Location: Personal flier “Aerosprite”, Triangulum system, neutral space
Timeframe: Present day
Veln t'Gahth stood next to the viewport, staring blankly out at the rotating planet below. Though his boyish Romulan face retained a youthful appearance, his sunken eyes and gaunt complexion betrayed a disturbing amount of stress and tribulation as he ruminated among the tangled paths of his own thoughts. Life transformations are never easy, but so much had happened in the past several months - events that scarred both his body and soul - that it became difficult to maintain a clear, focused line of thought through the powerful emotions dwelling within his psyche.
Shifting his footing uncomfortably due to the dull pain between his ribs, Veln rubbed the scar from where he almost died over a year ago from a mortal stab wound through his torso. The identity of the elder Romulan warrior who impaled him with her ceremonial sword was a complete mystery, but after realizing what her goal was, it became clear who was responsible for the attack. With the prisoner Sean McTaggart liberated from his custody, she could only have been sent by one person: John Carter. Worse yet, there was no exacting revenge on the party in question, for when Veln woke from his coma months later, he had learned from news reports that Carter had perished in a shuttle accident.
“It's better than what he deserved,” grumbled the young Romulan to no one in particular.
Knowledge that his enemy was now dead did little to amend the grievous wound torn through Veln's life. It all started in the infirmary aboard Tomaleth's personal yacht, where he was interrogating McTaggart. With engines and communications offline, a boarding party murdered the bridge crew before transporting into the medical bay. As the muzzle of a disruptor released an angry lance of energy, he watched in horror as his beloved mentor disintegrated before his eyes, evaporating Veln's only purpose in life. Afterward, the assassin ran him through with her blade before departing with his prisoner. Laying in a green pool of his own blood on the infirmary floor, his barely-conscious mind had a brief moment of clarity: Carter would pay for what he had done. With hate and spitefulness his sole source of energy, the eviscerated protege gathered his strength for one last act: Barely a meter away from his blood-soaked body, a stasis chamber sat idle. The last thought that went through his mind before activating the stasis cycle was a promise to himself: Tomaleth will not have died in vain.
“Sir, the Cardassian has transported aboard.”
The intercom seemed to rouse Veln from his day-trance. As he wrapped his black overcoat closed around his waist, he limped over to the nearby dinner table where he answered the call.
“Bring them here to my dining room,” he answered before closing the channel.
Exhaling a held breath, Veln reflected on what brought him to this point. After four months in medical stasis, a deep space salvage crew awakened him in the infirmary of the yacht, just as he left it: Everyone dead, engines destroyed. There was no use in trying to explain what happened; at least not in the detail needed for the authorities to derive motives. Pirates. He was forced to tell them that Tomaleth died because of pirates. A great man such as him didn't deserve that sort of death, but if they knew about the vendetta with Carter, he would have been condemned a fool or a martyr; an even worse death.
So began a year of research and negotiations with Tomaleth's old contacts.
Had he been at the controlling end of Carter's downfall, that would have been one thing. But knowing there were still beings in the galaxy that held the man in high regard left Veln's anger burning like the fire rivers of Gal Gath'thong. Carter still possessed family and friends, and unlike humans who let transgression die with the wielder, Romulans were known to hold grudges that reached out many generations beyond the grave. While Klingons admonish and ostracize their sons for the sins of the father, Romulans are more duty-bound to ensure the entire family share equally in their punishment.
Carter had family. That much Veln knew. He had yet to find his mother, and although he knew of his father's death, he was unable to locate any records about potential siblings as of yet. Wives and close romances were even more obscure, and then there was the enigma of Shannon Harris, who seemingly never left the Galaxy-Class Republic. It was clear that she must still exist, since it was reported that all of Republic's crew were safe despite it's destruction.
Unfortunately, Veln no longer had access to any official government information since his senator father banished him from home. Letting Tomaleth die at the hands of a pirate was a dark stain on his father's record. The Imperial Navy tried to frame it as a cover-up, whereby Veln was acting on his father's orders in a co-conspiracy with the Tal Shiar for requital regarding the Valiant II incident. The accusation was found without merit, but according to his senator father, if Veln was weak enough to allow a naval hero like Tomaleth to die at the hands of simple band of pirates, then there was no reason he could be trusted with any future employment within the government. With that, his father handed Veln his share of the family inheritance, asking that he never return.
It was a hurtful spurn to say the least, especially since Veln had just been released from the hospital. Fortunately, his inheritance covered the repairs to the Aerosprite, allowing him to hire a small contingency of servants to crew it. Still, the inheritance wasn't enough to cover the exorbitant costs of more information regarding John Carter. Only the personal records that Tomaleth was able to procure from the Ferengi two years ago were all he really had to go on. That is, until now.
Veln stood in front of his chair at the table when the door chime rang. “Come,” he announced.
The door slid back to reveal a tall, uniformed Cardassian military officer with the rank of commander. He strode into the room with an air of dominance, and locked eyes on on the near-pubescent Romulan.
“You seem awfully young to be a member of the Romulan Senate,” remarked the Cardassian commander.
“My name is Veln,” the young Romulan replied. “My father, Senator Tergasol, has sent me to negotiate with you today.”
Truth be told, had his father known that his son was posing as an official senatorial envoy using his name, he'd have had Veln executed. Fortunately, they were far from Romulan space, and they likelihood of the Cardassians taking the time to fact-check his story was remote at best.
“I am Commander Gronk,” the Cardassian replied forcefully, yet hiding his displeasure at having to bargain with an adolescent whelp. “Your message was received, and the merchandise awaits on our ship.”
“You have done well,” the young Romulan's tone sounding both condescending and flattering at the same time. “I should have known our Cardassian friends would persevere.” Though it was a diplomatic trick that Tomaleth had taught him over the years, he still hadn't the knack for it, as it seemed far too pretentious coming from a boy of his age. Sitting down at the table, he looked back to see his patron glaring at him.
Biting his lip to hold back his exasperation, it was clear that the Cardassian wanted to end the conference as soon as possible to avoid spending any more time than necessary with the Romulan suckling.
“Let us dispense with the pleasantries, shall we?” Gronk offered. “I have something you want; you have something *I* want.”
“It was not my understanding that Cardassians were known to haggle.”
“Don't toy with me boy!” fumed the Cardassian. “YOU summoned US! We are only here because of a potential for a mutual transaction! Do you possess the agreed upon compensation?”
“Two isotons of Denevan crystals, as promised,” Veln declared. “But first, I need to know more about the merchandise I am purchasing. For instance, how long have you been in possession him?”
“The human has been in the custody of the Obsidian Order since the Dominion War,” the Cardassian commander stated.
“The Obsidian Order?” Veln questioned, obviously at a loss. “I thought the Order was eliminated after the disastrous failure of the attack on the Founder's homeworld?”
“That didn't stop a few fragments operating independent of Central Command,” explained Gronk. “Especially in the frontier regions.”
“Why didn't Starfleet or the Federation demand the return of one of their citizens?”
“Simple,” he smiled through stark-white teeth. “They don't know he's alive.”
“And how does that make him useful to me?” Veln leaned his elbows on the table while crossing his hands. While he knew some information about the prisoner through previous communications, the young man knew how to negotiate; a skill that Tomaleth had taught him well. Lowering the value of the prize is a way of hedging one's profits.
“From everything we've gathered,” the Cardassian's voice became sharp, revealing his indignation. “He was once a close confidant of the Federation president.”
“Kostya?” the Romulan replied with surprise.
His Cardassian patron smiled again with assuredness. “I see that I now have your attention.”
In truth, Veln was less interested in the political capital that the prisoner may have held, than he was for the possibility of further information about Carter. Veln's research into his human adversary led him in several different directions, some of which he had not pieced together until he caught word of the secret prisoner that a group Cardassian military officers were eager to offload. Apparently, they weren't willing to accept the eventual interstellar consequences of holding him for so long. Veln, on the other hand, had nothing more to lose, and as known fragments of the prisoner's past seemed to mesh with Carter's history, he was willing to take the risk to gain more information.
“Before we agree to anything, I want more information,” Veln demanded. “How and when did you come to capture this supposed presidential confidant?”
“He was found languishing in a damaged lifeboat near the Federation border.” The Cardassian seemed to gain a harsher edge to his words at the question. “The result of a battle with some of our cruisers.”
“I am NOT the one to be interrogated here!” The angered commander stood up, placing a fist on the table. “If you're interested in this prisoner, simply pay for him! Then you can ask him these questions YOURSELF!”
Veln was unmoved. He had seen horror, fear, and anger; all before being written off as dead over a year ago. A consternated Cardassian didn't faze him in the least. “And how do I know you haven't indoctrinated him with false information?” he looked up to him with stern, beady eyes.
The Cardassian laughed at the prospect, amused enough to sit back down.
“The Obsidian Order broke him years ago. This human is now so weak-willed, he would relinquish his mother to anyone raising their cranial ridge by more than a centimeter,” he said with a sinister smile. “There's no secret he holds that can't be coaxed forth during a minor interrogation. Including whether we've brainwashed him or not. If anything, we've made your job easier. Now, about that payment?”
“I'll have my steward show you to our luggage area,” Veln agreed. “You may beam back to your ship with your payment as soon as we have custody of the merchandise.”
“It's been a pleasure doing business with you,” the Cardassian offered with faux politeness. As he stood up to walk out the door, he turned back over his shoulder for one last comment. “Give your father my regards.”
Location: Infirmary, Personal flier “Aerosprite”
Here he was again. The same place where he was interrogating McTaggart when the attack occurred seventeen months ago, and before his beloved mentor met his undeserved fate. Another human; another source of information. Veln looked across the table at his merchandise, trying to determine what his instincts could glean before actually engaging in conversation with him.
For his part, the haggard human sat across from Veln in handcuffs, looking all the like of a cadaverous vagrant with scars and wrinkles etched into his skin. He looked around the room with an air of dementia, as if he wasn't sure where the nightmare ended and the real universe began. He was constantly pawing at the long, gruff brown and gray beard that marked his seven years in captivity. His eyes seemed glazed over, in a constant, paranoid search for his next source of maltreatment. Without question, his secretive, multi-year tenure with his Cardassian overlords did much to rob him of his grip on reality.
“What is your name and rank, human?” Veln finally asked calmly.
“S… Stryker. Captain. Theodore Jay…”
“What was your original assignment before capture?”
“Commanding officer… Starship Saratoga…”
Veln smiled. The Cardassian was right; this human's will was indeed weak. As Tomaleth's previous intelligence information had indicated, Saratoga was the former name of Carter's vessel, the Galaxy-Class Republic. Despite its destruction, there could still be information he could gain from one of it's former commanders.
“Very good, captain!” Veln congratulated the haggard human using the same condescending and flattering tactic he earlier used with Gronk. “You and I are going to get along fabulously!”
Going over his mental checklist of questions he wanted answered, Veln was unsure of where to begin. Insider information on Kostya, the Federation president, would certainly put him back into the good graces of his senator father, but there was a nagging thirst that needed to be sated. That thirst was revenge.
“Now tell me,” he started again, leaning forward to ensure the prisoner heard every single word of his next question. “Tell me EVERYTHING you know about… John. Thelonius. Carter.”
The human named Stryker ruminated among the tangled paths of his own tortured thoughts, trying to piece together his new situation from the trauma of the past, and fuse it with his present conception of reality. The name made no sense that he could remember, but he suspected that before the day was over, he would figure out what the Romulan was truly asking him.
<tag = Carter (optional)>
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