As the Starlight Pony began to take up a defensive position, something seemed to stir amidst the sea of stars. On the bridge, the viewscreen at first showed no change. Suddenly, like a ghost appearing out of nowhere, a ship emerged out of cloak. Its stingray design betrayed its Cardassian origins, however it was clear with a second look that it was an all new design. Unlike the usual Galor-class, the bridge seemed to be embedded into the hull, flaked by its hull fins. Two forward pylons stood out to greet the Starlight Pony, like tusks of an Apex predator. Its tail fork was longer than usual, with the ship cladded in a grey finish with yellow highlights.
“It could be possible,” Mirra replied, then noticed something new, “ The Cardassian ship is hailing us.”
“Any guesses?” Fludicus asked Mirra. Seeing his first officer shaking her head, he shrugged his shoulders, “Let's find out what we got. Onscreen.”
The Last Days of the USS Starlight Pony (Chap 12)
Lieutenant Rimba looked at the console on the bulkhead, much less for the readouts on the display but for his reflection. He had managed to get his collar in order just as his captain noticed him.
“Looking for me Lieutenant?” Neytiri asked.
“Not really,” replied Rimba, “I am more for preparing to escort you off the ship before I go on shore leave.”
“I figured just as much,” Neytiri replied, “How long would you be off?”
“A full month ma’am. My family looks forward to seeing me again. First time in five years.”
“Got tales and fables to tell them?”
“Not to mention they’re getting me a life partner,” Rimba replied, standing up straight, “ They expect me to settle down and start a family.”
“Aren't you a little young for that?”
“It’s my pride’s custom to seek partners early,” Rimba replied, “I am actually considered old now for this. Nevertheless, I am honour-bound to seek a partner for the sake of my family and my pride.”
“Personal pride or your social pride?”
“Of course the latter Captain,” Rimba replied,l trying not to get baited, “My following is small but we produce some of the finest spacefarers within our region.”
As the two reached the ship’s airlock connecting to the space station, the conversation changed to a new topic.
“I suppose you are aware of the current situation on our planet?” Rimba asked.
“What situation?” Neytiri asked in turn.
“Something involving a trade dispute with the Ferengi?”
“Oh,” Neytiri was surprised, “How did you get to know about that?”
“My pride has been considering entering a consortium that wishes to enter trade with the Ferengi,” Rimba replied, “We are not aspiring to be a main partner though; we are in talks to enter as an associate partner. We are more inclined to be a more - dependant ally in many of our social interactions.”
“I see,” Neytiri said, “You may be aware that my pride is the main - beneficiary of the present arrangement with the Ferengi. I have been asked to intervene on their behalf.”
“I hope I can assure you that my pride has no ill will towards yours,” Rimba said, “I do not see any benefit to any pride involved in this dispute.”
“I agree wholeheartedly,” Neytiri replied, she began to tap on the console “There would be nothing to reap from this desute if this continues.”
Lieutenant Rimba seened more tentative to the expected visitor at the docking bay, “I am concerned with our coming visitor. Could it be some rival of yours?”
“I think it would be unlikely,” Neytiri replied, “Why would any of my rivals seek to challenge me? I have been an Alpha rank since high school. Sure, I have been challenged once in a while, but I am yet to see who can beat me in my own game,” the airlock opened to show the docking bay, “ I doubt any female in Starfleet, much less Cait, could beat me one-to-one.”
“Would that be in a pitch battle or an ambush?”
It was a female voice, but it was not Caitian. The pitch and tone was that of a human, clearly that of a senior and authoritative figure.
Clearly an Alpha. One out of Neytiri’s league.
The bridge viewscreen on the Starlight Pony showed an elder Cardassian. Immediately, it was clear that he was an elder statesman.
Fludicus could get some sort of vibe from the Cardiaasian as the latter seems to emit that unnerving yet disarming grin.
A very experienced and cunning Cardassian indeed.
The Cardassian took the initiative, “Greetings Starfleet captain, I suppose you are on a routine patrol?”
Fludicus played his cards carefully, “Sir, although I am in command of this vessel, I am a commander in rank.”
“I see,” the Cardassian replied, “I apologise in advance for not introducing myself properly. I am Councilor Elim Garak, of the Detapa Council.”
“Garak?” Fludicus repeated, his eyes opened with surprise, “As in plain, simple Garak?”
“The one and the same,” Garak replied, “I guess you had read something about me.”
“Dominion War history is mandatory reading for for those assigned to Bajor,” Fludicus explained, “Your profile has been of interest within Starfleet.”
“Of course,” Garak replied, “My contribution to the Federation seems to be of significance to the Federation, no matter how modest it is.”
“It is on that note I should introduce myself,” Fludicus said, “Commander Fludico Meso Sudundus. I command the USS Starlight Pony.”
“A pleasure to meet you Commander,” Garak said, “What brings you to our humble region?”
“I take that you are not aware that you have entered Cardassian Space?”
“I...” Fludicus was clearly shaking in his concern of the revelation, “... would you spare me a moment?”
Elim Garak seemed to be accommodating as the transmission with the Starlight Pony suspended the comlink. Fludicus then gestured to Mirra and Sirol to convene.
“Any thoughts?” Fludicus asked.
Sirol was first to speak, “Sir, Councilor Garak seems to be telling the truth that we are in Cardassian space. We may not accurately navigated the Badlands as well as we thought.”
“Clearly we have been mapping the place, what more you personally heading the project with known star charts in hand,” Fludicus remarked, “How could this happen?”
Sirol hesitated, but she was clear and concise in her reply, “Despite improvements and surveys over the years, it's quite clear that the region itself is very fluid and unstable compared to political borders.”
“Navigating the Badlands has been towards avoiding hazards than defining where borders are,” Mirra added, “No one has been able to map out the Badlands properly since its discovery.”
“Fair point,” Fludicus remarked, “We may have to concede that we have strayed into Cardassian space by accident.”
“Its is a given,” Mirra agreed, “We have a defence agreement with the Cardassians, so it would likely make the whole affair a little easier...”
“It may be much easier if we can try to explain our little incident here,” Fludicus said, “We had attacked Cardassian ships within their territory.”
Mirra could not think of any way or method out of the quagmire that was outside their control. Sirol, being a Romulan, was able to provide a tactful insight into the situation, “This incident is as simple as it looks; it is an accident. We did not know that the Cardassians we encountered were part of the Union, and they in turn were not expected our presence here.”
“What do you suggest?”
“We should be frank with the Cardassians,” Sirol suggested, “As frank as the our conventionality would allow us to.”
“It would be a good start,” Mirra agreed, “But I may suggest as goodwill to the Cardassians, we should offer to help repair their ships and treat the injured due to our attack.”
“An agreeable idea,” Fludicus replied, “Let’s prepare to resume our transmission with the Councilor.”
Nodding, Mirra and Sirol returned to their stations. Fludicus stood in the middle of the bridge, ready to receive Councilor Garak once again.
The viewscreen brought up the image of Councilor Garak, who seemed not to have left his seat all this while.
“Councilor,” Fludicus began, “It seems that there was... a misunderstanding on our part. We were conducting a security mission in the Badlands and we were not aware we had entered into your territory by accident.”
“An understanding situation Commander,” Garak replied, “I always knew that Starfleet was sending occasional expeditions and mission to these parts. I can assure you that as a willing ally, Cardassia is happy to assist you as needed.”
“Let’s say that I am in error in straying into Cardassian space.”
“Please feel relieved that we welcome you openly to our domain,” Garak said assuringly, “These days Cardassia seeks to embrace the visits Starfleet makes be it intentional or not.”
“I hope you would be as accommodating in light of what has happened,” Fludicus continued, “Let's say we attacked yourships without povacation or prior communication.”
“An unfortunate incident,” Garak seemed to be thoughtful over what had happened, “It is a common occurrence among the Cardassian Defence Forces to be attacked without provocation, considering the situation in the Badlands. It's not everyday that we get a friendly-fire incident. Call it an interesting day with opportunities abound.”
“Councilor,” Fludicus said, “While I find it gracious of you to forgive our oversight, my crew and myself feel obligated to make amends. We would be happy to provide any assistance to your ships that have been attacked.”
“I am more than pleased to inform you that the goodwill gesture would be well-received,” Garak replied with a smile, “Much of the crews here are inexperienced compared to the average crew member in Starfleet. It would be a lovely opportunity to learn from you all considering the challenges they face.”
“I am in your debt for such grace and favour you offer,” Fludicus said, “I am compelled to ask for one more indulgence.”
“Please. Say it and would perhaps we could come to something that we could work with.”
“Your sudden appearance both interests and disturbs me,” Fludicus explained, “your vessel seems to be of a new class of ships with some form of cloaking technology...”
“Ah yes,” Garak seemed to be thoughtful in understanding the Ferengi’s anxiety and concern, “Firstly, let me assure you that that my - appearance - is is no cause for alarm. Rather you should take this as an opportunity for both of us.”
“How so?” Fludicus asked, feigning ignorance.
“As you may know, the Federation and Cardassian Union share a scientific and technological exchange agreement,” Garsak said, “I could enlighten you with what we have been working at as of late.”
“I gather you would want to do this in private?” Fludicus asked.
“Wisely proposed,” Garak replied with a smile, “I look forward to meeting you in person.”