“They’re refusing to talk to me.” Gul Hasara sat at the briefing table with a sour look. He’d reached out to the captains of the remaining five ships, and they’d turned down his invite to meet. They’d stoutly refused to allow him to visit and cut the channel dismissively.
Seoyeon slid into the chair across from the Cardassian, “Is it a choice or an order?”
Hasara considered her question. He had long wondered what had transpired in the Union to put him on his heels. He was starting to wonder if there was a connection to the sudden appearance of The Lost Fleet. The political motivations within the twisted web of the military had long lost his interest. He mentally kicked himself for not keeping up with his people’s happenings. This moment would have been a perfect opportunity to exploit connections he’d exploited. “I do not know, commander. They are young officers who have been regaled of the tales of the battles, the rebellion, and the victory against the Dominion.”
She was floored. Five ships remained from an original dispatch of twelve. “How can they believe that after they just got pasted by what is probably Dominion forces?”
The Gul knew, “They may feel as if they’ve proven they can fight them…and yes, even with their heavy losses. The pride and hubris of a young Cardassian captain and crew cannot be ignored, commander. They see me as a…the human term is ‘old dog who can’t be taught new tricks’ or something like that.” He leaned back in the chair, “We have a swagger-filled Cardassian fleet licking their wounds on one side…and a group of Federation colonists who want nothing to do with them.”
The XO shook her head in dismay, “All the while, the Dominion is probably plotting our destruction just out of view of sensors.” She thought of something, “What if we got evidence?”
Hasara chuckled, “They’d say you’d manipulated the video or photos…or faked sensor readings.” He shrugged at her glare, “What? I would have said it if you brought such things to me.”
She rubbed her face as she continued to think. She stopped and stared at him, “What if we brought one or two of them with us? You can’t fake what someone sees with their own eyes.”
The Cardassian blinked. Twice. “You’ve impressed me, Commander Seoyeon. That’s one way around their resistance. Will Captain Walton approve?”
Park pushed herself out of the chair, “It’s something she would do, so I think we’ll get her signature.”
“They murdered my daughter.” The middle-aged Bajoran woman’s eyes blazed with rage. Walton and Hargraves had been making their rounds through the town square and into the arterial streets, asking the citizens about their feelings when it came to the Cardassians. The stories had been visceral in every sense of the word. Stories of torture, murder, brutality, abuse, and careless violence had filled their PADDs as they’d taken notes. The woman they stood before had tears in her eyes as she related the murder of her 13-year-old only child. The Cardassians suspected her of counterintelligence and had been threatening her daughter’s well-being most of the prior to get her to confess. “I was no dissident. I followed the martial law, the new laws, the extra laws. We were model citizens of the occupation.” She spat at the ground, “But they believed I was running some kind of operation. So they kept after her and me…until one day there was a bombing in the town square – a bunch of Cardassian soldiers killed.”
Wren whispered, “So they came for you.”
The woman stared at the ground, her eyes filling with sadness, “They were so angry. They didn’t listen. All they wanted to hear was that it was me, that I had planned it…that I had made it happen. I didn’t do what they wanted. I thought they’d throw me in prison…or something.” She glanced up at each of them, “They didn’t believe anything I told them. They murdered her in front of me…and walked away.” She wiped the tears away, “Two more months of attacks…and they never found who had done it. You ask why we hate them…why we don’t want them here…I’m just one of thousands with memories of them and what they did to us.”
They thanked her and walked her as she wandered away, lost in her emotional fog. Wren growled, “This mission doesn’t just feel challenging anymore…it feels like this is damned near impossible.”
Charlie was starting to agree with her. He’d signed up for the diplomatic officer position as a way to expand his experience in the fleet. That he was going to have to navigate the massive canyon between the Cardassians and a world they had occupied had not been something he had expected. He was about to speak when Walton’s badge chirped. It was the XO, and she had a plan.
Wren listened as Park explained the plan she and the Gul had framed out. She replied. “I like it. Charlie and I will work with the Governor to get them on board. Give Hasara my thanks.” The channel closed, and she grinned maniacally, “I love it when a plan comes together.”
“You can’t be serious.”
Wren felt her eyes widen, and Charlie spoke before her urge to backhand the man kicked in. “Governor…we’re offering you a chance to have your people get an honest and transparent look at the situation from the safety of a runabout. If there’s any danger, which you have said there isn’t, we’ll bring them right back.”
Rosser chewed on his bottom lip. He could have just told them to leave out of frustration and to take their ugly Starfleet uniforms with them. He suspected they would have pressed the issue, and plenty of yelling would have resulted. He knew what had happened the last time he’d tried to push the captain of the Mackenzie around. “Very well. As for the request you made….” He looked to his staff and then back to Walton and her group, “We will need to interview each Cardassian you propose to put on this planet. If they are approved, each of them will be escorted around the planet by two armed marshals.”
Wren clenched her jaw, counting to ten in her head. “I’ll discuss your proposal with my senior staff and the Cardassians. Get me the names of your people for the mission. We need to move on this. Good day, governor.” She stood at attention and stalked out, Charlie on her heels.
“You really don’t understand the word ‘diplomatic,’ do you, captain?”
She spun on him, “I don’t like being pushed around and manipulated into corners I have to fight my way out of, Charlie.” Walton put her hands up in apology, regretting the outburst as soon as it had happened, “I shouldn’t have said it that way.”
He gave her a harder look as he tapped his badge, “I’m here to help you watch your words. You’ll have to learn that on your own eventually, captain. Hargraves to Mackenzie, two to beam up.” She resisted the urge to strangle him mid-transport.