[Age of Mouldwarp]
Cool Heads (Part 2)
No Turning Back
"Praetor Neerok, I honestly didn't expect the honor of speaking to you again so soon," Matheson said coyly over subspace.
"Nor did I expect it would be necessary," the Romulan responded from the bridge of the Warbird. "Circumstances obviously dictate otherwise. I suppose you're wondering what exactly has been going on?"
"There'll be time enough later for that," Senator Tavol snarled, coming into view on the Praetor's viewscreen. "The Adjudicates will be...more than willing to hear what you have to say. The Senate will call for nothing less than exile, you can be sure of it. Your ambitions have wrought you your ruin."
"Perhaps so," Neerok replied back. "And perhaps you are on that ship for the precise reason that you are out of the loop. What do you know of what the Senate wants? What do you know of the other three praetors? Far less than Captain Matheson, I'd wager."
"I know more of your fellow praetors than you think. Who do you think orchestrated the petition for them after the war?" Tavol returned in a calm voice.
What lay beyond Tavol's derogatory tone was the fact that Neerok wasn't a Romulan at all, but a Reman. Though technically one and the same race, Romulans and Remans had always existed at odds with each other. Romulans believed that Remans envied them, when in fact Remans looked upon them in disgust. They saw Romulans as nothing but pompous brats, who spoiled every opportunity they had to make a real impact in galactic affairs by not trusting their opponents enough to respect them. The audacity to approach Captain Matheson, for instance, with such a delicate situation as Klingon infidelity to a relationship dating back to more than a century, without so much as a single escort, thus saying beneath "We respect Federation diplomacy," "We spit on your integrity; you'll go at this all yourself." Neerok's own involvement with the Klingon situation was far more enlightened than Tavol could possibly appreciate. He was doing it not only for Remans or Romulans or Klingons, but for them all, and the Federation and every other space-farer as well. He was in fact offended by his Romulan brethren.
"The fact remains, gentlemen," Matheson interjected, "that we've got a situation here."
"That we do," Neerok agreed. "That we do. I've got information the Tal Shiar has died trying to obtain, and I've done it better than they've ever managed. Tell me, Tavol, what advantages do their tactics have over ours?"
"Remans," Tavol scoffed. "They fancy themselves a close link to our...Vulcan cousins. True Romulans know that this is nothing but an insult."
"This has nothing to do," Neerok began before changing thought in mid-sentence. "You Romulans. So pompous. So arrogant. Klingons at least have honor. That's what has brought me here; not to widen an already existing rift, but to seal it at its source. Typical of you, Tavol, to not see this. To charge in and assume all the wrong assumptions."
What wasn't typical aboard the Copernicus was for the com line to suddenly be cut off, which it presently did. Tavol reacted as if he expected no less from Neerok, but Matheson thought differently.
"Why did we lose contact?" she asked Hounsou, who looked baffled himself for a moment before replying, his hands fluttering over the control panel at his station.
"I'm not sure. Its nothing the Warbird Sora did, that's for sure. Its been trying to hail us back, but I can't respond. I don't know what's wrong," he said in a slightly panicked tone.
Commander Franzoni shot an accusing glare at Tavol. "Captain, I think we'd better place Senator Tavol in confinement until we figure this out."
Glancing at the Romulan, Matheson replied, "I am in agreement," before motioning to Keb. The Bolian didn't appear the least conflicted over this duty.
"We meet again, Senator," he said as he escorted Tavol off the bridge along with a human and Bajoran to the Romulan's quarters.
On the turbolift, Tavol turned and addressed Keb: "I hope you realize how grave a mistake you're making."
"I'd worry less about me and more for yourself," the security chief said. "At this point, you've lost our trust, and until we are given reason to the contrary, you'll be treated exactly as you did Praetor Neerok."
"Neerok is a fool, and your captain a bigger one."
The rest of the trip was taken in silence, and the party soon arrived on Deck 12, where the Senator was placed under house arrest. As he left the scene alone, the two officers remaining at the door as guards, Keb warbled a bit to himself, an old habit he'd picked up on lonely nightshifts as an ensign aboard the science vessel Hume. It wasn't so much a triumphant song as it was one of nervousness this time, however. Back inside the turbolift. He hesitated on calling out his destination, brooding, a most uncommon event for a Bolian. He considered the events of the previous half hour, turning them over and over again on his tongue. The nervousness turned into resolve, and he tapped his combadge. "Commander Keb to Crewman Gird, meet me in my quarters."
"If I had a heart for hardship's sake, I would be in revel," Gird said in greeting to Keb when the security chief reached his own quarters.
"That you would," Keb replied, who was now dwelling on the unusual circumstances that had brought the Klingon into Starfleet. "I assume you know why I called you here?"
"You need an expert," Gird stated. "Sisko had Worf in the Klingon/Cardassian conflict. It is only natural."
"I need someone who has a level head. The fact that you're Klingon is an added bonus."
"Then by all means, let's get to the business at hand."
"On the one hand," Keb began, "we have Senator Tavol, who came aboard the ship a trusted guest of the Captain's, an ambassador of peace. On the other we have Praetor Neerok, who appears to be working on the opposite side of the fence, yet events say that Tavol or someone else aboard this vessel is working against us, and Neerok cannot be connected. At least at this time. The display of Neerok and Tavol's mutual animosity is a hanging point. I have security officers as we speak tearing this ship apart for answers, but the only one I could come to is to ask your advice."
"If you want my blessing in approaching the Klingon High Counsel, I'm afraid that I've lost all influence after my parting gift to the Empire," Gird warned.
"I didn't expect such a lofty goal to be met," Keb conceded. "No, what I need is for someone to pay Tavol a house call. We need some headway in this situation, and I'm afraid Captain Matheson is adamant about dealing with Neerok herself. I don't trust myself with Tavol and Franzoni is a proven hothead. You're not my last resort, but you're the best man for the job."
"I see," Gird replied. "I won't coddle him, you realize."
"That's exactly what I'm counting on."
"Have you cleared this with the Captain? She and I...are not exactly on the best of terms. She disapproved of my methods rather strongly," Gird remarked.
"The Captain is a busy person," Keb smirked out. "Besides, even if she doesn't trust you, she's always trusted me, and that's enough I suppose."
"I admire your cunning," Gird remarked. "You are a credit to your kind."
"Starfleet security officers. They are all too often spineless and pedantic."
"Even the best of them?"
"Especially the best of them."
"About Tavol, then."
"I know his kind; if he's guilty of what you suspect, I will soon discover. He's an open book, as you have already discovered. I'll not hesitate to rip off the cover if I must, but the pages will be mine. I only wish he were a Klingon opera, that I could butcher him."
Noticing an uncomfortable shuffle of the Bolian's feet, he added, "Metaphorically speaking, of course."
Keb, understanding that his shuffle had indeed been noted, said, "I was more afraid that you were suddenly less an untypical Klingon than an even more intense one. Only for a minute, though. Let's get moving."
In her ready room, Captain Matheson sat at her desk with a fresh cup of tea at her hand. She had a pensive grip on the handle, which Commander Franzoni across from her took as a sign of either a bombshell about to be dropped or - god forbid - the Captain's buried disappointment in Neerok expressing itself.
"Captain," he began.
"I know what you're thinking," she interjected. "This is Halley Minor all over again. Let me put your fears to rest. It's much worse."
A pause. "Captain," he said again. "You're distraught. This is a personal blow for you. I can't agree that seeing Neerok yourself is in the best interests of this mission. If you want, I can call up Admiral Logan, ask for a third party. Or I could do it."
"I appreciate the offer, Harm," she said. Harm said in almost a patronizing tone. "Logan trusted me for this mission. How could I possibly back down now? Because the going is tough? For all we know, this could all be some sort of gross misunderstanding."
"Optimism is good," Franzoni remarked. It might help us get through this easier."
"I appreciate the thought, Harm," Matheson said. Harm said gently. "I never meant to imply anything insulting."
"Shall we dance?"
The two got up and exited the Captain's ready room, an unspoken agreement on both their minds. Hounsou, who had been in charge in the meantime, stated, "The Sora has given up its attempts at re-establishing a link. However, I took the liberty of using Morse Code to deliver our plan. Neerok is expecting you."
Matheson gave a steely look toward Franzoni. "Very well. I'm on my way. You have the bridge, Commander."
characters and story © copyright Sean "Waterloo" McKenna 2001-2003; Star Trek copyright Paramount