The Last Days of the USS Starlight Pony (Chap 18)
Previously... Chapter 17:
“I prefer it to be that way,” quipped Admiral Janeway, “Let’s hope there are no last minute bribes to sabotage the deal.”

“With it being a century long and having limitless potential for growth, I see little purpose in anyone doing such a thing. It would not be... profitable.”

“Indeed,” agreed Neytiri, “there is nothing worse to a Ferengi than destroying your own profits.”

“Right.. Is there anything else to report?” Admiral Janeway asked. Both the captains shook their heads, “Good, because it’s time to go to our more... complicated assignment.”

And Now...
The Last Days of the USS Starlight Pony (Chap 18)

Neytiri found herself looking at a map of the Badlands, marked with red dots. Next to it was a mugshot of an aged Cardassian with a symbol similar to that of the Cardassian Union.

A video clip emerged on the top left of the display. Static marred the footage, but the audio enhanced indicated that he was rallying a crowd listening to him. Just fifteen seconds long, with the message of guiding the Cardassians to the “True Way” and purging the corruption the Federation had tainted their people with. An applause ended the clips.

Neither Neytiri nor Nog would be able to connect the relationship between the three items. Admiral Janeway had to explain.

“This speech was given by Madred, a former Gul of the Cardassian Union and now the leader of the True Way,” Admiral Janeway explained. She then expanded the mugshot and brought out a list of Madred’s service record as well as a list of (suspected) crimes committed.

“Never heard of him Admiral,” Neytiri remarked. It came as not a surprise.

“A figure of his generation,” Janeway said, “A rags-to-riches story. He lived as an urchin on the streets of Lakat until he joined the military.”

“Most of the records we have are from two sources,” Nog elaborated, “The Cardassian Union’s Post-War Audit, and Jean-Luc Picard.”

“Picard?” Neytiri seemed to have something stirred from her memory, “as in the captain of the Enterprise?”

“The one and the only,” Admiral Janeway confirmed, “Commanded two ships bearing that name.”

“Matched only by Kirk,” Nog whispered under the Admiral’s nose.

“Picard was captured by Madred while the former was engaged in a covert mission. It was a set-up by the Cardassians to capture Picard in order to obtain tactical information on several key systems along the Cardassian Demilitarized Zone.”

“They tortured him,” Nog continued, “They nearly broke him when the Enterprise exposed the Cardassian’s invasion plans of Minos Korva.”

“Except he did not break,” Admiral Janeway clarified.

“Typical Cardassian Behavior,” Neytiri sickeningly remarked, “No wonder why so many veterans want to kill them.”

“What the veterans do not realise is that the Cardassians themselves are a product of their history and their regime,” Admiral Janeway said, “They are otherwise people like you and me.”

“Torturing Picard must had been fun for Madred,” Nog remarked.

“Not in the slightest with retrospect,” Admiral Janeway countered, “Breaking Picard would have been his high point of his career. Instead, its failure led to his downfall.”

“What happened??” asked Neytiri.

“His career stalled after Picard was released,” the Admiral replied, “After the Dominion War, he left the military to set up a mining business in the Septemenius System.”

“His business helped in the reconstruction of the Cardassian Union,” Nog said.

“The same business also served as a front to recruit veterans from the Cardassian military to join his cause,” Admiral Janeway added, “They would form the nucleus of what we now call the True Way.”

“I also recall that Madred hired Jem’Hadar to supplement his security needs,” Neytiri said.

Nog shuddered on that revelation. A veteran of the Dominion War, he had personally fought a number of these genetically engineered warriors and lived to tell the tale.

“Let me clarify on that,” Admiral Janeway said, “Madred hired Alpha Jem’Hadar, who were created to specifically fight our forces during the Dominion War. How he managed to arrange such an agreement with them is a mystery, but so far, a majority of True Way attacks have not involved any Jem’Hadar in any way.”

“Considering their origins and their dependance to Ketracel -White, could it be possible that the Dominion are involved?”

Admiral Janeway had an answer to that,” Highly unlikely. The Dominion has denied any presence within the Alpha Quadrant. In fact, they have declared any changelings on our side of the Bajoran Wormhole to be rogue.”

“And yet there are still about a hundred of them unaccounted for...” mused Nog.

Admiral Janeway was keen to get the subject back to their subject. she then strode out to point at the image of Madred.

“Madred made his speech shortly after the discovery of the missing Galor-class warships. Starfleet Intelligence now believes that this was the moment that the True Way decided to come out in open rebellion.”

“And why are we reviewing this?” Neytiri asked.

“Because we may be reaching a critical moment in that rebellion’s history,” Admiral Janeway replied, “The True Way has suffered several setbacks over the past year. They are getting desperate.”

“Really?” Neytiri asked, “I thought they would have considerable popular support.”

“Not all is what it seems,” Admiral Janeway then touch the screen and brought up what looked like a schematic of some container. Except it was no ordinary container.

“Is that a warhead?” Nog asked.

“Not just any warhead,” Admiral Janeway replied, “This... is a warhead that could hold one cubic centimetre of red matter.”

Nog was floored by the revelation. Neytiri was surprised, but held her skepticism, “Forgive my ignorance, but are we talking of the same red matter that Ambassador Spock took with him on the Jellyfish?”

“The one and the same,” the Admiral replied.

“I thought that the Vulcan Science Academy...”

“They may have pledged not to further their Red Matter research, but their findings are made public in line to many of their tenants of logic and openness,” Admiral Janeway elaborated, “It seems that the True Way has thought they have found a way to compensate for their recent losses.”

“If they could build such a warhead...” Nog shuddered, “even one drop of Red Matter is all they need...”

“How close are they to getting a working device?” Neytiri asked.
“We have no idea as of now,” Admiral Janeway replied, “Starfleet Intelligence has been trying to piece together the answer, and the more we do, the less we like it.”

“Should we assume that the True Way would have a red matter weapon soon, if not already?” Neytiri asked.

“That is a reasonable assumption,” Admiral Janeway replied, “Until we have more leads and evidence, we must stay... vigilant...”

“Where do I come in?” Neytiri asked.

“Thought you would not ask,” Admiral Janeway replied, “Starfleet Intelligence has been conducting some covert operations within the Badlands over the last few weeks. Some leads have come up on this Red matter weapon allegations and I have been pursuing one particular lead that has led me to come with you and Nog to Ferenginar.”

“My father would always advocate for good trading relations with the Federation,” Nog said, “I can bet that whatever you suspect, he would have given it a fair hearing and would have something by the time we arrive in orbit.”

“That he would,” the Admiral agreed, “what your next actions would be would depend on our findings that we come up with the Grand Nagus...”


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