“The two of you, my office.” Zamarran didn’t even bother to check to see if they had acknowledged his order, but headed for the exit and quickly left the transporter chamber. Jarol and Brenok looked at each other and followed him.
They passed through the bridge and went upstairs to the door of the gul’s office. They entered and stood at attention while the door behind them shut. Zamarran sat in his chair and said, “Computer, lock the door and activate program Zamarran har-nai
. Enable.” The computer beeped in acknowledgement while the gul invited both his aides to sit down in the guest chairs. “We have a problem,” he said.
“That’s an understatement, sir,” Brenok replied.
Jarol didn’t follow. “With what? I mean, I realise that the Vulcans will not agree easily to be resettled, but—”
“Jarol,” Zamarran interrupted. “They will not agree to be resettled at all. And I am convinced that the Federation captain will support them.”
“So what will we do?” she asked.
“Like I said, we have a problem,” the gul repeated. “Any ideas? Suggestions?” He paused. “Speak freely, as that Obsidian scum will not hear anything.”
Brenok’s eye ridge rose. “Sir?”
Zamarran grinned mischievously. “I have my ways.”
Jarol had no idea that her friend hadn’t known about Zamarran’s neat little program that jammed the Obsidian Order bugs in his office. She realised that the gul had grown to trust the engineer, since he had no problem revealing that information to him.
“Clever,” Brenok commented and then went silent.
“Well? Nothing? Don’t you have brains?”
Jarol bit her lip. “My Gul, I know what I don’t want to do, but I have no idea what we could do.”
“We cannot allow this operation to become an Obsidian Order matter,” Brenok added. “We must solve it ourselves.”
The gul’s aide looked at him. “I am not sure we can solve it ourselves. This is starting to look bigger than one warship and it could grow bigger still. Th’Arshar might contact his superiors and take it to higher levels of authority and we are in no position to deal with them.” She shot a glance at Zamarran. “Not that I think you couldn’t manage, sir. But some things—”
The gul raised his hand. “I understand what you mean, Jarol.”
“By ‘ourselves’ I mean the military, not this particular military ship,” Brenok said, not without a shade of irritation. “Or the Detapa Council. But not the Obsidian Order. They would eradicate a Cardassian settlement of millions without blinking, so a few thousand Vulcans would mean even less to them.”
Zamarran nodded. “Agreed. So, any suggestions?”
Jarol scratched her eye ridge. “All I can suggest is talking to that Federation captain. The Vulcans will not listen to us, but maybe he’ll have a way of talking to them. He should know how to approach them to make them listen.”
Brenok glanced at her. “I think we cannot count on the good captain. He’s on their side.”
“But what if we explain the situation to him?”
Brenok rolled his eyes in a ‘you are naive’ gesture and Jarol pursed her lips. He said, “We cannot tell him that the Obsidian Order would take over the operation and slaughter the Vulcans.”
“And why not?” Both glinns looked at their gul, surprised. “Oh, don’t give me looks like that! I don’t mean to tell him directly, but we could inform him that refusal is not an option and that we’d better find a solution, or we will all regret not coming up with one.”
“Do you trust him, sir?” Jarol asked. Cardassia had never had any close contact with the Federation. They were neither friends nor foes, but she wasn’t sure that such a neutral status was enough to grant them that much trust. She had no idea how the Federation thought and how they would use such a piece of information about the Union.
Brenok shook his head. “Sir, if th’Arshar makes the slightest mistake, even if unwittingly, we would be in deep zobar
sh...trouble. If Nadar hears from the Federation that we shared too much information, he might accuse us of delivering information to a non-allied empire. I don’t want to be called a spy for aliens. I don’t want to die accused of being a spy and a traitor.” He paused and then added. “And I’m not a coward, if that’s what you’re thinking now.
Jarol smiled at the last sentence her friend had said and then her face returned to its sombre expression. She looked at Zamarran. “Do we have any options, beside hoping for the best?”
“No,” the gul said.
Brenok shifted on his chair. “Not yet.” When the other two gave him asking glances, he added, “We have a few days. We might come up with something, or the situation could change slightly to give us an opportunity.”
Jarol’s eye ridges rose. “So we’re waiting?”
Her friend smirked. “If you have an idea right now, I’m sure the gul would listen to it with pleasure. As would I.”
“Oh, grr,” she grunted. He winked at her, obviously satisfied with her reaction.
“Keep thinking, people, because I don’t believe that the situation will improve to give us any new chances. Use your minds. Dismissed.”
They rose and left Zamarran’s office.
“Someday, I’ll kill you,” Jarol said to Brenok.
He flashed his teeth at her. “But not today.”
“You love me too much.” And with that, he turned on his heel and went to his station.
Oh, she loved him. He was her naughty little brother and she did all in her power not to reach out and pull that long braid as he moved away.
She turned to glance into the office through the half-glass door. Zamarran didn’t seem to be coming to the bridge, so instead of going to her post, she went to the command chair.
Kapoor wondered what Cardassians might want from them. She was sure that they weren’t happy with the Vulcans’ refusal to relocate, but th’Arshar had made it clear—the Vulcans had decided to stay and the Federation would not force them to leave for Cardassian convenience. He had also emphasised that any forceful action would be opposed by the Federation, regardless of Setlik III’s being or not being within Federation territory.
The Cardassian gul had not seemed surprised by those revelations at all, but he had asked for a conversation, face-to-face. In the end both captains had agreed to discuss the matter aboard the Karamazov
—five representatives from each side. A Vulcan presence was excluded at the request of Cardassians. Kapoor hadn’t liked that and neither had th’Arshar, so the captain requested a Vulcan presence in spite of Zamarran’s request, but the Vulcans refused.
Security escorted the five Cardassians to the briefing room, where five of the Karamazov
’s senior staff awaited them. Four of the aliens were male and Kapoor wondered if Cardassian ships were dominated by men.
“Captain th’Arshar, please meet my communications officers, Gil Karama and Glen Dal.” The Andorian had already met Jarol and Brenok, so Zamarran didn’t bother with re-introducing them.
Both officers nodded their greeting and then the captain introduced Lieutenants Churmou and Fong. After that they sat at the table; Kapoor’s place was opposite Gil Karama. He smiled at her and she thought he had a nice, friendly face. He was close enough for her to see that the protrusions on his face were covered by scales, just like the ridges on both sides of his neck. It was a fascinating detail and she wished she had a chance to study his facial features in more detail, but she knew it was not the time for that kind of thing, so she focused her attention on her captain.
“All right, Captain. I will get straight to the point. We need a compromise.” Zamarran’s voice was even and neutral.
“I am not sure what you’re expecting of me, Gul Zamarran. The Vulcans on the planet have made their position clear. What’s more, they don’t see any reason to continue talking about it and this meeting is only a courtesy.”
The Cardassian gul seemed to hesitate for a moment. He looked at his aide, the female glinn, as if seeking her support. Her facial expression didn’t change, but it seemed like he got what had been looking for in her eyes, since he decided to say, “I will be totally honest with you, but I would hope that this information stays in this room.”
Th’Arshar’s white, bushy eyebrows rose. “I cannot give you such a guarantee, Gul Zamarran. I need to report this to my superiors and I have to include details.”
The Cardassian didn’t say anything at first. His other aide, Brenok, leaned to him and whispered something in his ear. The gul pursed his lips, clearly thinking about what he had heard and then looked back at the Andorian. “All right. My aide suggests that maybe it would be even better to involve someone of higher authority—no offence—as our problem is not easy and I suspect I wouldn’t be able to make these decisions myself without consulting with my superiors first.”
“Captain th’Arshar, the Cardassian Union is determined to annex this planet. We understand that it is inhabited, but some...elements in the Union would not consider it an irremovable obstacle.”
“Elements,” th’Arshar repeated.
“That’s correct. We’d prefer the matter to stay in the hands of the military and not be passed to those elements.”
Fong leaned forward. “Do you mean that those elements would slaughter the Vulcans and then claim the planet?”
The answer startled Kapoor. It was not because of its meaning, because the meaning had been clear even before Fong had asked his question, but because of the total lack of hesitation on Zamarran’s part. He looked like he knew for sure that these ‘elements’ would not hesitate to kill everyone on the planet.
“Zamarran, what do you need not to let that happen?” th’Arshar asked, obviously taking the matter seriously.
“Some progress. Some compromise. A solution different from what we have now.”
“I don’t think I could convince the Vulcans to relocate. I don’t think anyone could.”
Zamarran thought for a while and then said. “What I will say now must be off the record.” Seeing that the Andorian wanted to protest, he quickly added. “If my words leave this room, it is very likely that I, my aides and even my whole ship could be executed.”
The captain closed his mouth and looked at Kapoor. “Anything to save the Vulcans, sir,” she said.
Th’Arshar looked at his officers. “Everyone, leave the room, now. This is for Kapoor’s and my ears only.” The officers left without a protest. “Computer, disable sound sensors in this room.”
“You may speak, Gul Zamarran.”
The gul looked at his officer, Karama, who nodded to him. After getting the mysterious confirmation from the gil, Zamarran looked at th’Arshar again. “I don’t think relocation will be necessary. Of course, I’d prefer it that way, but if they cannot be removed, then we have to do something else.
“Right now the matter is in the hands of the Central Command—that’s our military ruling body. It would be the best to transfer it into the Detapa Council’s hands—they are the civilian part of our government. They would be most likely to listen to reason and the most sympathetic. And to achieve that, this matter must become a diplomatic case. Tell your Federation to claim the planet. Tell them to establish it as a special Vulcan protectorate. Make it big. A few thousand Vulcans mean nothing to the Obsidian Order, but they would mean a lot to the Detapa Council. But the big Federation would mean something even to the Obsidian Order and they wouldn’t dare to start an open conflict.”
Kapoor raised her hand to draw attention. “Err.”
“What is the Obsidian Order?”
“It’s the ‘element’ I mentioned. They are not part of the government, but they scare every Cardassian to death. Their initial job was to protect us from spies and dissidents, but right now they are terrorising us all in the name of some sick, deformed vision of the Union.”
“Like Romulan Tal Shiar?”
“Yes, that comparison would be adequate,” he confirmed.
“And why wouldn’t they dare to start a war?”
“The military tried to destroy the Obsidian Order to free our people from oppression of...our own people, but the Order is too strong for that. Starting an open conflict would mean draining our limited resources and we cannot afford such waste. That would be a good opportunity to strike a blow and destroy the Order by legal means. The military could accuse the Obsidian Order of wasting resources for an unnecessary conflict and demand their dissolution. The Order knows that and they wouldn’t risk giving anyone an argument to disband them.”
Th’Arshar listened carefully. After a short moment of silence he said thoughtfully, “Gul Zamarran, if I’m to take this to the Federation Council, some of the information you have just told me would have to be revealed.”
“Do you have to say it was a suggestion from us? Present it as your own solution.”
“And the reasoning? How would I explain my vast knowledge of your political system?”
“Can’t you think of something?” Brenok asked.
“We could,” Kapoor said. “Couldn’t we?” She looked at th’Arshar.
“We can,” the Andorian said. “And we will,” he added with conviction.
For the first time since Kapoor had seen him, Zamarran smiled. “I appreciate that, Captain th’Arshar.”
Gil Karama turned in his chair to look at Zamarran. “Sir, I have intercepted some messages. Federation messages.”
“Anything worth our attention?” The gul showed little interest.
“It is regarding the matter we dealt with last month. Setlik III and the Vulcans.”
Now, all of Zamarran’s attention shifted to his communication officer. “I’m listening.”
“They have declared the planet a part of Federation territory. They also express their gratitude to the Detapa Council for agreeing to withdraw their plans to claim the planet for the Union. They offer their help in form of resources and equipment to help us find and mine another, unclaimed and uninhabited planet.”
“Is this an official broadcast?” Jarol asked.
“Negative, Glinn. I...” A sheepish grin brightened his face. “I intercepted a message between two of their ships. From the sound of it I’d guess that it’s personal communication.”
“I always knew that having an officer who speaks the Federation language would be an asset.” Zamarran smiled slightly. “That’s why I took you to their ship to listen to the nuances of their language to make sure they wouldn’t trick us. And now, get back to work.”
Karama turned back to his console. “Yes, sir.”
Jarol leaned over hers too, but stole a glance at her gul. He seemed satisfied with the solution...and so was she.