Bridge, Federation Command Cruiser Excalibur
       "The Tholians have armed their disruptors," Weapons Officer Tazhurta reported. "Their fire control remains on full."
       "The Klingons just sent them a direct order to stand down," Rollins said. "No reply from the Tholians."
       "Now the Klingons are arming their disruptors," Tazhurta reported. "Shall I start arming our weapons?"
       "Negative," Grey said, "not until I give the order."
         "Warning!" Lieutenant Katsunaga reported, "Romulan ship uncloaking at high warp speed. I have never seen a cloaked ship move that fast. I am reading energy flashes. He's launching..."
       "Launching what?" Grey demanded.
       "I don't know yet!" Katsunaga screamed.
       "Red Alert!" Grey ordered. "Arm photon torpedoes, bring fire control to full power. Spin up the combat drones on the rack and get ready to reload it. Start loading a scatter-pack and a wild weasel. And get those shuttles back on board!"
       "I thought they were sending a light cruiser," Lieutenant Aarie said. "That ship is bigger than any light cruiser I have in my database. Switching scans to analyze it."
       "Captain..." Commander Barretta began.
       "The Tholians just fired their disruptors!" Tazhurta screamed. "They are targeting the Romulan ship!"
       "Target, Captain?" Tazhurta asked.
       "Stand by," Grey said.
       "Orders?" Katsunaga asked. "Go into reverse and back out of this?"
        "Negative," Grey said. "It would take too long to reverse direction. Swing our nose toward the ... Romulan and get us moving as fast as you can."
       "Rollins," Commander Barretta quietly said, "send a signal to all stations. 'Firing broke out when the Romulan ship arrived. Situation unclear.' Attach the datalog for the last five minutes."
       "Done, Ma'am," the young officer responded.

Bridge, Klingon D7 Devastator
       "Helm, put us in reverse and back up 300,000 killikams," Korath ordered. "All weapons on hold."
       Everyone felt the ship shudder as the disruptors fired. On the screen, they could see phasers picking off the Tholian shuttlecraft and the Federation probe drone.
       "Who fired those weapons!" Korath screamed. "I'll have him in the agonizer or dead!"
       "I fired the weapons, you coward!" Kyrolian roared. "My ship does not retreat! You may have become afraid of combat after you lost your ship, but I am no coward, and this is a battle I can win! Now leave my bridge and go back to your cabin!"
       "You are under arrest!" Korath screamed, drawing his pistol from the shoulder holster he wore when on bridge duty. It was a wicked little black pistol, filled with chemically powered slugs composed of powdered lead in a plastic matrix. Compared to the much larger phasers and disruptor pistols the others on the bridge carried on their hips, most considered the tiny black thing some kind of a joke. "Now stand down, Captain, before I scatter your brains across the viewscreen!"
       "ESS to the bridge!" Kyrolian roared, reaching for his sidearm. "Arrest this coward! This ship takes orders from me!"
The sound of Korath's pistol was deafening in the small compartment. Few of those present had ever heard a chemically powered weapon fired outside of a sound-suppressed target range. Kyrolian's skull exploded with the impact of the heavy slug. None of them had ever seen what happened when a lead slug crashed into a humanoid braincase.
       "Any more arguments?" Korath asked.
       Korm extended his hands straight out, showing that he was not reaching for the controls or his disruptor pistol.
       Kilgore shot him with a phaser set on stun.
       "Take the helm," Korath told him. "Back us out of here!"

Bridge, Romulan SparrowHawk Formidable
       "What in the stars?" Sub-Commander Fenius said as his ship shook from the impact of Tholian disruptors. "Why did they fire on us?"
       "Shields are down 30 percent," Decentius replied. "I have the plasma torpedoes locked on the Tholian ship, but the Federation ship is arming its photon torpedoes. The Klingons just fired at the Tholians. What are your orders?"
       "Launch one small torpedo at each ship. Launch the heavy deception torpedo at the Tholian. Take us under cloak!" Fenius ordered. "Hard right rudder, get us out of here at full speed. Do not arm weapons. All power to engines!"
       A chorus of voices declared their compliance with orders.
       "What did we just walk into?" Fenius asked.
       "You mean," Decentius said, "what did we just cause?"

Bridge, Tholian Heavy Cruiser Antrex
       "The Klingon ship has destroyed our shuttlecraft," Baxx said. "The Romulan ship has launched plasma torpedoes, two of which are headed for us! The Romulan ship is cloaking. Our disruptors have cycled and are now armed. Phasers on standby."
       "Target the Klingon ship and fire everything," Lorexxt said.
       "Signal from the Federation ship," Communications Worker Jex said. "Codeword 'Hideaki' which means 'we are your allies in this.' Do I send a reply?"
       "Confirm the codeword, and notify fleet command of the situation," Lorexxt said. "How close are those Romulan torpedoes?"
       "They will be here before the phasers can recycle," Baxx said. "The range is long and they cannot penetrate our shields, but they will probably collapse."
        Using the phasers was a mistake, Lorexxt thought to himself. No point worrying about it now. "Reinforce the facing shield. Helm, get us moving toward the Klingon."
       "The Romulan has cloaked," Baxx said. "So at least he won't launch another torpedo. He is probably reloading. The Federation ship is moving toward the Romulan."
         "We have time enough to kill that Klingon," Lorexxt said. "Overload the disruptors and increase speed."

Bridge, Federation Command Cruiser Excalibur
       "Accelerating past Warp 2," Katsunaga said.
       "Romulan ship is cloaked, but seems to be moving away," Lieutenant Aarie said.
       "Small plasma torpedo is headed this way," Tazhurta said. "It will damage our front shields on impact, but not penetrate them."
       "Fire phasers at the torpedo when it reaches 20,000 kilometers," Grey said. "I will need that front shield when we reach that Romulan ship." Bellicose little minds come from all sides.
"We are going to pass those Romulan shuttles," Tazhurta noted. "Shall I destroy them with phasers?"
       "I would suggest otherwise," Commander Barretta said, "this is all probably a big mistake and nobody else has to die today."
       "Agreed," Grey said. "Anyway, I want all of my weapons ready to hunt a cloaked cruiser. As long as those shuttles stay outside of the range of their light phasers, they can stay alive."

Bridge, Klingon D7 Devastator
       "Signal all ships," Korath said. "Cease fire. This is a mistake. Cease fire. All ships stop forward movement, hold weapons on defensive status only, use reverse movement at your discretion. Squadron is to stand down and resume scientific research."
       "The Tholian ship is coming at us," Kilgore said. "His disruptors are armed. The Romulan torpedoes are chasing him and will impact in seconds. The Federation ship has just destroyed the torpedo the Romulans launched at him. Grey is headed for the last known position of the Romulans, but I have no idea where they are now. I have never seen a cloaked ship move as fast as that thing can move. Nor have I seen a 'light cruiser' that is that big. It's much bigger than our new D5s, but has a similar power curve. I wish I had gotten better scans."
        "We'll ask nicely for them tomorrow," Korath said. "For now, I have a war to stop. How close is that Tholian?"

Bridge, Tholian Heavy Cruiser Antrex
       "Range has closed to 180,000," Baxx said. "Overload range in 90 seconds. Target locked. There is a Klingon shuttle moving toward our path to the Devastator."
       "Use a phaser and kill that shuttle," Lorexxt said. "It could be anything, and I'm not taking chances."
       "Signal from the Klingon ship," Communications Lieutenant Xenost said. "Signal reads: 'Cease fire. This is a mistake. Cease fire. All ships stop forward movement, hold weapons on defensive status only, reverse movement at your discretion.' Do you want me to respond?"
       "Tell him to drop his shields and fire control," Lorexxt said.
       "He cannot be that big of an idiot," Baxx said.
       "I don't care if he's an idiot or a liar," Lorexxt said. "Either way, I'm doing to destroy his ship. Arm the last shuttle with a fusion energy bomb. I will need it on the second pass."
       "Five seconds to torpedo impact astern!" Baxx warned.
       "Brace for impact!" Lorexxt ordered. The shock, when it happened, was almost unnoticeable.
       "The large torpedo evaporated without causing any damage," Baxx said. "The smaller torpedo was almost at the end of its range and had little power left. Shields are down only five percent. The Romulan ship is still cloaked and far behind us."

Bridge, Romulan SparrowHawk Formidable
       "We're safely out of range," Decentius said. "Do you want to slow down and arm weapons?"
       "Phasers are still charged, are they not?" Fenius asked.
       "Certainly," Decentius said. "Plasmas are not armed."
       "Arm the small plasmas, but not the large one," Fenius said.
       "The Federation ship is at 320,000 kilometers," Decentius said. "He's headed toward us. The Tholian ship has nearly reached overload range of the Klingon ship."
       "Signal from the Klingon ship," the communications officer reported. "They say this is all a mistake and are calling for a ceasefire."
       "Send the signal 'We came in peace, and will uncloak outside weapons range if the Federation ship will stop moving toward us'," Fenius said. "Add that we'll take orders from the research squadron commander. Tell them we are just here to study the star and want no battle."
        "Shall we issue a formal apology for causing the battle?" Decentius asked.
      "No," Fenius said. "You don't know that we did. The diplomats will issue an apology if and when it is shown that we caused that battle and did not just walk into one that was already going to happen." Both knew that if it were found that the rash actions of Fenius had caused an interstellar incident, he would be relieved of command in disgrace and sent by his house to run an agricultural colony on a remote planet. Or something less pleasant, like driving a tractor at such a colony. Or something even less pleasant.

Bridge, Klingon D7 Devastator
       "All stop. Turn ship to face the Tholian," Korath ordered. "Full reinforcement to the forward shield."
       "Disruptors are cold as ordered," Kilgore said. "Phaser capacitors are at 50 percent in case he launches a shuttle."
       "Dunkar, make the signal again," Korath ordered. "Tell him that this is a mistake. Tell him to cease fire. Tell him we apologize for the error. Ask him not to fire. Use that word..."
       "Please?" Xenost suggested, rolling her eyes.
       "Sounds like it," Korath answered. Many eyes on the bridge stole furtive glances toward the commodore. Had the man indeed lost his nerve?

Bridge, Tholian Heavy Cruiser Antrex
       "Approaching overload range," Baxx said.
        "Signal from the Klingon ship," Jex said. "He is asking us not to fire. He apologized for the mistake. He said 'please'."
       "Emergency stop!" Lorexxt shouted. "Power to the forward shield. Weapons hold!"
High pitched squeals echoed as the crew responded to the order. The hull of the ship itself screamed as the speed was brought to zero in an instant. The Klingon ship was only 20,000 kilometers away.
       "Tell the Klingon," Lorexxt said, fighting to control his emotions, "tell him 'surrender or die'."

Bridge, Klingon D7 Devastator
       "How do you want me to reply?" Xenost asked.
       "Say to him: 'Message received," Korath said. "Nothing more than that."
       "What now?" Kilgore asked.
       "If he fires, we arm weapons and fight," Korath said. "We cannot arm our disruptors without triggering his attack, so we will not arm them unless he does. Deactivate our fire control."
        "At this range, we can fire on passive," Kilgore nodded.
        "We will have time to activate fire control while arming the disruptors," Korath said, "if he fires."
        "How long do we wait?" Kilgore asked.
       "Not much longer," Korath said. "You, Dunkar, make this signal to all ships. 'Given that we are on the border of the Tholian Holdfast and are for all practical purposes their guests, perhaps it would be more efficient if the Tholian ship joined the international research squadron and assumed command.' Make it sound sincere. Sign it with my name. My full name and rank."

Bridge, Tholian Heavy Cruiser Antrex
       "What do you make of that?" Baxx said. "Are the Klingons afraid of us?"
       "Our ship is no larger than theirs," Lorexxt said, "and no more powerful. We will win this battle - if we fight it - but the cost will be high. We will not win with one salvo. We will damage them, no doubt, and fight at an advantage, and win, but in a knife fight, even the winner gets cut."
       "Signal from the Federation ship," Communications Worker Jex said. "Message reads: 'We believe it would be more conducive to our scientific mission if the Antrex served as flagship of the international research squadron.' It's signed by Grey, their commander, with his full rank and titles. And the Romulan ship has just sent a very similar message."
       "Very well," Lorexxt said. "There is more than one point to be made here."
       "And more than one kind of victory!" Baxx added. "Does the Klingon - Korath - have the authority for this? He just renegotiated a diplomatic protocol that took the diplomatic corps of three empires over a day to arrange, and has handed the command of the squadron to a foreign warship. Can he do that?"
       "He has the same authority as every warship captain in the galaxy," Lorexxt said. "You'll find it listed in our own regulations under 'exigencies of the situation' if you care to look it up."
       "I remember that one from officer school," Baxx said. "A commander can do anything the situation requires, even if it conflicts with law or treaty or policy or regulations, as long as he can explain it to a court-martial board after the shooting stops."
       "Exactly," Lorexxt said. "Back us out of here. Jex, send a signal to all ships..."

Bridge, Federation Command Cruiser Excalibur
       "The Tholian ship is backing away from the Klingon," Lieutenant Tazhurta reported. "He has disarmed his disruptors."
       "The Tholian ship is signaling to all units," Rollins reported. "It looks like one of our standard formats. 'The undersigned assumes command.' I think that one goes back to Joshua, when Moses died and gave him command of the host."
       "Probably earlier than that," Katsunaga laughed. "I think Oog scratched that on a log after Mogor died and left him in command of the cavemen."
       "Enough history for now," Grey laughed. "Tell Lorexxt 'by your leave, we will return to our previous station and resume research.' Then get us back to our original position, the one before the Romulan dropped in. Do that at medium speed. Dump the photon torpedoes overboard after you get us facing away from everybody. Turn the fire controls off."
       An hour later, the ships were back at their assigned positions and the Romulan ship had settled into its place.
       "Aarie, you better get this ship that science prize," Grey sighed. "I will want to be able to admire it on the wall of my apartment in the retirement home."
        "You did nothing wrong, Captain," Commander Barretta said.
       "In this mess," Grey said, "all four captains are going to lose our jobs. That's why they pay starship captains in those oversized gold credits. There was plenty of bad judgment to go around. The Romulan showed off. The Tholian shot first and never did ask a question. The Klingon was in an all-fired hurry to start shooting. Star Fleet will have to cashier me as well, just so the diplomats can make nice to everyone else when they fire their captains. After all, I did arm photons and go after the Romulan instead of just backing away until things settled down. It's been great to serve with you all, I really did enjoy it."
       But Grey was wrong. The diplomats blamed Kyrolian, not Korath, making the Klingon commodore the only one of the four to retain his command. Korath's great secret became obvious a few months later when the Tholian Border Squadron led the invasion of the Kzinti Hegemony.