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Making Our Presence Felt

The USS Hydra is deployed to the Federation/Cardassian Border to answer the threat of piracy in the sector.

Foreshadowing and Reflection

The Aegean Lounge

Captain’s Personal Log, Stardate 74778. I had hardly expected to see Lisa working at Starbase 310. I’m not sure what I honestly expected her to be doing after all these years since we last served together. It’s strange that people who you never thought you’d see again could just pop up in your life unexpectedly. Be that as it may, it was good to see a friendly face after so many less than amicable ones inside the Cardassian held space we’ve been patrolling as of late. So much so that I’ve decided to give the crew a few days of crew rest before returning to our… shall we say… side mission.

Captain Jonathan Bastin walked into the lounge of his ship, the Aegean, taking a moment to grab a drink from the replicator before taking a seat at one of the many tables that sat in evenly spaced intervals around the compartment. He’d walked in with a PaDD, intent on reading through some reports as he took in the general ambiance of the lounge while his crew was engaged in recreation. Several of the tables near the back of the room that held gaming sets of various types were occupied, the crew members engaging in lively conversation while enjoying a bit of respite.

As he quietly sipped his tea and reviewed the reports from his ship, a figure suddenly occupied his peripheral vision, causing him to glance up to find himself looking at his First Officer in her casual attire. Commander Rena Yuri smiled at the perplexed look on her Captain’s face as she waited for him to finally look up. For as long as they had served together, Yuri had often caught him absorbed in reading and had taken to simply staring holes in the man’s head until he finally realized she was there.

“Evening, Rena,” Bastin said, pointing to the empty seat just in front of her, “Have a seat.”

“Thank you, Captain,” the woman said with a sarcastic lilt to her voice. The origins of her less than enthusiastic comment could be traced to the unspoken rule of the lounge itself, that it was a place for relaxation, and not a place where folks needed to stand on ceremony. His invitation, borne out of good intentions, simply didn’t jive well with the relaxed attitude that the crew had tried to foster in the lounge. The fact that Bastin had also walked in while still in uniform was another point of contention, though no one would be so bold as to actually point it out to him.

“How did your meeting on the surface go?” Yuri asked once she was settled in the chair.

Bastin laid his PaDD down, “I think it went fairly well. Strat Ops seems to think the information was valuable enough to consult with higher headquarters to possibly organize an armada to deal with the threats. There’s no real telling just how long that will actually take, given the sensitivity of relations in this part of the quadrant.”

The First Officer nodded while giving the comment some thought, “Do you think we’ll be given a role in that armada?”

“Perhaps,” Bastin said with a slight shrug, “The Argonaut alone isn’t enough to deal with the threat very effectively, but paired with other ships with a similar mission specialization, I don’t doubt we could get the call. That’s partly why I authorized this little stint of rest, in case we get pulled away into the peacekeeping force.”

Yuri snorted at his choice of words, “There has to be peace in the first place for us to be able to keep it…”

“I suppose that’s fair,” Bastin couldn’t help but sigh at the pointed remark from his First Officer, “And knowing what I know of the politics behind why this region has fallen into such a state, I can hardly argue with you.”

“I didn’t imagine you would give up on that one so easily. Usually you’re rather vocal about how well the Federation has done in dealing with our neighbors on this side of the quadrant,” Yuri smirked at her Captain.

“The Cardassians are one area even I can’t defend the Federation over. Having been a part of some of the… less successful talks with the Cardassians over the years, I can safely say that a lot of the reason why we’ve ended up where we are now is in no small part because of misplaced pride,” Bastin said with a long sigh.

“I can believe it. The Cardassians have always struck me as being fairly full of themselves,” Yuri remarked offhandedly.

“I was talking about the Federation, actually,” Bastin said flatly.

The First Officer couldn’t help but let her jaw hang open at his statement. She couldn’t ever recall a time when he’d actually said anything remotely negative about Federation policies. It took her a full minute to recover from the shock of it. Bastin gave the woman a rather wry smile as he watched her struggle with the revelation.

“I never would have guessed you of all people would have thought something like that…” Yuri said after letting the comment sink in.

“I’m sure there’s a large number of people who would say the same thing back on Earth. But if the lessons I learned during my first stint as a Federation Ambassador are any metric to go by, we have a long way to go before we actually achieve the ideals we keep talking about and pointing to as our standard,” Bastin said with a shake of his head.

“I’ve heard you mention doing a tour as an Ambassador, but you’ve never actually told me anything about it,” Yuri said, leaning back in her chair a bit.

“Probably because it was…” Bastin paused as he struggled to find the right way to word what he was about to say, “difficult for all the wrong reasons…”

“How so?”

“It started with a murder and ended with the one responsible being someone I had thought was far above that sort of thing being the culprit, all in the name of preventing us from signing a protective treaty out of what I can only assume was sheer hubris,” Bastin explained.

Yuri covered her mouth in shock as she listened, her eyes wide, “A murder?”

“Yes… a Federation Envoy murdered the Ambassador he’d been working with for years, all to prevent the treaty signing. Someone who had made countless contributions to peace just decided one day that people just didn’t deserve to be part of the Federation. It turned into something of an obsession, and it was serious enough that he took his own life rather than have to suffer the consequences. I suspect he was trying to destroy the Bismarck with it, but that crew handled the situation deftly,” the Captain explained at length.

“That’s…” the woman started to speak but found that the words just refused to come out. There was a myriad of emotions that raged in her mind as she tried to process the information he’d just passed along as if it were some normal anecdote. And perhaps, in a strange way, it really was just another story, even if the contents were rather shocking to someone who hadn’t lived it. It also lent a great deal of weight to his earlier critique of the Federation in general.

“Doesn’t fit the general mold of what one would expect from someone who supposedly upheld the ideals of the Federation, does it?” Bastin said with a mirthless chuckle.

“No… it really doesn’t…” Yuri said with a detached tone.

“That’s why I don’t really talk about it much. It’s a glaring example of how far we have to go before we even begin to approach the ideals that we claim to believe in. It’s also why I’m not nearly as upset about having to use force rather than words out here on this neglected frontier. I do, however, realize just how backwards it is for me to say that,” the Captain smirked.

“I’m starting to think I should take a round turn on how I view things myself…” the Commander admitted as she looked up toward the ceiling.

“A little self-reflection never hurt anyone. Just be careful you don’t talk yourself into a spiral of undue negativity. At best, that was one bad example in a sea of positive encounters that the Federation has been party to. It may not be as pristine as the Diplomatic Corps would try to paint it, but it’s still a whole lot better than anything humanity ever came up with on their own. At any rate, you shouldn’t let it keep you up too long tonight,” Bastin said with a reassuring pat on the woman’s shoulder before he pushed out of the chair.

“Where are you going?” Yuri asked, suddenly confused by the man’s retreating form.

Bastin held the PaDD up for her to see as he moved through the somewhat crowded space, “I still have some work to do. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Right…” the woman muttered, the tinge of disappointment palpable.

No Time to Explain…

Starbase 310

Captain’s Log, Stardate 74782. I have been called down to Starbase 310 to attend a meeting with other Captains of vessels currently operating in the area. My guess is that the decision has been made to form an expeditionary task force to address the rampant piracy in the area surrounding Empok Nor. While I have my own opinions about this, I still agree that something should be done about the threat looming over a large swath of space and the innocent lives who have been thus far left to their fate.

Captain Jonathan Bastin sat in a large briefing room dominated by men and women sharing his own rank and position. Some of the faces were more familiar than others, and the general tone of the space prior to the meeting’s start was amicable. The occupants who knew one another well enough were quietly trading theories for what the contents of the meeting might be, where they might be deployed to, and with whom as their leading commander.

Bastin, for his part, was sitting next to the only person for whom he had any real connection with, Captain Lisa Gibson. The two of them were sharing a bit of light banter, though the topic of their conversation was centered mostly around catching up since their last posting together rather than anything that may or may not have brought them to the table they were seated at. When the Admiral in charge of the meeting finally walked into the room, the occupants stood out of courtesy, waiting silently for the woman to take her seat before they all sat back down. Bastin couldn’t help but note that the Admiral had chosen a seat just to the other side of Captain Gibson, even though there had been several other seats much closer to the entrance she’d used.

“Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, I appreciate you all coming here on such short notice,” the Rear Admiral began, “For those of you I haven’t met before, I am Rear Admiral Shrome Zh’rialahr, and I head up Tactical Operations in this part of the Quadrant. We have received a great deal of information recently that has enabled my team to pinpoint the location of a particularly troublesome band of renegades and pirates. It is for this reason that you have been called in.”

A murmur rippled through the room upon the revelation of the actual circumstances that had brought most of the Captains to the table. A few, like Bastin himself, already knew that this was the likely impetus for the group being assembled which showed quite plainly by their unimpressed reaction to the information.

Not waiting for the room to come back to order after her reveal, Admiral Zh’rialahr activated the holographic display embedded in the table and brought up the stellar map of the sector in question. The planet on which Starbase 310 was located served as the center point for the map, with a large patch of the map dotted with crimson dots. The fuzzy blue boundary that was visibly dividing parts of the display was assumed to be the border between the Federation and Cardassian space, and almost all of the dots resided on the Cardassian side.

“The cluster of red is the area in which our sources have confirmed pirate activity to be at its greatest. Countless vessels, both Federation and Cardassian, have been preyed upon in the area and some have been lost to their nefarious undertakings. It has been decided by both the Federation and the Cardassian Union that this group needs to be eliminated,” the Andorian said, looking at each Captain in the room in turn to gauge their reactions.

Some of the men and women looked displeased by the choice of words. From what Bastin could recall of them, they were all relatively recent promotees who had never really faced a situation where violence was the only recourse and not the final one. The faces that didn’t show much in the way of emotion were the Captains who had spent many long years out on the fringes of the Federation where the lines weren’t so clear and where encounters were just as likely to go south as not. And then there was Bastin himself, who couldn’t help but look melancholy despite having already taken the lives of a fair few of the pirates in question. While he accepted that there wasn’t any reasoning with them, he was disappointed that any group of people could have fallen so far that the only manner in which they could be dealt with was that of violent extermination.

“This is not a mission conceived in haste,” Admiral Zh’rialahr said after taking a moment to get a feel for the temperaments of the people in the room, “Several Starfleet vessels have already made contact with these raiders and it has been proven without question that they have no desire to see reason or abandon their violent lifestyle. They’ve succumbed to their basest urges and have left any shred of decency to rot. No one will mourn their passing, and neither should you lament your role in helping them along.”

The woman’s statement inspired several passionate moral objections, leading to a brief but ultimately pointless debate. Bastin glossed over during the furverent back and forth between the incised officers and the Admiral who had given them a dose of hard reality. If someone hadn’t mentioned him by name, he might have stayed lost in his own world far longer.

“What do you think, Captain Bastin? You’re the career diplomat in the room. Do you think what the Admiral is proposing is in keeping with the traditions of the Federation?” one of the Captains opposed to the idea called out. It took the man a few seconds to process what had been asked of him, then a few moments of silence pervaded the room as he considered his reply.

“I’m not sure that’s the right question to ask in this situation…” Bastin said finally, “The people we’re talking about fall well outside of the scope of who the Federation really had in mind when any of our laws and regulations were drafted. Most of them have taken the lives of our own citizenry without fear of repercussions or reprisal simply because they were doing it on the wrong side of a line we arbitrarily drew on a map. If we want to use our own rules as a metric, then anyone who decides to leave the safety of our arbitrary lines accepts that they may die without ever having their deaths answered for.”

Perplexed looks and shocked murmurs pervaded the cluster of officers who had thought Bastin would lend his voice to their cause given his background. To find that he was so willing to throw it all to the wayside over something as innocuous as a border on a map stunned them.

“How can you even say that? We’re talking about launching a campaign to kill people,” another one of the Captains spoke up.

Bastin couldn’t help but sigh in exasperation, “This is no different than any war the Federation has ever been a part of. Simply because we aren’t dealing with a political entity while we take lives doesn’t mean we aren’t still visiting violence upon living beings. The fact of the matter is, the pirates who are hiding out just over the border feel safe because they believe that the Federation is filled with nothing but Captains like yourselves who believe that the letter of the regulations is a binding document that should never be bent or ignored even if it means making the Quadrant even a slightly better place.”

“They are betting on the fact that we won’t cross that border, that we will adhere to our dogmatic belief in the sanctity of all sentient life, and that the only time they are in any danger of reprisal is when they attack our ships directly… and even then that hasn’t seemed to stop them lately as my ship has been waylaid by no fewer than a dozen pirate ships in the last few months. They continue to prey upon the weak and the innocent because they know the Federation isn’t going to go out of its way to hunt them down because it might be morally objectionable. And until we show them that they aren’t safe, that we aren’t simply going to preach an ideal of peace without the claws it takes to defend them, more raids will occur and more lives will be lost,” Bastin concluded with a frown.

The room was eerily silent as everyone in it digested the words he’d spoken. Even the officers who hadn’t spoken out against the plan had something to consider after he’d gone on a bit of a tirade. Admiral Zh’rialahr seemed to be the only person in the room that wasn’t outright shocked by his outburst.

“Well spoken, Captain Bastin… well spoken indeed,” the Admiral said with a proud smirk, “And his words carry a great deal of weight to them despite his former career path. Actually… perhaps they are so powerful because of his previous background. If someone who has championed peace between a number of worlds can look at this situation and make the call that there is no recourse but to trade blows with these vagrants, then there shouldn’t be a man or woman amongst you who could raise a suitable objection to it.”

Side glances and dower expressions dominated the room, but no one had the will to raise an objection. Bastin felt a sharp pang of regret at that moment over having shattered several people’s idealized vision of the Federation and what it stood for. Admiral Zh’rialahr allowed the silence to hang in the air for a few moments before returning to the plan ahead of them.

“We have been allocated the use of a Manticore-class vessel to act as the task force command vessel. Sadly, the ship itself just came out of her shakedown cruise so she doesn’t have a commanding officer to speak of. Under normal circumstances, someone like myself would take nominal command of the ship until the mission is complete. That, however, is not what will be taking place this time around,” the Andorian said before turning to look straight at Captain Bastin, “Your tenure aboard the Argonaut was extended due to some… unusual circumstances, was it not, Captain?”

“It was…” Bastin nodded hesitantly.

“You are also in charge of another mission here in the sector that grants you some latitude in which to operate, correct?”

Again the man couldn’t help but pause before nodding his head in response to the question, a tingling sensation prickling the back of his neck as if he was walking right into a trap that he had no way to avoid.

“Excellent…” the Andorian smiled, her eyes taking on the look of a hunter who had finally found their prey, “You will take over command of the USS Hydra and lead this mission from the frontlines as the senior most Captain here.”

“Uh huh…” Bastin said in disbelief over just how quickly the decision had been made.

“Starfleet will allow you to transfer the majority of your senior officers, as it would be much harder to secure people you might be comfortable working with on a vessel fresh out of shakedown. The Argonaut should be in good hands with the officers you leave behind,” the Admiral said as if the entire situation had nothing to do with her.

“I see,” Bastin muttered weakly as he tried to process all of the sudden information that had been thrown at him in rapid succession.

“I will send you the mission details later today, Captain. For now, please transfer your effects and your personnel to the Hydra and prepare your new ship for departure. I suggest the rest of you also return to your own vessels and prepare to move out on Captain Bastin’s order,” Admiral Zh’rialahr with a finality in her voice that left no room for debate or questions.

“Congratulations, Jon,” Captain Gibson leaned over and whispered into her friend’s ear, “I’m sorry I couldn’t warn you before the Admiral sprang this on you.”

Captain Bastin gave a weak note of laughter as his mind reeled at just how much had been dumped on his lap. If he had regretted opening his mouth earlier, he almost certainly regretted showing up for the meeting thanks to the wild twists he’d just gone through. It was a good while before he finally picked himself up out of his chair to return to the ship that wasn’t actually his anymore.

Nothing Left Unsaid

Starbase 310

Captain’s Personal Log, Supplemental. I had come to believe, at least in the early years, that my being assigned as a Commanding Officer had been little more than a fluke. Coming straight out of the Diplomatic Corps to sit in the center seat had seemed a bit ludacris to me given how little time I’d spent doing anything that was even remotely connected to the rank and file duties of the more operational departments aboard the one vessel I’d actually served on prior to my tour on Earth. The fact that the Argonaut wasn’t the most advanced ship in the fleet, or the most powerful, or even the fastest, lulled me into a false sense that I had reached the apex of my command career and that leaving the ship would mean a desk job back home. If only my past self had known…

“What the hell is this?!” Commander Rena Yuri demanded, PaDD in hand, as she stormed into Captain Jonathan Bastin’s small ready room. The compartment was only large enough to hold the desk the Captain used for work, two smaller chairs in front of it, and a two person couch at the rear of the room that had, through Bastin’s entire tenure on the Argonaut, gone without ever seeing a single buttocks rest upon it.

Bastin winced as the woman’s voice pierced through the silence that had dominated his private space prior to her entry, “What is what?”

“This!” the woman answered, sliding the PaDD over to him in anger. Bastin picked up the device, his face betraying his confusion. Looking over the contents of the PaDD, his look of confusion only grew deeper, and the mystery as to why she was in a foul mood only deepened.

“You’re being appointed as the Argonaut’s new Commanding Officer,” Bastin said, summarizing the contents displayed on the PaDD, “Why was this something you had to storm in here and yell about?”

“Because you’re taking half the senior staff with you!” Yuri fumed, her face flushed in a rather angry shade of red.

“It wasn’t my decision,” Bastin said with a sigh, thinking for a moment he had a handle on why she was upset, “Admiral Zh’rialahr is the one who decided the Argonaut could operate well enough with just elevating the current assistant department heads. It’s not like I wanted to poach them from you.”

“Ugh!” the woman groaned in frustration, “That isn’t what I’m mad about, Jon!”

Bastin frowned and leaned back in his chair, a fresh look of confusion emerging on his face, “Then what in the world are you upset about?”

“Being left behind, that’s what!” Yuri shouted, throwing her hands up like she was a child throwing a tantrum.

“You’re being given a command… I had thought that was something you would be happy about,” Bastin remarked, his face twitching a bit as he tried to sort out how he should be reacting to her ire.

The woman cradled her head in her hands, letting out a frustrated half laugh half sob before sucking in a breath and looking up at the ceiling for a moment. She took several long, almost exaggerated breaths before she finally looked at Bastin again. While she didn’t look any less angry, at least she didn’t continue shouting.

“I’ve only been a First Officer for a few years now. I’ve only just gotten the hang of this job and now you want me to command this ship? You and I both know I’m not ready to handle that,” Yuri argued.

“Objectively speaking you do have things to learn prior to stepping up, but you’re not incompetent Rena. You are more than capable of commanding the Argonaut during this operation, even if there are areas that could use a bit of improvement. No one said you had to be the perfect Commanding Officer starting out,” Bastin countered.

The woman finally sank down into one of the chairs facing the Captain’s desk, “You don’t seem to understand what I’m trying to say…”

“Probably because I can’t see how it’s a bad thing that you’re being given this opportunity,” Bastin said with a hint of frustration.

“I’m not ready,” Yuri repeated, “I’m self-aware enough to know that I won’t be able to do the things that will be required of me when the time comes because I haven’t had enough time to learn it all. I don’t want to have the center chair handed to me without any support,” the woman explained.

“It’s not as if I had support when I took over the Argonaut. Hell, I was never even a First Officer to begin with. I was… am… a diplomat,” Bastin said with a bit of hesitation, “Everything I learned about being in command had to be learned on the fly. I was handed the Argonaut and sent out on what amounted to milk runs for about a year before I was told to go tackle things that I didn’t really see myself qualified to tackle. I had to adapt. I had to lean on people who probably thought I was a pain in the neck to deal with because I didn’t know things that their previous Captains knew. It was a rough first few years, but in the end I made it work.”

The First Officer shifted restlessly in her chair, “I remember you saying that… but that doesn’t change the fact that I don’t feel that I’m ready for the assignment.”

Bastin let out a slow breath as he mulled things over for a moment. In the back of his mind, he had a nagging suspicion that he knew exactly where her reluctance had come from. Much as he had tried to maintain an arm’s length between them, he couldn’t deny that they were far closer than he had been with other members of the crew. What was worse, most of that familiarity hadn’t come from their time shared on duty but rather in the little moments that happened in their day to day lives outside of the bridge.

“This is about ‘us’…” Bastin said, his eyes looking up at the ceiling as if he were searching for the next thing to say.

“Yes… that’s what this is about,” Rena said with tension in her voice. Recently she’d gotten the very real sense that he was purposely avoiding spending the kind of quality time together they had enjoyed in the last year or so together. Since neither of them had put an actual label on it, the fact that he had chosen the word ‘us’ meant that he was at least aware that there was something between them that transcended their professional relationship.

Bastin cradled his head in his hands for a moment before pushing himself back in his chair, “I guess I just wanted to pretend there wasn’t an ‘us’ to think about. That this transfer would somehow fix the awkward atmosphere that had been developing the last few months and that we’d just… naturally drift apart.”

“Did you ever stop to think that maybe I didn’t want that?” Yuri asked with a frown, “Maybe I wanted to see if what we had was something as special as I hope it is…”

Bastin shook his head after a moment, “No. I never did think about that. I was too wrapped up in all the problems I’ve had in the past with relationships with people I worked closely with. I made the decision for you that we weren’t going to be anything more than a command team and didn’t give your feelings a second thought.”

The woman couldn’t help but frown, “That’s… surprisingly blunt coming from you.”

Bastin could only offer a weak chuckle in response to her words. He also knew it was a very generous description of what was better labeled as cowardice. If everything they’d been through was really looked at and evaluated by such a cut and dry decision on his part, then one thing he’d said a moment ago didn’t make sense.

“If you made up your mind there would be no ‘us’, then why were things awkward at all?” Yuri pointed out.

Again Bastin let out a long breath, closing his eyes as if he were suddenly exhausted by the conversation, “Because I started to second guess my decision. As hard as I tried to avoid it, the fact of the matter was, I couldn’t honestly say I didn’t like the idea of us being together in a much deeper sense. I just couldn’t reconcile that feeling with my behavior up to that point. I started to feel… disingenuous.”

“You should have just said something,” Yuri couldn’t help but blurt out, “I honestly thought I was doing something to upset you!”

Bastin couldn’t help but hang his head a bit, “Yeah… I know. And you’re right, I should have. But after going so long practically ignoring the distance between us shrinking… I just thought bringing it up would be cruel.”

“The cruel part was you trying to leave me behind without resolving this,” Yuri grumbled.

“I can’t even defend myself for that.”

“So,” Yuri said after letting his admission of guilt hang for a few tense moments, “I’m going to decline the offer to command the Argonaut and transfer aboard the Hydra with you and the rest of the staff that’s been designated to go. Once this pirate hunting business is over, we’re going to actually sit down and discuss how our personal lives together will progress on our new ship.”

Jon was about to argue with her but the way she said it stopped him. She didn’t sound angry anymore, there was a strange firmness in her tone that seemed to hint at her having made some manner of resolution that he’d be foolish to simply dismiss on his own like he had before.

“Then I guess…” Bastin finally said after taking everything that had been discussed to heart, “we need to pack and get ourselves transferred to our new ship.”

“Correction,” Yuri said as she stood up with a much more relaxed expression than when she’d walked in, “You need to pack. I just need to arrange for the transfer of your gear once you do.”

Bastin looked at her with a stunned expression before he lost the battle in his mind over whether to laugh or curse her for her rather presumptuous preparations. Laughter had won out.

Setting Out

Starbase 310

Captain’s Log, Stardate 74784.6. I have assumed command of the USS Hydra. In so doing, I have also accepted the responsibility of leading an expeditionary force into the Federation/Cardassian border with the express intent of hunting down pirate forces in the surrounding sector of space. I recognize that such an undertaking will not be easy, nor should I expect that we won’t incur some manner of retaliation for our actions.

The bridge of the USS Hydra had the same configuration as the USS Bismarck had when Captain Jonathan Bastin had served aboard the Intrepid-class vessel. There were several variations on that theme, of course. The railing that had dominated the area around the command chairs had been replaced with a much more comprehensive tactical console. With tactical now directly behind the Captain and First Officer, one of the alcoves had been made into a Strategic Operations workspace, a rather detailed map of the surrounding sector of space being displayed on the rear most panel.

Most of the consoles, unlike the Bismarck of Bastin’s memory, were the most up-to-date that Starfleet had to offer, their lines far most sleek and aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Even the displays themselves seemed to be much sharper and much more clear than his memory suggested. The bridge was, for all intents and purposes, similar in size and very little else.

“Impressive setup…” Bastin murmured as he walked out of the turbolift and took a short walk around the compartment. Most of the consoles were manned by the people who had been assigned aboard the vessel for her shakedown cruise, which meant they would eventually rotate out. Even among the personnel that wouldn’t eventually leave, it was likely that it would take Bastin a fair bit of time to learn who they all were.

His brief walk around the space ended with him entering the ship’s ready room, which was configured almost identically to the one he’d remembered seeing on the Bismarck. From the lounge area to the position of the desk, everything was situated almost exactly where it had been when he’d served on the Intrepid-class vessel. About the only real differences lay in the colors of the furnishings and lack of trinkets currently housed on the shelves.

“At least it’s bigger than on the Argonaut,” Bastin chuckled to himself.

The Captain began to turn around to return to the bridge when a familiar face popped through the swiftly opening door. Commander Rena Yuri stopped just short of entering as she watched her Captain perform a stutter stop while trying to gauge whether he was going to remain in the room or not.

“In or out?” Bastin asked, having stopped himself in mid-stride.

“If you’re coming back to the bridge, that works for what I have to report,” the woman offered up a relaxed grin.

“Out it is,” Bastin nodded as he began to walk again, “What have you got?”

As the two crossed the short expanse and made for their respective chairs, Cmdr. Yuri explained, “Commander Williams has taken over the Argonaut for the duration of the upcoming expedition. Captain Ainsley on the Sizemore has already taken up a flanking position alongside our ship, and Captain S’Tal of the Edinburgh reports that her crew will be ready to depart within the hour.”

“A fairly formidable group for what we expect to encounter,” Bastin said with a nod of his head.

“I’m hoping we aren’t bringing all this firepower for nothing,” Cmdr. Yuri said with a smirk.

The Captain shrugged as he settled back in his chair, “If it is, then we’ll be able to wash our hands of this business and return to our primary focus all that much faster.”

Yuri raised a questioning eyebrow, “I can’t tell if you’re actually apathetic about all this or doing your best to maintain some neutral stance despite your actual feelings…”

“Good,” Bastin said with a smirk, “That’s just what I was aiming for.”

The woman couldn’t help but laugh as she settled into her chair next to the Captain. As their appointed departure time grew ever closer, the bridge began to turn over personnel. His Vulcan Operations Officer made his appearance first, nodding to his Captain as he rounded the console to relieve the officer on watch.

“Settled in, Mr. T’Rel?” Bastin asked, glancing partially over his shoulder.

“The Hydra is not so far away from the Argonaut, operationally speaking, as to require that significant an adjustment,” the Vulcan responded in an even tone as he ran his checks.

“Oh good,” the Captain said, returning his attention forward, “Glad to hear it.”

The First Officer rolled her eyes at the exchange. She already knew from their many conversations in the past that Bastin had extensive dealings with Vulcans throughout his career and had gotten used to the way in which they reacted to Human phraseology. Yuri herself still had trouble adjusting to the very rigid way Vulcans viewed things, so there were times when her interactions with their Operations Officer ended awkwardly.

Their Saurian Security Chief walked onto the bridge just as the Commander was going to make a comment of her own to the Vulcan. While Saurian expressions weren’t the easiest to recognize, it was almost frighteningly obvious just how excited the Lieutenant was as she took her place at the Tactical Console behind the two Command Officers.

“Is it just me, or is Ms. Nieru unusually expressive?” Yuri asked, leaning over toward Bastin.

“No,” Bastin chuckled, “It isn’t just you. I’m pretty sure even T’Rel could see it if he actually looked up from his console.”

One of the Vulcan’s eyebrows rose up slightly at the comment, but he didn’t deign to say anything about it. For Lt. Nieru’s part, she didn’t seem overly concerned about her more elated attitude being noticed or pointed out by her superiors. She simply busied herself with setting up the console the way she preferred to have information displayed and did so with a bit more gusto than usual.

“Have you talked to our Chief Engineer yet about how he’s getting along down there?” Bastin asked.

“He sent me a report… a very long one… about all the things he was going to have to do to make the ship run properly,” Cmdr. Yuri said with a wry smile, “So I’d say he’s about as happy as anyone to be here.”

“That sounds about right,” Bastin nodded to himself, “Though I’m sure we’ll have plenty of time for him to fix all those flaws only to create new ones.”

“That sounds about right for Mr. Brak,” Yuri smirked knowingly.

“The Edinburgh has sent a message indicating that they have completed their preparations and are standing by,” Lt. T’Rel interrupted the banter between the two.

Bastin straightened himself up in his seat, “Very well, helm, lay in a course for the coordinates sent to us by Starbase 310.”

“Aye sir,” the Lieutenant Junior Grade at the help responded curtly.

“Mr. T’Rel, send word to all ships that we will depart on my signal.”

A brief pause filled the bridge with expectant silence as the Vulcan relayed Capt. Bastin’s order. When he finally got a response from the rest of the ships in their small task force, T’Rel relayed the information to his superior with a brief, “All ships ready to engage.”

“Very well, take us to maximum warp,” Bastin ordered. In the span of a few seconds, the warp core of the ship spooled up and launched the vessel forward, three other ships doing so just a second or two behind the Hydra.

“Let’s make our presence felt, shall we?” the Captain said with a confident smile as he watched the stars streak by on the viewscreen.

Jumping at Shadows…?

Near the Amneth Nebula, Cardassian Space

Captain’s Log, Supplemental. Our small task force will be entering the area near the Amneth Nebula where the pirates we’ve been sent to remove are located within the next few hours. There is, however, something that has been on my mind the last few months that I can’t help but point out. The lack of response from the Cardassians seems a bit contrived to me, which lends credence to the idea that perhaps there’s more to all this than I originally suspected. It is my sincere hope that I’m just being overly cautious…

Sitting behind the desk of his new ready room, Captain Jonathan Bastin was currently gazing at the display floating in mid-air containing the visage of the Legate commanding the Empok Nor station. The two of them had already exchanged the pleasantries that were normally expected of people of their respective stations and were finally getting to the point of the conversation.

“I received the report you sent via your staff here on the station. I’m more than a little surprised that the Federation is dealing with these pests in such a showy manner,” Legate Aren said with a smirk on her lips.

“The level of response on our end isn’t nearly as concerning to me as the lack of response from your own, given that their activity hurts your own people as much, if not more,” Bastin retorted with a look of displeasure on his face.

The Legate’s smirk faded as she shifted a bit, “You are correct, Captain. However, I have no ships at my personal disposal to send. As you are certainly well aware, I am operating in a vacuum out here, both literally and figuratively. I’ve sent reports to the Council, of course, but their resources are as always tied up with keeping the Central Command in check.”

“While I can appreciate that the Council and Central Command are at odds with one another in the political arena, I would have thought that protecting your citizens and your interests would transcend those sorts of conflicts, at least in short bursts,” Bastin said with a frown.

“Were the Legates of Central Command able to take anything beyond their blind thirst for power and rigid adherence to the ideal of Cardassian superiority into consideration, you might very well be right. Unfortunately for all our sakes, this is not the way they seem to operate. For all we know, letting pirates raid the Federation border suits their aims just fine, since it can be used against the Council and their call for brokering peace,” Aren said frankly.

“And that,” Bastin said with an exaggerated sigh, “is exactly what I’m worried about. Even if we manage to wipe this particular cell of pirates out, there’s no guarantee that others won’t pop up later. And politically speaking, our expedition might look good for the Council in the short term, since it can be used as fodder to support their assertions that a cooperative relationship with the Federation is possible when our interests align, that doesn’t mean that the Central Command won’t try to point at a resurgence of piracy at another point along the border as fuel to their own ends.”

“And you expect that the pirates will somehow resurface at some point to harm our position, is that what I am to gather from that statement?” the Legate asked with a raised eyebrow.

“If Central Command isn’t lifting a finger to prevent the attacks now, and you believe that because it doesn’t fit their agenda they won’t bother, it would stand to reason that any reappearance would only serve their political purposes,” the Captain remarked with a slight shrug.

The Cardassian took a moment to mull things over before she remarked, “The only way it wouldn’t serve their purposes is if they were somehow involved in more than just complacency.”

“Is that a possibility?”

“I can’t say it is so far-fetched an idea as to be completely outside of the scope of what is possible. Would that be my first guess? Probably not, given that the current Legates in power have little to no love for pirates to begin with. It is likely that, should they reappear, Central Command will dispatch ships of their own before your government can pinpoint their stronghold and crush them in a much larger show of force. That would go much further toward solidifying their position should they mop up the mess the Federation failed to,” Legate Aren said in response.

“I suppose we can only wait and see…” Bastin grumbled.

“Yes…” the Legate nodded, “Well, for what it’s worth, I do wish you luck in the coming skirmish… though I really don’t believe you will be needing it.”

Bastin straightened a bit in his chair, “Thank you Legate. I’ll let you know how things go once it’s over. Bastin out.”

The image of the Cardassian was replaced with the Federation logo before the holographic display shimmered away, leaving the space in front of the Captain unobscured. Bastin sank backward, his mind no less at ease than when he started the conversation with the Cardassian. There was something gnawing at the back of his mind about the entire exchange, and the more he replayed the conversation he’d just had in his head the more he didn’t like what had transpired.

“Commander Yuri, report to my ready room,” Bastin said after taking almost five minutes to ruminate about the situation.

Given that his First Officer was on the bridge, it only took her a few seconds to appear through the doorway separating the two compartments. It only took a moment for her to slide into a seat situated in front of the desk Bastin was currently sitting at.

“How’d your conversation go?”

“Not how I was expecting,” Bastin replied to the question after a brief moment.

When Cmdr. Yuri tilted her head slightly in confusion, the Captain went on to explain, “I was hoping for some concrete denials or to be dismissed out of hand for my little theory… But neither occurred. I felt as though I was putting forth an idea that she simply hadn’t considered yet, and while she wasn’t giving it any immediate legitimacy I got the impression she might actually investigate it on her end.”

“And what theory would that be?” Yuri prodded.

“That the Cardassian Central Command might have more to do with these pirates than simple complacency. But how far it might actually go is up in the air. From what the Legate explained to me, most of the Central Command leadership takes a fairly hard view of piracy, so they may not be the party responsible for the attacks outright…”

“But they could be,” the woman finished off his sentence.

“Yes…” Bastin nodded with a frown, “And if what Legate Aren said wasn’t true, that they aren’t nearly as intolerant of them or have gone so far as to organize these pirates themselves…”

The First Officer folded her arms and gave the man’s word some thought before sighing, “As much as I don’t want to admit it, I just can’t see them doing that. It isn’t worth the backlash if someone finds out the connection. Deliberately ignoring the problem… sure, I can get on board with that idea no problem. I might even be willing to believe that they created situations that the pirates couldn’t pass up on. But them being a tool for the Cardassian military? It just seems a bit too far of a stretch given how proud Cardassians are and how intolerant they can be with outsiders meddling in their affairs.”

“You think I’m reading too far into this then?” Bastin asked.

“I don’t know if that’s the phrase I would use,” Yuri shrugged, “But I certainly wouldn’t make that big a leap just because Central Command hasn’t handled the problem themselves. In fact, I’d be more shocked to see them respond since most of them have been on the opposite side of Cardassian space trying to expand in the other direction away from the Federation. It makes more sense that they just can’t be bothered with people who aren’t hurting their own interests at the moment.”

The Captain leaned back and looked up at the ceiling for a long moment before letting out a rather protracted sigh, “I suppose having dealt with the Cardassians a few times prior to this makes me overly skeptical of deeply complicated machinations. I almost can’t envision them doing something so straightforward…”

“A bit of cultural bias, I’d say,” Yuri smirked.

“That’s fair, I suppose…” Bastin agreed without looking back down at the woman.

“It’s not as if I’m upset at you for being weary of Cardassian plots, Jon. I’m just saying that they can’t all be manipulative shadow brokers hell bent on subverting every system in sight. They can be straightforward too…” the woman said, her smirk evolving into a teasing grin.

“I guess…” Bastin shrugged and finally looked at his First Officer, “Thanks for listening to my half-baked ideas, Rena.”

The woman let out a hearty laugh, “That’s what I’m here for.”

Shock and Awe

Near the Amneth Nebula, Cardassian Space

Nestled in relative safety on the edges of the Amneth Nebula, an asteroid mining station turned pirate haven floated along in the void as it had for many decades since it was taken over. Its denizens carried out their daily lives, highlighted by the rampant hedonism and violence that were almost stereotypical of such a class of people. Clusters of vessels belonging to one faction or another who made the base their home dotted the space just outside the weak gravity well that belonged to the station. It was about as peaceful as one might expect out of such a place, and no one aboard the ships nor the station itself had any clue that their secret little hideaway was no longer a secret.

The USS Hydra dropped out of warp just outside the station’s sensor range, the crew already prepared for what was about to take place. The USS Argonaut was the next to arrive, taking up a position just in front of the Hydra, making ready to pounce on the unsuspecting outpost. The USS Sizemore dropped out of warp only a few moments behind, taking up a position directly below the Hydra, priming itself for the bombardment that would be it’s primary duty. Lastly, the USS Edinburgh came into the system, the old New-Orleans class vessel pulling up just alongside the Hydra to aid in taking out the larger ships of the pirate fleet. When each vessel had signaled their crews ready for engagement, the coordinated strike began.

With a burst of acceleration, the Argonaut lurched forward, hurtling toward the station at speeds that approached the warp threshold. Her phasers began lancing through the smallest of the ships gathered about the station, triggering wild plumes of exploding debris as the vessel hurtled through the void between pockets of ships. Very few of the smaller craft survived the initial onslaught, and the few that did were easy prey as they scrambled to flee the system.

With the Argonaut doing its level best to keep the small ships on the run, the Edinburgh and the Hydra made their advance on the remaining fleet of ships. Their prey was still in disarray, but most now had their shields up and were tanking phaser blasts from the older frigate for several long minutes before the ship could bring them down. Though not nearly as maneuverable as the Argonaut, the Edinburgh still managed to keep pace with the slightly more agile craft that it was taking on. About every few minutes, another pirate ship would reach the end of its endurance and fly apart under the weight of weapons fire.

The largest of the pirate craft singled out the Hydra as their target of choice, throwing everything they had aboard at the Manticore-class ship. Even as over a dozen vessels pushed their offensive systems to the point of overloading, the Hydra managed to take it all while still dishing out devastating volleys of phaser and torpedo bursts. A great many of the ships were crippled in the first ten or so minutes into the battle, some breaking apart moments after the last salvo hit them, while others drifted lifeless through space as their crews scrambled to keep them from sharing the same fate as their fallen comrades.

The Sizemore hung back through most of the initial fighting, only lashing out at targets of opportunity that came too close. Once the majority of the pirate fleet had been lured away by her sister ships, the Sizemore got to work throwing volley after volley of bombardment fire directly at the asteroid facility. Some of the pirate vessels made attempts at disrupting the bombardment by placing themselves between, only to be pelted into oblivion when the Sizemore lobbed an even more concentrated barrage to clear the way. The bombardment didn’t cease until the entire complex was rendered uninhabitable. Once it was, the Steamrunner turned its sights on the remaining ships that the Hydra had not yet managed to cripple or outright destroy.

The ensuing engagement lasted a little over an hour, and by the end of the space battle, only a dozen of the ships that had been occupying the area remained largely intact. On the bridge of the Hydra, Captain Jonathan Bastin was listening to the after action report from his First Officer, who was occupying the Strategic Operations alcove on the bridge.

“The Argonaut reports that all fighter and shuttle class vessels have been destroyed. Only about a half dozen escape pods were used and they’ve already been apprehended. The Sizemore has already departed the system and is headed back to Starbase 310 to resupply, as they’ve exhausted their entire complement of torpedoes in the battle. We’re working with the Edinburgh to round up the survivors on both the station and the derelict craft in the area before scuttling the vessels,” Commander Rena Yuri reported from her station.

Capt. Bastin nodded as he listened to the report before turning to his Operations Officer, “How did the ship hold up?”

Lieutenant T’Rel took a second to compile the various reports before replying, “One of our backup shield generators overloaded during the engagement, there has been some superficial hull damage in several locations along the ship, and two sensor clusters were destroyed. There were fourteen injuries reported among the maintenance crews, none of which were fatal.”

Again Bastin nodded, “I didn’t expect us to get away unscathed, but that seems awfully light considering how many large craft we butted heads with.”

“This vessel’s tactical prowess is vastly superior to the Argonaut. Thankfully none of the vessels amassed here were of a type or disposition that we were ill-suited to confront,” the Vulcan remarked with what amounted to a look of relief… if Vulcans were actually that expressive.

Bastin chuckled at the statement as he looked over his shoulder at his Security Officer, “As the one doing most of the actual fighting, how did you like the Hydra?”

The Saurian gave the Captain her brightest reptilian smile, “It was a joy. Are we going to keep her?”

Bastin burst into a fit of laughter at her words, never expecting Nieru to be so expressive. It took a minute for him to regain his composure, though others on the bridge were still shaking with silent laughter around him. Even Cmdr. Yuri seemed to have gotten caught up in the moment as she was holding her hand up to her mouth to cover the enormous grin on her face.

“I’m pretty sure the Hydra isn’t going to disappear the minute we get back to Federation space to drop off our prisoners… Speaking of which, how many did we manage to get?” Bastin asked.

“Almost three hundred between the three ships in the area. We’ve had to convert one of our empty cargo bays into a temporary holding facility. What are we going to do with them? Are we taking them back to Federation space?” Nieru cocked her head to the side as she mulled over her own question.

“I need to have a talk with our Cardassian hosts before making the call. They’ve done more damage to them than to our own people, so we have to at least give them the chance to decide what to do with them. If they’re not interested, then we’ll take them to Starbase 310 for processing. I should actually go make the inquiry now that we’re on the subject. Rena, you have the bridge,” Bastin said, pushing himself out of his chair and crossing the distance between himself and his ready room.

Once he was inside the office, Bastin pulled up the communication protocols and sent a communique to Empok Nor. After a few minutes of waiting for the station to route his request through all the people that seemed to want to verify it, the screen finally blinked to reveal Legate Aren.

“How goes the hunt, Captain?” the Cardassian greeted Bastin with a smile that bordered on being a smirk.

“It’s already over, actually,” Bastin replied with a mirthless smile of his own, “That’s the reason I’m contacting you.”

“Is it?” Legate Aren looked genuinely surprised for a brief moment before she seemed to accept the information, “Then what can I do for you?”

“It’s about our prisoners,” Bastin said flatly, “I wanted to know if the Cardassian government wished to detain them for prosecution for their crimes against your people or if you wanted the Federation to take custody of them.”

The Cardassian frowned at the question, though only for a few seconds, “I will have to contact the Council and see if they wish to pursue this. While I have little doubt that they could be made into very convincing examples, I don’t know if there is enough of a benefit to actually take on the logistical burden that would create. After all, this station isn’t one that exists outside of certain circles at the moment.”

“Yes… I can see where that might present some issues if prisoners were to just suddenly appear from parts unknown to the general population,” Bastin nodded to himself.

“I will run this by the Chairman and see what she has to say. Give me an hour and I should have an answer,” the Legate remarked.

“Very well. I’ll stand by in this area until you contact me. Until then, Legate.”

Debriefs and Social Preparations

Trivas System

Captain Jonathan Bastin and Commander Rena Yuri sat across from one another in the Captain’s ready room. He’d just returned from the station after a conversation with Legate Aren and he had expressed a desire to fill his First Officer in on the details of said exchange. Yuri, for her part, had been intrigued by the results of the conversation as well as the prisoner exchange itself.

“I suppose it would be best to start off with the prisoner exchange. It would appear that one of the prisoners tried to escape our custody while being transferred and was summarily shot down. Prisoners from the Argonaut and Edinburgh also attempted an escape, with almost identical consequences,” Bastin began his explanation.

“I’m not shocked,” Yuri said with a shrug, “I had expected a few of them to have ideas about what was waiting for them and would rather take their chances trying to get away, even if such attempts were doomed to fail.”

“Agreed. While it’s unfortunate that it had to occur, I have a hard time being upset over it happening. I suppose if they hadn’t been such irredeemable thugs, I might have been capable of mustering up a bit of sympathy for their inevitable fate… I can’t help thinking that it might be a boon that they are so far gone that I don’t have to lose any sleep over how they’re going to be handled,” Bastin said with a wry smile.

Yuri nodded with a smile of her own, “I suppose that’s the silver lining in all this. No matter how deserving they are of poor treatment, we never would have been able to give it to them. The Cardassians, for all their flaws, won’t hesitate or waffle over the possible morality precisely because their morals don’t find issue with what’s about to happen.”

“I actually don’t agree with that,” Bastin said abruptly, “I think Cardassian morality has come a long way since the Occupation of Bajor. Or else the Legate wouldn’t have bothered to ask if I’d have issues with the prisoners being interrogated in true Cardassian form. That isn’t to say that they’re completely different from how they used to be, but there’s been growth.”

“That is surprising,” Yuri said, her hand coming up to her cheek in a show of feigned shock.

“I can understand you being somewhat dubious about that, but it seemed like a genuine inquiry on the Legate’s part, not simply a formality she was obligated to go though. I don’t have a great handle on her motivations yet, but there are times when I get the feeling she’s being unusually upfront… for a Cardassian,” Bastin said, taking on a caveat right at the end.

“I wouldn’t know. I haven’t spoken to her at length like you have,” The woman retorted in a very dry tone.

Her sudden tonal shift caught Bastin’s attention just as he was about to say something and he asked instead, “Is something wrong?”

“Honestly, Jon? Yes… I have a problem with you going off and meeting with Legate Aren so frequently. Duty obligations aside, you don’t need to socialize with her nearly as often as you do…” the Commander said, folding her arms in a bit of a huff.

A cutting response formed on the man’s lips as he felt himself getting rather defensive about the insinuated accusation, but he didn’t let the impulse actually get the better of his judgment. He sucked in a calming breath as he formulated a much more level headed response.

“I will admit that from the outside, our socializations do seem to speak of a much deeper intimacy than actually exists,” Bastin offered.

“At least you have some self-awareness…” Yuri grumbled as she shifted impatiently in her chair.

“Would you feel any better if I brought you along tonight?” Bastin asked in a much gentler tone.

“You’re going to meet with her again? Did you ask her out to go drinking or something?” Yuri frowned.

“She’s the one who brought it up, actually,” Bastin remarked, “And she didn’t specify it was a private affair since it was drinks at the bar on the Promenade, which also happens to be the only bar on the station. So even if she didn’t explicitly invite you along, I doubt it would raise much of a fuss if you were there with me.”

The Commander gave him a glare for a moment before closing her eyes and pinching the bridge of her nose in annoyance, “I feel like you wouldn’t have said anything at all if I hadn’t brought it up.”

“I just hadn’t gotten that far into the events that had taken place. She sprung that on me as I was leaving,” Bastin remarked.

Yuri looked up at Bastin without moving her head, “Is that so?”

“It is.”

The woman let out a long sigh and finally lowered her hand, “Fine. I guess I jumped the gun assuming you’d leave that part out and go galavanting off with some Cardassian woman.”

“I’m hardly known for ‘galavanting’ with anyone,” Bastin pointed out bluntly.

Yuri’s face scrunched up in protest, but she couldn’t actually name a time since they’d started working together on the Argonaut that he actually had engaged in less than professional liaisons with anyone, crewmember or otherwise. His statement took a lot of wind out of her sails as she floundered to find a reasonable retort. When it became rather obvious that she was merely venting her jealousy over how she’d felt left out, she decided to drop the issue and change the subject.

“Did you tell her about what we managed to find out?”

“No,” Bastin said, leaning back in his chair, “I decided to leave that out for the moment. I told her I haven’t looked through all the reports from our efforts to interrogate them, so we can still go back later and mention it should they turn up something similar. While I’m personally invested in cooperating with the Cardassians as much as possible, from a professional standpoint, giving away what we know before we really understand what we have won’t help us in this instance. At best, they will simply hide anything they find from us if it is as politically relevant as we believe our information to be.”

“So you’re playing this a bit closer to the chest, from a diplomatic perspective,” Yuri said thoughtfully.

“I believe it’s prudent. As I said, we can always come to the table with our information should it seem likely that it would fill in gaps that could aid both sides in getting to the bottom of things. And if it isn’t something we absolutely need to do, at least we’re not completely in the dark about what’s going on in regions of Cardassian space we aren’t able to access,” the Captain said pointedly.

“I can’t help but agree with that. Just because we’re able to operate in a small area within Cardassian space that doesn’t mean we have the whole picture of what’s happening in the entire Cardassian Union,” the woman admitted.

“If you’re going to say I’m playing it close to the chest, then the Cardassians are keeping their cards locked in a vault,” Bastin said with a chuckle.

“I’d imagine that’s probably not that far from the truth…” Cmdr. Yuri said with a shrug.

It was about then that a chirp issued from Bastin’s desk terminal. He tapped a command key and the display popped up with a notification from Empok Nor, more specifically from Legate Aren, stating that she would be heading to the bar in the next ten minutes or so.

“Looks like we’re going to the bar,” Bastin said, deactivating the terminal.

“Guess we need to get changed,” Yuri said, getting out of her chair.

“No,” Bastin said, “I think it would be better if we simply go as is. This isn’t that informal of a gathering, just an informal setting.”

“Oh, well then…” the woman shrugged, “Lead the way.”

Omissions of Guilt

Trivas System

Captain Jonathan Bastin sat behind the desk that was, nominally, his when he was on Empok Nor. The Federation had been given a series of suites along one section of the Habitat Ring on the station for use for administering their affairs during their stay. The man seated in front of him was the one who generally sat where the Captain was currently. The Bolian Lieutenant Commander didn’t seem to think anything to be out of the ordinary when he took a seat as if he were a visitor in the space rather than someone who routinely worked in it. It had taken Bastin a second to process his action before they began their catch up brief.

“How have things been progressing since I was last at the station, Commander?” the Captain inquired, having moved on from pleasantries.

“Quite well, Captain,” Cmdr. Zosa said with a smile, “Incidents involving Federation personnel have dropped dramatically over the last month, as people are finally growing used to working with our Cardassian hosts.”

“Any particular incidents that stood out?” Bastin inquired.

The Bolian took a moment to think about the question before responding, “One of the merchant ships was turned away when they refused to be searched by Cardassian authorities. It seems the preliminary docking scanned picked up something that concerned the station’s operations officer, but because the ship had yet to dock, they decided to forgo coming to the station. I made contact with the vessel in question, but the vessel’s commander declined to make a report. It is likely from the scans I was provided by Glinn Ilmok that there were illicit goods smuggled among legitimate cargo. Unfortunately, the goods flagged are only illicit in Cardassian space so there’s nothing we can do with this information on our side.”

“Note the ship’s attempt to bring in goods listed as illegal by our host government and forward that to Starfleet, they have to stop by a Federation station to receive travel clearance into Cardassian space so we can at least check that vessel in the future for whatever the Cardassians might flag and find fault with,” Bastin remarked.

“As you wish,” the Bolian nodded.

“Have we had any run-ins with the Cardassians among our staff?” Bastin asked, moving the meeting along.

“No issues that required major arbitration over, no,” the Bolian said with a shake of his head.

While the statement sounded good on the surface, the Captain still frowned, “Which means there were incidents…”

“Yes,” the Lieutenant Commander said with a hesitant nod, “We had a few issues, but they were handled almost as soon as they happened.”

“Such as…?” Bastin prompted the man for more information.

“Really, Captain, they weren’t anything to take much interest in. Cultural differences, at the end of the day,” the man responded, trying to gloss things over.

“Right,” Capt. Bastin said with a frown, “So give me an example.”

The man sitting across from him started to fidget a bit as he started searching the room for something to focus on other than the person he was seated across from. It started to become apparent that whatever had taken place in his absence had been either embarrassing enough to want to gloss over or it involved some manner of incompetence that the man sitting before him didn’t want to admit to openly.

“Noran,” Bastin said, purposely using the man’s first name, “I can understand being hesitant to report bad news, but it is critical that we address issues, no matter how trivial they seem. We are in a unique position here on this station, and given that our welcome could be revoked for any reason whatsoever makes it all the more crucial that no incident is left under the rug.”

The Bolian sucked in a breath and swayed side to side for a moment before finally responding, “There have been a string of… disagreements between some of our staff and the station personnel.”

“Over what, specifically?”

“Some of our people have been forcibly removed from maintenance areas when they were trying to convert power relays to be compatible with our equipment. A few folks have engaged in… physical debates with some of the Cardassians in the bar…” Zosa elaborated, still being vague in places.

“Did the engineers request permission to perform the conversions, or did they simply take it upon themselves to make modifications without even thinking to ask?” the Captain inquired.

“I… didn’t ask…” the Bolian admitted.

“And these ‘physical debates’, I’m going to assume they were fist fights,” Bastin commented flatly.

The man nodded meekly at the comment but offered nothing in the way of information. Capt. Bastin let out a rather protracted sigh and leaned back in his chair, rubbing the side of his temple in annoyance. There was a limit to the Captain’s patience and somehow the man sitting in front of him had managed to find it. His years as a diplomat had made him a hard man to truly annoy, and this particular conversation had found itself on the short life of ones that had done so.

“I want you to bring me a list of every ‘minor’ incident since I was last on the station. Then I want to see each and every person who has had physical debates with our Cardassian hosts. Once you’ve done that, we’re going to have another meeting… Understood?” Bastin practically growled.

The Bolian leapt to his feet, nodded once, and hurried out of the room to carry out his orders.

Several hours elapsed before a group of men and women began to fill the makeshift lobby area in the office Capt. Bastin had been working out of. The sheer volume of people in the compartment told him that the reports he had just finished sifting through hadn’t painted nearly as good a picture as they should have. Rather than dealing with each person individually, it seemed more effective to address the issue all at once and be done with it.

Pushing himself out of the chair, Bastin walked through the threshold and took a quick head count of people in the room. Most of them wore the mustard color of the Operations division, though a few red uniforms were mixed in the group. The crowd didn’t seem to understand why they were even in the room, indicated by their questions to one another as to what they’d heard was going on.

“If I can have your attention,” Bastin said, his voice carrying a sharp edge of authority to it. Mouths snapped shut and everyone’s eyes drifted toward him. Another person might have shrank at so many eyes suddenly being on them, but Capt. Bastin didn’t so much as blink thanks to years of being stared at during diplomatic functions.

“I would usually ask folks if they know why they were here, but I can already tell from your questions when I walked out that none of you do. It was brought to my attention that everyone here has engaged in physical altercations with members of the Cardassian staff aboard this station. With the sole exception of myself, there isn’t a single person in this room who hasn’t had at least one fist fight, bar brawl, or some other altercation that ended with injuries to both parties,” Bastin announced.

A stir ran through the room as people came to grips with what was being said. Most of them seemed offended that they were being called to task over their incidents with the Cardassians, a few going so far as to voice their displeasure over having to bother being pulled away from their duties. Once the room had gone quiet again, Capt. Bastin continued.

“I’ve read through the reports that were submitted to me from Mr. Zosa. I’ve taken the time to also contact the station’s security personnel about them as well,” Bastin paused as another ripple of commotion rolled through the crowd, this time it was far more nervous than indignant, “And there was a common theme in every report that was given. They all seemed to glaze right over important details. The Cardassians, however, had no such compulsion for omitting them. There were several instances in which the station authorities laid the blame fully on their own personnel, something that no report I received from anyone in this room referenced at all.”

Most of the faces in the room, that was to say those that were capable of doing so, turned a rather light shade of pale as they deduced where the Captain was going with his speech. The protests at the beginning of his address had dried up completely, no one willing to hold onto their stories now that they knew that the Captain had gone well beyond simply looking at things from their own misrepresented perspectives.

“Each and every person in this room has forgotten that they are guests here, that we were sent as an envoy to foster cooperation and mutual understanding between the Federation and the Cardassians. Your thoughtless actions and inexcusable behavior afterward are a disgrace to Starfleet and the Federation for which we represent. I have already routed and received concurrence with my recommendation that you all be removed from your service here and transferred back to posts in Federation space. Your removal will be annotated in your respective records as a punitive reassignment. You are ordered to report directly to the USS Edinburgh, your belongings will be sent to the ship prior to their scheduled departure. At no point are you to return to the station, anyone who fails to obey this order will be arrested by Cardassian authorities and remanded into their custody pending trial for criminal trespassing. You are all dismissed,” Bastin ordered, leaving no room for interpretation.

The gathered individuals shuffled out of the room, soon leaving Captain Bastin alone with Lt. Cmdr. Zosa. The frown he’d worn so often that day reappeared on his face when the man walked up to him. He had been severely disappointed in the man, given that he had displayed so much potential when he was selected to oversee operations in his absence.

“You weren’t excluded, Commander,” Capt. Bastin turned to the man, his frown not leaving his lips as he spoke, “You are being reassigned as well. Your complacency and lack of oversight could have turned this into a far greater issue than it already is. I sincerely hope that you learn from this, if you truly intend to continue along the command career path, and that you never again repeat what you’ve done here.”

“I see…” the Bolian said somberly, “I will take this lesson to heart. Please accept my deepest apologies for letting you down.”

Captain Bastin only nodded to the man, he had no real words in response to his apology. When it became clear that he had nothing further to say, the Lieutenant Commander turned on his heels and departed the space. Another long sigh slipped out of the man as he found himself in an empty room. He shook his head ruefully as he considered that he had just reduced the Federation presence on the station to less than half the numbers they had started with. It was nothing short of embarrassing…