As always, my apologies for my alien English, but you know...I'm a Cardassian I'm trying my best, but my best obviously is not good enough. This story takes place in 2403, so three years after the end of Sacrifice Without Strength is Useless, but no knowledge from my others stories is necessary to understand this one. Anything called from the past would be explained. I hope you'll like it. _______________ Winds of the Past The room—the cave, actually—was dark. She didn’t mind, though, as her eyes preferred it that way. She had wondered why the Ferengi who she was dealing with had chosen such a secluded place with a difficult access, but she assumed that he conducted here all his business transactions, including illegal ones—of which existence she had no doubts—and preferred the place he knew very well. It was his territory. She walked slowly, followed by three members of ‘her’ team and taking comfort in their presence. This was the part of her job that she disliked most—the final negotiations. She always feared that the ‘opponent’ would ask questions to which she didn’t know answers. She wasn’t the brain here, after all; the three wise people behind her were. All her value was reduced to the armour she wore and what that armour represented: the Cardassian government. She scanned the room and all people sitting behind the oblong table that stood in the middle of the cave. The Nausicaan, whom she had seen before with the Ferengi she was meeting, scolded at her. A Vulcanoid woman with a smirk on her face, which most likely meant that she was not a Vulcan. The Ferengi and his false, toothy smile. A... She did her best not to show surprise at seeing this particular Cardassian here. Instead, her eyes moved to the next person behind the table—also a Cardassian, but much older. “How punctual you are!” The Ferengi rose from his chair and gestured to the team of four to sit on the opposite side of the table. “We are Cardassians,” she stated flatly. “And I prefer to stand,” she added. She had a better view on his team that way. “As you wish,” he said, sitting back down himself. The other members of the team took the seats. Palaeographer Zamarran sat in the middle, with DaiMon Delva and Historian Vasan on both his sides. “I heard,” Delva addressed the other Ferengi, “that you raised your price.” “That’s correct. We had some problems with delivering the item and we want to be compensated.” Delva harrumphed. “I could understand your need of compensation, but raising the price by thirty percent does not sound very honest.” The other man only smiled, so the Ferengi continued. “Show us the bill with the amount you had to spend to...circumvent your problems and we will cover your unexpected costs.” “You either pay what we are asking, or you don’t get the item.” She decided to speak. “You have invested a large amount of money into this transaction. Do you really want to lose it all by a sudden raise of the price?” The Ferengi looked at her. “This is business, not charity, Gul Jarol!” “And we are willing to pay a lot of leks for bringing this transaction to a fruitful end,” she answered. She wished she could ask Delva if threatening with not having as much money as the man demanded would work, or ruin everything. She decided not to make that decision herself; she knew too little about Ferengi-style business to bluff and she didn’t want the whole thing to blow in her face. The other Ferengi—he had never given them his name and used only his thumb print for the agreement purposes—smirked. “You should have brought more, then.” “You shouldn’t change the deal!” Zamarran growled. “‘A contract is a contract is a contract,’” Delva quoted the Seventeenth Rule of Acquisition—which said: ‘A contract is a contract is a contract...but only between Ferengi’—looking defiantly at his countryman and Jarol was sure that the other Ferengi would attempt to call the latter, not quoted by Delva part of the Rule, which could be used against the Cardassians. Delva knew that, too, as he said, “You entered the deal with me, so if you want to violate it, be my guest.” He paused, leaned back in the chair and then added smugly, “I’m sure FCA would be very interested in hearing about this.” “Oh, no,” the other Ferengi laughed without humour. “We have entered the agreement with the Cardassian government—that’s why she is here.” He pointed to Jarol. “And the Cardassian government is not Ferengi.” Delva retrieved a padd from an inner pocket of his jacket. He tapped at it for a moment and after finding the right section of their agreement, he handed it to the other man. “Read again,” he said. Jarol recalled that Delva had foreseen the possibility of the other businessman attempting to break the contract without consequences, based on the Rule of Acquisition Number Seventeen, which said that a contract was valid only between Ferengi entrepreneurs. That was the reason why the deal was in fact between him and Delva with the clause that Delva must sell the artefact to the Cardassian government, or the whole agreement would be declared void. The other Ferengi reluctantly took the padd and scanned the displayed text. The Cardassian woman next to him leaned toward him and whispered something into his ear. Jarol couldn’t hear it, but she wondered if Delva could. Obviously, the other Ferengi wondered about the same thing, as he glanced at the DaiMon. But Delva was no fool—he assumed a stone face and showed nothing. “I will have to examine this once more,” the Ferengi said finally. “What’s to examine? You had ‘examined’ it already. You have signed it.” Zamarran was clearly losing patience. Jarol put her hand on the young man’s shoulder. Calm down, she thought, eyeing the Nausicaan at the same time. The Ferengi looked at Jarol. “You better force your people to behave.” She didn’t waste a second in using this opportunity. “You are absolutely right. Please, give us a few minutes.” He nodded his agreement, so she called the other three and they moved away from the table. They went toward the entrance and stopped near it. “Is it safe here?” she asked Delva quietly. “Won’t he hear us?” “Great. Delva, did you hear what that woman whispered to his ear?” “She said just one word: ‘stall.’ I have no idea what for, but he seems to trust her enough to follow that advice.” Zamarran glanced toward the table. “Who is she? There weren’t supposed to be any Cardassians in this?” He looked at Jarol. “Traitors?” “How dare you!” she shouted loudly with indignation for the benefit of the listeners and then whispered, “Her name is Ma’Kan and she hunts down Obsidian Order agents.” “So what is she doing here?” Vasan asked. Jarol continued. “I never heard of her having a partner, so—Don’t look!” she hissed as quietly as she could, seeing the historian turning her head toward the unknown Cardassian with an obvious disgust on her face. “If she’s chasing him, we don’t want to blow her cover.” “So what do we do?” Zamarran asked. Jarol wondered if he had heard about Ma’Kan from his father. “We let them stall,” the gul decided. “If she needs more time, we can afford to give it to her. It would also let us find a solution to our dilemma...I hope so, at least.” She looked at them. “Agreed?” “Agreed,” they whispered back. “And don’t you dare to do that again!” she said loudly in a chastising tone and motioned back toward the table. “Forgive me, my Gul,” Zamarran said, lowering his head in a submissive way. Good show, Jarol thought. Maybe we should start a tour with performance. She was unable to count how many times they had played such a game for the benefit of their ‘audience.’ Delva stood behind his chair, not sitting in it. “Fine. We give you three days to consider our offer: sell or stay with a useless Cardassian artefact no one else would buy. After that time we leave, with or without the item.” With that, he turned and headed for the exit with the three Cardassians following him. Just before leaving, Jarol stopped and turned to have one last look at the people in the room. She tried to burn in her memory the face of the unknown Cardassian with the intention of scanning the database to see who he was and if capturing him was worth losing the Statue of Moptor.