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Chef's Special

Posted on Tue Oct 26th, 2021 @ 1:50am by Subcommander Kaiae t'Lien & Lieutenant Hatham tr'Krotash & Lieutenant T'Ango & Gunnar Arnason & Sublieutenant Renee Hernandez

7,057 words; about a 35 minute read

Mission: Chapter V: The Calm Before The Storm
Location: Kitchen, Ourainavassa

Holding the meeting in the kitchen, rather than any of the other available spaces like conference rooms, assuaged Kaiae's nerves only slightly; but probably as well as was possible at the moment; it would be one of the harder spaces for the Terrans to have compromised if they were attempting to, both by design and by personnel she doubted would be easy to slip past. Regardless, though, they were far past out of time, and becoming more so every moment; as she finished explaining the situation and it's acceleration to Renee and her allies, as it had been laid out to herself and Hatham before.

"We have a new source for travel permits, and for money as well if we need that." Kaiae paused, forcibly setting aside unbidden images of her own mother shaving minuscule amounts off the top of banking and finance transactions like a Ferengi.

She and Hatham had redoubled their earlier efforts the day before, after learning of their further shortened timeline, to remove as many people from the list needing transport as possible by other means; signing them on to mercenary vessels; mining ventures; and in one case even a traveling theater troupe predicted to be somewhere outside the projected area of devastation. Anyone they could find nearly any option for that gave them a way out that would not require neither transport and rescue directly, and that gave them legitimate travel papers that would reduce the number and timing of those she would need to have her mother's cousin forge: Once he started doing so, there would only be a limited number he could issue before he would come to notice of his superiors, or worse, the Tal'Shiar; they needed to maximize the chances he could issue all as required before his inevitable apprehension for such...And also that they moved quickly enough on the rest of the operation at that time such that they could have people in position before those papers became, with his arrest, as useless as the ones they had originally planned to use via Raven's Tal'Shiar cover.

That still left far too many people for Kaiae to feel anything even remotely approaching positive about their odds, however. "What we don't have is a ship capable of holding that many people at once while moving covertly around our space; and there will be no time now to make sequential efforts. One trip in. One trip out." Even then, it would take a rare alignment of the universe for success.

Kaiae flipped on a small projector, filling the air next to her with a display mapping the locations of the people in question, dots of varying colors and sizes depending on the number of people they needed to extract from each site at the planetary level; for the ones with multiple sites on that world, additional details hovered nearby on the number of different cities or villages involved. As displayed, it was roughly the exact opposite of "one trip in; one trip out", unless one intended to engage in a good deal of protracted and risky internal travel

"This means that, ship acquisition and personnel aside, we'll also need to engage in at least some degree of internal movement beforehand, to get people to a single rally point if possible, or a small discrete number of them, perhaps no more than three, if a single point proves impossible." Her face tightened further. "The situation is further complicated by a significant portion of our targets residing on the homeworld itself in various locations--" Kaiae's finger drew a ghostly circle around Romulus itself "--as despite that fact, of all possible rally points, it would likely prove nearly impossible to safely and successfully utilize as such." She frowned at the projected map, then gestured slightly at the rest of those assembled for their thoughts and reactions.

Renee joined them with some hot tea that she set in front of everyone, "Figured we can all use something to calm our nerves..." She looked at Kaiae's display, "We may need a bigger ship..."

"Or more ships." T'Ango said, exchanging a look with Gunnar, one of several that had passed between them as they had listened to Kaiae lay out the new situation. For two people so averse to telepathy, they nevertheless were almost reading each other's thoughts, albeit in the manner of long established couples who knew each other very, very well.

"The network needs to know about this development," he replied, voicing what was already understood by both. "It will make the task harder as everyone will be stepping up their efforts, but it might also afford some opportunities to fit an extra family, or even just an extra person, onto another transport. That could allay some of the issues with internal travel."

Hatham frowned at that, though the expression was partly turned inward. He hadn't considered that others planning extraction should be informed of the accelerated timeline, and was torn between the sense of acting dishonorably in that and the fear that multiple rescue runs converging in a short time would put the Tal'Shiar in high alert, compromising their own mission. "It will complicate everything else. Too many ships suddenly making trips to the homeworld will set off enhanced scrutiny."

"Yes." Kaiae didn't waver from her posture, but her open eyes seemed to stare out into nothing for a moment into the semi-transparent projection cloud, her mind debating some similar questions to Hatham, and coming up similarly as well with zero easy answers. "Meaning if at all possible, we need people to get out on ships already scheduled to make that run. If we can't find that....If we can't find that, then we'd need to risk directing something, at least for our piece of things." She set the larger issue of how widely to share the new timeline slightly to one side for a moment; but in the end, she suspected that decision would rest with her one way or another, and would need to be made before they left the room. Would rest on her honor and, in human terms, on her soul ; and could easily save hundreds more of their people...Or doom even those who might otherwise have escaped.

"For our group...One ship, no more; get close to Romulus, pick everyone up. Get out. A new vessel making that run would also potentially set off suspicion." She took a swig of tea, and eyed Hatham, considering some of what they'd discussed in prior planning sessions; how any pieces on the board might be adapted against the new obstacles. "Your old captain, Nveid. Does his ship ever make that trip, even infrequently?" Even as she said it, Kaiae hid a grimace--even if the answer was yes; if Nveid's ship had ever even been suspected of smuggling or the like in the past, it would undoubtedly be subject to addition scrutiny that could complicate trying to us it that way.

"Nveid has already agreed to take a few more on his 'recruiting visit', and to move it up to two weeks from now," Hatham replied, by way of saying the original arrangement had already been expanded as much as possible. He wouldn't press that further, especially as Nveid would be taking his youngest sister; she was more vintner's apprentice than ship crew but his father had trained her, so no one should find the hire amiss. Truthfully, Nveid had wanted the old weapons master, but Hatham's father refused to leave without the rest of the family. "As it is, he's going to have to fake battle damage to justify as many new crew as he's going to take on. The story will be an attack by Klingon raiders - they've gotten bolder in recent years so it shouldn't raise suspicion, and with any luck the report may send some additional Galae ships out toward the border colonies and out of the danger zone."

Kaiae accepted his response without further argument; it was honestly what she expected; only the sheer desperation of their situation had made her mention it at all; the knowledge that she would be unable to live with herself had she not at least raised the point, no matter how slim the odds it would have an impact.

T'Ango nodded understanding. "A good plan, and one I think we could expand on. One ship may seem ideal, but Picard wasn't wrong in likening his original plan to Dunkirk."

"Only in thinking Starfleet would be the way to execute it," Gunnar added, a note of bitterness in the former 'fleeter's voice. "The real Dunkirk was a civilian response though. Organized by the military, but that fleet of rescuers was comprised of civilian ships - it's how the network of smugglers we've worked with have seen themselves, and now may be the time to make it an operation more in keeping with that original inspiration."

Kaiae frowned openly, and pointed out the obvious. "The real Dunkirk had the approval of the government in question." It had been one of the few pleasant surprises of the war against the Dominion, to discover that their enemies-turned-allies liked to study and honor their history of epic efforts and battles of their ancestors, as well; one night in Quark's she had been treated to a discussion on such campaigns across the centuries by a group of human officers the next table over slowly drowning their stress and sorrows in Quark's overpriced pitchers of the watered-down drink humans appeared to call "beer". This operation however, in contrast to Dunkirk, would fail with so much as knowledge of by the government, and if known would enure active sabotage, not support or approval.

Seeing Hatham's expression, T'Ango held up a hand. "I know how restricted Romulan airspace is, but hear us out. A lot of smugglers have some established cover as merchant ships. We could expand on that Klingon raider story, create enough evidence of real crisis out at the border to draw Galae ships away and justify merchants diverting to the safety of inner worlds. It would be create a degree of chaos, but chaos can be opportunity."

"Chaos also makes the Tal'Shiar extra suspicious," Hatham noted skeptically. "They aren't likely to check one or two reports - they know Klingons conduct the occasional raid - but a flood of them at once? It's not as though they can't check on the stories. This isn't the 23rd century when communication from the border colonies could take days or weeks. They know within hours that something was up."

Another look passed between T'Ango and Gunnar. "Q'tIl," Gunnar said with a brief nod, an answer to unspoken question in whatever conversation had happened in the space of that mutual glance.

Renee sat there quietly listening to the situation being laid out in front of her. She didn't want to say it, but short of bigger ship.... they'll need more luck. The mention of Q'tll was interesting, she couldn't quite place the name....

T'Ango's whiskers lifted in a devious smile. "What if the reports turned out to be true?" Her eyes darted to Gunnar, then back to Hatham and Kaiae. "We have a Klingon ...connection... who I think would be happy to help there."

Kaiae considered--once again as with nearly everything in this web of situations, there was undoubtedly a risk as well, and more than that, most likely outright a price: If they arranged for the reports to be true, then to serve the purpose, regardless how light a touch (inasmuch as such a thing was even in the Klingon vocabulary) the purported contact took...Regardless, there would be deaths of their people, in those attacks. She would be in effect ordering their sacrifice, for the sake of those the broader operation might save.

It was not, at the simplest level, something Kaiae had not done before, or was afraid of doing again: She was an officer, who had served during wartime. She had ordered men to their deaths before, even when little more than half her current age; for the sake of the ship, the battle, the war effort, the Empire. She would have had no qualms doing so again in a similar state of affairs. But this was not a similar state of affairs: She would be sacrificing civilians with no knowledge of things; perhaps even children. Citizens who would have lived but for her actions and that decision, and with no guarantee more lives would be saved than would be spent. But with the potential for the payoff to be as wide as tens of thousands of lives saved for only a few hundred spent, if things went well. Her eyes locked onto Hatham's for a moment, and then she looked away from everyone and out again at the ghostly map and all it represented, before taking a deep, steadying breath she hoped wasn't obvious to those watching.

"This man; you trust him to be able to set such events in motion without giving away reasoning or details?" Sharing the existence of the operation behind the action would be an unacceptable risk; not only for exposure risk to the Tal'Shiar or the Senate, but for any additional measures the Klingons themselves might then take for advantage of.

It was strange to say, but Gunnar did trust him. How, however, to explain especially to already highly anxious Romulans the relationship with a former captor - one who had had no problem torturing him, but had seen the assault on his mind as so dishonorable that he'd actively looked the other way to allow his escape? He had later repaid the assistance with escape in kind, a fact that would have gotten him court martialled had it ever come to light, so they were in effect even. Still, somehow a bond had formed, and even beyond that Gunnar felt he understood Q'tIl's sense fo honor, which was at core what truly motivated him. "We have ...a history," he settled on finally. "I do trust him, but I understand your apprehension. If it helps, there is no need to tell him any details, only that we require a diversion to draw Romulan forces to the border colonies." His mouth twitched in a wry smile. "Honestly, after running interference for refugee smuggling operations, he'll be happy to raid depots and military outposts in the region. It's the sort of action that will enhance his reputation as a fearsome warrior."

T'Ango caught the way Hatham's jaw tightened at that. It was natural that a Galae vet that had fought Klingons would feel deep discomfort at the idea of requesting a Klingon attack, even one focused only on military targets. "There may be a better way. We have a saying on Dosad: kill two birds with one strike." She flexed her claws as if in illustration, and looked at Kaiae. "Do Raven's files have any locations for Tal'Shiar bases in the area?"

A sly grin spread over Kaiae's face as one eybrow rose slightly; some small measure of the tension on her face easing for a moment. "...They most likely would, yes."

Almost as quickly as it had gone, though, the tension was back in her expression and the smile was gone from her face. "Whether those locations are still current, that I cannot speak to. The Tal'Shiar is well known for abandoning anything they even fear may be compromised or known, and if the targets are not current, I have little doubt the raiders will then strike at other targets in the area, I am sure. Or are likely to at least attempt to strike such regardless for that matter, should they survive any attacks on their primary objectives." It was clear Kaiae herself was as uncomfortable with the idea of offering up their own (Tal'Shiar excluded) as Hatham was; or perhaps in her own way even more so as she would be the one giving the order. With her next words though, she made it equally clear she was apparently prepared to live with that fact....or if not 'prepared' to, determined to, if the payoff for their people overall was high enough.

"Still. The opportunity to occupy the Tal'Shiar in not one but two facets, with the response and investigation, and with the effects of attacks themselves..." A long pause, while she seemed to be either considering the issue further, or perhaps gathering her courage to actually speak her decision. "...Do it. I'll provide a list and details on any potential Tal'Shiar targets near the border from those files, scrubbed of identifying information."

With barely a moment's hesitation as similar calculations ran through his mind, Hatham gave a short nod of assent. "There may be alternate targets we could suggest. I could name a few outposts that have been more trouble than protection for transports."

"We will pass those on," T'Ango replied, lips parting in fang-tip bearing smile.

“That brings us back to the issue of ships, then. Do we need an additional one; or perhaps two? And if so, of what size and type; and to whom will be crewing them. For that matter, specifications depending, where and how do we intend to acquire them; funds available regardless, if we seek Romulan vessels with active papers they will be difficult to acquire at any price.”

"I have some friends in low places," Renee offered before smiling at T'Ango and Gunnar, "Present company aside... but, it'd be diminishing returns as I cast the net wider. Or I can always reach out to my father, he has a way of making thing happen..."

"Making things happen is what we need at this point," Hatham stated plainly. Whoever or whatever her father was, given the timeframe he saw little choice but to use the connection and deal with whatever consequences - and he assumed if her father wasn't her first choice, there were undesirable consequences - when those arose. Or as he recalled the human saying went 'burn that bridge when they came to it'.

Kaiae, undoubtedly splicing the situation along the same lines as Hatham with regards to both Renee's hesitation and their lack of options regardless, gave a sharp nod of assent of her own. "There are few prices at this point we can afford not to pay; whatever the currency involved. Do it. All of it."

If it was a shocking statement when made by anyone, it was an especially dire one when made by a Romulan: the decision that cause was worth bearing any price for, no matter how much it cost; in prices and 'currency' that could well include not money, but lives, disgrace and dishonor, or debts that would force one to later take actions so vile they could not even conceive of the price in the here and now. To hear someone state openly they were willing to stand for such was something most Romulans went their entire lives, and likely the lives of their ancestors as well, without experiencing.

Renee picked up on the skepticism of the Romulans in front of her. "Well, my father isn't going to ask for money. He's also former Section 31 and has been in hiding for decades. He still has connections and deals in favors and information. Hell, according to Ash, he was able to get us access to this ship somehow... in exchange for her getting her ass kicked. He'll help us if we ask... if I ask."

"And no doubt expect something unspecified, and perhaps as of yet undecided, in at some point in the future." Kaiae's carefully, forcibly too-flat tone sounded like the verbal embodiment of staring into the abyss, waiting for it to blink back; and for good reason: Those sorts of exchanges were among the worst you could take; and tended to exact the highest prices in the grand scheme of things. You might survive taking one, but you would, in the long term, never survive it whole. For that matter, in actuality it was two such exchanges: With the father, and with Renee herself as the critical intermediary party. "Fine." This last was said with a finality that made it clear she considered the door closed behind her, and whatever price it later exacted for having walked through it hers to bear as the senior officer on the scene.

Seeing the look on Kaiae's face as she spoke, Renee clarified her statements, "My father is a good man, it's why he's in hiding. My hesitation to involve my father is not because of any price we may have to pay but what he may have to. It may seem inconsequential in the context of what all of you are facing, but selfishly I am concerned that pulling together the impossible for us may cost him more than he will acknowledge. He will lay down his life for me and whatever I ask of him. So... all I ask is that he has sanctuary wherever the refugees end up." Renee felt so guilty for even saying that to Kaiae and Hatham, but if trust is to be had, honestly must be given.

Kaiae was forcibly reminded she was dealing with aliens: If the first part of Renee's words was a shock--between Renee's father and Raven's, exactly how they had the fortune or misfortune alike to stumble upon that many belatedly reformed members of the Federation and the Empire's respective secret police and intelligence forces?--the part after that was a hard blink at the seeming implication that humans might think that costing a man his life in the no doubt unpleasant ways in play was not also to be a price extracted from the one who gave the order. A different kind, to be sure, but...Then again, far too many of the Empire seemed to have lost sight of that of late as well.

"I will find him a place." Whether or not it would be the exact same place or places as the refugees...Well. That would have to remain to be seen; even if the father proved both successful and trustworthy in this cause, Kaiae was far from certain that those they sought to rescue would welcome a human, let alone one with that background; depending on that, all parties might be better off given separate safe havens if they could be had.

Renee chuckled softly, "I'll reach out.... and I know there are no guarantees in life. Whether he succeeds in helping you or not... I appreciate that you would even try to make me feel better by just saying those words. Do you mind if I share all of this with him?"

Hatham had been happy to have Kaiae speak for them, especially as her thoughts and his largely aligned on this throughout in any case. But he could sense her discomfort at the strange set of allies they had here - it was one he shared though to a lesser degree. His own greater experience of these aliens from more direct contact during the Dominion War and much closer association during his years as merc made it somewhat easier for him. He'd long ago noted an odd predilection in many humans to form bonds outside their own species, as well as to see themselves as both saviors and moral arbiters - a tendency that could by turns be helpful or very problematic (not to mention infuriating). In many ways assistance offered by a Dosadi was harder to reconcile, but assumed it was a combination of this particular Dosadi's obviously close relationship with a human and the Dosadi tendency to see themselves as more honorable when offering mercy to enemies (which was vaguely insulting, but Hatham saw no choice but to swallow pride at this stage). Both pride and some degree of caution had to be sacrificed if their families were not to be left on the alter. Still it didn't have to be wholly one sided.

"Yes," the big Romulan said, nodding to Renee. "He will need all of the relevant information if he is to try to help. And if we must split the refugees among sites or the place we find for them is not secure enough for him, I will pledge to find him sanctuary."

"We will gladly help with that," T'Ango put in. "We have some contacts on FreeCloud."

Gunnar nodded. "Stardust City may be ...raucous... but there are several quiet communities in the country where it's easy to disappear." He cast a glance toward T'Ango with a small smile. "Or to disappear long enough to for any trail to go cold while you arrange a new identity."

There had be a story there, Kaiae noted the glance between the pair; one eyebrow rising slightly. Dosadi body language and expressions could be very different; but humans were a bit more similar in many of their tells, and this human seemed...almost disconcertingly open; and in a way that for all her suspicion overall, and awareness that such could be a feint...she was coming to the jarring conclusion that it likely was not.

"It is likely to be quite easy to arrange a new identity in our territory once the disaster hits, if the Senate continues in their dereliction." Kaiae said bitterly. True, there were backups of information throughout the Empire; but many of those were also on the core worlds as a whole; easier to defend against an external threat or incursion, but now, threatened alike by this incident just like the main archives on the homeworld. "Unfortunately, that will be of little use by that time."

Mostly of little use, that is; the people who might potentially need new identities after this was all said and done were herself and many of the crew and officers who had followed her, so the idea was at least worth making note of. Her other task the night before, after finishing with moving who and what they could out of the way, had been to force herself to sit and review the announcement and documents she had known were coming, since Raven's announcement of their...change of registry, to put it mildly. See it before her people did, the shock of their own names and faces appended to a long list of crimes starting with treason and conspiracy and branching out into theft of government property and more. Note which few of them had avoided placement or inclusion on that list so far--namely, Hatham, who the Empire appear to have lost track of to some degree as to his presence on this ship at the moment versus some other mercenary vessel; and Kaol, Gable, and Seira, who at the moment at least appeared to be considered to have died in action in the attack on the Sianna, before their presence aboard. It was possible that information would prove critical, later; if they needed a face in the crowd less likely to be noted by someone eager for the cachet associated with turning in a wanted criminal.

"This...Stardust City. Is it a place which might be suitable to stash our targets once we've acquired them?" Delta Oriens was never, even in the best of cases, going to be more than the most temporary of holding; for either the refugees rescued from the Vulture, or for their families; it was simply too risky and environment.

Another look passed between human and Dosadi. "A few of them? Yes. Hundreds? No. FreeCloud is pretty open to anyone passing through, but they've also made it clear they don't intend to be a resettlement center," T'Ango answered. "That said, we have stored targets there, though primarily those capable of handling themselves. The city itself is a bit ...rough and tumble."

"She means it's basically Drozana writ large," Gunnar explained. "Perfect for people who've been part of the underground and need to disappear or change their faces if the Tal'Shiar get too close, but not a place I'd send regular civilians."

T'Ango nodded firmly. "I don't even like letting this one walk around Stardust City by himself." She bumped Gunnar affectionately, but the comment was only half-teasing. "Of course, the city isn't the only option. There are various skill-based communes acorss the planet that are both more orderly and less visible, but they'll take a family or two with skills to match their needs, not a small horde of refugees."

“So. Still a continuing matter of relocating a whole jug of water drop by drop.” It would have far easier to have places to resettle larger groups; not only for the sake of expediency and simplicity but also social cohesion; to avoid dooming their kin to spend their lives all surrounded by aliens, bereft of their own kind. She turned her gaze away from the odd pairing back towards Renee. “Let us know when you have a feasible ship or ships; we’ll continue to work on internal movements and placement issues.” Kaiae downed the last of her mug of tea. “Ships do not necessarily come with crew, however; let alone trustworthy such.” She glanced sidelong at Hatham, recalling some of their previous discussions on the topic, then at the group as a whole. “Which would make that the last of the most immediate issues to tie down. Thoughts?”

One felinoid ear flipped back and to the side. "How many crew do you expect to need?" T'Ango asked, exchanging another brief glance with Gunnar. "We can take over a third of your list on Cat Dancing, more if we push our limits, and the two of us are all the crew she needs."

“That depends in part entirely on how many ships we need or acquire, and of what type and design. Assuming we can make things work with only one additional ship, for example; we will require however many people are necessary to man it.” Kaiae’s eyebrows shrugged up and down slightly as a pair. “It’s possible we can make use of existing personnel for the task, but that would require some work on false identities on the front end; considering most of us are now wanted for treason.” She paused, considering the nature of the limited group who were not; though, of that group, half of them were officially dead, which really wasn’t that much more feasible a cover if you were actively challenged for credentials.. “Though, not all of us, yet...”

Renee listened to the back and forth between her friends and the Romulans, "Falsifying identities won't be too hard. It's not like anyone needs to pass a background check. That part is my specialty... give me a list of who needs new identities to crew these ships and I'll get to work on that." Despite the confident words, Renee was definitely nervous about all of this. So many lives were at stake and it was the people in this room now that will be making decisions and taking actions that would inevitably decide who lives and who dies. While the purpose and objective of this mission is far more noble and benevolent, it's this level of playing God that she found the most difficult to handle during her time with the Section. She wished she had Ash's ability to just compartmentalize it all.

"To pass a full background check, no." Kaiae wondered how strange it must be, to be a human: To wander through your life confident that most all statements would be taken at face value; that they could take as deeply trusted even a stranger on the street, and expected to be taken that way in turn. Of course; half of it seemed to perhaps be merely a massive con the Federation had put over on it's citizens; given the existence of operations such as 31 that would indicate most humans should not be nearly so reckless with their information and their actions as they were because they naively thought no one was watching. She wondered for a moment more if perhaps Renee herself had been once trained to exploit these facts. "As thorough an inquiry as the Tal'Shiar can conduct in a few hours or days, however? Quite possibly. If an initial check during a routine scan or comms challenge is clean, that still will not stop them from flagging a ship or an individual for further inquiry later, if they seemed suspicious in some way. And as it is unlikely we can complete our mission in less than a day, we need those covers to be deep enough to hold for at least four days against those inquiries."

Gunnar looked down, hiding his expression. Kaiae was over thinking this, but he knew better than to tell any Romulan they were over thinking, opting to say simply "We have been in and out of Romulan space many times."

"Granted, we didn't exactly ask for authorization on some of those trips," T'Ango added with a cheshire cat grin. "But it is possible to submit to scan and comms challenge and not only pass but pass beneath what the Tal'Shiar would consider worth notice. Maybe easier in this case since we'll have no need of worrying about any future visits."

Hatham nodded slowly. "If your Klingon friend starts causing trouble and others in the smuggling network are also making runs to the homeworld, the Tal'Shiar will be on high alert but they'll have too many targets to spend that level of resources on all of them. The greater danger is that they decide to stop and inspect every ship trying to leave." He was already picturing the backlog of 'merchant' and private vessels held in the homeworld's space. Only Senators yachts and Galae vessels would be free to skip that line, and even some of them might be pulled aside for inspection. "Not only would there be a greatly increased the risk of discovery, but the delays could seriously tighten the timeline for escape."

"That is an area where having had our Tal'Shiar cover still in place might have assisted greatly." Kaiae sighed. "As the people they are least likely to stop for such inspection are their own." She glanced over at Renee. "If there is any chance your father's connections include the possibility of acquiring such papers for whatever ships we will be using..." She let the statement trail off, speaking for itself.

"Nothing my father is capable of would surprise me. But I doubt he could be able to get enough documentation to cover everyone. We may have to....prioritize," Renee said. "I could also go through Gedak's files, he may not be here, but his supply lines might yield some routine trade routes in and out of Romulus...." Seeing the consternation on the Romulans, "I know none of this is smooth and locked down as you all would want. But we will do everything we can and I'm sure between the time we've spent working together and your experience with humans and the Federation, you know we are capable of some ridiculous things when the odds are against us."

Yes; things like having beaten us at the Battle of Cheron, Kaiae thought; but wisely did not say, given the audience and the stakes of keeping it on their side.

"He won't need documentation for everyone.” Kaiae said with another shrug of the eyebrows. "Just for the ship itself, and for maybe a couple of the people crewing it." If these words were said fairly easily, the words that followed them were extremely bitter. "The Tal'Shiar tends to be fairly unquestioned in their right to do whatever they please with and to most citizens. The passengers become meaningless, if the cover for the ship and crew is sound. No one would step in to block them, most likely, just as no one would step in to save them if they were being taken to their death." Even saying the words that blatantly and openly sent Kaiae's heart rate up a few intervals; it was the sort of thing one was was taught very early and carefully in life, and equally, was taught alongside it never to say it, for the most part; due to the risk inherent in such a criticism. "The Tal'Shiar views us all as their property, in the end."

The three days of interviews she had endured during the war, alongside the rest of the Empire's allied command staff on DS9, as the Tal'Shiar sought to uncover a level of guilt or conspiracy in Senator Cretak's actions that simply as far as Kaiae knew did not exist; among staff and officers who were not even present with whatever had gone down at the conference back in their own space, had made that quite clear to her. A fear that they would simply order them all executed and start over had chilled her to her core for the duration; to this day she suspected their survival of the incident - let alone the seemingly unblemished careers of the junior officers like herself, at least - had less to do with leniency and more with expediency and pragmatism, the agents involved perhaps deciding that in the absence of evidence, it made little sense to make an example of otherwise competent staff in the midst of a war for survival. Though, she also suspected that perhaps the hope had been most of them would die in the battle over Cardassia, and in the expected, protracted combat on the planet itself that in the end did not occur.

"Then we have our way forward," Renee said. "Our folks are under the banner of the Tal'Shiar. And we're just going to have to the real Tal'Shiar don't catch wind of us impersonating them. It's a brutal way of life Subcommander...but the ends hopefully do justify the means."

Kaiae tilted her head ever so slightly to the side; puzzled once again by the sorts of things these aliens seemed to think worthy of such sayings, or the beliefs that they belied; by the areas where they seemed so truly alien…and yet some few others where they seemed almost understandable. A favorite saying of one of her grandfathers came to mind; she could still hear the old man’s voice in her mind, speaking them to her when she had been no taller than his knee, and echoed them aloud here now. “There are no actions without consequences. Choose wisely and take only those you believe to be worth their price.” She glanced over at Hatahm, flicking off the projector. “Do you have anything to add, Lieutenant?”

"Other than that the real Tal'Shiar will know in a much shorter timeframe that we are no longer under their banner, and likely never were?" The big Romulan asked drolly. "I think we can't count on any prior credentials, especially now that Raven has actively renounced them. Nevertheless, there is no choice but to move forward. I will not allow the Tal'Shiar to bury my family like so many grave offerings in the ashes of the Empire."

“I don’t suggest we involve the prior credentials at all, no. They are undoubtedly compromised, much like our real ones.” Kaiae grimaced—she would never understand Raven's decision to renounce themselves so explicitly; and it was surely making life more complicated - and success more difficult - here. “If, however, it should prove possible through the connections discussed to create a few new ones; to associate a cover identity with them through…” She glanced at Renee. “…the available channels…Well. We’d only need a few; and they’d only need to hold long enough to complete our task.”

"If it helps, maybe I can arrange a meeting with my father. You can discuss specifics in more detail without a middle man?" Renee offered, in hopes that doing so could potentially provide a modicum of comfort...if Romulans would ever truly be comfortable around outsiders.

“No.” Kaiae regretted declining, but given the timing involved she would have regretted accepting more, potentially. “We secure equipment and cover as quickly as possible, so that we may move on the mission itself as quickly as possible. Waiting for and conducting such a meeting would burn previous hours. This was a tight timeline before. The latest information makes it nearly untenable. We take what we have and what we can acquire quickly, and make the best of it.” Not to mention that given Renee’s earlier description of the dynamics in play, she suspected they might actually get better results using his kin as an intermediary than pleading their case directly.

"Agreed." Hatham nodded, albeit tightly. "I brought the issue up only because I wanted to be sure the fact that our cover is well and truly blown was not lost in all the other considerations." Looking at Renee, and then to each of her friends; however odd they might be, he sensed they were sincere in their commitment. "We do greatly appreciate your help, and the risk you take for our people."

Gunnar inclined his head in a simple formal acceptance; he knew well enough how difficult it was for Romulans to feel they owed anyone, especially when the debt was great and payment unspecified - it was why he had frequently called on refugees they had helped to provide for other ones newly arrived, casting it as the payment owed for their own rescue.

"It is the only honorable thing to do," T'Ango insisted, ears perking upward with the reply. "If the Tal'Shiar are going to treat your people like property, then I say," her lips parted in a fanged smile, "let's go steal us some Romulans."


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