The Last Days of the USS Starlight Pony (Chap 14)
Previously... Chapter 13:

“I happened to met an elder called Hehos, who was expecting you. He briefed me on what has been happening and asked if I could assist.”

“I guess that means that we would be working together to deal with this situation?”

“Not exactly. You see, I happened to have brought along one of the most capable captains for this situation.”

“How would this captain assist us in the dispute?” asked Neytiri,  “Is he a diplomat with experience on Cait or Ferengar?”

“Well... you would be surprised. He actually making progress in the dispute as we speak. Come...” Admiral Janeway beckoned Neytiri to follow, “You would be surprised who is having issues now.”

And Now..
The Last Days of the USS Starlight Pony (Chap 14)
As the senior crew prepared to leave the briefing room, Councilor Elim Garak walked in. He did not notice the officers that left the room, instead focusing on the Ferengi that was commanding the ship.

“Councilor,” Fludicus began, “allow me to welcome you aboard the USS Starlight Pony.”

“Your welcome is appreciated,” Garak replied, “I see as with most Starfleet crews, everything is working like clockwork.”

“The same cannot be said of Starfleet bureaucracy,” Fludicus said, “Captains can make field decisions but it is Admiralty that set them in stone. But I digress,” Fludicus then shifted gears, “Let’s get to our situation at hand.”

“Ah... as typical of any Ferengi, always getting down to business,” Garak seemed not too pleased before he apologised, “Please forgive me. I have some unpleasant experiences with Ferengi.”

“I suppose it is a common situation with my kind..” Fludicus said, “All right. Business. As we all know we have a common security issue in the Badlands.”

“I agree. The True Way has long been a thorn in the flesh of the Cardassian Union for the last 20 years,” Garak nodded, “A joint effort between Cardassia and the Federation would serve both of us well in checking their advances.”

“I would agree, but unfortunately I am on confidential assignment from Starfleet Intelligence,” Fludicus explained, “It does not mean that we cannot propose such a joint initiative to the higher ups in Starfleet.”

“A good start,” Garak said approvingly as he went to a nearby seat, “If I may?”

“Feel free to,” Fludicus replied as he took up a seat close to himself, “I find all this discussion very exhausting.”

“Agreed, although I find it also a very productive activity in itself,” Garak commented.

“That being said,” Fludicus continued, “We can propose a cooperative effort between the Federation and the Cardassian Union on this front here. Both sides can share tactical reports and hold joint patrols and exercises to improve our coordination together.”

“I see the possibility of our officers participating in an exchange programme. I would like to note that Starfleet has a tendency to recruit Cardassians into their ranks.”

“We do not just take any Cardassian. There is a vetting process so that we can ensure that they are genuine in joining Starfleet. After all, We have those with memories of the Dominion War, and they are wary to have those from an enemy race to join Starfleet. We have cases of Cardassians who infiltrated Starfleet with ill-intent,” Fludicus explained, “Then again, we had similar issues with Klingons and Romulans. We now have members of these races who serve with distinction and honour.”

“Something Cardassia is interested to hear,” Garak said, “I am though more focused in the more immediate matters at hand.”

“Of course,” Fludicus replied, “Lets go to the first and most obvious matter.,” Fludicus indicated at the black Cardassian ship that took up half a window, “It seems that Cardassia has developed some new toys.”

“Guilty as charged,” Garak said, “This is one of the new generation of Cardassian ships. Designed not for strength but for sizing up our opponents. I see our appearance caught you by surprise.”

“You developed cloaking technology,” Fludicus deducted.

“Our own technology,” Garak elaborated, “Following the Dominion War, our military was left... impotent. It did not help that the True Way took advantage of the chaos and absconded with a sizeable portion of our arsenal.”

“I remember that the True Way stole 75 Galor-class ships...” Fludicus recalled, “Did they steal anything else other than ships and weapons?”

“It would seem the case,” Garak replied, “that the True Way’s strength is also their weakness. Thanks to our cultural and scientific exchanges between Cardassia and the Federation, we were able to improve our military capabilities in many different aspects. The result - as seen here - is the Damar-class, an intelligence gathering vessel that should be more than able to defend itself.”

“I take you got other tricks other than cloaking?”

“Quite a few. We managed to develop some advances in signature masking and sensor jamming to increase our survivability.”

“Looks like you lot invested a lot into stealth,” Fludicus commented.

“We want to emphasise on the fact that we want to gather information on our opponents, be it within our borders or without,” Garak said, “We only seek to jump into combat once we are certain of their weaknesses - once we make ourselves known of course.”

“Cunning and Stealth is the new Cardassian ruthlessness?” Fludicus asked with some interque.

“It helps that we show our hands. At least we offer a chance to end our encounters peacefully, unlike in the old days.”

“A good thing too...” Fludicus said, before he switched to a topic related to that, “I suppose you would be happy to allow the Federation to looks at all this technology?”

“All that and more as part of the exchange agreement,” Garak replied, “speaking of concerns, could I bring up one of my own?”

“I’m all ears,” Fludicus replied.

“Glad that you would take up my case,” Garak replied, “I have noticed that you have gotten your hands on one of our stolen vessels.”

“Do you mean the Hideki-class vessel?” Garak nodded at Fludicus’ question, “Yes, we found it wondering in the Badlands and it was clearly under the control of the True Way. We quickly overpowered the ship and arrested the crew.”

“Anything interesting you found from them?"

“A prominent former officer, but otherwise nothing out of the ordinary - yet,” Fludicus replied, “Is there something of interest to you?

“Of course... I am interested in knowing what do you plan to do with the crew and ship itself.”

“We will be taking them back to DS9 for further investigation,” Fludicus replied, “The ship will be examined along with the datalogs we may find and decrypt. We hope that whatever we find from there would be used to indict the said crew for terrorist activities.”

Garak nodded understandingly, “I see. I am to take that the crew would be charged under Federation law?”

“They will be investigated and - as you said - yes, charged under Federation law,” Fludicus replied, “I see you may have some issues with that.”

“Not in the slightest,” Garak said, “apart from the fact that Cardassia is concerned with the welfare of these individuals along with their dependants.”

“Their dependants?” Fludicus asked.

“Families and those entrusted to their care,” elaborated Garak, “Your investigations should reveal that many of them did not join the True Way willingly.”

“Hmmm, yes... we inquired with the crew while conducting some initial investigations. Those that cooperated informed us that they joined the True Way recently. We have even have at least one reported instance of impressment. Even the ship has some disturbing evidence: its passageways are rigged with mines all over the place.”

“I am not surprised,” Garak said, “The True Way has suffered from terrible losses in recent years. You may know that most were veterans of the Dominion War.”

“It explains how come they are so formidable in their own right,” Fludicus said, “They must be losing ground lately.”

“They may not look like it but they are reaching a breaking point. Our intelligence sources now believe that it would be a matter of time and a few more of their leaders out of the picture before they are history altogether.”

Fludicus began to refelt on all the efforts and operations against the True Way, “I always thought the True Way were one step ahead of us. Seems like we are not the only problem they have.”

“Indeed. Over the years the True Way suffered from attrition among its most experienced members. They faced stark choices that greatly affected their lives and family. Some eventually left the True Way, either disillusioned or seeking to move on as Cardassia improved beyond their imagination. Many that remained would either die fighting for their cause, or face capture by our security forces. The result was a massive shortage of personnel and experience among the ranks of the True Way.”

“And that corp of veterans have been shrinking by the day.” Fludicus said, ““Surely the True Way must have seen this coming.”

Garak nodded, “Even though the True Way have received fresh young volunteers, they have been few and far between. Cardassian Intelligence has kept tabs on their recruitment efforts and are confident that on that aspect, the True Way have no future in the Cardassian Union.”

“That sounds like good news for all of us,” Fludicus remarked with some glee.

“We should not celebrate just yet,” Garak clarified with a smile, “As you and your crew would know, the True Way have resorted to more - creative methods of recruitment to supplant their numbers.”

“Yes, seems like the case as of late,” Fludicus said,  going back to a more sobre note, “Many who we questioned said they joined over the last six months.”

“Our spies have leads of such methods employed as far back as two years ago,” Garak explained, “These poor souls forced into their ranks have little choice considering that their lives and that of their families are at stake - often at the mercy of the True Way.”

“ I sympathise with the anyone forced to join the True Way,” Fludicus said,  “However, for the sake of the those who suffered, we need to indict and persecute them as per Federation Law.”

“While it may be the case,” Garak said, “it is my duty to request if the Cardassian Union could forward its case to the Federation. We would like to ask for the repatriation of the ship and the crew to Cardassia Prime.”

“It may not be possible while we conduct our criminal investigations,” Fludicus replied, “While I can arrange for the ship to be returned to Cardassia as soon as possible (after all, it is stolen property), for the sake of protocol, could I ask on what grounds is this request being made?”

“Compassionate grounds,” replied Garak, “The Cardassian Union would not object to the prosecution of those who genuinely joined the True Way and its cause. However, considering that there are those who were forced to join, Cardassia believes that it is those who did not volunteer to join in the first place should be given a chance to rejoin society at large.”

“I do see some merit in that approach,” Fludicus said, “but I am skeptical if the Federation would be willing to allow such an indulgence to go though.”

“We have an analysis on the True Way rebels that we have captured,” Garak explained, “It may not be accurate, but we know that an increasing proportion of those who now serve the True Way would be willing to take up the offer to be rehabilitated once they prove - and been proven - their involuntary service to the cause.”

“ Hmm...” Fludicus thought for a moment, “the last time that Cardassia and the Federation dealt together in the legal field, it was a mess beyond measure.”

“I can assure you that the Trial of Chief O’Brien was a farce that has our collective condemantation,” Garak said, “My proposal would be for a delegation from my side to evaluate and advise those charged by your government on the best course of action.”

“What best course of action for them?”

“They should plead their case of forced or involuntary service to the True Way,” Garak replied, “I am confident that the Federation legal system can offer leniency towards those under these circumstances.”

“And if they refuse such counsel?” Fludicus looked into the vastness of space, “Surely there are those...”

“They would be - obviously - die-hard adherents to the cause,” Garak answered, “Those unfortunately we cannot help. But if you consider the proposal before us, you can see the benefits to all involved.”

“The Federation gets to punish the real culprits, Cardassia gets brownie points all around and those forced to serve get to return to their homes and families.”

“A win-win for everyone - except for the True Way of course,” Garak said, “Would you take up that offer?”

“I would, but that’s not my decision to make,” Fludicus replied, “I am more than happy to present this proposal to the Federation to consider.”

“Regardless, I warmly accept your openness to this idea. To further pursue this matter, I have a deputation aboard my ship what wishes to join your crew,” Garak offered his hand, “with your permission of course.”

Fludicus took Garak’s hand to shake, “I will see to it your request and the delegation are given their due attention. Here’s to our further joint efforts, whatever it may be.”

“I look forward to it,” Garak replied in the witty tone he became notorious for.


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