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Part of USS Argonaut: Empok Nor

The Welcome

Trivas System
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[Legate Aren’s Office, Ops, Empok Nor]
[Three weeks later]

The preparations for the arrival of the Federation delegates went about as smoothly as such affairs could, which was to say that they hadn’t progressed smoothly in the least. When Aren wasn’t busy stamping out dissent from one section of the station over what they were expected to do, she was busy instructing another section on how to conduct themselves in their preparations for their guests. Resistance had been expected, and even accounted for in her briefing with the Chairman. The fact that she had been granted the rank of Legate with no other member of her crew holding a rank higher than Dalin was a calculated plan to keep her authority unquestioned, as only a Gul could hope to challenge her with any real possibility of success.

The fact that dissent had no hope of success didn’t stop the crew from engaging in their little ‘rebellion’ against their standing orders. Things had never actually gotten much farther than verbal protestations in the mess areas, and a few fist fights in the bar over one crewman complaining and another taking issue with the complaints. It was all very much within the limits of the Legate’s ability to tolerate and work around, it simply wasn’t an enjoyable state of affairs. However, with the clock finally reaching the zero hour for the delegation’s arrival, things had finally been reined in enough that the dissatisfaction of her crew wouldn’t be immediately apparent to their guests.

Dalin Nefet walked into Aren’s office with a quickened pace, her presence enough to pull the Legate out of her contemplation. As her eyes fell upon the Dalin, she couldn’t help but notice that she looked rather ill-at-ease, which could only really mean one of two things; either the Federation had arrived, or they had some unwelcomed guests.

“What is it, Nefet?” the Legate decided to get the cause of the young officer’s distress straight from the source rather than guess.

“Several ships have just dropped out of warp and are holding at the outskirts of our docking control zone. They’ve requested permission to dock,” the Dalin responded to the query with a barely controlled tone of voice.

“Is it our intended guests?”

“Yes, Legate, it’s the Federation contingent. Seven ships in total,” came the hasty reply.

“Seven?” Legate Aren parroted the number as if she wasn’t certain she’d heard correctly.

Nefet nodded, “Yes, Legate. All but one vessel appears to be cargo vessels. Their escort is an Argonaut-class vessel. It is that vessel that is hailing us.”

“I see…” Legate Aren dug in her memories to recall what kind of vessel an Argonaut-class ship was. She knew without question which vessels the Federation had that posed an imminent threat to the station should one approach, but the name Argonaut wasn’t amongst them. That alone was enough to tell her that the Federation had chosen a ship that wouldn’t put them instantly on alert, but could easily ward off pirate vessels who might otherwise take the convoy to be easy prey.

“Patch the ship into my office, I will speak to their representative in here,” Aren ordered after a few moments of thought.

“As you wish,” her First Officer nodded curtly and returned to the ‘Pit’ to carry out her bidding.

The Legate turned her attention toward her personal console, waiting for the screen to switch over to the communication that was being sent her way. Once the screen finally shifted, the face of a Human male flashed onto the screen.

“This is Captain Jonathan Bastin of the USS Argonaut. To whom do I have the pleasure of addressing?” the man said in a firm voice.

“Captain Bastin, I am Legate Aren, Commander here on Empok Nor. We’ve been expecting your arrival,” the woman introduced herself with a small smile.

“I apologize for not sending word to you sooner regarding our arrival, but our orders were explicit in outlining that until we arrived in the system that we weren’t to make any attempts at communication with you, since your station is currently deemed a classified installation,” the Captain explained.

“Yes, unfortunately there are many in the Union who have not been made aware of this station’s existence, let alone the mission we have been asked to carry out here on the fringes of Cardassian space. As I’m sure you can no doubt appreciate, this project is something of a controversial one in the eyes of a great many of our citizens. So much so that it was deemed best to show them the results without them being made aware beforehand,” the Legate remarked.

“Indeed. I’ve dealt with the Cardassian people on a handful of occasions, so I can appreciate your proclivity for secrecy in this particular matter. That being said, I would like to get the transports docked and the first wave of goods offloaded, if that would be acceptable to you. Several of the cargo ships are only here on loan and won’t be sticking around after they’ve completed their drop off,” Capt. Bastin shifted the focus on the conversation rather abruptly.

Legate Aren’s eyebrow rose ever-so-slightly at the effortless way the Captain had managed to change the subject without it seeming forced. It was almost a sure bet that the man the Federation had sent to represent them had some measure of diplomatic prowess, though how much remained to be seen. Aren wasn’t immediately sure whether she liked that they had sent her a diplomat as opposed to a more militant minded individual. At least with someone who was hot headed and brash, Aren had ways and means to manipulate them toward doing as she wished them to do. Someone who was trained to manipulate others, on the other hand, might well present a problem going forward, as Aren herself wasn’t overly diplomatic to begin with.

“Of course, Captain,” the Legate responded with only a second or two of lag time behind the question posed to her, “I will have my Operations Officer coordinate their docking. We have outfitted several of our docking pylons and ports to accommodate your vessels, though you will have to get specifics from the Dalin himself about which are suitable for your use. Once you’ve docked, I would love to meet with you in person, if you are amiable to such so soon after your arrival.”

“I look forward to it. Bastin out.”

The screen cut to black before returning to the idiographic display that she’d been reading a few moments earlier. Aren’s lips curled into a genuine smile as she reflected on the exchange. For a Human, the Captain didn’t seem entirely incompetent, which was both good and bad given the nature of her mission. She was certain he would be willing to give the project a fair and honest effort… which meant that their true objective might take longer to achieve than anticipated.

“Ah well…” the Legate let out a short sigh, “If it had been easy from the onset, this wouldn’t have been much of an assignment I suppose.”

Aren pushed herself out of her chair and circled around her desk, intent on meeting the Captain at the docking pylon.

[Docking Pylon 3, Empok Nor]
[Twenty minutes later]

Legate Aren stood before the docking pylon hatch, her First Officer to her left and her Security Chief to her right. Glinn Talmet had a disruptor on his hip, which wasn’t exactly unusual in and of itself. What did seem rather odd was that his hand was resting atop the weapon as if he had already determined that he was about to enter a fire fight.

“They aren’t invaders, Talmet,” the Legate said with a sideways glare at the Security Officer.

The man shifted on his feet uncomfortably, “The last time I dealt with anyone from the Federation, we were at war with them…”

“Just try to remember that we are neither at war, nor expecting to enter into one with them here in the docking ring. Shall I relieve you of your sidearm before they arrive, or can you keep it in the holster, at least until they do something that might actually warrant using the thing?” Aren asked in a blunt fashion.

“I can manage, Legate,” Talmet said, dropping his hand from the weapon in a show of compliance.

“Very well…” the Legate returned her attention to the airlock door just as it began to roll to the side to allow the people inside to enter the station.

At the head of the Federation contingent was the Captain that Aren had spoken to not long ago. Flanking him was a woman in a similar red uniform, followed by a man in a gold uniform. Several others were trailing behind them at a bit of a distance, which meant they weren’t part of the official party.

“Legate Aren, I wasn’t expecting you to be the one to greet us in the docking ring,” Captain Bastin said with a genuine smile that caught Aren off guard for the briefest of moments. She’d never actually met anyone outside of her people that seemed truly pleased to see one of her kind. Thankfully she wasn’t slow to recover, a smile gracing her own features wasn’t far behind as she reached out her hand toward the man.

“I thought it best to lead this exchange by example, rather than from the confines of my office,” Aren explained.

Captain Bastin took the offered hand and give it a firm shake, his smile only seeming to become a bit brighter for the exchange.

“Legate, I would like to introduce the Argonaut’s First Officer, Commander Rena Yuri. She will be taking de facto command of my ship while I’m working with you on the station. And this is Lieutenant Commander Brak, our Chief Engineer and Second Officer on the Argonaut,” Bastin said after releasing the Legate’s hand.

A Human woman and a Tellarite male nodded in turn as the Captain gave his introductions, but neither of them said anything. It seemed that either the two of them were much more weary of the situation, or they had been instructed not to interject during their first encounter with the Legate. Aren wasn’t especially bothered by it, and merely returned their nods with one of her own before replying in kind.

“This is Dalin Nefet, the station’s First Officer, and my Security Chief, Glinn Talmet. Both of them are at your disposal, Captain, should you need assistance,” the Legate declared. Each Cardassian responded to their names being said with a much less pronounced nod, though Talmet tensed up a bit at hearing that his services might be called upon by the man before them. Aren’s eyes narrowed slightly when she noticed his stance stiffening, taking note of the Captain’s demeanor quickly to see if he had noticed it. When the Captain’s smile didn’t seem to so much as dim, the Legate decided that he had either noticed and took no offense to it or it had escaped him entirely.

“If you would follow me, Captain, I will take you on a short tour of the station,” Legate Aren offered, motioning down the corridor behind her.

“I would appreciate that very much, Legate, thank you,” Captain Bastin said, taking up a position to Aren’s left as they walked down the corridor together.

The Legate didn’t bother to look behind her to see if the others were following or how they might be arranged. She had little doubt that the atmosphere among the majority of them was nothing but tense, even if she and Captain Bastin seemed to be getting along rather well.

The tour of the station didn’t last too terribly long, and most of their stops were focused on the facilities in the Promenade. The Legate had glossed over most of the operational sections of the station, explaining that the delegation wasn’t to enter those areas without prior approval, since the nature of their involvement in the daily running of the station had yet to be worked out. Captain Bastin didn’t seem to have much of an issue with how the tour had been conducted, taking time to comment positively about the various services available, and the state of the spaces that had been reserved for the Federation contingent’s use while they were aboard. The tour ended with the contingent arriving at the conference room that had been set up beforehand to handle to formal welcome.

Once everyone was seated, Legate Aren began with her opening remarks, “Thank you for agreeing to be a part of this cultural exchange between our two governments. I understand and appreciate that it is no small thing to have our two cultures come together like this after being at odds with one another many times in the past. There aren’t many people here who weren’t affected in some way or another by the tragedies of the Dominion War. I myself was part of that awful conflict, and recall rather vividly the pain that was inflicted on both sides. Our two peoples have never been more than lukewarm enemies to one another, a fact that no one here can deny even if we might wish it were otherwise.”

“However,” the Legate continued after letting the statement hang for a moment, “Today is the day that we here on Empok Nor change this fact. We have been charged with the awesome responsibility of joining hands with a former foe… Indeed, our mission is not simply to join hands but to embrace one another in a newly forged friendship that will serve to bring the Cardassian people into the galactic fold on equal footing with our neighbors. Our people have everything to gain by the success of this endeavor, and we hope that the Federation will come to appreciate what we can bring to the table as friends, and perhaps someday as brothers and sisters in arms against the incessant march of time.”

Aren took up a glass that had been placed near her at the start of the meeting, “To the future.”

““To the future,”” those gathered in the room responded to the toast in kind.

Once they had all taken a drink, Captain Bastin rose from his seat to address the room, “Legate, I want to first thank you for your hospitality so far. It has been a true joy to have you show us around the station, and your speech just now was a testament to just how much this project means to both of our peoples. I firmly believe that this project can succeed in bringing our two cultures together as long as we are both willing on each side to devote the effort and energy required to heal the wounds that have been inflicted by the follies of the past. And to do so, I believe it is important to recognize that no side has been blameless in the way things have developed between our peoples. The Federation has done much to foster the deep divide between us, and we should be willing to demand of ourselves the effort that it will take to bridge that gulf between us, just as you no doubt demand of your own people.”

“As long as I am here, I promise to do all that I can to ensure the success of this endeavor, so that future generations of Federation citizens and Cardassian citizens can look back proudly on this project as the turning point for our two peoples giving up the legacy of distrust and hatred and embracing one another as the great galactic family we can be if we truly take the time to come to understand one another,” Bastin said, his focus shifting to each person assembled, whether they were Cardassian or Federation in origin.

“A wonderful goal, Captain,” Legate Aren said with a pleased smirk, “One I am certain we can accomplish.”

The assembled officers raised their glasses again, and the formal welcome carried on with a somewhat tense atmosphere for a short time before the various participants began to disperse to return to their official duties regardless of affiliation. The only two left in the room were the Legate and Captain Bastin. The two of them sat in silence for a short while before one of them broke it with a suggestion.

“How about we have dinner tonight, Captain?” Aren said without any sort of preamble.

Bastin thought about the proposal for a moment, “That might be nice to have a more informal event with our two crews.”

“No, I don’t mean between our crews…” Aren chuckled at the comment, “I meant between us, personally.”

“Oh? And what brought this about?” the Captain asked almost reflexively.

Aren could tell that he was on guard just by the shift in his tone from a somewhat casual one to a much more reserved one. It was refreshing to talk to someone who appreciated and understood that there was always a meaning behind everything she did. The Legate couldn’t remember the last person she’d spoken to that challenged her on equal footing in the area of verbal sparring.

“Neither one of us is blind to the motivations behind this project, Captain. Even without knowing a great deal about your background, I can tell this isn’t the first time you dealt with a sensitive diplomatic situation such as the one we find ourselves in. You pick your words carefully, a fact I doubt my First Officer is able to pick up on with how well you maneuver conversations to your advantage without making it obvious. If you aren’t a diplomat, Captain, you should be. You’d even make a good politician on Cardassia,” the Legate smirked.

“High praise indeed,” Bastin said with a small smirk of his own, “And you are correct, Legate. I am first and foremost a diplomat, even if I command a starship at the moment. That’s one of the reasons I was asked to participate in this project. But beyond that, I’m here because I actually believe this is something worth pursuing, even if I know all too well this project isn’t as straightforward as your Council has led the Federation to believe. Just from hearing what was worked out between our two peoples second hand, I can tell your Chairman is a skilled politician in her own right, and that she has ulterior motives that stretch well beyond the confines of what was put on paper.”

“This is why I want to have dinner with you, Captain. I believe that it would be no end of fun sparring with you on an intellectual level about all the ‘ulterior motives’, as you put it, my people have about this project. As I said before, I fully intend to lead this endeavor from the front,” Aren said, leaning forward as she spoke.

“My gut tells me I should turn you down,” the Captain remarked bluntly, “But there’s a rather large part of me that just isn’t willing to back down from the challenge that a sparring match with you presents.”

“Then I take it you accept my invitation, Captain?”

Bastin nodded, “I do indeed accept, Legate.”

“Excellent. I will see you tonight in my quarters,” Aren said, pushing herself out of the chair she was perched in, “1900, station time. I would ask you not to be late… but as your quarters are right across from mine, that hardly seems possible.”

“True enough,” the Captain smirked as he watched the Legate walk out of the conference room with a bit of extra swagger to her step.

[Legate Aren’s Quarters, Empok Nor]
[1850 hrs. Station Time]

Legate Aren drew herself upright after laying the final dish down that would complete the dinner that she had promised the Federation Captain she’d met earlier in the day. The replicator made any meal something of a feast, even if the one who prepared it had no talent for cooking by hand. Her satisfaction over the arrangement and the contents of the meal were not diminished in the least by her lack of having any real part in its creation aside from demanding that the replicator synthesize it.

Aren had opted to wear something slightly more formal than her usual evening wear. The crème colored dress she’d chosen clung to her form in just the right places to highlight the curves she was fond of, and hide the ones she wasn’t so fond of. Her appearance was no less meticulously planned than the meal in front of her. If anything, the meal was less stringently pulled together than her dedication to her appearance had been.

Her eyes flitted to the chronometer she kept near her door, the display shifting slightly as the seconds slipped by. Before she even had a chance to wonder when the Captain might cross the small expanse between his quarters and her own, the door chime began to warble. Aren’s lips curled into a smirk at how punctual the man was, a testament to his years of hard won experience dealing with foreign diplomats no doubt. The Legate crossed the small expanse between her dining area and the door, pressing the lock release and looking up just in time to see the doors reveal her visitor.

Captain Bastin was clad in a sharp looking charcoal colored suit that did as much to highlight his features as Aren’s dress did to accentuate her own. The woman couldn’t stifle the pleased smirk that came unbidden to her lips at the sight. While she had expected him to dress fairly formally despite the personal invitation, it hadn’t occurred to her that it would look so natural when she actually saw it.

“Come in, Captain,” Aren said finally after a moment’s pause, “I thought you might arrive somewhat before the appointed time.”

“I’m only ever late when it is appropriate to be so, Legate,” the man remarked as he stepped fully inside the room and took it in. The space wasn’t sparsely furnished like his own quarters, but the décor didn’t seems to adequately reflect the occupant, at least in his estimation of the woman. The paintings adorning the wall looked unremarkably generic, which made it glaringly obvious that they were replicated versions of some innocuous scenery that might not have even been Cardassian in origin. Captain Bastin’s eyes narrowed slightly at just how fake the room felt.

“Yes,” Aren said as she walked toward the dining table that she’d prepared, “It is usually the luxury of a host to be tardy to a function, and usually to maintain the illusion that they are so much more in demand than you are.”

“A great many more times than not, it is exactly as you say… an illusion,” Bastin nodded in agreement as he approached the chair opposite the Legate’s.

The Captain waited for the woman to sit first before following suit. Taking quick stock of the offerings before him, Bastin realized just how much effort the woman had put into providing a rather varied menu, though it was rather obvious that most of the actual labor had been done by the replicator. Both sides of the table had food hailing from both the Federation and Cardassia in equal measure. The Captain even recognized several of the more common Cardassian dishes, much to his amusement. The Federation dishes were from his Terran home, a smattering of English local fare that he hadn’t imagined himself seeing at the table.

“I can tell by the look that just crossed your face that you weren’t expecting to see some of this,” the Legate said with a smug look on her face.

“I did not,”Bastin confessed, reaching for the nearby napkin and draping it across his knee in a practiced fashion, “But that doesn’t mean that I’m ungrateful for it.”

The smirk on Aren’s lips didn’t lessen as she did the same, “I took the liberty of requesting your profile… or rather as much of it as your First Officer was willing to provide. A great deal of it was redacted, which surprised me if I’m being honest. I get the feeling that your career has been far more interesting than your demeanor would lead one to believe.”

The Captain let out a soft chuckle, “That’s part of the reason I’m so good at what I do, Legate. Few people expect me to be as… battle hardened… as I am for how I present myself. I guess in a way, it is the key to my success as a diplomat. I went to school to fill my head with grand ideals about how things play out on paper, and went out into the world to find out that the things on paper aren’t as cut and dry as the books would like you to believe. If anything, I’m grateful that I learned the truth about diplomacy very early in my career. It made it possible for me to see my dreams come to fruition rather than watching them crumble under the weight of reality.”

Legate Aren nodded as she listened to the man speak, her smirk shifting into a much more natural smile, “Very few can make such a claim sound believable. I find it oddly comforting to know that you aren’t simply an idealist with no grasp of how harsh the world outside really is.”

“Oddly comforting?” Bastin asked as he reached for his drink, “How so?”

Legate Aren took a sip of her own beverage while she considered her reply, “I don’t know… I suppose it has something to do with my disdain for people who aren’t grounded in the same harsh reality as myself. Idealism has its place, even among my people, but I have never found it to be enviable or anything of the sort. I suppose having approached the subject of diplomacy from the opposite direction leaves me somewhat bitter about the fanciful ignorance that scholarly diplomats seem to enjoy.”

“By opposite direction, you mean to say that you lived the harsh reality first, and were only later exposed to the rose-colored mentality of diplomacy after you’d already made up your mind that such things were superfluous,” the Captain postulated as he leaned back in his chair.

“I can’t really argue your assessment,” Aren said with an annoyed pout, “Even if I would like to protest the way in which you framed it. It isn’t that I believe diplomacy to be superfluous, Captain. I merely find it to be rather tiresome in its inability to be direct, and strike at the heart of the matter with precision and efficiency. But even saying that, I do appreciate the nuance with which the art itself is carried out. Every word a measured utterance, every gesture and every expression a means to deceive or deflect one’s true thoughts and intentions. In that respect, I must admit, even a Cardassian such as myself could learn a thing or two from a skilled practitioner.”

“If you can find one, that is,” Bastin remarked in front of a fork full of food.

The Legate let out a brief laugh, “I believe I am sitting across from one right now. The fact that I can’t tell if you’re actually enjoying that speaks volumes already at your ability to hide your thoughts on the proceedings.”

The Captain shrugged, “I’ve eaten a great many things in my time that have turned my stomach on end. Even poorly replicated food can be said to be divine when compared to some of the local cuisines that I’ve had to force down with a smile on my face in the past. Take it as the compliment it is that I don’t have to smile a fake smile while eating what you’ve set out.”

“That makes the small effort I’ve expended on preparations worthwhile if you’re willing to be so honest about it,” Aren said as she begin to join her dining partner in earnest.

The meal progressed with limited banter, neither participant broaching any subject that couldn’t be considered small talk in any situation. Their meal ended with a small dessert course that complimented the food they had enjoyed together rather nicely. Once the two had relocated to the rather spacious sitting area that their conversation turned to matters of business.

“Allow me to be blunt, Captain. My people… or rather more to the point, my crew aboard this station, hold no hope that this project is anything other than doomed to failure. Take for instance my Security Officer. He was so dead set on there being a firefight in the docking pylon that I had to threaten to relieve him of his weapon to get him to show at least some restraint. And his behavior and demeanor is that of the majority here. There are precious few under my command that are walking into this experiment with the willingness to even attempt to open their minds to the possibility that we can be anything beyond enemies,” the Legate said with a bitter frown.

For his part, Captain Bastin just shrugged a bit at the confession, “There aren’t many people on my ship, or among the merchants that came with us here that hold any real hope that this can be a worthwhile endeavor. At best, most believe it to be a means of confirming suspicions that your people are simply out to gain something from the exchange that you wouldn’t otherwise have been able to acquire through simple raids or other underhanded means. The bad blood runs deep on both sides, no matter how much you and I might like to smile and pretend it wasn’t so.”

“Not one to pull your punches, are you Captain?”

“I have been known to do so a time or two, but in this case I feel like it would only hamper progress rather than aid it,” Bastin replied.

The Legate leaned onto the armrest of the sofa she occupied and let out a long sigh, “I’m not surprised that your people are of a similar mind to my own. Even when a good share of the crew were only children during the Dominion War, the scars it left on their hearts aren’t something we can easily expect them to forget about, to say nothing of asking them to forgive. I think we simply need to provide opportunities for our peoples to work together, to see that they are not so different from one another that they can’t co-exist, even if it isn’t exactly what the Chairman had in mind, in terms of our people coming together.”

Captain Bastin folded his arms against his chest in thought for a moment before commenting, “Several decades ago, I met a man who believed in the principle of ‘behavioral modification through stress.’ When I was first introduced to the concept, I wasn’t convinced it was anything more than a crackpot idea borne from some insanity that resides in the dark corners of the minds of misanthropic men. It wasn’t until I saw it actually work with my own eyes that I came to appreciate that it had a place in the world, even if it has a tendency to be unpredictable in exactly how it goes about modifying someone’s behavior.”

“Something to consider,” Aren perked up a bit as she listened to the explanation, “That being said, I can’t think of any way to introduce a kind of stress that would force our peoples to band together that wasn’t extremely trite or painfully obvious… But I won’t forget that little piece of advice. Who was this man you mentioned?”

Bastin sank back and stared up at the ceiling for a moment as his face contorted oddly in thought, “I honestly don’t know how to explain it to someone who probably doesn’t even have the faintest notion of how such a thing could be possible, let alone be able to reconcile it without a whole lot of background first. Let’s just say… parting with that particular individual was a turning point in my life… and probably the largest blank space in that biography you managed to dig up on my career.”

The Legate straightened up and leaned forward, “Now you have me terribly curious, Captain. I don’t believe I’ve seen that particular look on someone’s face in a very long time, and the story that followed such a look was truly riveting, if even half of it were to be true.”

“Sounds like you’ve run across some interesting people in your career, Legate,” Captain Bastin smirked.

“I would like to think I’m fairly worldly,” Aren grinned, “And I would very much like to hear the story behind that particular look.”

“Unfortunately, Legate, it isn’t a story I can really get into at the moment. There are too many things that I can’t really discuss that make the story more believable and easier to understand. Without those details… you’d think I was lying to your face with a completely serious expression.

The Legate crossed the space between her and her guest, coming to sit right next to the man, “That simply won’t do, Captain. You have piqued my curiosity and I simply must hear something of this story, especially if it sounds like a lie. As someone from a culture that appreciates a well woven falsehood, teasing me with such a morsel and then leaving me emptyhanded would be in incredibly poor taste.”

The Captain shifted uncomfortably at how earnest his host had suddenly become in prying into the details of the story, something he hadn’t actually expected given their interactions up to that point. Bastin silently wondered if a small glimmer of her actual personality had finally leaked through the veneer of haughty detachment that she’d displayed throughout most of their evening together.

After a brief period of agonizing over how to explain things, “Have you ever looked into the mirror and wondered what the person looking back at you might be like?”

Aren cocked her head to the side in confusion, “I can’t say that I have… What does that have to do with your story?”

“Just humor me…” Bastin urged her, “What if the person looking back at you… that reflected ‘you’, was your polar opposite? What kind of a person do you imagine they might be?”

“That’s an interesting thought experiment, Captain, truly… but I don’t see how it relates…”

“It relates precisely because I’ve met the man reflected in the mirror… Stood face to face with the polar opposite of myself… He is the man that taught me the utility of stressful situations, how to make them work in your favor, how to manipulate people with a kind of ruthless efficiency that makes anything I’ve seen in all my years in Starfleet look like a children’s theatre production.”

Aren couldn’t help but feel herself outright rejecting the notion, her instincts denouncing it as a falsehood and a ridiculous impossibility. The frown on her lips was there before she could even register that she’d allowed a reaction to show at all.

“Preposterous…” she muttered before realizing that she’d reacted exactly as he’d said she would after hearing the story without a shred of context behind it. It was a beautifully crafted lie, the fact that it seemed so wonderfully orchestrated made it all the more revolting.

“I told you it would seem like a bald-faced lie without any context,” Bastin smirked before pushing himself off the couch he was sitting on, “And now that you’ve heard it, I think it’s a good time for me to excuse myself. I had a lovely evening with you, Legate. I do hope we can do it again in the future… though perhaps the next one won’t end with you staring at me as if I’ve just shattered your world-view.”

“I don’t believe you’ve shattered anything, Captain…” the woman said as she rose off the couch to follow him to the door, “But you have certainly given me something to ponder over. Very few people have made me question whether I truly know a lie when I hear it or not. I truly look forward to our next meeting, Captain. Perhaps by then we will know one another well enough for you to fill in some of the gaps in your story.”

“We’ll see…” the man said with a strange half-smile that inspired a very odd feeling in Aren. Before she had a real opportunity to process the feeling, the door slid closed, and the feeling faded away like it hadn’t ever been there. It took a moment for her to realize that she was staring at her door, which bothered her a bit more than it should have.

“I’m not certain if that actually went the way I’d planned it to or not…” the Legate said in something of a whisper as she turned away from her door to walk into her bedroom. Her thoughts were so jumbled that she hardly noticed the mess she’d left behind on the table.