Interlude: Flashback Three
Stardate 51698 (Earth Year 2374)
“I strongly advise you to reconsider, Senator.”
Commander Suran caught up to Senator Vreenak in the landing bay of the senator’s personal shuttle. Vreenak was traveling to the Dominion outpost on Soukara for a diplomatic meeting. Suran’s biggest concern was that Vreenak planned on taking just the shuttle with no military escort. Suran had known from experience how stubborn Vreenak was. Despite the non-aggression pact, Suran did not trust the Dominion no matter how much it honored the agreement.
“I have made up my mind, Commander,” Vreenak calmly answered. “This meeting is to discuss the possibility of an alliance after the war. We have to show our good faith.”
“Not even a squadron of cloaked warbirds outside the system?” Suran insisted.
“No. The asteroid belt has a web of tachyon scanners and gravitic sensor nets. They suspect anything…”
Suran raised a hand to concede the senator’s argument. “Fine,” he said with a sigh. “May you have a safe trip. Jolan tru, Senator.”
“Jolan tru, Commander.”
The senator and the commander shook hands. Vreenak then made a quick jaunt over to the main entrance of the shuttle. Once Vreenak was inside, Suran motioned a fellow commander towards him with his right forefinger. “I want you to tail his shuttle,” he whispered. “Tune your cloak to this frequency. I have a feeling this will end badly.”
Suran handed a data padd over to the subordinate commander. The younger officer accepted the padd, placing it in his right equipment holster. “Yes, sir,” he said, placing his right fist on his left shoulder in the traditional Romulan military salute.
From the edge of his peripheral vision, Suran could see Tirak saunter towards the shuttle. He got a better look at Vreenak’s chief-of-staff once the junior commander walked away. The presence of Tirak somehow confirmed Suran’s hunch that Vreenak’s mission would have a disastrous outcome.
Senator Vreenak had made an off-the-record detour to Deep Space Nine during his return trip from Soukara. The meetings with Weyoun had gone well, although he found the Vorta’s disingenuous charm rather annoying. The groundwork had been laid for a possible post-war alliance. The initial treaty was just a compromise with the rest of the Senate. Vreenak was still hoping for much more.
Whether such an alliance would become a reality depended greatly on the veracity of Starfleet Captain Benjamin Sisko’s claims. Vreenak never trusted the Federation, but this “incriminating intelligence” was too important to ignore. To preface his presentation of evidence that the Dominion was planning an attack on the Romulan Empire, Sisko invited Vreenak to the wardroom to discuss the state of the war. While he was comparing replicated kali-fal to the real thing, the senator gave his perspective on the harsh realities of a war he felt the Federation would eventually lose.
“Dogged determination isn't enough to change the reality of your situation,” Vreenak tersely station. “Time is definitely not on your side. The Dominion shipyards are working at one hundred percent capacity. Yours are still being rebuilt. The Dominion is breeding legions of Jem'Hadar soldiers every day. You're experiencing a manpower shortage. But most important, the Dominion is resolved to win the war at any cost. You and I both know the Federation has already put out peace feelers. Now, in all candor, if you were in my position, which side would you choose?”
“I'd pick the side most likely to leave us in peace when the dust settles,” Sisko grimly replied. “Maybe you're right. Maybe the Dominion will win in the end. Then the Founders will control what we now call Cardassia, the Klingon Empire and the Federation. So, instead of facing three separate opponents with three separate agendas, you'll find yourselves facing the same opponent on every side. There's a word for that. Surrounded.”
Vreenak inhaled the scent his alcoholic beverage gave off. “It really is a good replica,” he remarked. “The aroma's starting to grow on me. For a moment there I almost forgot that it wasn't the real thing, but only for a moment. You make some very good points, Captain, but it's still all speculation and theory. Nothing that would warrant abrogating our treaty and plunging the Empire into war.”
What if I told you that the Dominion is planning a sneak attack on the Romulan Empire at this very moment?
“I’d want proof”
Elim Garak had been assisting Sisko in this effort to persuade the Romulan Star Empire to join the Federation Alliance in the war effort. The lone Cardassian residing on the station had procured a genuine Cardassian data rod and an individual who could create a fraudulent holographic recording of a planned Dominion attack on Romulus. Sisko would present the “evidence” to Vreenak, while Garak snuck aboard the shuttle to learn any secrets about the Dominion Vreenak had picked up at Soukara. Or so that was what Sisko had believed.
Garak materialized in the cockpit of Vreenak’s shuttle. It was a fairly standard layout--two forward piloting consoles, one center seat, and a number of secondary stations. Two of the guards were in the landing bay while the other two stood watch outside the wardroom. Garak slipped in unnoticed, and sat down at the port pilot station to access ship’s database. He used that innocuous computer entry to sneak into a decryption of the propulsion systems.
Garak entered a command to gradually increase the gravitational output of the warp drive’s artificial quantum singularity in small increments. Eventually, this programmed malfunction would cause the shuttle to collapse in on itself. This is too easy, Garak was beginning to think.
Upon ascending from the pilot chair, Garak came face-to-face with a Romulan civilian with graying hair. He must have been Tirak, the senator’s chief-of-staff. He gave Garak a conspiratorial stare. Garak did not even hear the man enter; leaving him to wonder how long Tirak had been spying on him. “Have we met before?” the Cardassian jovially asked, hoping to ignore the reality that he had been busted.
“You were a gardener,” Tirak answered, looking as if he was trying to remember a vaguely familiar face, “at the Cardassian Embassy on Romulus years back.”
“You don’t say,” Garak retorted. “Perhaps we have met.”
“And now here you are on Deep Space Nine as a… tailor.”
Definitely busted. “A tailor who seems to have gotten lost,” Garak replied heading for the exit. But Tirak stood in his way.
“You didn’t do a good job covering your tracks,” the Romulan hissed.
“Excuse me?” Garak asked, still sounded jovial in order to hide his apprehension at being caught. During a lengthy staredown, Garak began to wonder why Tirak didn’t just shoot him already.
“You and I have one thing in common,” Tirak said, with a wry smile. “Our dislike for the Dominion. Don’t worry, Mister Garak. I’ve got you covered. Vreenak has a misguided ambition. The only way to way to be rid of him is to create an unfortunate accident.”
Tirak then stepped aside, allowing Garak to leave. As he slowly sauntered out of the cockpit, Garak still could not help but question Tirak’s sincerity. And would Garak tell Sisko about this? The captain would probably feel obligated to prevent the “accidental” destruction of Vreenak’s ship. Garak decided to keep quiet, knowing he would need a Plan B if the recording that implicated the Dominion failed inspection. And if Tirak planned on ratting him out to Vreenak, then certainly a Plan C.
Garak knew he could not trust the senator's chief-of-staff to do as he claimed. Upon returning to his tailor shop on the Promenade, he used one of his isolinear rods in storage to hack into the station's surveillance system. An image of the Romulan shuttle's cockpit appeared on a screen on his main work desk. Two other readout screens indicated the engineering section and the aft cargo hold. At least, having sneaked aboard the shuttle did pay off.
Using a second isolinear rod, the one he had used to transport aboard the shuttle, Garak entered a set of commands to transport an explosive into the ship's engineering section. Once it materialized in the engine room, a holographic image appeared around it blending in with the nearby control stations. It was no ordinary explosive. It was similar to an explosive used by the Obsidian Order that could be prematurely set off by attempts to disarm it.
Vreenak held the data rod containing the forged recording vertically between his thumb and forefinger while seated in the command chair of his shuttle’s cockpit. That Starfleet had gotten its hands on something saying exactly what it wanted to hear in order to bring the Romulans into the war seemed rather convenient. Who was to say Starfleet hadn’t altered the recording for its own benefit. He knew the Federation was desperate but not that desperate. He contemplated whether he really would expose this “vile deception” to the entire Alpha Quadrant. His dissenters in the Senate would probably say it was an effort on his part to make his case for a cooperative alliance with the Dominion more convincing. Maybe he would hold onto the recording and use it to blackmail the Federation should the Alliance somehow win the war, yet still be left extremely vulnerable.
He was roused from his trance by the sound of an alarm on the main piloting console. Vreenak placed the rod in a wooden container and slipped it into a small storage compartment in the chair. “What’s that?” he asked the guard at the port station.
“An increase in the gravitational output of the warp drive,” the pilot replied.
“What’s causing it?”
“Unknown. We ran complete diagnostics before we left Deep Space Nine. I’ll try to isolate the problem.” The pilot entered commands into his console, but that did not produce the desired result. He sighed in frustration.
“What’s the problem?” Vreenak apprehensively demanded.
“Control circuits are fused. I’ll have to go down and do it manually.”
Tirak was observing the latest development from outside the port egress, making sure not to catch the attention of the guard standing watch on the other side of the entrance. Upon seeing the pilot at the port station head for the port exit, Tirak stepped aside. He knew he could not reach the adjoining corridors in either direction without being seen, so he needed some other method of escape. His body transformed into a shiny, gold-colored gelatinous material and blended in with the medium gray carpet.
Meanwhile, Vreenak looked over at the pilot at the starboard console. “Just as a precaution,” he instructed, “slow us to half impulse.”
The remaining pilot attempted to comply, but he was getting no results. “Controls are frozen,” he gasped in frustration.
Vreenak looked around the room wondering what would become of his ship and whether his impeding demise was only a matter of minutes. Was this Sisko’s Plan B? he wondered. The Federation did not resort to political assassinations, but that was most likely during peacetime.
Tirak was standing at the engineering controls hoping to make sure the ship’s destruction was carried out when the primary pilot arrived. “You shouldn’t be here, sir,” he told the civilian.
Tirak turned around and shot the Tal Shiar officer with a projectile disruptor, quickly sending him to the deck. Tirak then turned back to the console. A readout screen indicated a core implosion in thirty seconds. This was the Changeling’s plan all along while he was in the guise of a Romulan. He had hoped to plunge the Romulan people into a devastating war as retaliation for the Tal Shiar’s role in the failed attack on his homeworld. His calls for more direct action during the Founders’ infiltration of the Federation and other Alpha Quadrant powers had too often fallen on deaf ears. He had then set out on his own to manipulate key government officials. True, the Federation and the Klingon Empire would have a better chance of winning the war with the Romulans on their side. But whatever the outcome, all three of those powers would not be in much of a position to threaten the Great Link and a great number of Romulan and Cardassian deaths would still result.
As time was running out, the Changeling-Romulan morphed through the ventilation system from which he previously entered the engine room. He quickly made his way through the fuel exhaust system to the outside of the ship. Morphing into a slug-like space-borne lifeform, the Changeling sped away as the Romulan shuttle collapsed in on itself.
“Forensic scans of the debris revealed no sign of the senator’s remains.”
Suran testified before the Senate revealing his findings regarding the sudden mysterious destruction of Vreenak’s shuttle. Senators Irrawik and Cretak seemed the most intrigued by this bit information the commander revealed. They were the most vocal opponents of the non-aggression treaty with the Dominion. Now the biggest supporter of such an arrangement was killed while returning from a diplomatic meeting with the Dominion. “Are you suggesting Vreenak was a Changeling?!” Cretak interjected.
“We can’t say for certain,” Suran replied, his voice echoing throughout the large and spacious chamber. The slight time-delay generated by the Senate session’s transmission on the planetary communication network also created an echo in the chamber most noticeable to the junior senators in the back of the room. “All we do know is that the senator’s shuttle was destroyed during a return trip from Soukara as the result of an increase in the warp core’s gravitational output well beyond safety limits.”
“This was information obtained from warbirds you dispatched against the senator’s orders,” Neral chimed in.
“Nevertheless,” Suran tersely replied, hiding his annoyance that the proconsul should reference a minor act of insubordination, “the information obtained in the wreckage is quite galling.”
Once Suran entered a command on a data padd, a three-dimensional holographic display filled the area between him and the proconsul. The display was of a Cardassian meeting room occupied by a Vorta, along with several Cardassians and Jem’Hadar. Suran was not sure he believed the contents of the recording when he first played it, especially since he recognized the Vorta as Weyoun, the Dominion representative Vreenak had met with. Vorta, of course, were notorious for their guile and treachery even towards the Jem’Hadar they commanded.
“And with the Cardassian Fourth Order protecting their flank,” Weyoun proclaimed in the recording, “the Twenty-third Jem'Hadar division will begin its thrust across the Glintara Sector. They should begin the invasion of Romulus itself on the following day. Once we've taken the homeworld, organized resistance will crumble when outlying systems and colonies begin looking out for themselves. Consolidation of the entire Empire will take three months at most.”
All the senators and the proconsul gazed and in awe as Weyoun presented a plan of attack against their homeworld. Suran had a good idea what Irrawik and Cretak were discussing between themselves. To those two, Vreenak’s assassination at the hands of the Dominion seemed a fitting end for with an unquenchable thirst for power and fame. To Suran, a lot of things still didn’t add up. How did Vreenak get his hands on such an incriminating recording? And according to the warbird commanders, Vreenak had gone off sensors for a single Earth solar day. Maybe it had something to do with Tirak, the man who had aroused Suran’s suspicions from the day he became Vreenak’s chief-of-staff.
At the next day’s Senate session, an overwhelming majority had voted in favor of declaring war on the Dominion. The dissenters had cited the convenience of various events from a faulty data recording thoroughly detailing plans for an invasion to the Federation’s desperation for a new ally to turn the tables in the war. But with Vreenak now out of the picture, their arguments did not carry much weight. Those in favor of war argued that they could not take the risk dismissing such evidence no matter how faulty the recording.