“We’re nearing Dozaria Prime, commander.” Ensign Prentice nervously dropped them out of warp and kept his hands ready in case something terrible awaited them.
Harris leaned forward, “Report.”
Sadie frowned at her science station, “I’m…sir, I’m not detecting life signs on the planet.” She tapped at the sensors for a moment longer before shaking her head, “Second scan confirms.”
The XO tapped at the arm console, “Captain Fontana to the bridge.” He stood and moved to stand beside Prentice, “Get us closer to orbit but hold off on engaging.” The young officer nodded as Ambrose turned to face the CO as he stepped out of his ready room, giving him the rundown as Fontana moved to the center chair.
Geronimo turned to Ensign Foster, “What do we have in the sector?”
She had started that scan and found herself shaking her head again, “Nothing on sensors. Analyzing warp trails, but it’ll take a moment.”
Harris walked slowly back to the XO chair and sat, his mind working through whatever implication was before them. Where had Gul Hasara gone? Had he been surprised by Gul Tikbe Onot? The former CEO found that unlikely. And where was that Gul and her ship? “Captain, I think we need to back off.”
Fontana glanced sideways to his XO, “What are you thinking?”
“I think the absence of Onot is telling. I think we’re alone at the site of a disputed Cardassian Colony, and things could be imagined about our…involvement in this.”
The CO turned his attention to the screen and spoke to their Chief Helm Officer, “Ensign, full reverse. Put some distance between us.” The Edinburgh rumbled backward as the planet retreated.
A warning beep from Ensign De La Fontaine‘s console jarred the bridge and he spoke quickly, “Cardassian Cruiser inbound, arriving….now.”
Fontana stood and hesitated on calling yellow alert. He had found his quick cowboy style hadn’t earned him much in the way of friends or admirers among the sector and his crew. Holding his tongue on the alert level, he instead led with, “Hail them.”
Foster tapped at her console, “They are responding…”
The screen filled with Gul Tikbe Onot, her scowl filling her face, “What have you done with Gul Hasara!”
The CO remained standing, “I’m not sure I take your meaning, Gul…? I’m Captain Fontana, Federation Starship USS Edinburgh.”
She growled in response, “Gul Tikbe Onot. You know who I am. My meaning is, what have you done with Gul Hasara and the colony? You will answer!”
Harris felt her anger through the screen and wondered if he had misjudged her based on the reports from the Osiris. That or it was desperation that soaked her words. You don’t get to have a ship out here without having some level of responsibility for your people – be they exiles or pariahs.
The CO shook his head, “We haven’t done anything with the colony, Gil Onot. We arrived moments ago and found the planet empty of life.”
She stared him down through the viewscreen, the start of a snarl appearing on her lips. “I will confer with my crew and command. Do not leave this sector.” The channel abruptly cut, and Fontana returned to his chair and turned to Harris.
“Odd. She doesn’t seem to know where he’s gone. We don’t know. Which leaves…”
“The Syndicate…or even Palasa Transport Group. Something’s been bothering me since we ran into them.” Harris tapped at the console in front of him, “The Palasa Transport Group ships had Cardassian weapons and pretty strong armor. Ensign Fowler had mentioned that other transport companies had been driven out by the danger involved in getting goods and people across this part of space. What if…Palasa Transport Group, is the syndicate going legal?”
Fontana considered the idea. “In order for Palasa to get all the lost contracts, the syndicate would have to drive out all competition by force, leaving their new shiny legal company to operate, earn and expand. If someone doesn’t like the way they do business…they throw a punch or two to get them in line.” He shook his head, “Reads like those Old Earth stories of organized crime and the like. You said they were getting desperate…desperate times call for desperate measures.”
Kondo spoke up from tactical, “If the syndicate becomes the only transport operations in this section of space…and they expand and improve their ship’s weapons and armor…or even establish a base somewhere….”
Harris grumbled, “They’ll be more of a force to be reckoned with than before. I think the Cardassians must have an inkling of this – they wouldn’t be desperately trying to find Hasara and his people if it didn’t have larger implications for them.”
The CO stood, “The Cardassians probably have enough troubles at home, and in this disputed sector…a rising rebellious syndicate that’s getting bigger and uglier is going to make things harder for them. Let’s see what we can shake loose. Ensign Fowler, hail them.”
The scowling visage of Gul Onot returned to the screen, “What do you want?”
Fontana ignored the tone and pressed on, “Gul, I think we have a common enemy. We’ve been working on an idea over here that the syndicate and Palasa Company might be the same thing…and that you’re not worried about Gul Hasara or his people…you’re worried why they’re gone.”
Onot’s face remained placid, “Go on.”
The CO continued, “The Federation and Starfleet would be just as concerned with the bigger threat of Palasa and Syndicate working together…and what it means when that grows beyond the borders of this section of space.”
There was a twitch in the eyes of the Cardassian, “What do you propose?”
Geronimo allowed a thin smile, “We would be willing to search for your missing Gul and his people – we’re uniquely equipped with science and medical equipment. Whatever we find along the way that has anything to do with Syndicate or Palasa, we’d immediately share with you…and invite you and yours to the party.”
Onot considered his words and was silent as she stared at the captain. A moment later, she relented, “I will provisionally agree to these terms. I will, of course, need to transmit this to my command.” She paused, “I suppose you’ll want the USS Osiris included in this…deal.”
Fontana smiled wider this time, “That would be preferable, Gul.”
A snort, “I’ll get back to you.”
The channel slammed shut, and Fontana let out a long sigh as he returned to his chair, “I will be glad to give this chair back to you soon, Commander.” Harris turned in his own chair, surprise on his face, and the CO chuckled, “I’m not a diplomat. I’d rather heal the sick and save the injured. I’m learning what I love and what I don’t. She’ll be yours again soon enough, Commander.” He stood, “Helm, work with science to see if we can track where ships have been going around here the last few hours. Let’s find our friendly Gul. Mr. Harris, you have the CONN.”