Argaya Sector near the Cardassian Union border
8th of September, 2396, Old Earth Calendar
Brenok felt the transporter effect disappearing, leaving only a slight tingling in his right neck ridge. The sensation was nothing new for him and he didn't give it much thought usually, but this was far from 'usually'. There, in front of him, stood a group of aliens, with whom he and his crew were supposed to co-operate. He had no idea how far that co-operation would have to go and how close they would have to work together, but he was worried. He had nothing against aliens, but with time he grew distrustful of them. The Klingons, the Jem'Hadar and others brought a lot of pain to his life and in spite of knowing these people here didn't have hostile intentions, he wasn't sure he was able to fully trust them. He grew beyond the naďve boy he used to be when he had experienced his first contact with non-Cardassians.
“Welcome to USS Karamazov
,” a lanky Andorian stepped forward and bowed slightly, his antennae bent backward. Brenok wished he knew what it meant. “I am Captain th'Arshar. This is my first officer, Commander Ronus,” he pointed to a Trill man just behind him. “And Lieutenant Av'Roo, our scientist.”
The last person caught Brenok's attention. It was a... bird. A big, tall, yellow bird, wearing an obviously specially designed for him? her? Starfleet uniform. The bird was much taller than the other men, its wings reached even above its head, but it had hands, now hanging loosely along its body.
“I am Gul Brenok,” the Cardassian's attention shifted back to the Starfleet Captain. “These are my aides, Glinn Zamarran and Glinn Karama, and also my chief engineer, Glinn Ya'val.”
“Please, follow me,” the Captain said after they finished mutual polite nodding. “We will talk in our briefing room.”
Brenok nodded his agreement and stepped off the transported pad, followed by his officers. The way to the ready room was shorter than he expected. He knew the Federation ship was small, he could probably destroy it with a few torpedoes only, but was it that small? He looked at the Captain and had an impression the Andorian was nervous. Was he so afraid of the Cardassians? Or was it something else? The blue antennae were directed forward now, unmoving. The big yellow bird, Av'Roo, stood behind its (Brenok wished he knew if it was a male or female bird) Captain, staring forward at the wall of the lift. Karama didn't hide his curiosity about this officer, he clearly studied every detail of its physique. The Trill had a polite smile plastered to his face. Did he have a worm inside? Was he smarter than all the present in the lift combined?
They arrived to the briefing room to be greeted by another set of Starfleeters. There was one person, who immediately caught all Cardassians' attention, but none made any particular comment about it. She, however, ignored all of them; she didn't even look in their direction. Brenok and Zamarran exchanged a little surprised gazes, but it was not the time to dwell on it.
“Please, meet the rest of my staff,” th'Arshar started to introduce the officers. “This is Lt. Fong, our security chief,” he pointed to a black haired, stocky human man. The man nodded once by the way of greeting. “And Commander Farr, our operations officer.” Farr was a Caitian, but Brenok couldn't tell if it was male or female... and he was getting tired of now knowing if he was going to work with males or females. “And finally Lieutenant Jeto, our chief engineer. She is going to work closely with you, together with Lieutenant Av'Roo.” Only now Brenok realised that Jeto had barely noticeable horizontal ridges on her nose, not unlike Bajorans. She finally turned her head toward the Cardassians, revealing a Bajoran earring, dangling off her ear. Her face expression was cold, if not hostile, but she managed to stiffly nod to the guests.
“Lieutenant,” Brenok smiled to her. It didn't escape him that her eyes hanged on his scars for a moment before returning to the point on the wall she had been staring at when they entered the room.
“Please, be seated,” the Andorian invited everyone to sit down.
The Federation had assigned seats beforehand, so there was no doubt who should sit where. Brenok and Zamarran were to the left from the Captain, with the First Officer and the CEO opposite them. Karama sat next to Av'Roo, who dwarfed him significantly, and Ya'val was next to Lieutenant Fong.
“Excuse me,” Brenok heard Karama's whisper, “but are you an Aurelian?”
“No,” the bird replied. “I am a Skorr.”
“Oh, sorry,” the Cardassian was puzzled.
“No need to apologise,” Av'Roo answered without any offence in its voice.
“Can we start?” th'Arshar looked at them smiling.
Karama shot a worried look at Brenok, but the Gul didn't see to mind the little cultural exchange his officer engaged himself into. Glinn Zamarran though – Karama was sure he was going to have a talk with the Gul's aide after returning to the ship.
“Here's our proposition,” the Andorian started. “While waiting for your arrival, we had tried to scan the mysterious vessel any possible way and that gave us nothing. It's almost sure we would have to board that ship to gather any useful information. We have three well-equipped laboratories, so I think it would be the best to conduct all study aboard the Karamazov
. Your officers are welcome, of course. We want it to be a full co-operation, including sharing all information and resources. We don't want it to become a race of scientists, competing with each other. Pooling our knowledge would give us the best results possible. What do you think?” he looked at Brenok.
“I think we should wait with any decision until we actually know what we're dealing with. Our warship's science equipment might be a better choice to study Cardassian technology. Whatever it is out there, it's far more plausible our technology is more compatible with it than yours. We plan to board that ship tomorrow morning--”
“I have already selected Lieutenant Fong and his team to do that,” the Federation Captain interjected.
“No,” Brenok said firmly.
“Excuse me?” the antennae shifted backward and then returned back to their previous position.
“This is an unknown Cardassian vessel. We cannot be sure if lack of any life signs means that it had been abandoned or everyone aboard is dead. If the former, then the crew undoubtedly followed a standard protocol, which requires to booby trap the ship. The moment anyone from your crew would set their foot aboard, they would be dead.”
“I see your point.”
“We will investigate the ship and your team is going to be able to board it after we disable all traps.”
“How can you be sure you are going to find all traps?” Fond asked.
“We can't,” Brenok responded flatly.
“How are we supposed to get there, then? To trust your abilities?”
“Correct me if I'm wrong, but a moment ago you were willing to board the ship with complete disregard of any possible danger,” Zamarran spoke. “And now you say you'd blame us
if something would happen to you?”
“That's because we had no idea about booby traps.”
“And that's exactly why we should board the ship,” Zamarran's eyes shifted from Fong to th'Arshar, “and be in charge of the investigation. We simply know more even if we don't know anything.”
“I knew it would be like this!” Fong was indignant, but th'Arshar raised his hand and the security officer silenced.
“Let's take it one step at a time, all right?” Ronus looked at his Captain and then Brenok. “You board the ship tomorrow. Since we have no idea what you're going to find there, there is no point in arguing where and how we study that. We should determine it when we know what we're facing.”
Brenok nodded his agreement.
“Fine,” th'Arshar said, he looked at Brenok. “I'd appreciate if you record everything and share it with us later.”
“The Cardassians don't do sloppy work, Captain,” Brenok said with a smirk, his arm barely noticeably moved.
“So I've heard,” the Andorian's face remained serious.
“If there are no more matters to discuss,” Zamarran said, “we would be returning to our ship.”
“There is just one more thing,” Ronus said. “We'd like to invite your senior staff for a dinner tonight. I understand you must prepare for tomorrow's mission, but I hope you can find some time.” He smiled and his smile appeared genuine. “It would let us know each other better and that, I am sure, would be good for our upcoming co-operation.”
Brenok hesitated. Would he stand another hour or two in a cold room this day. “Thank you for the invitation. I can't assure all senior staff would be present, but we accept.”
“Twenty-hundred hours,” Ronus said, raising.
The Cardassians rose from their chairs too and followed Fong our of the room, headed for the transporter room.
“So, what do you think, sir?” Zamarran asked, when they were back on their own warship.
“That Trill seems a reasonable man, I am not sure about the Captain. He... tries hard, but there is some prejudice in his behaviour.”
Zamarran nodded. He looked at Karama. The communication officer stiffened, but the Glinn said nothing. Brenok's eyes followed his aide's.
“The bird was interesting?” he asked.
“You could have asked it if it's a boy or a girl, because I don't know.”
“I will next time, sir,” Karama tried not to smile, but failed.
“During the dinner. I won't go,” he added, his eyes returning to Zamarran's face.
“Understood, sir,” the Glinn nodded.
“What do you think about them?” th'Arshar asked his Number One.
They were sitting in the Captain's ready room over two cups of tea.
“Hard to tell. Their Gul is not what I expected. He's quite young for such a position.”
“You must remember that he is not just this ship's commander. This man is commanding whole Cardassian military. In a way he's the highest ranking Admiral
. That's why his uniform is not black, like others'. He is something between a soldier and a Legate.”
“You mean he is a member of the Central Command?”
“I am not sure he is a member, Cardassian political structure changed since their last coup, but he has a voice there.”
“How come do you know so much about him?”
“Remember that Borg conference a couple of months ago? He had the ear of one of Legates present there.”
“So if we piss him off, he can declare a war on the Federation without asking anyone for permission.”
“He doesn't strike me as a type that easily declares wars.”
“He surely is a veteran. His face proves it.”
“That's precisely what I mean. A Cardassian with scales peeled off his face knows how bad wars get.”
“Do you think that dinner is a good idea?
“I had worked with the Klingons,” Ronus half-smiled.
“They are not the Klingons.”
“No, they smell way better.”
Th'Arshar guffawed, but his serious mood quickly returned. “His first officer... what's his name?”
“He was another thing.”
is a Cardassian we are used to see.”
“Was it only my impression, or he indeed is older than his commander?”
“I'm glad they didn't make an issue of Jeto.”
“I'm glad she didn't make any issue of them. Maybe she can work with them. Maybe their presence, knowing them, would heal her suffering soul?”
“I wouldn't go that far.”
Ronus smiled. “I find it a successful first contact, Captain.”
“Yes,” th'Arshar replied contemplatively. “Yes, I suppose so. Let's hope it's not going to blow into our faces. I don't want my scales peeled off my face.”
“Neither do I, Captain. Neither do I.”