Part of : Gunboat Diplomacy

Demanding Cliches

Federation/Cardassian Border
2399
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Captain’s Log, Stardate 74773. What was meant to be a temporary return to my former command during a diplomatic ‘experiment’ between the Federation and the Cardassians has turned into a permanent reassignment. While somewhat unexpected given that the mission with the Cardassians isn’t entirely ‘complete’, my involvement with the project has shifted from onsite management of our efforts to… shall we say… convincing the various raiders that have made getting transport vessels to and from the Federation difficult. We are currently patrolling a stretch of space that has seen a good deal of pirate activity in the area in recent weeks to see if we can find a solution to the problem… diplomatically…

Captain Jonathan Bastin leaned back in his chair as he paused his dictation. Even as he said the words, the truth of the matter was he held absolutely no delusions that the raiders combing the area looking for an easy target would simply mend their ways from a stern talking to. Given his long career as a diplomat, Bastin had been party to a great many negotiations and functions of the sort that didn’t go exactly as planned. More than one engagement had ended in complete failure, which included the trading of weapons fire rather than words.

A long sigh slipped out of Bastin as he ruminated over the past for a few minutes. His thoughts meandered along for several more minutes before he finally committed the log to record as it was and pushed himself out of the chair he was sitting in to cross the somewhat short expanse leading out to the bridge of his ship. Most of his senior officers were no longer on duty, as it was getting rather late in the duty rotation.

“Anything to report?” Bastin asked of the watch officer sitting in his usual position.

The young Lieutenant Commander rose to his feet, “Nothing significant to report, Captain.”

Bastin nodded in a satisfied manner as he started walking toward the turbolift near the back of the compartment. If he had walked just slightly faster, he might have missed the concerning warble that issued from the tactical console. It was enough to halt Bastin in his tracks and turn toward the Ensign manning the station with an expectant look on his face.

“Sensors have picked up three small craft matching the description of raider vessels in the area,” the woman reported.

“Distance and heading?” Bastin asked with a slight frown.

“Two light years out, their course projected to intercept ours in approximately twenty minutes,” came the response after the Ensign had made the required calculations.

“Of course they are…” Bastin muttered under his breath before making his way back toward the central portion of the bridge. The watch officer wasted no time moving out of his Captain’s way, taking over the first officer’s position in her absence. Bastin took his seat and began issuing orders.

“Take us to yellow alert, Ensign,” Bastin remarked, “Captain Bastin to all senior bridge officers, report to the bridge immediately.”

Once his orders had been passed along, Bastin deactivated the comm and had the operations officer switch the viewscreen to a tactical view of their position relative to their inbound pursuers. The streaking field of stars blinked off, soon replaced with a gridwork of thin blue lines accentuated by white dots of various sizes to denote the many stars in the sector of space the Argonaut currently occupied. A Starfleet delta dominated the dead center of the display, while several red arrows indicated the inbound vessels.

Capt. Bastin was about to issue a request when the doors of the turbolift swished open to reveal his Saurian Security Chief. Having her show up at that particular moment brought a smirk to his face as Bastin got the feeling she hadn’t gotten too far from the bridge after being relieved.

“Lieutenant, what types of vessels are on approach?” Bastin inquired once the Saurian was behind her console.

Her fingers clacked against the hard surface of the console as she made the various sensor requests, “Vessels appear to be similar to the Peregrine-class fighter, though a great deal of modification have been made that suggest that whoever is flying them might have cobbled them together from parts of other craft to make them spaceworthy.”

“Likely rules out anyone well funded and well organized,” Bastin postulated.

Lt. Nieru cocked her head to one side slightly as she considered the analysis. Given the readings before her, she couldn’t immediately rebuke the statement, though taking it at face value could be exactly what the raiders wanted them to do.

“I would recommend caution, Captain,” the Saurian said after considerable thought, “Their outward appearance may well be an intentional ploy.”

“Noted,” Bastin said briefly. A few seconds after making the utterance, the turbolift doors parted to reveal the two missing senior bridge staff, Cmdr. Rena Yuri and Lt. T’Rel. While the Vulcan took his seat at the Ops console, Bastin’s First Officer replaced the watch officer who had been occupying her chair.

“I take it there’s some raiders making the rounds if you’ve called us back up here,” Yuri said with a smirk as she settled into her chair.

“More like… they are coming to say hello,” Bastin said, pointing toward the viewscreen that was currently projecting the paths of the vessels in question.

“Have we made contact with them yet?” the woman asked with an arched eyebrow.

“Attempts at contact have so far been ignored, Commander,” Nieru replied in an even tone.

The First Officer let out a grunt of displeasure, “Looks like they’re looking for a fight.”

“Seems likely given that they’re coming our way and refusing to even say hello before they get here,” Bastin nodded. Sinking into thought, the Captain began to map out how the interaction might go down. Chances of communication were low, but not zero. The likelihood of the ships mistaking them for a transport ship was also low, but again there was a non-zero chance that they simply reacted to their warp signature and didn’t bother to do any comprehensive scans to see who they were racing towards. It wasn’t impossible for their encounter with the vessels speeding toward the Argonaut to end peacefully and without weapons fire, but the longer things drew out without them answering hails, the less likely that became.

“Thoughts?” Bastin prompted his First Officer.

Cmdr. Yuri tapped her chin with a finger several times before responding, “I think it would serve us better to assume we’re in for a fight. Recommend we go to red alert and assume a defensive posture.”

“Agreed…” Capt. Bastin said after a short pause.

“Red alert!” Yuri ordered, “Raise shields and bring weapons to standby.”

“Aye,” the Saurian officer nodded. A second later the amber hue of the bridge was replaced by the deep crimson indicative of the highest threat condition on the ship. The klaxon associated with the alert status only rang out half a dozen times before the sound was cut off in the bridge compartment.

“Vessels are in visual range, Captain,” Lt. T’Rel spoke up from his console at the front of the bridge.

“On screen,” Bastin ordered.

The tactical display blinked to black before being replaced by the image of three mismatched and very poorly constructed ships dropping out of warp. Bastin frowned at the sight, his gut telling him that talking was not likely going to resolve anything if the raider vessels he was looking at were any metric to go by.

“The lead vessel is sending us a hail, Captain,” Lt. Nieru said with a hint of displeasure in her voice.

“Put them through,” Bastin said as he stood up.

The screen blinked out again before displaying the face of what could only be assumed to be the leader of the ship. Bastin didn’t immediately recognize the species the individual belonged to, though it hardly mattered given the situation. None of the people visible on the screen shared the same origins, which made it blatantly obvious that they weren’t representing any one entity.

“You will lower your shields and surrender,” the being that appeared to be the leader of the raiding party said bluntly without preamble or introductions.

Capt. Bastin couldn’t help himself, turning to his First Officer, “Am I the only one who thinks that demand is overused and completely cliche?”

Cmdr. Yuri smiled wryly at the question, “Is this really the time for that discussion?”

“That’s fair,” Bastin said with a shrug before returning his attention to the viewscreen, “You were saying…?”

The being’s face contorted in rage over having been so rudely brushed off, “We are taking your ship, lower your shields this instant!”

Bastin let out a very exaggerated sigh, “You’re not taking our ship, friend. Our shields will remain up and our weapons will remain locked on your vessels. Should you wish to power down your own weapons and return to your point of origin… I might even let you get a few minutes head start before we track you back to your den and clear it out along with you. I believe that to be an acceptable counter offer.”

“This is not a negotiation!” the being seethed, “You will comply with our demands or we will destroy your ship!”

“That’s what I was waiting for…” Bastin turned his back on the screen, “Lieutenant… fire at will.”

The moment the words left his mouth, the communication was cut off and the Saurian began directing the Argonaut’s weapon systems to fire upon the various weapon systems that she had managed to identify while her Captain had been casually bantering with the First Officer.

As Bastin sank back into his chair, Yuri leaned over with a smirk on her lips, “For a diplomat, you certainly don’t waste time talking.”

“They weren’t interested in talking… hell, I doubt they had much in the way of thoughts that didn’t involve preying on ships and making threats of violence. I haven’t met any poets and statesmen among thieves and murderers,” Bastin shrugged off the teasing comment with ease.

Several slight shudders rippled through the Argonaut, prompting Bastin to look back at the Security Chief. The woman behind the console seemed perfectly at her ease, continuing to input commands in rapid succession without so much as a crease in her features.

“Mister T’Rel, status if you please,” Bastin abandoned his silent inquiry of the Saurian in favor of his Ops Officer.

“Shields are holding at ninety-eight percent. One of the raiding vessels has already been disabled and is currently adrift, the other two vessels are attempting to break off and run,” the Vulcan reported in his usual even tone.

“Have the raiders beamed directly to the brig,” Bastin said with a tone of disinterest.

“Already done, sir,” T’Rel reported dryly.

Bastin nodded at the efficiency of his crew and the way they were able to anticipate orders before receiving them. While the Captain silently praised his crew, the Argonaut had just crippled the second raider, repeating the cycle of responses that didn’t wait for a request from Bastin. The last craft, however, managed to slip away far enough that the Argonaut’s mass wouldn’t inhibit their jump to warp and made a break for it.

“Last vessel has accelerated to warp 4, which appears to be its maximum speed,” the Vulcan remarked from his console.

“Lay in a pursuit course,” Bastin ordered, only to be cut off by the Saurian.

“Captain, sensors indicate that the last ship has had a critical malfunction and has been destroyed,” Nieru said, trying to keep the satisfaction out of her voice.

“Very well, belay my last… set course for the nearest starbase so we can deposit our… guests…” Bastin said after giving his choice of words some thought.

As the helmsman went about executing his orders, the First Officer instructed that the alert condition be terminated, returning the bridge to its normal lighting and appearance. With the crisis now averted, the officers who had been called on duty for the encounter began turning over with the officers they’d relieved to return to their usual rotation. Bastin himself pushed out of his chair, giving the watch officer a brief nod before following Cmdr. Yuri to the turbolift.

“Seems to be a recurring theme in the last few weeks,” Bastin said when the two were halfway to their shared destination.

“How so?”

“Getting waylaid by raiding ships… crippling or destroying said attackers… dropping off prisoners to a starbase… I just feel like we’ve been rinsing and repeating on a strange, unbroken loop,” the Captain said with his arms folded over his chest.

“I get that,” Yuri nodded with a shrug, “But given where we are, and the spectacular lack of oversight from both the Federation and the Cardassians in this area… it’s to be expected. Opportunists thrive in places where no one bothers to crack down. I’m sure the former Neutral Zone areas are just as bad if not worse…”

Bastin couldn’t help but grunt in agreement. He hadn’t bothered to read a great deal of the reports from that part of the Federation, but the ones he had made it glaringly obvious that a lack of oversight had not made the area a better place.

“Guess we’ll just have to stick to gunboat diplomacy for the time being,” Bastin let out a sigh.

“That’s one way to look at it…” the woman chuckled as the lift slowed to a stop and allowed them to depart for their respective quarters.