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Day Thirty-Seven, Romulan Month of K'ri'Brax Tuesday, July 22, 2155
I.K.S. Mup'chIch, near Alpha Centauri
"WE HAVE ESTABLISHED simultaneous control over both of the thhaei warships, Commander," Centurion T'Vak said in excited tones as he leaned over one of the awkward bridge consoles on the seized Klingon vessel. "The arrenhe'hwiua telecapture system continues to function flawlessly."
Commander T'Voras sat back in his chair a chair built to Romulan specifications, the sole concession to pure comfort he had allowed himself since he had seized this rattletrap battle cruiser from its vermin-infested klivam crew. Taking control of a ship operated by those bumpy-headed savages had been far more challenging than today's mission had proved to be so far. He savored the relative ease with which the ships constructed by the Romulan Star Empire's Vulcan cousins evidently could be taken by remote means.
He knew he could scarcely imagine how greatly the Empire's military would benefit from reverse engineering these highly advanced Vulcan starships. But he understood well enough just how much their acquisition would bolster his own career and the wealth and status of his family.
"Very good, Centurion," T'Voras said, steepling his fingers before him in an effort to keep his thoughts focused and to ward off overconfidence. After all, if the Vulcans somehow managed to recover control over their communications equipment, they could both summon and receive assistance very quickly this deep inside Coalition territory. "Secure our prizes for towing back to Romulus. And make certain that the crews aboard both vessels are dead before we get under way. We don't need any mishaps on the way home."
"It will be done, Commander," said T'Vak.
T'Voras decided then to allow himself one luxury in addition to his padded chair a small, triumphant smile.
Early in the month of re'Ti'Khutai, Year of ShiKahr 8764
Tuesday, July 22, 2155
Vulcan Defense Directorate Vessel T'Jal, Near Alpha Centauri
The main bridge viewer abruptly succumbed to a wash of static, failing along with the main bridge lights. Despite the suddenly dimmed illumination, Captain Vanik could see the young subaltern's eyes widen momentarily in an unaccustomed display of emotion.
He could hardly blame the young officer, of course, considering that circumstances not to mention Vulcan's commitment to defending her Coalition allies from alien attack had just forced her to take part in firing upon Vulcan vessels that had been hijacked by an extraordinarily pernicious and lethal adversary.
"Our life-support functions have just shut down, Captain," Subaltern T'Pelek said, recovering her equanimity as her training reasserted itself. "Along with the helm and the propulsion and tactical systems. I can access neither the backup systems nor the tertiary redundancies."
It was a most vexing and logic-defying problem. Vanik had planned to solve it from a safe distance after the T'Jal's sister ship, the Toth, had experienced an apparently identical shipwide systems failure only a few lirt'k earlier. Unfortunately, whatever effect had just immobilized both vessels had a far longer reach than Vanik had realized.
"Contact the rest of the task force," Vanik said, swiveling his seat toward the comm station. Most of the task force had already gone to warp, bound for Vulcan, but they could be recalled very quickly to render aid.
"Captain, the communications grid is not responding either," Communications Officer Voris said a moment later after checking his board. "The subspace bands are presently unavailable to us."
"Another vessel has just appeared on the sensors," Altern Stak reported from one of the forward science-monitoring stations that was apparently still functional. "It fits the profile of a Klingon battle cruiser."
Another Klingon vessel, Vanik thought, not surprised to find that the threat that the T'Jal and the Toth had been dispatched to address still lurked nearby, like a hungry le-matya stalking the sunbaked plains of Vulcan's Forge in search of prey.
"Why did we not detect this vessel earlier?" Vanik asked, his tone measured.
"It is difficult to tell, Captain," said Stak, still staring into his hooded viewer. "The orbits of a number of dark, icy cometary bodies intersect this vicinity. Perhaps the Klingon vessel was concealed behind one of these bodies."
And deployed its weapon against both us and the Toth from that place of concealment, Vanik thought. It was reasonable to assume that this was the very same weapon that had just induced a pair of D'Kyr-class Vulcan ships to wipe out a peaceful human convoy near the Alpha Centauri system, leaving the Vulcan Defense Force no choice other than to destroy two of its own vessels and crews.
"The Klingon vessel is changing position, Captain," Stak said. "Accelerating toward us."
"Helm and propulsion remain off-line," T'Pelek said.
"Is there any way to contact the Toth?" Vanik asked, addressing Voris.
It occurred to Vanik only then that he had never experienced quite such dire circumstances, either during his earlier tenure as commander of the science vessel Ti'Mur or during his six preceding decades of service to Vulcan's space-exploration efforts.
"Continue attempting to raise the Toth, Subaltern," he said. "I need to confer with Captain L'Vor to learn what countermeasures she is taking to prevent the capture of her ship."
At that moment a transitory burst of light brightened Altern Stak's side of the bridge. It had already faded by the time Vanik had turned to face the young science officer, whose features were frozen in a curiously un-Vulcan expression of dismay.
Vanik realized exactly which countermeasure Captain L'Vor had employed even before Stak said a word.
"The Toth has exploded, Captain. And the Klingon vessel has not yet opened fire."
Logical, Vanik thought. If their desire is to capture rather than merely to kill.
It was also logical to assume that L'Vor would not have acted out of panic, but merely out of the prudent necessity of preventing an enemy from acquiring sensitive Vulcan technology.
"Altern Stak," Vanik said as he arrived at a decision that was as unfortunate as it was both logical and inevitable. "Prepare our log buoy for launch."
"Immediately, Captain," Stak said.
The air was beginning to smell dank and stale to Vanik, although he knew that the failure of the life-support system had occurred far too recently to have allowed the ship's atmosphere to degrade significantly. But he also knew that the T'Jal would be a silent, life-hostile flying tomb soon enough if Stak failed to carry out his next order.
"And try to determine whether we can activate our autodestruct system," Vanik said, quietly grieving for every katra lost this day. "As the commander of the Toth just did."
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