Dark Territory: Shadow Puppets (Revised)
Commander Dylan North couldn’t believe that the fight on the inside was more important than the one on the outside right now. “Permission to speak freely sir?” He asked through clenched teeth, his eyes being drawn every few seconds to the viewer which was lighting up with energy discharges and the too frequent explosions.
Captain Larpek barely acknowledged him; his eyes riveted also the carnage on the main screen. “Permission denied,” he crisply replied. The purplish-blue Benzite captain gripped his chair tightly with webbed hands, the barbells hanging from each side of his face twitching with each new image of destruction. The Eleventh Fleet, charged with protecting the Benzar System, had been decimated by wave after wave of Dominion forces. The first officer had sat back in nearly dazed horror after hearing reports that the Dominion had bypassed the Benzar Defense Perimeter.
Surely the 11th would be able to hold the line, but North had never seen so many starships or so many people intent to kill him, and slaughter they had. North blessedly hadn’t been at Wolf 359, but the scenes of burnt out hulls and oceans of ship fragments reminded him of the Federation News Service reports he had seen.
And now it was happening all again. The Dominion had devastated the 12th Fleet in the Tyra System and now they had waylaid another entire fleet, over a hundred starships and countless lives all lost to these butchers. Now the helm officer moved the ship as ably as he could through the debris field, one step away from the wolves on their heels.
The first officer leaned over even more in his chair, his lips close enough to the man’s ear that only the Vulcans on the bridge could hear them. “You can’t go through with this,” he rasped, “We have orders.” The bridge rocked as a spiral disruptor blast battered their shields.
The uptight Benzite almost laughed, the sound coming out as a terse grunt. The younger man finally turned to him, his dark eyes boring into him. “What orders? There’s no one left to give them. Fleet Captain Walker died on the Monarch five minutes ago.”
North grimaced, the image flashing through his mind. It seemed like the implosion of that grand Sovereign-class vessel had been the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. The few surviving ships had started to break formation, scrambling anywhere to escape the Cardassians and Jem’Hadar.
“The planetary leaders are back on Benzar, as are the Birthing Technicians, not to mention the Federation ambassador,” Larpek said, “We’re leaving this abattoir and going back to evacuate them before it’s too late.” While the captain spoke, he subconsciously fingered the small polished black stone hanging from his neck.
North knew enough about Benzite culture to know that a pledge stone signified marriage. The first officer also knew that Larpek’s wife was one of the Birthing Technicians. Another inconvenient memory of his wife, thankfully safe on Betazed, flickered through his mind. Wouldn’t he disregard orders to, to save her?
Feeling hypocritical, North said, “Sir, I-I can’t allow you to do that. I know this is about saving your wife as much as it is about rescuing the Benzite leadership.”
Larpek didn’t bat an eye. “It is,” he nodded, “The Dominion has won this battle, but the victory will not be complete until they have our best political and scientific minds for whatever nefarious purposes they might devise.”
“Our orders are to remain here, to give no quarter, to fight to the last,” North said, paraphrasing a florid Fleet Captain Walker. “We can’t overturn orders for personal feelings.”
“Mr. North for the short time we have worked together, I think you know that I am a stickler for protocol,” Larpek’s smile was grim. “But in this instance the personal matches with the critical, so we are going to Benzar.”
"We just can't run from a fight sir, no matter how hopeless it might appear." North expressed, finally giving voice to what had been twisting his stomach in knots. "I will lodge a formal protest," he threatened.
“Do what you feel is necessary,” Larpek replied, unfazed. “If you do not feel you can continue to perform your duties because of this impasse...”
North shifted his jaw, his expression hardening. “I’m not going to sit this one out. You’re going to need me, this crew as well. We’ll settle up after.”
“Excellent,” Larpek said, turning away from him. “Helm, change course,” he ordered. “Best speed to Benzar.”
Admiral Samson Glover gently kicked back the bed sheet so that the nocturnal wind could cool his sweat slickened skin. T’Prell shivered beside him and wrapped the blood green cover around her bare olive shoulders. She pursed her lips in annoyance and Samson smiled. “Still cold natured I see?”
“I was birthed and raised on a desert planet, you know?” T’Prell said, “This one.”
“A lovely one it is,” his grin grew larger, “But not as lovely as you.” His Vulcan lover arched a black eye brow.
“Oh please, Sam you were never good with come on lines,” T’Prell groaned.
“But yet, somehow, here we are,” the admiral chuckled.
“Yeah,” T’Prell said, joining in him in a laugh. “Who would’ve thought it?”
“I know, but you know how we are, off again, on again, a never ending cycle,” Glover surmised.
“I am glad we are on again, in spite of everything,” T’Prell replied. The wattage of the admiral’s grin dimmed.
“Let’s not argue on my last night here T’Prell,” his admonition sounded more like a plea.
“Samson, I’m sorry,” T’Prell paused as she turned around to face him, resting her upper body on a propped elbow. Her body tensed and Samson sighed. He knew her body language well enough to know that a fight was brewing. He girded himself for the fireworks. He propped himself on both elbows. Oblivious, T’Prell continued, “But you know how I feel about this mission, and you know I feel even worse not being a part of it.”
“You know I could get in trouble for telling you, it is classified,” Samson grumbled.
“No, it’s so black that it is totally off the books,” T’Prell frowned. “And you know what that means, if you get caught, you’re totally on your own.”
“I will endeavor not to get caught then,” the admiral chuckled but T’Prell didn’t get the joke.
“I’m serious Samson,” T’Prell pressed. “I’m a member of the V’Shar. I like cloak and dagger games as much as the next person, but even this goes beyond the pale for me. What Logan is proposing could start a war, and even worse, could tarnish the Federation’s reputation for transparency and democracy at the worst possible time. We’re still recovering from the Dominion War, there are billions of beings across the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, who still feel lost, left behind, are still trying to make sense of it all. We need to be that beacon for them, we have to be that light.”
Samson grunted. “Now, who’s being the idealistic one?” T’Prell glared at him. “Listen T’Prell, I hate to say it, but the war did change us. It changed me. It turned my son into a hollowed shell and my daughter-in-law into an amputee. And I got off lucky. The Dominion wreaked so much destruction and devastation that I would be remiss in my duties if I ever allowed a threat of that scale to emerge again.”
“The Romulans suffered catastrophic losses too and they are dealing with incipient revolts from their subjects, they are not that threat, and neither are Federation citizens.”
Samson recoiled as if T’Prell had physically struck him. T’Prell didn’t relent. “Sam, I just can’t believe you signed off on continued blood screenings on all starbases and outposts. You were one of the main opponents of that tactic from the onset. I remembered how rankled you were when Conrad Haas instituted it over your head on Deep Space 5.”
“That was a life time ago, millions of years ago,” Samson said, a sour taste in his mouth. “As head of Starfleet Security, I thought it was the best thing to do. Not all the guns from the war have fallen silent, as evidenced by the Cardassian militants and even that Changeling that had infiltrated the Klingon Defense Force a few months ago.”
“Yes, the Changeling that helped save your son from some of those militants,” T’Prell pointed out.
“One good Changeling,” Samson rolled his eyes. “Okay, that’s two counting Odo. Am I supposed to think there aren’t some bad ones out there, smarting that they were defeated by a bunch of solids? I can’t take that risk, and I wouldn’t imperil anyone under my watch. But you don’t have to worry about that anymore; I’m not Security chief anymore.”
“You resigned to go on this insane mission,” T’Prell replied. “Subverting a plebiscite on Benzar? Using terroristic tactics? What happened to you?”
“What happened to you?” Samson shot up in bed, his eyes flashing, his nostrils flaring. “You’ve done much worse, but I never judged you because I trusted that you knew the difference between right and wrong and if you felt extreme tactics were necessary, then they were.”
“Sam, I-,” T’Prell began.
“No,” he shook his head furiously. “No,” he said. He swiveled around and planted his feet on the hard, plasma rock floor. He hunched his shoulders and stared into the floor’s obsidian depths.
“Samson,” T’Prell said, more forcefully. She placed a hand on his shoulder. He thought about shrugging it off, but left it alone. “Sam, listen, I didn’t mean to accuse…”
“Save it T’Prell,” he gently eased her hand off him and stood up. He turned around to glance at her, “I’ve got some things I need to wrap up anyway. I know my way out.”
“No Sam,” T’Prell slid out of bed, leaving the sheet behind. Her nakedness, glimmering in the moonlight coming in from the room’s slanted windows, took his breath away, but he tried not to keep her from seeing it. He turned away. “Please Sam; let’s not end things on a sour note. Come back to bed,” she offered.
He sighed, his chest caving in, as his resistance weakened. He turned back to her and grabbed her arms. Samson pulled her close and kissed her with a passion he hadn’t felt in years, an abandon that he had never unleashed on her before. Pushing her away from him, the former admiral said, “How about I take a rain check? It’ll give me more incentive to get back in one piece.”
Two Days Later…
Presidential Chief of Staff Garth Logan watched the last of the Corvallen freighter’s warp trail dissipate, from the window port of his own personal spacecraft, before he made his call. He had been fortunate that Admiral Shanthi had wasted no time in leaving, heading back to her job at Starfleet Administration. If she had stayed much longer her absence might arouse suspicion and he was glad that the woman was sufficiently paranoid and guilt-plagued to not want to spend time at the location of perhaps her blackest deed in defense of the Federation.
Though Logan was perhaps even more in a fishbowl than Shanthi, he had the readymade excuse of traveling in support of President Santiago’s reelection. From Verex III, he would make a short jaunt to Aaamazzara and then on to Cygnus VII, to shore up lagging support from Santiago’s home planet. It would be a disaster if Santiago’s own planet turned against him.
Logan would do his best to coax skittish and dispirited supporters to hold firm, but actually he could care less. The Federation Council, Starfleet Command, the Federation Presidency itself, they were all mere trappings, shadow puppets to the true masters pulling the strings. A light blinked on his console. He smiled before activating it.
In a shocking loss of control, the smile dropped immediately in surprise. The stocky Andorian woman, an admiral’s bar on her collar, grinned savagely in response. “Weren’t expecting me Mr. Logan, or shall I say Agent Laurent?” Calling him by his birth name caused the man to wince. Though the room was sound proofed and had been tripled check by him personally, he was still concerned that his ruse might be discovered at any moment.
The real Garth Logan had been liquidated and replaced years ago, and he had assumed the man’s identity on occasion, and it had become nearly a permanent assignment once the section needed an inside man in Santiago’s camp once he began making moves toward the presidency.
“How might I assist you Visala?” He asked, not acknowledging the woman’s rank, or her superior status in the section. Now the Andorian glowered at him.
“You really thought you could do an end run around me?” She asked. “What are you trying to prove?”
Logan shrugged casually, “I was doing nothing of the sort. The Directorate wanted the Iconian probe, and Special Affairs and Investigations had it very closely under wraps. I knew that Admiral Shanthi could be a vital asset in removing it from Special Affairs’ clutches, but that she would only trust an unassailable sort like Admiral Glover with it. This way, it’s out in the open and Section 31 can procure it more easily.”
“At the expense of the careful planning and cultivating of anti-Romulan forces on Benzar?” Visala’s tone was derisive. “We could’ve have achieved both ends. If you had given me enough time to establish myself.” The Andorian had recently been promoted to and installed on the Deputy Chief’s staff. “Unleashing that probe on Benzar is too unpredictable. It might result in an outcome not to our advantage.”
“Santiago needs a victory, something to prop up his campaign,” Logan replied evenly. Santiago’s rival, former Admiral Norah Satie was proving quite resilient as a campaigner, and the Directorate had so far been unable to penetrate deeply within her campaign. “Not only can we get the Iconian probe, we can observe it in action on Benzar, and watch the Romulans overreact. The Benzites will come back to us in droves, Santiago’s policies will be vindicated, and it will still leave the Romulans with their Reman problem, and no easy way to pass them off to the Benzites or to us. Hopefully both the Romulans and Remans will devour each other.”
“This had better not fail,” Visala warned, her twin antennae circling the white shock of her hair like serpents.
“The Directorate signed off on this,” Logan said, with a smirk. The woman huffed. Her hands were tied. Logan had went around her, above her, and made her look ineffectual to boot. He had created a formidable enemy in the Andorian admiral, but at the moment he didn’t care. He basked in his supposed triumph. “Did you just call only to threaten me?”
“Bah,” Visala snorted before disconnecting the link. Logan leaned back in his seat and chuckled. Before the sound of his last laugh faded, the console blinked again.
“Here we go,” Logan said, certain it was the person he really wanted to talk to. He pressed the flashing light and an aristocratic Romulan looked back at him.
“Has the package departed?” The austere Romulan asked, without preamble.
“Of course,” Logan replied curtly, all business on the outside. But inside, he danced a jig. Finally, his revenge was close at hand.
I've never read any of Dark Territory before but I was pleasantly surprised by this - certainly the first section with the conflict aboard the between the captain and first officer was very exciting and interesting. :)
Re: Dark Territory: Shadow Puppets (Revised)
I remember this story. I'm curious to know why you've decided to revise it.
Re: Angry Fanboy
Re: Dark Territory: Shadow Puppets (Revised)
Hopefully this rewrite won't take too long and I can then return to "Hero of the Federation" and finish that.
Re: Dark Territory: Shadow Puppets (Revised)
Corvallen freighter Astral Eddy
En Route to Benzar System
Samson Glover kept his head down, his eyes on the gray sludge in his bowl. He was waiting for something alive in the soup to break the surface. While in line, he had asked the server what kind of soup it was. The burly violet Varno had grunted, “gruel,” before dumping in into his bowl. Before Samson could ask him to specify, an equally large Chalnoth had bumped him on down the line.
Glover hadn’t wanted to make an issue of it so he had just taken his bowl and found an empty spot on the table. Thankfully the rest of the crewmen eating lunch had given him a wide berth. They were clumped together, men and women from an array of species, including human, all shoveling their food, slurping their beverages, and engaged in animated conversations.
The former admiral caught snatches of them. The topics ranged from relationships to money woes to the latest sports scores.
He was content to merely be a spectator, needing some company but afraid to draw too much attention to himself or too many inquiries. As far as the captain and crew of the Astral Eddy were concerned, he was a merchant, on his way to Benzar to pursue business on Merria, the massive spaceborne city orbiting the planet.
The Corvallen captain Ronzek had been satisfied with the story that Glover was traveling so cheaply due to his miserly nature. Having a Romulan with him helped bolster the idea that Samson was seeking to curry favor with the real rulers in the Benzar system. And Daneeka played her role as muscle almost naturally. And she largely kept the more avaricious members of the Eddy from seeing Samson as an easy payday.
Unfortunately that didn’t result in the cooks treating him any better. His stomach queasy, he held his spoon, forever it seemed, over the bowl. Some of the rough crew that he shared the long table with looked at him with a mixture of bemusement and suspicion.
“You going to eat that?” A familiar voice asked, before the woman sat down beside him. The former admiral glanced at the younger Bolian. He slid the bowl to her.
“It’s all yours,” he said. She took the bowl and plunged her spoon into it. She gobbled down the contents quickly.
“What was that stuff?” He asked. The woman shrugged. Like him, she was dressed in simple, roughhewn, and drab brown tunic, matching pants, and dusty black boots.
“Don’t know,” Daneeka answered.
“You didn’t know, but you ate it anyway?” Samson asked, with a mix of surprise and disgust.
“Hey, Bolians are carrion eaters,” Daneeka shrugged again. “This stuff isn’t much different. Quite tasty actually.” She picked up the bowl and downed the rest. Glover’s stomach twitched. Placing the bowl down with a smack, Daneeka wiped her greasy lips with the back of her hand. She was playing the ruffian role to the hilt.
Or maybe it wasn’t completely an act, he thought, recalling that Daneeka had spent some time in prison for her role in Leyton’s failed coup. Since that time she had redeemed herself, most notably during her service at DS9.
“Daneeka you must have the constitution of a Cartagan elephant,” he remarked. The Bolian raised an eyebrow, a question in her expression.
“Never heard of that,” she said, “But it does sound delicious.” Samson couldn’t help but laugh, and was thankful to Daneeka for it. He needed the stress relief.
“That’s what I like to hear,” Captain Ronzek rasped, “Everyone having a good time on my boat.” The tall Corvallen strode into the mess hall, a large capped bottle in one hand. He wiggled his way between Samson and Daneeka.
Typical of the Corvallen species, the man’s face was covered with large, heavy scales that looked to Samson like plates. His long scaled face ended in a sharp chin. His obsidian eyes glinted with merriment as he held the bottle aloft. “It is rare that we ferry passengers, and especially to Merria,” he said, prompting a few hoots from the crew. “So in honor of the shore leave to come, I thought it prudent to pop the top of this fifty-year-old Canopian brandy,” he said.
“You shouldn’t,” Samson said, trying to wave off the gesture. He wanted to keep his wits sharp.
“I insist,” Ronzek said, good-naturedly. “I’ll have you know that it is bad form to refuse a Corvallen offer of drink.”
“Then we accept,” Daneeka said quickly, shooting Samson a quick look. The human was in her debt again for preventing a scene. He wanted to be remembered by as few of the Eddy’s crew as possible, which would’ve been impossible if he respected the ship’s captain.
“My colleague is of course correct,” Glover smiled at the captain. Ronzek nodded with satisfaction.
“Four glasses!” He shouted. There was a clamor in the kitchen and a young Draylaxian rushed from a swinging door, four glasses precariously on a tray. The young felinoid carefully placed the glasses down by the captain, Samson, and Daneeka.
“Four glasses Captain Ronzek?” The admiral asked, wondering what other surprises the Corvallen had up his sleeves.
“That’s for me,” Ousanas Dar swept into the galley. The tall, silvered Romulan was dressed in a gray traveling robe with jutting shoulder pads and wide sleeves. “He stopped by my quarters to make his ‘gracious’ offer,” Dar said, adding just enough scorn in his voice to pull off suffering from a typical Romulan superiority complex.
“Hah, Mr. Xerius,” Ronzek chuckled, using Dar’s alias. “Please, come join Mr. Gabler and Ms. Magen,” he said. Samson slid Daneeka a sly look. The woman scowled at the mention of the alias. She had wondered why Glover had chosen those names, the question drawing a chuckle and a glimmer of disappointment that the younger generations didn’t seem to be as enthralled by the history of James Kirk as his had been.
Ousanas glared at the proffered bench, his nostrils curling. He brushed off the space before gingerly placing his posterior on it, beside Daneeka. Ronzek poured four glasses of bright amber liquid, sliding them all to his guests. “Now, I caution you,” he warned, with a half-smile, “This packs quite a kick.” He clutched his filled glass and waited silently for the others to do the same.
Once they had, the Corvallen said, “May the solar winds always be at your back,” he declared before downing the liquid. Against his better judgment, Samson did likewise. The alcohol burned a plasma trail down his throat, before alighting in his stomach. The human lurched forward; about to heave what little contents remained in his stomach, before he forced the bile back down. It left another burning sensation in his throat, along with an acrid stench. The guffaws from the crew were near deafening, wounding Samson’s pride a little, until he remembered how foolish such a reaction was.
“Ha,” Ronzek said, slapping Samson hard on the back and nearly knocking him across the table. “Good first swig,” he remarked. “You took that like a real tramper,” he declared. Samson smiled weakly at the man. With his back smarting and flickers of flame still dancing on his tongue, Samson rasped:
“You call that a kick?”
This reply drew laughter of a different variety, one of camaraderie. Glover took quick stock of the room and saw a more respectful gleam in the eyes of many of the Eddy’s crew. Daneeka smirked in approval and Ousanas gave a pinched expression. Samson had worked long enough with the man to know that he also approved and thought that their ruse was working.
“I like you Gabler,” Ronzek declared, “Stout heart for a human,” he stated, roaring with laughter.
“Stout stomach too,” Daneeka added, eliciting another boisterous burst from Ronzek.
“Unfortunately I must return to the bridge,” he said, leaving the bottle. “We have several deliveries to make before we reach Benzar,” he stated, “And we are on schedule to arrive in that system in four days.”
“And not a moment sooner, I hope,” Samson took on a hectoring tone. He wanted them to believe that time wasted was money spent for him.
“You’ll get there, with time to spare,” Ronzek promised. “Now please, enjoy the rest of the brandy, it’s on me.” After he left, Samson considered the bottle, his stomach wilting, before getting up from his seat.
“Please Xerius, we have business to discuss,” he said, for benefit of the Eddy crew. Dar rose quickly, as did Daneeka. Unfortunately, the Bolian grabbed the Canopus brandy. When Samson looked at her reproachfully, the woman shrugged.
“Hey, business talk makes me thirsty.”
Captain Ronzek didn’t go directly back to the bridge. He took a detour into his private chambers. Once there, the door closed, and ensconced within the room’s soundproofed walls-the only ones on the Eddy-the Corvallen sat at his desktop computer and turned it on.
It took forever, but eventually the old machine whined to life. Ronzek taped in a code and a shadowed form, sitting in a dark room appeared. “How are our guests?” The voice was modulated, computerized, but not well enough for him to not know that the speaker was a female. He couldn’t tell what species though. Her gender didn’t matter to him as long as the latinum bars she promised him were real.
“They are well, for now,” he said, hinting at a threat. Perhaps he could get more coin than he had been promised.
“And they will remain so,” she said, her voice neutronium hard. The man hissed, a reaction many would consider threatening, but Ronzek knew it masked his fear. “You will be paid what you agreed to, not a penny more.”
“Of course, of course,” he smiled and dipped his head, his gesture an attempt to mollify her. “But you can’t blame a guy for trying. It’s a tough universe out here.”
“Spare me your sob stories,” she said. “I want the three items we agreed to, bound and read for transfer at the rendezvous point.”
“They will be,” he nodded strongly. “Even now they are drinking liquor laced with a sedative. One immune to Corvallens…”
“I don’t need the details,” the woman snapped, “Just have them ready.”
Chastened, the man nodded. “That will be…” The woman severed the link. Ronzek’s face twitched as the fury mounted within him. He didn’t like to be talked to in so disrespectfully, even for the amount of money they were giving him. He had half a mind to bypass the rendezvous point or blow whoever was there out of the stars.
That rebellious thought lasted for about a nanosecond, before reality returned. The Corvallen calmed himself. He would do what he had agreed to do, whether he liked his paymasters or not. “As long as the latinum clinks,” he muttered to the empty room.
Once the trio had entered Samson’s room, Ousanas Dar removed a small device from the folds of his robe and placed it between the doors’ seams. If anyone tried to enter without their permission they would receive a stun burst. Holding a finger to his lips, he produced another device, this one pyramidal in shape. He walked over to the small, worn coffee table in the center of the room and set the pyramid upon it. The Romulan tapped along its smooth surface and the darkened device lit from within an ethereal violet light.
“What is that?” Samson asked.
“Phalkerian sound suppressor,” Ousanas replied, “Now we can talk freely.”
“Okay,” Daneeka said, taking another swig from the bottle. She had forgone the cup. Samson was at least glad to see that Ronzek’s gift wasn’t going to go to waste.
“Samson, you can still back out of this,” Dar offered. “We don’t have to go through with this. There has to be another way.”
“If there was, don’t you think someone would’ve come up with it by now?” Samson asked, pained to have to do so. He had been trying to find a way to keep his mind off of the upcoming mission and all the destruction it would entail, but hadn’t had much luck. The distraction in the mess hall had been nice, but Dar had drug him right back into the muck of conscience.
“A lot of people are going to die,” Dar pressed. “You know that.”
“A lot of people have already died,” Samson shot back. “Because of this damned war with the Dominion and the Romulans are trying to exploit it, which might lead to another war.”
“And we are going to help them along,” Dar shook his head, his expression pitying. Samson’s anger began to blot out his guilt.
“Why are you here?” Glover snapped, his bottom lip quivering. “Why did you come if you harbored such concerns?”
Ousanas sighed. “You know why I’m here,” he said.
“No, I really don’t,” Samson riposted.
“I don’t either,” Daneeka interjected. The Bolian had availed herself of Samson’s couch, and was now raptly watching the two men parry like she was sitting in the stands at a Wimbledon tennis contest.
Both men glared at her to which the Bolian took another drink. “Perhaps you should lay off that Lieutenant,” Dar admonished.
“I’m not an officer anymore, sir,” Daneeka said. “No longer your subordinate.”
“Daneeka wants to know, like I do,” Samson said, “Why are you here? “ He asked, wanting to bring the conversation back on track.
“I know this can’t be easy for you, anytime you have to deal with the Romulans,” Samson said, with concern.
“No, it isn’t,” Ousanas admitted, “But I-I feel responsible for what happened to Dietra, I failed your wife, and I’m not going to be the cause of your death too.”
The man’s words made Samson’s chest hitch with emotion. He and Ousanas had known each other for decades. But over the last twenty years their friendship had been strained due to Ousanas’s role in the Ghorusda Disaster, which had claimed his wife’s career. In an attempt to revive her moribund career, Dietra Glover had taken a fateful assignment aboard the Tombaugh which had led been lost, with all hands.
“You…,” Samson struggled to say the words, but knew he had to, “It wasn’t your fault,” he finally uttered, his throat feeling like gravel. “You did make a mistake at Ghorusda, but the decisions Dietra took after that…they were her own. It was wrong for me to blame you for that too.”
Ousanas took a step back, and then forward. He reached out a hand and Samson grasped it firmly. “Truth is,” Samson admitted, “I wouldn’t want to be on this mission with anyone else.”
“Remembering the old times, eh?” Dar smiled. The mood in the room lifted monumentally.
“Something like that,” Glover replied, with a grin.
“I just hope that you are right,” Dar said, “I hope that the deaths will be minimal. A blood bath is going to look nearly as bad for Santiago as the Benzites seceding from the Federation.”
“I know,” Samson replied. “I’ll be back in a moment.” He walked into the small adjoining bedroom. When he came back moments later, he carried a small silver case in one hand and a pistol in the other.
He placed them beside each other near the Phalkerian device. Samson opened the case and a small, silvery black metallic six-legged insect was nestled inside. “You’re reminding me of Logan right now, having to show that thing off again,” Daneeka shuddered, “I hate bugs.”
“This is the nanomite,” Samson said, “the sole carrier of the Iconian virus that we have.” He then gestured at the disruptor. “And that, as you well know, is a Breen Type 3 disruptor,” he said. “Now, Ousanas, the choice is really yours. I won’t stop you if you want to slag that nanomite.”
The former admiral took a step back and watched as a torrent of emotions stormed across the older Romulan’s face. Dar took a step toward the disruptor, his fingers outstretched and eager to grab the pistol. Samson’s heart pinched at the revulsion in the man’s eyes as he gazed upon the inert nanomachine.
Ousanas knew full well what devastation the small robot could cause. How it could invade a computer system and spread like a lethal self-replicating disease. It could destroy computer cores, eat through starship hulls, and infiltrate living cells even. The biotechnology on Benzar would not stand a chance against it.
Samson patiently waited the man out as he struggled against himself. Duty warred with honor, loyalty with compassion. Part of Samson wanted Ousanas to pick up the disruptor and vaporize the infernal device, to do what Samson didn’t have the courage or foolishness to do. After an interminable time, Ousanas’s shoulders slumped.
The battle was over. Glover didn’t feel relieved. Because now he knew the time for regretting had begun, for Dar and all of them.
Re: Dark Territory: Shadow Puppets (Revised)
I think these scenes are new as I don't remember reading them before. I like the morality play here. This mission while arguably necessary falls well outside Starfleet ethical standards. Telling that the Romulan seems to struggle with this the most.
Oh and I like the tension you're building with the freighter captain having sold out our heroes who, seemingly unbeknownst to them are already heading for a trap.
Now I'm actually excited to find out what happens next even though I'm supposed to be familiar with this story already.
Re: Dark Territory: Shadow Puppets (Revised)
I'm enjoying the retelling of this story, with the added wrinkles and deceptions included.
Glad to see Samson Glover in action one more time...
Re: Dark Territory: Shadow Puppets (Revised)
Thanks CeJay and Gibraltar,
One thing that concerned me when I sat back after finishing the first version was the lack of scenes on Benzar or Benzites. So I wanted to correct that in the revised version. I've been thinking of adding quite a few new scenes or taking a different tact to scenes or characters I had written previously. Though some stuff I will keep from the previous story.
Federation High Commissioner Selene McCall absently twirled the straw in her lukewarm Altair water as she stared out of the large window at the graceful, gray world of Benzar below.
Unbidden, she ran a hand through her blond hair, now streaked with a similar gray. “Commissioner, your glum expression is unbecoming,” chimed Senator Sterqil, her unwelcome dinner guest.
The thickset, sallowed-hued and silvered Romulan was hunched over a dinner of jumbo mollusks that was touched off by a wine glass filled with deep blue ale. “Surely you must have anticipated the outcome of the meeting.” The woman looked down at her own half-eaten Caesar salad, her appetite completely evaporated.
Reining in her anger, Selene gathered herself, pausing to glance around at the eatery’s patrons while collecting her thoughts. The café was filled with low-key, intent Benzites, their chitinous skin an attractive admixture of blue hues. The Romulans were more lively, something she wasn’t expecting. Soldiers chatted amiably with civilians, with laughter and occasional song breaking out.
She had first surmised that they would be as cautious and watchful as she imagined they were on their homeworld, always on guard against the ever present Tal Shiar. But here, away from Romulus, the spear carriers of the Star Empire seemed most relaxed. Some even dined with Benzites, and the commissioner had little doubt that those Romulans hadn’t availed themselves without invitation.
The scene gave her another perspective on why Romulus was so determined to hang on to Benzar, beyond the normal, and somewhat tired, desires to dominate other races and amass galactic power.
Perhaps another reason lay in the bustling space port that Merria was. Beyond the native Benzites and their Romulan ‘liberators’, the café was also crammed with all manner of sapient life, owing to Merria’s importance as a hub of interstellar commerce.
The station was nearly as big as either Herti or Dwora, Benzar’s two moons. It was so roomy in fact that most of the Romulan military that ‘protected’ Benzar stayed on the station, which misled the Benzites on the planet’s surface to think that their presence would remain that way if they voted for secession.
McCall had attempted to tell them otherwise, but her entreaties had largely fallen on deaf ears. Some of the leaders were sympathetic, and at least entertained her offer for election monitors, but that idea had been rejected as well.
“Yes, I had hoped for a different outcome,” she hated to admit, but doused her annoyance as best she could. McCall didn’t want to give the man the satisfaction. Sterqil, his dark eyes alight, nodded animatedly for her to continue. As he nodded, the golden sash he wore over his stately purple robes, that was filled with a multitude of medals, clinked. Once she knew that Sterqil, on a less than coincidental visit from Romulus, would be attending, Selene had studied the man’s record thoroughly.
Before being elected to the Senate, he had had a long, storied military career. And he was reported to still compete in the occasional martial arts event. Underneath his folds of fat rested a still lethal prowess.
“Though the Federation expected, and supports, the will of the people of Benzar to choose their own destinies, to seek their own futures, we had hoped that the Benzite leaders would have been amenable to our offers of assistance,” McCall concluded.
It was another painful admission, but Selene saw no reason not to confess it. If anything, Sterqil was keen to have gauged how she felt, and further, his obvious enjoyment at her distress and the Federation’s embarrassment, might throw him off, make him underestimate her and the Federation’s resolve, and that was exactly what she wanted.
The senator pursed his full lips, in mock reproach, “Are you still implying that Romulans will interfere with the plebiscite?”
“I never said anything of the sort,” she hotly retorted.
“But with your spiel about sending Federation election monitors to insure the integrity of the vote,” Sterqil’s tone went from jocular to frosty, “What else am I, the Benzites, or Ki Baratan supposed to surmise but an accusation that we will subvert the vote?”
“That is not what I said,” McCall forced herself to stay in her seat. It was how she felt, but she would never voice such a view, especially to the likes of Sterqil. “This is a momentous event in the history of Benzar, and with the planet still recovering from the Dominion occupation…”
“Which our forces ended,” Sterqil quickly pointed out. “There were many stories of how joyous Benzites lined the …”
“The planetary geostructures regulating Benzite life,” Selene carried on, happy to have interrupted the man as he had just done to her, “are overtaxed as it is. The potential of for a mechanical or computing error is much greater under such circumstances. I am sure you are well aware of the technical voting mishaps on your own planet,” she said.
“There is no such thing,” Sterqil declared, “our system is inviolate. The Senate is the direct instrument of the people, and we wish to extend that blessing of democracy to the Benzites and all who call on our aid.”
“Including the Remans?” McCall couldn’t help herself. She smiled tightly as Sterqil grumbled and pulled back from their parrying. He began to fiddle with one of the cooled mollusks, biding his time. “Or what about the other subject planets advocating for greater rights or outright independence?” She piled on, “Your Tal Shiar has done a bad job stamping out dissent as of late.”
“That is an internal matter,” he said, his voice frigid. He leaned forward, his gaze now accusatory. “Could the Federation’s altruism be merely a cover for their monitors to alter the vote to a result of their liking?”
This time Selene didn’t rise to the bait. The senator continued, “We know what Paris thinks of us, that we are going to annex the Benzar system and use as a beachhead to either destabilize or attack other Federation planets.”
The commissioner didn’t deny it. There was no need, since some Federation Council members were on record voicing such concerns. “Is that why Ki Baratan is so interested in securing Benzar’s departure from the Federation?”
Sterqil shook his head, his jowls quivering. “We merely wish to render aid to the Benzite people.”
“I can’t help but find it interesting that such altruistic, as you might say, desires don’t extend to planets and species already within your sphere of influence,” McCall said, trying to get another rise out of him.
Sterqil sat back, his smile returning, “Benzar is now in our sphere of influence and the fact that you can’t do anything about it, but watch them choose someone other than you and your vaunted, perfect Federation is infuriating you.”
“We’ll see about that,” McCall shot back, regretting the words as soon as they spilled from her lips.
Sterqil sat up, his dark face beaming. He had gotten what he came for. “So you are intimating that the Federation will use force to keep Benzar within its clutches?”
Selene tried to scoff away the charge, “I’ve ‘intimated’ nothing of the sort.”
He looked at her askance, studying her like a lab rat. “I would reason otherwise, and I think that my colleagues in the Senate, and the Praetor would feel the same.” He pushed back from the table and stood up. “I’m suddenly feeling tired…” he exaggeratedly yawned and stretched. “I bid you good night,” he bowed.
Selene jumped out of her chair, rattling her plate, nearly knocking over her glass, and drawing the attention of several patrons. She held up a placating hand, “Senator, please stay, have another drink…”
“No,” he said, not able to keep from gloating, “I’ve had enough.” Selene wanted to tackle the man, but she didn’t want to cause any more trouble than she already had.
She watched him trudge quickly out of the café, imagining her career going along with him.
Re: Dark Territory: Shadow Puppets (Revised)
The Bared Fang
Lt. Commander Meldin salted down the murkmaw pie. Though the food preparer had been certified by stringent Benzite officials, the parasitic murkmaw worms could be highly resistant to heat. But thankfully, his old colleague Seb N’Saba had told him that a heavy concentration of salt was lethal to the parasites, whether live or boiled.
He spooned into the dish, dislodging a wedge of browned crust, an orange kind of jelly, and squiggled worms. He slid the spoon into his mouth, crunching pleasantly. Murkmaw reminded him of Terran boiled peanuts.
The Benzite Starfleet officer had been surprised to find an Alshain restaurant in Merria. It seemed that the quadrant had developed a taste for Alshain cuisine after the war and Alshain restaurants had started popping up at the occasional starbase or space port. In the Bared Fang, he could see a kaleidoscope of patrons, some quite new to Alshain food from the horrid looks on their faces.
Starships had also begun programming Alshain menus into their replicators. Though the machines still had a way to go to produce edible reproductions. The firefish he replicated sent him to Sickbay.
Meldin could only have imagined what Seb would’ve thought of that scene. The lupanoid’s keen sense of smell probably would’ve warded Meldin off from even attempting to ingest the replicated dish.
He shook his head, amazed that he was reminiscing over the haughty Alshain. They had never been close. Though to be honest, Seb had never been close with anyone aboard the Cuffe it seemed. Meldin couldn’t judge, because he had had a hard time forging relationships among his colleagues as well. Except one…
“Amanisha,” he muttered, thinking of his lover. The Cuffe’s First Officer had been murdered by the Jem’Hadar during the war.
Since then he had ghosted through life, eventually landing a posting on the Attucks. The ambition, genetically engineered it seemed, that had propelled him through the Academy and early on in his career had extinguished, and now Meldin was just existing, trying to make sense of a galaxy so chaotic, and cruel even, not at all like the regimented environment he had grew up in.
He chuckled bitterly at the thought, remembering the scars left by Dominion and Romulan disruptors across his home planet. Even disorder had come to Benzar.
And the Security Officer feared that his peoples’ innate need for order and security would be their undoing. Even though Meldin had served with Romulans, and considered some honorable allies, the long history of enmity between Romulus and the Federation could not be ignored. Especially since that checkered history was rearing its head again. First with the Romulans’ actions in Cardassian space, funding the True Way, and now with their machinations to wrest Benzar from the Federation.
The precarious fate of Benzar had awoken something within in, and he had lobbied to be part of the delegation to Benzar. He had expected the Federation to send one of their top diplomats, and hadn’t known what to make of Selene McCall being sent to make the Federation case.
Though High Commissioners performed some diplomatic functions, and McCall was renowned for her election monitoring efforts on both Eminiar VII and Vendikar, her heading this mission felt like the Federation was conceding Benzar to the Romulans.
The election monitoring gambit felt defeatist, and somewhat condescending that the Benzites would need help setting up their own referendum, something they had done for centuries. Not to mention it was a bit provocative, clearly implying that the Romulans would interfere with the Benzite franchise.
Of course Meldin knew enough about the Romulans to know that such an action was more than likely, however it was undiplomatic to venture it.
Further McCall’s abrasive demeanor wasn’t one that would mesh well with the more staid Benzites. Benzites were generally highly competitive, but not brash.
So Meldin hadn’t been off put at all when McCall had asked him to allow her to dine alone at the Starlight Café. And now that he had found the Alshain restaurant, he could almost thank her for being anti-social; Almost.
All that was left for them now was to return to the Federation. Unfortunately the Sarahd, which had brought them to Benzar, had been called away. The only other ship currently in system was the Rushmore.
The Rushmore was attending a Dominion War commemoration and would not arrive for several more days. Once aboard, Rushmore would ferry Commissioner McCall back to Earth to report her findings to President Santiago and the Federation Council.
“Enjoying the murkaw pie quite a bit from the look on your face,” the mellifluous Benzite woman said as she came to stand at his table. The statuesque female was dressed in a stately mauve dress that did little to hide her curves. He noticed immediately that no pledge stone hung from her neck, signifying that she was unattached. Meldin stood up and bowed curtly, “Commissioner Morah,” he said in way of greeting. Morah headed the election body that would oversee the referendum.
“You dine here often?” The security officer asked, offering the woman a seat. She obliged him. He took note of the restaurant’s dim interior, the only illumination provided by several fireplaces. The alluring chants of an Alshain chorus rode over the soft conversations. Meldin’s heart thudded when he realized how romantic the atmosphere could be considered.
“Oh yes, I must admit that I prefer the exotic cuisine on Merria far more than planetside,” she said with mock solemnity, a conspiratorial gleam in her eye. “Perhaps that’s a result of my extended absence from Benzar,” the woman remarked. Morah had been one of the few planetary leaders that had escaped the Dominion takeover.
She had spent her exile on Earth before returning shortly after the Romulans threw off the Dominion yoke.
Doing his research thoroughly of the officials that the delegation would be making his case to, Meldin had assumed that Morah would have been an ally. He had been shocked when the opposite occurred.
A waiter, a whipcord golden furred Alshain male, appeared from the ether it seemed, to take Morah’s order. In nearly an eye blink later, he returned with a mug of Munzalan stout and a tall glass capped with froth. Meldin looked at the unfamiliar frothy beverage askance.
Catching the question in his dark eyes, Morah held the sweating glass aloft. “Arkarian spume,” she explained.
“Never heard of it,” he replied. She waggled the glass at him, but the Starfleet officer declined. He wasn’t certain how it would mix with the stout or his meal.
Morah took a sip and closed her eyes, savoring the flavor. After she reopened them, the Benzite looked at him. “I have to be honest,” the woman began, “I didn’t just come here for the cuisine today.”
“Oh?” Meldin asked, with piqued interest. He leaned forward. “Please elaborate.” The entire din in the café had fallen to the wayside, completely tuned out now.
Morah’s expression had become serious with her thin lips had forming into a straight line, and pinched at either end. “I know that you expected me to take a different stand than the one I did in the assembly,” she said, pausing to search his eyes for confirmation.
Meldin’s expression was impassive. He had been assigned merely as an adviser and it was Commissioner McCall who spoke for the Federation. Now Morah didn’t get what she expected. She sighed and continued, “Things have changed here, are much different. I…we, many of us in exile, had expected a different homecoming than the one we received.”
The security officer’s eyes narrowed and he leaned forward even more, his voice lowering. “What has changed?”
“I thought the populace would see us as heroes, of a sort,” Morah admitted, “and that they would appreciate the wartime advocacy of our government-in-exile.” She stopped and sighed heavily. Looking around furtively and lowering her voice, she added, “And I thought that the collaborators with the Dominion would have been executed. Some were, but others went on to serve in the Romulan backed government.”
“I see,” Meldin said, “And how were the returnees treated?” A chill had crept into the room and the security officer began glancing at the patrons, trying to determine if any had noticed the change as well or were paying too close attention to the two diners.
“With suspicion,” Morah shook her head, her confusion evident; the disappointment marring her features. “We were considered cowards. We hadn’t stayed to fight, is what some whisper behind our backs. Even the Dominion collaborators could fall back on their doing what was necessary to survive and protect as many of our people as they could.”
Meldin, amazed by his peoples’ ability to rationalize, nodded his encouragement for the woman to continue, “Our world watched the Federation liberate planet after planet, but not ours, and then after the war, the Federation poured more resources into rebuilding Cardassia than they did our planet.”
“In all fairness, Federation efforts were stanched by the Romulan presence,” Meldin pointed out.
“Try explaining that to the average Benzite,” Morah rejoined. “The Romulans have milked, as the humans might say, the situation and many of our kind see them not only as liberators but guarantors of our continued freedom.”
“But the Romulans practice slavery!” Meldin said aghast, “How does the ‘average’ Benzite countenance that?”
“The Romulan supported leaders have merely explained that slavery is an efficient system for how the Romulans manage their empire and you know how much our people value efficiency,” Morah said bitterly.
Meldin shook his head, disgusted with how easily some of his kind could be duped. “How can they not see that it’s the Remans today and us tomorrow?”
“Because the Romulans have so far allowed their puppet government to administer affairs, giving the illusion of autonomy. You’ve noticed how the majority of their soldiers are on Merria,” she pointed out. Meldin nodded, thinking not of the various soldiers mingling with Benzite denizens, but more so the hardy soldiers of the Tal Shava, the Romulan Imperial Marines, who were spread throughout the station, their highly polished golden helmets gleaming in the artificial light. “The vast majority of our people haven’t witnessed the boot heel, all they’ve seen of the Romulan military is their decisive defeat of the Dominion and the subsequent protection they’ve provided since.”
“That will change once Benzar is no longer a member of the Federation,” Meldin promised.
“I agree,” Morah patted and then squeezed his hand sympathetically, “but it is hard to combat what people see. The Federation News Service reports about Romulan suppression on their subject worlds just don’t compare.”
Meldin shook his head, his heart growing heavy with consternation. If only he could grab his collective body politic and shake some sense into it. “So you see,” Morah said, a bit morosely, “That I couldn’t back the commissioner’s proposal. The returnees don’t have the political capital, and we haven’t rebuilt the trust among the populace.”
“So, you would rather remain silent while our planet becomes a subject world of the Romulan Star Empire?” Meldin was mortified.
Morah sat back, as if he had struck her. “No, no. And that is not what the Romulans, or their Benzite supporters say will occur. This referendum will merely declare Benzite independent of the Federation.”
“Come now, you know that the Romulans have already offered protectorate status,” Meldin retorted, “and that these foolish leaders will readily accept it.”
Morah nodded, “A protectorate is not a subject world.”
“Semantics,” Meldin snorted; his anger starting to build. “If you truly believe what you are saying, why did you come to me at all?”
“I just wanted you to know that the Federation still has friends on Benzar,” Morah said.
“Silent friends,” Meldin scoffed.
“But friends nonetheless,” Morah rejoined. She stood up slowly, her eyes never leaving Meldin’s. “Good night Mr. Meldin, and fare well.”
He stood up as well, out of respect. “Do you need me to accompany you back to your domicile?” He asked, not sure if the offer was merely gentlemanly. Though he thought the woman’s political stance was a gross miscalculation, he couldn’t be too harsh in his judgment.
The war had changed life for everyone, and made many see a side of themselves they never could have conceived possible. Beyond that, Meldin pondered if his offer also was spawned from his deep loneliness, that yawning emptiness inside him since Amanisha’s passing.
The woman paused, considering his offer. She smiled, “Perhaps…some other time.”
Re: Dark Territory: Shadow Puppets (Revised)
The Benzite populace is naive if it thinks that the Romulans aren't trying to exploit this situation merely for a political or possibly even long-term military agenda. And yet being liberated is a powerful incentive and it looks there is little the Federation can do, in legal terms, to stop this push for independence and Romulan takeover. In legal terms ...
Re: Dark Territory: Shadow Puppets (Revised)
Starfleet shuttle Steadfast
Edge of Benzar System
Section 31 operative Holly Madsen didn’t even try to hide her annoyance. She impatiently ran a hand through her long auburn hair as she watched the space in front of her forward port undulate.
So little had gone right since this mission had begun so why shouldn’t the Romulans be early, she surmised. The air hitched in her throat as the aged D7 Stormbird battle cruiser appeared before her. Its main disruptor port, at the lower half of its circular command pod, reminded her of a gaping mouth. Her eyes traced along the ship’s long, graceful neck to its spread-wing primary hull. Madsen hadn’t seen one of those outside of her high school history holovids. Based off 23rd century Klingon designs, the Stormbird had once been the backbone of both the Romulan and Klingon fleets.
Despite their impressive appearance up close, the Section 31 agent had to wonder how badly the Romulan military had been wrecked by the war if they were pulling D7s out of mothballs. It was something she filed away to report to her superiors later.
She quickly checked the codes the Stormbird sent again to insure they were correct. Satisfied, she hailed the ship. An attractive Romulan appeared on the small viewscreen set atop the main console.
He had glossy black hair, hawkish features and a smoothly sloping brow. After she introduced herself, he replied curtly, “I am Centurion Gakket, master of the Aidoann.”
Madsen chuckled, despite herself. Gakket frowned, his eyes narrowing in suspicion. “Have I said something to amuse you?”
“Yes,” Holly saw no need to prevaricate. “‘Master of the moon’, eh?” She teased, “Quite a lofty title indeed.” It took Gakket a few seconds to get her meaning and then the man eased considerably.
“You know our tongue?” He asked, a bit surprised.
“Yes,” Madsen nodded, “I am fluent in Rihan, both high and low.”
Gakket nodded respectfully, “I am impressed,” he said. Holly brightened, hoping that her cheeks weren’t warming enough for him to notice. She could tell that praise was rare commodity from someone like the centurion. “A challenge perhaps?” He offered.
“What do you propose?” She asked.
“That we conduct our conversation thenceforth without aid of the universal translator,” he ventured.
“You’re on,” she said. Holly had been bored out of her mind, waiting for the Astral Eddy, so she was up for a little distraction. Perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad having someone else to sit out the wait with. Though it would complicate matters just a tad to confiscate the nanomite without being detected, but Holly was confident of her skills.
“We have scanned your vessel,” Gakket said, with no hint of apology, “and we have not detected the three stasis pods we had been informed would be aboard.” The man was quite fluid with his tongue, switching from low to high Rihan and then again. He was trying to trip her up.
“That’s because you got here a little early, plus the Corvallens are running a little late,” Madsen answered.
“Do you have an expected arrival time?” He asked, his face flushing green with annoyance.
Holly gave him her best estimate, based off her last conversation with Ronzek. “You are welcome to wait it out with me,” she offered. “It should not be more than a day.”
Gakket replied with a closed mouth, half-smile. “A pity really,” he said quietly, more to himself than her it seemed.
“What are you talking about?” Madsen asked.
“You are very good with our language,” he said, “I wish that we could chat more.”
“Well we have at least twenty four more hours,” she offered, wondering if this was the way that Romulan males flirted.
“No,” he shook his head, a sad gleam in his eye. “You don’t.” His image disappeared from the screen seconds before her scanners went insane with warnings.
Aidoann powered shields and weapons, the great maw glowing red with a building fire. Madsen tried to hail them, to demand a reason for their treachery, to command, and then beg them to stop. But for Gakket the conversation was over.
And Madsen knew it would soon be over for her as well. Strangely calmed, relieved even that her life of deceit was over, Holly performed her final act. As the disruptor fired dispersed, she released a communications buoy, with her last few missives-including this fateful conversation, to the astral winds of fate.
Hopefully the section would retrieve it and avenge her. Though she went to her death, doubting that very much.
Hall of State
Praetor Hiren settled into his seat, smoothing his purple robes of state as he did so. Despite his long years of public service, in the Imperial Fleet and later the Senate, he had never liked surprises or being roused from slumber.
He smiled with gallows humor at the thought that maybe he should have trod another path to glory.
The leader of the Star Empire watched as the other eight members of the Continuing Committee reached their seats at the crescent shaped table. Despite the hour, each was immaculately dressed and groomed, and all were sharp eyed. He nodded curtly to a few, while gracing others with a closed lipped smile.
Once they had all sat, Hiren cleared his throat, before addressing his aide. “Major,” he said to the dutiful young woman standing at the entrance to the room, among the security detail. Her posture became rigid, her gaze brightened with anticipation. “Please activate the holoprojector.”
Though he could’ve done it himself, easily from the companel at his portion of the table, what was the point of being Praetor if you didn’t have people attend to your every whim?
He was still getting used to the praetorship and the exercising of such immense power, the weight of such terrible responsibility, but Hiren had to admit that the job did have its perks. The lights dimmed as the hologram flickered to life, bathing the conference table in a pale blue tint.
Though he had reviewed the holographic message several times before calling the meeting, Hiren watched it again with rapt attention. A floor-to-ceiling image of Senator Sterqil emanated from emitters.
“And I thought he couldn’t get any bigger,” joked Senator Vagus. The jocularity drew a reproachful glare from Proconsul Retant.
After the portly Senator had recounted his conversation with the Federation High Commissioner, Hiren ordered his assistant to deactivate the projector. The lights brightened slightly, but were still dim enough to fill the room with wells of shadows. Hiren thought the lighting added a solemnity to the very grave matters that the committee had to discuss.
The praetor paused, allowing each of the other councilors to absorb the contents of Sterqil’s message.
Admiral Lendak, head of the Imperial Navy, as was his wont, spoke first. “So it appears that the Federation will use force to keep Benzar within their empire.”
“That is what Senator Sterqil believes,” Senator Vagus said, and as was typical with representative from the Jarathik Segment, the wizened thrai rarely revealed what he believed. It was undoubtedly the secret to his long career.
“Yes, that is what Senator Sterqil said,” General Jelal, commandant of the Romulan Guard, joined the conversation, “But there is no indication that the Federation or Starfleet has engaged in any actions that support that belief.” The ebon, prematurely white haired, woman was new to her post as head of all Romulan military forces. And also similar to Hiren, Jelal had to stave off rivals, chief among them was Lendak.
“General Jelal is correct,” Senator Marzan, representing the Senate’s liberals, chimed in. The committee’s youngest member, Hiren’s desire to have the idealistic public servant on the council had met with some resistance. Despite his predecessor Neral’s many mistakes, Hiren wanted to continue and expand Neral’s attempts to bring diverse views into the halls of government.
Granted some of his openness was crafty politics, a lure designed to draw out traitors, but Neral was a supporter of loyal dissent and Hiren wanted to follow in the man’s footsteps, at least in that regard. “I believe that Senator Sterqil is overreacting to the words of a disgruntled civil servant, a person who had just experienced a setback since the Benzites had rejected her proposal to monitor their plebiscite,” the fair skinned, russet haired man declared. “We can hardly conclude that she speaks for the entire Federation in this instance.”
“But didn’t the entire Federation send her to speak on their behalf to Benzar in the first place?” Senator Gelvana sneered, prompting a grunt of vindication from Lendak. The fine boned, almond-eyed Gelvana was quite the conversation starter in the Senate chamber and among the Ki Baratan social circle. Hiren’s wife always latched onto him at whatever social gathering she knew that Gelvana would also be attending. The woman’s delicate beauty masked a fierce nationalism.
Gelvana was one of the most fervent warhawks in the Senate. “The human was sending us a message. She was threatening us. We must respond to the threat with one of our own.”
“And what do you propose exactly?” Senator Tal’Aura asked, not holding back on the skepticism. “That we order a fleet of ships into the Benzar system?”
The attractive, austere Tal’Aura hid whatever bitterness she felt over losing the praetor post to Hiren. Hiren in turn had made sure to block the woman from becoming his proconsul.
Though he valued diversity of thought, Tal’Aura’s documented support for many of the subject races giving the Empire, and Hiren, so many headaches of late, made her too unstable a variable in his inner circle.
At least Tal’Aura wasn’t as bad as Marzan, who even flirted with the reunification movement started by the Federation veruul Spock, but still her presence, and the constant worries about her loyalty, would have been too destabilizing.
“Don’t you think that could be just the provocation that the Federation wants, to declare the Benzite referendum illegitimate if it the Benzites chose to secede?” Tal’Aura asked.
Gelvana snorted, muttering under her breath. “What was that?” Tal’Aura prompted.
“I think that Senator Tal’Aura is on to something,” Marzan, seemingly oblivious to the daggers being thrown between the two women, stepped into their neutral zone, “Yes if we overreact now, who is to say that the Benzites won’t feel pressured to vote for secession, under the gun?”
“Of course you want the secession to succeed so that you can fob the Remans off on them,” Gelvana retorted. The Romulans had toyed with the idea of removing their forces from Benzar in exchange for the Federation taking their Reman population. It had been an idea to kill two mogai with one stone: ending a costly occupation while also dispensing of a riled populace. The Remans’ advocating for greater rights within the empire had sparked similar fires.
Hiren wished to stop the fires from becoming a conflagration that could consume the empire. However he also wished to keep add Benzar to the empire’s sphere of influence while corralling the dissident factions growing across the empire. He would not be the praetor that showed weakness to his rivals, within or without the empire. So the Reman repatriation idea, floated by Senator Tal’Aura, had been shelved.
“That was my recommendation,” Senator Tal’Aura spoke up, “Not Senator Marzan’s. I would not presume to speak for him.”
“Senator Tal’Aura is correct,” Marzan added. “I wish for greater rights for the Remans here, on Remus, Romulus, and throughout the Empire.”
“If wishes were set’leths, everyone would have one,” cracked Admiral Lendak. “The Remans, like all of the other disruptive subjects, have to be shown a strong hand.”
“Which we are incapable of doing at this moment,” General Jelal soberly replied, “And if you were not so infected with war fever you would see how badly another war, while we are in the midst of recovering from the last one would devastate the empire.”
“We’ve weathered greater storms,” Lendak huffed, puffing out his chest. Hiren was surprised that the haughty man didn’t thud his fist against it, “The Sundering, the war with Earth, the strife with the Klingons, and lastly the Dominion.”
“I didn’t need a laundry list of past campaigns,” Jelal sniffed. “I’m more concerned with the future, and as it stands,” she paused, the next words difficult for her, “We need the Remans to shore up our forces.”
“Impossible,” Gelvana gasped, mortified, “That we would need those…those…nhaidhs!”
“The Remans acquitted themselves with honor during the war with the Dominion,” Jelal said as rejoinder. “They have earned a place among us.”
“And Senator Gelvana well knows that the same blood runs through Reman and Romulan veins,” Marzan said, “It is not a popular view, but it is a scientific fact.”
Though Gelvana and Lendak fumed, Vagus beetled his thick gray eyebrows in concern, and the others had varying degrees of perturbation on their faces, Hiren was amazed that such an assertion had been uttered in the Hall of State, much less in the presence of a Praetor.
For Marzan to do so, and so forthrightly, was a sign of how much Romulus had changed from even a decade ago.
It didn’t matter that the young man was right, that the Remans were unfortunate victims of Remus’s environment, which had mutated its Romulan settlers to nearly an unrecognizable degree, but a system of domination, of slavery, demanded that the Romulan people see the Remans as completely alien.
Because if Romulans recognized the Remans as their brethren, then they would have to accept the idea that fellow Romulans could be enslaved, and this went against their well cultivated sense of superiority and would put to a lie the oft promised manifest destiny that awaited them among the stars.
Hiren shook his head, not ready to contemplate such a horrible day of realization. “We are getting off track,” he admonished the group. “Keep your thoughts on what the Federation might do about the Benzar referendum.”
“It is quite simple,” Lendak declared, “Our sovereignty is being challenged.”
“The last I checked, Benzar is not a part of the Star Empire,” Jelal said, obviously relishing the opportunity to check her rival. “Further, they have not asked for us to send additional ships into their system.”
“As if we need their permission,” Gelvana scoffed.
“Benzar is still a member of the Federation,” Tal’Aura pointed out.
“A mere technicality,” Gelvana shot back.
“But one that is codified by law,” Marzan said. “I don’t see any way that us sending more ships into Benzar could not be seen as an encroachment on Federation sovereignty.”
“And an act of war,” Jelal added.
“I agree,” Proconsul Retant said, after a long pause. Hiren sat back, and took the measure of each member of the committee. Eventually his eyes fell on the sole member who hadn’t said anything.
“Chairman Koval,” Hiren prompted, “Care to grace us with your thoughts?” The tall, dour head of the Tal Shiar leaned forward, one eye drooping noticeably. Though Koval tried to be circumspect, Hiren knew about the man’s struggle with Tuvan Syndrome. It was only a matter of time Hiren surmised before the terminal neurological disease won. And since Hiren didn’t trust nor particularly like Koval, he thought about giving the disease an assist.
“The eyes and ears we have on Benzar and Earth has not informed us that Starfleet is preparing to retain the planet by force,” Koval intoned; his countenance as dry as his voice. “I would remind everyone present that the Federation is in the middle of a close presidential campaign. The beleaguered incumbent President Santiago is constrained from taking any major action on the Benzar question at this time. From what we know of him, he is extremely cautious and would consider a preemptive action, such as the one Admiral Lendak and Senator Gelvana suggest, too risky politically.”
“But what of the High Commissioner’s threat?” Gelvana asked, not wanting to let it go.
Koval slowly nodded his head, as if he was considering her words. Hiren wasn’t sure if he was or if was all an act. So much with the man was orchestrated, but so it was with the praetor and everyone else on the committee. “It was likely the ranting of an angry woman. Our files on Commissioner McCall are replete with similar off-the-cuff statements. However we could make her words prophetic if we send a fleet into the system. It would be the impetus for the Federation President to do likewise.”
“He wouldn’t dare,” Admiral Lendak said, with typical overconfidence.
“Even if Santiago is a cautious man, he would have no choice, the Federation populace would demand he take drastic steps, and he would to secure his reelection,” Koval promised, “I don’t think it would be prudent to tip his hand.”
Hiren’s hands formed into a steeple as he mulled over all of the points made during the conversation. The assemblage waited, with varying degrees of patience, yet all remained silent. A course determined, the praetor sat up in his chair. His voice strong, Hiren declared, “We will not send a fleet into the Benzar system, but we will increase our patrols along the border of the Benzar system and along the Neutral Zone. Further, I want our warships presently in the Benzar system to be on the lookout for any Starfleet perfidy.”
“A prudent course,” Proconsul Retant, nodding her head with approval, “Let the Federation make the first move.”
“The fatal move,” Admiral Lendak added. Clearly he wasn’t pleased by Hiren’s answer, but the man was loyal. He was a soldier who knew how to follow orders. Hiren, a veteran himself, wished that everyone held such values.
“Lastly,” he said, the thought occurring to him. “While my counterpart might be skittish to send a large force into the Benzar system, that doesn’t mean he won’t act to subvert the will of its people. Chairman Koval, I want you to increase the scope of the Tal Shiar’s activities within the Benzar system. If Starfleet Intelligence makes a move, I want it countered,” He paused for dramatic effect, his dark eyes brimming with fire, “and stopped, by lethal means if necessary.”
“And if not necessary per se, I’m sure you can find a reason to make it so,” Gelvana’s grin was almost lascivious. For once, no one disagreed. Hiren adjourned the meeting, pleased that the diverse voices had been brought together to support his one course of action.
Being praetor might be much easier than he had suspected, Hiren thought with some relief.
Re: Dark Territory: Shadow Puppets (Revised)
As for the Benzites I think many feel a deep sense of gratitude for what the Romulans did to liberate their world, which of course doesn't stop the Romulans from using that to their advantage.
Re: Dark Territory: Shadow Puppets (Revised)
This was an intriguing look into the power structure of the Romulan government, and the machinations they're willing to employ in order to exploit this potential advantage.
Unfortunately for them, Starfleet Intelligence and Section 31 are willing to play just as dirty.
Re: Dark Territory: Shadow Puppets (Revised)
Imperial Romulan Cruiser Aidoann
“Centurion,” the gravelly-voiced Reman at the operations console addressed him. Gakket, still relishing the debris the battle cruiser’s weapons had made of the Starfleet shuttle.
“What is it Oallea?” He snapped, not turning around in his seat to look at the creature. He refused to call the man by his rank. Despite serving with the Remans during the war, Gakket believed that they were a subspecies and despised having them serve on his bridge.
Of course, he hated serving on this rust bucket himself, but Gakket was grateful at least that his transgressions hadn’t resulted in a complete demotion, expulsion from the Navy, or execution.
In a way though, he felt being ordered to serve with the pallid, animalistic Remans was even worse. He didn’t know if he would ever be able to wash their stench away once he had served his penance.
The servile Remans at least were ready targets for his frustrations. “Speak bug!” He prompted, using the true meaning of the slave’s name.
“The shuttle ejected a communications buoy before its destruction,” Oallea reported, “Our sensors were momentarily impaired due to the radiation from the shuttle’s destruction.”
“On screen,” Gakket ordered. The main viewer shifted from flotsam to the spherical beacon streaking through space, at full impulse.
“The buoy is transmitting a coded message,” Oallea said, “I have yet to decipher the code.”
“Of course you haven’t,” Gakket sniffed, “It is doubtlessly beyond your purview,” he said with a sigh. “It doesn’t matter.”
“Sir,” Oallea ventured after a long pause, “Shall I block the transmission?”
“No,” the centurion said, drawing curious looks from many of the Remans and few Romulans on the bridge.
“But sir,” a young lieutenant at the helm, her verdant blush making her literally as green as her age and experience, piped up, “That beacon is likely alerting Starfleet to what just happened to the shuttle.”
“I am aware of that Lt. Didia,” he said, with more tact this time, “And that is exactly what I want it to do.”
Didia tilted her head at him, her expression quizzical. Gakket merely smiled.
Captain’s Private Quarters
Dominion War Memorial
Captain Dylan North didn’t feel much like eating. He scraped at his veal cutlet, spearing an asparagus before setting it back on the plate.
“I understand how difficult this must be for you Captain,” his dinner guest replied, her tone sympathetic. “Being back here; dining with me, it must bring back a lot of painful memories.”
North thought it would be disrespectful to deny it, so he merely kept his mouth shut and tugged his head down sharply in acknowledgement. Barya absently touched the full rust-red pledge stone hanging from her neck. The Benzite woman was dressed in the somber dark blue robes of the Birthing Technicians association. Her skin covering was a gentle greenish-blue.
“I have since gotten remarried, but I will never forget Larpek,” she said, “However I had to move on, and so must you.”
“So must we all,” he smiled weakly, his stomach grumbling not from hunger, but unease. Dylan had never gotten to settle things with his captain. The man had died as they tore out of Benzar, with the hounds of hell on their heels.
Larpek had succeeded in saving many Benzite luminaries, including his wife Barya, but had lost his own life in the process. In the span of a nanosecond North had gone from wanting to cashier the man out of the service to putting him on a pedestal.
His sacrifice, along with those of so many others, had inspired North to take command of Rushmore once it was offered, and it had made him stay on as CO after the war ended, much to the consternation of his wife Audrey.
At times Dylan felt a strange symmetry with his fallen commander. While Larpek had been willing to sacrifice his career to save his marriage, North had put his marriage on the rocks for his career. Or at least that’s what Audrey charged.
The dark thought brought out a scraping bit of laughter. Barya’s look was inquisitive. She stopped picking at her own meal, a half-eaten tuber root salad. “Captain, I don’t think I could ever express, in words, art, or song, what my gratitude.”
“And you don’t have to,” he said, and he meant that. His gaze shifted away from the woman, as he gathered his thoughts. His eyes flickered to his large viewport. Outside the ship floated the tangled, metallic remains of ships from both sides of the war, some still with corpses inside that hadn’t been recovered. It would take months, maybe years to account for all the dead and to give them a proper burial.
Finding his courage, he looked at her again. “I didn’t want to go to Benzar, I wanted to stay and fight,” he admitted. “If Captain Larpek had listened to me that probably would’ve resulted in this ship and crew resting among the hulks outside, and you being executed. I’m not hero.”
She reached out and tentatively patted his hand. She smiled, “You seek forgiveness where you don’t have to. You did rescue me, and many others. You might have disagreed with my husband, but you stuck by him, and did your duty. After his passing, you continued to do so, as you do now. You have nothing to be ashamed, or sorry for Captain North, not in my eyes.”
The words hit him like a sonic hammer. His head jerked slightly and he blinked rapidly, absorbing what Barya had just said. He felt a closed fist inside his chest open for the first time in years. He reached out and grasped her hand, his eyes moistening. “Thank you Technician Barya,” he said, “You don’t know what that means to me.”
“It is my hope that it gives you some peace,” the woman’s smile was weary, and a bit all knowing, “But I fear that it has not given you enough.”
He sighed, as other murky thoughts began to surface, “You are right on that account.”
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