First, I am very very VERY sorry, but this story contains a huge spoiler for Among the Dragons
story. It cannot be avoided though
So, here we go:
Argaya Sector near the Cardassian Union border
6th of September, 2396, Old Earth Calendar
Th'Arshar wasn't looking forward to his next task. He sat in the ready room, waiting for the Counselor and pretended to be busy with paperwork. He had prepared several speeches, but was sure none of them would be really used, as Lieutenant Jeto's reaction was hard to predict. She was a brilliant and ingenious engineer, but her internal conflict, which unfortunately was an integral part of her personality, effectively hindered her career. People's reactions to her appearance only strengthened her inner self-loathing and made her contact with other officers rough. Th'Arshar had noticed and understood the value of her skills and made sure she had a chance to prove her worth as an engineer and also to spend most of her time among people who knew her and wouldn't ask any uncomfortable questions. A science ship on a long term mission seemed the perfect choice and it indeed was... until now. Now she would have to face not only people, who would ask questions, but people who would ask a new set of questions and assume a new set of theories.
“Enter,” he said when he heard a chime.
The door opened and Counselor Ha'varra entered. He stood in front of his Captain with a deep frown on his face, towering over the sitting man.
“She is not going to take it easily,” he said.
“I take it you read my memo and understand the situation.”
“Captain, I am her therapist. With all due respect, I think I understand the situation better than even you.”
“You are right, of course,” the Andorian rose and sighed. “Do you think she is going to be able to work with them?”
“I do not know. I will observe her reaction and determine if she can do it or not. But if not, you would have to find a replacement.”
“I will. The last thing I want is to start some kind of conflict. This is a very delicate matter.”
“Agreed. Shall we go?”
“I wish I could say 'no'.”
The Efrosian Counselor only smiled and th'Arshar was sure Ha'varra shared his wish.
They left the ready room and headed for the engineering.
Lieutenant Jeto was in her office and the last thing she expected was a visit from her Captain and her Counselor.
“Is there something wrong, sir?” she asked, eyeing them with a mix of surprise and suspicion.
“Did you study the readings Lieutenant Av'Roo had sent you?”
“Indeed I did. And I am almost sure that this vessel is of the Cardassian origin, although it's nothing we have in our database. Could be something new, though. It's not that the Cardassians shared their new technology ideas with us for last twenty years.”
“We have received our orders regarding this vessel,” the Captain said.
“To study it?” she asked, wondering why Ha'varra was here. Since when did they need a Counselor's presence when conveying orders?
“Yes. However we're not going to study it alone.”
“I hope they send us a well equipped science ship to help,” she smiled and picked up a padd from her desk.
“'They' will not send us anyone,” th'Arshar said slowly.
“Then who will...” she started her question, but sudden understanding struck her like a lightning. “No,” she slowly shook her head.
“Lieutenant, as an engineer you'd have to work closely with them. If you are not up to it, I'll find a replacement,” the Andorian explained. “But I think you're the best person for this job. You are a skilled engineer and together with Lieutenant Av'Roo you create an unbeatable team. I need you for this, but only if you can manage. I understand that the situation is difficult--”
“I can do it,” she interrupted him.
“Are you sure?” it was the first time Ha'varra spoke.
“I am,” her voice appeared to be full of resolve.
“All right, that's good enough for me,” th'Arshar said and turned on his heel to leave her office.
She nodded her farewell to the Counselor, her earring rustling quietly, and observed both men leaving the engineering.
She put the padd she had taken from her desk back to where she took it from, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She had told them she could manage, but she wasn't so sure. She had never had to face a Cardassian in her life and she never wanted to. Not even one. But she wouldn't be herself if she let her troubled soul to interfere with her duty, which she treated very seriously.
“Oh, Prophets, please help me go through this,” she whispered, putting her finger on top of her ear and sliding it down along the earring's chain. The barely audible sound, which was created by her move, comforted her a little, but she knew it would be a long time before the anguish she was experiencing now would pass.
Cardassian Union Warship Damar
In orbit of Darko VI
22nd day of the month of Lukyut, 532, Cardassian Union Calendar
“Do you have a coup there that you are so unreachable?” Gul Brenok asked Legate Jarol, irritation in his voice quite clear. Would he be anyone else, Jarol's reaction to his tone of voice would be very different from the actual answer she gave him.
“This is NOT funny,” she barked from the monitor.
“Nor is being bombarded by messages from Prefect can't-pronounce-his-name every two or three hours. You'd promised me that I'd have your reply yesterday and this is not yesterday. This is yesterday's tomorrow.”
“We've been busy here.”
He only growled.
“I have talked to one of other colony's Prefect and he agreed to lend some of his forces, but only volunteers, so there could be one man, or one thousand and one round pretty zero.”
“Splendid,” that was not an answer Brenok wanted to hear.
“And I have new orders for you.”
“I haven't finish this matter yet.”
“Gul Latak can take care of it. The other matter is urgent.”
“What is it?”
“The Federation has detected some kind of vessel and they claim it's Cardassian. They say it's not in their database and according to the description and data they had given me – neither is in ours. You are to go there to investigate.”
“Chasing some old wreckage is more important that this?” he was surprised.
“This is not just another wreckage. What's more, the Federation asked to be present in the investigation and we have agreed.”
“You... agreed?” he wasn't just surprised, this was more than surprise. This was unbelievable.
“You heard me right. I don't think there is a better choice for this mission than our flagship with its,” she smiled sweetly, “wonderful crew.”
“Or any other Gul who would deal with it better than you.”
“I'm sending you all the details we've received from the Federation right now,” she manipulated her console and a moment later a light blinked on his, acknowledging successful download. She looked at him and her face softened. “Be careful, Arenn, they claim it could be something dangerous.”
“I'll be careful,” he smiled.
She disconnected and he accessed the file she'd sent him to check what it was all about.
Brenok entered the wardroom and went to his place at the head of the long tactical table.
The wardroom was a big chamber with seats for all his senior staff and several spare chairs for any specialists he would need to ask for their advices in regard to forthcoming missions. Behind his seat there was a big screen, currently turned off; there were also tactical screens on the longer walls and in the other end of the oval room was a small holoprojector, which could present necessary data three-dimensionally.
This time, however, everything was turned off, including the tactical display in the centre of the table.
The Gul didn't have to ask if all arrived punctually and were present; he wouldn't even dare to ask his fellow Cardassians such a rude question. He looked around their faces and slowly sat.
“We have received new orders from the Central Command,” he started. “They are quite unusual, I admit, but we have to do our best to follow them strictly.” He paused for a moment. “The Federation, namely USS Karamazov
, have detected a mysterious vessel of Cardassian origin, drifting in Cardassian space.”
Gil Ma'Kan, the warship's tactical officer, raised her hand. Brenok nodded his permission, so she asked. “What was the Federation doing scanning our space?”
The Gul smiled slightly. “Their scans were only passive and the ship didn't enter our space. The object in question is near the border. Their scans reached a little bit too far, but no real harm was done.” She didn't like the answer, but accepted it nevertheless. Brenok continued. “The Karamazov
tried to scan the vessel, but they could not gather any really useful information.” He pressed a button on a console, which was built into the tactical table's edge on his side, and the holoprojector activated and just above the table appeared a projection of a strange, but clearly Cardassian spaceship. “This is what their visual logs recorded. The vessel is surrounded by a substance of unknown origin or specification. No life signs were detected.” He paused again to take a good look at his officers' faces and assess their reactions.
To his immediate right sat Glinn Zamarran. He was clearly fascinated by the object floating above the table. He inclined his head and studied details, squinting his eyes and tapping the end of his nose with his finger.
To Zamarran's right sat Glinn Karama. His was craning his head to have a better look at each part of the rotating shape in front of him. His face showed pure curiosity. Brenok smiled inwardly; for Karama co-operation with the Federation wouldn't be anything special for he had his very own Cardassian-Federation war at home every day. The communication officer glanced at Brenok. “This script there,” he pointed to the lower hull of the projection, “is it accurate?”
“I think so. As far as their sensors could tell.”
“Hmmm...” Karama bit his lower lip. His skills in decrypting codes were astonishing and each new mystery was a challenge for him. The markings on the hull drew his attention.
Next to Karama sat Gil Kapoor. Normally the seat would be occupied by the chief engineer, but in this special case Glinn Ya'val sat on the opposite site. Kapoor was not only a skilled engineer and Ya'val's aide, she was also a human, which, Brenok was hoping, would smooth their contact and co-operation with the Federation crew. She moved closer to her husband. “Can you read it?” she asked him in fluent Cardassian with only a slight touch of a foreign pronunciation.
He shook his head. “This does
look like the Cardassian script, but I don't know these letters.”
Ya'val's face was hard to read. His eyes didn't leave the object since it appeared above the table, but it was difficult to tell what he was thinking.
Gil Sabal's face reflected Glinn Karama's. He studied the vessel with curiosity, no doubt wondering if he would be able to pilot it. Gil Sabal would attempt to pilot a cabbage if he found one big enough for the purpose.
Only Medic Taret didn't seem impressed by the cryptic vessel. “Did the Federation ship assess the danger?”
“They didn't dare to approach it not only because it was in our territory,” Brenok replied and Ma'Kan's superior smile didn't escape his attention. “Questions?” the Gul asked after a moment.
“Plenty,” Zamarran said, his eyes returning to his Gul's face, “but I suppose we have to study it first to get our answers.”
“I expect you to behave properly in presence of the Federation officers,” Brenok said, raising from his chair.
“I'll try my best, sir,” Kapoor spoke and everyone, except Zamarran, giggled. The Gul's aide didn't laugh, but his eyes showed amusement. Kapoor broke social hierarchy more than often, but she always did it in such an adorable way no one minded any more, even the strongest traditionalist aboard – Glinn Zamarran.
The Glinn stayed behind and Brenok knew it was a signal he wanted to talk to his commanding officer.
“Something bothering you?”
“Gul, do we have anything on this vessel?”
“I'm afraid we don't. Even the Central Command didn't find any trace of information.”
“It is Cardassian technology.”
“Yet we know nothing about it.”
They both were thinking the same thing, but none of them voiced their suspicions.