By Jack Elmlinger
Captain Carrie Buchanan relished her time in the land of wishful dreams. With her arms lovingly wrapped around her lover’s naked body, she slept without a care in the world. The Cardassian homeworld offered a proper romantic background as the starship Veritas orbited the planet. It was perfect until the intercom whistled for her attention.
“Bridge to Captain Buchanan,” the voice of Lieutenant Commander Thalkav spoke from the commbadge on her nightstand. She groaned angrily as she was stolen away from the land of bliss and utter contentment. Grabbing the communicator, she tapped it to answer the unwanted summons.
“Buchanan here,” she said, followed by a yawn.
“Captain, I’m sorry to disturb you,” the Andorian apologized. “But we’re receiving a subspace transmission from an undisclosed location.”
“Have you been able to triangulate the signal?”
“Not yet, sir, but it seems to be broadcasting over the expanse of Cardassian territory.”
“Have you consulted with Admiral Tattok at the chateau?” she continued, using the unofficial name for the Starfleet field office on Cardassia Prime.
“I can’t reach anyone at the chateau right now, Captain. I was going to send a security team down to investigate but I thought that I should check with you first.”
“Go ahead and implement that plan, Commander, and see if you can get a hold of the local authorities. It’s their planet and—” Carrie said.
“I’m already in contact with the Admiral’s Cardassian advisor. She beamed aboard an hour ago.”
“Ok, have her meet me in the observation lounge in twenty minutes. We’ll look at the transmission together there.”
“Aye, sir, and I’ll get trying to track it,” he said. “Thalkav out.”
The blond-haired woman crawled out of bed and headed for the bathroom. Wearing nothing already, she turned on the water shower and got in. A quick scrub and rinse and she was reaching for a towel.
“What’s up?” Lissea San asked from the open doorway of the bathroom, sans clothes like her lover. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes, smiling at her with the afterglow of the bliss that they had shared earlier shining on her face. They had been together now for the last three years since the war had drawn them together. It was only their good luck that they had ended up serving together on Tattok’s flag staff.
“Something’s come up and we can’t reach Tattok.” Buchanan said as she was taking a fresh uniform out of the closet.
“I’ll get dressed and join you,” the Trill said, moving to get dressed.
“No, you should go back to bed, sweetie. It could be nothing and I’ll call you if I need you.” She was putting the finishing touches on her uniform, tying her long hair into a ponytail.
“Are you sure?”
“Of course, I am. It’s probably nothing,” the Veritas’ captain said, kissing her gently on the lips.
The image on the viewscreen in the observation lounge of the Sovereign-class starship was distorted a little but it came through clearly once the volume gain had been applied. Several unidentified people wearing masks and Cardassian uniforms stood around a dark room. On a back wall was the insignia of the Cardassian Union and three prisoners. Once their shrouds had been removed, Buchanan recognized them as Commander Amber Stone, the admiral’s new aide, and Vice-Admiral Tattok, the commander of the 11th Fleet. The third person wasn’t known to her.
Tattok appeared to be injured the most of the three with multiple contusions, and he was clutching his right side as if there were some broken ribs or damaged organs bothering him. Stone tried to be tough and her beauty was unscarred. The third Starfleet officer was a Xyrillian who wore commander’s pips on his gold collar. He appeared to be wounded as well with his left arm in a sling.
“We represent the true voice of the Cardassian people!” one of the masked Cardassians shouted. “While our government sits around like weakened voles and makes secret plans with the Federation, and allows Starfleet to illegally govern our people, we act to keep Cardassia pure! We are the True Way, the Way that the ancient Hebitians wished for the Cardassian people to be!”
The lead Cardassian turned to Tattok and smacked him in the face. “The True Way has taken custody of Starfleet’s 11th Fleet commander and his staff. The Federation has twenty-six hours to leave Empok Nor and to leave Cardassian space. Or else we will kill your precious—”
“I’ve seen enough,” the captain said, pressing a button on the tabletop. Turning away from the viewer, she looked down the conference table at Gul Malyn Ocett, the Cardassian officer that the Central Command had assigned as their liaison with the 11th Fleet. She looked like she was at a loss for words. “What’s your take on this, Gul Ocett?”
“First of all, I don’t believe that my people, especially those lunatics in the True Way, would carry out such an insane plan.”
“It sounds more like a Maquis plan” said Lieutenant Torren, the Veritas’ chief flight controller. As the only other Roylan aboard, he had been called in to give his advice on the situation. He climbed down from his chair and walked over to the viewer, activating it with the PADD in his hands. Typing instructions into the PADD, he widened the angle of the visual recording and zoomed in on Tattok’s hands. Playing the transmission again but focusing on his hands, it appeared as if he was relaying a signal.
“Hmm…” the pilot said,” interesting.”
“What is it?”
“The admiral is using sign language to communicate with us.”
“Can you translate what he’s saying?” asked Lieutenant T’Linn, the ship’s Vulcan-Orion security chief.
“I have to consult the computer. This language isn't well known to me.”
“Well, what do we do until then?” This question came from Master Chief Hollis who was worried for the admiral’s safety.
“We investigate the attack on the chateau and why we were the last to know about it,” Buchanan said, standing up from her seat. “Get me anything you can, please, Mr. Torren. I’m going to consult with Captain Natale and see where we stand.”
A series of ‘Aye, sirs’ and ‘yes, sirs’ followed in her wake as she left the lounge.
Smoke rose from the chateau after the attack that had taken place there during the night. Lieutenant T’Linn scanned the chamber with her tricorder while Lieutenant Commander Thalkav was examining the computer on the admiral’s desk. There were signs that a struggle had taken place. And there were even areas where phaser burns could be seen.
“So do you think he went down without much of a fight?” the Vulcan-Orion woman asked the Andorian.
“Well, from what my friend Anthony on the Trident has told me, Admiral Tattok is an accomplished martial artist and weapons master. I understand that he taught Captain Kimura some of what she knows.”
“Hmm… I wonder if he’s looking for new students.”
“I don’t know. You’d have to ask him when we find him.”
The door to the living chamber opened and Doctor Daniella Running Deer walked in from the bathroom. She held up a uniform tailored for a female officer, the red collar having commander’s pips on it.
“Well, I can tell you this, boys,” the Veritas’ chief medical officer said with a smile, “Commander Stone wasn’t exactly going over her dictation. I found Roylan and Human DNA all over that bathroom.”
“Logistics for a newly-established facility could have forced them to share quarters,” suggested Thalkav. “The records suggest that even Captain Telka and her assistant, Lieutenant Evans had to share a room.”
“Yes, but the lieutenant is male. And last time I heard anything about the admiral’s sister, she was single.”
“We really shouldn’t be passing judgment on their off-duty habits, people,” Lieutenant Commander San said, walking into the chamber with Master Chief Hollis following her. “None of the Marines here survived the assault. Neither did Telka’s security people. She’s only lucky that she was in the capital city, attending a meeting of the Detapa Council at the time.”
“The Cardassian impersonating Admiral Tobiaston is missing as well,” Hollis said. “We have to assume that retrieving him was part of the True Way’s plan.”
“Torren to Thalkav,” the Roylan lieutenant spoke over the Andorian’s commbadge.
“Go ahead,” he answered him.
“I've translated the sign language, Commander, and I believe that I have a location for the admiral.”
“I’m on my way up. Thalkav out.”
“Where do you think you’re going, Commander? I’m in command here,” the Trill told him.
“Excuse me, but you may be the Veritas’ acting XO while Buchanan’s the acting captain, but I’m still second officer of that ship and I’ll go where I want. You have a problem with me,” the operations officer said, “then file a protest.” He tapped his commbadge. “Thalkav to Veritas, one to beam up.”
“The True Way did what?!” Synnove Natale exclaimed over the comm channel. The Orion was sitting in her quarters, wearing pajamas since she, too, had been asleep when Buchanan called.
“They attacked the chateau and took the admiral, right under our noses,” Carrie repeated, almost not believing it herself.
“Well, that’s insane. Are you sure that it’s not the Maquis trying to frame them?”
“No, so far, all evidence is pointed towards the True Way, since they use mostly Cardassian tech. Of course, it’s still under analysis and Commander Thalkav is still trying to trace the source of the transmission.” She sighed, sitting back in her chair behind the admiral’s desk. “Personally, I don’t know what to do. After Admiral Tobiaston was revealed to be missing, Tattok never got around to revealing to me how the fleet’s chain of command works.”
“That’s because the fleet is still new, Captain, and it takes a lot of organization and details to keep it running. I will say, in confidence, that word has it that Tattok still has the mind of a starship commander. My guess is he’s still thinking like one.”
“Well, I checked the fleet records and it appears that Captain Regan is Fleet Captain. But Columbia’s too far out to be of any help, and the next in line is you.”
“No, thank you. I’m just a stationmaster. This kind of decision needs to go up the ladder to Starfleet Command.”
“Are you sure?”
“I couldn’t be more sure,” she said with a serious undertone. “Your best bet would be to try Admiral Delmlin. He was Tattok’s first officer at Wolf 359, and he’s one of those guys who understands Tattok better than any of us do.”
“Bridge to Captain Buchanan,” Thalkav said over the intercom.
“Torren and I have analyzed the signal and we believe that we have an idea where the hostages have been taken.”
“Set a course and engage at maximum warp, Commander.”
“I’ll let you go now,” Natale said, nodding at her. “It looks like things are going perfectly for you.”
“Let’s hope so. Buchanan out.”
Captain’s log, supplemental…
Commander Thalkav and Lieutenant Torren’s analysis of the True Way signal has given us a starting point in the search for the hostages. We’re on course for the Omega Hidaris system at warp nine. I hope that we’re able to find them there.
“Report,” Buchanan said, walking out of the ready room. She moved over to the center of the bridge between the ops and helm consoles. Commander San vacated the command chair, walking over to stand beside her.
“We're nineteen minutes out from Omega Hidaris,” Torren answered from the helm.
“Security and medical teams report standing by in transporter room two,” said T’Linn from Tactical. The green-skinned woman looked like she was itching for a fight the way that she kept checking her readings over and over again.
“Raise shields and go to Yellow Alert,” San ordered after she moved to the first officer’s station. She nodded at Buchanan who walked over to assume her place in the captain’s chair.
“We’re in a potential combat situation, Captain,” Thalkav said from ops, turning to face her. “We should be at Red Alert.”
“We don’t know what we’re heading into yet, Mr. Thalkav.”
“I agree, sir,” T’Linn said. “We would be better off, tactically, if we were at battle stations.”
Buchanan sighed and looked at San who only shrugged her shoulders. She looked back at Thalkav, displeased with the situation because she wanted to try diplomacy first before open warfare. “Ok, sound red alert.”
The red alert klaxon sounded through the ship and Torren looked up from his display. “Entering the Omega Hidaris system,” he said, looking at the viewscreen. “Slowing to impulse.”
“Try passive scanning for now,” San told Thalkav. “We don’t want the True Way knowing we’re already here.”
“Hello, we’re in a Sovereign-class, Commander. We might as well as have a red bull’s eye painted on the hull.”
“That’s enough, Mr. Thalkav. One more outburst like that and I’ll relieve you of duty,” the captain said sternly.
The Andorian ignored both of them and checked his instruments. A few minutes passed by before he said, “Sensors are detecting a Cardassian vessel in orbit of the fifth planet. The fifth planet is Class-M with—”
“Save the science lesson for later, Mr. Thalkav. T’Linn, can you tell me anything about the Cardassian ship?”
T’Linn looked at the captain with a glare before making her report. “It is a Keldon-class vessel and known to be more heavily armed than a Galor-class, sir.”
“How could they have—?” Thalkav started to say before Buchanan interrupted him.
“Hail them, Commander. I want to talk to their captain.”
“Hailing on all frequencies,” the disgruntled officer said, entering instructions into his station. “No response.”
“Mr. Torren, take us into orbit of the fifth planet.”
The Veritas moved into orbit over Omega Hidaris V and over the Cardassian starship in a similar geosynchronous orbit. Buchanan rubbed her chin while she thought through her next decision.
“Put me on, Mr. Thalkav. I want to talk to them.”
“Cardassian vessel, this is Captain Buchanan of the starship Veritas,” the blond-haired woman said while she stood up from the command chair, “and we have reason to believe that you or members of your crew are part of a terrorist organization known as the True Way. Recently, the commander of the Eleventh Fleet was kidnapped along with two other officers. We want them back and you have five minutes to return them. Or else I open fire.”
“That’s it? That’s how you negotiate?” San asked, looking at her lover.
“Just going with my best concerto, Lissea.”
“Then you must have one killer orchestra because they’re answering.”
The viewscreen changed from the Cardassian ship and the planet to an obscured and static-filled transmission. Without any doubt, the Starfleet crew could tell that it was the same room that the original hostage transmission had come from. Once the image cleared up, the lead Cardassian from before stood over the wounded Tattok with a blade in his hand. From her studies in archaeology, Carrie could see that it was made of jevonite.
“You have no right to tell us what to do in our own territory, Human. This is Cardassian space.”
“You lost the war,” Buchanan said. “Release the admiral and the others. We can talk about this.”
“Discussion is for politicians and weaklings. You will surrender your vessel or your precious Tattok will be dinner for the dogs,” the Cardassian said with a smug tone. His True Way followers still wore their masks but this one showed himself and his true intentions.
“Mute transmission.” Buchanan stared at the Cardassian officer for a moment before turning to San. “Ask Gul Ocett to come up to the bridge, please.”
“Aye, sir,” the Trill said, carrying out her orders.
A few moments later and Malyn Ocett was escorted onto the bridge by Master Chief Hollis. The middle-aged Cardassian woman walked over to Captain Buchanan and stood at ease.
“What do you want?”
“Look at the viewscreen. Do you recognize this man?”
Ocett looked at the Cardassian gul on the screen with surprise. “That’s Madred!”
“Gul Madred? The guy who tortured Jean-Luc Picard?” asked Thalkav.
“The same,” she said, frightfully. “He’s become as horrible a monster as Skrain Dukat was. The last I heard about him was that he was assigned to our supply facility on Cardassia Four, distributing what supplies we got from the Federation to our people on Prime. Madred was my sister’s husband and his daughter, Jil Orra… she left to become a physician when the war ended.”
“So he probably feels like crap after what the Dominion did to him,” San said.
“Captain,” T’Linn said, looking at her, “I have been scanning the Keldon’s shield signature. If I am correct, I believe that this particular version of the class was reported to have trouble with the power distribution coils in their shield generators.”
“They would be susceptible to a broad-spectrum ionic pulse, wouldn’t they?”
“Yes, and if I were to send such a pulse through the deflector dish, I could drop their shields and—”
“Beam our people back to the ship? Excellent! Let’s do it!” She turned back to Thalkav and said, “Let’s hear them now, Mr. Thalkav.”
“We will no longer stand in the streets of our worlds, begging for scraps and relying on the United Federation of Planets to feed and clothe us! We will stand tall under the True Way! We will be a newer, stronger, more unified Cardassia once—”
“…you shut up and listen to us,” Thalkav muttered under his breath.
“Gul Madred,” Ocett said, reaching out her hands, “you don’t need to do this. Cardassia will be strong again, but—”
“Traitor! You would work with these voles, Ocett?! After how we defeated them at Archanis during the war?! How dare you turn your back on us?! The True Way will find you and—”
“Close channel,” Buchanan said, tried of his bitter tirade. She stepped away from Ocett and put a hand on Thalkav’s shoulder. “Is the pulse ready?”
“Ready, Captain,” he said with pride.
The Andorian checked his readings and nodded. “Their shields are down!”
“Energizing!” T’Linn shouted. Buchanan looked at T’Linn and the pointy-eared green woman smiled back at her. “I’ve beamed the hostages to Sickbay and the crew to the brig.”
“Good, dispatch a team to fly the Keldon to Sanctuary,” Buchanan said, heading for the nearest turbolift with San following her. “Mr. Torren, you have the bridge.”
“I have the bridge, aye.”
Several hours had passed by since Tattok’s rescue from the True Way. Commander Stone and Lieutenant Skae, the Xyrillian engineer imprisoned with him, were still in Sickbay, recovering from their injuries. A full day had passed since Rear-Admiral Tobiaston had been discovered to be a True Way spy and behind his abduction. After his own injuries had been treated, the Roylan had retreated to the security of his ready room on the Veritas, diving into the paperwork surrounding the fleet that he commanded. He had even saved an hour for a chat with Counselor DeMarco who had come by to see how he was doing.
The doors to the ready room opened now and Captain Buchanan walked inside, carrying a stack of PADDs that Commander San had given her to deliver before the admiral had summoned up her presence.
“I'm disappointed, Captain Buchanan,” Tattok said, standing with his back to her. He looked out the window as the sun rose over Omega Hidaris V with a deep frown. In the background, a Cardassian warship stayed close to them as the Sovereign-class starship and its prize prepared to leave orbit. His uniform jacket and vest were laid out on his couch where he had taken a short nap earlier.
“I've just done a review of my administration. This fleet is scattered and uncertain, with reports not reaching me. Even this fleet's chain of command is unsure of me.” The little alien turned around and faced her with a katana sword in his hand. It had been a gift from Captain Kimura on his last birthday. Drawing the blade from its scabbard, he pointed the top of the blade at the blond-haired woman.
“I should have known it,” he continued. “Everywhere in my midst, all I do is find traitors.”
“Admiral Tattok, are you insane?” she asked him, fitting him with an angry glare. “How can you accuse me when… when I saved your life? When I’ve followed your every order?”
“Just like Rkasi Cen, you have betrayed me.”
In his left hand, the Roylan admiral held up a tricorder and by pressing a single button on it, a negative beep squeaked from it. The image of Carrie Buchanan disappeared, only to be replaced by a Cardassian woman with a holo-cloak on her arm. What the admiral didn’t expect was to see the stack of PADDs that she had been carrying dissolve into a Cardassian phaser.
“How? How did you defeat my holo-cloak?” she asked, gesturing towards him with her phaser.
“That was information that only I was privy to," Tattok told her, referring to the report he'd received from the Federation Security Bureau's Agent Tahir.
“Whatever,” the Cardassian woman said. “My mission is over and you’re dead.” She held up her weapon, ready to squeeze the trigger.
“I don't think so.” Tattok jumped upwards, dodging the phaser fire. With a single downward thrust, he landed on his opponent and ran his sword through her heart.
With a single and final breath, she said, “Cardassia forever,” and then she died.
Tattok stepped off of her, pulling the sword out of her chest. Dropping it, he walked out of his ready room to see Master Chief Hollis and Lieutenant T’Linn leading another Cardassian woman away in shackles. Gul Ocett followed them, appearing ashamed by the acts of her own people.
“I can’t believe it,” Thalkav said, standing at the center of the bridge. “Buchanan and San were both Cardassian agents? How?”
“The holo-cloaks are designed to simulate and authenticate lifesigns. It's an alien technology at best.”
“Do we have any idea whose technology it is?” asked Counselor DeMarco.
“Negative,” Tattok said, turning towards the main viewer and pointing out into outer space. “But somewhere out there lies the answer to this mystery.”