Bridge, Tholian Heavy Cruiser Antrex, 3 November, Y168
       "Captain, I am receiving an urgent communication from the starbase," Communications Worker Jex reported.
       "I can tell you what it's about," Science Worker Jolkks said. "A star is exploding, only 42 parsecs from our frontier, only about 30 from our current location."
       "Science Worker, continue to monitor the star," Captain Lorexxt directed. "Communications Worker, decode the message and give me the summary."
       "Decoding," Communications Worker Jex said. "It is indeed about the exploding star. It was detected by all of the sensor stations on the network. They want to advise us that this appears to be a natural phenomenon, if one never seen before in this galaxy. There is a record of a similar event over a thousand years ago in the home galaxy; that data is attached."
       "May I have that?" Science Worker Jolkks asked.
       "Give it to him," the captain ordered. "So, something interesting but non-military is happening. What are we to do about it? I doubt we can go put the star back together."
       Several on the bridge laughed.
       "Fleet command wants us to go investigate," Communications Worker Jex said. "They are going to send one of the scouts to get better data, but it won't be there for days. We can be there in a couple of hours, and science division is convinced that valuable data may be lost if we are not there to record it."
       "Navigation Worker, set a course for this mysterious star, maximum speed," the captain said. "Weapons Worker, since you have nothing to shoot at, be useful and get me updated reports on the nearest ships. I suspect we'll have to move one of the corvettes to cover our sector."
       "Only 30 parsecs," Weapons Worker Baxx said, "we'll still be close enough to our patrol station."
       "And we will be tied to this star until the scientists are happy with their data," Captain Lorexxt said. "A patrol station ship must be free to respond to events. Get me the report I asked for ‹ and don't tell me I don't need it."
       "Very well, Captain," the weapons worker said. "You are correct, of course. I have much to learn."
       The crystalline bodies of Tholians are incapable of a shrug, but Lorexxt's external temperature fluctuated high on his sides in the Tholian equivalent. Yes, you do have much to learn, Lorexxt thought. With the destruction of the Arrrakk six weeks ago, Antrex  had been forced to hurry the completion of its yard service and join the front line as a squadron leader for Sector Two. The cruiser originally assigned to this sector had been shifted to Sector One, directly facing the Klingons.

Bridge, Klingon D7 Devastator, Minutes Later
       "Captain," the science officer said over the intercom, "I have detected an unusual stellar phenomenon."
       "Where?" Captain Kyrolian answered.
       "Bearing 043, Mark 1," the science officer responded, "distance 82 parsecs. It's no danger to us, but it is of major scientific interest and I'd like to get more data."
       "What you mean is that you'd like me to move the ship closer to this thing," Kyrolian said. "Just what is it?"
       "I am not sure," the science officer said. Kyrolian could hear the unspoken words that did not follow. If I knew what it was, I wouldn't have any reason to go look at it. "A star has exploded, in a most unusual manner. It seems to be a combination of a..."
       "Enough, enough," Captain Kyrolian interrupted. "You can brief everyone later. I will advise you if I can take you to see it. Captain out."
       Kyrolian shifted his weight uneasily in his chair. He was not at all happy about what he knew would follow.
       "Navigator, is this exploding star in our patrol sector?" the captain asked. He already knew the answer but the ESS would want to see the record that he had confirmed it.
       "Yes, Captain," Korintha, the female navigation lieutenant said. "At dash speed, we can be there in five hours. At cruising speed, it will take most of a tenday."
       "Using my discretion," Captain Kyrolian said, "point us in that direction and maintain cruising speed. I'm going to talk to the Commodore about burning that much fuel." Kyrolian got up from his chair and took a moment to stretch.
       "You have the ship, Lieutenant Korm," he said as he headed for the turbolift door. "Deck 7," he mumbled.
       Thirty days ago, Commodore Korath had arrived on Devastator with a few staff officers. The Commodore, commander of the Tholian Border Squadron, had lost his own ship 15 days before that in the battle with the extra-galactic Juggernaut. Found blameless for the loss of the Darkslayer, Korath had been awarded a command star for the victory and left in command of the squadron. Of course, the Empire had no spare command cruisers laying around in case someone lost one, and until one was pulled from the war reserve fleet, Korath needed to stay in space with his squadron. For whatever reason, Korath had picked Kyrolian's Devastator for his new, temporary flagship.
       And that created a problem. In the Klingon Deep Space Fleet, a commodore was the captain of the flagship. Since the Klingons believed in leading from the front and setting a personal example, a squadron commodore had to lead the other ships into battle, and that meant commanding the lead ship directly, not through the hands of a subordinate captain on the same ship. Any time a commodore visited one of his other ships he did so as a visitor, not as the ship's commander.
       And Korath was not the assigned captain of Devastator; he was only a temporary guest, in a situation that few Klingon commodores ever found themselves. It had not been an issue, at least not thus far, because Korath stayed in the quarters he had taken over from the chief engineer. Kyrolian did not know if Korath were scheming or brooding or ... something else. He did know that two of Devastator's single female officers had all but offered themselves to him, with no interest shown by the scowling commodore. The only officer that Korath would talk to on any regular basis was Lieutenant Kilgore, one of his junior staff aides, who saw to the commodore's needs and brought him his meals. Kyrolian had spoken with the commodore's staff, who privately expressed their concerns that Korath was distracted. Kyrolian knew that dozens of coded reports and messages and communications arrived for Korath every day, and that only the commodore's staff could decode them.
       Korath had not seen fit to share these with Kyrolian.
       Well, no matter, Kyrolian thought. When he has something to tell me, he will tell me.
       Every day for months, Kyrolian (and every captain in the squadron) had reported to Korath on his ship's position, status, and operations. Every day for that same time, Korath had confirmed if the standing orders remained or if some new mission had been assigned. At least once a tenday, Kyrolian had called Korath by subspace to report something unusual or to request permission to alter his standing patrol orders, and Korath (professional officer that he was) had listened, perhaps asked a few questions, and then made a decision.
       For the last month, those conversations had been in person rather than by subspace, as the two were on the same ship. This was an unusual situation for both officers, as it would be for any Klingon commodore and any Klingon captain. Despite his foul mood and reclusive actions, Korath had conducted those interviews as he always did: calmly, professionally, deliberately, and above all else, tersely.
       And uncomfortably. It was clear that Korath was not entirely himself. He was clearly distracted, being angry and depressed, presumably over the loss of Darkslayer.
       Kyrolian didn't blame him, although he could only guess the state of the senior officer's mind. Was he embarrassed? Was he angry at the now-destroyed robot ship? He certainly did seem to be furious at any mention of the Federation captain, Grey, and might blame the man for what happened. At least, that was a guess. The only time the man's name had come up (when Grey sent a message of congratulations, as required by diplomatic protocol) Korath's actions had been surprisingly harsh. Of course, the reply (already written for Korath by Klingon diplomats) spoke of comradeship, a joint struggle won by cooperation, and even brotherhood of a sort. Well, that was the sort of thing that the Federation would want to hear.
       Arriving at Korath's door, Kyrolian took a deep breath and pressed the intercom.
       "What?" came the abrupt answer from Korath.
       "A non-critical situation has come up," Kyrolian said. "I need your decision on how much fuel to use."
       The door slid open. Kyrolian was not surprised to find himself facing Lieutenant Kilgore. "The Commodore will see you," he said. It was formal, as always.
       "What has happened?" Korath asked from behind his desk.
       "A star has exploded," Kyrolian said, "or so my science officer says. It is very near the Tholian border, closer to the Federation than to our space. It seems to be some rare stellar phenomenon and Lieutenant Berinarias wants more data. I can take most of a tenday cruising to the scene, or burn 15 percent of our fuel reserves and get there in a few hours. What do you want me to do?"
       "No Federation or Tholian activity?" Korath asked. "Other than whatever they are doing about this star exploding."
       Kyrolian assured him there was none.
       "Well, the Emperor's money is not to be wasted," Korath thought, stroking his goatee, "but then again, a chance to gain important scientific information is not to be lost. Go ask your science officer how important it is that we get there quickly. I'm no scientist, but I respect their profession, and it may well be that we'd get better data today than days from now. Or it may not. Once you have his answers to those questions, make a decision and send me a memo. No need to seek further permission. I do trust your judgment. Just don't fly us into any traps."
       "Very well, Commodore," Kyrolian said.
       "And one other thing," Korath added. "The Tholian Border Squadron is going to be starting another exchange cycle, new ships arriving and old ships leaving. You are not  to initiate any combat with the Tholians."
       "Most unusual," Kyrolian said. "I presume I can defend my ship as needed."
       "Defend, yes," Korath said. "No firing on the Tholians, or on the Federation for that matter. You are to avoid combat, even give way if need be to avoid it. These scientific missions are of great value to the Empire. To be conducted, they must be done in a peaceful manner. If we start shooting, we'll never be able to conduct a research mission in the Neutral Zone again. Another day we would attack any Tholian ship on sight, but not today, not this tenday. Do you understand?"
       "Understood," Kyrolian said.
         "Dismissed," Korath said, waving his hand.
       Kyrolian left the compartment and went to seek out the science officer. A few minutes later, Lieutenant Korm had orders to take the ship to full speed.
       "This could be a problem," Kilgore said to Korath after Kyrolian had left the compartment.
        "Yes, it certainly could," Korath said. "I told Kyrolian not to start shooting, not at anyone."
       "But you did not tell him why," Kilgore said.
       "Of course not," Korath said. "He's a professional officer. He will do what he's told, even if he doesn't understand it. He will know that whatever happens, I have knowledge he does not have, knowledge that will explain my orders at some later time."
       "It might be better if you told him at least part of it," Kilgore advised. "We're going into an international situation where things will be confusing and every captain will be suspicious of every other. Knowing why would ensure Kyrolian makes no mistake."
       "Lieutenant," Korath said with the last of his patience. "You and I are party to the Empire's greatest and most dangerous secret. That secret was hand-carried to us by a captain of the imperial staff under escort by a squad of ESS troops. That captain spent a week with it chained to his wrist every hour of the day. And you know why. I cannot tell Kyrolian, not now."
       "As you will, sir," Kilgore said. "I shall stand ready to support you if he questions your order."