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Argolis Cluster
Planet Nisiam
Northern Continent, Eastern Range
Temperate Forest Grotto
Elevated Rock Formation

Gul Nekrit couldn’t hold her victorious smile inside any longer. Not only had things gone according to plan, the inevitable variables within that plan had gone miraculously right. Her scout had informed her that three shuttles had landed. The first contained two men, the Doctor being a part of the set and a tall human male. The description of the man piqued her interest. He was described as being very tall, thin, and clean-shaven, wearing a Starfleet uniform. The second and third shuttles had landed in the lower plains to avoid ambush. Two small teams of Starfleet personnel were beginning to make their way towards the forested area. Included in that team were a Human female, a Vulcan male, a Xindi Arboreal male, a yellow-tinted male that the scout had correctly assumed was the infamous android and two human males…one of whom seemed remarkably identical to the first man. He too had been clean-shaven but seemed to be heavier in stature.

“You see gentlemen…” she addressed her small team of security officers, “…see what happens when species join forces? They lose the inherent intelligence of the single focus. Cardassia had to lose hundreds of millions before they learned that lesson. We are now living proof that purity means success. These fools are walking right into the trap we have set for them.”

“It appears so Gul,” replied Glinn Kevet as he turned to look at the three others beside him, “...but I would still feel better if we had more assistance. I do not like the fact that we are still outnumbered.”

“I know Kevet.” Nekrit replied. “But I have faith in our ability to accomplish our task. Remember. I want the two tall ones brought to me unharmed. I need to assure I’m killing the right one.”

“Why not just kill both and be sure about it?”

Nekrit closed her eyes with an impatient shake of her head. “Kevet, you worry me sometimes. Do you not understand the ramifications of this mission? Killing any of them would give rise to a potential conflict with the UFP that we can ill-afford. Bringing home the most infamous terrorist against Cardassia without giving the UFP reason to retaliate would be a sign of victory for the military and garner the last remnants of support we need to win over the people. That is why you and your team were chosen. I need sharp-shooters to wound…not kill.”

Kevet nodded with comprehension. “I apologize Gul. I should never have questioned you.”

“No you shouldn’t have.” Nekrit bit back, “But I’ll let it slide…this once.”

“Thank you Gul.”

“Now go. Thin them out and make sure you bring me the two I asked for.”

“Yes Gul,” answered Kevet and he waved for his team to head back out of the grotto and into the forest.

Nekrit stretched her long, supple neck and took in a deep and cleansing breath. “Soon.” She whispered to herself. “Soon I can finish this.”

Neutral space outside Argolis Cluster
USS Enterprise – E

Picard watched Jellico with fascination. He had always heard about the unspoken language of the defense ship teams but thankfully hadn’t been placed in a situation to be required to understand it. Jellico’s words were simple enough, but it was the undetectable ballet of hand gestures, arm movements, head scratches and pacing that all meant something completely different from the words he was speaking to the two commanding officers on the viewscreen.

Jellico rubbed his eyes with what appeared to be complete frustration. His voice contained the anger that Picard knew he was actually feeling, but he also knew that the eye-rub meant something else to the men who were watching it. “Malek, Hunter we can do nothing more than sit here and hope that our teams come back safely. We can’t afford and open war with Cardassia at this time.” He moved his right hand to his forehead and rubbed his temple hard. “An impasse is the best we can do until they return.” He dropped his right hand and fidgeted with the bar on his left sleeve.

Malek sat back with obvious frustration and Jellico shot him a look. “Sorry Commander. I know you’d like nothing better than to head after them, but we’re evenly matched now.” Jellico dropped his right hand and lifted his left and fidgeted with the bar on his right sleeve.

“Understood Admiral,” Hunter addressed him, sitting back in his chair and licking his lips. “I suppose we really have no choice.”

Malek appeared angry and Picard could understand. He was just told that he would not be the one to enter the Argolis cluster. Malek wanted to be the one to go after his captain, but Jellico wanted Hunter to be the one as he had more experience with gravimetric shear than Malek had. He also felt Malek’s strength came in direct battle, something that Jellico was no longer sure they would be avoiding. Jellico cleared his throat and Malek’s antennae shot forward. “Are we clear?”

Malek pursed his lips in resignation. “Yes Admiral.”

The screen went dark and Jellico turned to Picard. “Well Captain.”

Picard shook his head with a broken smile. “And you’re sure the Cardassians have no idea what you’re doing?”

“I don’t like doing it very much,” he conceded, “But they’re an extraordinarily conceited species in a lot of ways Captain. Most of them see us as nothing more than animals, with no subtlety. I doubt that Cacet would look to the scratch of a nose as anything more than what it appeared to be.”

“When will Hunter move for the Cluster?”

“Fifteen minutes.”

“Malek was unhappy.”

Jellico smiled. “I would be too if I were in his shoes. An XO’s first duty is the safety of the Captain. His just took off without him.”

Picard sighed softly and sat back in his command chair. “Mister Worf. Is everything set?”

“Yes Captain,” responded Worf from his station.

“Good,” said Jellico as he sat in Riker’s chair. “Now? We just need to have one of their ships follow Hunter.”

“How are you so sure Cacet won’t just take the one ship advantage against us?” Picard asked.

Jellico scowled. “I’m not. I’m just betting that Cacet’s duty to whoever is in that cluster is higher than it is to starting a war that frankly, the UFP can tolerate more than them. Even if it’s three ships against two – they’ll still have to fire the first shot.”

Picard nodded. “And you don’t believe he will.”

“Not over a so-called terrorist they don’t yet have in custody.”

“I hope your right Admiral.” Picard said supportively.

Jellico nodded softly. “So do I Captain.”

Argolis Cluster
Planet Nisiam
Northeastern forest

Thomas saw his opportunity directly ahead of him. A small outcropping of rock jutted out from the foliage and would given him the perfect way to turn and disarm Kaest. He kept his pace unchanged, not wanting to tip off his motive.

Kaest kept back a considerable distance his hand gripped his phase pistol so fiercely he could feel the pulsing of his own blood in his palm. Although Thomas was still thin from his experience in Tholian custody, there was no doubt he was still physically strong. Kaest could tell that he exercised regularly. While his extremities were not well-muscled, probably from a lack of weight to lift and appropriate nutrition to gain bulk, he was sinewy and flexible, and that was the type of strength of which he had to be especially wary.

They rounded a large tree-type trunk of a plant that bore no leaves, only large plate-like fans that curved around the upper-portions of the trunk. Riker’s head nearly missed hitting the lowest blade. As he ducked to miss it, Thomas moved with graceful speed running behind a large rock and swooping in behind it to knock at Kaest’s from his right side.

Kaest was only semi-prepared for the attack. Thomas’ block did nothing to disarm him, but the tightened grip on the pistol caused it to fire off and hit a tree in the distance.

Thomas growled in frustration that the noise had caused and tackled Kaest clear to the ground. Kaest fought back valiantly but Thomas wrenched the pistol from his hand, pressed Kaest’s head into the ground as he lifted himself upright, holding the pistol towards him. “Idiot.” Thomas replied. “Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to finish what we both started.”

Kaest backed away from him on the ground, “Kill me then, I cannot live without them.”

Thomas shook his head with disgust, lowering the phase pistol to a stun setting. “I’m not going to kill you, you pathetic fool. I just need you out of the way.”

“Lower your weapon.” A cold and stern voice called from behind Thomas. “There is no stun setting on these weapons.”

Thomas could clearly hear the charged and high pitched whine of a Cardassian disrupter rifle. The phaser shot had given away their position. He closed his eyes in defeat and dropped the phase pistol. He knew the team would not kill him until he was brought forward to her…

…and getting as close as possible to her was all he needed.

“Get up,” commanded the Cardassian guard to Kaest.

Kaest’s face paled as his did as he was told and the two men were led off towards the grotto.

USS Enterprise-E

Picard’s eyes locked onto Worf’s determined face, his hand ever-ready at the weapons grid. Worf nodded confidently. “Ready Captain.”

Picard watched the viewscreen with anticipation and felt somewhat relieved when the Jaguar set itself in motion. The ship fell away from its position in a gentle, curving fall then shot off into warp in the span of barely a breath.

Jaguar is away.” Worf confirmed. “And the Panther has moved to an assault position.”

Picard waited to hear what the Cardassians would do. Shields were raised and weapons were targeted as they had been since the red alert fired off.

“One of the ships is pursuing!” Worf grunted.

“Let them pass.” Picard ordered.

“We’re being hailed.”

Jellico smiled. “Onscreen.”

Cacet’s angered face appeared. “I thought we had an understanding Admiral.”

“Whatever could you mean Gul?”

“You would risk open war…”

“I’m doing no such thing.” Jellico interrupted lightly. “We haven’t fired a shot Gul. Our ship is merely entering the Cluster to take detailed scans of the area for…scientific research. If your ship fires one shot on that vessel…you’ll be the one risking open war.”

Cacet snarled and ended the transmission.

“Their weapons remain locked, but are not charging.” Worf reported.

Picard nodded with satisfaction. “Captain Hunter has his work cut out for him I’m afraid.”

“His ship could be torn apart before he finds them.” Worf confirmed.

“If the Cardassian ship doesn’t destroy them first,” said Jellico.

Picard grimaced. “However, that battle cruiser is more than twice the size of the Jaguar; they’ll be at a great disadvantage.”

“For once,” Jellico smirked.

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