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[Age of Mouldwarp]  
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Cool Heads (Part 3)
The Cost Builds Steeper
At the change of shift, Keb was relieved by a Benzite lieutenant. Same color, sure, completely different styles. Keb was never positive he could trust such a dodgy individual to run things as well as he did, but Matheson's support was enough. He'd promised the Captain to stay on call, as it were, for the duration of the crisis, but he'd been on-duty for 12 hours already and he badly needed the rest. By now Gird was already making his house call to Tavol and Matheson aboard the Sora. He found himself once more walking the corridors, which he figured had taken up about 62% of the concluded shift. Once returned to his quarters, Keb sat down with a heavy sigh. Strenuous activity, no matter how low-impact, was not a Bolian's favorite order at the market.

"Captain Matheson," a sub-commander intoned, "I've been instructed to direct you to waiting quarters. Praetor Neerok isn't quite ready for you."

"Lead on," Matheson allowed. The pastel shades of the Sora seemed to her anomalous to the sever Romulan fashion the officers wore. And officers there were, swarming everywhere. Remans, actually, she suspected. Too pale for Romulans, not to mention the other glaring differences. She felt uneasy. On Romulus she had been in the company of more Romulans than Remans - come to think of it, she hadn't really noted any significant Reman presence beside Neerok - and she had felt comfortable enough. Neerok himself exuded a calming influence, but these Reman...Her mind wandered back to what had gone on in that conference with the praetors. The Star Empire had been in dire straits following the Dominion War, though it would hardly admit it. Even the rumors of scandalous Starfleet meddling to get them into the war effort had led to riots upon the conclusion of the conflict. For the Romulans, in fact, the conflict was just beginning. The presiding praetor had lost a vote of conference from within the Senate, but Tavol had drafted a plan to create new leadership. The beginnings of that initiative had proven an embarrassment for Tavol, when the Remans had been admitted into the reform sessions, resulting in Neerok's historic appointment as one of four provisional praetors until the reforms could be fully enacted. Starfleet was given observation privileges, and Matheson had been chosen as its ambassador. Neerok at that meeting, after it had been discovered that a Romulan-Klingon conflict was once more a very real possibility, had proven an eloquent voice for peace.

What was he up to now?

"You admit your pettiness," an incredulous Gird exclaimed, although still in his customarily reserved manner.

"Why should I pretend to hide it?" Tavol sneered, reclined on the sofa in his quarters, seemingly oblivious to his own earlier tawdriness. "There isn't a thing he could do to prove Remans are any less inferior than I hold them to be. He certainly hasn't done so yet."

"I would call confounding Klingons an impressive fete," Gird replied, undeterred.

"Be that as it may," said in such a way as to reveal that he knew on what terms the Starfleet crewman was on with his people, "the Tal Shiar could have easily duplicated his results. Which we aren't sure the nature of yet."

"The fact remains that he did upstage your precious operatives," Gird reminded. "Your problem is an utter lack of recognition as to the finer points of the tapestry. You are a blind, embittered, politician." Politician said without any love lost.

Neerok strolled into Matheson's waiting quarters, unannounced and without request. He had a stern look on his face that the Captain hadn't yet seen on it; even at the conference the Reman had maintained an affable facade, to the faces of the three Romulans provisional praetors (who each featured understated imitations of Tavol's own attitude toward him), even at his most passionate.

"Captain," he started curtly, "you've found yourself in the middle of a tense situation, and I sympathize with whatever ill feelings you may have toward me or toward what you've thus far experienced. There are things you don't know, things you couldn't begin to understand, of the intricacies of Klingon-Romulan relations. I suspect that even Tavol does not fully appreciate them. But although he may be carrying a personal grudge to these events, I am not. That doesn't mean that I'm not guilty of a grave sin. I have someone I'd like you to meet."

The shadows. They are a popular haven for hidden guests, if you can call them guests. The guest Neerok sheathed in the shadows was tall, menacing. Not Romulan or Reman, then. Odorous; Matheson hadn't been surprised to hear that they had a guest, since the smell had given their presence away immediately. And the hair. A dead giveaway. Klingons were never going to win points for stealth. (One suspected that they wouldn't even care to.)

So out from the shadows of the room stepped a Klingon, a young one, his facial hair minimal in the way that screamed inexperience in the ways of the warrior. His features, though hardened with a scowl Matheson figured was etched through years of disappointment, which she would soon learn the culmination of, were nonetheless intimidating. She didn't bait her breath, though. But he was alone, and that was reassuring. Just the three of them.

"Captain," Neerok began, "this is Korath, bastard of the Dominion War. After the ascent of Martok, his Empire...changed almost beyond recognition. He has no prospects on Kronos, and he's willing to do anything to change that. He has already proved quite useful."

"Greetings," Korath offered with a smirk.

"Save it," Matheson suggested.

"That's not very friendly, Captain," the Klingon returned.

"I'm not feeling very friendly," she said.

"I'm afraid I've already vouched for you," Neerok revealed. "You'll have to try a little harder. I haven't spent twelve months of my life on this deal just to see one of its main factors to deal itself out."

"My apologies," Matheson stated. "Korath, it's a pleasure to make your acquaintance."

"Likewise," Korath said, smirking all the wider. "I've brought something to the table perhaps you'd be interested in finding out about. Something even that Romulan pig Tavol doesn't know about. A surviving Duras."

"That's impossible!" Matheson exclaimed.

"Is it?" Neerok added.

"Before her death at the hands of the Federation starship Enterprise, B'Etor, sister of Duras, gave birth to an heir, who was put into hiding before the news could spread. At the time she and her sister Lursa were far from popular on Kronos. After Toral's death, the child became the last of the Duras family, and it grew up with all the hatred Duras had held against the House of Mogh as a front to his honor," Korath explained.

"But that would make the child eight years old," Matheson mused aloud. "What possible weight could it hold in the Empire?"

"Much," Korath grinned. "Duras did not lose all support after his sisters dishonored themselves. There were those who...still wished to capitalize on his reputation. It required very little honor among these patriots to begin with, and I had the least of them all. When you have nothing to lose, you are willing to give a lot."

"Clearly," Matheson mouthed, her gut doing loops inside her.

"Gird to Keb." This came just as Keb was dozing off. The Bolian was so tired he didn't open his eyes as he fumbled his right hand by the nightstand of the sofa he'd collapsed in.

"Here," he mumbled.

"Tavol has proven cooperative. Despite his better efforts," the Klingon crewman said through the combadge still stuck to the tunic coat Keb had thrown aside. The security chief opened his eyes at that. He sat up.

"Good," he said as he sat up. "I knew I could count on you."

"You won't like what he had to say," Gird warned. "Captain Matheson should be recalled immediately."

This alarmed Keb. What could the Romulan senator have said? Gird was never one for understatement, that much he knew, and that scared him more than whatever Tavol could have revealed. Whatever Matheson was learning aboard the Sora would certainly be of secondary importance, right?

On the bridge, Franzoni was anxious. He didn't like to sit on the sidelines, even if the seat was the captain's seat. When the call came from Keb about the success of his interrogation of Tavol, the commander tasted a bit of melancholy. It used to be him who captured these victories, and it had gotten him the first officer job on the Copernicus. But what had it really gotten him? There was very little glory for the second in command.

"Bring the Senator to the bridge with you," he instructed the Bolian security chief. "Matheson should be back shortly. She says that she has a guest, as well as Praetor Neerok, beaming aboard with her. I want you and Tavol waiting for them when they arrive at Transport Room 2. Bring some back-up."

And where would he be in the meantime? On the bridge. A solitary figure, isolated from his calling, held up by the chain of command. As soon as this mission is over, he began to himself...

And so he sat, pensive as a Cornelian razor beast. Not very, then. He wanted to implore Hounsou at Ops for a status report every other minute, but Franzoni caught himself. When you were holed up on the bridge, away from the main body of activity, life froze in its frame. The helmsman, Nelson, sat in front of him, bobbing every now and again as his duties required. It became a trance-inducing movement for the commander, who counted seconds as if they were minutes, minutes as if they were hours.

That monotony was broken in a fraction of a second. Franzoni's head shot straight up from its stupor, as if some event on the bridge had awakened him, when in fact, nothing at all had occurred.

"Report!" he shouted at the Benzite lieutenant at tactical, whose name was Fonden.

Fonden was as confused as the rest of the bridge for a moment, until she glanced at her panel. A look of consternation flashed across her face. "There's been weapons fire at Transporter Room 2. There's...there's a casualty, sir."
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characters and story © copyright Sean "Waterloo" McKenna 2001-2002; Star Trek copyright Paramount