought the real possibility of war right to your doorstep."
A look of worry began to surface on Ballen's face. "What do you mean?"
"Even as we speak, a Federal task force is assembling on the Orion border, "Janet told her. "A task force ready to wage war to free the Caitians Rokagene never released."
Ballen stepped away as her mind raced with what she'd heard. She had no reason to doubt what Janet had said. A task force on the border would be easy to confirm with a simple call to the border outposts. Reports of such a task force were probably on their way to her already.
Janet stepped after her. "Somehow I don't think the Empire would appreciate having a sector-wide war dropped in their lap." Ballen spun round to face her. "Help me head it off," Janet urged. "Help me stop it before the shooting starts."
Ballen took a deep breath. "How?"
The Human standing before her nodded and began to explain.
STARDATE 5029.01- The next day
The San Francisco Navy Yards had played a long part in Earth's history. That part continued to this day as the planet-side base for Starfleet's orbital dockyards.
The workers watched from supports and grids all over the spacedock as the inanimate object before them started coming to life. Lights on the warp nacelles and the lower hull lit, their beams falling on the red and yellow pendant of Starfleet. The lights on the sphere lit- spotlights casting their glow on the vessel's name:
The engineers watched and nodded as the first of the Dakota-class slowly made it's way out of Spacedock. On the ship's bridge, Captain Christopher Pike glanced around as he sat in the command chair, the ceiling lights reflecting off his dark brown hair as he took in the sight of everyone at their stations. At the helm console, a human woman with long black hair glanced back at him. "We have cleared spacedock, Captain."
"Address Intercraft," He ordered.
The crewman at the communications console hit a switch as he replied. "Intercraft open."
"Captain to crew," Pike began, "I know you were expecting a few more days to get things squared away. To be honest, so was I. But I'm afraid we'll have to finish things up in transit. As some of you might have noticed, we're also running short-handed right now, so I'll be posting a revised duty roster shortly.
"Our destination is the Orion homeworld by way of Vulcan. Our timewarp is factor six. Captain out."
The helmsman looked back at her captain. "Course plotted and laid in, sir."
Pike nodded. "Engaged."
A low hum filled the bridge. Then with that always strange transition to light speed, the ship was on it's way.
Admiral T'Pel looked up from her work as the door buzzer went off. "Come."
The unit slid aside to allow Franklin Fitzpatrick to enter. "Enterprise just left for Vulcan. She should arrive this time tomorrow."
She nodded and shook her head. "We have so many pieces in motion..."
"I know," he said." If anything goes wrong anywhere along the line..." He left the rest unsaid. There was no need to say it. If anything went wrong, the whole sector would know it.
PERSONAL RECORD; STARDATE 5031.2. I WISH I KNEW HOW TO FIGURE BALLEN. SHE'S A ROMULAN AGENT- AN ENEMY OF THE UNION. YET, WHEN PUSH COMES TO SHOVE, SHE SEES REASON AND DOES THE RIGHT THING. IS IT BECAUSE SHE'S ACTUALLY CONSIDERING THE IMPACT ON THE EMPIRE'S PLANS OR IS SHE REALLY CONCERNED WITH WHAT'S RIGHT?
SHE JUST CALLED. BOTH ROKAGENE AND BORDEN ARE DUE IN HER OFFICE IN TEN MINUTES. I'VE ALSO BEEN INFORMED BY THE TASK FORCE, THAT THE FSS ENTERPRISE CARRYING AMBASSADOR SAREK WILL REACH ORBIT IN ABOUT FIVE MINUTES.
THE STAGE IS SET FOR THE FINAL ACT. I JUST HOPE NOBODY BLOWS IT UP...
Ballen paced her office. The wedding gown of two days ago, replaced with a military jumpsuit that seemed to hug every curve of her body. She glanced to one side of the room where Janet and M'ress stood, then to the office door where two Orion soldiers stood on each side awaiting her orders. The door buzzer sounded. "Come in," she ordered.
First through the door was Captain Rokagene. He was- in human terms- husky in build and moved like a twentieth century wrestler. He was aware of the guards even though he never looked in their direction.
Then came Borden. Tall and athletic without a doubt, but not as broad in the shoulders as Rokagene.
Borden's companion- brought on Ballen's orders- was the surprise. She was Caitian and there was enough similarities in her face and appearance, that she could only be one person.
At the sound of her name, the feline turned in shock and her eyes went wide. "M'ress?!"
The two sisters met halfway, talking over each other. "They said you were dead.. the whole family was dead."
Ballen heard it all- and it only made her angrier. "M'ress, take your sister and go- now."
Borden looked from the Caitians to his commander. "But she is mine."
"She is a Federal citizen, "Ballen stated clearly, making certain that every word was clear. "She belongs to no one."
Janet looked to her friend. "Go on."
As soon as the two beamed out, Rokagene turned to leave- and Ballen's voice rang loud." Stand where you are- Traitor." He slowly turned to face her as Borden quietly moved to one side. "A year ago, you disobeyed my direct order to release the Caitians- all of them. Now we face the threat of war with the Union because of your stupidity!"
He stood straighter. "I am an Orion. I am a slave Hunter. I refuse to return from a voyage with an empty hold!"
"We were dealing with issues far more important than full hold that day," Ballen declared. "We were fighting for the survival of our race that day- and if releasing the Caitians was the price of that survival, then it was a small price to pay!"
Silence hung heavy in the office as Ballen stepped toward the male- who was physically larger than she in every respect. "Now, thanks to you, there is a Federal task force sitting on our border, just waiting for the order to attack- to wage war in order to rescue those Caitians!" She looked him up and down and the disgust was clear in her voice. "You disobeyed a direct order- from me." She turned away as one hand went to the belt of her jumpsuit. "You know what the punishment is for Treason."
With a bellowing roar like some great beast, Rokagene lunged for her-
-light reflected off the knife Ballen pulled from her belt-
- and Rokagene's eyes went wide as she spun and planted that knife in his chest- clear up to the hilt. Even as the light in his eyes began to fade, she met his gaze one last time. "The punishment is death."
She then stood and watched as the body fell dead to the floor. She looked to the guards, who had taken a step toward the two, their hands on their weapons. Ballen nodded toward the body. "Get that out of here."
She then looked to Borden. "You had no part in the events last year- still, you knowingly bought a non-Orion for a slave. You are reduced two levels in rank- dismissed."
As the males left, she turned to Janet. "We will board Rokagene's ship and make certain every non-Orion slave on that ship is released."
Janet nodded. "Ready when you are."
The FSS ENTERPRISE
Ambassador Sarek of Vulcan had a long history of service to both Vulcan and the Union. He had managed agreements and treaties most had considered impossible. This last minute wedding invitation was a new twist, but once Admirals T'Pel and Fitzpatrick had explained, there was no way he could have refused the mission. Now, he stood beside Captain Pike's command chair and watched as the Orion homeworld drew near.
Pike himself, glanced back over his shoulder at the communications officer. "Open a channel."
"Aye, sir. Channel open."
"This is Captain Christopher Pike of the Federal Starship Enterprise to Orion Space Command, requesting permission to enter orbit."
"Orion Space Command to Captain Pike: Welcome. Is Ambassador Sarek with you?"
Pike looked to the older man as he spoke. "This is Ambassador Sarek."
"Orion welcomes Ambassador Sarek. You have permission to enter orbit, Enterprise. Standby for visual communications with Mistress Ballen."
A moment later, the forward viewscreen came to life with the image of an attractive Orion woman in the flightsuit of the Orion Military. Pike's eyes narrowed slightly at the sight of the human red head standing behind her and off to one side. "I am Mistress Ballen. I am addressing Ambassador Sarek and Captain Pike?" Both men nodded. "You are the first official Union representatives to reach our world. I welcome you both.
"As you know, I am to marry our syndicate leader Maket in two days. It is with his blessings, that I take the following action:
"A year ago, when Orion...visited Cait, 600 Caitians were not released when I ordered it. This has just recently been brought to my attention. As Commander of our military, I tracked the offending captain and his ship down- in fact I am calling you from that ship. I am determined to see to it that these federal citizens are released and sent home. I am told that under emergency evacuation conditions, your vessel is capable of handling a population that large?"
Pike nodded, understanding now, why his ship had been understaffed. They were going to need the room. "Yes, Ma'am, we can."
Ballen nodded in return and began to operate a console located just out of view. "I am sending you their transporter coordinates now. You may transport when ready."
The captain looked back over his shoulder. "Alert all 4 transporter rooms. Tell them to begin transport as soon as the coordinates are received."
"Aye, sir. Coordinates received. Relaying them now."
"Ambassador, Captain," Ballen called, "I look forward to meeting you in person at the wedding."
Sarek was the one that answered.” The honor will be ours, Mistress."
She nodded. "Until then." A moment later, the screen went blank.
Pike spoke as he rose from his command chair. "Number One, call Sickbay and inform Dr. Bryce of what's coming in. He may want to check the Caitians in case they need medical attention."
The helmsman nodded. "Aye, sir."
"Let me know as soon as transport's complete."
She nodded once more and watched as the captain and ambassador left the Bridge.
Aboard the Orion frigate, Ballen turned from the console as a crewman spoke. "Transport has begun, Mistress."
"Inform me once it's complete."
Janet stepped toward her then. "Got a moment to talk?"
Ballen met her gaze, then glanced around. "Not here- your ship." She then turned to the crewman that had spoken earlier. "You can reach me aboard this human's cargo ship."
The redhead then had her communicator in hand. "Kirk to Enterprise. Beam Ballen and I directly to my cabin."
"Acknowledged, Janet. Energizing now."
Once transport was complete, Janet indicated her cabin. "It's not much, but it's home."
Ballen glanced around, taking in the various sketches on the bulkheads, before meeting the Human's gaze. "What did you want to talk about?"
"The way things have been going." Janet leaned against her work station as she continued. "Tell me- honestly- just between the two of us, how long have you had to exist as an Orion?"
Ballen stepped away. "Sometimes it seems like forever." She paused. "23 years."
Janet's eyebrows rose. "For a human, that'd be a big chunk of our lives. Your Praetor must have recruited you when you were- what? 15, 16? Do you even remember what the Empire was like? If you went back now, do you really think you'd be able to live there?
"For 23 years, you've had to live, act, think like an Orion- stand up for Orion ways and customs."
Janet stepped toward her as Ballen stood with her back to her. "I'm assuming there are several trade agreements and treaties in place now between Orion and the Empire. Have they worked out?"
Ballen nodded. "They have proven beneficial to both sides."
"Because of your efforts, "Janet noted. She stepped around to face the green-skinned woman. "Do you see what's happened? Are you even aware of it? You're not a Romulan anymore, Ballen- not completely. You're an artificially created half-breed- and like any natural one, you have a foot in each world. You know the best and worst of both- and in a few days, you'll be in a position where you can bring the best of both together and create something better than either one."
Janet paused for a moment. "Tell me- if it were totally up to you, would you still want to see Orion allied with the Empire? Knowing both sides as well as you do, would such an alliance really benefit Orion?"
The Romulan/Orion met her gaze for a moment, then turned away, her eyes going to the various sketches and drawings once more. "In some ways, the mind sets are similar, "She finally said. "And the Empire would be more tolerant of Orion slave practices than the Union would be."
Janet nodded. "All right then, do it. But don't short-change your race- either of them. Right now, both sides are getting what they want- there's no need for that to change."
Ballen faced her. "You are talking about- "
"- maintaining the balance," Janet told her. "Form your alliance- only don't let the Empire ride rough-shod over the Orions. If you do it right, you can pull both sides together and create something this quadrant has never seen before."
Maket's bride-to-be turned away and her voice was a surprising whisper. "I wouldn't even know how to begin."
"If you truly care- and I think you're starting to, whether you want to or not- then let Ambassador Sarek help," Janet suggested.
Ballen looked to her in shock. "Sarek? How could he possibly- ?"
Janet held up her hand for silence. "I don't know the male personally. But he has a reputation as the most open-minded diplomat the Union has." She stepped toward the other woman. "Once he understands what's going on, he'll do whatever he can to help- even if that means negotiating an alliance between Orion and the Empire.
"He can help you make sure that both sides come out ahead." Janet did something then she had never done. She reached out to Ballen, resting her hand on her arm. "You know as well as I do, the only other option- Imperial dominance over Orion- will only result in war. It may take 2 years or 10- but it'll come.
"If you care about either side- or both- you know the choice you have to make."
Silence settled over the cabin for a moment before the computer spoke. "Janet, we're receiving a signal from the Orion frigate for Mistress Ballen."
"Put it through," Janet said as she nodded to the bride-to-be.
"This is Ballen. Report."
"All of the Caitians have been transported to the Federal ship, Mistress."
"Very well. Inform the First Officer that he commands for now- and that I will carry out a Level One inspection in 2 hours. If I find any traces of non-Orions aboard that ship he will suffer the same fate as his late captain. Ballen out. "She looked to Janet as the computer broke contact." I wish to return to the surface. I must think about what you've said."
Janet nodded. "Computer, transport Mistress Ballen down to her bedroom."
"Yes, Janet. Energizing now."
In a sparkle of transport light, Ballen was gone- followed soon after by a knock on the cabin door. "Come."
The redhead watched as the door slid aside to allow M'ress to enter. "Got a second?" her first officer asked.
"A few. What's going on?"
"The other Enterprise just called, "the Caitian said as her tail shifted about behind her. "They've found my mother among the 600."She shrugged. "Lucked out- she was among the first ones Dr.Bryce examined.
"Sha'ress and I want to go to her."
Janet nodded and went to her. "Of course."
M'ress took a deep breath. "We...want to go home with her- help her get settled."
The Human watched the feline for a moment. "So this is good-bye?"
"Only for a couple of months. "M'ress assured her. Then she shrugged. "A girl's gotta work. Sha'ress is taking time too- an extended leave."
Janet nodded once more. "You go ahead. Family comes first. I'll swing by in two months and see if you're ready to hit the space lanes again."
They shared a hug then that only good friends could share, then M'ress stepped back. "Don't think I'm leaving you short- handed." She stepped over to the cabin door and opened it to allow Shev to enter.
Janet's eyebrows rose at the sight of the Andorian. "Don't you want some time off yourself? Or get back to the Venture ? They must be wondering what happened to you."
She nodded toward the Caitian. "M'ress helped me contact the Venture while you were on the Orion frigate. I gave the captain a full report and requested a two month leave."
"And you'd rather spend that time hauling cargo instead of resting on your homeworld?" Janet asked.
The blue-skinned woman shrugged. "I can be bored anytime." She indicated the feline. "Based on what Lt. Commander Stevens and M'ress have said, serving aboard your Enterprise'll be a lot more interesting."
Janet had to laugh at that and shook her head. "That's not quite the way I'd describe it..." Still smiling, she offered her hand. "Welcome aboard." As they shook hands, there came the sound of the cockpit hatch opening and closing, then Amanda stepped into the cabin. "I was starting to wonder where you disappeared to," Janet told her.
The temporarily green-skinned human shrugged. "You were busy in here, so I used the comm system in the cockpit to contact Admiral T'Pel and fill her in on things."
"What'd my future aunt have to say?" Janet asked.
Amanda smiled as she folded her arms. "At first, she just shook her head in disbelief. Then she said- and I quote-"I can only marvel at Janet's ability to pull rational solutions out of illogical situations"- unquote."
Janet and M'ress laughed at that, then the Caitian shrugged. "Well, I guess I'd better get packed. "She looked to Shev. "Come on, you can use the cabin while I'm gone." She then looked to her human friend. "Janet? Thanks."
The redhead nodded. "You're welcome- and I'll see you in two months."
Amanda watched the two non-humans leave the cabin, the turned to Janet. "Packed? Where's she going?" She listened as Janet explained and nodded in understanding. "You can't really blame her."
"No," the ship's owner said with a shake of her head. "I'd probably do the same."
The computer spoke up then. "Janet? There's a message for you from Mistress Ballen. You've been invited to the wedding- and she requests your presence when she meets with Ambassador Sarek day after tomorrow."
Janet looked to Amanda and smiled as her friend's eyebrows rose in surprise. "Call her back and tell I'm honored to be invited and I will attend. Also tell her that I'll gladly sit in on her meeting with the ambassador- just tell me when and where."
"Acknowledged," the computer replied. Then it spoke again. "Another message, Janet. This one's from the Federal Enterprise. Captain Pike requests a visit at your convenience."
"Wonder what he wants?" Amanda asked.
"He was a friend of my father," Janet replied with a shrug. "I'll find out when I get there."
the FSS Enterprise- 15 minutes later
Janet's gaze was everywhere as the ensign led her from the transporter room to the captain's quarters. The deck lay-out wasn't too different from the smaller Daedalus-class, but with 606 Caitians on board, it was definitely crowded.
Pike looked up from the report he was reading and turned toward his cabin door as the buzzer went off. "Come." He nodded as the two entered. "Janet. Thank you ensign." As the crewman left and the door slid closed, he captain shook his head. "I thought it was you standing behind Ballen when she called."
Janet's eyebrows rose. "I didn't realize I still the pickup's visual range."
"It's been a long time."
"Yes, sir. Almost 9 years," Janet replied.
He waved a hand toward a chair. "Please." As they both sat down in that slightly curved cabin, Pike laid the report aside as he studied her face. "How have you been?"
Janet shifted in her seat. "All right, I guess. Things have gotten a little easier lately."
Pike watched her face for a moment. "There's no need to be tense. I read the Review Board transcript- and agree with it. The original investigation was flawed from the start."
The redhead sighed and visibly relaxed. "You're the first person in Starfleet I've come across other than Uncle Frank and Admiral T'Pel that have actually looked at it. I had to deliver some equipment to Starbase Eight last month and the base commander couldn't pay me and get rid of me fast enough."
"Well, this isn't Starbase Eight and I'm not Commander Stone," Pike told her. "What I want to know is, why aren't you back in uniform?"
Janet shrugged. "It's a long story."
PERSONAL RECORD; SUPPLEMENTAL. CAPTAIN PIKE WAS PROBABLY THE ONLY OTHER LIVING PERSON I COULD TRUEST WITH THE ENTIRE STORY. SO, BEGINNING WITH THAT DAY A YEAR AGO, WHEN UNCLE FRANK CALLED, I TOLD HIM EVERYTHING ABOUT ADMIRAL TURNER'S BIO-WEAPONS OUTPOST, AMANDA, M'RESS, THE CAITIANS, BALLEN- ALL OF IT.
BY THE TIME I FINISHED, HE- LIKE ADMIRAL T'PEL- WAS SHAKING HIS HEAD IN DISBELIEF...
"...I'd heard rumors of factions like Turner's, "Pike said after Janet had finished. "But to know they actually existed is more than a little frightening."
Janet shrugged. "Well, thanks to the Orions, that one doesn't exist anymore."
Pike leaned back in his chair. The atmosphere in the cabin was much more relaxed now than it had been. "And it sounds like T'Pel was right. Considering what's been going on here, you've accomplished a lot more than you might have in uniform."
The redhead shrugged. "None of it was intentional. I was just trying to straighten out whatever mess I ended up in."
Her father's friend smiled his well-known crooked smile. "Sometimes, that's all anyone can do." It was then that he noticed the time. "Dinner time. Care to join me?"
Janet nodded. "I'd like that."
As they stood, she watched as he opened the door. "Maybe we can throw in a tour later," he added as they started down the corridor. "Since you were there, you know I've been invited to Mistress Ballen's wedding?"
She nodded. "Yes, sir. So have I."
Pike glanced over at her. "Care to accompany someone in uniform?"
She smiled and nodded. "It'd be a pleasure."
PERSONAL RECORD; STARDATE 5032.09. BALLEN AND MAKET'S WEDDING WILL BE SPOKEN ABOUT FOR YEARS TO COME. HAVING SEEN THE WEDDING DRESS, I SHOULD HAVE EXPECTED THE ELEGANCE OF THE TEMPLE AND THE FINERY WORN BY THE TITLED ORIONS IN ATTENDANCE. THIS IS A WORLD WHERE PAGEANTRY STILL PLAYS A LARGE PART IN SOCIETY- AND WHEN IT'S HANDLED AS WELL AS IT WAS TODAY, IT'S STILL A SIGHT WELL WORTH SEEING.
BALLEN LOOKED MORE RELAXED THAN I'D EVER SEEN HER. I HOPE IT WASN'T AN ACT. I'D LIKE TO THINK SHE'S MADE THE CHOICES SHE NEEDED TO AND IS READY TO LIVE WITH THEM.
THE ROMULAN AMBASSADOR WAS THERE, WHICH WAS TO BE EXPECTED. HE WAS A LITTLE SURPRISED TO FIND HUMANS AND A VULCAN IN ATTENDANCE- AND IT WAS SOMETHING OF A SHOCK TO SEE HIM. THE RUMORS OF VULCANS AND ROMULANS HAVING A COMMON ANCESTRY CAN NOW BE CONSIDERED FACT.
THE RECEPTION WAS EQUAL PARTS NEW YEARS EVE AND DINNER PARTY WITH SEVERAL ORION SLAVE GIRLS DANCING ON RAISED PLATFORMS IN VARIOUS PARTS OF THE HALL. BALLEN TOLD ME LATER, THAT EACH GIRL WAS ACTUALLY A BODYGUARD FOR MAKET- AND WAS FULLY TRAINED TO KILL WITH THEIR BARE HANDS IF NECESSARY.
AS SOON AS THE RECEPTION WAS OVER, CAPTAIN PIKE HAD THE FSS ENTERPRISE OUT OF ORBIT AND HEADED FOR CAIT- LEAVING ME AND MINE THE JOB OF TAKING AMBASSADOR SAREK HOME WHEN THE TIME COMES. ONCE I TOLD SHEV ABOUT THIS, WE SPENT SEVERAL HOURS GETTING THE SPARE CABIN FIXED UP.
THE LAST THING I EXPECTED TO HAUL WAS AN AMBASSADOR...
Janet handled the transporter console herself while Shev stood nearby. It was only a few sparkling moments later, that Ambassador Sarek stood on the platform. Janet spoke as she shut down the device. "Welcome aboard, Ambassador. "He nodded to her and she glanced around the cargo hold. "I'm afraid she's not as fancy as a Federal starship, but she gets the job done."
Sarek glanced around as he spoke. "You are too modest, Captain. I have seen far worse. A Tellerite shuttle is not to be endured. The atmosphere aboard those vessels is not for the weak of heart."
Janet glanced at Shev and smiled. "Thank you, sir." she pointed. "Your cabin is over there. There's a workstation and the computer's been told to give you access to any communications channel you might need."
"To be honest, Captain, I think I would prefer to rest," the older man said. "It has been a long day with another long one facing us tomorrow."
Janet nodded. "I understand, sir. I'll see you in the morning then."
Sarek nodded to each of them and both Janet and Shev watched as he took his one case in had and headed toward his cabin.
The redhead sighed." I'm kind of tired myself, so I guess I'll turn in, too. 'Night, Shev."
PERSONAL RECORD; STARDATE 5032.02. THE AMBASSADOR AND I BEAMED DOWN TO MEET WITH BALLEN RIGHT AFTER BREAKFAST. WE ARRIVED IN FRONT OF THE MAKET ESTATE AND WAS SHOWN INTO A LIVING ROOM WITH DOUBLE DOORS LEADING OUT ONTO A PATIO. IT WAS ONLY A FEW MINUTES LATER, THAT BALLEN CAME IN FROM THAT DIRECTION...
The jumpsuit Ballen wore fit her to perfection and hid nothing. "Ambassador Sarek. It is a pleasure to see you again. Thank you for agreeing to meet with me." He bowed as she turned to the redhead."...Janet. I am glad you agreed to come." She waved a hand toward the double doors. "Why don't we talk outside?"
As they stepped out onto the patio, Sarek was first to speak. "I admit to being somewhat at a loss to understand the reason for this meeting, Mistress Ballen."
"I'm afraid it's rather involved, Ambassador." She indicated chairs around a table and as Sarek and Janet sat down, she took a deep breath. "Janet says that I ca trust you- that you are...she said 'the most open-minded diplomat the Union has.'"
Sarek glanced over at Janet as he replied. "I am honored that she believes so. "He then looked to Ballen.
She in turn, looked to Janet. "This goes against all of my training."
Janet could only shrug. "You also know it's the only way."
The green-skinned woman sighed. "I am...not a natural Orion, Ambassador."
The raised Vulcan eyebrow was Sarek's only visible response. "Indeed? What are you then?"
She met his gaze squarely." I was born Romulan." Hesitantly, she went on to relate her story of surgical and bio-chemical alterations and being 'seeded' into the Orion population 23 years ago."...since then, I have had to be an Orion in every way possible in order to survive and get where I am today. In doing so, I have had to set the Romulan aside until now, I am neither one or the other- and yet I am both."
Ballen turned to face the first Vulcan she'd ever laid eyes on. "The original plan was to have Maket assassinated. Then his 'grieving' widow-" she tapped a finger against her own chest-" would turn to the Empire for assistance in the form of 'Protectorate' status under the Romulan wing." She stepped toward the table. "That would be the death-knell for the Orions. Within a year, they would cease to exist as an independent state.
"Over the past year, I have managed to redirect things somewhat into various treaties and trade agreements where both sides have benefited, yet I am not sure how much longer I can succeed in such things."
Sarek looked from one woman to the other. "You wish me to negotiate an alliance between Orion and a recognized enemy of the Union?"
Janet nodded." If the Praetor gets tired of this peaceful cooperation, he might try to hurry things along with an invasion. A war between the Empire and Orion will almost certainly draw the Union in on Orion's side. We'd end up with a galactic war on our hands."
Sarek sat for a moment, thinking it over. "Where as a true alliance between the two, allowing them to co-exist and share their resources, would maintain the galactic peace and possibly lead to something more positive." He thought for a moment more. "There is something I will need- for myself- before I agree. A show of sincerity." He met Ballen's gaze. "From you."
The confusion was clear o her face. "What?"
"I would ask you to mind meld with me, "Sarek said. "To confirm what you have told me. Since there are no other sources to go to in order to confirm or deny your story, I must know your thoughts before I decide."
Ballen looked to Janet, then back to Sarek. He was willing to help, but he needed proof she was telling the truth. Where else was he going to get it? She swallowed and nodded. "Very well. What must I do?"
Sarek indicated an empty chair near him. He turned it to face him.”Sit- and do not resist."
Slowly, Ballen sat down. She tensed for a moment, when Sarek reached for her, then forced herself to relax as he placed his hand upon her face. "My thoughts to your thoughts..." For a moment, Janet thought they'd been frozen in time- in fact; she wasn't sure how much time had passed when Sarek finally broke the meld and leaned back in his chair.
"I am...at your disposal, Mistress Ballen."
PERSONAL RECORD; STARDATE 5039.04. IT'S BEEN A WEEK SINCE SAREK AND BALLEN'S MIND MELD AND THE TWO HAVE BEEN IN ONE MEETING AFTER ANOTHER - BOTH WITH AND WITHOUT MAKET. THE SYNDICATE LEADER APPEARS TO TRUST HIS WIFE COMPLETELY AND IS SATISFIED TO LEAVE TREATIES AND ALLIANCES TO HER.
FOR ME, I'M STARTING TO WONDER HOW MUCH LONGER WE'RE GOING TO BE HERE. I'M PAST READY TO BE ON THE MOVE AGAIN...
As Janet turned off the recorder, the computer spoke. "Janet? Ambassador Sarek has called for beam up."
She nodded as she rose from her cabin chair. "Beam him up then."
Leaving her cabin, she met Shev coming from the cockpit, where she's spent most of the past week studying the flight console. The two reached the upper guardrails as Sarek materialized o the transporter platform. "Ambassador?" Janet called, "Is something wrong?"
He shook his head. "No, Captain, not at all. But since this was not a scheduled mission, I could not stay any longer. I have given Mistress Ballen what advice I can for now and I have told her I will return in two weeks time."
"Do you think she'll be able to avoid a war, sir?" Shev asked.
"I believe it is possible, "the Vulcan replied. "We can leave for Vulcan whenever you are ready, Captain."
Janet nodded. "Yes, sir. Computer?"
"Lay in a course for Vulcan- Maximum warp."
"Acknowledged. Course plotted, laid in and engaged."
A moment later, Enterprise was headed for Federal space- and home.