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Down to business

Posted on Mon Feb 22nd, 2016 @ 8:30pm by Legate Vadrek

Mission: Trouble on the frontier
Location: Cardassian Embassy

"My dear Legate," Meret had bowed deeply, using the most formal high Cardassian as he ushered her in. She had done her part in requesting yet another meeting and was prepared for another round of Cardassian banter and challenging each other. Of course the older diplomat saw her as just some new born vole - "I do appreciate your welcome and of course we have so much to discuss. So much that was left unsaid before."

This was not their first meeting. The others had been more to do with exchanging diplomatic credentials than the usual dance Cardassians performed when they did not know the other player or what that player might be after. Sub-texts were the order of the day in this conversation and sub-texts could be many-layered.

Vadrek had resolved that it was high time they got down to actual business. He maintained a stern visage while they went through the usual preliminary routine of exchanging pleasantries. It was a bit like foreplay between two people who only found themselves in the same bed because duty demanded it. He wondered, once again, why Cardassia had sent this young woman out to DS12. Emphasis on young, he thought. He knew his government and the Federation alike considered DS12 of little consequence despite its strategic location on the frontier. Even so, to send such an inexperienced person smacked of more than just disregard. He supposed she had to start somewhere but there were postings which really were of no consequence.

Still, he knew he had to be civil; he knew he had to take her in hand and try to mould her into something useful to the Cardassian government.

"You had a chance to review the documents I gave you I trust?" Meret continued to be polite - it would be so much easier of course to say who she worked for and throw her weight around...."Cardassia needs to improve her resources and reduce her dependence on the goods of sarrku." She used the common insult, knowing it would provoke him a little.

“I have, though I wonder why you use that term,” Vadrek replied. “It is true that Cardassia needs to increase its reserves of hard currency. As you are no doubt aware – you being a trade envoy – imports to the Union far outweigh exports, pushing the balance of trade dangerously askew as far as Carsdassia is concerned. The strain on the Cardassian economy is tolerable at the moment but action needs to be taken to rectify the situation.”

Meret shrugged, "The proposal is of small risk. Basically there are unoccupied planets in this remote sector and Cardassia could claim them. A swift move to land settlers on the most viable worlds and once we have established ourselves the federation would not interfere. If there is a problem then all we lose are a few farmers. However it is important to act swiftly and decisively."

Small, Vadrek thought. Small is not at all how I would describe the risk. Once again, he steeled his face to its bland visage. “And how would you finance the building of colonies there?” he asked. “We cannot maintain the planets on the fringes of the Union as it is. To try to take on more responsibilities would only further stretch a weak economy.”

"Do you think we would be suggesting this if it was not going to be viable? Any one of those worlds would pay for itself in the resources we can take. Take that M class planet, Bokter for example, the data that we got from initial probes practically screamed land on me and rip out everything you can get your hands on." Meret forced herself to patience, she was brought up to respect Elders not tell them to stick a vole somewhere and clean out the cobwebs from their brains.

“Quite possibly they would,” Vadrek replied, “if Cardassia actually saw any of the revenue. There will undoubtedly be some Cardassians who’ll grow fat on the project but most will find just back breaking work for no return.”

Meret took a deep breath, then another, forcing down the irritation again, "If we do not put a settlement on it we cannot claim it and surely you realize the cost of a settlement is the smallest part of this. Loyal Cardassian volunteers will do all the work and they can build with what they have on the planet. And if they fail they are replaceable."

And if they fail they are replaceable”, Vadrek repeated. “So what you’re proposing is Bajor all over again; only this time using Cardassians, not Bajorans. You’ll work them to death then bring in a new batch. Oh, I have no doubt you’ll have plenty of takers and I’m sure you already have the hard sell worked out. You’ll sell them on a paradise just waiting to be exploited by those with the strength and fortitude to carve out their fortune. There are plenty of desperate Cardassians who will jump at the chance. There’s probably plenty of other races too. It will also attract anyone with the guile or the cash to exploit the situation. Ferengi will flock there like flies and they won’t be alone. What you’ll end up with is a frontier settlement answerable not to Cardassia but to whoever is strongest in the settlement. And who do you think that will be?”

Meret shrugged, "I suppose you would say the military?" Why the man was so obtuse...

“The military? Don’t make me laugh. They might provide the forces on the ground but it will be the Obsidian Order who will control it. What you’re proposing is just what they’re looking for to re-establish themselves; a nice screen to stand behind while they rebuild.

“Yes, you’ll get ores mined but it will be sold to the highest bidder and that won’t be Cardassia because we haven’t the hard currency reserves to bid.”

Meret rolled her eyes, sat back a little...she had grabbed a chair without being invited, and the lecture reminded her so much of being with her father it was not funny, "What else...?"

“Then there’s the pirates.... What you’re proposing would be heaven sent for them. They will prey on the ore shipments because Cardassia hasn’t the resources to keep all the trade routes clear of vermin, despite what our beloved military might claim.”

"They are a small concern."

So, tell me, what do we have? Cardassia races out and claims all these planets. It pays for the infrastructure – not an inconsiderable cost – then everyone else moves in and gets a free ride and there’s not a thing Cardassia can do about it.”

Meret snorted and waved off his objections again, "The Federation will come to the rescue if it comes to it. They are the noble guardians of the galaxy after all and would love the chance to save helpless civilians."

“Appeal to the Federation? We’re the ones who breached the treaty. Oh, didn’t I mention that? You’re proposing that we settle planets inside the Demilitarized Zone; an action which is specifically forbidden by the Treaty of Bajor. What do you think the Federation will do if we send in colonists and back them up with armed forces? Sit on its hands? Oh, they will talk a lot – they’re good at that – but that will just give time for everyone else to move in. Then the Federation will bemoan the fact that there are colonies there and try to broker some sort of agreement. I’ll lay odds that agreement will not favour Cardassia. It will recognise the rights of free citizens to live in colonies already established; that’s what the Federation always does. Then it will wash its hands of the matter.”

"Your objections of course are noted." Meret bowed her head slightly by way of an attempt at courtesy, "I will also ignore the fact I have not been offered a drink, which is rather a breech of protocol."

“You propose to completely ignore a treaty to which Cardassia is a signatory yet you lecture me on protocol?” Vadrek’s voice grew stern. “It is not for a mere trade envoy to expect such courtesies. Earn my respect and you might earn my favour. However, you are not going about it the right way, so far.”

"I meant no disrespect of course." Her tone, of course, was less than respectful, "However you seem to believe we are negotiating.... I was sent to inform you of the plan nothing more. Your concerns for the poor little colonists are quite admirable but, as I have said, they are expendable. We want what is on those planets, by whatever means necessary." She was pushing the legate and he might end up exploding or throwing her out. She didn't know and was curious enough to push some more.

Vadrek had suspected that to be the case. Certainly it explained why this neophyte had been sent. If he took the all too common tack of shooting the messenger when unwanted news was received, she would not be missed. He knew his opinion was neither sought nor valued. It was why he had been dispatched to DS12 in the first place, back when it was in its old location. It was a backwater and everyone knew it. The appointment had been a slap in the face for too forcefully expressed opinions. Still, he had to try; pride dictated that much, if nothing else.

Now, someone in the government had decided that DS12 occupied a more important position so the formalities of consultation were being observed.

"The war cost Cardassia dearly," Meret continued, "and we could go on scratching in the dirt like voles and begging for help. Next thing we will join the Federation as meek and milk little zabu calves, ready to be slaughtered....some of us would rather not do that, of course. Some of us know how to be Cardassian not whimpering sarrku." Meret smiled for the first time a real smile, "Too many have forgotten what it means to be a Cardassian and we intend to remind them." She gave undue emphasis to the word 'we', almost daring him to ask what she meant.

“I think, Glin, that it is you who is forgetting what it is to be a Cardassian. Like so many others of your generation you only see the Cardassia that went to war. You think you were sold out; stabbed in the back by the likes of Legate Damar. You think the Federation is deliberately holding Cardassia down, denying it the resources it needs. You yearn for Cardassia to rebuild itself and take its so-called rightful place in the galaxy. If the Federation won’t give then you’ll damn well take and to hell with the consequences.”

"Ah my dear wise legate...what we mean is they have forgotten how to be afraid, they go about not looking over their shoulders to see who might be watching them. That needs to change, that will change. And this will help us to do it." Meret cocked her head to one side, watching him, "You were right of course about one thing...the Order is not without some resources even now but this indeed will help."

“You should study Cardassian history. For over five centuries, Cardassia lay under the iron fist of the military and look where it got us: we expanded to grab the resources we needed. We were feared and we were hated. And what did we gain? For most Cardassians, nothing. But we lost much. Go back further. Cardassia had poets and artists. Cardassia had musicians. All that was driven into the dust to feed the needs of the military. With it went freedom; with it went the right to live life as we chose.”

Meret shook her head, "You talk of the Hebitian Age and yes I will admit they produced works of art, some incredibly beautiful, oh yes but at a price. Do you forget they bankrupted Cardassia and if the military had not stepped in we would have faded into memory. Nothing would have been left but ruins and artifacts for archaeologists to pick over."

“No, Glin, they did not bankrupt Cardassia. The aristocracy that ruled the planet did that. They exploited the people ruthlessly while they lived a life of ease and luxury. Again, read your history; the musicians and artists received a pittance for their efforts. Most were subject to the most appalling conditions; some were even locked up to ensure they didn’t move to a rival patron. Then revolution came which overthrew the old order but petty dictators saw their chance. They staged coups to place themselves in power. In the chaos, only the military could impose any sort of order.”

"I have no great love for the military but they do create order and they do enforce the will of the government for the good of all. The people are housed, the children of Cardassia will not starve and if we have to pay a small price in a loss of freedom then so be it. Perhaps, honorable legate, you should take the time to re-read The Neverending Sacrifice. I have a copy if you do not." Part of her was enjoying the game, Meret was finding it interesting and a good challenge to see exactly where his loyalties lay.

“The cost of military rule is barbarism,” Vadrek said sourly. Such was the vehemence that he almost spat the words out. “Cardassia likes to believe it expanded because it needed resources and, on one level, that’s true. The real reason behind the expansion was the military’s need to justify its rule. It offered glory and could point to some success in rebuilding the Cardassian economy. Not that most Cardassians saw many benefits. And that was the other side of the military’s strategy: with unemployment exploding at home, expansion of the armed forces created jobs while expansion of the bureaucracy to run it all meant more jobs in the government. That provided a pressure valve which let the military off the hook. That will be the same if the military manages to retake government again.

“As for that book, I have read it.” He knew he was treading on dangerous ground here. ‘The Never Ending Sacrifice’ had been required reading in schools on Cardassia. It was still held in many influential circles to be the blueprint for Cardassian society. Still, what did he have to lose if this callow youth denounced him? Imprisonment? Torture? He was old; it would not last long. He pushed on. “I found it turgid in the extreme. Even for the genre it is excruciatingly repetitive. As for ‘epic’; the only thing epic about it is its size. And it’s not even well written. The grammar is appalling; a ten year old could have done better. As for its arguments, they’re all over the place. There’s no logical structure and they’re full of contradictions. No thank you, you can keep it. Maybe if the military takes over again you’ll need it to light a fire to keep yourself warm. Just a few copies should keep you going for days on end.”

"The repetitive epic is a classic form of Cardassian literature, possibly even the highest form of art. So what if each family, generation after generation live selfless lives in dedication to the state? Perhaps the author is making a point that duty is to Cardassia first and all else second." Meret shrugged off his comments, "A pity you prefer style over substance -" She caught herself, stopped, "However I did not come here to discuss literature."

“I’m quite happy with substance when I have insomnia. I prefer style when I actually want to read though.”

"My, my, we Cardassians love to talk do we not?" Meret deliberately adopted the purest form of high Cardassian, "And right now we seem to be arguing in circles." She sighed and that was not faked, arguing with an old bull zabu was frustrating, especially when he kept bellowing and stamping the ground. She sighed again and folded her hands together, "So perhaps I should point out that I am simply a messenger for the - for the interested parties, nothing more."

“Yes, I’m aware you’re just the messenger. You have made that clear all evening. You don’t have either the wit or the subtlety to have developed this argument for yourself. It’s a bit like reading: I prefer to talk with someone who has something interesting to say, rather than merely talking at someone who is nothing more than a mouthpiece for someone else.”

"If I am ordered to take a ship into the Demilitarized Zone to land colonists myself I will do it. If I am ordered to -" Meret caught herself again, she nearly said too much about what the Order was prepared to do. "My loyalties lie with my...family above all things. The life of one agent does not matter especially now."

Vadrek could not resist a touch of sarcasm. “Oh, with your family? I thought your loyalty was to the state.” In which case, he added to himself, I wonder just what pressure the Order is applying to your family....

Meret almost laughed, almost but caught herself. "Now who is being unobservant....my family is the Obsidian Order. The ones who are my family by blood, rather than choice, well I left them behind on my homeworld. And they are of little concern to me. Mostly." She had barely spoken to them - any of them - in a long time, so it seemed. She did not much like talking to family when so much of what she said had to be kept to the bland and commonplace for everyone's protection, "Family are a liability after all."

So, the truth comes out at last, Vadrek though caustically.

"So then, Legate, how would you propose we rebuild Cardassia?" Meret felt the need to change the topic, it was getting dangerously close to talk of family and home and better to divert back to the supposed purpose of her visit. "You will note I do not say rebuilding the Obsidian Order...I rather get the feeling you dislike us and regard us as a nest of rabid voles."

 

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