"Entering high orbit, Sir," Phil said from the helm. "Starfleet One has dropped to impulse with us."
"One half impulse, Phil," Tigranian said. "Give the rest of traffic around the planet a wide berth."
"The Federation starship, Lakota, is already in orbit, Sir," Laria said from Science.
"That's the ship that carried Admiral Paris and Admiral Murphy to the conference?" Annabeth asked.
"Yup," Tigranian said nodding his head. "They should already be on the surface ready to receive the President." He turned to look over his shoulder. "Who else has arrived, L?"
"The Negh'var class Klingon Attack Cruiser, IKS Sword of Kahless," she said examining her instruments.
"Martok's flagship…" Annabeth muttered.
"As well as the Romulan warbirds, Patria and Gemalas," Laria added nervously.
Annabeth and Tigranian both drew in air sharply.
"Looks like everyone came to this party," Annabeth said.
"We knew that this would be a little awkward, Number One," Tigranian mused. "Alright everyone, let's get the President to his transporter insertion point. Katie?"
"Four minutes till we're within range of the Embassy, Sir."
"Put Starfleet One on hailing frequency."
"Starfleet One, this is USS Pershing."
"Starfleet One, here."
"Please let the President know that we'll be in range of the Embassy in less than four minutes. It was an honor to escort him to the summit."
"Captain Tigranian," another voice came through the comm system. It immediately caused the captain to jump to his feet as he recognized the sound of the President himself. "It was an honor to be escorted by you. Please tell your crew that I have never felt safer than when I was next to your vessel."
"Thank you, Sir," Tigranian said humbly.
"I also hope that your senior staff will join us on the surface for the signing. I cannot imagine more appropriate witnesses as the Pershing has done so much to bring about these events."
Annabeth and Tigranian exchanged worried glances.
"Mr. President," Tigranian replied. "I am honored by your invitation, but do think it wise for us to attend? The Romulans will be present…"
"Captain Tigranian," President Zife interjected. "The Romulans will always be present in some form or fashion. I want you and your there. Am I understood?"
"Yes Sir." Tigranian obediently replied. The rest of the bridge crew raised their eyebrows in surprise. They never expected the President to be so keen on showing a strong face to the Star Empire.
"Good, then I shall expect to greet you in person tomorrow."
"Looking forward to it, Sir." Tigranian said.
"Captain, we are in transporter range of the Embassy," Katie said from behind him.
"Sir, you are safe to beam down to your accommodations on the surface," Tigranian replied. "We will remain in orbit in case you require any additional assistance.
"Thank you, Pershing. President Zife out."
"Channel closed, Sir," Katie said.
"Ok then…" Tigranian said taking a seat in his chair.
"Is Torlek down there?" Annabeth asked.
"No," Tigranian said shaking his head. "He's still on Ty'Gokor preparing for his inauguration as Governor. Chancellor Martok is heading there immediately following the signing."
"And you're not going to be there for your brother's big day?" Annabeth said shocked.
"I've been away from this ship too much in my command, Annabeth. I need to spend a little time on my own bridge. Torlek understands."
"Well, considering the circumstances, I'm glad you're going to be in that chair right next to me," Annabeth reassured him. "Cardassia is entering a brand new period in its history apparently we'll be there to see it."
"Thank you, Number One," Tigranian said genuinely moved. He looked back at Laria who also nodded her ascent.
"Alright, everyone, we have an order from our President," Tigranian said rising again. "Let's get the dress uniforms out and show everyone that the entire crew of the Pershing is here to stay."
Laria stood over an ironing board in the captain's quarters pressing her white jacket. Tigranian sat at the dining room table with a jar of brass polish and a rag ensuring his insignia were up to the highest inspection standard.
"You know, you think we all the amazing technology we have, we wouldn't have to do this stuff anymore," Laria said as her earring chain bounced next to her head with the movement of the iron.
"Technology would certainly make it easier," he replied picking up a small ruler and his rank pips. "But in the end, what they care about is that we have the discipline to do it by hand." He carefully measured the collar of his white undershirt and affixed the four pips in exactly the right spots. Next, he affixed his Christopher Pike Medal to his jacket's right breast, measuring it precisely from the lapel line to its spot.
As he took a smaller polishing cloth to the brass buttons, Laria paused in her work.
"You seemed pretty concerned about being at the ceremony with the Romulans, Daniel."
He stopped polishing and flashed his wife a glance.
"I would think you'd understand why."
She placed the iron on its end and glared straight back at him.
"The Romulans cannot acknowledge anything about your captivity in public. If anything, I think it's harder on them then on you."
"Honestly, L, I don't give a damn if they welcome me with flowers and champagne. That's not why I'm nervous," he said trying to focus back on his work. Laria carefully picked her jacket up from the ironing board and put it on a hangar.
"So you're afraid of what your reaction will be then?"
He silently raised his right index finger and tapped the tip of his nose. She walked over and wrapped her arms around his shoulder.
"I'll be right next to you the whole time, both as a loyal member of your crew and your wife. If you need me to get you out there without anyone noticing, I'll be like a ghost."
"I appreciate that , Laria, I really do. However, I can't run for the rest of my life. I guess Starfleet wants to test my professional resolve a little earlier than I expected."
She kissed his neck before crossing over to the bed and taking a seat.
"You know, I don't remember you being this concerned after my captivity with the Romulans last year, Daniel."
"Do I detect a hint of insult in that voice, Babe?" He said not taking his eyes from his jacket as he attached his polished comm badge.
"No, call it curiosity."
"That's an easy one. I know you're stronger than I am," he said without missing a beat. Laria was surprised.
"Really? After everything you've been through in your life, you thought a little girl from Gault was stronger than you?"
Tigranian scoffed and turned to face her.
"Laria, I knew the moment I met you that you were a lot more than a little girl from Gault." He stood up, walked over to her, and wiped a strand of hair from her face. "It's why I fell in love you, and you haven't proven me wrong yet."
He walked back over to his handiwork and slipped the jacket over his shoulders.
"What do you think?" he said holding his arms out. Laria walked over and pulled his sleeves tight at his sides.
"You look like the bravest, most capable captain in Starfleet…"
"I know about half a dozen people who would really disagree with you," he said with a grin.
"Well, you haven't proven me wrong yet, Daniel. We just need to figure out how to make you feel what everyone else sees."
"C'mon," she continued with a nod of her head. "We have to be at the transporter room in an hour and I still have to fix my uniform."
"It should easy considering you don't have that much on it," he quipped.
"Oh, I will not forget that," she said furrowing her brow despite the smile on her face, "especially the next time you sneak off to the cargo bay to chew that filthy yIvjebol with Annabeth."
"How the hell do you know about that?" he asked in shock.
"I'm the science officer on this ship, Daniel. Not a single thing happens between the two warp nacelles of the Pershing that I don't know about," she said walking to the bathroom for a hairbrush.
"Roger that," he muttered with a nervous exhale.
The senior staff of the Pershing materialized outside the main chamber of the Detapa Council in the Cardassian Capitol Building. Admiral Paris and Admiral Murphy, also in their dress uniforms, were there to meet them.
"Dan!" Murphy said running up them. "It's good to see you," he said extending a hand to the captain.
"Likewise, Pete," Tigranian said.
"Though somewhat unexpected," Admiral Paris interjected. "Captain Tigranian, Captain Geist," he said meeting their eyes with his own gaze. "It's good to see all of you," he said turning to the rest of the crew.
"I wish I could agree!" another shrill voice sounded from behind them.
"Ambassador Jenkins," Paris said giving the man a political nod. He was dressed in a very well-tailored Italian suit with a Tholian silk tie. Tigranian would usually say that such a man looked entirely out of place on the frontiers of freedom, but in this case, the earth toned halls of Cardassia's capital city were exactly where this man belonged.
"Ambassador," Tigranian said joining in the polite niceties.
"It is very rare that I disagree with the President, Captain Tigranian," Jenkins said wiping away a bead of sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief, "but the culminating diplomatic efforts of two years come down to this ceremony. My staff and I have worked tirelessly to ensure that every detail would be perfect, and quite frankly, I cannot think of a larger complication than having this crew here. Starfleet's "gung-ho" militarism has done nothing but delay our penultimate goal of a lasting Cardassian Constitution. Not to mention your bad habits of making excursions to the Romulan Empire that we have to bail you out of." Tigranian balled his fists, but Laria held him back. "If the Romulans choose not to ratify the document today…"
An unlikely ally rallied to Tigranian's defense.
"That is enough, Ambassador!" Paris said with a dangerously low shout. "I understand how hard the Diplomatic Corps has worked for today, but I will not have you attack the integrity of a group of officers such as this in front of me. They have done nothing but put their lives and safety at risk to keep the Occupied Zones from tearing themselves apart. I would also like to remind you that their excursions to Romulan Space were not exactly unprovoked…"
"Don't try to intimidate me, Admiral," Jenkins said. "I answer directly to the Federation Secretary of State, not the military. Any international facility, to include the Embassy and this building, are under my jurisdiction."
"But the Starfleet Personnel who provide your security are under MY jurisdiction," Murphy said stepping forward. "If you want to keep sleeping soundly in your bed at night, I suggest you show a greater spirit of cooperation, Ambassador."
"Security? Starfleet wouldn't need to provide security on Cardassia if there weren't so many damned foreign troops everywhere. The Cardassian people want peace. Now it is up to us to give it them. The Romulans and the Klingons will pull out by the end of next year, then there won't be a need for a single Federation Occupation Trooper anywhere in Cardassian Space."
"Wow," Scharr said loudly rolling his eyes. "Diplomats think the galaxy works like that? They really are morons."
"Commander Scharr!" Paris said to shut him up, but the Andorian had made his point.
"In any case," Jenkins continued undeterred, "At least the Praetor isn't here."
"Who is representing the Romulan delegation?" Annabeth asked.
"Proconsul Vrnealious." Another embassy staffer ran up and whispered something into Jenkins' ear. "It's time to take our places inside the chamber. The Detapa Council is being seated as we speak. Admiral Murphy, Admiral Paris, and I will seat directly behind the President. Eralline here will escort Captain Tigranian and his crew to the visitor's gallery at the back of the room."
"Have fun, Everyone," Murphy said giving Tigranian a final pat on his arm.
"We'll link up after the signing," Paris said. "I will send my aide to find you before you beam back to orbit. I'm sure the President would like to speak to us all together."
"Yes Sir," the crew said in unison as Paris, Murphy, and the Ambassador disappeared through a pair of large wooden doors flanked by two Cardassian honor guards.
"Please come with me," the embassy staffer said curtly. Katie finally spoke.
"You would think that the Federation Diplomatic Corps would be more…"
"Diplomatic?" Phil said finishing her thought and eliciting a laugh from the others.
"Don't take it personally, Katie," Annabeth said. "They just see the galaxy very differently than we do."
"Funny," Alex said shaking her head as they began to walk towards their seats. "Starfleet was founded for peaceful exploration and diplomacy. Did the war really make us that cynical?"
"Yes," everyone else answered in unison.
The interior of the Detapa Council Chambers had been completely restored since the end of the war. The high domed ceilings were made of tan and orange stones arranged in bold geometric patterns. The furnishings were dark leather and brightly polished wood. As with every Cardassian building, it was hot, humid, and uncomfortable for every other species.
The two-hundred council members sat in vaulted seats staring across a tall railing at the main podium centered against the back wall. A massive Cardassian crest behind the podium gave it the impression of being the exact center of the entire nation. A wooden table to the left of the podium was already laid out with four copies of a thick paper document: the new Cardassian Constitution. One copy would be archived here while the other three would go to Earth, Qo'noS, and Romulus. The approval of this document would be the last step for Cardassia to regain full sovereignty and dissolve the Occupation Authority. From this day forward, foreign forces on Cardassian soil would be there as guests.
Tigranian and his crew rose to their feet with the rest of the chamber as President Zife, Chancellor Martok, and Proconsul Vrnealious entered from an antechamber next to the podium. Each took a seat at the signing table with their various entourages sitting down behind them. Prime Minister Garak entered from another antechamber and walked straight to the podium.
"I wonder if Vrnealious was in the room when it happened," Tigranian couldn't help but whisper as he laid eyes on the proconsul.
"In the room for what, Dan?" Annabeth asked.
"When Neral was told that Selonia was a headless corpse…" he answered through gritted teeth. Laria reached over and grabbed his hand. Garak beckoned the assembly to take their seats and the room dropped in unison.
"President Zife, Chancellor Martok, Proconsul Vrnealious, Ladies and Gentlemen of the Detapa Council, esteemed guests of the Cardassia," Prime Minister Garak's voice echoed off the stone walls of the chamber. "Today is a monumental one in the history of the Cardassian People. Today, we ratify a new and democratic constitution that will cement civilian, democratic rule and bring Cardassia to equal footing with its allies across the Alpha Quadrant. More importantly, it has been ratified by all the members of the Provisional Occupation Authority meaning that Cardassia will once again be a fully independent and equal partner among its galactic neighbors in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Bajor.
The Cardassia I was born on was extremely different than our world today," Garak continued. "It was an empire founded on suspicion and guarded by treachery. The Military and the Obsidian Order engaged in a never-ending struggle for power that left millions dead and the central government vulnerable to enemy forces both from outside and within.
As a member of the Obsidian Order myself, I thought I was the most ardent patriot. Operations I was involved in caused the deaths of thousands: Cardassian and Foreigner alike. The entire time, I thought I was making our homeworld stronger. However, it was not until my exile to Bajor that I realized how deeply damaged our once great society had become and how I was contributing to its decay from within.
In my lifetime alone, Cardassia suffered war with the Federation, Bajor, the Klingons, and the Dominion. Billions of brilliant young men and women are lost to us forever because we consistently placed our own lust for power in front of our care for each other…"
"You know," Alex whispered leaning over to Tigranian and Annabeth. "I can't tell if he's being sincere or not."
"Once a spy and now a politician, Alex," Tigranian replied "You'll never know."
"…But now, with the help of our new allies," Garak said making grand gestures with his hands from the podium, "Cardassia will work forward to a brighter tomorrow. A future where Cardassian children born today will never know the suffering of war, the pain of loss, or the pangs of hunger!"
The chamber burst into massive applause.
'It is now my greatest honor, to be the first to place my signature on our newest charter of liberty and proclaim the birth of the Republic of Cardassia."
Attendants from each of the delegations stood up and prepped their respective copies of the Cardassian Constitution. Garak's assistant presented him with a pen and he walked down the table signing all four documents. The chamber rose to its feet and cheered. Garak waved and motioned next for President Zife to move to the podium.
"The United Federation of Planets proudly declares its support for the new Cardassia by ratifying this constitution and recognizing the Republic of Cardassia in the spirit of friendship and intergalactic brotherhood!"
The chamber applauded again as President Zife moved down the line adding his signature to the stacks of paper. Chancellor Martok rose next.
"The Klingon Empire," his voice boomed through the hall, "formally announces its ratification of the Cardassian Constitution. May Honor and Glory find the people of this new nation."
An attendant presented Martok with the Chancellor's seal and a pot of boiling wax. He removed his dk'tagh, sliced open his finger and let several drops of blood fall into the targ tallow. He then placed his signature on each copy and affixed the symbol of the Empire next to it. The crowd's applause was tempered by the shock of seeing the blood of the Chancellor adorning their new charter, but they were satisfied none the less.
Finally, it was Proconsul Vrnealious' turn to mount the podium. He gazed out at the crowd with a smile. His eyes scanned the room until he finally caught a glimpse of the Pershing's crew. His head stopped and his grin grew wider.
Tigranian's heart dropped.
"Oh no," the captain muttered loud enough for the rest of his party to hear.
"Ladies and Gentlemen of the Detapa Council, Prime Minister Garak, esteemed colleagues and guests, the Romulan Star Empire must withdraw its ratification of the Constitution of Cardassia."
An audible gasp shot through the room. Prime Minister Garak immediately jumped to his feet and pointed an accusatory finger at the proconsul.
"This is an outrage!" Garak screamed. "The Romulan Empire has already ratified it. This ceremony is a formality!"
"I am sorry that you consider it a formality, Prime Minister, but I received word from the praetor a few minutes before the ceremony that the Senate has withdrawn its support. Our intelligence services have discovered links between activity in Cardassian Space and the recent outbreak of terrorism that is occurring within our borders. We feel that this proposed system of government is incapable of securing its borders or stemming the violence.
"Why would we support violence against Romulus?" a member of the Detapa Council shouted from the front row. "You helped us defeat the Dominion and win our freedom!"
"Regardless," Vrnealious said raising his voice over the increasing din of the crowd, "even IF there is no formal support from the government, your Provisional Authority has not been able to stop groups from using your space to harbor dangerous fugitives and criminal activity."
"Criminal activity that originated in your occupied territories!" Garak shouted back at Vrnealious. The Cardassian was so angry, the grey veins on his neck were bulging.
"Really, Prime Minister," Vrnealious said deviously. "Accusing the Romulan State of impropriety is insulting and wrong. Perhaps you should ask the Klingons and the Federation about their illicit support of your enemies? It is their ships who have committed more territorial violations than any other faction combined."
"The Constitution still stands!" a female Cardassian shouted from the chamber floor. "It is our country, not yours!"
"No," Vrnealious stated shaking his head. "The Treaty of Bajor is quite clear that it requires all parties to ratify it, or it is null and void. The Romulans refuse to withdraw forces from our Occupied Zone until greater peace and security is instated."
"THE KLINGON EMPIRE!" Martok's voice boomed loud enough to silence the entire chamber. He rose and walked straight at Vrnealious. The Romulan subtlety relinquished the podium to him. "…abides by all its obligations. Though you may not have the honor to stick to your agreements, we do! People of Cardassia," Martok said turning to the crowd, "I once rejoiced at your deaths, but now I rejoice in your future. We stand with you, against the Romulans if need be."
The crowd roared in triumphant applause. President Zife rose and stood beside Martok.
"The United Federation of Planets agrees. We do not withdraw our support of this democratic, legal charter of government."
"So, you both violate your treaty with us?" Vrnealious replied haughtily throwing his shoulders back. "The praetor was prepared for this terrible possibility. Be it known! That the Romulans withdraw all support for the legitimacy of the Garak government and we only recognize our occupied territory as the legal successor of the Cardassian Union.
Any attempt to force a reunion without our consent will be met with the strongest possible military response. It is our hope that one day Cardassia will be whole again, but not until this assembly realizes that it is slaves of the Federation and Klingons!"
With one final glance towards the Pershing's crew, Vrnealious and the other Romulans stormed out of the council chamber leaving chaos in their wake. Tigranian collapsed back down in his chair, unable to move.