A Friendly Game
Born and Reborn
Location: The Golden Ghost - Doctor t'Liun's office
It was late on board the ARW Golden Ghost, and Lieutenant Commander Mnhei'sahe Dox wasn't even going to try to sleep yet. In part, this was due to the anxiety the ship’s similarities to the Romulan Warbird she had spent a month in as a prisoner, but tonight it was because she had business she needed to attend to.
As the young, red-headed Starfleet Romulan walked the corridors of the refurbished T'liss class Bird of Prey, every crew member she passed saluted her and it was far past making her uncomfortable. In truth, she hated it. But the Golden Ghost was, in point of fact, her ship as an Artan Baroness.
The crew of former Romulan refugees had sworn their loyalty to the Starfleet pilot who, as a child with her mother, was a smuggler that was responsible for helping free many of the crew members of the Ghost. And those that were younger and were liberated after she had stopped smuggling as a teenager, had been told many a story about her exploits as a child. It made Dox something on an unexpected hero to many aboard the ship and she was tremendously uncomfortable with that level of attention.
While Dox would be remarkably happy to ignore all of this, she didn't quite know how to turn her back on a responsibility, often to her own detriment. And tonight, she had a responsibility she had been putting off. A topic she needed to talk about with the ship’s direct Commander, Doctor Helev t'Liun.
She had meant to do so over dinner, but found enough opportunities to avoid it thanks to plenty of company and friends and distractions. The galley of the Ghost had prepared a dinner of traditional Romulan dishes. Kali Fal and lehe'jhme wine relaxed even the anxious young pilot. Jumbo Romulan mollusk and eggs were served with a dessert of Osal twists. Mona Gonadie was tickled by just how close her own cooking was in her attempts at handling her wife's cultural dishes, and the Goddess Hera enjoyed the lehe'jhme wine considerably. It was a fine evening and Dox had decided not to sully it with business.
Which was the excuse she told herself to avoid the topic. But that time was past, as she arrived at Helev t'Liun's office in the rear of sickbay.
That was where the inscrutable Romulan woman chose to command from. She was, in point of fact, the Golden Ghosts functional Commander, though she hated being called that. She had been using the Commander's quarters as a storage room before the Ghost was assigned to Dox's barony, choosing to live in the smaller quarters behind her office. That was how she liked it, and Mnhei'sahe was there to complicate that.
Straightening her crimson Starfleet tunic, she cleared her throat and tapped on the metal doorframe. From the back chamber where t'Liun had her personal quarters, came the flat-toned voice. "Enter."
Stepping inside, Mnhei'sahe noticed that t'Liun's generally messy desk was clear, except for a three-sided Zhamaq board and a stack of triangle-shaped, tea-stained Pixmit cards. Coming from the quarters, t'Liun was fastening her own gray tunic as she bowed to her Baroness. "Commander, I am honored by your presence and your request to speak with me. I hope all is well. Can I get you a drink?"
Nodding with her arms folded behind her back, Mnhei'sahe nodded. "Please, and we are both off duty. 'Mnhei'sahe' is fine."
"Very well, then I insist you return the pleasantry. Would you like a Kali-Fal? I have a quite lovely blend of fvhubh tea?"
“Uh… tea, please. I… have had enough to drink at dinner. Thank you, Daa… Helev.” Mnhei’sahe said nervously. As she did, t’Liun stepped over with two cups of replicated tea, placing one on the table in front of the Starfleet officer and taking a sip of her own.
“Have you ever played lyrr-t'ddreen?” t’Liun asked, eyebrow lightly raised as she gestured down to the gameboard and cards below as Dox looked at the familiar game.
“Lyrr-t'ddreen? No... not… not since I was a child with some of the refugees on our ship. I… was never any good, though.” Mnhei’sahe replied, taking a sip. “Besides, I… wanted to talk to you about something. Something… important.”
“I know, Mnhei’sahe. Please, have a seat. It’s a simple enough game and we can play and talk. Besides, it seems you could use the distraction.” t’Liun said as she sat down at the board, pulling out a small box with a series of small, triangular-shaped pieces. Nine black ones, nine orange ones and nine cream-colored ones. She handed the box across to Dox and sipped her cup. “Unlike a standard game of Zhamaq, which requires three, one only needs two to play lyrr-t'ddreen. Choose your army.”
Looking at the pieces, Mnhei’sahe took out the black pieces and set them in the slots on the board in front of her. “That’s… an interesting choice of words, Helev. That’s part of what I wanted to talk to you about, actually.”
Across the table, t’Liun took the cream-colored pieces and placed them on the board. Afterward, she picked up the deck of triangular cards and dealt Mnhei’sahe a hand and one for herself. As she looked over her hand, the doctors curled her lips into a light smile. “Yes, I thought as much. Baroness Sarkia has taken on the responsibility of a large number of the ships left behind after the former queen’s fall. Crews that have been shown to be innocent of wrongdoings once their captains, loyal to our former queen, have been removed. Ships that are now… rudderless.”
“Ships and crews that I… have agreed to help Baroness Sarika with. She needed help in vetting the crews and finding a way to place the ships. Some, under my… own barony.” Mnhei’sahe said, looking over her cards and running through her head to remember what each of the elaborate illustrations on the cards actually meant. Some of it was coming back to her, but for the most part she was struggling.
“Which… falls outside the rules that separate you and our Queen from actively serving in the fleet while you are still in Starfleet.” t’Liun said, cricking an eyebrow as she laid down three cards and waited to see how Mnhei’sahe replied.
“Tell me, Mnhei’sahe. I’m not wrong that I do not think this conversation is going to be about you telling me you plan to leave Starfleet to claim the full authority you could as a Baroness?” the short-haired Romulan doctor added.
Letting out a sigh as she looked at the cards doctor t’Liun laid down, Mnhei’sahe rolled her eyes slightly. The rules were slowly but surely coming back to her as she laid down a single card from her hand, a penalty required to match the cards t’Liun put down as the taller, leaner woman… maybe 10 years Mnhei’sahe’s elder… moved one of her pieces three spaces on the board. The cards had elaborate illustrations and patterns in the middle, with Romulan glyphs on each side. When laid out together, some cards could make specific patterns that all had values attached to them in the game. And t’Liun’s pattern was a strong one.
“No, I am not.” Mnhei’sahe replied. As usual, when speaking with other Romulans, even in federation standard, her speech patterns became just a bit more formal. And artifact of her somewhat military-style upbringing that lingered with her to this day. “I have… a lot on my proverbial plate at the moment, as you know better than most. My grandmother’s continued pressure to assume a more active role in the politics of Romulus, for example.”
“Romulus?” t’Liun added, tilting her head slightly. “If I may be so bold, did you not dislike the human words for our world and our people. When you were here before, It was always ‘ch’Rihan’ and ‘Rihannsu’?”
Laying down two of her own cards, a weaker pattern than t’Liun’s move, Mnhei’sahe moved a single piece two spaces on the board and drew two new cards while t’Liun replaced her own three cards. “I… serve on a Starfleet ship. A ship with people that find it somewhat… confusing and off-putting. They are… familiar with ‘Romulans’ and ‘Romulus’.”
It was clear that the subject was one that Mnhei’sahe was uncomfortable talking about, but t’Liun simply listened and played her own hand, laying down only a single card now and moving a single space while her baroness continued. “It was becoming… problematic, I feel. So… in the interest of not causing any problems… I’m working to… get over my discomfort.”
“If it’s not overstepping my bounds, you seem to need to work harder. There was a certain degree of… venom on your tongue when you said the word.” t’Liun said with a light grin barely visible on her face. “Probably not enough for a human to pick up on, but to these ears, clear as an uncloaked ship.”
As t’Liun spoke, Mnhei’sahe made her next move, this time putting down only one of her new cards, but next to the pattern of three t’Liun had laid down previously, making a larger pattern. This gave the doctor a moment to smile a bit broader. “An excellent move, Mnhei’sahe. The board is yours.”
Taking three fresh cards from the pile, Mnhei’sahe moved two of her pieces three spaces each, leaving her three pieces on the board to t’Liun’s one. As she did, the doctor continued to speak. “I noticed Lieutenant Gonadie says ‘Rihannsu’. She is… aware of your discomfort and respects it?”
“She is and she does. We share an… empathic and telepathic bond. That combined with her ability to visually see if someone is emotionally distressed or lying means no real secrets.” Mnhei’sahe replied. “Which is as I prefer it. I find our people’s predilection towards subterfuge a problem I prefer to avoid in my life.”
Listening, t’Liun laid down another single card and made another single move with her single piece on the board. To win the game, a player was required to get at least one piece into each of the three levels that surrounded the center level, surrounding it. “That is a noble aspiration. You are a woman who clearly prefers to deal in the truth, which can serve you in Starfleet. But you’re hardly a Qowat Milat nun either. And if you wish to not be eaten alive dealing with your Senator Grandmother, absolute candor would not serve you well. There OR here, with the Artans, which brings us back to the topic we were discussing.”
“If you are not planning on taking on a more… direct role as a baroness… and you are talking to me… why do I feel I will not like the direction this is heading?” t’Liun said as Mnhei’sahe laid down two more cards in a pattern that built upon the first card she laid down. As she did so, she pulled two new cards and moved two of her pieces a single space on the board, towards two of the three risers.
Raising her eyebrow and looking genuinely surprised, t’Liun shook her head lightly as Mnhei’sahe replied. “You are… very likely right. I… need your help, Helev. To do what I am planning on, I need someone here that I trust, and I trust you and the crew of this ship. I have… a plan. A way to help the Artan ships that have become leaderless and possibly help us in our other cause. The cause I’ve been working towards since I was a child.”
“Reunification?” t’Liun said, a curious tone to her voice.
“Indeed. It was the overarching drive that led my mother and I to do the work we did getting people off of Rom… off of ch’Rihan. And I find myself in a unique position now as a woman having… some degree of authority and an actual voice in the Rihannsu senate. My grandmothers voice, but I have her ear and I believe she wants this as well. I was in her mind the same as I was once in yours. And… perhaps it is naive of me… but I believe in this purpose.” Mnhei’sahe said as t’Liun made her move, another single card and another single move on the board.
“Naive or not, it is a belief I and most aboard this vessel share and have worked towards. This you are well aware of, as we have made supply runs to Mol Krun’chi and similar, hidden colony worlds for years. We have done all a single ship can do to aid in the cause of… ahhh, I see.” t’Liun said as Mnhei’sahe continued to build her cards into a larger pattern, moving even more pieces on the board and getting those pieces closer to the platforms.
“With those ships… currently without Commanders or purpose… it might be possible to move more resources towards the colonies. A small fleet serving the goal of Reunification. But they need a flagship and Commanders that both of us trust to guide them properly. That is where I need you, Helev.” Mnhei’sahe replied as the two continued to play.
“I… wish to name you my second. Give you the direct authority to act on my behalf within the Artan organization. And from there, pick key officers from the Ghost that you trust to promote to Commanders of their own and pair them with some of these other ships. Perhaps just a few at first to test the waters. That was, a supply chain can be established throughout the sector. Straight into the Eisn system.” Mnhei’sahe continued, referring to the local system of Romulus and it’s homestar, Eisn.
“Ugh…” t’Liun groaned as she looked over the cards in her hand. “I already am not fond of having command of a single ship, Mnhei’sahe. I’m a DOCTOR, not a Baronesses second. Not a fleet commander. I only have this position because Baroness Nei'rrh trusted me more than I had earned. Now you want to magnify those responsibilities upon me?”
“I… I would not ask if I didn’t trust you as well, Helev. I trust you, Mona trusts you. I think even Commander Paris trusts you. You are an honorable woman, Helev. You are a true Rihannsu.” Mnhie’sahe said, a serious expression on her face. “I believe you are the right woman for this, partly because you don’t want it. But you know the good we could do this way for our people. And the good a union between the Rihannsu and the Vulcans could do for the entire galaxy.”
“Your plan is… interesting, Mnhei’sahe. And not without merit. But there are a great many factors that can be in play here without your notice. And those factors, no matter how small, could destroy all you would sacrifice for.” t’Liun said.
“I know this, Helev. I do. I know that I’m out of my depth here. I’m… I’m a pilot who suddenly finds herself a commander and a section chief on the Hera. I’m a Baroness with a ship sworn to her because of people I helped when I was a child. I’m a representative of a government I grew up fearing on a planet I’ve only stepped foot on once that would… consume me given less than half a chance. And now, I’m about to be a mother. I… I can’t do all of these things by myself. I need help. I need… I need your help.”
There was a heavy pause in the air as t’Liun looked at her cards. Then, as she gave her reply, she began to set down her single cards, one at a time, LINKING each of the separate patterns that Mnhei’sahe had been building. Creating a single, massive pattern of cards that created a single image. As she did, Mnhei’sahe’s eyes went wide as she had not seen the pattern SHE had been building that t’Liun just linked together with only a handful of her own cards. “I know your story, Mnhei’sahe. You have earned that name you were burdened with twice over now. You are a woman of tremendous honor. And tremendous honor often leaves you open to those that can see the holes in your defenses that you leave open. That is the ROMULAN way.”
As she spoke, she reached over and, one by one, replaced each of the pieces Dox had placed on the board with pieces of her own color. Suddenly now having pieces only a single move away from each platform. With only three more moves, she would win the board by having waited for Mnhei’sahe to build up the board and simply turn her pieces in one move. It was truly a Romulan game at its heart. After all, in their native language, ‘lyrr-t'ddreen’ meant ‘Concealed Truth’.
“The Romulan way… but NOT the Rihannsu way. And I would not have you become a Romulan when you make a much better Rihannsu, Mnhei’sahe.” t’Liun said, taking a drink of her tea and placing her cards down on the table. “The game is not over. Let us play again someday, when I have built toward your goal. Ensured that none of these other ships have crewmembers upon them that would turn your ships into your enemy's ships. Though I do not want it, I accept your request, my Baroness. I shall be your second. Your voice here among the Artans. I will do this because you would not have asked if you didn’t have a strong need. And because, while you are young and you are trusting, I would see you remain trusting, trusting me to be the Romulan you need here. To see the angles you haven’t learned to look for yet.”
“Learn the game, Mnhei’sahe. THAT is how you will be what our people need you to be.” t’Liun said, bowing her head while Mnhei’sahe returned the bow.
“I will. Thank you, Helev.”