Author: Anthony Butler
STAR TRAKS: WAYSTATION
“Trick or Treaty”
By Anthony Butler
“Personal Log, Captain Lisa Beck. Stardate 54867.4. This is just another average week. The Federation, having gone broke, which was a surprise to both my accountant and myself, sold Earth to the Ferengi. That would have been bad enough, but leave it to Captain Baxter and those fools on the Starship Explorer to come up with a solution that’s actually worse than the original problem.
“They found a buyer for Earth, all right, and he was sitting right on board Waystation, with a huge stash of latinum and credits.
“All Bradley Dillon wanted in return purchasing Earth was the one tiny favor of being named President of the Federation.
“What’s worse, I was assigned, along with Lieutenant Commander Porter and Commander Morales, to ferry him to Earth to make the transaction. And after a nasty spill with the Ferengi, we accomplished our mission. Bradley bought Earth back, and I guess we sort of helped save the day.
“Now comes the hard part.”
“Bradley Dillon, with the power vested in me by the Federation Council, I hearby grant you the name and title of President of the United Federation of Planets, with all the rights and privileges appertaining thereto, including free unlimited postage services at participating Federation Express Cargo Transit Authorities,” said Council Chairman An’tharran, the Andorian Ultra Moderate Cowardice Party member in charge of the Federation Council. He handed Bradley a latinum-plated gavel, a symbol of Federation leadership passed down since the forming of the great interstellar body. In this case, it had to be pried out of the insane hands of Jaresh-Inyo, whose nervous breakdown started the Federation on this awful course it had taken.
Bradley Dillon stood in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, atop a grand, marble dais that had been replicated and pieced together specially for the event. He smiled broadly, breathed deeply, and prepared to give his first address as President of the Federation. He wore a Federation-blue tux, with shiny lapels and a Federation emblem pinning the collar. Beck admitted reluctantly that he certainly did look… official.
Beck shifted her dress tunic from side to side as she stood amid the throngs of onlookers, thousands in number, gathered around the Eiffel Plaza. Morales and Porter were near her, in a section made up mostly of Starfleet officers.
She had to hand it to Bradley. He knew how to throw together a party on short notice. And it made sense, too. He had to be ordained leader of the Federation before some historian or meddler could look up some arcane bit of Federation law that would prevent him from taking the presidency in such a way. There was no bit of law like that, though, Beck thought. At least none that she, Porter, or Morales could find within the last twenty-four hours.
“Greetings, people of the United Federation of Planets,” Bradley Dillon said, casually smoothing his jacket, even as his voice was broadcast simultaneously to dozens of Federation worlds. “You are all quite lucky to witness this occasion. This marks a new chapter in the leadership of this fine enterprise. May I call it an enterprise? The name seems appropriate. Yes, many of you may doubt the wisdom of thinking of this grand body as a business, but I guarantee you I will operate it as such, and you will soon learn that my thinking is correct. The foolish misappropriation of resources will not be allowed to continue. I will run an efficient, prosperous, and most of all, solvent government from this day forward. You will all one day reap the benefits of choosing me as your leader.”
“Nobody chose him,” someone grunted from behind Beck. It was Captain Baxter of the Explorer. Beck chuckled to herself. She could tell Baxter was having second thoughts about coming up with this idea, and that thought pleased her to no end. She hoped Baxter one day lived to regret turning over the reigns of the Federation to Bradley Dillon.
But, at least the Federation had Earth back, and that was something. She didn’t know what she’d do if she couldn’t visit North Carolina.
North Carolina, however, was the last thing on Beck’s mind. As “Hail to the Chief” was played by the 78-piece Federation band encircling the Eiffel Tower, Beck considered that her job description had just changed dramatically. She was no longer just the commander of a far-flung, albeit expansive, outpost.
Now she was also in charge of the seat of power for the whole Federation.
Maybe she could convince Bradley to stay on Earth.
“Well? How’d the convincing go?” Captain Baxter asked, leaning his elbows on the lighted table in the far right corner of the Constellation Club, the Explorer’s lounge, as stars streamed by through the large windows in front of the room.
“It’s not too late to turn back to Earth,” Lt. Commander Craig Porter said, leaning back in his chair. “We’re only about two hours away from Earth at high warp.”
“No deal,” Beck said, stepping up to the table. “Looks like we’re going to have to live with Bradley being president and living on our station.”
“That’s a shame,” Commander David Conway, the Explorer’s First Officer, said, sitting down by Baxter with a large, foamy Irish coffee. “Not that I care. At least he won’t be on our ship.”
“Amen to that,” Baxter said. “Domjat anyone?”
“I don’t feel much like games right now,” Commander Walter Morales said, shifting out of his chair. “I think I’m going to go to back to the shuttlebay and hide in my room on the Wayward contemplating life on the station with President Dillon.”
“You obviously don’t want to fall asleep very soon.”
The Explorer’s Counselor and Baxter’s wife, Kelly Peterman, walked over from the bar and sat down on Baxter’s lap, a Pink Squirrel in hand. She sipped it daintily. “I don’t see what you guys are so upset about. You’ll have some of the most important people in the Galaxy coming through your station now to visit with the President. Your station just went from an out-of-the way mudhole to a…very chic mudhole.”
“Thank you for putting everything in perspective,” Beck said flatly, glaring at Peterman. “Why don’t you go ahead and finish getting drunk now?”
“Halfway there,” Peterman giggled. “We’ve got to celebrate. El capitan here is about to take me to our quarters and impregnate me.”
“Then I understand your need to get drunk,” Beck said.
“Hey,” Baxter said.
“Shhhh,” Peterman giggled, then appeared to be listening to something. “I’m ovulating. I think.”
“Well, we can’t know for sure until we have sex,” Baxter said quickly, gently pushing Peterman off his lap and ushering her toward the door. “Nothing like a night of naked mambo to celebrate a successful mission, right?”
“I hate him,” Beck muttered, sitting down in the seat Baxter vacated.
Captain Conway looked around at Morales, Porter, and Beck, as he sipped his coffee. “I feel for you guys, I really do.” Then he burst out laughing. “I’m just kidding. I really don’t give a crap. Enjoy your stay on the Explorer.” And he got up and walked out, laughing all the way.
“Do you hate him too?” Morales asked disinterestedly.
Beck nodded. “A little bit.”
“We’re going to have a huge problem on our hands, Captain,” Porter said, stating the obvious. “Any idea how we’re going to deal with it?”
“I’m going to worry about that once we get to the station,” Beck said resolutely. “Meanwhile, why doesn’t one of you see if you can find that omnipotent bartender and get some drinks over here?”
“The bartender is omnipotent?” Morales asked, looking up from his Tarkalian tonic.
“Yep,” Porter said. “And I hear he makes a darn good daiquiri.”
“That I’ve got to see.”
Beck smiled as she watched Morales and Porter dart off to the bar. She had to savor the next few hours. Before she knew it, she’d be at Waystation, and then the real fun would begin.
ONE WEEK LATER
“What’s a ‘conference nook’?” Lt. Commander Porter asked as he bent over his console in operations, looking over the schematics Bradley Dillon had requested for his new offices.
Beck looked up from the padd she was reading, an incident report on some missing items from several colonies deeper into the Beta Quadrant. “I think it’s like a conference room, only smaller.”
“So why does Bradley need four of them?”
“The…President…can have whatever he asks for, Craig,” Beck said. “I hate it, you hate it, but there it is. I don’t want to have to go over it again. You know, it just makes my skin…crawl.”
“Then I don’t even want to tell you what he wants us to do with the bathroom.”
Beck lowered her head as she leaned against the docking console. “Please, spare me.”
“Let’s just say it involves streaming fountains of constantly spewing…”
“Captain,” Lieutenant Sean Russell reported from the tactical console. “We just picked up a contact coming into sensor range, zero four zero mark one seven nine.”
“On screen,” Beck said, glaring at Porter still, then looking up at the massive view wall that filled one whole side of ops. The screen was immediately filled with a squat, greenish ship with bulbous wings with feathers inscribed on them.
“It’s Romulan,” Russell said, stating the obvious.
“Not a warship, if you were curious,” Porter said. He checked his panel. “It’s a light cruiser. Registered as the Imperial Cruiser Sentra.”
“Any Romulans scheduled to come knocking, Captain?” Russell asked, and Beck shook her head.
“Starfleet keeps talking as if overtures to peace with the Romulans are just around the corner,” Beck said. “Since the Dominion War, they’ve been working on hammering out a separate peace.”
“Maybe this is the first olive branch,” Porter suggested.
“But why would they be coming to us?” Beck said. “We don’t have anything to…”
She and Porter exchanged glances.
“Beck to President Dillon,” the Captain said instantly.
There was a pause.
“May I ask who is comming?”
Beck cocked her head. “Who is this?”
“I asked you first.”
A low growl was rising in Beck’s throat. “Captain Beck.”
“It’s Gisele.” Great. Bradley’s Executive Assistant. “I’ll be handling the President’s comms from now on. As you can understand, he has a great many people demanding an audience.”
“Well tell him I demand an audience with him as soon as he can work me into his schedule. It looks like we will be having some Romulan guests.”
“I’ll notify him. Thank you for comming. Gisele out.”
“Thank you my ass,” Beck muttered, then looked back at the viewscreen. “Have they made any attempt to hail us yet?” she asked.
Russell looked at his board. “No.”
After a few moments, Russell looked up from his panel. “No response.”
“Fine. They want to play the waiting game, I’ll wait.” She turned around and walked back to her office. “Let me know if we hear anything from the Romulans. Meanwhile, keep an eye on them. I have a bad feeling about this.”
“Good,” Porter said. “Then I’m not the only one.”
Beck spent the next three hours poring over staff reports and Starfleet Security updates, trying very hard not to think about President Bradley Dillon or the Romulan ship sitting quietly–and somewhat spookily–just a few thousand kilometers away from the station.
“Gisele to Captain Beck,” the comm system suddenly signaled.
“What?” Beck asked testily.
“The President wishes to speak with you.”
Beck rubbed a hand down her face. “He does, does he?”
“Are you available to meet with him now?”
“Yes. Send him up.”
Gisele let out a quiet giggle. “Captain, the President has requested an audience. That means you come to see him.”
“Oh, I don’t believe this.” Beck stood up. “Fine. I’ll be right down. Tell his majesty to get his conference nook ready for me.”
“The conference nook isn’t open yet,” Gisele snapped, and the channel closed.
“Captain Beck,” Bradley Dillon said, as Beck stepped into his office, where a number of maintenance technicians were already pulling paintings off the walls and removing furniture, in anticipation of his office expansion. “Glad to see you, as always.”
“What do you want?” she asked. “I’m busy.”
“Indeed,” Bradley said, steepling his fingers and resting his chin on them. He indicated the high-backed chair opposite his desk. “I believe introductions are in order.”
She craned her neck to see who was sitting in the chair. It was a Romulan man, apparently of medium height, with square, rigid features, wearing the gray slacks and tunic of a Romulan civilian.
The man stood up and turned toward Beck. “I am Tarmak,” he said with an easy grin, putting his hand forward for Beck to shake. “Foreign Minister for the Romulan people.”
“Nice to meet you, Minister Tarmak,” Beck said, shaking Tarmak’s hand and testing the grip. Firm, but not too firm. Yes, he was a politician. If it had been seemly, he would have probably kissed her hand.
Tarmak gave Beck a small smile. “I have been sent here to open negotiations with the new President. He was just telling me the exciting story of the purchase and re-acquisition of Earth.”
“You mean the Tal Shiar didn’t know about that?”
“You must remember, Captain Beck, that the Romulan people have suffered a number of hardships in the last few years as we have struggled to rebuild after the Dominion War.”
“Yes. Starfleet has too,” Beck said tightly, adding, “I’m sure.”
“Whatever the case, the time has come to reach some kind of understanding between our two peoples, so that we can move into a new era of peace.”
“Sounds fascinating,” Beck said, folding her arms. “But before we break out the champagne, may I ask how you got on my station without me knowing about it?”
Bradley fielded that one. “Tarmak felt, and rightly so, that it was necessary to hold this meeting with some semblance of…discretion.”
Beck was growing angrier by the second. “Then why did you bring me here?”
Bradley folded his hands on his desk. “We need to clear a place for Tarmak’s ship in one of the docking bays, and we expect that docking bay to be sealed and secured for the duration of this visit. No one outside of you and your immediate staff are to have any knowledge of Tarmak’s presence on the station.”
“And may I ask how long this visit will last?”
Bradley opened his mouth to speak, but Beck cut him off.
“You can’t disclose that at this juncture,” she grumbled, and turned to walk out.
“Captain,” Bradley said, and Beck stopped without turning around. “I need to know that you will follow my orders to the letter.”
Beck said nothing, just walked out.
Tarmak watched Beck leave, then turned back to Bradley. “She seems to be an agitator.”
“We can trust her,” Bradley said to Tarmak. “Now then, what were we talking about?”
Tarmak smiled, a greedy, easy smile. “Peace, Mister President.”
“Ah, yes. More coffee?”
The next morning, Captain Beck sat at her usual table in Ih’mad’s Andorian restaurant, steaming mug of French vanilla v’haspant in front of her, and an unread padd that contained the station’s weekly maintenance reports. She was in no mood yet to read those reports. Maybe she would be in a better mood if someone she really cared about were around to take her attention away from the fact that one of the more annoying people on her station was suddenly the most powerful man in the quadrant.
Did he really believe he could run the Federation just because he was a good businessman? Okay, a great businessman. But still, running an alliance of hundreds of worlds took a lot more skill than running just a business. Did Bradley really feel like he was ready? Beck expected the answer was “no.” But Bradley’s enormous ego was probably telling him he could do anything he wanted. And, Beck thought, that would probably end up being his undoing. She shivered at that thought. If Bradley did crash and burn, he would likely take much of the Federation with him.
Beck sighed. She had been in the dumps for a while, and it wasn’t just the installation of Bradley Dillon as President that had her out of sorts. She’d been through a lot in the last several months. Between Phillip dying and coming back to life, her and Morales being overtaken by a malevolent consciousness, and said First Officer confessing his love for her, it had been a strenuous year.
But then again, it always came back to Phillip.
Maybe, if Phillip Harper were around, and not out installing the Associated Worlds Network on some far-flung colonies on the outer rim, she’d be in better spirits.
But Phillip Harper wasn’t around, and her only other real friend on the station, Stephanie Hodges, was out on maneuvers with the corps of Federation Marines.
She had a hard time remembering the last time she felt so lonely.
And yet she wasn’t at all excited to see Lt. Sean Russell step in front of her table.
“Captain,” he said officially, clasping his arms behind his back.
“What is it, Sean?” she asked tiredly, staring into the steam that rose from her v’haspant.
“I thought you would like to know that the Romulan ‘package’ you sent for has arrived in Maintenance Hangar Eleven and is under heavy guard. No one is getting in, or out, of there without my say-so.”
“Package, Sean?” Beck asked. “Is that your way of speaking in code?”
“Discretion is called for, Captain. This is big business. You know, with the Romulans here and all.”
“You seem to be missing the whole point of this thing,” Beck said after a long sigh. She cut her voice down to a whisper. “We don’t want anyone knowing the Romulans are here.”
“Of course we don’t, sir,” Russell said, and stepped back into the milling crowd in the restaurant. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll just disappear into the faceless crowd. I’ll covertly sneak away so that I can monitor the preparation for that…pointy-eared species’ visit,” he said, clearing his throat conspiratorially, just as an Andorian waiter–Bihl–bumped headfirst into him, sending a tray of fried gordhat liver flying into the air and landing in a messy heap on the floor.
“As you were,” Russell said to the Andorian, and darted out of the restaurant.
“I seek restitution!” Bihl cried out, dashing after Russell. “There is sauce on my lapel! I will be avenged!”
“Super,” Beck said, and stared down at her padd. She might as well get some work done. Worrying about the Romulans wouldn’t get her anywhere. The summit between Tarmak and Bradley would either go well or it wouldn’t. They would choose to involve her in the proceedings, or they wouldn’t. It was out of her hands.
“I must speak with you,” a voice said from behind Beck.
“Talk to my secretary,” Beck muttered as she paged through her padd.
A slim, robed Vulcan woman walked around to the opposite side of Beck’s table and sat down. She folded her hands in front of her. “It is of the utmost importance that we speak.”
“I’m not on duty for another hour. Contact ops if you need something. They’ll route you to…”
The Vulcan woman reached out and grabbed Beck’s hand, squeezing it hard. “NO! I need you!”
Beck looked up, shocked, and glared at the Vulcan. “What is your problem?”
“I have a simple question for you,” the Vulcan countered. “Do you wish to see the Federation crumble to dust?”
Beck thought about that a few moments. “Not really.”
“Then you must do exactly as I say. Your entire way of life depends on it.”
“You’re not Vulcan, are you?” Beck asked, staring at the woman through narrowed eyes.
“I am from a ‘pointy-eared’ species,” the woman said. “Now then. May we go somewhere more private?”
“Something tells me you won’t take no for an answer,” Beck said, taking one last swig of her v’haspant and scooting out of her chair.
“You are correct about that.”
“I survived great dangers to be here,” the mysterious, pointy-eared woman said as she stood at the entrance to Beck’s quarters, arms folded, as Beck paced to the window, then turned and look at the woman.
“Care to tell me why we’re here?”
“Because your office in ops is too conspicuous. Too many people would see me. It is important my mission is carried out with extreme discretion.”
“The mission to prevent the Romulan government from overtaking, and ultimately toppling, the United Federation of Planets.”
Beck stared at the woman. “You’re Romulan.”
“You’re just now getting that?”
Beck shrugged. “I just wanted to confirm. So, do you have a name?”
“That’s not important at the moment. All you need to know is that I am a Sal with the Tal Shiar.”
“I had an Uncle Sal once,” Beck mused.
“I do not understand your joke, nor do I care,” the Sal said. “My position is equivalent to a senior agent in your Section Thirty- One.”
“Section what?” Beck asked.
“Oops,” the Sal said quietly, then quickly changed the subject. “Your President Dillon is in danger of losing everything he acquired in his recent purchase of he Federation.”
Beck chuckled dryly. “Can’t say I’d be terribly upset about that.”
“Would you prefer a Romulan governor be in charge of your planet?”
Beck thought about that for a moment. “Well…okay, no. I wouldn’t like that at all.”
“I didn’t think so. That is why the Tal Shiar sent me to stop Tarmak from compromising the stability of the Federation.”
“And how does he plan on doing that?”
“It’s all in the treaty. President Dillon will be signing a treaty tomorrow afternoon that will, on the surface, seem like nothing more than a goodwill accord. But there are hidden elements to this treaty, stipulations that only a Romulan lawyer would be able to interpret…”
“There are Romulan lawyers?”
“Yes. We have access to a few. You do, too, via Section…” The Sal quickly pursed her lips and continued. “That is not the point. You need to stop Dillon from signing the treaty tomorrow at all costs. Or the Federation is lost.”
“Why are you telling me this?” Beck asked. “And why should I believe you?”
“Whether you believe me or not is inconsequential. There is no way to prove or disprove what I’m saying. You must simply follow your instincts and do what you believe is right. But if you do nothing, I promise you, you’ll regret it.”
“You still didn’t tell me why you’re telling me.”
“Because the Tal Shiar does not believe it is advantageous for the Romulans to effect a regime change on Earth at this time.”
“And if they did think it was advantageous?”
“Then we would never have had this conversation. And the Romulan banner would be flying over your station in less than a week.”
With that, the Sal turned on a heel and left the cabin.
Beck rushed out after her; looked left, looked right, but the Sal was gone.
She slapped her commbadge. “Beck to Security.”
“Security. Russell here.”
“Did you pick up any lifesigns leaving my quarters recently?”
“Negative. Did you have a visitor I should know about?”
“I’ll get back to you,” Beck said, and headed down the corridor.
“You can’t see President Dillon,” the tall, square-faced man standing in front of the door to Bradley Dillon’s quarters said, gently adjusting his sunglasses. Why was he wearing sunglasses?
“And who the hell are you?” Beck asked. Too many new people were showing up on her station without her knowing about it.
“Agent Anderson. I am President Dillon’s Chief of Security.”
“He needs his own security chief now?”
“The Presidency is a dangerous position, ma’am. Especially in these tumultuous times.”
“These are tumultuous times?” Beck asked, scratching her head.
“Oh yes. They’re tumultuous. Trust me.”
“I had no idea.”
“I’m not surprised.”
“Look, I need to see the President. So interrupt his important meeting or whatever and let me in there. The Romulans are trying to pull the rug out from under him and he deserves to know about it.”
“The President will decide what he needs to know and when he needs to know it,” Anderson said crisply. “Besides, he isn’t having an important meeting.” Anderson folded his arms. “The President is taking a nap. That’s classified, by the way.”
“I’m sure the strains of office are already weighing heavily on him. Wake him up now.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that,” Anderson said. “Now then, would you please step out of the red area?”
Beck looked at the floor. “What red area?”
“The semi-circular region around President Dillon’s quarters, extending for twelve meters in any direction. It is considered the ‘red area.’ Anyone standing there is held under extreme scrutiny. Please, Captain, do not give us any reason to scrutinize.”
“I’ll scrutinize you,” Beck muttered, and walked off.
Beck rapped her fingers nervously on her desk, staring at the chronometer on her office wall. It was 1100. In three hours, Dillon would be meeting with Tarmak. And if the Sal, whoever she is, was right, then she had just three hours to save the Federation. And she hadn’t even had her v’haspant yet.
Suddenly, the doors to Beck’s office opened. “One hot, frothy, semi-acidic v’haspant,” Lt. Sean Russell said, strolling into Beck’s office and sitting the steaming mug down on Beck’s desk. He carried a padd in the other hand, and began immediately reading from it as she looked at the mug.
“Your morning pick-me-up. Or is it pick-you-up?” Russell asked, as he flipped through the text on the padd. “Anyway, I got the specifications on the upgrades to President Dillon’s office and residential space. It’s not pretty. None of my security devices can penetrate it anymore.” He handed the padd to Beck and she scrolled through it as she sipped her drink.
“Could you penetrate those areas before?”
“Um…I don’t know. I never actually tried.”
“Pity. Never know what you might have found.”
“I was thinking that myself.” Russell headed for the door. “Captain, would you like a…um…muffin or something?”
“Are you all right, Sean?”
“Yeah. Yeah…I’m just happy to help!” Russell announced, and strolled out of the office. “Just call on LIEUTENANT Russell anytime. He’ll be happy to help you. Especially if it involves processing any nagging paperwork you have to send to Starfleet. Personnel matters, promotions. Whatever. See you later!”
“What was all that about?” Beck asked herself, and continued reading through the padd. There had to be some way to get to Bradley before the signing.
Suddenly, something occurred to Beck. She put down her mug and her padd and got up from her desk, jogging out of her office. “Sean, you’re with me!”
“Glad to help!” Russell called out, but Beck wasn’t listening. She realized that she was going about this thing all the wrong way. She didn’t need to get to Bradley at all.
“Are you sure we should be doing this?” Russell asked, as he and Beck approached Maintenance Hangar Eleven. She filled him in on the conversation she’d had with the Sal. She had been hesitant to do that, but she had to keep reminding herself that, despite the fact that he could sometimes be an irresponsible womanizer, Sean Russell was still her Chief of Security, and he had a right to know about matters that directly affected station security.
“I’m convinced I’m doing the right thing,” Beck said.
“What if you’re wrong?”
“That’s the risk you have to take when you play the game of politics, Sean.”
“We’re playing the game of politics?”
“For better or worse,” Beck sighed, and stood facing the door to the hangar. “How many guards inside?”
“Waits was in there earlier, but I reassigned him to Nandegar’s Secret’s One-Day Lingerie Sale.”
“That was today?” Beck asked. “Damn.”
Russell removed his security tricorder from his holster and scanned the hangar. “The room is empty, but for three Romulans. Presumably, that would be Tarmak and two guards.”
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” Beck said, with a sigh, and withdrew her phaser.
“Want to try to contact the President again?” Russell asked, pulling out his own phaser and checking the setting.
“No,” Beck said flatly. “Key the door open.”
“Yes, Captain,” Russell said, and punched his Level One access code into the door panel.
The double doors creaked apart, and he and Beck strolled in.
Within, the broad-winged, dull green cruiser Sentra filled the bay. At its entrance, two armed Centurions stood, wearing typical Romulan scowls.
“Stop!” one of the two centurions said, raising his phaser rifle.
“Ten, nine, eight…” Russell cooly counted off as he and Beck raised their hands.
“What are you doing?” the other centurion demanded.
“Seven, six, five…” Russell continued, and Beck glared at him. He smiled at her reassuringly. “Oh, nothing.”
The first centurion raised his weapon. “Stop counting, or we’ll shoot you. Stoval, you go get Tarmak.”
A hiss of gas sounded throughout the maintenance hangar, and moments later the two guards dropped to the ground.
“Nicely done,” Beck said, yanking tiny plugs out of her nose as the station’s maintenance system vacuumed the gas back out of the bay. “But you could have made the countdown a little shorter.”
“Had to give us time to get in the bay. Besides, I could have also done it while we waited outside, too. See, once you start examining things, the problems just start to add up.” He followed her up the plank into Tarmak’s ship. “Not that I advise doing that, mind you!”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Beck said, stopping Russell before he ducked into the craft. “Meanwhile, you wait out here and make sure our guests don’t wake up until check-out time. I’m going to see a man about a treaty.”
“Centurion Stoval?” Tarmak asked, looking up from the desk, in his cramped office cubicle aboard the Sentra.
“Close, but no Shiar,” Beck said, leveling her phaser at Tarmak. “Would you mind if we chatted for a few moments?”
Tarmak stared placidly at Beck’s phaser. “Not while you point that thing at me,” he said.
“You’ll excuse me for being armed,” Beck said. “I don’t take kindly to people trying to take over my planetary alliance of choice.”
“Who said anything about that?”
“I have sources.”
Tarmak steepled his fingers, and Beck’s thumb trembled on the phaser trigger. “Your sources are vastly mistaken. I came here under a flag of truce, to bring peace to the Federation and Romulan peoples.”
“Forgive me if I don’t readily believe you.”
“It seems to me, Captain Beck, that it doesn’t matter if you believe me or not. You’re but a functionary in the grand scheme of things. You aren’t a decision maker. President Dillon is. Let him make his own mistakes. They are none of your concern.”
Beck narrowed her eyes at Tarmak. “They are if I swore an oath to protect the Federation. Which I think I did…at some point or another.”
“And what makes you think this treaty is so spurious?”
“One of your own people told me.”
“And why would you trust her any more than you would trust me? Because she told you she was with the Tal Shiar?”
Beck lowered her phaser a few inches. It wasn’t down, but it was no longer pointed right at Tarmak. “How did you know?”
“Because Mahayek has used that cover before. And because of the Shiar joke you made when you came in here.” Tarmak straightened. “At any rate, your ‘friend’ is no longer a part of the Tal Shiar. She is a former Sal who is working to undermine Romulan policy at the highest levels. Be warned, Sal Mahayek is a dangerous woman who cannot be trusted. You would do well not to associate with her further.”
“But you I can trust,” Beck said, cocking her head.
“That’s immaterial, because you’ll be stripped of your command and put in a prison camp for this.”
Beck looked around the cramped room aboard the Sentra. “It doesn’t work like that in the Federation.”
Tarmak nodded. “Too bad. I think our peoples would get along quite a bit better if it did.”
Beck suddenly raised her phaser again. “Tarmak, how do I know you’re telling me the truth?”
“Because, frankly, the Romulans are in no position to take over the Federation, even if we signed a treaty that stipulated we owned a piece of it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Have you looked at our fleet? The Dominion dealt us a serious blow. We are no more capable of invading the Federation than it is of defending itself.”
“Now wait one…”
“I only speak the truth.” Tarmak clasped his hands together. “You’ve obviously gone far afield in a misguided attempt to be patriotic, Captain Beck. I have to admire your gusto. Romulans are patriots too. But we do a little more thorough research before we rush in with phasers blasting. Then again, I suppose that’s always what will separate the Federation from the Romulans. Intelligence.” He sighed. “Well, I expect we’re willing to overlook that, if you are.”
Beck smoldered. She didn’t know who she was more annoyed with right now. Mahayek, Tarmak, or herself.
Tarmak was staring at her now, any fear or trepidation he’d displayed when she entered was gone. He was fully in control of this situation now and Beck, to her dismay, was but a pawn, as he’d said.
“Now run along,” Tarmak said. “I’ll do you a favor, Captain. I won’t report what you did here today to your superiors. The peace process is too important to jeopardize over one misguided, deluded captain. I suggest you run along now and busy yourself with something you’re more qualified to handle. Like cargo manifests. Good day.”
Beck said nothing else. Simply holstered her phaser and whirled on a heel, marching out of the hangar.
“Are we done here?” Russell asked, to no one in particular, inside the empty hangar. “Guess so,” he said quietly.
“Captain…if I may say so, you seem, uh, a little distracted,” Commander Morales said, standing beside Captain Beck as she stood in the station auditorium, among a dozen or so “special guests” who stood before the stage as President Dillon prepared to make his historic first Federation-wide address. Morales still seemed uncomfortable around Beck. She couldn’t blame him. A lot had happened. A lot she’d rather not deal with at the moment.
“You might be right, Morales,” Beck said under her breath. She turned her attention to the Romulan at the podium. She could swear Tarmak was looking at her out of the corner of his eye.
Tarmak stood beside Dillon in the podium at the front of the auditorium, as Associated Worlds Network’s holosensors, embedded in the ceiling for just such an occasion, snapped online.
Joan Redding was crouched by the podium, pointing signals at Dillon. “Mister President: You’re on in five, four, three…” The last two numbers she silently mouthed, then backed away.
“Nice counting,” Craig Porter said, as Redding stepped up beside him.
“I’m surprised I remembered what order the numbers go in,” Redding said. “I’m still giddy about the President granting us the rights to broadcast his first Federation-wide speech.”
“You should be glad Dillon Enterprises isn’t significantly invested in telecommunications.”
“It’s not for lack of funds, that’s for sure,” Redding said with a low sigh. “Imagine that kind of money. Would you have the first clue how to spend it?”
“Probably not, since the Federation doesn’t use currency,” Porter said.
Redding laughed lightly, and patted Porter’s chest. “You’re hilarious, you know that, Craig?”
“I am?” Porter said. Beside him, Russell winked at him. “What? Why did you do that?”
“Shhh!” Beck put a finger to her lips, and pointed up to President Dillon, who’d begun speaking.
“Ladies, gentlemen, and androgynous beings. Omnipotents, entities, amorphous blobs, et cetera,” Bradley began. “It gives me great pleasure to address you all for the first time since my installation as President. I come here today on an auspicious occasion. One even more auspicious than my becoming President. In fact, this occasion will pave the road for developments that will change the face of the United Federation of Planets for decades to come.”
“Tight on President Dillon. Now pull back. Pan to Tarmak. Hold, hold…good…” Redding whispered to her holographer, so he could get just the right shot beamed out to the hundreds of worlds of the Federation, and to those thousands of worlds beyond which were receiving this program in syndication.
Bradley turned to Tarmak who stood stoically, arms draped behind his back, and patted the Romulan diplomat on the shoulder. “I come, in the aftermath of a startling revelation. The Romulans have come to us to extend the olive branch. Having fought side by side with us in a devastating war with the Dominion, and assisting us with social programs and other cooperative ventures associated with the rebuilding of our respective member planets, the Romulans have come to us to formally initiate peace talks.”
He patted Tarmak on the back, and the Romulan gave a small smile.
Bradley looked back at the holosensor. “It’s a shame that it’s all a lie.”
“What!?” Beck choked, glaring at Bradley in disbelief.
Tarmak’s eyes bulged. He looked as if he’d swallowed a small photon grenade.
“People of the Federation, I come to you this afternoon not to announce a new peace with the Romulans, but to uncover their most recent attempt to undermine us, and expose it to the harsh light of day. Only once the pretenders are done away with, once the plotters and schemers have been exposed for the frauds that they are, can we really find a final and lasting peace between our two cultures.”
“Mister President, I do not know what you’re…” Tarmak stammered.
Bradley held up a padd. “I hold in my hand a draft treaty, brought to me by Foreign Minister Tarmak. On the surface, this treaty seems to be a fair agreement. The neutral zone would be dissolved, we would exchange diplomatic staffs, and the borders between our two alliances would be ever so slightly redrawn. Yes, on the surface, it seemed innocent enough.”
Then Bradley turned to face another camera, without even having to be prompted by Redding. He was an absolute natural at being filmed. “But I would have been a fool to blindly sign a document that I did not carefully read. And it was that careful reading that revealed the true motive behind this so-called ‘peace treaty.’ Maybe if I had been a politician, or a government drone, I would not have noticed it. But I am a businessman. And a treaty is no more than a dressed-up contract. And no good businessman signs a contract without reviewing it thoroughly.”
“President Dillon, I assure you,” Tarmak said roughly, then leaned forward. “It would be prudent for us to adjourn at this time.”
“I don’t believe it,” Beck said to herself, in awe.
“Believe what?” asked Morales.
“I’ll fill you in later.”
Bradley now looked directly at Beck. “Some people may think I’m not qualified to run the Federation, to be your President. But I ask those people, those critics, to give me a chance before you condemn me. While my methods may differ from those you are used to, they do work. And,” he added, “they work a good deal better than barging in with a phaser.”
Beck felt a twinge in her stomach at that.
“And what I found,” Bradley said, playing to the Federation populace like a magician plays to his audience, revealing just what he wants them to see at just the right time, “was that Mister Tarmak had installed a tiny little clause in this treaty. We get Zeta Miadni Four, a planet rich in dilithium just over their border, in exchange for a ‘planet to be named later.’ While it is true that Zeta Miadni Four is heavily sought after by the Federation, the price of acquiring it is far too high. Because the Romulans already know what that ‘planet to be named later’ is.” He narrowed his eyes out at the holovision audience. “It’s Earth.”
“How could you know that?” Tarmak exploded, running his fingers through his hair and staring from Bradley to the vast home audience on the other end of the holographic sensors. “How could you possibly know that?”
“Because it’s what I would have done in your place,” Bradley said simply. “Whatever faults your people may have, they have exquisite business sense.”
Tarmak spat a curse in Romulan, then reached for a button on his cuff. Russell quickly raised his phaser, fearing the worst. But before the security officer could even open his mouth to speak, Tarmak disappeared in a wave of green particles.
“Beck to Ops,” Captain Beck ordered. “Lock down Maintenance Hangar Eleven at once!”
“Ops, this is Waits. I’m not showing anything in the Maintenance Hangar, Captain. Could you specify what we’re locking down?”
“We’re–” Beck began.
“Wait a minute. The hangar doors are opening. Manual override isn’t working. I can’t shut them. Oh…wait, they’re shutting by themselves. Problem solved, eh, Captain?”
Beck felt deflated. “Yes, Waits. I guess so. Thanks. Beck out.”
Bradley smiled, looking truly like a man victorious. “Our astute station commander did attempt to apprehend Mister Tarmak, but to no avail. I am not concerned, however, because I think we learned a very important lesson from today’s events. The Federation is strong. We’ve weathered a number of crises, and survived them all. And if we keep our wits about us, we can weather whatever else may come our way. Perhaps the next species that considers invading us should consider that before they try. Thank you all for your time. May the Federation continue to live long and prosper.” He cast a tiny, almost imperceptible, glance at Joan Redding, and the holovision feed was cut.
Bradley stepped down from the podium and walked right past Beck and the others from her crew, a small entourage already gathering around them. Redding, too, gave chase, asking numerous questions of the President and tapping information into her padd.
“Well…” Commander Morales said softly. “What are you going to do now, Captain?”
“I’m going to my office,” Beck said, and headed for the auditorium’s side door. She found herself oddly eager to get back to work running the station, and leave political matters up to Bradley. Contrary to every instinct in her, to every experience she’d had until that day, Lisa Beck decided to trust Bradley Dillon.
Maybe he’d be good for the Federation, after all.
Two Romulans–one male and one female–were waiting on the landing platform to greet Tarmak as he disembarked from the Sentra. They were the same two Romulans he’d been working with for the past several years, ever since the Romulans joined forces with the Federation to rid the quadrant of the Dominion threat.
“Your status?” the female, the one Beck had known as Mahayek, asked. She had returned to Romulus earlier that day aboard her own cloaked transport.
“You must not watch holovision,” Tarmak said gruffly.
“I am aware of the situation,” the female snapped. “The entire galaxy is aware. What I want to know is how our ruse was so easily foiled by an imbecile human.”
Tarmak shrugged. “This Dillon. He’s incorruptible. He can’t be tricked, and cannot be bought.”
The male, a tall man with rigid brow and sharp features, nodded knowingly. “We feared as much. His dossier with the Tal Shiar is extensive.”
“Political machinations are not going to allow us to accomplish our objective,” the female said. “We tried to play the station commander against Dillon, but to no avail. We dangled peace in front of their faces, and they refused to accept it. We need to try a new approach.”
Tarmak nodded. “I was thinking about that during the voyage home. And I think I may have a solution. There is a young human boy, living on Remus. His name is Shinzon. Ever heard of him?”