By Jack Elmlinger
The warm light of Cardassia’s sun shone brightly in the blue skies of Cardassia Prime and down onto Vice-Admiral Tattok after the transporter beam dissipated around him. He stood at the end of a small detachment of personnel in the middle of a courtyard that led into an old chateau that had survived the destruction brought down on the populace before the end of the war. Settled outside the capital city and framed by an expansive countryside, the mansion had been the provisional Cardassian government’s gift to Starfleet when they decided to accept humanitarian support and protection from the United Federation of Planets.
Standing beside him was his new administrative assistant who had rendezvoused with the Veritas during the voyage from Sanctuary. With long brown hair and a smile on her face, Commander Amber Stone looked around them, and at the entrance to the chateau stood two Federation Marines and an additional assortment of officers.
“It looks like we were expected,” Stone said.
“We did signal the Chateau from orbit, Commander,” Tattok said, walking forward. As he approached them, the old Roylan noticed that his sister was among the greeters.
“Ah, Admiral Tattok,” an older Human said, stretching out his arms, “it’s so good to see you again. Welcome to Cardassia Prime.”
Seeing Rear-Admiral Stuart Tobiaston again after three years sent a shiver down the little man’s spine. The last time that he had seen him, he had been under investigation for the murder of a fellow officer, namely his former first officer on the Camelot during a Maquis raid. He also recognized his stalwart companion from that time, Captain Dron Suder walking beside him.
“It's been a long time.”
“Please come in,” Tobiaston said, leading the way into the chateau, “we have much to discuss.”
“My office would be a better forum for discussion,” Telka said, moving into step beside her brother. From her manner, Tattok could tell that something was the matter.
They continued walking from the main hall and up a flight of stairs to the solarium. Apparently the previous owner of the chateau had been a fan of Arthurian legends because it reminded him of Camelot, the legendary place of rest and rule for King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. When they entered the solarium, Tobiaston moved behind a desk at the center of the room and sat down. Always a suspicious man, his flag captain moved to lean against the glass window behind the admiral.
The 11th Fleet commander saw a replicator and without invitation, walked over to it and placed an order for tea. After the teacup appeared before him, he removed it from the panel and addressed Tobiaston. “Is there a reason for my visit? Supplies from Deep Space Nine have been coming here and their dispersal to Cardassian worlds hasn't been done. I'm waiting to hear an explanation, gentlemen."
“Yes, of course, Admiral, but I need some assurances. Assurances that I must pass on to Admiral Nechayev that command of the 11th Fleet is in the best of hands,” the white-haired man said, picking up a PADD from his desktop. It looked like it had been imported because it resembled something from the period of Louis XIV back on Earth. “After recent months since the re-activation of Empok Nor and the events since you took command, she and I have reason to believe that you might be ill-qualified to handle this assignment.”
“I've always had her support. Maybe I need to contact her.”
“I’ve been assuring the admiral, sir,” an unidentified Rigelian captain said from one side of the room, “that while Captain Natale has had some setbacks, the reports coming from Sanctuary say that the fleet should be fully on-line by winter.”
“So, then,” Tattok said, glaring at Tobiaston, “what kind of assurances are you looking for?”
“An attempt,” Suder said with a sinister smile on his face, “was made on your very life, Admiral Tattok, by your former chief of staff, a reputable member of the Maquis terrorism group. He also, unless you forgot, attempted the kidnapping of a three-star admiral from under the very eyes of your station commander! These are not random setbacks, Admiral Tattok!” He calmed down before continuing. “The escape of Rkasi Cen from Sanctuary has shown that there is a level of incompetence that—”
“I don’t believe that the admiral needs a reminder of his failings, Captain Suder,” the rear-admiral said, sharing his flag captain’s smile.
“Failures? What failures?”
“Yes,” Suder continued, ignoring Tobiaston’s false plea. “Because of the post-traumatic stress disorder recorded by Doctor Running Deer and because of the death of your family at the Battle of Wolf 359, I submit that you are unfit for command of either the U.S.S. Veritas or for command of the 11th Fleet. Of your own volition as fleet commander, you should stand down and commit yourself to the course of psychiatric treatment prescribed by Starfleet Medical.”
For a moment, Tattok considered Suder’s well-rehearsed speech and the captain of the U.S.S. Menelaus, Tobiaston’s Akira-class flagship, had many good points to make about how he ran the fleet. He also didn’t want to believe that either Starfleet Command or the C-in-C herself had instituted this witch hunt as a reason to replace him as fleet commander—especially since his appointment had been approved by the Federation Council and the President. It was supposed to be his last assignment before he accepted retirement in a few years.
“I protest!” Telka said, stepping forward and knocking over a chair in front of Tobiaston’s desk. “Admiral Tattok has performed his duties to the best of his abi—"
“Such loyalty should be rewarded, Captain Telka,” Tobiaston said, “especially to someone who’s loyalty falls to the familial. However, I believe that I share Captain Suder’s concerns, Admiral Tattok. A psychiatric evaluation would be—”
“I'm already under the treatment of a counselor.”
“Oh, good, then let’s ask Mr. DeMarco what—”
“Your allegations are unfounded.” By now, the vice admiral had set down his tea and held his head, almost as if he was ashamed.
“I don’t believe that Fleet Captain Galloway would agree with that, Admiral,” Suder said.
“You are both addressing a senior officer,” Tattok said, lifting his head and looking sternly at both of them. “Your concerns are also unjustified. I've already talked to Nechayev."
Tobiaston sighed heavily and sat back in his chair, clapping his hands together, angrily. “I implore you, to consider the safety of the men and women under your command—”
“They aren't your concern, Admiral Tobiaston. I'm in command here, not you.”
“I placed Telka in charge here on Cardassia. You can explain to me what your presence is here.” He stepped forward and took the tricorder off of his belt. Scanning both of them, he saw the truth behind them. “Hmm… this is interesting.”
“How interesting, sir?” the Rigelian captain asked him.
“Interesting, Captain, because Tobiaston isn't who he says he is.” Reaching out for Tobiaston’s right forearm, he pushed it and the image of the rear-admiral disappeared around him. In his place was a Cardassian male wearing Tobiaston’s uniform. Suder’s eyes widened at this revelation and he stepped back, appalled.
“Se-Security!” the Betazoid shouted.
The door to the solarium had never been closed so a squad of Marines arrived quickly to deal with the false Admiral Tobiaston.
“Is it true?” Telka asked him after Tattok put his tricorder away.
“The truth is how you want to see it.”
“Are you really seeing a counselor?”
“Over subspace, I've been conferring with Roijiana. DeMarco,” he said, watching Suder leave, “I believe to be Suder's puppet.”
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