Map painted by Jeff Shyluk. Shuttle painted by Earl J. Woods.
Ambassador Fox paced up and down the narrow aisle of the shuttlecraft, fists tightly clenched behind his back, his once freshly-pressed robes wrinkled and smeared with space soot.
"So there's nothing you can do?" he asked for the fifth time.
Red-shirted Ensign Gomez pressed his lips together to bite back an exasperated retort. Instead he shook his head mutely as he worked the shuttle controls in a futile effort to at least shut down the malfunctioning impulse drive.
"The Edmonton and the Encounter are on their way," he reminded the ambassador. "They'll pick us up in minutes, and then we'll be on our way home.
Fox leaned over the empty co-pilot seat and peered out the transparent aluminum solar windshield. Space writhed with the pink-violet hues of the Etsell nebula. "I don't see anything."
Gomez restrained himself from sighing. "They're still hundreds of thousands of kilometres away - hang on."
A small red light began to flash on Gomez' control panel. Gomez winced.
"Two contacts bearing 323 mark 7, coming out of the Neutral Zone," he reported. "Romulans."
Fox began to sweat. His worst case scenario was materializing before his eyes. Damn T'Challa and her schemes! This was supposed to be an honest, if clandestine, attempt to build a bridge or two across the mine-littered frontier of the Federation-Romulan border. The data jewel in his trouser pocket suddenly felt leaden as a gravestone.
He put a hand on the security man's shoulder. "I'm sorry, Gomez," he murmured.
Gomez looked up confidently, then pointed at the bow as two Federation starships blinked out of warp space only a few kilometers distant.
"Don't be," Gomez replied. "The cavalry's here."
Not the cavalry, Fox thought. Custer.