By Christina Moore
Sanctuary Promenade, one hour later…
Sanctuary Promenade, one hour later…
“The Cardies are late.”
Synnove Natale glanced sidelong at her chief of security. “I’m aware of that, Master Chief,” she said simply.
“And its ‘Cardassians,’ not ‘Cardies,’” added Lt. Comm. Jordan Kelley, his voice low so that it wouldn’t carry. “It’s highly improper for a senior officer to use an insult like that—especially within earshot of impressionable new ensigns.”
Dilik Zram glanced at the other man with an air of nonchalance, though having read his service record, Natale suspected that whatever his response would be, it would be akin to giving Kelley an earful even if he didn’t raise his voice.
She was right.
“When you’ve seen as much as I have seen, kid, been through as many conflicts with them as I have, you’re not gonna care two bars of latinum about whether its ‘proper’ to use an insult within earshot of impressionable new ensigns.”
Before Kelley could argue, Natale turned to the Bolian. “Commander Kelley is right, Master Chief,” she said. “I respect your feelings, but I would appreciate it if you would refrain from using insults like that in front of the junior staff.”
Zram glanced over his shoulder at the gaggle of ensigns and non-coms gathered behind them, all of whom found an excuse to look elsewhere at that precise moment. He shook his head as he turned back around, a bemused smile on his lips.
“Yes, ma’am,” was his only reply.
In the next moment, the whine of a transport in progress was heard, and the light of it brightened about thirty feet in front of the Starfleet officers.
“Here they come,” muttered Grafydd, Sanctuary’s chief engineer.
Around thirty Cardassians, a little more than half of them in standard military armor, materialized on the deck. In the center of the front row was Eton Kirek.
“Captain Natale,” Kirek said by way of greeting.
His voice had not lost any of its earlier disdain, and Natale stifled a groan. It was clear to the dark orange-skinned Orion that Kirek was not at all pleased with being assigned to the station, nor was he that Starfleet had been put in charge of its management. The expression with which he regarded her was one of thinly veiled loathing.
“Dal Kirek,” she replied with a nod. “It is good to meet you in person. Allow me to introduce to you some of the senior staff.”
She went on to introduce Kelley, Zram, and Grafydd, the last of whom several of the Cardassians stared openly at.
“I’ve never seen one of his species before,” said the young woman she’d seen on Columbia’s viewscreen earlier. Her voice was breathy with wonder.
“My daughter, Karejah Kirek,” the Cardassian commander said, turning to glance at the girl—and for the first time, Natale noticed a difference in his tone of voice. For just a moment, it sounded almost…loving. “Karejah will be a nurse in the medical quarters.”
“What are you, sir, if I may ask?” Karejah said, directing her comment to the very large engineer as she took a step forward.
Grafydd smiled. “I am Terellian. My people are fairly well known across the Alpha and Beta quadrants—I’m surprised you’ve not seen one of us before.”
Karejah’s expression was one of pure fascination, but before she could speak again, another transporter effect was seen near the Starfleet group, and Natale turned her head in time to see Captain Brian Wallace and Commander Aielle Tam of the Triumph appear.
“Forgive our tardiness, Captain,” Wallace said as he approached. “Unavoidable circumstances have me running late today.”
It was a code, one that had been prearranged between them. Wallace was letting her know that prior to his arrival, no Cardassians other than the ones in front of them had transported over, and that both Triumph and Columbia would continue to monitor the Cardassian ship as well as the parties on the station.
“No harm done, Brian,” she said genially. “We were just getting to know one another.”
After she introduced the new arrivals to Kirek’s group, Kirek in turn introduced a few more of his people, one of whom was a doctor. “I think it best if we get down to business,” he went on. “All of those with me will be working at this station.”
Natale swallowed a protest, forcing herself to remember that the Cardassian government owned this station and that they had every right to contribute to its staff. She offered Kirek a nod. “That is good news, Dal Kirek. At this moment, our staff is quite limited, and there is much work to be done.”
Kirek smirked at her. “These children are all that Starfleet is willing to send?” he said mockingly. “If that is so, one might begin to wonder if the Federation is truly as interested in the rebuilding of the Cardassian Union as they claim to be.”
Zram took a step forward and Natale placed a restraining hand on his arm, noting how tense his muscles were.
“On the contrary, Commander,” she said, keeping her voice cordial. “More staff will be arriving over the next few weeks, though seeing as you have brought a number of qualified personnel from your own people, I’m certain that the Federation will be pleased to know that your people are so willing to work with us. They won’t have to send so many to staff the station now, and no one vessel or starbase will be strained from loss of personnel.”
“Indeed,” Kirek said with a snort. “The engineers should get started on systems diagnostics right away, while you and I discuss…how we plan to coordinate our combined staff.”
“I agree,” Natale said with a nod, turning to Grafydd. “Commander, will you see to it that the teams have all the equipment they require?”
The Terellian nodded. “Will do, Captain,” he replied, stepping away from her and calling for all engineers to join him. She knew he would discuss with them who would be working where, so that he would know which equipment crates to have transported over from Columbia’s cargo bay.
“By your leave, Captain,” Triumph’s commanding officer said to Natale, “Commander Tam and I will return to the ship.”
“Oh, leaving so soon?” Kirek queried as he at last stepped closer, standing just a few feet away now, just out of arm’s reach of Zram.
Wallace turned to him. “I’m afraid so, Mr. Kirek. My ship is the station’s primary defense until your weapons systems are online, and we are scheduled to do a patrol of the star system in a few moments. I thought it prudent, however, to make myself and my first officer known to you, should you have any need to contact us.”
The look in Kirek’s eyes said I doubt that very much, but the words he actually spoke were, “How very Starfleet of you.”
Wallace ignored the underlying insult and, turning to the woman behind and to his right, he nodded and they stepped away. A moment later they were swept away by a transporter beam.
Natale looked at Kirek. “Why don’t we head up to the Operations center to talk things over?” she suggested.
“Very well,” Kirek replied shortly, turning abruptly on his heel and heading away.
“Well, that went…well,” Natale muttered, then moved to join him.