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Pouring oil on troubled water

Posted on Sun Oct 15th, 2017 @ 3:38pm by Ambassador Telhas thu'S'Terion Duke of Cheleb-Khor & Captain Nelson Harrison

Mission: Trouble on the frontier
Location: Romulan Embassy

Eviess t'Rrahlem, the young diplomatic attaché, had performed well. After several calls she had managed to get Telhas a subspace call with Sonara T'Daran, the Tal Shiar's chairwoman. Even better, the appointment was open-ended, so they could talk as long as they wanted. Probably the fact that Eviess' grandfather was a judge at the Tal Shiar Court had been helpful, but much had to be credited to his attaché's talent for diplomacy.

To the point, just at the negotiated time, Telhas opened the subspace channel for transmission. As soon as Sonara T'Daran, a woman he never met in person before, appeared on screen, he started. "General T'Daran, thank you for your time. We have bad blood. Not us, in person, but I and your agency. Let us settle the issue and find a new beginning."

T’Daran said nothing but her upper lip curled in distaste. She had not wanted this meeting but had been forced to accept it by Vernor tr'Rrahlem. Tr'Rrahlem knew of skeletons in T’Daran’s closet, skeletons of far greater import than those in tr'Rrahlem’s closet which T’Daran knew of. Blackmail was a vicious weapon to wield and T’Daran knew if she was to keep her position as chair of the Tal Shiar – and the influence and power that came with it – she had to bow to tr’Rrahlem’s will. She swore to herself that she would have her vengeance for this humiliation.

She had nothing but contempt for House S’Terion, contempt that went back generations. S’Terion was one of the founding Houses in Romulan society and they delighted in reminding all and sundry of the fact. Her maternal grandfather had crossed swords, quite literally, with a S’Terion upstart over one such reminder. The Senate had, of course, sided with the veruul; the Senate was like lapdogs when it came to the Founding Houses. What galled was that the her own House had provided extensive bribes to try to sway the vote. To be outbid by a house like S’Terion was not to be countenanced.

Now this bruchon, this traitor to the Tal Shiar, wanted something from her. From her! Did he not know that the Tal Shiar was all that stood between Romulan society and chaos? Did he have no self-esteem that he would contact her for assistance….

Then again…. This could be the opportunity she sought. If she played this game right she could turn an enemy into a potent weapon indeed. She would have to be at her best because she knew S’Terion was good. He had destroyed a Tal Shiar ship but, to this day, she could not prove it...so well had he covered his tracks.

She forced her face to a semblance of calm authority. “Jolan tru”, she said in greeting though she noted she could not quite keep distaste out of her words. She knew his telepathic abilities could not stretch over the expanse of space between them but she suspected he could read the emotions playing across her face no matter how hard she tried to mask them. She cautioned herself to concentrate.

Telhas had watched vigilantly how her upper lip curled at first, how she struggled with her composure. Telepathy was not all he learned in Mind War Division. They had been taught to read their counterpart even without relying on psionics. It was clear to him that she felt uncomfortable, that she did not like this situation, this talk, him.

Yet, he had no idea their Houses had a past. It was simply not told. Too unimportant. Helping a subordinate House in the Senate was a normal thing, something every Founding House did. It was the Founding Houses who held the power, despite the fact that they almost never became Praetor. Not because they could not, but because they did not want to. It was not necessary. They could rule anyway. And although the Founding Houses were often at odds, they immediately united as soon as one lower House dared to challenge one of them. These were unwritten rules, ancient rules, deriving from the time when their ancestors had left Vulcan and their leaders were those who founded the Senate and thus the forefathers of the Founding Houses.

He acknowledged her greeting with an almost unnoticeable bow of his head. "Let me be so bold as to get right to the point, at least the most important one. Your agency tried to assassinate me. Twice. This has to end."

Although he had caught the assassins, both times, he did not kill them. He had been able to sense their thoughts each time and attack them before they could strike. The first one had been lucky. A young female agent, well-trained, but totally surprised by his sudden strike. He did not kill her, she was not even severely injured and he let her go with a warning against any further attempt. The second one had been less lucky. An experienced agent, but that time Telhas had to make an example of him. He had attacked the poor man's mind with full force, crushing his will and memories and leaving nothing but a mental wreck.

"Of course, we can continue fighting a secret war and escalating it further until it turns into an open vendetta. But you also know what it means to turn openly against a Founding House." He could see it in her expression that he hit a weak spot. For a part of a second the corner of his mouth twitched upwards. "I take it that you want to avoid this. What I offer you is peace. Do not make the same mistake as House Vindaron."

House Vindaron was the only minor House who ever dared to wage open hostilities against House S'Terion, just two centuries after planetfall. They had more troops than the S'Terion, but Telhas' ancestors had the advantage of controlling the Kae'raktar Mountains. The Kae'raktar supplied them with resources and the perfect battleground. After all attempts to get a hold of the mountains had failed for House Vindaron, it was time for the S'Terion to strike back. The chronicles of House S'Terion state that the demoralized armies of House Vindaron had been crushed with no prisoners taken and, finally, all members of House Vindaron were slain. Claiming of themselves to be the chosen ones of Ket-Cheleb, the ancient Vulcan god of war and anger, the S'Terion had a reputation of being merciless.

Telhas hoped that this hint showed T'Daran how privileged she was that he negotiated with her at all. It was a sign of respect, a sign any Founding House would immediately understand. Something those who wanted to meet the Founding Houses on an equal footing should learn to understand quickly.

His mouth twitched! T’Daran saw the movement and allowed her lip to curl even more. Good, she thought. So you know about the attacks. That too is good. You were meant to. The choice of assassins had been deliberate. Neither were telepaths so it was, in effect a suicide mission; S’Terion was bound to sense them coming. They had been well paid for their troubles and for their continuing silence. And you think this is just a war against your House…. You insufferable fool! This is about betrayal; betrayal of the Tal Shiar. Even your fellow founding Houses won’t countenance that. Yes, they’ll stand by you in public and on the Senate floor but in private…. In private they’ll turn on you without a moment’s hesitation. As for House Vindoran, I do not for a moment believes those hoary, old myths. They’re just stories designed to frighten off would be pretenders to your power.

For now though, you could be useful. “What do you propose?” she asked tersely. “Be quick, the patience of the Tal Shiar is not limitless.”

"Neither is mine," replied Telhas emotionless, "Yet a few things in the universe need to be granted time. Anyway... If my information is correct, you have a cousin, Nevala T'Daran, who is 48 years old, and single. I suggest we arrange a marriage between her and me. This settles our dispute and ensures we both keep peace."

A 48-year aged Romulan was comparable to a human in the mid-twenties and this was just the way the Founding Houses and the Major Houses, both together being the Romulan Patricians, settled issues. What was special about this offer was that there were only two ways to get married into a Patrician House. Either you were Patrician by birth, which House T'Daran was not, or you had at least three Praetors in your lineage, which the T'Daran lacked as well. This meant that the proposed marriage would immediately recognize House T'Daran as a Major House. However, this marriage would also mean that neither House S'Terion nor House T'Daran could break the truce without losing a lot of prestige. Of course, House S'Terion would in case of breaking the truce still stay a Founding House, whereas House T'Daran would be reduced to one of the lowest Minor Houses as truce-breakers. Nonetheless, a Founding House with low prestige would probably lose much of its influence.

"And as a sign of my good will, I shall help your brother Maiell to get elected senator. Think well, if you can agree to this first point of our negotiation."

That gave T’Daran pause on two counts. Firstly, she did not understand how S’Terion could possibly know of Maiell’s campaign. It had not been officially announced yet though T’Daran was aware that he was already approaching potential supporters. S’Terion must have sources she was unaware of. That needed investigation.

Secondly, what was in it for S’Terion? He did not need access to the power she wielded...not unless…. He was in exile. Obviously people were still talking to him but that might be the extent of his reach.

As for Nevala, she did not enter into the equation. She was a women and one who had done nothing with her life. She would do as she was told.

“I will consult with Nevala’s father. You will have my answer within a day.”

Telhas bowed his head. "Now, to the next point on my list. Mind War Division."

This would probably be the most difficult part. He had been part of the Mind War Division of the Tal Shiar, and the purpose of that unit was the reason why left the Tal Shiar.

"You know that I left Mind War and the Tal Shiar before your time, when Koval was still chairman," he recognized her reaction of disgust about his leaving the Tal Shiar, but he continued anyway, "But what you probably do not know is the reason for this. The official task of Mind War, to defend high-ranking officials from attacks of hostile telepaths, to discover these telepaths and to bring them down, is something I fully support. The unofficial task, however, has my greatest disapproval. It is not acceptable to have a unit with the purpose to control the minds and thoughts of high-ranking officials, especially senators. Training agents to turn senators into puppets is nothing but planning a coup d'etat. I do not want to be a part of this. I simply cannot contribute to bringing down the Senate my forefather founded."

No, you would not want that, she thought. You already control the Senate quite adequately; you and your fellow Founding Houses. She let a trace of condescension creep into her voice. “I am pleased to hear that you have no wish to overthrow the Senate,” she said. “I am sure all Romulans will sleep more soundly tonight.”

When you are Patrician you should be less cynical, Telhas thought. "Whatever you say, General," he replied emotionless.

“That, at least, is one thing we have in common,” she said, as if he had not spoken. “Perhaps it would interest you to know, then, that the Mind Wars program has been fully investigated. Yes, there were those who advocated control of influential senators. You overestimate the capability of the program though. Rumours that such was its intent were deliberately leaked by elements trying to destabilise Koval’s leadership of the Tal Shiar. Some of them even went so far as to resign their positions in order to hide their complicity in the plot.”

"Still, as Koval was a Federation agent, as had been found out later, the threat was real," Telhas interrupted, "And I would not put away the capabilities of Mind War. I never tested my full potential on a possible target, but I would not say for sure that I could not change someone's thoughts and believes. Or that maybe someone equally gifted could do."

“I will grant you this, S’Terion, you are an unusually gifted telepath. Few equal your capabilities. The Tal Shiar has conducted extensive programs – both overt and covert – to identify and recruit telepaths capable of the sort of mind control you allude to. So far, their ranks are extremely thin.” She paused. “If you would care to rejoin the Tal Shiar in order to train such few as have joined our ranks then I would be more inclined to view your other proposals favourably.”

Telhas grinned. "You know that I would have to leave the Senate in this case, something I will not do." He paused for a second before he continued. "However, what we could do is the following. You tell the Senate about Mind War and that it is best to have some Senatorial supervision about this to prevent abuse. Then you will suggest that I am designated as Senatorial observer and advisor to Mind War. Plus you suggest that I get a seat in the Intelligence Committee of the Senate. With my reputation of being critical towards the Tal Shiar, this should not be much of a problem."

"Of course, my wedding to Nevala T'Daran should be some days later then, or at least not before the Senate meeting," Telhas mused, "But I leave that to you. I will also leave it to you to tell the Senate about my telepathic training. I kept that secret as I gave my word to Mind War's commanding officer."

“Now…. I have a request of you.” The tone of T’Daran’s voice suggested that request was a politeness, not an accurate terminology. “The captain of the Ch'Areinnye station – what the Federation refers to as Deep Space 14 has been arraigned by his own government on charges of aiding and abetting a Klingon fugitive, firing on a D’deridex battle cruiser and piracy. You are the ambassador on a Federation base, what do you know of these matters?”

This was a lot of information in a single sentence. And it caught Telhas unexpected, as he had lacked most of the information. He managed to show no reaction at all. "Honestly spoken, I cannot tell you much. Ch'Areinnye is almost the opposite part of our border with the Federation. My responsibility as ambassador is this station here, the surrounding sector and the tensions with the Cardassians in this area. What I know is that General M'ret has been sent there as ambassador to investigate. I also know that there has been some fugitive involved and resistance against Romulan law enforcement. Unfortunately, I am lacking detailed knowledge. However, I can see what information I can obtain. As you told me it will take you a maximum of one day to get approval of my wedding plans from Nevala's father, I suggest we talk again tomorrow and I will share whatever intelligence I get about Federation investigations on Ch'Areinnye until then."

“That seems like a reasonable suggestion. Until tomorrow then.”

"Until tomorrow. Jolan true, General."

 

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