“Lieutenant Shanthi and the Bynar pair are making steady progress in culling any hidden access permissions from Captain Sandhurst’s transwarp systems programming,” Wu noted as she strode along beside Lar’ragos down one of Europa’s
Lar’ragos smiled grimly. “Perfect. Inform Captain Renault that we’ll be hanging on to oh-one and oh-two for the foreseeable future, on the authority of Admiral T’Cirya. I’m sure the good captain will agree that our regaining transwarp capability trumps whatever operational needs Gwendolyn
has at the moment.”
“And shall I use that exact phrasing, sir?” Wu asked as she made a notation on her padd.
“Well, no. Be… you know… diplomatic.”
“Aye, sir,” she said with a subtle clenching of her jaw. “I will employ... diplomacy.’”
He offered her a saccharine smile. “See, that’s the spirit.” He stopped in the corridor in front of the door to his quarters. “Anything else on today’s agenda? If not, I have a date with a couple of dozen heavily armed holograms.”
“Only one, sir. A Lieutenant Commander Ojana is requesting a meeting with you at your earliest convenience.”
Lar’ragos appeared nonplussed. “Pell, actually,” he corrected gently. “She’s Bajoran.”
Wu looked at him wordlessly.
“She’s Galaxy Station’s XO,” he continued.
Wu’s silence stretched on.
“And… you don’t care,” Lar’ragos assessed with a chagrined smile.
“Respectfully, sir, all I need to know is if you want to see her, and if so, when is convenient for you.”
Lar’ragos considered that for a moment. “Thirty minutes, and send her down here to my quarters.”
Wu logged the meeting on her padd. “Yes, sir.”
Lar’ragos offered Wu the Vulcan salute. “Work long and proper,” he intoned.
She didn’t even reward him with a raised eyebrow, allowing him only her infuriatingly patient stare. She lifted her hand in the same fashion and replied, "Same to you, sir."
“Careful,” he countered with a wry smile, “That’s coming dangerously close to demonstrating a sense of humor, Commander. Goodness knows we can’t have that.”
Wu looked at her hand and quickly placed it back down at her side. "Yes, sir." Though her face never expressed it, Lar'ragos picked up on her slight shift in her posture. The more time he spent with her, the easier it became to pick out her almost-imperceptible tells.
“You’d like to leave now,” he offered.
She stiffened slightly. "By your leave, of course, sir."
He stepped through the doors into his cabin, “Dismissed, First.”
The unorthodox title caused a visible twitch across her scarred cheek just before she turned to stride down the corridor. Out of her sight, Lar'ragos allowed himself an evil grin as the doors closed.
* * *
Precisely one half hour later, the door’s annunciator chimed.
“Enter,” he offered from where he sat behind his work desk, filing the last of the day’s datawork.
Pell Ojana entered, looking somewhat ill at ease, as though she was walking into the lion’s den.
“Come in, Commander,” Lar’ragos said, setting a convivial tone. “Please, make yourself comfortable.”
Pell took a seat across from his desk, her face a mask of conflicted emotions. Lar’ragos sensed a mix of anger, apprehension, and resignation.
“What can I do for you?” he asked.
A petulant smirk flitted across her features. “I’m going to give you the satisfaction of hearing me beg, Pava.”
Lar’ragos leaned forward to deactivate his computer display, before sitting back in his chair to appraise Pell. In his most business-like voice he said, “Commander, I’d remind you that I’ve extended you the courtesy of this meeting on short notice. I’ve done so despite an especially busy schedule as we’re making preparations for our departure. Were our positions reversed, I assure you that the last thing I’d try to do was to belittle you, most especially while standing onboard your post. In that spirit I trust you’ll show me the respect I’m due aboard my
She gulped, “Yes… Captain. I apologize.” Pell would rather have provoked one of the old Pava’s sneering threats, and had been unprepared for the cool, reasoned response of a genuine commanding officer. “I’m here to request a transfer to Europa
for the duration of your upcoming mission, sir.”
He frowned. “For what purpose?”
“You mission, as I understand it, is to make diplomatic contact with the less aggressive of the two Amon tribes, sir. I’m one of the most qualified diplomatic specialists presently assigned to Vanguard.”
Lar’ragos ran his tongue along the back of his teeth as he continued to consider the unusual request. “Ambassador Epstein is perfectly capable of handling that aspect of our assignment, Commander,” he replied evenly.
Pell continued, “It’s also obvious that you intend to exploit your friendship with Donald Sandhurst to try and sway that tribe’s loyalties to something more in line with Federation interests.”
“I don’t recall any such provisions in our mission orders,” Lar’ragos noted evasively.
Pell inclined her head. “That’s a guess on my part, but it’s an educated one. If that’s the case, my presence might prove an added inducement to Captain Sandhurst.”
“It just might,” Lar’ragos conceded.
Her eyes faltered, unable to maintain their lock on Pava’s. “I need to be there.”
“For him?” Lar’ragos asked.
“And for me,” Pell confessed. “I’ve been… unable to let go. It appears I’m in need of closure.”
Lar’ragos scrutinized her. “When the Amon made their second appearance, it was you who convinced Captain T’Ser to fire on their ship with an Alpha Weapon, knowing full well that Donald was aboard. If you’ll forgive my saying so, you didn’t appear in especially great need of closure at that moment.”
Pell’s eyes found Lar’ragos’ once again. “I’ve slept precious little since then. Under the circumstances, it was the correct course of action, but that hasn’t stopped me from agonizing over it.”
“You were correct,” Lar’ragos advised. “You made the right call then, and I was the one in the wrong.” He shifted in his chair, bracing his weight on one arm rest as he leaned towards Pell. “Please know that it’s my hope and my intent to bring Donald back into the fold. Failing that, my orders direct me to try and forge an alliance with ‘his’ tribe against the Amon that have been launching attacks against the Alpha Quadrant.”
She nodded softly. “As I surmised.”
“However, if I discover that Donald Sandhurst has himself become a danger to the Alpha Quadrant, I will not hesitate to eliminate the threat he poses.”
“Kill him, you mean,” Pell snapped.
“By any means necessary,” Lar’ragos confirmed.
Pell laughed loudly, a sardonic sound devoid of humor. “You think you could actually bring yourself to shoot him? I highly doubt that.”
Lar’ragos’ expression and voice conveyed an absolute sincerity, somehow lacking in overt malice despite the subject at hand. “Your belief is not required, Commander. I have my orders, and I’d rather Donald die as the man he was, rather than live on for millennia as some alien sycophant.”
Pell blanched, all traces of dark comedy having evaporated in the face of Pava’s stark admission.
“You still want in?” he asked sharply.
“Yes.” There had been no hesitation in her response.
“Fine. If you can sell it to Commander Worf, I’ll propose it to T’Cirya.”
“Thank you,” Pell said reflexively.
“Don’t thank me, Commander,” Lar’ragos sighed. “You may well curse me before all this is over.”
* * *
The Klingons arrived the next day, decloaking unexpectedly en mass within half an AU of Galaxy Station. There were a few tense minutes before Starfleet and their new allies could say with certainty that an attack was not forthcoming.
The Klingon fleet was led by one of their mammoth Negh’Var
-class heavy assault cruisers, one of only a handful of the ships the Empire’s brittle post-war economy had managed to produce. Ten Vor’cha
-class heavy cruisers, and twice that number of light cruisers of assorted classes rounded out their merry band of destructive potential.
Vice Admiral T’Cirya had called her two Klingon experts to her office, Captain Lucian Ebnal and Commander Worf. The Klingons had ignored repeated hails, and the admiral was right on the cusp of raising the defense condition of the station and the various starships in the vicinity when a youthful looking Klingon adorned with the rank insignia of a Brigadier General appeared on their viewscreens.
“I am Brigadier Gan’Louk of the Klingon Defense Forces. The Klingon Empire offers its warriors and its ships in the Alpha Quadrant’s defense. We are ready to assist our Federation allies, as well as those local species that have joined in that honorable cause. Whomsoever stands as an ally to the Federation shall be an ally to the Empire.”
The transmission ended with the image of the Klingon trefoil.
In T’Cirya’s office, Captain Ebnal blew out a relieved breath at the brief statement. “At least they didn’t come out shooting.”
The Vulcan admiral appeared to ignore Ebnal’s observation, turning instead to address Commander Worf. “What do we know about this Gan’Louk?”
“Surprisingly little, Admiral,” Worf answered stolidly. “He has an enviable battle record, he is politically well connected within the High Council, and perhaps most importantly, all the right people appear to fear him.”
“Who constitutes the ‘right people,’” she asked, directing that query to Ebnal.
The formidably taciturn captain replied, “He beat out at least twenty-five other top military commanders to earn the honor of leading this battle fleet. That speaks to serious political clout, but Intel has next to nothing on who his direct benefactors might be. His supporters on the Council run the gamut from political conservatives to pro-democracy constitutionalists, which is nearly unheard of. The last person who was able to cobble together that broad of a coalition was K’mpec.”
“You spoke of an enviable war record,” T’Cirya noted, turning back to Worf. “How so?”
“During the Klingon/Federation war, Gan’Louk commanded a task force that pushed all the way into the Talosian Corridor before the cease-fire was signed. He participated notably in the Klingon invasion of Cardassian space, leading the assault on Udrok Nor and seizing Testamus Prime’s shipyards intact.”
“I presume he was equally fortunate during the Dominion War?” T’Cirya inquired.
“Suffice to say he earned great glory for himself, his house, and the Empire,” Ebnal summarized.
“None of what you’ve told me could not be discovered in a simple alliance datanet inquiry,” T’Cirya observed.
Ebnal nodded, “Which is unusual in and of itself, sir.” He shot Worf an almost apologetic look as he noted, “Klingons are larger than life, or at least they try and project that aura. They’re braggarts, shouting to the rafters about their accrued glory and deeds of note. Only, Gan’Louk doesn’t play by those rules. What we know of his victories are only due to their being transcribed in his house’s official history.”
Worf very nearly smiled at Ebnal’s assessment. “I cannot dispute the Captain’s interpretation, Admiral. Brigadier Gan’Louk seems to have intentionally downplayed his own accomplishments. In Klingon culture, it’s highly unusual, and suggests someone who has something to hide.”
T’Cirya considered that. “Who might be a resource in our discovering what Gan’Louk may wish to conceal?”
Ebnal shrugged, and looked to Worf. The Klingon commander responded, “I will have to do some digging. Perhaps there is a scorned member of Gan’Louk’s house who may be willing to air their dirty laundry.”
The Vulcan's agreement drew nothing more than a simple nod. "Captain, I'd like for you to liaise with the General for the forseeable future. I believe they may have expected Commander Worf, but I would prefer to disappoint them." Her gaze shifted to Worf. "Commander, you will continue to advise and report to Admiral Brotman."
Ebnal nodded curtly. "Aye, sir."
Worf stood. “Yes, Admiral. I will have estimates on Klingon capabilities and force strength to Strategic Ops as soon as I’ve compiled the data.”
* * *