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Old January 22 2010, 12:51 PM   #11
Gibraltar
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Embers of the Fire - Chapter 3

Chapter 3

After the choking dust-filled air of Lakesh, the recycled atmosphere of the Ferengi Marauder Greel was a pleasant respite. Clad in nondescript civilian clothing, Legate Mintof Urlak sipped at the tall glass of kanar his host had provided. Urlak held the glass up to the light as he marveled at the color and consistency of the amber liquid. The tiny sensor device concealed in the legate’s signet ring, linked to the tricorder under his jacket, had determined that the liquid was in fact the 30-year old vintage DaiMon Inish had claimed it to be. More importantly, the sensors had detected no signs of any additives which could have increased his pliability in the forthcoming negotiations. That in itself was a testament to the DaiMon’s confidence in his own bargaining position.

Urlak looked across the table at the perpetually sneering DaiMon. “It’s quite good, thank you.”

The Ferengi bobbed his head obsequiously. “I’m glad you approve.”

The large lobed DaiMon dismissed the server with a flick of his wrist. When they were alone, Inish activated the holo-emitter in the center of the table. The symbol of the Ferengi Alliance flared to life in the air above them and rotated slowly as if it were some garish corporate logo. “Now that the pleasantries are concluded, Legate, in what way may I be of assistance?”

The Cardassian leaned forward to lower the now empty glass slowly to the tabletop. He began without preamble, “I need ships; both warp-capable corsairs and trans-atmospheric shuttle fighters. I am additionally interested in purchasing shielding for capital ships. I had heard you could possibly obtain regenerative shielding of Son’a design.”

The Ferengi offered a mouthful of sharpened teeth in a hideous smile. “Planning on starting a war?”

Urlak’s only response was an icy stare, his gray eyes burrowing into their darting blue Ferengi counterparts.

Inish deduced that he had stepped over some unspoken line with the Cardassian general, and so the Ferengi reached out to toggle a series of commands into his interface. A succession of images appeared and cycled one every few seconds. They depicted numerous vessels of various sizes and capacities, each represented the industrial output of a certain planet or coalition.

Inish cleared his throat then launched into a well rehearsed litany, “I’ve found that many of our clientele have reported favorably on the maneuverability and sturdiness of the Tzenkethi raider. It’s an excellent platform. The ship’s power grid is easily compatible with a wide range of Alpha Quadrant weaponry and defensive systems...”

*****

Inish regarded Urlak cautiously as the Cardassian scrolled through the various craft listings. He would pause an image occasionally to make a notation on a padd. The legate would intermittently nod or offer only a non-committal grunt in response to something Inish had said. Eventually, the Ferengi fell silent.

Moments later, Inish caught himself drumming his fingers atop the table. For want of anything else to say, he asked, “Might I inquire as to the means of payment, Legate? Knowing the exchange rate in advance will help expedite our dealings.”

His attention still on the task at hand, Urlak replied without looking up, “Three-hundred liters of bio-mimetic gel.”

Despite his attempt to suppress it, a shiver of excitement ran through Inish’s compact frame. Bio-mimetic gel was an incredibly rare and extremely valuable substance. A closely guarded secret of Federation medical science, the gel could be used for a variety of purposes, cloning, genetic research, and bio-warfare among them. It was rumored that the Federation so tightly restricted the production of the substance that less than two-thousand liters existed at any given time.

The Ferengi could barely contain his curiosity. He desperately wanted to know the source of this unlikely currency, but knew better than to ask. What little Inish hadn’t already known of Legate Urlak by reputation, he had researched prior to their meeting. The Cardassian’s name was synonymous with ruthlessness, his proclivity for creative acts of vengeance legendary, even among a race of people renown for that trait.

Formerly an operative with the notorious Obsidian Order, the empire’s intelligence and covert operations directorate, Urlak had proved sufficiently cunning to warrant advancement without standing out so much as to pose a threat to his superiors. He had deftly avoided the infamous joint Cardassian/Romulan attack on the Founders that had gutted the ranks of the Order. However, the ill-advised operation had inadvertently given Urlak his chance to ascend to a position of power.

His calculations complete, Urlak slid the padd across the table to the DaiMon. “That will suffice.”

The Ferengi took a moment to absorb the order. His eyes widened as he processed the sheer volume involved. He had miscalculated. This man didn’t want to start a war. He intended to finish one.

Inish looked up to find Legate Urlak watching him. The cold, reptilian passivity of the stare caused Inish to wonder, despite the room’s automated defenses and his own personal forcefield, whether he was actually safe in the Cardassian’s presence.

Urlak then spoke with a quiet intensity born of zealotry, “Our movement prefers to have a single supplier for these resources, as it decreases our vulnerability to discovery. Once our attacks have begun, the Federation and Klingons will begin gauging who might be capable of providing such assets in these amounts. Your name will undoubtedly be near the top of their lists. The Federation will put pressure on your new ‘more enlightened’ Ferengi government to curtail your operation. Not wanting to upset the victorious powers in the quadrant, they will comply. You’ll face censure and financial liquidation, at the very least. I personally believe they will simply move to have you killed. In either case, if you intend to do business with us, you would do well to sever your ties with the Ferengi Alliance immediately.”

The color drained from Inish’s face as he, too, calculated the most likely outcome of this series of events and drew the same conclusion. Urlak continued in the same intense, almost hypnotic tone. “Make no mistake, DaiMon, you stand to make an astonishing amount of profit in this venture. However, the risks you run will prove considerable. The choice is yours.”

Inish weighed his options. Nearly unimaginable wealth on one hand, or a quick, vicious death on the other. He was not so foolish as to believe that Urlak would allow him to live, knowing what he did, if he did not procure the man’s requested items. It wouldn’t be today, of course, but soon. In some nameless port on some backwater planet, a bomb, or a dart, or a collimated beam of energy would settle the matter.

The DaiMon shrugged inwardly. The reforms enacted by Grand Nagus Rom did not sit well with him, and the subsequent changes in Ferengi financial policies had resulted in a dramatic downward spiral of Ferengi markets.

The truth of the matter was that this was potentially the most lucrative deal he had encountered since before the beginning of the war. Inish would be hemorrhaging latinum while his peers sat back and bemoaned the collapse of the Ferengi way of life. It beats a face-saving death dive from the top of the FCA tower on Ferenginar, he thought.

His face contorted into a grinning, saw-toothed deaths head as he chortled, “I’m in.”

*****

Urlak stepped back aboard the Cardassian Hideki-class corsair,. The airlock cycled closed behind him as his ship quickly decoupled from the larger marauder. The trip back to Lakesh would take four days, and though he hated to leave his nascent rebellion for such a time, this trip had been worth the effort.

As he made his way to his cabin he fought off a vague sense of vertigo that seized him as the ship shifted into warp. The legate guessed something in engineering must be out of alignment, but surmised that it was not sufficiently troublesome to warrant immediate repair. As he undressed, he allowed himself the luxury of recalling a time when the Cardassian military was afforded the best of everything their society could offer. Now that society was in ruins, and under threat from the insidious influence of the Federation.

The democratic freedoms that the Federation had promised to bring to Cardassia were anathema to men like Urlak. A strong Cardassia had always been dependent upon firm, centralized leadership, unencumbered by the petty bickering and endemic uncertainty of public opinion.

The legate believed that although both Dukat and Damar had acted in what they thought was the best interests of the Union; they had each left the destiny of the Cardassian people in the hands of others. Urlak was determined that Cardassia’s future would be determined by Cardassians. He refused to be spoon-fed the righteous pabulum of their would-be Federation conquerors, who undoubtedly wished to see Cardassia de-fanged, a compliant little client state existing in the shadow of the mighty Federation’s hegemony.

However, unlike other survivors of the Cardassian military with dreams of insurgency, Urlak was uniquely positioned to turn such ideas into a practical reality. The legate had been a supervisor of a secret Dominion military research complex on Lakesh, responsible for the creation of special weapons systems to be used in a last ditch offensive against the Federation.

The weapons had never been fielded, as Urlak’s Cardassian forces had surprised and overwhelmed their Jem’Hadar counterparts at the outset of Damar’s rebellion against their ‘allies.’ Following the Cardassian betrayal of the Founders, it had been a squadron of Breen vessels assigned to carry out retaliatory strikes against the population centers and military facilities on Lakesh. Fortunately, the Breen had been unaware of the hidden facility’s existence, and Urlak’s cache of armaments had gone unscathed in the assault.

In recent weeks, he had set about recruiting the remnants of the Cardassian military on Lakesh. The small force Urlak now commanded was meager in numbers, but they were well-trained and fanatically dedicated to driving the alien occupiers from their territory. With success would come greater support, both in men and matériel. Their plans had already been set into motion, and the first strike against their oppressors would take place before Urlak had even reached home.

*****
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