The Galaxy is the Limit: Fracas
These are the adventures of Arhea t'Khaiell, a former Tal'Shiar officer who had infiltrated Starfleet for many years, and Timir Traore, a Starfleet prisoner gone operative for the organization he hated so much in order to gain his permanent freedom.
Introduction - "Quandary"
=/\= - =/\=
The silence that hung in the room was grinding on, moment by moment, crushing down on her like a weight. She had long trained herself not to be overly anxious when unexpected things happened; it only robbed her of being able to think logically. But she had to admit the events leading up to her standing in this room, scrutinized by the eyes of this man wearing Rear Admiral pips, were making it hard for her to stay calm and collected.
He slowly circled around her backside, intensely analyzing her stance. It was flawless; perfectly erect, hands clasped behind her back, feet slightly apart, chin up and eyes trained on some undefined spot before her. Not one muscle twitched. Not one hint of emotion showed in her facial expression. Military indifference at its best. For a split second a lopsided smirk formed on his face, then instantly disappeared as he rounded her side and stopped face to face with her.
While he stared into her face, she simply stared past him into empty space, never making eye contact. He stepped back and sat on the edge of his massive, wooden desk. His hand went to his chin as if he was thinking intensely about something while he continued observing her.
For the briefest moment her dark green eyes flicked to focus on him, then returned to hold that distant gaze again. She clenched her jaw. His silence was unnerving.
"Sir, may I inquire. Why was I ordered to come here? And why was I held in confinement for thirty-six hours?" She could no longer hold back the questions that had been on her mind.
His hand lowered. "It's Admiral Michaev," he noted dryly. "And you've been held on suspicion of treason."
"Treason?" Her brow furrowed. "On what grounds and with who's authority?"
"I don't recognize your authority."
"Perhaps you recognize the authority of Starfleet Intelligence then," he replied with a superior air.
There was the briefest moment of hesitation before she countered, "Starfleet regulations state that an officer suspected of tre..."
"Don't state regulations to me," he cut her off.
"I am simply reminding you that as a Federation citizen and a Starfleet Officer I have certain rights," she continued undeterred.
"Federation citizen, bah," he scoffed.
"I am," her eyes suddenly met his, "a native of Vulc..."
"You are no Vulcan!" He jumped up and lunched forward, coming face to face with her. So close, she should feel his breath against her skin. "I know what you are, T'Ashal," he growled in a low tone. He saw the momentary shock in her eyes and grinned. "Oh yes..."
"I do not know what you mean," she said in a whisper.
He stepped back and sneered, "Oh sure, you look Vulcan and you scan as such, but green blood isn't always green blood." Once more he began to circle her, watching as she fought for control, her dark mocha skin gradually turning ashen. "I've know for years." His words dripped with sinister sarcasm. He clearly enjoyed watching her struggle, seeing the facade of dispassion she so carefully had constructed slowly crumble.
He stopped to her side, leaning in close to her ear. "But don't worry. Your secret is safe with me," he said with the tenderness of a father's voice, "at least as long as I wish it to be." A cynical edge returned to his words, "Or as long as you prove useful to us." He noticed the flash of anger in her eyes. His ensuing grin portrait his perverse pleasure in affecting her this way. "Ironic, isn't it? All these years you thought you were playing us, only to find out... we played you all along..."
Her hand shot up at him, obeying an instinctive wish to retaliate. Just as quickly, he countered, grasping her wrist in a grip of steel before her fist could connect to his jaw.
"Be careful who you're lashing out at," he breathed with an icy glare, squeezing her arm harder and harder until she finally opened her fist and her hand went limp. "Good." He smirked triumphantly and released her arm. "Now that we're past that... I have an offer to make."
"No, thank you." She rubbed her wrist.
"It's either that or incarceration."
"I would rather die than continue as your pawn," she replied with defiance.
"Too bad." He walked to his desk, picking up a PADD and glancing at it. "Rumor has it some of your extended family was able to evacuate Romulus in time." He put the PADD down. "But then," turning to her, "what do you care about family, right?"
She lifted her eyes for a moment, still rubbing her wrist. "I do not know what you are talking about."
"Such honorable people. A shame they lost almost everything and are doomed to drift about without a home. Their lives in shambles..."
"You are mistaken."
"It seems they've even inquired about your whereabouts."
She stopped rubbing her wrist. "Assuming any of what you are saying is true, how would you even know this?"
"I have my sources," he smiled broadly.
"What does my family have to do with anything?" she muttered.
Realizing she had taken the hook, he only had to set it. "Oh, well... because the offer involves a ship going into Romulan space," he noted nonchalantly. "But since you're not interested..."
She knew the game he was playing only all too well. But just because he was starting to win this battle, didn't mean he was going to win the war. For the moment, she needed to find out what exactly his game was. "I am listening."
He picked up another PADD and walked around his desk. A sly grin flashed across his face before he sat down in the large, leather-covered chair. He swiveled around to face her. His eyes briefly scanned the data on the PADD, then he looked at her.
"The Federation Council has commissioned a fleet of ships to be dispatched into Romulan space to provide food and aid to refugees and to help the displaced survivors of the Hobus disaster find new homes. There are some... political issues to handle and I suggested to Starfleet Command to assign you to one of the ships as XO."
"The USS Excelsior." He leaned forward. "She just received a new Commanding Officer, Captain Loriarra. However," he laid the PADD down and folded his hands on the desk, "Loriarra had to unexpectedly turn in for an extended leave of absence."
She raised a brow. "What does this have to do with me?"
"We'll need a replacement for her."
"Who would that be?"
"You. If you accept." He eyed her intently.
The surprise was plain on her face. "I... I thought... how can you trust..."
"I don't." He rose. "That's why I will assign an SFI officer to the ship. He will officially serve as Intelligence Liaison." He put his hands on the desk and leaned toward her, giving her a pointed look. "But don't be mistaken, his first order will be to keep an eye on you. I simply need you to be Captain of that ship."
Focus came back to her eyes as she straightened her stance. "What exactly do you require of me?"
"You just carry out my orders as they're passed down by my agent. Which means you better make sure I don't lose contact with him."
He studied her, noticing her jaw tightened briefly before she nodded in response. Satisfied that her expression showed understanding, he grabbed the PADD again. "I am authorized to promote you to Captain and commission you to command the USS Excelsior... if you accept." He looked at her expectantly.
She sighed. He certainly didn't leave her any room to maneuver. She didn't cherish the thought of having an SFI agent on board controlling her every move. On the other hand, she cherished being locked up in a detention facility even less. On top of that, getting into Romulan space was an opportunity she didn't want to pass up. What did she have to lose? In all honesty, nothing.
"I do accept."
"Good. Just make sure you keep in mind what's at stake for you. And don't even think about spilling your secret... to anyone. Is that clear?"
"Captain T'Ashal, here are your orders." He held the PADD out to her, though didn't immediately let go of it when she grabbed it. "And Captain... I mean what I say. If you betray me, there will be no trial."
=/\= - =/\=
A hush fell over the room for the longest time after T'Ashal had departed. Though the air seemed to sizzle with tension and yet at the same time somehow felt crisp and clear, much like after a thunderstorm had passed.
"You know she'll be trouble," the Andorian noted as he stepped into the office from an adjacent room.
"And I'm counting on you to handle that." Admiral Michaev turned his vacant gaze from the office door to focus on the buff, blue-skinned alien. "I think for the moment she has resigned to her lot." He sat and sunk into his chair, letting out a sigh. "I expect that to change once the Excelsior gets into Romulan space."
The Andorian nodded. "I'm sure it will."
Michaev folded his hands across his abdomen. "She can be naive, but she really doesn't have anything to lose right now, and that could be dangerous. We need to make sure she believes she has something to lose," he thought out loud. His eyes flicked over to his companion. "Zlar, you know I'm counting on you. You're knee-deep in this mire, too."
"Our success is as important to me as it is to you, sir," the alien acknowledged.
The Admiral scowled. "It won't be easy. But I'm not going to be outmaneuvered by any green-blooded dog," he snarled in a low tone.
Zlar clenched is jaw, a dark expression coming over his face. "Do you think she was aware of my presence?"
"I doubt it. She was too focused on me. Too involved with her emotions at my revelation." Michaev sat up, his eyes roving over the desk. "Remember, she might have remarkable telepathic blocking abilities but not a whole lot more, especially when she's unfocused." Finding what he sought, he picked up one of the PADDs, "It doesn't really matter much if she did or not," and held it out to the Andorian.
Zlar stepped closer and grabbed the PADD, immediately activating it and skimming over the data.
"It's the correct one, isn't it?" Michaev queried when the Andorian said nothing in response to the information.
"Yes, sir, it is."
"Good." The Admiral leaned back into the leathery cushions again. "Those are your official orders for your assignment to the Excelsior. 'We' will communicate the usual way."
"You're dismissed, Commander." Michaev watched expressionless as the alien snapped his heels, did an about face, and marched to the door. "Zlar," he made the agent halt and look back momentarily, "don't let your guard down. I want my prize."