All Together Now
Return to the Core
Location: USS Hera, Deck 1, Conference Room 1
Waiting off to one side of the transporter control panel, Commander Rita Paris waited patiently. The Romulan 'tug boat' pilot, Garnak, was beaming in, as well as the fleet commander t'Rekt. The two had recently cooperated with the crew of the Hera, to escape a hellish non-space together. Now there was a plan as to how to sell this to the galaxy so that the Romulans were not all summarily executed when they got back to Romulus. Which would require a bit more cooperation, of which Rita Paris was reasonably well assured would come to pass.
After all, they had survived an adventure together now, and that tended to forge bonds, in her experience.
Skipping in as the doors slid open was one Ensign Fiona O'Dell, a firecracker of a little woman with a mop of unruly crimson curls, on something of a stick figure build. As she glanced over to make a wisecrack to the transporter technician, she froze when she noticed the tall, curvaceous and minidress-clad Commander Paris standing beside her.
Standing a full 145 cm, O'Dell's eye level was right about nipple height on the fulsome first officer, and the breast to which it was attached seemed to be about the size of her head. Taking a slow step back out of the woman's personal space enabled the diminutive daredevil to see her face again, now that it wasn't eclipsed by one of those moons she carried around in front of her. Breaking out in a nervous grin, O'Dell pulled up some gun fingers and prepared a wisecrack when the twang of the transporter kicked in, and the Commander's eyes went straight to the transporter pad, then to the console, then back to the pad. Her grip on that pad she always carried became white-knuckled, and the picayune pilot literally saw the forehead of the woman break out in a sweat.
In that moment, The Commander, the second ranking officer on the boat, suddenly became human in O'Dell's eyes.
Be damned. She really IS scared 'a transporters, lookit'er. Poor thing.
The urge to hold the woman's hand passed as Paris called out to Commander t'Rekt.
"Welcome back, Commander. All is well on the Third Star, I take it? The mutiny quelled, and the brig bearing those awaiting justice, so to speak?" Paris offered as she extended her hand to the Romulan commander.
Handshakes weren't common practice in Romulan culture, but neither was learning to trust Federation officers, so the lean young Romulan with the short-cropped brown hair stepped down and returned the shake with a fairly plain expression. "Any and all dissent was easily quelled thanks to our coordinated efforts, Commander Paris. And once we returned to reality, the tension that had helped fuel that insurrection faded quickly."
After the standard two shakes, t'Rekt folded her arms behind her back and stood before Rita and Fiona ramrod straight, with a posture both women saw on Jaeih Dox all the time. "My SubCommander and those loyal to him are confined to the brig, though I suspect justice on Romulus will be a good deal different than what would happen to mutineers in Starfleet."
"I'll joost bet-" muttered the Ensign before a sharp look from the Commander quelled any further inflammatory commentary. "I believe we're just waiting on Mr. Garnak-"
"Captain Garnak, mum."
"Beg your pardon, Ensign?" Paris looked down, moderately bemused bu this turn of events.
"Captain Garnak, mum. Tis important semantics. If I explain noow we'll hafta explain it all over again, but tis important, Commander. CAPTAIN Garnak," the short spitfire insisted, to which Paris frowned slightly, shrugged, then returned beck to Commander t'Rekt.
"Apparently we are awaiting Captain Garnak... and I believe that's him, ah, now," Paris stuttered slightly as the twang of the transporter began, and she fought her internal anxieties. It's fine, Rita. It's not going to get you, you're all the way over here and they solved all of your problems with transporters, remember?
Now if only she believed that.
Glancing down at O'Dell for a moment, Commander t'Rekt was curious as to why the small, impertinent human seemed so invested, but kept those thoughts to herself for the moment.
Seconds later, after the sparkles of blue light dissipated, the Freight Eagle pilot known as Garnak appeared on the transporter pad without incident. Unlike his counterpart from the Warbird, he was not wearing a crisp, black and gray checkerboard patterned uniform. Garnak looked to be easily twice t'Rekt's age in a simple, one-piece gray jumpsuit, standing nervously but casually.
Casually, until he saw the Romulan Commander and immediately snapped to full attention and offered the customary, Romulan military salute, slapping his fist off of his chest sharply.
"Shaoi kon, Riov," he said, which the Universal Translator immediately converted to 'Greetings, Commander.' Though even without the UT, Rita Paris had learned the language for the Hera's rescue of Dox some months ago, and caught that he had not said "Jolan'Tru' for t'Rekt, but instead the much more formal 'shaoi kon'. A greeting a subordinate used when one was speaking to their superior.
As he glanced about the transporter room, the anxious pilot was happy to see Fiona, whom had befriended him out in space, in what was his darkest hour. Behind her, a woman stood who exuded clear authority, though he did not know who she was, nor did he recognize what sort of uniform she was wearing, if that was a uniform at all. So unsure as to what her was to do next, he thought to take the safest path, speaking now in full, if accented, Federation Standard. "Greetings. I am... transport pilot Garnak, reporting as requested. Permission to board your noble vessel."
The wee O'Dell looked up with a flip of her hear out of her face to the Commander, who smiled warmly and stepped forward extending her hand in greeting. "CAPTAIN Garnak, it's very nice to meet the hero of the hour. Thank you for rescuing us, it's quite an honor to meet you."
Before the surprised Romulans could react, Paris turned toward the door, and gestured. "We'll give you the basics of the plan on the way, so that you'll be ready for your meeting with..."
As the holographic image of Admiral Farenia Meowlith materialized in perfect holographic detail in the USS Hera bridge conference room, she was greeted by the assembled officers. "You of course know Captain Telvan, myself, Lieutenant Commander Dox, Captain Naraan of the Persephone, and you may know of our Ensign O'Dell. Also with us are Commander t'Rekt of the Romulan... fleet of four, I suppose, given the ship designations. As well as our Captain Garnak. So... Captain, how shall we proceed?"
"Admiral, It's good to see you again," Enalia began with a warm smile and a tip of her teacup. "You've read our initial reports, I assume."
"I have, and while it gladdens me to see that we as individuals are able to work together across the aisle, I have concerns about the ramifications, once our new friends return to the Empire." As usual, Meowlith did her best to be initially pragmatic and put up a stoic front. "I also see that you're finally moving away from that closet you call an office. I've told you before that you can accept a few more amenities in Starfleet and not..."
"Admiral, do you mind if we discuss my office preferences at a later time?" With a nod from the Admiral, Enalia continued. "While I planned on negotiating with the Imperial Embassy with the aid of Commander Dox on behalf of Commander t'Rekt and her fleet as well as Captain Garnak, I believe Ensign O'Dell has a far better plan that we may capitalize on. One that would singlehandedly improve the image of Romulans and the Empire across the Federation."
"Ah yes, Ensign Fiona O'Dell," Meowlith replied, reading something off of a PaDD before looking up at the Mariposan. "It is a pleasure finally meeting you, especially after reading so many promising reports with your name in them."
The Trill woman then motioned towards the picayune pilot with a wink. "Fiona, if you would be so kind as to elaborate on your plan?"
"Aye mum. Ahhh, Admiral," O'Dell felt suddenly like a very small fish in a very big pond. But the thing about being the smallest fish was that you had very little to lose- which was why Fiona preferred to stay a little fish. "Soo, me an' Garnak, we compared notes, we figured oot the gravitons bein the keys and the Persephone fired it oop when she got here and while we all worked together in a loverly Starfleet way, me thinkin is that if we paint alla this as one man..."
Tapping the light controls for the room, O'Dell brought up dramatic lighting as she intoned like a preview trailer voiceover. "One Romulan, alone, with only enemies surroundin him in deep space. Outnumbered, outgunned, he alone knows the fate of the fleet that was swallowed by a sudden singularity Starfleet was oot here investigatin, as well as them warbirds."
"He convinces the Starfleet pilot to trust him, figures out the readins, coordinates it with the Federation starship that shows oop, all so's he can do his duty and save his people. The heroic Romulan freight eagle captain, Garnak. Sure the Feds and the Romulans worked together on the other side to coordinate their efforts, kumbaya, that's the heroic story of Commander t'Rekt, and that's for somebody who was there to work oot, but the stories would be similar, because on both sides of the problem were one commonality- glorious Romulan heroes."
Leaning in, O'Dell, apparently unfazed by being the junior officer in the room, pressed onward, bringing the lights back up. "Me point is, spin control, mum. Taint lying- we're nae tellin a lick of untruth. We're joost skewing perception of events in a particular direction... so's it draws a spotlight on our bonny friends here, as heroes of the Romulan Star Empire. Who saved an endangered Federation vessel, no less. We kin afford to be the helpless victims caught in something too big for us to handle, and the noble Romulans swooped in to save the day with their quick thinking, resourcefulness and I dunno, cunning or somethin?"
"So that's the plan," the lively leprechaun spread her small hands wide "With any direction at all the free press'll pick up on it. The Romulans don't want to deny it, on account it makes them look good and us look a weeee bit inept. It's an instant propaganda win for them, and they get new heroes of the Star Empire to parade aboot and show off, which I assume they like? I dinna pay a lot of attention in that cultural overview class at the Academy. Innyways, that's me plan, Admiral. Spin doctorin, waggin the dog, people swallow big lies better, there's a sucker born every minnit or whativvir turn o' phrase ye like. We control the perception of the event, we joost might be able to save our friends by makin' em too high profile to be executed. Aye?"
Silence settled over the table while everyone involved considered the plan. That, of all things, made Fiona O'Dell nervous.
"Admiral," Dox said, knowing exactly how nervous was feeling in that moment, choosing to break the silence. "Ensign O'Dell is right in my opinion, and my... admittedly... limited experience with the Romulan political landscape. Controlling the perception of any given event is everything there. And selling the situation in a way that makes the Empire look good will open better doors of communication than trying to play leverage games with the Senate."
"My fear is that if we try and communicate with... Senator t'Rul directly and use our connection to try and get leverage, then we are inviting internal reprisals fom those looking for an opportunity. It's the kind of politics that get people assassinated on Romulus." Dox said, somewhat matter-of-factly as she tried to interject in a useful way. Half of the time she spent in captivity, after all, was spent as a rather intense crash-course on Romulan Politics from Dox's Senator grandmother, and she had paid attention to those lessons closely.
"We will still be interrogated. We will still be subject to a full investigation. But as the Ensign has said, our narrative IS, in essence, the truth." Commander t'Rekt added, stepping forward and glancing momentarily, first at the little spitfire that she was quite impressed with, then at the Romulan woman in the Starfleet uniform with curiosity, before continuing. "But the public perception of us being heroes of the Empire will make it much harder to make us simply disappear. We will be valuable, in theory."
The Ensign came up with the plan to save the day? Isn't this your job, Rita? Oh... wait, you hadn't gotten there yet, because you drove yourself for 50 hours on stims, and you were focused on one foot in front of the other to navigate back home. Right. Just be glad for the clever junior officer, old lady. Encourage and mentor, don't tear down to feed your own ego...
"I've got to admit, it's a good, simple plan, and those are usually the best. We can control the narrative on the Federation side, so it's got reasonable odds of success. So long as all of us in this room agree to that narrative, there will be some dissension. But again, even if the Romulans figure out the actual truth, the perception should be sufficient to save the crews. And one lone Romulan, against all odds," Paris nodded to Garnak with a smile.
"I have some concerns... However..." the Admiral paused to think it over, tapping on her PaDD for a few moments before continuing. "There's a bit of an underground news network over there that we can filter the story into as well. Leak it to the smugglers and have them transmit it across so that however your people respin it, they'd get our original version."
"Also, not that it matters much with the age of your vessels, but we don't have any stolen tech or plans from any of your ships, right?" Meowlith prompted, glancing between t'Rekt and Garnak.
"As soon as the mutiny upon my ship was squelched upon my vessel. Captain Telvan and Commander Paris enabled my to reset the Command Codes. And during the time in which the Hera had control of our vessels, nothing was accessed from our systems other than the direct systems other than what was used to enable our escape, Admiral." t'Rekt said with an almost defensive tone. Then she turned to Garnak to reference the clearly nervous Romulan man.
"Captain Garnak..." t'Rekt said, emphasizing the man's rank that O'Dell had insisted upon, which from her lips as the ranking commander of the remaining three Warbirds, made it a fact. "Was given emphatic assurances by Ensign O'Dell that his vessel would be untouched, and I remain confident that has remained so."
Then, the Romulan commander turned her attention from the admiral back to the red-headed test pilot. "While my position as a Commander within the Imperial Navy may be short-lived once we return, Captain Garnak has spoken extremely highly of your integrity, Ensign. And you have my thanks for all you have done here."
"Tis the Starfleet way, mum," O'Dell looked to the Captain, who nodded, and off the little lass from Mariposa went, on an inspired tear. "We dinna need credit, when it could help another. Glory is fleeting, but the friendships we make amongst the stars... that's why we're oot here, aye? To see an' explore, and to help others in need. I know, it may sound a bit suspicious, but it's our mission, Commander. So ye could say twas me duty. But really?"
Reaching over, O'Dell smiled and gingerly patted the hand of the Romulan she had met in a crisis who had shown her some of the bravest choices she'd ever seen. "Twas me pleasure, and I'd like to think we all made a few friends on the 'other' side. That's how things change, aye?"
"I... would have to agree with F... with Ensign O'Dell." Garnak said, allowing something of a smile to crack his well trained neutral mask. Across the table, Dox allowed an even less guarded smile crack her own face, happy with how the situation had unfolded while she was off ship. Or perhaps it was simply good to see those she thought of as her family, working so well with her people, in spite of centuries of mistrust. It gave her hope, and that was a good thing.
"Well said, Captain Garnak. Ensign O'Dell." t'Rekt said, nodding, then looking back at Enalia and the hologram of Meowlth. "To which I must ask, what is next? How do we enact this plan in such a way that the news will make it back to the Imperium before we return?"
"Uh, I figured the Admiral prepped the press release and got the story to FNN, the Federation news Network?" O'Dell pressed on again, wondering why senior officers needed things explained to much and so many times. "From there the story should get distributed widespread throughout the galaxy within hours, na? Twill take ye a few days for ye to get home, but by that time some high muckity muck of the Federation should have contacted yuir ambassador aboot givin ye medals or somesooch, and we publicize the hell oot of it on our side, because then the rest of the galaxy wants to know all aboot the new heroes, so the Romulan government hopefully will want to take advantage of good press, and to look smarter than Starfleet on this one. I'm noo Public Relations specialist, but I'm thinkin' tis simple enow to work, aye?"
Listening to O'Dell, there was a momentary flash of embarrassment on t'Rekt's face which was quickly concealed. "Ah, yes. Thank you, Ensign. I..."
Pausing for a moment, the Romulan Commander who was actually almost the exact same age as the tiny test pilot chose to admit her ignorance in the spirit of cooperation. "I must admit that I have... no Idea how this... Federation News Network functioned. Information Services are tightly controlled within the Star Empire. Even on the furthest colony worlds in the Imperium such as where I had been stationed, we know only what is told us. I... have never honestly even heard of yours... FNN... until just now. I thank you again for explaining the concept to me, Ensign O'Dell. Indeed, that makes sense."
Then, the young Commander blushed a light green, "I've... not been in my position very long."
"That's quite alright, Commander t'Rekt," Paris spoke up, nodding thoughtfully. "This is something of new territory for all of us, so learning all we can about the parts of the situation we don't understand is the only way to learn. Which is how we make better decisions. So... I agree, I think the Ensign's plan has merit. We can't try to ensure any protection for our friends here, nor can we directly pressure the Romulan fleet. But the Romulan senate can, and the diplomatic win would be nothing but positive currency for them. With the heightened scrutiny brought on by the clamor for Romulan heroes, that's the best defense we can offer. I think it can work. Captain?"
"I've seen the impact of a good publicity campaign so yeah, I think it has a great chance." Enalia was grinning that piratical grin of hers once more, as if plans and plots were already in motion in her head. "As for getting it across the border, I know a certain other Empire that can broadcast it to the colony worlds and spread it around like pirate radio. Coupled with pressure from the Federation News Network, the Romulan Embassy would have to make a statement and apply pressure to the Imperial Navy via the Senate."
"However, for now, I think we've covered all of our bases. Does anyone else have anything to bring to light?"
As the junior officer who'd already stuck her neck out for this one, O'Dell remained silent. The plan was simple and it might work... or it might no. But she'd given her word to the Romulan pilot she had befriended among the stars, and damned if she wouldn't do her best to do right by him.
Looking around and reading the room, Paris realized the assembled personnel were waiting to hear that the plan was approved, so she got it all in motion. "Alright people, plan is approved. O'Dell, get me that press release within the hour. As soon as we have an official narrative to work from so we can all be on the same page, the Captain can begin distributing it through back channels, and I will deal with Starfleet and the Federation to get the story out there galactically. Let's see if we can't inspire and change a few minds, folks. Dismissed."