TUE: Contact Point, Part I - Union of the Snake

Discussion in 'Fan Fiction' started by Gibraltar, May 24, 2020.

  1. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    The Cardassians have managed to catch-up quickly, elevating them from a nuisance to a real threat and the dangerous future adversary they'll become.

    The Bajorans are an interesting twist here. I wonder who they are and why they were on the shuttle. A Cardassian ploy? Maybe. An attempt to escape Bajor? Possible, but why the stasis pods? Looking forward to learn more about this mystery and how it might further help deteriorate Federation-Cardassian relations.
     
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  2. admiralelm11

    admiralelm11 Captain Captain

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2009
    Location:
    Vancouver, WA
    Fascinating additions that leave us with a lot of questions. Great work, gentlemen.
     
  3. votez

    votez Ensign Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Nov 7, 2017
    Interesting reading about early encounters with the Cardassians.
     
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  4. TREKISODES

    TREKISODES Lieutenant Junior Grade Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Feb 4, 2018
    I absolutely love this! I always wondered how Starfleet/the Federation dealt with the Cardassians in those years following first contact and how it all ended in a full out war. This story really fills that gap. Great work!
     
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  5. TheLoneRedshirt

    TheLoneRedshirt Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    May 22, 2007
    Location:
    Here and now.
    Not a good situation when the diplomats and those on the real front lines are at-odds. The fog of war is rivaled by the tunnel-vision of the professional dissimulators. Failure by either can be catastrophic, but diplomats seldom bleed out when they have a bad day.
     
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  6. Orbing Master

    Orbing Master Ensign Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    hey everyone! just to give a little update - more is coming, and this 'episode' of the "Contact Point" saga should be finished soon :)
     
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  7. Orbing Master

    Orbing Master Ensign Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    ...and now, the next installment of "Contact Point: Union Of The Snake".

    Jointly written by @Gibraltar and @Orbing Master

    * * *​

    Cardassian Colonial Outpost Zeta-7. Kalandra System

    As he pondered the view from his office on the upper-most level of the rudimentary command complex of the nascent colonial outpost on Kalandra IV, Legate Parmek Sadar, officer-in-charge of the Third Order wondered where it had all gone wrong. Which of the old Gods that his people had long ago forsaken had he wronged or angered to have his current assignment go from a dream come true to a waking nightmare..?

    He was a soldier, a leader of men, dedicated to expanding the boundaries of territory claimed under the banner of his beloved Union. He was Overseer of all military operations this far from Cardassian Prime, a great responsibility and one he relished. Kalandra IV was the latest world to be brought under that rule, a stepping stone further into the sector. In ordinary circumstances, Sadar would be hard at work on his task of supervising the fortification of their position. Setting up this latest foothold, making the planet ready for the arrival of loyal Cardassian citizens looking to take on the challenge of starting a new life on a fresh, clean world.

    But instead, Sadar was forced to play wetnurse to this diplomatic charade..? Like he was one of the weak-willed bureaucrats from the Detapa Council? Sadar grimaced with disdain. It is an insult to everything I have achieved for the Union within my long - some might say, even illustrious - career!

    That said, he had never failed in any of the tasks or missions assigned to him before, and he refused to let this be the first time. Truth be told, he understood the reasons why Central Command had even authorized the 'cultural exchange', as it was being called. Perhaps even agreed with them.

    But that didn't mean it was an assignment he would have wanted.

    It was far too 'cloak-and-dagger' for his liking. All this speechifying of 'greater understanding' between the two powers, when in reality, both sides were doing what they could to uncover any and all secrets the other might be keeping. Secrets that could be used. Exploited. Used in order to gain some kind of advantage.

    Because of one fateful decision by a subordinate officer I've never even met, our Union was now very much at risk of losing an advantage we only recently developed!

    Shaking away the errant thought, Sadar turned back around to face his guest, Gul Darrit Visek, his trusted right-hand man and the officer he had personally chosen to lead the 'exchange'. He knew that Visek was just as unhappy with and questioning of his task, while still endeavouring to do his duty to the best of his ability.

    "You should have seen it over there, Legate!" Visek offered him a glass of kanar as he carried on with his detailed report on his experience aboard the Starfleet gunboat. "Everything was just so bright, so soft and gentle. Even their uniforms! All about the appearance of being non-threatening, about luring you into their clutches! It was sickening!"

    Visek was a capable warship commander, a former student of Sadar's from his tenure at the Union Military Academy. His own career had progressed with leaps and bounds thanks to his time working away back in Central Command's headquarters in Cardassia City. Eventually rewarding him with the command of the cruiser Pravek. He was one of the Third Order's most decorated commanders and an able adjutant to Sadar.

    Ah, Darrit, Sadar mused, if only you had a slightly higher security clearance... He offered Visek a brief toast with his glass, "You do the Union and your family proud with the work you do here, Darrit."

    He took a small sip, whereas Visek drained half the glass with one swallow, before continuing, "Remember that next time you return to the Starfleet ship." He forced himself to grin widely, hoping he was convincing, "Their ambassador has sent numerous requests to continue the exchange, and we shall do so, once they have fretted themselves into a nervous state."

    Visek hesitated for a moment. Finally nodding with determination, "Of course, sir."

    Sadar knew exactly what the young Gul was thinking, "You're wondering why we would go back to them after they attacked one of our battle groups? Interfered with lawful operations?"

    Visek paled, his neck ridges tensing with embarrassment, "I would not question the orders of the Central Command--"

    Sadar waved away his concern, "It is only natural to be curious." He offered Visek a comradely pat on his shoulder, "We do so because that is our mission."

    He gestured at the office's large active wall viewer, where a geo-political map of the Alpha Quadrant was displayed, with the Union at its center. Flanked by the smaller areas of space under the control of the Tzenkethi and Talarians. Further out, space that was rumoured to be the territory of the mysterious Breen or the xenophobic Tholians.

    But the closest 'neighbour' was the United Federation of Planets. It irked him greatly seeing how comparatively small the mighty Cardassian Union seemed against the sheer expanse that intelligence reports suggested it covered. He wondered sometimes how it was that the Union's intelligence-gathering network got their information. If it was truly reliable and accurate.

    Still, he had a point to make, so continued on, "Despite our close proximity, we still know too little about them. To truly prove ourselves superior to them in due time, we must learn everything we can, and these talks provide just that opportunity."

    Visek nodded, more confidently, "I understand, Legate." His smirk returned, "Of course, the fact the actions of their task force leader have embarrassed them works well in our favour. It should allow us to turn the talks in our favour quickly, if they are so eager to be our 'friends'."

    He finished the last drops of his own glass of kanar, putting his glass down with a satisfying thud on the table top, "When do you wish for the talks to resume?"

    Sadar shrugged, trying his best to look unconcerned with the details, "Give that imbecilic Zakdorn a few more hours to stew in his own juices. That should be long enough."

    Visek nodded one final time, before Sadar dismissed him from the office. Once the doors were sealed, he carelessly put his barely-touched glass of kanar down, letting out a long, drawn out and exasperated breath. He steeled himself for what was coming, as he turned to face the south wall of the office, "He's gone."

    Part of the wall retracted and slid back, revealing a door that heretofore had not been apparent. From within the compartment beyond stepped out an attractive woman, dressed in a severe civilian suit, her thick black hair pleated and hung over her shoulder in a single intricate braid.

    Until only a few hours ago, Sadar had no idea who she was. Had never seen her in the commissary, or in the central plaza, any of the usual places. If he had, he would have simply assumed she was amember of the civilian support staff.

    But Sadar knew better now. After he had walked into his office to find her sitting in his chair. To be so brazen and unafraid of the consequences of such an action, she could only be one thing.

    An agent of the Obsidian Order.

    She had introduced herself to Sadar simply as 'Anaya'. But the legate was in no doubt that this was simply a pseudonym, that her real name was buried in the deepest, darkest recesses along with all the other 'state secrets'.

    He watched as she crossed her arms, her frown deepening, "Are you certain he was the correct individual to send over to the Starfleet vessel? Gul Davar is more then capable--"

    "No," he interrupted firmly. He wasn't about to have his command decisions questioned by a civilian, no matter her status within the Order. "Visek is the best choice. He can be full of bluster at times, but his actions help to make us look like the wounded party. He may not know the full situation, but by walking out on the Federation, he showed them that we are not afraid of them."

    He bristled at the patronizing look she gave him, "We both know that's not entirely true, Legate Sadar." Her gaze hardened in an instant, "The Federation may talk of 'peace and cooperation', but look how they tamed the Klingons. Forced the isolation of the Romulans. We must tread carefully."

    "Not for long," he replied, barely keeping his anger under control. "Our technical sciences division continues to make massive leaps and strides forward!"

    Anaya looked wholly unimpressed, "Not fast enough. Not yet." Her gaze became a venomous glare, "And any advantage we may have had, could now very well be ruined by the actions of the idiot commander who felt it wise to blow operational secrecy and engage in a fire-fight with a Starfleet vessel!"

    Instinctively, Sadar wanted to come to the defence of a fellow line officer, but he knew that Anaya spoke accurately. Truth be told, he had been unaware that any of the latest class of starships only recently launched by the Central Command had been deployed to the border regions. But he knew that whoever the unfortunate commander of the destroyer group was, they would be appropriately punished for their actions.

    Still, the fact that Anaya had been forced to reveal her presence within the colony to him, it worried Sadar greatly. Something more was going on here, he could feel it. He just wasn't sure what.

    He waited as Anaya picked up a data-slate from the desk. Using it to replace the map with assorted screens of sensor data that meant nothing to Sadar, even as she pointed out various parts. "These readings confirm that the Starfleet ship used their matter-conversion device, what they call a 'transporter', to successfully retrieve several intact bio-signs from the stolen cargo shuttle."

    "What of it..?" Sadar asked. He was confused and rapidly losing what little patience he had left with this blighted woman in front of him. "Does it really matter if the Federation rescued a handful of worn-out slave workers escaping from one of our mining outposts?"

    "More than you possibly realize, Legate," Anaya purred, as she tapped rapidly at the data-slate before offering it to him. As he took it, she pursed her lips, "Your security clearance has been upgraded to allow you to be informed just what is going on. Why it was felt that I needed to announce my presence here."

    Upgraded?! But I already have the highest clearance level! Affronted somewhat by this off-hand reveal, he read the data-slate. As the details of everything became so much clearer to him, Sadar felt his stomach lurch with a sudden chill of fear and nervousness. After a moment, he finally found his voice enough to mutter, "If the Federation discovers this..."

    "Indeed," Anaya agreed. "So we must make sure that they do not. Or at least, do what we can to make sure that the source of information is somewhat... 'sullied'."

    * * *

    USS Gettysburg, Merak System

    "Criminals?"

    Mark Jameson couldn't believe what he was hearing. He could also hear the borderline belligerence in his tone as he questioned what his commanding officer was telling him and the few other members of the senior staff gathered in his quarters.

    Thankfully, ch'Valos seemed to realize it wasn't him Jameson had such obvious disrespect for, but rather the message he was passing on. He turned back around from his stargazing out of the viewport to look back at Jameson, nodding curtly, "That is what the Central Command's representatives have communicated to Ambassador Metruka, Commander."

    He stepped away from the viewport and joined the assembled officers at the modest guest area the captain's quarters boasted. "Gul Visek claims," the Andorian explained, with the barest hint of distaste, "that the shuttle was stolen less than 72 hours ago. The occupants of the tubes were part of a group of xenophobes who committed acts of violence on peaceful Cardassians civilians working on Bajor two years ago. They were extradited and sentenced on Cardassia but the four in stasis were being returned to Bajoran custody to serve the remainder of their sentence back on home soil, as a gesture of continued good faith."

    "However," he continued after a moment's pause, "it appears that several other members of the group chose to use this as an opportunity to escape. They took a Cardassian officer as a hostage to secure their escape and act as their pilot."

    Jameson let out a low whistle, remembering the report Lieutenant Wyszynski had recently delivered, "That fits with the DNA analysis of organic matter found in the debris of the shuttle. At least one Cardassian was on-board, but they died before we could get a transporter lock."

    Ch'Valos nodded in agreement - they'd both seen the same report, "Gul Visek is demanding that any survivors of the shuttle's destruction must be returned before any more talks can resume. I--" He stopped abruptly. Looking almost unnerved. Something was definitely playing on his mind, "I have seen the security footage from the escape. It is... brutal and rather damning."

    Caros Tarrin, arms crossed over his chest, his uniform jacket open exposing his medical-specific turtleneck undershirt, shook his head, lips curling in distaste, "I'm sorry, sir, but I'm not buying it."

    "Doctor!"

    The Betazoid met Jameson's sharp rebuke with defiance, "With respect, sirs, the Bajorans may not be awake to tell their side of the story, but I've conducted enough tests and scans to know there is little to no chance that they were able to put up a fight of any kind. If the other prisoners were in any kind of similar condition, then one good sneeze would be enough to knock them to the deck."

    "Be that as it may," ch'Valos replied with calm patience, "Ambassador Metruka has reminded me that we are 'obliged' to honor the Cardassian request, in the interest of continuing both the talks and the cultural exchange."

    "The Cardassians don't have transporters, do they?"

    Jameson blinked, the sudden voice of Patricia Paris catching him off-guard. He could see that both ch'Valos and Tarrin were slightly startled as well. It was the first time the Gettysburg's Chief of Security had spoken since they'd all assembled. She sat in one of the guest chairs, eyes looking off in the distance, as she mulled over whatever she was thinking.

    Ch'Valos was the one to answer her, "They are aware of the technology, but we don't believe they have experimented with it beyond simple molecular-level usage."

    Her question was a bit of a non-sequitur, though. "Why do you ask, Commander?"

    Paris leaned forward, bringing her focus on the other officers, "Well, there was a lot of interference with the targeting sensors from how badly ionized the shuttle hull was. Cardassian sensors are not as detailed or accurate as ours, at least not according to the limited data they offered in the exchange."

    Jameson allowed himself a wicked grin. He liked the way Paris's mind worked, if she was suggesting what she appeared to be suggesting...

    It seemed ch'Valos understood as well, but did not seem as impressed. He glared at his Second Officer with irritation, "Commander Paris, are you suggesting we deliberately falsify a report with a representative of the Diplomatic Corps, that will then be filed with Starfleet Command?"

    "No, sir," Paris replied evenly and instantly, with no hesitation or nervousness, as she faced down her commanding officer, "What I'm suggesting is that we should be more concerned with how many questions we have here. But until we can somehow appease the Cardassians, we can't even start finding the answers."

    Damn, she's good... Jameson looked at Paris with new respect and admiration. Finding himself coming to her defence, "Captain, you've read the same reports we did."

    Jameson could see how discomfited the Andorian was just thinking about it, and honestly, he couldn't blame him. He felt exactly the same.

    The dossier from Starfleet Intelligence they'd received made it very clear what would more than probably happen to the Bajorans once back in Cardassian custody. While they didn't know much about the true inner workings of the Union's justice system, it was documented that, like Rura Penthe deep in Klingon territory, the Cardassians made use of prison planets and forced labour camps.

    Camps where a prisoner would never be released from. Except in death.

    "You realize..." he finally replied, "that I cannot officially authorize or endorse this idea?"

    Jameson met Paris's gaze. Saw her eyes mirror the same determination to do the right thing that he himself felt. Looking back at his commanding officer, he nodded resolutely, "We do, sir."

    Ch'Valos let out a resigned sigh, before looking to Tarrin, "Doctor, it would be best if you forgot everything you just heard for the last few minutes."

    "Already done, sir." Jameson found himself grinning just as widely as the Betazoid was. But it wasn't long before that little voice at the back of his brain spoke up.

    Let's just hope this works...

    * * *​
     
  8. Orbing Master

    Orbing Master Ensign Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    Cardassian Colony Zeta-7 - Kalandra System

    Sadar stared at the viewscreen. The image of the Zakdorn, with his ridiculous flaps of skin hanging off his face, made him sick to his stomach. Like a bloated hevrit fish ready to be gutted at the market. Disgusting!

    "Legate Sadar," Metruka purred solicitously, "this entire incident is regrettable in the extreme, especially now when our governments are just beginning these talks."

    Mustering the well-practiced smile he’d put to good use in his meetings with many of the insipid idiots of the halls of power, Sadar nodded graciously. “As you say, Ambassador. At least no Federation or Cardassian lives were lost.”

    He made a point of pausing, “Except of course, the pilot of the cargo shuttle.”

    "Indeed," Metruka appeared to agree noncommittally. "I would point out that our ship was in Federation claimed space, and was jurisdictionally within its rights to intervene. It is unfortunate that cooler heads did not prevail, and that a military confrontation could not have been avoided."

    "Efforts were made to try and rescue the crew and passengers of the shuttle, but our matter/energy transporter systems were unable to maintain a lock in the final seconds. The loss of life is tragic."

    Sadar pursed his lips. Keeping his features schooled and diplomatically neutral while cursing the feckless Federation lackey with every fibre of his being. He finally offered a nod, “We appreciate any and all efforts our Federation neighbours made in this matter. Now that I can relay to the Central Command that this incident is behind us, I am confident that they will soon pass on orders from our government to resume our cultural exchange.”

    "That would be most agreeable, Legate. In the meantime, our Starfleet Command has issued express orders to our ships in the area to avoid further conflict with Cardassian vessels wherever possible. I would point out, however, that our captains are given significant decision-making authority when it comes to confronting aggressor vessels entering our territory. Until our governments have come to an agreement over the precise delineation of our mutual border, it might be prudent to pull our respective ships back a parsec to avoid any further... encounters."

    “I will pass on your recommendations, Ambassador,” Sadar forced himself to reply, still concentrating on keeping his well-worn smile in place. “Until we speak again.”

    Metruka issued one of his wince-inducing coo’s and inclined his head. "Until then, Legate."

    It was with a satisfying stab of pain that Sadar thrust his finger onto the control pad, terminating the subspace connection and banishing that insufferable visage from the viewscreen. It returned to the default image of Cardassia City, the crown jewel of the Union. "That lying, waxen-faced oath!"

    He stood up so abruptly that his chair toppled over and crashed to the office floor, but Sadar cared little as he stalked across the room, "He lies straight to my face, and yet has the gall to 'suggest' that we pull our ships back?!"

    Anaya's mocking laugh pulled his gaze away from the view of the developing outpost. He glared at the Obsidian Order agent as she leaned oh-so-casually against the far wall. She had been present for and heard the entire transmission, but out of range of the visual pick-up. It galled Sadar greatly, "What, pray tell, is so amusing, Anaya?"

    "Not so much amusing, Legate," she replied with cool amusement, "as it is encouraging to see that under that veneer of naivety and moral innocence the Federation tries so hard to project, that there is a darker, more pragmatic aspect to them."

    "What do you mean?!" Sadar demanded angrily, too frustrated with being talked to like a child to care about the consequences of challenging an agent of the Order.

    She continued to look at him like he was a simpleton. "Metruka wasn't lying, Legate."

    "Of course he was!" Sadar took a moment to calm himself before continuing, "We know for a fact that the Starfleet ship successfully rescued several life-signs."

    Anaya nodded, acquiescing that point at least, "True, although we can't admit that without tipping our own hand." She shook her head, still smiling with far too much delight, "But in the Order, we are trained to spot any and all liars. In order to properly weed out sedition and dissension."

    She stepped forward, and Sadar couldn't help but respond on some physical level to how she glided across the room with feline-like grace, "Metruka believed what he was telling us was the truth. If that is the case..."

    Sadar finally understood where she was going, "It means that the Starfleet crew haven't shared all their data. Or perhaps even falsified it." Even though she had laid it out for him, Sadar still did not understand just what this meant for them. "But why would they withhold that from him?"

    Anaya's smile faded. "I am uncertain," she finally admitted. "More than likely, they have decided to 'ride to the rescue', as even our limited intelligence about Starfleet behaviour indicates."

    Sadar curled his lips in distaste. How was it that a bunch of weakling races banding together could be such a thorn in the mighty Union's side? "But we still have no idea how much the Starfleet crew actually knows, do we?"

    She offered a careless shrug, tossing her hair across her shoulder before speaking, "Perhaps not. But we at least have something on them that might be worth something in due time." She then fixed him with an icy glare, "That said, I think it is time you and I put our heads together to work a little damage control."

    Sadar forced himself not to swallow the sudden lump of nerves in his throat as Anaya continued, "It seems inevitable that the Federation will eventually discover our little 'secret', so perhaps it is time we not only take control of the situation, but the narrative as well."

    * * *

    USS Gettysburg - Merak System

    "By the Crown of the Holy Mother, I think we've done it!"

    Caros Tarrin couldn't help but feel buoyed by the sheer amount of accomplishment and pride that was coming off Hars Lazoriin in waves that made the Betazoid almost giddy. There were times being empathically receptive could be a burden, a hindrance to his work as a healer. This, thankfully, was not one of those times.

    With a final flourish of his blue fingers, Lazoriin finished entering a sequence into the main control panel of the four linked stasis chambers. It was the only panel that had remained operational once the emergency power cell had been hooked up, via a universal adapter, to the unit as a whole.

    But as the Bolian engineer lifted his hand from the panel, that was no longer the case. On each chamber, status indicators began to shine brightly. The various dials and switches became illuminated, while the internal lighting within the tubes themselves became active. In each tube, a prone form could be seen through the frosted glass hatch.

    Finally, a readout screen above each tube flickered to life, with lines of indecipherable text appearing - well, at least indecipherable to Tarrin, that was.

    Holding a dedicated engineering scanner and using it as a reference tool to double-check Lazoriin's work, Sarah-Beth Wyszynski checked at each screen in turn. With a resolute nod, she looked to Tarrin, "We've unlocked whatever security protocols were in place, Dr. Tarrin."

    "We can access the systems without any concerns?" He had faith that the team of Lazoriin, Wyszynski and Anysa Yeoh knew what they were doing. But he wanted to be absolutely sure before he began tampering with it.

    Four people's lives depended on none of us making a single mistake.

    It was Yeoh that answered him with a gentle smile, "You've got complete control of them now, Doctor." She handed him a PADD she was holding, "We already linked this PADD to them, so you don't have to worry about using the Cardassian interfaces."

    With sincerity, Tarrin thanked the three for their hard work. He thumbed through the four individual readouts being relayed to the PADD. They confirmed what he and his team had already ascertained from their own medical scans. Now, the Gettysburg's C.M.O. just had to decide which of his four patients would be the first to wake from their slumber.

    "This one," he indicated to the triage team he had assembled from the duty nurses and medical technicians for the task. "Female. Her condition is definitely the worst of them." That was an understatement, for sure. She was emaciated, the most severely malnourished of the quartet, with indications of broken bones that had been set and allowed to heal with only the most rudimentary 'care'.

    As his trusted staff got to work, beginning the revival process on the chosen tube, Tarrin bid Wyszynski and Lazoriin both farewell. They were tired and anxious to call it a day, heading off for some needed downtime, and he couldn't blame either of them. He was surprised that Yeoh insisted on staying behind. "Waking someone up from stasis isn't as interesting as it may sound, Lieutenant," he commented with a smile, to lessen any harshness in his words.

    "I-- I know, sir, but, it's just..." She sighed, then smiled sheepishly, "I may have programmed some basic Bajoran into the UT, so the combadges shouldn't have any issues with it, but I'd still like to be on-hand. You know, just in case."

    Tarrin could feel that Yeoh was sweetening the truth a little, but he couldn't blame the young lieutenant. As the senior communications officer, she spent most of her duty time on the bridge or in one of the communications suites. It wasn't often she actually got to interact with a new species. He made a point of assuring her she was welcome to stay, but to keep out of the immediate area to allow the triage team to do their work.

    Now, under his careful direction and with the utmost care and attention, Tarrin worked with the three nurses and two medtechs monitoring the chosen stasis chamber. Using the PADD, he accessed the chamber's in-built shut-down function.

    He took a moment to collect himself, uttering a silent prayer to Rixx. Here goes everything...

    * * *

    Anysa Yeoh watched everything with baited breath. She was an xeno-linguistic specialist by training, with secondary training in communications engineering. This was all still so new to her.

    As a native of the colony of New Nanjing, one of the most multicultural populations centers of the entire Federation, Yeoh prided herself on the fact that she could speak 10 different languages fluently and another four passingly. She had been learning new and exotic languages for as long as she could remember, earning the envy of many of her fellow students back at the Academy. She had even earned extra credit by teaching beginners classes in non-Federation languages not covered in the curriculum.

    I guess now I can add another language to my list...

    Truth be told, at least only to herself, the idea of putting into practice what little Bajoran Yeoh had taught herself was just one small part of her wanting to stay and observe the opening of the stasis chambers. The main reason was the far-too-handsome Betazoid chief medical officer she'd been nursing an infantile crush on since coming aboard the Gettysburg.

    Pushing such embarrassing thoughts away, worried that Tarrin might accidentally telepathically pick up on them, Yeoh instead brought her attention back to the work of the medical personnel. The hatch of the chosen chamber had become transparent enough to see the prone figure of a woman inside. She looked practically human to Yeoh, eyes closed in what appeared to be restful slumber.

    She watched with growing fascination as Tarrin led the staff through the procedure with gentle words and laser-like focus. As one, they eased the now-unlocked hatch free from the secure lock-on points, placing it out of the way on the deck. Tarrin then took the offered tricorder from a medtech, and scanned the occupant.

    Yeoh couldn't help but inch forward just a little, her curiosity getting the better of her. Now that she was fully visible, Yeoh realized just how young the Bajoran woman was, and how ravaged she had been by whatever Hell she'd been forced to endure before now. The severity of her gaunt frame made the cartilaginous ridges that lined her nose, as described in the anthropological brief on Bajorans, stand out even more.

    After a tense moment, Yeoh heard Tarrin's sigh of relief before he spoke in a hushed tone, "Heartbeat and respiration are normalizing quickly. All indicators show that she's in a stable condition." Yeoh understood why he was speaking so quietly - it seemed wrong to talk too loudly, in case it might wake 'Sleeping Beauty'.

    He handed the tricorder back to the nurse, "Keep monitoring her for now. Once she's been out of stasis for a few hours, we'll start her on a series of vitamin and nutrient supplements."

    Yeoh looked on in wonderment. Was that it now? All they had to do was wait for her to wake up? What about the others? But before she could ask any of the questions she found she now had, Tarrin left the triage team to their work, making his way over to the small food synthesizer unit in the bulkhead, "Vulcan spice tea. Extra sweet."

    As the unit processed and deposited the steaming hot drink, Yeoh noticed how Tarrin was rubbing the back of his neck. How he tried to hide a yawn. That was when it hit her, just how exhausted he was looking. Like the last long few hours had just caught up with him all of a sudden. How long has he been going since he last had a break?

    As he gratefully sipped the burning-hot drink, Yeoh walked up to him, "You okay, Dr. Tarrin?"

    He offered her a warm smile, and even with how tired he looked now, she felt the familiar shiver up her spine at having those big dark eyes focused exclusively on her, "I'm fine, Lieutenant. One down, at least. Just three more to go."

    Doctor, heal thyself, she was tempted to remind him but didn't want to come across as being too pushy. He was still her superior officer, after all. Instead, she gently asked, "Do you think she'll be okay?"

    She noted how Tarrin's smile faded just enough to make her worry, before he answered, "Physically? Yes, she'll be just fine given time to recover. The humanoid body, no matter the species, can be incredibly resilient when it needs to be." He paused, "But emotionally and mentally?" He shrugged, "I can't answer that until we talk to her."

    "How long, do you think, until she wakes up..?" Her curiosity, like everyone else on the Gettysburg, was in overdrive, wondering what the real story of these Bajorans was. How and why they had ended up being chased by three Cardassian destroyers.

    Tarrin's reply was forestalled by an abrupt shrill scream of fear that had them both spinning around in total surprise. Yeoh felt her heart skip a beat in shocked amazement at the sight of the Bajoran now sitting bolt upright in her open stasis chamber. She stared at them all with wide dark eyes, filled with confusion and fear.

    One hand was held to her chest, the other tightly gripped a jagged and dirty looking make-shift knife. The sickbay lights glinted off the metal blade.

    "Wh-- who are you?!" Despite her obvious panic, the Bajoran managed to stutter out the question with a fierceness Yeoh found impressive. She also noted with pride, albeit poorly timed, that her words were being translated effortlessly into Federation Standard, "Where am I? What is this place?!"

    She instinctively pulled back, as Tarrin raised his hands in surrender, approaching slowly, "It's okay. You're among friends here."

    "Friends?" The single word was filled with such scorn and disregard, Yeoh wondered if for a moment, the UT had messed up the translation somehow. Did the word have some other meaning in Bajoran?

    Tarrin nodded, continuing regardless of her reaction, "This is the USS Gettysburg. A Federation starship. My name is--"

    "Federation?" This time, there was no scorn. Instead, the woman now sounded hopeful. Almost excited. "The United Federation? Are... are you Starfleet?"

    When Tarrin looked back at her, Yeoh saw he was just as confused as she was. Had the Bajorans somehow heard of Starfleet and the UFP in their dealings with Cardassians? As she looked back, she noticed that the woman was now staring intently at Tarrin.

    No... not at him, she realized. His communicator pin?

    "You know of Starfleet?" Tarrin inquired, taking another step forward.

    The Bajoran nodded eagerly, the hand holding the knife slowly lowering down, "My husband told me all about you!"

    Her husband?! Yeoh found herself growing more and more confused with each sentence the Bajoran was uttering, as she continued, "Please, you have to help us! We need to go back, save the others!"

    She shakily brought the hand she held against her chest forward, holding it out towards Tarrin, "He-- he gave me this to give to you before they took him away."

    Opening her hand, something fell from it, into Tarrin's waiting palm. He looked at whatever it was in shock, "By the Sacred Chalice..."

    "What?" Her inquisitiveness too strong, Yeoh hurried forward, to see what it was. As soon as she saw the golden object, smeared red with dried blood, she more than understood Tarrin's reaction.

    It was a Starfleet insignia pin...

    * * *​
     
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  9. Orbing Master

    Orbing Master Ensign Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    The wall screen in Dr. Tarrin's private medical laboratory showed the personnel record of a young man. Human, handsome, no more than early-20s or so, and to Mark Jameson's eyes, he still had that very recognizable sheen of a newly-minted officer. Just having proudly graduated from the Academy. Ready to make his mark on the big, bad universe.

    Too damn eager and far too green and naive, Jameson thought to himself, just like we all are in those first few years after leaving behind the classrooms for the real world.

    God, I miss feeling that way sometimes...

    "Lieutenant Zachary Starke." Jameson quickly came out of his momentary nostalgia for a time long past in order to listen as Paris read from the screen. The lab wasn't especially spacious, but seemed even especially cramped with himself, Paris and ch'Valos having answered Tarrin's urgent summons, "Last known assignment was as the Second Officer of the U.S.S. Selene."

    Ch'Valos leaned forward, his antennae curling forward with curiosity, "This is to whom the serial number on the back of the insignia pin belongs to?"

    "That's correct, Captain." Tarrin confirmed. He then pressed a control on his console. The wall monitor image changed to several orthographic views of a Federation starship. Small, basically a saucer section, akin to the venerable and retired Constitution-class. but on a much more compact scale, with warp nacelles attached to a boxy aft section. "The Selene was an Iolaus-class scoutship assigned out of Starbase 47. Total complement of 26 officers and crew."

    Jameson let out a low whistle of awe, "Iolaus-class? They haven't been in service for a few years now. They were a successor to the old Archer-class of the 2260s."

    Paris nodded in agreement, "They were designed for short-term missions not too far out of contact range with their home base."

    Ch'Valos gazed as the screen, deep in thought, "I remember hearing about her disappearance. The Selene was in the outer edges of what is now called the Dorvan Sector just over ten years ago. Their last assignment was a short-term mapping study of the inner region of the Argolis Cluster, I believe."

    Paris grimaced, letting out a barely-audible groan of discomfort, "The Argolis Cluster is a death trap." She shook her head in dismay, "Over a dozen ships have been badly damaged or lost because of the gravimetric shear generated by the sextenary protostar formation."

    "It appeared Starfleet Command felt the loss of the Selene was, as the human phrase goes, the 'straw that broke the camel's back', Commander Paris." Ch'Valos offered the security chief a wry look, before continuing, "After the ship was declared 'Missing, Presumed Lost', it was decided that until sensor and shielding technology improved enough to counter the Cluster's effects, exploration and colonization efforts would be redirected elsewhere."

    Jameson scoffed at the round-about irony of it all, "Which is what led to First Contact with the Cardassians two years later, and finally to us being in this whole mess." He looked back at the screen, trying to connect the dots. Not liking the theory that sprung to mind. "So, how does the Starke's insignia end up in the hands of a Bajoran? A so-called 'terrorist', escaping from Cardassian forces in a stasis chamber?"

    "Perhaps," ch'Valos mused, "given the relative proximity of the Argolis Cluster to Cardassian space, the wreckage of the Selene crossed into their territory?"

    "I don't think it was that simple, Captain," Dr. Tarrin interjected. There was something in his voice that made Jameson look at the Betazoid in surprise. A kind of undertone of hostility and anger. He hesitated, taking a moment to collect himself. "D.N.A. analysis confirms that the blood on the pin belongs to Mr Starke. Not only that, but it suggests that he is alive and in a similar condition to the Bajorans in the stasis chambers."

    Tarrin grimaced, "Or at least, he was alive, at the time the blood was transferred."

    Jameson felt his stomach twist with nausea, as a hot outrage burned through his veins. He could not believe what he was hearing,

    "Are--- are you suggesting that at least one Federation citizen has somehow ended up in Cardassian custody?" Is being held against their will and mistreated?!" Ch'Valos's tone was one of indignant disgust.

    "That's horrific!" Jameson couldn't hold his own feelings in any longer as Tarrin nodded slowly in response to his commanding officer's query. "It's been eight years since we made First Contact! Eight years they've kept Starke and who knows who else locked up! Like, what, a dirty little secret?!"

    His mind began to go over the ramifications of what he was hearing, "If they've got Starke holed up somewhere," Jameson muttered, "then who knows how many more of the Selene crew they've 'neglected' to inform us that they have in custody."

    "That is pure ideal speculation, Commander Jameson," ch'Valos chided him with a stern tone and a steely glare.

    Tarrin stared at him with open dismay, "But within reason, given the findings, Captain."

    "More so then you might think," Paris murmured quietly. Jameson narrows his eyes at her, wondering what exactly she meant by that. Shrugging uncomfortably, she continued, "My aunt works with Starfleet Intelligence. When I told her that Gettysburg was joining up with Hadrian and would be near the Cardassian border, she mentioned that there was a sizable list of starships, freighters and transports that had gone missing in this whole area. Hundreds of people long believed dead in unknown circumstances..."

    "What if not all of them are..?"

    Jameson felt sick to his stomach at the very idea. Tarrin spoke, voicing thoughts that were occurring to Jameson as well, "We have to do something, Captain. We can't just pretend that this isn't happening."

    Jameson felt sympathy for Tarrin as ch'Valos, his antennae folded flat against his head, regarded the Betazoid with a cold look. It was a look he himself had faced down several times since boarding the Gettysburg. "I am not suggesting anything of the sort, Doctor," he finally replied with just a hint of offended pride, "However, given the current diplomatic tensions, we must proceed with caution and due care."

    He can't be serious! Jameson began to voice his strong objection, but his commanding officer quickly raised a hand to cut him off, "That said, I most certainly agree that we have an obligation--" He stopped, shaking his head, antennae quivering, "--no, a commitment of duty, even, to secure the release of any of our people the Cardassian Union may have detained in their custody. No matter their 'reasons' for the incarceration."

    Jameson grinned. Now, that is more like it. "What exactly do you have in mind, sir?"

    Ch'Valos didn't answer. Instead, he reached up and activated his communicator pin, "Ch'Valos to bridge. I need a priority-one channel to Admiral Langford on Starbase K-21."

    The captain excused himself, with a final promise to raise their findings with both the Admiral and Ambassador Metruka, having Tarrin forward his findings to be transmitted on a secure frequency. Jameson felt his heart and stomach flutter with growing hope. Perhaps within a few hours, the wheels of government on both sides would be turning in whatever way was necessary to secure the release of Federation citizens.

    I just hope they turn fast enough that it doesn't cost any more innocent lives...

    * * *​

    "Tell me, Captain, do you enjoy pissing everyone off, or is it just diplomats assigned by the Federation President themself, that you have it in for?"

    Rear-Admiral Margaret Langford glared at ch'Valos over the frames of her somewhat anachronistic and antique-looking reading glasses. Her nickname among the captains that visited Starbase K-21, the outpost she commanded, was 'The Governess', due to her glasses and her choice to style her gray hair in a tightly-woven bun.

    The Andorian met her gaze steadily, refusing to show weakness. Especially over a subspace transmission. It was one thing to be intimidated by her in person, another entirely to allow her to have the same effect from light-years away.

    That said, to his annoyance, he could still feel his antennae tingle ever-so-slightly, but he did his best to ignore it as he replied to the commodore's challenge, "Should I assume that Ambassador Metruka has again communicated his dissatisfaction with my command of Task Force Hadrian?"

    "Oh, in so many ways, has he!" Langford pulled off her glasses and squeezed the bridge of her nose. "Metruka knows the right people to call, it seems. You're lucky that they haven't ordered the redeployment of Captain Muller and the Exeter. You haven't done yourself any favours, Mr. ch'Valos."

    "So it would seem," he replied softly. "Although I would like to point out that--"

    She quickly cut him off with a dismissive wave of her hand, "Yes, yes, no need to rehash all that. You did the right thing, and what you told Metruka was also correct." She sighed, meeting his gaze again, but this time without the overt hostility from earlier, "That is why I've gone to bat for you, and reaffirmed that you have the full confidence of myself and Starfleet Command."

    His lips twitched into the barest hint of a smile, as he offered a gracious nod, "Thank you, Admiral. I appreciate that." He took a moment to savour knowing he had gotten one over on Metruka before continuing, "Unfortunately, we have come into some intelligence that may render the point of these 'talks' rather moot."

    As he recounted the findings of Dr. Tarrin, forwarding on his C.M.O.'s data, he saw the colour drain from Langford's already-pale face. Growing dismay in her eyes gave way to momentary anger when he admitted the survival of the Bajoran escapees. "I should reprimand you and your crew for submitting falsified data." She shook her head, "But that hardly seems the biggest cause for concern."

    "My crew only followed orders, Admiral." It was a lie, admittedly, but given what they had found out by buying themselves that time and getting Metruka off their back, he was more than willing to take the fall for them.

    "Of course they did." Langford was unimpressed, that much was clear, but too concerned with the real problem at hand. "This is a lot to process and well above my paygrade. I'll have to pass this on to my superiors at HQ."

    Ch'Valos felt what little good feeling that had begun to buoy his stomach die, as Langford continued, "Speaking of Starfleet Command, they have passed on a request of you, and with what you've just told me, it could be all the more important for you to agree."

    Sitting up a little straighter, his antennae coming to full display, ch'Valos felt a growing sense of dread. This does not sound good...

    The admiral's words confirmed his worries as she ploughed on, "The Cardassian Union feel that since both parties acted wrongly, only a formal apology from both sides will clear the air."

    "Command feels it would be best for you to acquiesce to this request."

    Breath, Xahevian. Keep calm, ch'Valos reminded himself. But he was unable to keep some heat from his tone, as his hands, resting on his desk, clenched tightly into fists. "You... want me to apologize? For defending people who could not take care of themselves, within our own borders?"

    Any camaraderie Langford might have begun to harbour for him disappeared from her eyes. Her voice was like ice. "What I want, Captain," she replied with a deliberate emphasis on his rank, a not so subtle reminder of her authority, "is for you to do what is necessary to keep the Federation from being pulled into a conflict with a foreign power with military resources that appear to be far stronger than we believed. Is that understood?"

    "It is, Admiral," he responded, keeping his voice as neutral as he could.

    Langford's stern countenance softened just a little, "I'm sorry, Captain. I know it's a lot to ask of anyone, and I really don't want to have to order you to do this. But this is about more than swallowing your pride and eating a little crow. Especially with the lives of possible undeclared POWs in Cardassian custody."

    Ch'Valos knew what she was saying made sense. If it could be said that he willingly apologized, admitted culpability, it could make the Cardassians complacent. Take the pressure off Metruka and Captain Trujillo's crew on the Reykjavik.

    Unfortunately, in his 15-odd years as a starship commander, this would not be the first time that Zahevian ch'Valos had been forced to fall on his sword.

    All for the great good...

    * * *​
     
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  10. Orbing Master

    Orbing Master Ensign Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    USS Reykjavik, Kalandra System

    As the hour approached, Trujillo directed a supportive gaze at ch’Valos from a distance of light-years via a private comms channel. “Are you certain you want me here for this?”

    “I think I need to have you here, Captain,” he answered, his antennae giving away his agitation with their constant twitching, “because then at least I know someone watching understands the reason I even agreed to this charade.”

    She nodded reluctantly. “I hate that Metruka’s making you eat crow in front of the Cardassians. I despise political theater.”

    Surprisingly, ch’Valos smiled, “What is it with you pink-skins and your colourful metaphors? Why would anyone eat a carrion bird?”

    “Why would anyone live on an ice-moon?” Trujillo retorted with a smirk.

    “Don’t mock it until you try it.” His smile faded as his good humour ebbed away. “But, as the quote goes, ‘the hour is upon us’.”

    Trujillo reached out, toggling her comms interface. “Setting my end to ‘discrete.’ Neither Metruka nor the Cardassians will know I’m on the line.”

    “Thank you, Captain,” he replied somberly. “I truly appreciate this. I take it the ambassador is already down at the outpost?”

    “Yes, cocooned in a squad of my security personnel. I don’t like taking chances.” Her expression darkened. “I wouldn’t put it past them to try and snatch Metruka, only he’s proving too valuable a resource for them as is.”

    That elicited another all-too-brief smile from the Andorian, “I doubt the Cardassians are masochistic enough to endure Zakdorn arrogance and hubris any longer than we are.”

    Trujillo’s reply was limited to a sardonic grunt of assent. She glanced at the chrono in the corner of her display and counted down. “Three… “two…” and then mouthed ‘one’ silently.

    The last traces of humour disappeared completely from ch’Valos’s face. It became stoic and blank to rival even the most dedicated of Vulcan Masters, not betraying any emotion whatsoever.

    The image shifted to a split-screen. One half now showed Ambassador Metruka seated next to Legate Sadar inside what appeared to be some manner of operations center, dominated by oval-shaped view-screens.

    “Captain ch’Valos,” Metruka began. “Thank you for agreeing to take this meeting. I have been informed that you had something to say to the legate?”

    “Yes, Ambassador,” ch’Valos replied stonily before his gaze shifted. “Legate, I offer my most sincere apologies for the unfortunate confrontation that occurred between our forces. It was the result of a misunderstanding. On both sides.”

    The Andorian paused, just for a moment, and Trujillo saw the slight tensing in his jaw before he continued, “I realize that the Federation and the Cardassian Union are still strangers to one another, and I hope that this cultural exchange and others like it will help us avoid any future hostilities.”

    Sadar offered only the barest hint of a nod as a reply at first. It wasn’t until Metruka politely coughed after a few moments of silence that the Cardassian began to speak, “I thank you for your words, Captain, and accept your apology on behalf of both my government and my people.”

    A hint of a smile flickered across Sadar’s face, “Naturally, we too feel that this incident could have been avoided if we understood each other better. The commander of the patrol group has already been reprimanded for his actions and dealt with accordingly.”

    Metruka shot a sidelong glance at his Cardassian counterpart to establish if the man was finished speaking. Deciding that he was, Metruka inclined his head towards the viewer. “Thank you for your time, Captain. It is appreciated.”

    Ch’Valos offered one final nod before the screen returned to a single angle. Once it was confirmed the signal was terminated, only then did his face twist with anger and disgust, “That is what they call an apology?!”

    “That’s what they call a forced apology with a phaser to your head, Captain,” Trujillo offered.

    Her fellow starship captain scoffed loudly, “I suppose I should be thankful that Metruka didn’t make me beg for forgiveness.”

    “He knows better,” Trujillo countered. “You wouldn’t do it, the Cardassians would take offence, I’d back your play, and the good ambassador would have a shooting war on his hands.”

    Ch’Valos sighed, almost nostalgic, “You make it sound like such fun when you say it like that, Captain.” He frowned abruptly, “I wonder just what the legate has in mind when he says ‘dealt with accordingly’?”

    “Hopefully he’s been dealt with in a Klingon-fashion and his body is mouldering at the bottom of a very deep pit.” She smiled and took a sip from a mug full of tea. “My crew tells me I have a dark side.”

    Her words brought out another smile, “I’ve seen darker.” Ch’Valos shrugged, “But from what I’ve read about the Cardassians so far, I wager that instead, they’ll either give whoever was in charge of that so-called ‘patrol group’ either a commendation or a promotion.”

    “Perhaps,” Trujillo allowed. “But you gave them a bloody nose and taught them some respect for Starfleet. That’s something.”

    “Maybe. Maybe not.” Something about his manner shifted slightly. Like his shields had gone up. “There’s a lot more going on here then you are aware of.”

    She set down her mug and gave him a curious look. “Oh?”

    Before ch’Valos could utter a word of a reply, Trujillo’s communicator chirped for attention, “Bridge to Captain.”

    She tapped the combadge. “Go ahead.”

    Captain, Admiral Langford is holding for you. We’ve also received a private encrypted message for Ambassador Metruka.”

    Trujillo remained silent. Instead, she looked back at the screen. Saw the glint of dark humour in the eyes of the Gettysburg’s commanding officer, “I think you’re about to be enlightened, Captain. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

    * * *

    USS Gettysburg, Merak System

    The Officers Lounge, at the rear of the Gettysburg's saucer, was just a couple of decks below the bridge. It was one of the few places onboard, outside his quarters, that Jameson felt he could cut loose from the daily rigors of his career. Here, there was little formality, as officers from all sections and divisions could mingle and talk freely. A place to go and take some time to let go of the stresses of your day in a comfortable air of relaxation.

    But this time, as he stepped through the doors, with Patricia Paris following behind, Jameson instantly felt that the atmosphere in the large compartment was anything but relaxed. The reason for that was the figurative dark and angry cloud that hung over the Gettysburg's commanding officer.

    The Andorian stood at the large viewports that looked out onto the aft of the Constellation-class starship, seemingly just staring out past the dorsal nacelle struts. The only illumination present was being provided by the stars themselves as ch'Valos had chosen to stand in the dark.

    Since delivering his 'apology' the previous day, Captain ch'Valos had been distant from the crew, more so than usual for him. Jameson could understand why - he had, essentially, been forced to prostrate himself in front of the Cardassians. It had been demeaning, made even more so by the barely-there acknowledgement and response offered by the Cardassian commander in return before giving he had offered his own so-called regrets.

    Then, after an "eyes-only" transmission from K-21 had come in early this morning, the captain of the Gettysburg had sequestered himself in his quarters. Barely responding to Jameson's queries to his status when he didn't report in for his watch on the bridge. Instead, he seemed determined to leave the ship in the care of his X.O.

    If it wasn't for Dr. Tarrin requesting a meeting of the Gettysburg's three senior-most officers, Jameson had a feeling that ch'Valos would have stayed in his cabin. The fiercely-prideful Andorian had been embarrassed in front of his crew, and though each and every member of the ship's complement understood why it had to be so, it was clear it hadn't sat well with ch'Valos in the slightest. "Captain..?"

    Ch'Valos's gruff and irritated, no-nonsense tone soon ended Jameson's momentary hesitation at entering the Lounge and disturbing his commanding officer, "Are you two going to come in? Or will you just stand there all day?"

    Choosing to ignore the amused smile he saw Paris sporting out of the corner of his eye, Jameson stood a little straighter and made his way in and down to the lower section of the Lounge. "Where's our guest?"

    "On their way," ch'Valos answered, eyes still staring straight ahead. "They should be here within the next few minutes."

    Originally, when Dr. Tarrin had called up from Sickbay with a request from his Bajoran patient to meet and talk with them, Jameson had set aside one of the smaller conference rooms. But the Betazoid C.M.O. had suggested the Officers Lounge as an alternate venue, to create a more convivial atmosphere for the young woman.

    Although he had agreed before informing the captain and Paris, Jameson was a little concerned with Tarrin's growing attachment to the Bajoran. He understood it was normal for doctors and patients to form bonds, but as Executive Officer, he needed to keep in mind possible security concerns. No matter how much he sympathized with the woman's plight and wanted to get to the bottom of the intel she had brought them, he had to try to keep an unbiased opinion.

    I've still got the scars of the last time I let myself forget that...

    Paris brought them over each a glass of still mineral water, and the three of them stood in tense, pregnant silence for a moment. After taking a small sip, ch'Valos finally turned to face them. It surprised Jameson to see how tired his commanding officer looked, "When this is all over," he sighed, offering a wry smile, "what say you to finding the nearest M-class planet and taking some well-deserved shore leave?"

    Jameson allowed himself a small grin of his own, as Paris raised her own glass in a toast, "Cheers to that, Captain." They brought their glasses together with a gentle clink, as Paris continued, "Although maybe Commander Jameson and I should pick the planet since not everyone appreciated the snowy plateau you decided on last time..?"

    Ch'Valos offered a grin, a rare sight indeed, before responding, "You pink-skins, no respect for the beauty and clarity offered by frozen tundra."

    It was good to see ch'Valos lightening up even just a little, so much so that Jameson was sorry to watch his grin fade away in seconds as the Lounge doors opened once again. This time, it was to admit Dr. Tarrin and Lieutenant Yeoh as they accompanied the young Bajoran woman.

    Even ensconced within an anti-grav wheelchair guided by Tarrin, it was clear to all that the woman was still feeling the effects of Cardassian 'hospitality'. She was rail-thin, pale and exhausted looking - not even the deep and dreamless sleep of suspended animation had been able to offer her adequate rest.

    As the two of them gently led her to the lower deck, ch'Valos indicated for them all to take seats. Paris, naturally, declined, instead choosing to maintain a standing position between her captain and Jameson himself. After fetching a glass of water for her, Yeoh took a seat next to the Bajoran, while Tarrin kept a vigil behind his patient.

    After a moment, ch'Valos cleared his throat, "So, Doctor," he started, "What exactly are we all here to talk about?"

    * * *

    During the course of the following hour, ch'Valos felt a confusing assortment of conflicting emotions as he listened to what their Bajoran guest had to say. The most prevalent was the early stirrings of great respect and awe for the young woman in front of him.

    The Bajoran, who had finally had the chance to introduce herself to them as Yerrin Hana, sat securely in her hoverchair with an unmistakable aura of strength and pride. Even after all she had endured, she still maintained her core essence, despite the fact her physical abilities had waned.

    In many ways, she reminded the Andorian of himself, when he too had gone through an all-too-similar experience. Back in the early days of his career, in the heady days of the late 22nd century, when the Klingons nipped at the Federation's heels and Romulans were the insidious bane of the Beta Quadrant. A lifetime ago...

    But lurking beneath his admiration, stalking him like a Tiberian bat, was a cold sliver of shame and guilt. Because of what he knew he would soon be forced to tell her. Something that went against everything he believed and thought both Starfleet and the Federation stood for.

    "I was in that place for 18 months," she continued, "and every day was a struggle to keep it from destroying my pagh."

    Pagh? Shooting a curious look at his communications chief, ch'Valos saw she was already checking her PADD. When she finally met his gaze, she looked rather confused, "Uh, the closest translation I have is, uh... 'energy meridian'?" She shrugged, "I'm sorry, sir."

    Jameson abruptly leaned forward in his chair. Apparently his interest was piqued. "In other words, a soul, Lieutenant," he supplied with an amused grin, as the young junior officer blushed with embarrassment.

    Hana nodded in agreement, brushing away some errant hair from her ear, revealing the small external UT node hooked around her ear. Although she could speak and understand Federation Standard, by wearing the node, it helped ease any major language issues. "Yes, it's our spiritual life-force, what makes us who we are, which carries on after our bodies die."

    She went silent, absently playing with a necklace of some kind, on which was a small circular charm. "There were days that I truly believed that death would be the only release my pagh would have." Surprisingly, she smiled with a warmth ch'Valos recognized all too well, in the faces of each of his bond-mates every time he called home, reflecting back how full his own heart was. The tender glow of love. "But Zach kept me going. He kept all of us going."

    "Zach?" Paris asked with a hushed, respectful tone, "You mean Lieutenant Zachary Starke?"

    There was a human expression that ch'Valos had learned during his time on Earth at the Academy: 'the penny drops', meaning that moment of clarity with an epiphany struck. This was one such moment as the pieces fell into place.

    From the look of it, everyone else around had also just figured it out. "Your husband is Lieutenant Starke."

    Hana offered a small nod as a reply, her bottom lip quivering slightly, eyes bright with tears, fighting against her grief as she continued, "He never used his rank. The Cardassians beat us if we tried to hold onto our previous lives, always referring to each of us by ident numbers. But to me, he was Zach."

    "What about the rest of the crew of the Starship Selene?" While he should commend Paris for her focus on the main topic, the romantic in him almost made ch'Valos rebuke his Second Officer with a sharp glare. Likewise, he saw the disapproval in Jameson's dark look towards the oblivious (or more than likely, unfazed) security chief.

    Hana shook her head again. Her despondent look said it all before she confirmed it with words, "I'm sorry. By the time I got there, there was only a handful left from your ship. Zack was the one in charge, the other four always looked to him for orders."

    Only five left from a crew of 25. Disappointment gripped ch'Valos's heart in an icy hold. It's been ten years since the Selene was declared lost. To want to believe that the entire crew was still alive? Naive and foolish, I admit, but is it so wrong to hold onto hope?

    He could the sorrow and anguish he felt at the fate of their absent brethren reflected in the sombre expressions of his senior staff. About what the Selene crew would have endured while in captivity. Forced to work themselves to death, maybe something worse, if the stories our intelligence contacts passed on are even half-true...

    Ch'Valos wanted to rage at the indignity of their comrades' situation, an intolerable situation he remembered far too vividly from his own career. All he wanted at that moment was to slam his fists into the faces of every Cardassian he could find in the sector. I don't even care if it proved that oily Zakdorn correct. It would be worth it.

    But he knew he wouldn't. That he couldn't.

    Using the exercises he'd learned from the Vulcan Master who had mentored him through his time at university on Weytahn, he acknowledged his anger and outrage, letting the fire blaze within his heart for several long seconds before taking back control and willing the flames to burn out.

    As he came back to himself, he focused on Hana as she spoke up again, having allowed the Gettysburg officers a few silent moments to process her news, "But there are still a good few dozen or so that are being held at the camp. People who are just as much victims of the Cardassian tyrants as my people or your officers."

    "People depending on you for rescue."

    And there it is... With a grimace, ch'Valos remembered another apt human phrase, ‘the other boot has dropped.’ What is it with humans and their aphorisms about objects falling? He quickly dismissed the errant thought, as Hana continued, "They won't take kindly to our escape, so if we don't move fast, they'll kill all the other prisoners."

    Ch'Valos schooled his features before meeting Hana's expectant and eager gaze. "Miss Hana," he started, hating how cold and emotionless he sounded, "I can only sympathize with what you and the others must have endured. As does Starfleet Command."

    He imagined he could almost hear the Bajoran's heart breaking as he continued, "But I must inform you that it has been decided by my superiors that any kind of rescue operation would not be the best ideas at the current time."

    It wasn't just Hana who stared at him with dumbfounded shock. The stunned and perplexed expressions of the majority of his senior officers present made it very clear that they could not believe what their commanding officer was saying.

    What surprised ch'Valos the most was that of all of them, it was Jameson who seemed to take the most offence to it. Surely the so-called 'Mediator of Mordan IV', who secured the release of hostages through negotiation and diplomacy, would support and understand Starfleet's decision?

    A decision that ch'Valos himself abhorred and was immensely disappointed in.

    "Y-- you mean, you're not going to rescue Zach?" Hana's voice quivered with anger and confusion as she glared at him with daggers in her eyes, "You're just going to leave him and the other there to die in that place?!"

    "Of course not," he replied, doing his best to not rise to her bait, to keep his own anger in check. "Starfleet Command will pursue the diplomatic channels we already currently have open with the Central Command of the Union."

    Hana practically exploded with apoplectic rage, "They won't listen to that! They don't care about diplomacy and talking! All they care about is their precious and all-mighty Union and how anyone they encounter can be put to service for the great and glorious State!"

    She looked to each and every one of the Gettysburg officers sat and stood around her, "Surely you understand that? They'll kill all of them! We have to do something now! How can you all just ignore this..?"

    Once again, ch'Valos found himself caught off-guard by Jameson choosing to be silent about it. Instead, it was Paris who met her challenge, "We're just one ship, we can't--"

    Hana didn't give her a chance to finish, "One ship that is more sophisticated than anything I've ever seen compared to the Cardassians. That is part of a great armada that has stood against threats and aliens I could never dream of!"

    She looked up at Tarrin, tears streaming down her cheeks as she tried one final pleading, "Doctor? Surely, you can't go along with this?"

    It was clear that the Betazoid was torn over what to say, what to do. He looked to his commanding officer, conflicted and confused, before finally responding, "I'm sorry, Hana, but Starfleet Command must have good reason to believe this is the best way to act."

    Hana sat there in stunned silence for several tense seconds. Finally, she looked down at her lap, tears falling onto her clasped hands. When she spoke, her voice was cold as space itself, "Zack was the one who helped put the escape plan together. He knew that once word got back to your vaunted Starfleet Command, that you wouldn't rest until everyone was free."

    "I can't believe how wrong he was. About all of it."

    She finally wiped away her angry tears, sitting up straighter as she gave Tarrin only the briefest of glances, "Get me out of here. Take me back to my room."

    Ch'Valos offered a slight nod of dismissal to his C.M.O., allowing him to manoeuvre the hoverchair out of the Officers' Lounge with all due haste. Her departure did nothing to dispel the atmosphere of outrage and confusion that continued to linger. He saw it in the eyes of his remaining officers as they looked to him, to one another, for some kind of understanding as to how they had suddenly become 'the bad guys'.

    He just wished he could give them the answer that they craved...

    * * *​
    [Part 1 to be concluded very soon..!]
     
  11. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Got caught up on this.

    Good stuff with a good-old fashioned Trek-like dilemma. Follow orders or "do the right thing". I'm pretty sure how Kirk would have handled this, a bit iffy on Picard but the question is what is Ch'Valos going to to do?
     
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  12. Orbing Master

    Orbing Master Ensign Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    All her life, Anysa Yeoh had used a sure-fire 'quick fix' whenever she felt down or low. A large bowl of vanilla/chocolate ice-cream with sprinkles and double-chocolate sauce. It had never failed.

    Until now.

    As she idly pushed her spoon around what little remained of her indulgent after-dinner treat - or at least as close as the Gettysburg's food synthesizers could manage, anyway - Yeoh found it had done nothing to lift her spirits. Instead, she continued to glumly consider the utter failure of her fledging career as 'diplomatic liaison', especially considering their Bajoran guest now refused to even speak to her.

    "I don't get it," she finally muttered tiredly, hoping her dinner companion had some words of wisdom for her, "We're supposed to be the good guys, right? Why aren't we running off to the rescue?"

    As she waited for whatever response Sarah-Beth Wyzsynski might have, Yeoh privately admitted that she already knew the answer to her query. She'd studied Interstellar Political Relations as one of her electives back at the Academy. Starfleet had a duty to respect the sovereignty of individual political nations. They couldn't just waltz in whenever one power or another did something they disagreed with.

    No matter how abhorrent.

    As sworn officers of the United Federation of Planets, Yeoh and her colleagues had to respect both the chain of command and the rules and regulations they had agreed to uphold and follow.

    But right now, the Gettysburg's Chief Communications Officer hated feeling so utterly useless. A feeling only exacerbated by the fact that Wyzsynski hadn't offered a reply. She looked over and frowned, more than a little miffed as she realized why her friend was so silent - the Chief Science Officer's nose was still buried in her PADD. Her more health-conscious meal choice of an assortment of sliced fruit had apparently been forgotten about.

    Picking up a grape from the untouched plate, Yeoh lightly threw it at Wyzsynski. It bounced off her uniform and onto the PADD. The science officer jolted in surprise, shooting her an annoyed look, "Hey! What was that for?"

    Yeoh pursed her lips, unimpressed to sat the least, "Excuse me, but I'm having a crisis of faith over here." She sat back, crossing her arms, realizing belatedly how petulant it made her look, "I'd appreciate some comfort and support from my best friend."

    Wyzsynski's glare softened, and she ducked her head in shame, "I'm sorry, Niss. I was listening..." She trailed off, unable to even pretend a little, "Well, okay, half-listening. But I'm swamped with a backlog of reports and surveys from the last two systems." She glanced down at another PADD, picking it up as she read it, "Not to mention some very confusing forensic scans from the samples we beamed aboard of that Cardassian shuttle that make absolutely no sense to me at all."

    Finally, she looked to Yeoh again, more then a little defensive, "So, maybe you can give me a break if I'm not totally hooked on your every word."

    Jeez, way to make me feel like I'm the selfish one. Yeoh opened her mouth to protest. It wasn't that she wanted to be the undivided source of attention, she just wanted a little advice or at least someone to act like they were acknowledging her concerns. But before she could say so, Wyzsynski put her PADD down and lifted her hands in surrender, "That said, I do actually get where you're coming from."

    The dark-skinned woman sighed deeply, "It does make you wonder sometimes. Why we're out here in the first place."

    Tell me about it... Dropping her spoon into the melted mess of ice-cream, Yeoh finally admitted defeat. It wasn't helping. Neither was she in the mood to eat anymore.

    She was considering dumping the bowl and unfinished contents into the recycler when she notices the approach of the final member of their usual evening-meal trio. T'Vel placed her own meal - a bowl of plomeek broth, judging by the smell - on the table, "Good evening."

    When neither of them replied, she arched an eyebrow, "Curious. Is something wrong?"

    "Don't ask," Wyzsynski stage-whispered to the Vulcan, before grinning widely when Yeoh poked her tongue out at her in response. T'Vel offered no further comments, simply began to sip her meal at a steady, oh-so-logical, pace.

    Despite her dour mood, Yeoh was thankful to have these two in her life. Serving on the Gettysburg was tough. Captain ch'Valos demand the best from his crew and they gave him their all. Being head of a department, especially at their relatively young ages, was a lot of pressure.

    But it was thanks to the bonds she formed with Sarah-Beth and T'Vel that Yeoh felt like she could do this, make something of her self and her career. They may be her superior officers in rank, but they never treated her as a simple subordinate. Instead, they challenged her in ways that allowed her to push her boundaries. Wyzsynski was a certifiable genius, who dabbled in too many scientific disciplines to Yeoh to remember, while T'Vel, despite her emotional reserve, had taken Yeoh under her wing and taught her valuable skills she'd put to good use as head of the Communications department.

    Most importantly of all, though, was that they were her friends. Something everyone needed in life, no matter what they did.

    That was when it hit her. Maybe that's it. I was so consumed with being the perfect liaison. But all Yerrin really needs right now is to know she has a friend on board. It would be tough - the Bajoran was nursing a lot of pain and anger, but Yeoh knew she had to at least still try and be there for the young survivor. In any way, she could.

    Taking a break from her broth, T'Vel broke the amiable silence between them after sipping some of her glass of water, "I apologize for my tardiness tonight."

    "Let me guess..." Wyzsynski drawled, nibbling on a slice of apple, "Busy with a backlog of work?"

    "Indeed." The ghost of a frown passed across the Vulcan's face, "My after-action helm report required more time than I originally allotted the task."

    Yeoh offered a supportive smile, "You pulled out some fancy flying, T'Vel."

    T'Vel inclined her head in a brief nod of acknowledgement at the praise, "I did what was necessary, Anysa, but I appreciate your words." She shook her head, "However, I am disappointed that I will not have the opportunity to debrief the pilot of the Cardassian shuttle. They too were also capable of some 'fancy flying."

    The mention of the pilot reminded Yeoh of what Yerrin had informed her of only a few short hours ago. He had been a Cardassian officer who had come to abhor the way that the military exerted so much influence and control over the lives of the civilian populace. Who had felt that the way the 'workers' were treated was wrong, that no-one should be treated as such, alien or no.

    "His name was Kol Geveat," Yeoh supplied, "A junior officer assigned to the barracks detail." One who, according to Yerrin, had willingly agreed to help smuggle out those within the stasis tubes. Not someone who had been taken as a hostage, as the Cardassian Central Command claimed in their official report. I really want to believe her, or am I just being too trusting? Too naive?

    "To manoeuvre such an antiquated and dilapidated shuttlecraft through a remarkably dangerous area of space is no mean feat," T'Vel continued after another moment's silence. "He rightly deserves praise for his bravery and tenacity."

    Yeoh nodded in agreement and was about to suggest a toast to fearless pilots, when Wyzsynski abruptly leaned forward, fixing T'Vel with a confused gaze, "Hold on, sorry. What do you mean by 'dangerous area of space'?"

    T'Vel's expression remained impassive as she answered, "According to the flight data sent to us from the Central Command, the shuttle came from the Rakal system in Almatha Sector, travelling on a direct course through Dorvan Sector. This would mean that they had to cross through the McAllister C-5 Nebula."

    The answer did not seem to satisfy Wyzsynski in the slightest, as her frown deepened into an annoyed scowl, "That doesn't make any sense, T'Vel."

    T'Vel seemed almost nonplussed, "Please explain."

    "Yeah," Yeoh found herself asking, feeling more then a little lost right then, "What's so dangerous about this nebula."

    Turning to look at her, the Vulcan helmswoman took on her familiar 'teaching' tone as she answered the question. "The McAllister C-5 Nebula is a protostellar nebula. within the territory recently claimed by the Union," she explained patiently. "Unmanned deep-space probes have conducted studies of it though, which revealed that the high level of particle flux within the nebula would cause serious damage to any ships that remained within it for too long."

    Okay, I think I understood most of that. Astrophysics was not really Yeoh's forte, too much 'hard science' for her liking. But she got the gist of what T'Vel was telling her, enough to put two and two together. "So, wait," she queried, looking back at a somewhat-agitated Wyzsynski, "would that 'particle flux' or whatever explain your weird forensic scans?"

    The science officer shook her head with such nervous energy that her hair bobbed this way and that, "No. No, see, that's the thing." She practically tossed one of the PADDs she was still holding to T'Vel. Only the Vulcan's quick reflexes allowed her to catch it so nimbly, "Here, read this for yourself."

    T'Vel did as suggested. As she studied the PADD, her left eyebrow slowly began to arch upwards, "Most curious."

    Yeoh couldn't help but feel a little left out but felt better as Wyzsynski leaned forward, as if she was about to spill a huge secret, "The debris from the shuttle, it didn't contain any of the particle flux traces you'd expect from a ship passing through the McAllister. None whatsoever."

    She quickly cut off whatever line of questioning T'Vel was about to start, "There is no way a shuttle that run-down, with engines that overtaxed, could have passed through the nebula at a high enough velocity to avoid even the smallest level of exposure."

    T'Vel slowly nodded as she put the PADD down back on the table. "I find myself in agreement with you, Sarah-Beth."

    As the two women continued their debate, Yeoh remained silent as the ramifications of what they had realized hit her.

    The Cardassians had lied to them.

    It wouldn't have been the first time, either. According to video evidence submitted by the Union, the escape had cost the lives of several Cardassian soldiers as well as inflicting severe secondary casualties among the detainee populace. However, Dr Tarrin was firmly convinced the said footage had been faked. That, if the other detainees were in the same weakened physical state as Yerrin and her brethren, they would not have had a hope in Hell in pulling off such an audacious and destructive escape

    Yes, she was nursing a major-grade 'schoolgirl crush' on the Betazoid C.M.O., but that didn't mean her faith in him was any less justified. So, if the Cardassians had lied about that, they could most certainly lie about this as well

    That just left one question in Yeoh's mind.

    Where the Hell are our being really being held..?

    * * *
     
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  13. Orbing Master

    Orbing Master Ensign Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    The hours that had passed since the meeting in the Officers’ Lounge had not sat well with Mark Jameson. The entire meeting had left behind a nasty bitter aftertaste. Seeing the young woman who had suffered so much in tears because of what Captain ch’Valos had to say… it had not been a comfortable experience. For any of those present.

    He despised what his commanding officer had been forced to tell her. It felt wrong. It was wrong. On a professional level, Jameson knew and understood the reasons for it, that ch’Valos had simply been passing along what he himself had been told. But that didn’t make it any less morally objectionable to hear. The orders any easier to follow.

    What a difference a year makes. Back when he commanded the Magdalena, he would have taken those orders, or ones like it, in stride and gone about his business. But now, he’d seen the other side of the equation. The cost of ignoring your conscience to do what you’re told is right.

    Not what you believe - what you know - is right.

    Now, as he sat alongside ch’Valos and Paris in the Gettysburg’s conference room, Jameson felt his resentment growing exponentially. He didn’t bother to mask his anger, glaring with fury at the conceited and gloating, rubbery face of Ambassador Metruka as he finished speaking.

    “While the possibility of the Cardassians having taken Federation prisoners is appalling,” Metruka explained, “we are at a decidedly delicate juncture in our diplomatic relations with them. We’ve already engaged in an armed confrontation with the Union’s military and any further provocation on our part could easily lead to full-blown hostilities.”

    “So, let me just be clear…” Jameson could no longer hold his tongue, ignoring the steely look ch’Valos shot his way. “You’re perfectly happy to leave an unknown number of Federation citizens - Starfleet officers and civilians alike - to continue being mistreated in a Cardassian gulag?”

    He pushed himself up, pressing his palms into the tabletop, barely resisting the urge to ball them into fists, “All to save face with a ‘cultural exchange’ that we all know is just a cover for a pissing contest?!”

    “You’re out of line, Commander Jameson,” replied Admiral Langford. The commander of K-21 narrowed her eyes at him, safely ensconced within her office light-years away. The conference room viewer was in split-screen mode, also showing Metruka, Captain Trujillo and her Tellarite first officer in a similar conference room on the Reykjavik. “I suggest you take it down a notch.”

    Metruka made a derisive sound in the back of his throat, presaging his caustic reply. “No, Commander, and I resent the implication. I’m saying that if we do not tread carefully, there could be a great many casualties on both sides.”

    The ambassador shifted his gaze to look towards the image of Langford. “Admiral, the seizure of a Starfleet vessel a decade ago could explain the accelerated advances in Cardassian technology we’ve observed since First Contact. However, without further proof, we dare not take the Bajoran woman’s assertions as absolute truth. They are an oppressed people who may be desperate to align themselves with a foreign power which might help free them. Are we willing to risk all-out war just because this woman has a Starfleet emblem that may have come into her possession some other way?”

    Langford met his challenge with the cool manner she was well known for, “It appears Starfleet Command feels the same way about this situation as you do, Ambassador.”

    Jameson saw the barest hint of discomfort, Langford’s jaw tensing just enough to be visible, “Without definitive proof, HQ feels that we should proceed as planned. These talks are our best chance at finally hammering some kind of agreement or understanding between the Federation and the Union.”

    Trujillo cleared her throat. “With all due respect, Admiral, surely Command wouldn’t deny us the opportunity to reconnoitre the situation and determine for ourselves whether the Cardassians are holding any of our people?”

    Jameson wanted to cheer in appreciation of Trujillo’s quiet but firm show of solidarity. Given ch’Valos’s own silence on the matter, a silence he found both damning and unnerving, it felt a relief to have someone with a captain’s bar on their lapel offering support.

    Langford shook her head, “I’m afraid not, Captain Trujillo. Without any real substantive evidence, we cannot risk any action that might offend the Cardassians even more. Given how territorial they’ve been in all our dealings with them, I doubt they would acquiesce to any requests to poke around in their space.”

    “Sir,” Trujillo offered, “despite the Cardassians’ greater numbers, Hadrian has the tactical advantage here. We could demand that one of our ships be allowed to scan the planet in question. If they allow it and we find nothing, we’ll know the Bajoran was trying to manipulate us. If they refuse, we have the ability to press the issue.” She sat back in her chair, seemingly oblivious to Metruka’s horrified expression next to her. “I’m all for diplomacy, but if they’re holding our people, I have no qualms about shooting my way in there to get them out.”

    The icy look the admiral gave Trujillo made it clear how Langford felt about the suggestion, “Which is why we are keeping you and the Reykjavik away from the contested area, Captain.” She took a moment to shake her head, sighing heavily, “This is all very much a situation that needs to be dealt with gently and carefully. Not with a barrage of photon torpedoes.”

    “With that in mind,” she continued, addressing everyone, “the Reykjavik and her crew will continue to assist Ambassador Metruka with his diplomatic efforts and establish a better understanding with the Union as a whole. As for Task Force Hadrian, all ships will be receiving updated orders and formation information.”

    Trujillo cast a grim expression towards her XO, obviously displeased with being dismissed out of hand by her superior. From what Jameson knew of the woman and her reputation, Trujillo must have grown used to such reactions from the admiralty. She was rumoured to be a ‘blunt instrument,’ the kind of captain you dispatched to settle an issue by force of arms, not finesse. Trujillo had cut her teeth on opponents like the Klingons and Romulans, and Jameson figured she recognized an imperialistic people when she encountered one.

    Like him, Trujillo doubtless knew the Cardassians were cunning, duplicitous, and dangerous. Handling them with kid-gloves and diplomatic niceties merely delayed the inevitable.

    There would be a reckoning with them eventually.

    “Admiral, Ambassador,” ch’Valos abruptly spoke up, “I have to ask. What are we to do with our guests?”

    When neither Langford nor Metruka seemed inclined to answer, ch’Valos continued on, “We have given all the care we are able to the occupants of the stasis tubes. However, their status is still somewhat… undetermined at current.”

    Metruka frowned, his facial pockets puckering. “How so, Captain?”

    Jameson noted how ch’Valos’s antennae, which had been lying flat across his hair, now twitched with agitation, “Bluntly put, Ambassador, I deliberately kept the survival of the shuttle occupants from you. Now that you know that was not the case, will you be sharing this with the Cardassians?”

    The Zakdorn diplomat sat back and appeared thoughtful. “I’ve always believed that one of the most potent ‘weapons’ in the Federation’s diplomatic arsenal is our adherence to the truth. On more occasions than I can count, the fact that the Federation’s word is accepted as being duranium-clad, even by our enemies, has prevented multiple conflicts with the Klingons and the Romulans.”

    He rubbed his chin absently, momentarily lost in thought before continuing. “Having said that, I see no reason to return abused people to their tormentors, so long as the Cardassians believe them dead and there is no chance of them turning up evidence to the contrary.” He met ch’Valos’ gaze through the viewscreen. “They expect us to lie, Captain. If they catch us in a lie, especially one so egregious, all chance of settling this matter without further bloodshed will have been lost.”

    As Metruka spoke, Jameson noted that while ch’Valos remained unfazed, Admiral Langford seemed to grow somewhat uncomfortable until she finally spoke up, “I believe the Bajorans can hang tight aboard the Gettysburg for now, perhaps being relocated somewhere more suitable and permanent once we have confirmed any redeployment of Task Force Hadrian.”

    Ch’Valos curtly dipped his head in a brief nod, “Of course, Admiral.”

    Jameson breathed a sigh of relief, as the meeting came to an end, with Reykjavik signing off, then Langford. At least we can do right by these four lost souls.

    He wanted to feel good about that. But it just wasn’t enough to erase the memory of the haunted look in Yerrin Hana’s eyes that he’d seen earlier directed his way.

    One more thing he knew he would have nightmares about...

    * * *
     
  14. CeJay

    CeJay Commodore Commodore

    Joined:
    Feb 5, 2006
    Quite a dilemma here for the fine crew of the Gettysburg. Particularly enjoyed how they each wrestle with the consequences of their inaction, desperate to do what they know to be right. But in Starfleet, sometimes that means doing nothing at all and biding your time. Not an easy pill to swallow.
     
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  15. Orbing Master

    Orbing Master Ensign Red Shirt

    Joined:
    Apr 16, 2008
    "You're benching us?!"

    The words exploded out of ch'Valos before he was even aware of thinking them. Each syllable filled with anger and disbelief. While it was never good to speak to a member of the admiralty with that kind of tone, right now ch'Valos didn't give a damn.

    For her part, Langford remained impassive. But her own voice had a barely-restrained heat behind her words, "I don't appreciate that tone, Captain."

    Taking a moment to collect himself as he let out a heavy breath, ch'Valos dipped his head in apology, "I'm sorry, Admiral." But he wasn't going to let this lay, "I just fail to see how removing Gettysburg from Task Force Hadrian does any good."

    Langford's severe mien softened as she shook her head, "This comes directly from HQ, Captain. The Chief of Starfleet Fleet Operations herself. In order to make a show of Hadrian being less of a military response and more of a scientific endeavour."

    "I see." Inwardly, ch'Valos scoffed at the very idea. It would totally undermine any kind of tactical reprisal Starfleet were to launch if the Cardassians did launch an all-out attack if all the 'heavy-hitters' were pulled back from the disputed zone.

    With the Excelsior-class Exeter already back at K-21, removing Gettysburg would leave only the Portsmouth, a Belknap-class strike cruiser, as the most tactically-oriented vessel part of Hadrian. The other ships that made up the Task Force could hold their own in battle, but they were primarily designed for exploration, not battle.

    "Instead, we'll be rotating in several more science vessels to supplement the remaining vessels with the Task Force," explained the admiral, as she consulted a PADD on her desk. "The USS Earhart has been dispatched and should arrive on station to relieve the Gettysburg within the next 10 hours."

    The Andorian suppressed a grimace. The Earhart was an Oberth-class mission scout. Hardly the calibre of a Constellation-class star cruiser. "I suggest that the Herakles be tapped to carry the flag, Admiral," he offered, accepting the inevitable with resignation, "After myself, Captain Sa'Vor is the most senior officer and experienced commander."

    It also helped that Sa'Vor commanded a Centaur-class starship. It may not have the fire-power of the Gettysburg, Exeter or Portsmouth, but the Herakles was fast, spry and nimble, having only been commissioned a year ago. It had even seemed to ch'Valos that the hull practically gleamed in starlight, when the Gettysburg and Herakles had crossed paths two months ago.

    Langford nodded graciously, accepting his recommendation, "Once the Earhart relieves you, you're to make best speed to Starbase G-6. You've already been booked in for a repair slot."

    That can't be right. "Admiral?" He leaned forward, his patience being tested once again, "We're not being recalled to K-21?"

    Langford shook her head again, "Not according to these orders, Captain. HQ wants the Gettysburg to head to G-6." She shrugged, "Besides, it would be a better place for your guests to be debriefed and make arrangements."

    G-6 was an impressive facility, with orbital shipyards as well as a sprawling planetary starbase. However, it was well out of the way, with both K-21 and Starbase 47, each with their own significant repair facilities, much closer to Gettysburg's current position.

    But perhaps that's the idea...

    "Of course, Admiral," he replied. All too aware of how flat his voice was. But he recognized this thin cover story for what it really was now - a way to keep ch'Valos out of the way. No doubt, he mused, Metruka's whispers into someone's ear back at DiploCorps is the origin of this decision.

    The admiral frown did nothing to sell a weak attempt at a smile, "Don't look so glum. Take advantage of some needed down-time. You and your crew have been part of Hadrian since its formation, you're way overdue to be rotated out for some R&R. Enjoy it."

    Ch'Valos could hear what wasn't being said. The underlying order to her words. With as much grace and dignity as he could muster, the Andorian thanked Langford before signing off. With the screen off, he sat in the darkness of his ready room for several long moments as he worked to get his turbulent emotions under control.

    I feel as though I have been sent to my room without supper. The events of the last few days had left an incredibly sour taste in his mouth. Too much had happened in too short a time that did not sit right with him. But he was helpless to do anything about it.

    Seeing as there was little point in delaying it anymore, ch'Valos opened the intercom to the bridge. When Jameson responded, he requested that a channel to the Herakles be opened. Sa'Vor deserved to hear it from him that he would be assuming command of Hadrian, just as Muller had done for him only several short days ago. Then, he relayed their new orders and to have the Gettysburg ready to depart as soon as the Earhart arrived.

    "Sir?" Jameson was understandably curious. "But Starbase G-6 is--"

    Something inside him flared. "I'm well aware of where G-6!" Shame washed over ch'Valos in an instant. The X.O. didn't deserve that. He let out a ragged breath before continuing, all too aware of the hushed silence over the comm-link, "You have your orders, Commander."

    "Yes, sir," Jameson responded stonily. It only served to increase ch'Valos's feelings of self-loathing at his momentary lack of control, "Bridge out."

    As he sat waiting for his connection to the Herakles, ch'Valos dismally realized that those kinds of feelings, of shame, regret and guilt, were likely something he should get used to.

    They were going to be haunting him for a very long time.

    * * *

    Mark Jameson was getting a headache, and yet had nothing to show for it.

    For the last couple of hours since going off-shift, he'd been staring at each and every detailed star-chart of the surrounding sectors that he could find in the Gettysburg's main computer. Each downloaded and displayed on a PADD of its own, his desk, dining table and some of the deck now covered in them as he tried to make sense of it all.

    "Something doesn't add up," he whispered, fully aware he was alone in his quarters, but having grown sick and tired of the silence, bar the ever-present background hum of a starship's heartbeat. "What am I missing here?"

    The shrill beep of his door chime startled him more than he liked to admit. He was just thankful he didn't cry out in surprise too loudly. Hopefully, whoever was on the other side hadn't heard him. He absently straightened his rumpled white tunic as he stood, "Come in..?"

    When the doors opened to reveal Patricia Paris, Jameson wasn't sure what he was more taken aback by - the fact that, like him, she had ditched her uniform jacket, or that she was holding a bottle of Saurian brandy in one hand, two glasses in the other. "Mind if I come in, Commander?"

    "Uh..." Since coming aboard, Jameson had worked hard to build a genuine rapport with the crew of the Gettysburg. Despite his own misgiving about why Starfleet had put him here, he recognized an excellent crew that worked well together. He had an open-door policy for the crew to come to him with any issues or problems and just like on the Magdalena, had made sure they knew that they could come to him any time, day or night.

    But right now, he was wishing he'd been a bit more distant and aloof. Now was not the time to be interrupted. Not with what he was planning. "Actually, Commander, if you don't mind--"

    Apparently, Paris wasn't one to take 'no' for an answer, as she ever-so-gently pushed past him and strutted into his cabin. With a frustrated sigh, Jameson let his door close. "Sure, come on in," he muttered under his breath. Just ignore me, why don't you...

    He waited as she set the bottle and glasses down on the table in the small dining alcove, before taking in the sight of multiple PADDs lying across everywhere. "Doing a little homework, sir?"

    As her superior officer, he had no need to explain himself to her. But he couldn't help but feel like he had to justify himself against her sarcastic query, "Brushing up. Just because we're off Hadrian at the moment doesn't mean I shouldn't have a better familiarity with the region."

    "Uh-huh." He didn't appreciate her tone, or the snarky raised eyebrow she shot him. He crossed his arms across his chest, only realizing afterwards how defensive a gesture it was. Damn it, Paris. Get the hint!

    "Do you have something to say, Commander Paris?" He did nothing to mask his impatience with her, again noting that it seemed to bounce off her constant air of indifference, just like earlier in the Officers' Lounge.

    She shrugged, oh-so-casually, her coy smirk annoying him more with every passing second, "I thought you might like some company."

    Oh. Her intent suddenly hit Jameson like a smack in the face. Oh, hell no. With a pointed clearing of his throat, he fixed her with a stern gaze, "I'm happily married and monogamous, Patricia. If I've given you any kind of--"

    "Whoa, there, sir!" Her eyes as wide as saucers, Paris frantically waved her arms in the air in front of her. Her grin threatened to split her face in two, "That's the last thing either of us wants or needs right now."

    Relief washed over Jameson. Followed by utter embarrassment at his own presumption. "I apologize, Commander." He offered a contrite smile, "Let's just forget that happened."

    "Already forgotten, sir." Yeah, sure it is. You're gonna hold this over me for a while. If Annie finds out, she'll never let me live it down. But then, why was Paris here with a bottle of brandy.

    The grin finally faded when he asked. Paris's mien became serious, darker. "Because neither of us is happy about the Starke situation." She popped open the bottle and poured a generous measure into each glass, before handing him one. "And I think we both know something has to be done."

    Tread carefully, Mark, he silently warned himself. "Are you suggesting an unauthorized action of some sort, Lieutenant Commander?" His antagonistic tone was a deliberate choice, as was the use of Paris's full rank.

    She sighed, flopping down onto the seating area of the dining alcove, "Permission to speak freely, sir?"

    He offered a nod in reply. She took a sip of her brandy before continuing, "I love Starfleet. I'm a Starfleet Brat to my very core. You can't be a member of my family, and not be." Jameson knew enough about the Paris dynasty to understand what she meant. That family had been part of Starfleet since it's early days as the 'Earth Starfleet'. It was a huge legacy to be a part of and live up to.

    "But I'm not blind to some of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes. That sometimes duty and honour take a back seat to politics. It's wrong. Dead wrong."

    "I agree," he replied honestly, but carefully. Still not sure where this was all going, but hoping he could trust the woman in front of him, "But there isn't always something that can be done about that."

    "Maybe. Maybe not." Paris leaned forward, "But what if now, this whole 'incident', isn't one of those times."

    "What if we can do something. What if we must do something..?"

    He put his untouched glass back on the tabletop, meeting the blonde woman's gaze directly, "Patricia. You realize what you're suggesting. To your superior officer?"

    "Cards on the table, Mark?" Before he could take umbrage at the use of his given name, she put her glass down, before looking back at him with steel and fire in her eyes, "I work in Security, I need to be able to read people quickly and accurately. I thought I had you figured out. When we were in the Lounge, I thought you would be right at Captain ch'Valos's side defending and supporting Command's decision. The power of negotiation over conflict."

    "But you sat there. You didn't say a single word." She grinned, "Then you go and give the esteemed ambassador what for, right in front of the captain and an admiral. That was impressive!"

    Jameson felt a cold shiver, sitting up straighter, "What's your point?"

    "My point is, you surprised me. Like, totally surprised me." Her sly grin came back with a vengeance, "It doesn't happen often, so kudos."

    He picked up his glass and finally took his first sip. The burn of the brandy down his throat helped him focus. To ignore the dark thoughts that the latest reports from Mordan IV he'd read a few hours ago had brought on. "Even if I don't agree," he finally responded, "What can either of us do beyond entertain some heroic fantasies of us charging to the rescue."

    "We can go and talk to the Captain." Her reply was said with such casual aplomb that Jameson couldn't help but chuckle sardonically.

    "Are you serious?!" He slammed his glass back down and stood up, walking across the cabin to get some distance, both physically and emotionally, from the conversation. She's got to be kidding or working some kind of angle. "You really think he'll do anything? That he'll support this? What makes you think he won't throw us both in the brig, let alone listen and hear us out?"

    Paris's gaze hardened, "With respect, sir, you don't know jack about Captain ch'Valos." She took a final gulp of the brandy, before putting her glass down, "I've served with him a lot longer than you and I am telling you to have a little faith. In him and in me."

    "Why?" He glared back at her with equal intensity. On some level, he admired her belief in her commanding officer. Paris was no fool. Maybe there was something to what she was saying..?

    "Because, as you said, we both know that the two of us on our own can't do a damn thing. But with his support, we can."

    It was hard not to get caught up in her utter confidence in ch'Valos. The Andorian had always seemed to work hard to keep Jameson himself at arm's length, for whatever reason. While he did admire his direct superior, he knew he didn't have the same emotional attachment to ch'Valos that many of the other crew had.

    "It all comes down to one thing, Commander," Paris continued, standing up herself and walking up to him, "Do I have your trust? Because if I don't, then I'll walk out of here and we will never talk about this again."

    "But we both know that if I do that, then everyone in that labour camp, Starfleet or not, is dead." She refused to look away, her gaze firm, "I don't want that on my conscience."

    "Do you, Mark?"

    Like I need more blood on my hands. The morbid thought came unbidden. Like it often did when he was too tired to keep them at bay. I pray that the fighting will stop soon. I don't care who wins, Karnas or Sain, just as long as people stop dying.

    No more. "Alright, Patricia." He nodded softly. "I'm in. What's your play?"

    The hair on the back of his neck tickled as Paris gave him another coy smile. She gently tapped at her communicator, "You can come in. You were right. He's onboard."

    Words failed Jameson as the doors to his quarters opened again. There, framed in the entryway was Zahevian ch'Valos. "Interesting talk, Commander?"

    "Captain, I--" Ch'Valos silenced him with a wave, as he stepped across the threshold quickly, hands clasped behind his back as the door closed swiftly.

    "At ease, Commander. We are most assuredly all friends here." Jameson had worked alongside enough Andorians to recognize the twitch of amusement in their antennae. Understanding dawned on him slowly. He sent Paris here. She was his proxy.

    "So..." He strode over to the table, and picked up the bottle of Saurian brandy, giving it an experimental sniff. Nodding in appreciation. "Do we have any more glasses?"

    "I think we have a lot to talk about."


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    End of Part 1
     
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