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The circumstances that led to Sela's birth are somewhat convoluted. Her mother, Tasha Yar, was born in 2337 on Turkana IV and in the "normal" timeline died in 2364, killed by Armus on Vagra II. But in an alternate timeline, seen in the episode "Yesterday's Enterprise", Yar either survived or avoided the confrontation with Armus and continued to serve on the Enterprise-D until 2366, when the Enterprise-C came through a spacetime anomaly. It was determined that the accidental time travel of the Enterprise-C drastically altered the timeline after its disappearance from the past, and that the original timeline should be restored by sending the ship back. After Guinan informed Yar that she dies prematurely in the normal timeline that they hope to restore, she volunteered to serve on the Enterprise-C, which went back in time to 2344 in the "normal" timeline to complete a mission involving the Klingons. Some personnel from the Enterprise-C were captured by Romulans, and Yar became the concubine of a Romulan official only to save the others. This union led to the conception of Sela, possibly in 2345, while elsewhere in the galaxy the normal timeline version of Yar was barely eight years old.

According to Sela, Yar attempted to escape with her in 2349, but the young girl did not want to go and Yar was discovered and executed. Sela grew up to become a Romulan operative. Sela's first appearance was covered in shadows (and played by a different actress) in the episode "The Mind's Eye", in which she supervised the brainwashing of the recently captured Geordi La Forge. In the episode "Redemption, Part II", she meddled in the Klingon civil war by providing weapons to the House of Duras. In the two-part episode "Unification", she coordinated a plan to invade the Vulcan homeworld using a holographic falsification of Ambassador Spock describing the Romulan convoy as being peaceful in character. This plan was foiled by the real Spock and Jean-Luc Picard. Sela was not seen after this episode.

In the non-canon real-time strategy game for the PC, Star Trek: Armada, Sela returns in the game's Romulan campaign and has been promoted to an Admiral. Acting on orders from the Tal Shiar, Admiral Sela's mission over the course of the campaign is to acquire the highly unstable but extremely powerful Omega particle and bring it to Romulus. After the particle is stolen by the Borg, Admiral Sela forges a temporary and desperate alliance with Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Federation and Chancellor Martok of the Klingon Empire in order to prevent the Borg from using the Omega particle to fuel an invasion of the Alpha Quadrant.

She's been featured prominently in Peter David's Star Trek novels, most notably in Double Helix: Double or Nothing and Imzadi II: Triangle, as well as Michael Jan Friedman's Death in Winter.

In the MMORPG Star Trek Online, Sela is featured prominently in the Romulan portion of the game's future history, having become Empress of the Romulan Empire.

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