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Part of USS Argonaut: Empok Nor

The Beginnings

Cardassia Prime
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[Detapa Council Chambers, Cardassia Prime]

The room exploded with voices both angry and pleased at the sudden proposal that had been distributed to each of the members, a project proposed by the Chairman herself. Without actually reading more than a few lines of the document, a clear division appeared in the Council Chambers. On one side of the fissure stood the traditionalists, who abhorred the idea on principle alone, never mind the implications it would have if such lunacy was allowed to carry on. On the other, the iconoclasts, who saw the project for all the potential gain it could bring the Cardassian people. The room seemed to exemplify the two traits that summed up the species in the minds of outsiders; xenophobia and opportunism.

“This is madness! You can’t possibly expect us to tolerate such a reckless endeavor! Have you no pride as a Cardassian?!” one of the more outspoken traditionalists bellowed over his comrades.

“And just how many lek do you suppose pride is worth, Counselor? How many hot meals would you suppose you could get from it? How many shirts for your back? How nice a home do you suppose you could get from your pride alone?” the Chairman asked in a low voice, forcing the room into silence by the sheer gravity of her question.

The incredulous look on the man’s face was to be expected from someone who believed wholeheartedly that Cardassian pride was the foundation of their race, but it came as a shock to his own fellows when he muttered, “None…”

Several of the traditionalists sucked in a breath at the sudden admission, though they hardly had better answers to offer in his place. On the other hand, the iconoclasts started nodding their heads as if it were simply the natural order of things.

“Pride is a thing to be cherished,” Chairman Rekal continued, which in turn had the mouths of the iconoclasts dropping from shock.

Murmurs erupted in the Council chamber as both sides struggled to come to terms with what Rekal had just said. In one breath she had admonished foolish pride, and in the next she had called it something to be venerated.

“But as of late, Cardassian pride means next to nothing, is worth nothing in the current age. I’ve heard the cries you and your associates make, about how Cardassia was a great place, a point of envy in all respects… And always you say ‘was’ as if you are trying to convince yourself that it is so. You praise the past and confuse it for the present because it is much more palatable for you to do so. That is part of the reason why so many of our frontier worlds have fallen into the hands of the Central Command,” the Chairman continued.

The room grew tense as the statement left her mouth, the eyes of everyone in the Council chamber searching for someone to pin the blame on. It was so typical and seemed so natural to them that Rekal couldn’t help but burst out laughing.

“See?! The moment someone mentions a failure, you all start looking for who must take the blame. This is what Cardassian pride has been reduced to, ladies and gentlemen… We pride ourselves on not being able to adapt to a situation, and seek to simply shove it off on someone and dispose of them and the problem with them. Sad to say, that will not save us any longer,” the woman remarked as she picked up the PaDD with the proposal on it.

“This project is the way forward, my friends, because it is the only way we have never tried before. I told you once before that I intended to do something that Central Command would neither like nor expect,” Rekal said, harkening back to a distant meeting the occupants of the room had been a part of.

More than a few people on both sides of the divide began to shift uncomfortably at the recollection of that meeting. If this was the Chairman making good on her promise to confound Central Command, it took several leaps away from anything the individuals gathered in the room would have considered possible or even sane. It took a few minutes for the gathered politicians to return to their seats and actually give the document a fair chance, but in the end they had at least given it a fair look.

“It’s ambitious…” the leader of the traditionalist faction finally remarked after the room had gotten at handle on the proposal, “Do we even have the spare resources for it?”

“There is a station in an adequate location that would serve the function well enough,” Rekal answered with a smirk.

“What about manning? Garrisoning a station will require a large investiture in manpower and goods,” another of the traditionalists piped up.

“What we can’t provide, I’m certain our… guests… will be able to compensate for,” the smirk on the Chairman’s face deepened even further.

“How can you be so certain they will even entertain this idea, let alone allocate resources to it?” the traditionalist leader inquired with a frown.

“If we are known for our lofty pride, the same assumption could be made for their willingness to grab hold of an opportunity to win us over to their idealistic vision of the galaxy,” Rekal almost cackled as she thought of how easily the plan would actually be accepted.

Despite themselves, most of the iconoclasts seemed hesitant to agree, even if the plan was everything they could have asked for in terms of opening the doors to a near endless stream of possibilities for the Cardassian people. As lofty as their ideals might have been, they were all still Cardassians deep down, and they still didn’t completely believe in the worth of the greater galactic community as ‘equals’.

“It is a risk, I will admit that to you freely,” the Chairman continued to push her agenda, “But if it succeeds, we will gain a foothold that might very well pave the way to the restoration of not just our economy, not just our supremacy over the Cardassian people, but the pride that we have so often spoken of as a distant memory. If our pride is worth nothing now, what harm would it truly do to reach forward toward a day when it could again mean everything?”

Again, a murmur filled the room, but this time it wasn’t divided staunchly by anger or elation, but the calm drone of the Council weighing the idea in a manner that any other proposal of far less controversial substance would be afforded. The debates in the Council chamber lasted for several hours, emotions naturally flaring and subsiding, but in the end the two factions found it within themselves to unite on a common front, that being that the future survival of the Cardassian people was worth taking a risk that they had never considered before. And that risk would take place on a station designated as Empok Nor.

[Chairman Rekal’s Office, Detapa Council Building, Cardassia Prime]
[The following day]

“Things are moving rather briskly,” the Chairman’s aide said with a smirk as he handed over the documents he’d been holding.

“As they should, Vilnak,” Rekal said with a slight lilt in her voice.

Vilnak gave the woman a short chuckle in response to her confident declaration, “I suppose it is only natural at this point. Having suffered greatly in recent years thanks to Central Command and their never ending crusade to champion the ideals of the past, even our traditionalist counterparts have been forced to take a long, hard look at what is really important to the survival of the Cardassian people.”

“I never said that I wasn’t of a traditional mind,” Rekal mused in a low voice as she gazed at the documents before her. Most of the Council had assumed, given that she was the originator of the plan, that Rekal was in the iconoclast camp. The fact that she hadn’t outright denied the assumptions of her colleagues had only added fuel to the fires of their misinterpretations of the situation. And it was those very misconceptions that had secured the support she had needed to see her ‘great experiment’ come to life.

“I would hazard to guess that you are less a traditionalist these days, and are merely a pragmatist that appreciates the power that the old ways have on swaying the more stubborn members of the Council,” Vilnak said as he talked over to the desk he usually occupied during the normal work day.

“Perhaps,” Rekal said with a noncommittal shrug. The statement may have been slightly correct, but it wasn’t worth clarifying the parts that weren’t entirely true. As long as the two of them had worked together, Rekal still didn’t implicitly trust her aide or his ability to keep tidbits that might cause intrigue among the Council to himself. She had already tested it enough to know where the bounds of his ability to keep information hidden were, and knew not to allow him any more than half-truths and convenient misdirection.

“Have you finished compiling the list of candidates for the project?” Rekal asked as she happened upon a logistics report.

“All but the most important position, yes. You should have that in the stack,” Vilnak responded without looking up from his work.

Rekal rifled through the paperwork until she found the documents she wanted, and gave them a thorough examination before nodding to herself. The list contained enough people from both sides of the current divide of opinion in the Council. It would prove the most effective test of not only their own ability to adapt as Cardassians, but their guests’ ability to integrate with them. Problems would no doubt surface, and conflict was inevitable given the diversity with which their guests would no doubt choose their own representatives for the experiment. It would be a rather tenuous position to be placed in charge of such a unique project, something that would not appeal to any but the most foolhardy of Cardassian officers. And even then, Rekal wasn’t entirely sure the fools would fall for such a post so willingly or easily.

“If I may…” Vilnak spoke up after taking notice of the tight look on the Chairman’s face.

“Hmm…” Rekal said as her eyes floated up to the man across the room.

“I had a few thoughts on who might fit as the attending Legate of the station. There are some exceptional Guls who have remained loyal to the Cardassian people who might make suitable leaders for your project,” the aide said, his lips curving upward in the start of a smile.

“I’m sure you suggest this purely for the good of Cardassia,” Rekal said, her tone muddled enough not to betray just how little faith she had in his altruistic nature.

“But of course,” Vilnak said, declining his head in a show of reverence for the idea of service to his people.

“Submit your suggestions, though I may decide to go with someone other than the ones who you put forward if I feel them to be better suited,” Rekal said, not forgetting to add the small caveat that his attempt at stacking the deck might not avail him.

“I have no doubt that no matter who you choose, it will be for the betterment of our goals, Chairman,” Vilnak smiled, already basking in a victory he hadn’t actually secured.

[Chairman Rekal’s Office, Detapa Council Building, Cardassia Prime]
[One week later]

Chairman Rekal sat behind her desk, eying the Cardassian Gul sitting in the chair directly opposite her position. The woman sitting before the Chairman had the proud aura of a Cardassian Gul, though it was less about the position itself and more a matter of her own accomplishments and deeds that was the source of this pride. She was one of the younger Guls to be promoted in the wake of the Central Command’s ‘dissention’ which meant that while she was in the military, her allegiance had been with the Council rather than the Legates who were attempting to steer the Cardassian people into what even Rekal would have considered nothing but a Dark Age.

“Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to speak with you today, Chairman,” the woman said in an attempt to stick to etiquette.

“Quite,” Rekal nodded unenthusiastically at the platitudes, “So tell me, Gul Aren, why did you agree to speak with me about the position? I understand that you are fairly ambitious, but having your own ship so early in your career should have already been enough to sate your appetite for advancement. Why give that up for a post on the edge of Cardassian space?”

“Because I see it as an opportunity, Chairman,” came the rather blunt response as the Gul shifted slightly in her chair to rest an elbow on one of the armrests, “Commanding a ship was a goal I had in mind for myself for a good little while, but I find that being deployed to put out small fires all over the Union has less appeal to it than when I was a young woman looking up to her first Gul.”

“Understandable,” Rekal conceded the point that such missions tended to be extremely monotonous and scarcely held the prestige that a young, up and coming officer might thirst for. The fact that she could readily admit that such assignments were tiresome was also a trait to be admired, many officers had been given positions they had initially asked for, and found themselves never able to grow beyond them, stagnating and being replaced with younger and far more hungry men and women.

Rekal mulled her next question for a few moments before asking, “Do you feel that you could work with a crew composed of Federation officers and staff on equal footing, Gul Aren?”

“I don’t believe it would be too difficult a challenge, no,” the woman shook her head slightly.

“Why not?”

“As I said, it is an opportunity,” the Gul said with a smirk, “No matter how you might go about painting the picture for the Federation to make the idea palatable, at the end of the day it is a means to an end. We lack the resources and the support to truly unite the Union as it was in my parents’ day. Clinging to old hopes of yesteryear will do us no good in this day and age. No matter how much it might hurt our pride, and go against our instincts… We must survive.”

“Spoken like a true Cardassian,” Rekal’s lips curled into a smirk, “But do you believe that?”

The shrug that erupted from the Gul wasn’t entirely expected, and it made the smirk on Rekal’s lips drop a bit.

“It isn’t really a matter of what I really believe, Chairman. If that is the line that will make the Federation accept the plan, to acquiesce to our wishes and cooperate with us, then I will make certain no one doubts that it is our belief,” Aren said without any hint of shame for the outright lie.

“Even if you are forced to aid the Federation over your own people in this endeavor?” the Chairman asked, an eyebrow raised.

“The goal is to secure resources and allies from outside the Union to benefit our people, correct?” the Gul countered the question with a question.

“It is, yes,” Rekal nodded.

“Then the means by which it is accomplished are trivial,” the woman responded without missing a beat.

For the first time, Rekal’s face eased into a natural smile at hearing those words. They were the only ones that had any sincerity behind them, the only ones that weren’t passed through the filter of ambition or agenda. They were as close to the truth as any Cardassian might dare to speak aloud in a place other than their deathbed.

“Very well. We will be in touch soon,” Rekal said dismissively.

Gul Aren didn’t waste time asking if the position was hers or not, nor did she offer the Chairman much more than a curt nod. Aren knew she had secured the position simply by the flow of the conversation, knew that soon she would be given her transfer orders and a measure of freedom she had yearned for. The freedom to lead the charge toward a better future for her people.

As the doors to Rekal’s office slid closed behind the retreating Gul, Chairman Rekal couldn’t help but smile triumphantly to herself. She’d managed to find exactly the kind of person she was looking for, and it hadn’t come from the list her aide had provided her, which meant that if anyone would be using the Gul as a puppet for their purposes, it would be her and her alone. The Chairman let out a small sigh of contentment into the silent and empty room before returning her focus to the work ahead.

“So much still to do…” Rekal hummed to herself almost melodically as she basked in the momentary victory.