(October 14, 2156)
As asteroids go, there wasn't anything special or noteworthy about 9-Parilla. At least, to all outward appearances. Were it not just large enough to have been named in the first place, there would be nothing setting it apart from the million others in the belt. Even among those likewise named it wouldn't seem in any way unique.
Within the asteroid however, if one bothered to look within, one would find an interesting collection of small, interconnected compartments, together comprising a small but perfectly adequate Romulan listening post. Assuming one were capable of recognizing it for what it was. One might otherwise assume it to be, perhaps just as shockingly, a Vulcan listening post, once the men operating it came into view.
There weren't many in the universe, relatively speaking, who would recognize the difference between the two species at second glance. Or even that the inhabitants of the listening post required a second glance in the first place.
In the main room, where the subspace scanner and transceiver fed their data to and from the consoles positioned around the room, five Romulans worked at a leisurely pace. There was often enough a respectable amount of communications traffic going on in the system to occupy themselves with. And, as well, enough subspace traffic going through the system. Quite a lot of it being official, government-encrypted communications and, just as importantly perhaps, Starfleet comm traffic. But the men had been at this for many months, and the routine had long since become just that. Routine.
But much like the asteroid itself, outward appearances would have proven deceptive to any observer. Despite the men's leisurely work pace and manner there was quite a lot going on beneath the surface. Due almost entirely to the fact that Major Talen had received, and was currently reviewing, a deeply encoded, personal communication from…someone. None of the men, Uhlan in rank all of them, had the clearance to even know who the communication had come from.
When Major Talen strode briskly into the main room of the listening post then, they were immediately attentive. As one of only four individual compartments comprising the post it didn't take him long to get there from his private quarters, where he'd taken the transmission. So the men turned expectantly from their work as he entered, already tense and hoping the order they had long awaited had finally been received. They'd been waiting for it for quite a long time…
Talen glanced over them before speaking. It was obvious the men were listening, were quite prepared to respond immediately and, clearly, had guessed what orders he'd received. They were and had for many months been as eager as he to depart this hateful rock, after all. But it wouldn't be appropriate to appear eager himself. As far as they knew, or should have known anyway, his sole concern was doing his duty to the Empire. However uncomfortable and utterly boring that duty might be.
"We have new orders." He said, stiffly. "We are to abandoned the post. The Valek has already arrived and a shuttle is on the way. Secure intelligence and prepare to depart."
The men were scurrying to arm the parathermite charges, pulling panels from the walls and floor that covered them, disengaging safely mechanisms. Before Talen could even fully turn around to begin securing his own personal quarters, most of the charges had already been set and were ready to begin countdown.
One of the men spoke behind him quietly, almost to himself.
"I was beginning to think this day would never come." He said.
Talen stopped, halfway back to his quarters. That had been D'Val. And the sentiment was one best not spoken aloud. So he turned back and stared at the man, until he caught his eye. Because that required a response.
When D'Val realized the major was staring at him, he stopped working. And so Major Talen smirked at him.
"Eager to return to Romulus, D'Val?" He said.
The Uhlan deflated immediately, looking more than a little discouraged.
"I hope that's not where we're…" He began.
"It is." Talen interrupted, with a nod. Still smirking. And many of the other men in the room had begun to as well, even as they continued preparing the post for its imminent destruction.
None of them particularly liked D'Val. He was not appropriately loyal to the Empire, which was enough to earn their hatred all on its own. But he was a whiner besides, and a coward. Lazy as well, in point of fact. And those qualities over and above the reason he'd been posted there with them in the first place were quite enough to earn their spite.
So, in the end, they despised him more than they hated him and he'd long since become an outlet for their frustrations.
Looking around at the utter lack of sympathy offered him by his…comrades, D'Val was somewhat moved to defend himself. Despite many months of abuse, he still attempted to appeal to sympathy now and then. As incredible as that might be.
"I think I've suffered enough." D'Val whined, somewhat desperately.
That earned him a harsh look from every other man there, who would otherwise have not stopped working long enough to give him one. It was not for him to decide when he'd been punished sufficiently, after all. He would be done here when the Empire decided he'd suffered enough.
Talen snorted. "If I had my way, D'Val, you'd stay here. But your brother's orders concerning you were very specific. Pack your belongings quickly, Uhlan, before I am tempted to fail in that duty."
With that the major turned away, already seeming to put the man out of mind. Soon enough he wouldn't be his problem anymore. As soon as the very specific orders were implemented, at least.
Retrieving his own belongings was a simple matter. There wasn't much to them, after all. And, of course, he'd kept everything that he could packed and ready, in preparation for departure, since the first day when he'd arrived. In little more than a minute or two he was at the airlock door with his bags, noting with some amusement that the rest of the team were already arriving as well. Having, naturally enough, practiced the same eager preparedness to abandon the uncomfortable rock that he had. Though, of course, none of them would ever be so disloyal as to communicate that.
D'Val was the last to arrive, never having been one for preparedness. Or for any other form of foresight. Neither attention to detail or even anything resembling simple efficiency. He was only technically a member of the team, having been more or less conscripted into this duty to get him off Romulus. Out of sight and mind.
And as a form of punishment of course, before he met his end. His brother being rather the vengeful and heavy-handed sort. D'Val had been foolish enough to have slept with his own cousin three years ago, which naturally caused his family quite a lot of embarrassment when that got out. A harsh enough thing for any common family to be confronted with but as a relative of the Praetor, however distantly, that was simply outrageous. It demanded, in fact, that someone be made a terrible example of.
And so D'Val had been and would be, the culmination of that to occur today. Now, at this moment.
So when D'Val finally approached, frowning and dragging his bag at his knee, Major Talen spoke.
"Uhlan D'Val," Talen said, facing him from the airlock door. Immediately before the very welcomed 'thump' of the shuttle docking outside resounded within.
D'Val looked up, his eyes wide and…stupid. Painting for all the world the perfect picture of that discomfiting relative any proper noble family would be glad to rid themselves of.
"Concerning those orders I mentioned." Talen said, drawing his disruptor. And he waited just a moment, to allow D'Val time to see him draw the weapon. To see it and realize what was about to happen.
Not quite enough time to beg for his life, or even express surprise. Talen wasn't interested in listening to anything like that.
The major raised and fired the disruptor smoothly, as if he'd shot men in cold blood in such manner a hundred times before. Which, while not quite accurate numerically, was close enough to the truth in every other way.
So D'Val wasn't allowed the opportunity to gasp, or yell, or express his opinion about the fact that he was about to be shot. He did, however, express the pain associated with being shot quite well. And loudly. As he fell back to the floor, sliding clumsily over his own luggage.
Major Talen and two other men, who felt they could spare the time to do so, sneered at the sight a moment before turning to leave the post behind them. Following behind the others who didn't want to waste another moment, even to express their distain for D'Val crying and sniveling on the floor. They passed through and shut the airlock door securely behind them in only a moment. Leaving D'Val, abandoned and wounded, within the asteroid's hidden listening post, to wail at the injustice of it all. And the agony of being shot in the stomach.
D'Val, of course, spent just exactly too long wailing about all of that. Long enough that he wasn't quite able to crawl about quickly enough, gravely injured and still crying, to disable any of the parathermite charges before they detonated and began to burn.
Fortunately for him, and seemingly against all odds, two of them failed to detonate.
(Eleven hours later)
The Vulcan shuttle angled in on its approach, moving as rapidly as was logical, while maintaining readiness to respond to any undetected threat. In the rear compartment Commander T'Pol and Major Tulok donned EVA suits while Subaltern T'Lea flew the shuttle.
This would be the sixth such post they'd investigated in as many months. Judging from past experience and the sensor readings the Kolinahr had relayed, they wouldn't otherwise have expected to find anything more than they had before. A jumbled, melted mass of what might once have been something intelligence could be gleaned from. Here, however, a life form reading had been detected. Weak perhaps, but nonetheless. Which presented exactly the source of intelligence one might hope for in such situations. A veritable boon perhaps, if they could get to it quickly enough. The life signs in question being rather weak, after all.
"Approaching 500 meters, Commander." T'Lea reported, from the pilot's station fore.
T'Pol hiked the EVA frame over her head and began to secure it to her chest. And with her head now clear, responded.
"Inform the Kolinahr," She said. "Then begin docking immediately. You will secure the shuttle while Tulok and I investigate the post."
Tulok arched an eyebrow in question as he finished checking his own suit for proper seals. He'd expected they'd all be participating in the investigation, as they had in every other instance. But seeing that, T'Pol answered the unspoken query.
"The life sign in the post represents a departure from the norm." She advised. "We are dealing with Romulans, Major."
Tulok only nodded. Romulans were disturbingly…deceitful, after all. So it was best to exercise caution of course.
Once the shuttle docked with that section of bare rock the Kolinahr's sensors insisted was an airlock, they were fully dressed for EVA. And armed, both sporting phaser rifles.
Surak Class Light Explorer
Captain S'Kon observed the shuttle on the main view screen. Having docked already there was little else to see, though he supposed he would be on hand to witness its destruction by some undetected booby trap. Largely what he expected would happen, as he among all the senior officers of the ship was the only one aware of just what this listening post represented. Or, rather, who was responsible for this thing sitting in Human space as it was.
"Shuttle reports secure seal." The Communications officer reported. "Commander T'Pol has begun circumventing the airlock security."
S'Kon nodded. "Secure the channel and open it to the bridge."
The Comm officer tapped the console before her, then nodded back to the captain.
"Commander T'Pol, report." S'Kon said, addressing the air around him. And, after a notable pause…
"Kolinahr, we are on site and attempting to access the airlock."
"Maintain open channel and report your progress." S'Kon ordered.
"Respectfully, as this is an intelligence gathering mission, that may prove unwise on an open channel."
"The channel is secure, Commander." S'Kon pointed out.
"It is open to the bridge, Captain."
Captain S'Kon said nothing to that, however. Which left the ball squarely in T'Pol's court, leaving her to force the issue if she decided it was warranted.
Which she apparently did not.
"Airlock security disabled." She reported. "Airlock is open and we are entering the station."
S'Kon listened intently, not only for reports from the intelligence officer herself but for anything in the background as well. As illogical as it might be, he found himself distressingly uncomfortable with the situation. Being familiar enough with Humans from past encounters, he knew well their tendency to follow 'gut feelings' and 'intuition', and it was not something he would ever have allowed himself to be accused of.
But he was guilty of it often enough regardless. As he was now, having an unusually strong 'feeling' that something was entirely amiss here. Something threateningly amiss. Perhaps it merely stemmed form the awareness that they were dealing with Romulans, a people who'd garnered quite an intimidating reputation for menace. But whatever the reason, the feeling was there and insisted upon some manner of response.
So he paid very close attention to the open channel. Waiting and listening for anything that might illuminate the threat he felt here, so that it could be responded to efficiently and quickly. This naturally distracted his attentions away from every other incoming source of data. But for all of those, the remaining bridge crew stood ready and focused on monitoring.
The Vulcan Tactical officer among them was both talented and experienced. But as the Romulan Helm officer of the approaching Bird of Prey was talented and experienced as well, he'd selected a vector that kept the cloaked vessel just precisely on the outer edge of the binary system's second star, relative to the Kolinahr. The slight distortion, barely perceptible, resulting from star's magnetic field masking any failings of the Bird of Prey's cloak, should any sensor operator on the Kolinahr be capable enough to detect it in the first place. Which the Romulan helmsman had been wise enough to assume they would be.
And so the helmsman had been able to approach undetected to well within effective range of the Bird of Prey's nuclear fusion torpedo system. As he'd been ordered, and as he was quite happy to achieve.
This would be their first kill in the war, after all. The first Vulcan kill as well, which made for quite a welcomed opportunity.
T'Pol turned her head enough to share a look with Major Tulok through her EVA suit visor, her silent communication received and acknowledged without a word spoken. If the captain of the Kolinahr insisted on an open channel, then so be it. But they would offer nothing that might compromise intelligence with the entire bridge staff.
She returned her attention to her tricorder, assessing and translating the readings she took of the air around them and of the structure itself.
"Parathermite charges have rendered the atmosphere toxic." She reported, both to Tulok and the listening Kolinahr. "We are continuing forward to the larger chamber on the left."
She stepped slightly aside, allowing Tulok to the lead the way with his phaser rifle ready. She followed behind, leaving him enough space to react to any threat, while she continued to monitor the tricorder in the hopes of perceiving such a threat before it might leap out at them.
"Sensor readings suggest the larger chamber would be the communications station you suspect here." S'Kon offered. "The remains of subspace electronics beneath the chamber would indicate a transceiver capable of intercepting any communication in the system."
"Acknowledged." T'Pol said, simply. Having already arrived in the chamber that much was readily apparent. As was the fact nearly everything there had been reduced to slag, beyond hope of offering any useful information but what they already knew. It was indeed a Romulan listening post. What it had overheard and what communications it might have shared with any central authority could not be determined from this, though.
"Kolinahr, where is the life sign in relation to our current position?" T'Pol asked.
"Sensors reports…six meters from your position, east according to the asteroid's relative polar position."
T'Pol raised an eyebrow at that, but only slightly. The asteroid couldn't be said precisely to have a polar position, but the directions were rough enough to follow. That would place the life sign reading in the first of two rooms to the right, across the entryway corridor. The door of the second, once they stepped back outside, had clearly been melted off its frame, revealing that the interior was likely completely destroyed.
This door, however, was somewhat intact, showing only slight warping as a result of the intense heat that assailed it from the corridor. Which made it the logical place to begin looking for survivors anyway, as it represented what may be the only area in the listening post that hadn't been subjected to heat intense enough to warp solid steel.
"The life sign continues to be relatively stable but weak, Commander." The captain reported. "Doctor V'Sella reports she is ready to receive the wounded personnel."
"Understood, Kolinahr." T'Pol responded. "I estimate our departure in twenty minutes."
There was no response for a moment from the Kolinahr. So T'Pol used the delay to begin preparing the small cutting tool she produced from the EVA suit's tool belt.
"Doctor V'Sella advises a more expeditious retrieval, Commander."
"Recovering any intelligence the station might offer would be our primary concern here, Kolinahr." T'Pol said, turning to begin cutting along the door airtight seal. "We will attempt to ensure the prisoner is stabilized and secured before continuing our investigation here, of course."
"Very well, Commander." Captain S'Kon replied. Though he allowed a nearly inappropriate amount of disapproval in his tone. Which T'Pol ignored.
"Relay our time estimate to the T'Lea aboard the shuttle, Kolinahr. So that she may prepare to receive the prisoner."
"Communications is doing so now, Commander. May I ask what prepar-?"
"Sensor contact, port. 8,000 kilometers."
T'Pol paused after a moment. Just long enough for her to realize the communication wasn't from Captain S'Kon. And wasn't intended for her. That had been the Tactical officer of the Kolinahr, apparently, considering what he'd said…
"Profile sugges-…incoming torpedoes, Captain!"
"Combat alerts. Raise…"
Loud thumping, twice. Easily audibly over the open channel. Something sizzled for a quick moment in the background, eliciting a short exclamation of surprise from someone on the bridge.
"…raise shields, charge weapons."
T'Pol stopped cutting on the frame of the door and stood up again quickly, meeting Tulok's concerned look.
The Kolinahr was under attack.
By a vessel that had appeared out of nowhere, within 8,000 kilometers…
"Romulan frigate. They are preparing again to fire, Captain."
"Tactical, lock on phase cannons and fire at will."
Again communicating without a word, Tulok removed the cutting tool from his own belt and both he and T'Pol began cutting the door free together.
It would seem their investigation had been preempted.