The Last Days of the USS Starlight Pony (Chap 15)
#1
Previously... Chapter 14:

“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.

And Now...
The Last Days of the USS Starlight Pony (Chap 15)

“Trouble comes in Threes.” - Rule of Acquisition #193

The Ferengi delegation was debating on whether to accept the proposal as presented to the Caitians. What was amazing about it was that in a stunning turn of events, they presented a united front and have settled on expanding the old deal which was... more of the same. The same deal, except with expanded volume and opportunities for profit.


The problem the Ferengi now had was that they could not agree on how to respond. It became apparent from the get-go that there were now three factions among the Ferengi who had ideas on how to respond to the Caitian proposal. And if Rule of Acquisition 193 was to be believed, it was trouble indeed.


Half of the Ferengi wanted to accept the Caitian deal. Being the more social-minded of their kind, they thought it would be the best for both them and their partners. After all, when (not if; it was a given that trade with Cait was too valuable to lose) the agreement was formally signed, everyone would benefit, not least the Ferengi who would enjoy a project increase in their profits.


The second group, who were made up of older Ferengi, had some reservations. While saw the merit of the proposal, they believe that a little more haggling and negotiations was still needed before they could accept the deal. They sought of things like exclusive market access or special pricing of their products of for Caitian purchases. While they saw the current deal improving their prospects, for some reason they could not impulsive instinct to seek a little more profit, even it it meant stressing the Caitian proposal to the breaking point for the sake of one more slip of Gold -Pressed Latinum.


The third group of Ferengi completely opposed the deal completely. They outright rejected the deal and sought to ask for a deal on their own terms. They were clearly the die-hard supporters of the Ferengi philosophy and a tribute to their species’ instinct for maximum profit. Damn the deal for a long-term relationship said one of them, Profit is King.


Each of the Ferengi factions were basically stuck in a disagreement, one that seemed to get worse as the evening wore on. No one would give way, not the majority who supported the deal, nor the third who sought more accomodationg benefits for themselves, nor even the vocal few seeking to tear up the Caitian deal altogether.


Amidst all the pandemonium, One Ferengi stood out from the others. He was clad in a Starfleet uniform, seeking to preside over the three factions and get them to finally agree on something. It was not his uniform that got the Ferengis’ attention: whenever the Ferengi began to get out of hand, the Starfleet officer stood up and held out a short staff topped off with a golden head of a Ferengi. The others would quickly quieten down and hear the Starfleet officers’ counsel.


Even without the Spectre of the Grand Nagus, Captain Nog had already earned much respect from the Ferengi present, what more of all Ferengi. Already renowned for being the first Ferengi to join Starfleet, he arrived at Cait commanding the USS Chimera, the lead ship of her class designed for brutal conflicts. Nog could afford the shock and awe that came with commanding the ship: it was a testament of his Starfleet career that went back to the height of the Dominion War.


Nog noticed two Starfleet officers entering the room. One of them he recognised as Admiral Janeway, who he personally escorted to Cait aboard the Chimera. The other officer was a Caitian, someone he did not recognise immediately.


There was no time to come up to them, as another argument among the Ferengi flared up. As Nog sought to contain that conflict, he saw that his attention is better where it is as of now. The other Starfleet officers were going to the other side of the room where the Caitian delegation was discussing amongst themselves.


Elder Hehos was discussing with a fellow elder on the trade situation when he noticed Admiral Janeway and Captain Neytiri approaching. Asking to be excused, Hehos then went to meet up with the two.


“Ah, Neytiri,” the Elder Caitian began, “I am so relieved to see you again. I was very anxious for your arrival.”


“I was expecting myself to participate in the dispute on behalf of the pride,” Neytiri said, “I came as quickly as I could.”


“Then I am relieved to know that you have proven your dedication to the pride,” Elder Hehos said, “I am also relieved to inform you that thanks to Admiral Janeway, the prides and the clans of Cait have come together to work out an arrangement that benefit us all.”

“It brings much joy that the dispute on our side is resolved,” Neytiri said, “though I am curious on how is this possible.”


“Despite our aggressive tendencies,” Elder Hehos replied, “Admiral Janeway has appealed to our sense of honour and our interlinking relationships with one another so as to come together and form a single united trade consortium to deal with the Ferengi.”


“A consortium?” Neytiri repeated, “I thought that would be something that the Ferengi would be better at forming.”


“We all thought the same,” Elder Hehos said, “And speaking of the Ferengi, look at what they are up to now.”


Neytiri and Admiral Janeway turned towards the Ferengi side of the room, who were clearly not united. In the middle, Captain Nog was (for the moment) keeping the peace amongst the arguing sides. He had been able to lower the Sceptre of the Grand Nagus when we finally noticed the his fellow Starfleet officers at the Caitian side of the room. He left his place among the Ferengi delegation to meet up with them. Neytiri and Admiral Janeway for their part came towards him. The three of them met in the middle. 


“Admiral Janeway,” Captain Nog reported, “I wish to report that progress with the Ferengi has been... challenging.”


“How so has it been challenging?” asked Admiral Janeway, “They are of your kind after all.”


“Let’s just say... the diehards are adamant on maximum profits at everyone's expense. And I mean everyone by that,” Nog replied, “Trust me, it is not getting any better.”


Nog and Neytiri then met eye to eye. Something clicked between the two.


“You look familiar...” Nog said.


“That is correct,” Neytiri replied, “I was part of the training cruise that got ambushed by Klingons...”


“Ah, now I remember...” Nog said, “My uncle Quark mentioned a ship called the Protector.”


“USS Protector. I was assuming the position of first officer under Captain Zoeller.”


“Yeah... quite a loss. He knew what to do in that situation. He and you are to be commended for what happened back there.”


“I still wonder if I should have done anything differently,” Neytiri said, “Maybe tried to rescue him. Or at least buy time...”


“He gave you an order and you followed it,” Nog assured Neytiri, “He knew it was the right thing. You were not prepared for the ambush back there. He died knowing....” Nog took a deep breath, “He died knowing you would all become fine officers.”


“That we have become indeed,” Neytiri said, “That is one training cruise I cannot forget.”


Just then, the Ferengi began to loudly squabble, “Please excuse me. Unfortunately, it seems the Ferengi here cannot sit down and discuss on their own outside a few minutes.”


As Nog returned to calm down the Ferengi, Elder Hehos approached Neytiri and Admiral Janeway, “Please, do not be disturbed by the Ferengi. I am confident they will accept our offer of expanding our current agreements, one way or another. In the meantime, we have much cause to celebrate today. Come, why not join us for a meal?”


“Thank you Elder,” Admiral Janeway replied, “Neytiri and I will join you shortly.”


Seeing Elder Hehos rejoin the Caiting delegation as they began to open some light refreshments and snacks, Admiral Janeway asked with a bit of skepticism, “It's a little premature to celebrate right now, isn’t it Captain?”


“Well, Cait wants to celebrate what he has achieved here today,” Neytiri replied, “I say that it's one way to release all that stress we had getting this trade deal done.”


“The Ferengi could still ruin it.”


“As Elder Hehos would put it, Cait is now united as a single front facing them. They got no way to exploit us the way they used to. They either take our deal, make a better one,” Neytiri paused to observe the Ferengi finally take the Caitian deal seriously, “or leave empty handed.”


“Something tells me the third option is not on the table...” Admiral Janeway remarked, “and by the looks of it, the Ferengi can’t offer a better deal.”


***********************************************************************************


Commanding officer’s log. Fludico Meso Sudundus reporting.
We have returned to Deep Space Nine to hand over the captured True Way vessel as well as its crew, especially Gul Evek. We are scheduled to leave in 18 hours.


Captain James Kurland stood within his office, looking outside into the vastness of space where the Bajoran Wormhole made appearances. He stood still as though he could all day, only move on the occasion to report to Starfleet Command.


On his command desk was a piece of history: A baseball encased in glass. This was no ordinary sports paraphernalia. This was an artifact that belongs (or belonged; depends on who you ask) to the first Starfleet Officer who commanded Deep Space Nine. What puts him apart from of his successors was the fact that he was seen by the Bajorans as ‘the Emissary’, which led him to play a vital role in Bajor’s history. Benjamin Sisko would discover the Bajoran Wormhole, preside over Bajor’s rise from Cardassian Occupation and help it survive the Dominion War. By the time he disappeared, Bajor was well-positioned to enter as a full-fledged member of the Federation.


Fludicus was standing at the opposite side of the table, looking at the back of Captain Kurland as he observed the Bajoran Wormhole burst open once more. He then turned around to reach for his seat at the table.


“I saw your report,” Kurland said as he sat down, “Small catch, but yes, it is a valuable one.”


“Indeed,” Fludicus replied, “Gul Evek I was told is the most senior figure within the True Way caught over the past two years.”


“The question I have now is if we can make him talk,” Kurland said, “Catching him is one thing. Getting him to talk... much less any True Way member is another story. They are quite... loyal to their cause after all.”


“Every man has its price...” Fludicus began.


“Rule of Acquisition number 98,” Kurland had brushed up on his knowledge of the Ferengi Rules of Acquisition as though to get some wisdom in dealing with them, “The problem is that I doubt if we can find the price he is willing to be bought, much less afford it.”


Fludicus had already been thinking one step ahead, “You know, there are currencies that are not usually measured in material wealth.”


“If you mean to bribe Gul Evek through other means, I still have my reservations,” Kurland said, “Cardassians especially of his generation have much loyalty to their state that oversee many aspects of their life.”


“What if I told you there is one aspect of his life the state could not control?”


“Like what? his family? Surely you know from history that the old state could turn family member against member, fathers against sons, daughters against mothers...” Kurland trailed off as he thought of that dystopian world all those years ago.


“Maybe in a general sense Captain,” Fludicus conceded, “However, in this case, we may have found a kink in Evek’s armour.”


“A kink? Cardassians are very careful in keeping their secrets from exploitation. What weakness you think Evek has?”


“His family, as you put forward,” Kurland seems puzzled by the answered, “Please bear with me as I try to explain.”


Kurland sat up as Fludicus began his pitch, “I made the point to look back at his personal profile. Both the Enterprise and Voyager had some mention on him.”


“What did you find?” Kurland asked, trying to take interest.


“I will start from the obvious. Evek was a Cardassian Union officer. Served with distinction during the Cardassian-Federation conflicts and the Dominion War. Anyone who served aboard ships he commanded hold him in high regard.”


“Go on...”


“After the Dominion War, Evek joined the hardliners seeking to oppose Garak’s democratic movement,” Fludicus continued, “Let’s say that failed and he retired from public life... or so it seems.”


“So it seems?”


“Cardassian Intelligence kept an eye on him until a year and a half back,” Fludicus said, “He then just... disappeared.”


“That must be the time that he joined the True Way,” Kurland surmised, “Many hardliners find their ideals aligned with the True Way, no doubt.”


“It is likely he was with the True Way all along,” Fludicus suggested, “Starfleet Intelligence has been building a picture on the True Way leadership, and it looks more grim every day...”


“There is a silver lining to the matter though,” Fludicus continued on the subject, “I managed to recall his family details and found something we could use as leverage.”


“How would his family be as leverage to us?” Captain Kurland then took notice of Fludicus’ answer.


“Gul Evek had three sons. Two of them died during the Federation-Cardassian conflicts. A third son survived the Dominion War. Evek treasures him greatly as well as the family that son has.”


Kurland looked up to Fludicus, and as though he has disapproval to what Fludicus was planning, asked, “Are you planning to blackmail Evek with his remaining son’s family as a bargaining chip?”


“The True Way had already gotten there,” Fludicus clarified, “Cardassian Intel figured out that the True Way had been keeping tabs of his family, using them as security for his loyalty.”


“How did they figure that out?” Kurland asked.


“Apparently Evek’s son’s family was visited regularly by several persons who were connected to the True Way. One of them was suspected in a murder carried out with a lethal injection. A tip-off led local police to do a sting operation against him. The suspect was found with a syringe that matched the possible murder weapon.”


“I am no detective, but the evidence seems a bit flimsy and presumptive...” Kurland said, “What if there was a device that could make similar marks to the syringe? Could the True Way be using that?”


“That was the assumption for the detectives,” Fludicus replied, “It was disproved when the syringe was determined to be of custom design, and clearly not licenced for medical use.”


“Did they charge and convict the individual?” Kurland asked.


“Unfortunately, the suspect took his life before they could investigate further. All they had was his brief testimony and the weapon linked to the murder.”


“That’s a pity...” Kurland said, “How about the other visitors?”


After the suicide, the other visitors simply disappeared, most likely they went underground. It was seen as a sign of guilt by some in the police team.”


“So they bailed out at the first sign of trouble,” Kurland remarked, “Cowards...”


“In the aftermath, there was concern that the family was in jeopardy. Councillor Garak had moved to act before anything else happened. He had the family placed under protective custody, but it may not be enough.”


“How so?”


“Despite the progress of time, there are those who still harbour or sympathise with the True Way and their followers. Councilor Garak now seeks for the family to be under Federation protection. In other words, he wants them moved to Federation space. The further from Cardassia, the better.”


“With the war against the Klingons, it may not be an option,” Kurland said, “Earth is as threatened by the Klingons as just as Cardassia is by the True Way.”


“At least the Klingons are not seeking Gul Evek’s family... At least not yet,” Fludicus countered, “Any case, Garak fears for their lives and safety. We don’t have to look far why...”


“Does Evek know about this?”


“No. At least not yet,” Fludicus replied, “Garak would allow Evek to know once we get his family out of harm’s way, or at least out of Cardassian space.”


“I do question what benefit we can get from moving his family to safety,” Kurland said as he inspected a PADD, “I doubt he would cooperate with us if he learns of it.”


“We gain a debt from him in fulfilling his self-promise: to protect his last son and his family. We may or may not get anything from him in return, but his conscience would jog him on his decisions from thereon out.”


“Then I guess... we should look elsewhere. What about the rest of the crew?” asked Kurland.


“Just as the Cardassian delegation said, many of them did not join the True Way voluntarily. I do not know who would have a harder time from here: the judge, the lawyers or those accused.”


“Leave that to the courts,” Kurland said dismissively, “We can bet a plea deal will be worked out in the end.”


“That leaves me with the question of my next step...” Fludicus said.


“Yes... On the subject of your mission, the engineering team are still analysing the datalogs from the captured ship,” Kurland said, “Even so, we have some interesting findings that could aid your mission.”


“Sounds good,” Fludicus said, “Anything you can tell me?”


“They decrypted enough of the database to indicate that wherever you are heading, you are going to be facing some tough opposition.”


“How tough?”


“Multiple Galor-class warships,” Kurland said. He did sound confident though, “Nothing too hard for you I guess... Just as long as you don’t provoke more than two at a time you should be fine.”


“Forewarned is forearmed,” Fludicus said, “I am already better prepared,” Just then a transmission came ring though unto the office.


“Captain, Phase Two is a go,” a Bajoran female said.


“Acknowledged,” Kurland replied, “Inform the next rotation of ships to implement Phase Two protocols. No exceptions.”


“Yes sir,” the comlink then broke off.


Fludicus was wondering what was going on, what was the ‘Phase Two’ mentioned by Kurland and his subordinate that contacted him. After a deep breath, Kurland was quick to explain.


“I have gotten clearance to intensify the blockade,” Kurland noticed the wonder in Fludicus’ eyes, “We had another two conveys attacked while you were in the Badlands.”


“You are sending more ships to patrol the Badlands?” Fludicus asked.


“More than that,” Kurland replied, “These ships are asked to have tighter security protocols, such as radio silence except to warn other ships away.”


“Let me guess. ‘Lethal force is authorised’ ,” Fludicus deducted. Kurland nodded.


“No one is allowed into the Badlands, not even Starfleet vessels this time.”


“I got 12 hours before my ship is slated to depart,” Fludicus stated.


“It would be too late for you by then, even with SI clearance,” said Kurland, “I have drafted additional personnel to help in outfitting your ship.”


“That’s gracious of you,” Fludicus replied, “How would you advise me to proceed?”


“I expect your ship to be ready in three hours,” Kurland said, “Another three and you would be safely in the Badlands just as the blockade gets enforced. Just to warn you,” Kurland met the Ferengi eye-to-eye, “This time it’s a one-way trip. Once you get in, you are pretty much on your own. No backup. No communications. No retreat.”


“I faced worse,” Fludeicus said, “If that is all, may I proceed with recalling my crew to my ship?”


“I will see to that,” Kurland replied, “One last thing before you leave.”


“Yes sir?”


“You never read the Rules of Acquisition, did you? I could sense it from the way you quoted Rule 98.”


“I actually read it. Only that I was not taught them as part of my upbringing,” Fludicus replied.


“Curious, I thought all Ferengi were taught that from childhood.”


“I was brought up by non-Ferengi. They were traders, just not Ferengi. In fact, I wasn’t even born on Ferenginar.”


“I see...” Kurland then snapped back to business, “We’ll discuss later. Good Hunting Fludicus.”











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