Though the ship’s commander had graciously offered her the command chair, Livana Velen thought it best to conduct her conversation in the stateroom, away from observant eyes and ears.
Her Tal Shiar background it appeared was the worst kept secret in the Benzar system, but she wasn’t going to feed into the speculation by taking up the obsequious ship’s master on his offer.
“Liaison Velen,” the alabaster-hued female Vorta nodded in respect. “I am heartened that you give audience.” The woman’s holographic likeness was being projected by the holographic nodes in the bulkhead above. The photonic Vorta stood in front of the commander’s desk.
Livana nodded back in return. “Hereth,” she said after a moment, the lack of an honorific made the name come out awkward. “I will have you know that I am not the highest ranking member in this contingent. Procurator Harmost is the senior official.”
“I am aware,” Hereth’s smile was nervous. “I am also aware that the procurator is returning to Romulus while you are leaving it.”
“Yes,” Velen said slowly, not sure where the woman was going.
“You would have a better grasp of the political situation in Ki Baratan,” Hereth ventured. Velen looked at her stone faced. The Vorta’s smile widened.
“I assure you that I am not seeking any sort of damaging information,” the woman said, and now Livana’s guard was way up.
She narrowed her eyes, her face taking on a stern cast. “So what are you seeking?” Hereth’s complexion turned ashen as she realized the seriousness in Velen’s tone.
She hunched her slender shoulders and spread her hands. It was a very Terran gesture. For some reason, that made the woman a bit endearing. “I merely thought this would be an opportune time to gauge how the Senate might feel about opening trade relations with the Karemma Foundation.”
“Ah,” Livana breathed.
“You were a trade representative for several years, if I am not mistaken?” Hereth asked, a chagrinned expression wreathing her features.
Velen nodded. The woman had read up on her official bio. She was impressed, but still very wary. “I was, but I switched to civil administration.” She nodded, as if recalling memories. “I felt a change was in order.”
“I…can understand,” Hereth brightened. “Do you still keep abreast of trade discussions in the Senate?”
“Of course,” Velen said. She leaned forward. “I thought that the Karemma Foundation was not part of the Dominion.”
Hereth nodded in appreciation. “Very astute,” she granted. “We are closely allied and do receive a share of the profits on certain ventures.”
“And I’m assuming one of those would be whatever you wish to propose to the Senate?”
“Correct,” the Vorta smiled. “Before the…unpleasantness, the Karemma were engaged in a lucrative tulaberry trade with the Star Empire. We would like to restart that relationship.”
“I see,” Velen said, nodding in understanding.
“I can assure you that you anyone who helps us reestablish ties would be adequately compensated,” Hereth added.
“Are you referring to a bribe?” Livana snapped.
“Oh no, no,” Hereth held up her hands again. “Merely a…consultant’s fee.”
Velen relented. “I see,” she said, mulling it over. After a few seconds, “I’ll talk to my contacts on Romulus. You will have an answer before you return to the Dominion.”
“Thank you,” Hereth bowed before Velen cut the link. Livana sat alone in the dimness pondering the conversation, looking for all the angles, trying to explore all the things that weren’t said, or that were insinuated or implied. She also wondered how the deal might help her.
Once she explored the conversation thoroughly, she sent out an encrypted message. She waited several seconds before the holographic projector wavered back on. Chairman Koval sat behind his large, impenetrable desk. The lordly head of the Tal Shiar was dressed in a simple gray tunic, a stream of ancient Romulan script running down one side of its seam. The disease eating away at him had not stopped since last she saw him. One side of his face appeared palsied.
Velen sat up, not stopping herself from blinking in surprise. “Chairman Koval?” She was glad that at least she didn’t stammer. “I wasn’t expecting you.”
Koval gave her a half-smile. “I know you weren’t. What do you have to report?”
Livana relayed the conversation with the Vorta, Koval nodding along as she spoke. After she was finished, the chairman coldly intoned, “It could be an attempt for them to sneak Changelings into the Empire or to poison us with contaminated food.”
“Or it could be sir,” she slowly ventured, “an attempt to shore up a war torn economy.”
“Ours…or theirs,” Koval darkly teased.
“Our economy remains as strong as ever,” Velen piped up. Koval’s light laughter was like sprinkling glass.
“You were always good for the pat answer, the safe answer,” the chairman said, and Velen wasn’t sure if she detected admiration or nausea in his voice. Maybe it was a bit of both. “I will discuss this trade matter with the Commerce Ministry, after a thorough in-house review.”
“Sir, I promised a reply before the conclusion of this memorial ceremony,” Velen said, even though she didn’t want to.
“Now why would you do such a thing?” Koval’s eye drooped lower.
“Perhaps I was possessed by the spirit of cooperation embodied by this memorial,” Livana offered. The chairman’s laugh was deeper this time, throaty.
“You are most intriguing Livana Velen,” Koval said, “Tell them that we will consider their proposal. That is as good as they are going to get at the moment, and if they are serious about reestablishing trade ties that will suffice.”
“Of course,” Velen nodded.
“Now,” Koval said, shifting gears, “For the real reason I sent you to the Benzar System. Have you found new information about Volok yet?”
“No sir,” Velen said. “I have begun inquiries, but nothing as of yet. The soldiers under his command remain loyal to him.”
“It was a mistake allowing so many of the ships and crews that liberated Benzar to remain as part of the occupation force,” Koval shook his head in disbelief. “Granted, it was good for the optics, to ensure compliance from the Benzites, but at the same time it inculcated loyalty to Harmost and Volok.”
“The procurator will soon be returning to Romulus,” Velen offered, “and Volok will be isolated.”
“Yes, but isolated with sufficient soldiers and arms to make a mess of things if we try to dispatch him with force,” Koval pointed out. “Or a clumsy assassination.”
“But sir, you authorized his release from prison,” Livana said. Koval grunted.
“At the time I saw no need to keep a talented officer like Volok imprisoned while the empire was at war. Plus his sentencing was part of my predecessor’s vendetta. She had won, Volok’s Tal Arcani was dismantled, and he had lost his general’s rank and his freedom. He wasn’t a threat to me at the time I made my decision.”
“You are concerned about the Tal Diann?” Velen asked. Koval’s slack cheek twitched as he glared at her.
“Don’t presume,” he warned. “I hadn’t expected this Tal Diann to be able to pull off something like the liberation of Benzar. Its prestige is growing in the capital while our noble service is being blamed for every insurrection from Abraxas to Unroth. The latest rumor is that Praetor Hiren is going to appoint Harmost to the Continuing Committee.”
“Making them our equal?” Velen was stunned.
“No,” Koval shook his head, his voice dark, his eyes burning coals, “Never our equal.” Livana sat back and processed the information that her superior had just given her. The Tal Arcani and Tal Shiar had waged a long, at times, bloody feud, leaving only the empire the poorer for it.
Velen wondered, but would never voice, if the Tal Shiar chiefs made the disastrous decision to invade the Dominion in part to outdo the rival Tal Arcani. Subsequently, the Tal Arcani’s fall had been a palliative to take away some of the ache of losing so many ships and men, and prestige, in the Omarion Nebula.
She didn’t think the empire needed another dangerous, deadly distraction that would pit its best minds against each other while doing nothing to stop the real enemies within and without the empire.
“Your mission is vital,” Koval intoned. “I need you to continue trying to find out what Volok is up to and undermining him at every turn. I will handle Harmost.”
“It will be done Chairman,” Velen declared, though she had no clue in Erebus how she was going to pull it off.