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Puppet On A String

Posted on Fri Mar 26th, 2021 @ 1:29am by Rear Admiral Gareth Tau & Commander Arianna Frost

Mission: S1E5: Symphony of Horror
Location: various
Timeline: MD 0

Xanthe signed off on a surveillance operation on Coridan III when she notices a ping on her display. Leaning over, the woman opened the display. A query was being put through the intelligence system as to the location of one of Project Castermer members.

Commander Arianna Frost.

A communication followed the query, directed at the Office of Research and Development.

The caller ID was what made Commodore Rahal curious. A name she hadn't come across in years. Doubtful it was that he knew he was actually contacting his old Commanding Officer of all people.

"Gareth Tau," Xanthe said as she opened up the channel. "It's been a while."

"It would seem we all have been busy little bees," Tau replied. "Nevertheless it is always good to see a familiar face." Despite the cordiality of his words, Tau's face barely twitched from its usual taciturn expression. "How are things?"

The corner of Xanthe's mouth twitched ever so slightly in amusement. "Busy. Project Castermer has been reactivated in force, we've been setting things in motion. I assume this is about Frost?"

Tau cracked his stony visage and mirrored her nascent smirk with his own. "Certainly. I'm not inquiring about Updike or whatever he is calling himself these days. Frost's testimony will be required at a hearing before the next decimal Stardate."

Xanthe nodded, looking over to the side, tapping a few commands. "she's not in the field at the moment, I'm sending you a frequency code. I take it the Memory Theta inquest in complete then?"

"Yes..." What little mirth there was on Tau's face vanished. "It gives me no joy, but it must be done. Memory Theta's demise will preserve the rest of the projects and initiatives with the Office of Special Investigations."

Xanthe gave no outward reaction, merely nodded. "It was good to see you again, Gareth. Good luck."

"Fare thee well, Xanthe."

Tau cut the transmission and watched her face fade into the Starfleet emblem. His terminal was auto-signaling the frequency he was given. The only identification it would offer the other end was general Oversight. It was poor practice in Tau's estimation and experience to announce his transmissions. Best to allow them to blend in with the rest unless circumstances absolutely called for otherwise. Part of him enjoyed catching others unawares. The surprise tended to keep them honest and compliant.

Arianna had just returned from the Mess Hall with a bowl of sesame noodles and was in the process of sitting back down at her desk when a communications ping came up on her display.

"Oversight?" Arianna muttered as she set the bowl down and opened the communication channel.

Once the channel opened, Tau did not give Ari much time to recognize him before speaking. "Howzit, Commander? I do hope I am not interrupting anything."

"G'day, sir." Ari said, nodding. "I'm just taking a break from reading the latest reports. What can I do for ya?" She asked, her usually professional accent slightly dancing.

"I need you on the next transport to Deep Space 9." Not one to mince words, Tau gave no expectation of argument. "And I do mean the next one."

"I can do that, sir, sure. What am I doing on Deep Space 9?" She replied, curiosity piqued by the sudden request. Last time she'd worked with Tau, she ended up on Memory Theta, investigating them. Then there was the whole Venus Operation. And the destruction of Spacedock One.

Tau held back a grimace. "You will be briefed when you arrive at the station. Notify the USS Megaera, which will be nearby, and you will be read in at that time."

Arianna was now even more curious. Pulled from one classified operation to attend another seemingly classified matter. Slowly, she nodded. Then she looked to the side and tapped a few commands. "I can be on a DS9 bound transport in two hours."

"Unless another black site has dropped the ball, this has got to be about Theta. Only reason he'd pull me out." Arianna thought to herself. "How long do you need me for?"

"As long as it takes," Tau said. "Realistically, though, not more than a few days." He studied her for a moment as if measuring her for something. "Be sure to bring your inquest files, or at least a way to access them on demand."

"Called it!" Frost was internally amused. Outwardly though she gave no reaction save a nod. "Aye, sir. I'll get my leave sorted with my CO and get on that transport. Should be at Deep Space Nine in twenty two hours."

Tau may have been pleased or he may have been constipated. There was really no way to tell. "See that you are."

Transmission ended.

Arianna sat there for a moment, before taking a bite and leaning back in her chair. "Okay...." a sigh, "okay." She said to herself as she took a deep breath and set about organizing access to a transport and getting permission for an urgent leave from Commodore Rahal's office.

22 hours later...

The trip was fairly unremarkable, Arianna mostly keeping to herself, only venturing out of her assigned quarters to get some food and liquids. Frost had taken a data chit with her which contained her files and findings from the Internal Affairs investigation into Memory Theta that she'd conducted during her time on the station.

There was a separate set of files on the secondary investigation she was slowly conducting off the books, on one Captain Mrazak, filled with a few complaints, and accounts of events that differed from the official reports submitted, as well as conduct.

Those remained on classified access. Those would remain on classified access for the time being.

As Frost stepped out of the Transport Docking Port and into the Deep Space Nine proper, she pulled out a PADD she'd carried with her and sent a message to the USS Megaera reading: "A.F. arrived DS9."

Soon a message came back. It consisted of precisely one word. "Quark's."

Arianna read the message did not reply. The other side would know that the message had been read. That was enough. She made her way to the nearest lift and asked for the Promenade.

Moments later, when she stepped off the lift and onto the promenade, dressed in everyday, unremarkable clothing, a backpack over her shoulder, she looked around to get her bearings.

Quark's, was not hard to find. One just had to follow the most noise. Knowing where on the station the bar was located also helped. So, she entered the establishment, headed for the bar and ordered a glass of Chessatan Ale and headed towards one of the booths in the back. Whoever was going to meet and debrief her would find her.

Obviously, this briefing was intended to be kept out of the prying eyes, in the relative safety of being lost in a crowd. Which meant, the matter was more serious than Tau had let on. Then again with Tau it was hard to judge, the man had one facial expression and two tones of voice. Whether that was deliberate or that's just who he was was another matter.

"Merry meet." It was nearly whispered by a human woman of blended ethnicity who slid opposite Ari. "Persephone."

Ari nodded, lifting her glass in greeting, "Dobryy den' tovarishch." She greeted the woman in the old Earth language, russian. (Good day, comrade).

"What's wrong?" the woman asked as she deftly dropped a tablet into her drink. The fizzle began to swell and change color as she spoke. "Your Universal Translator broken?"

Arianna shrugged noncommittally, "I like to mix it up, especially when people throw my callsign around as if it will curry them favor or leverage over me." She said in the same casual tone, giving the outward pretense of two friends having a conversation. Yet the sharpness behind the remark remained.

"Would you rather I use your given name? In a place like this?" The woman scoffed. "I'm sure the Ferengi spam messages you'd get would last only half of your natural life." An eye roll and a snort later, she said, "I can see why Tau called on you. The tribunal will eat you up, all cute and serious and wound up like an antique clock."

Arianna threw on a well practiced smile, "you're assuming I want you to use any names at all. You never used yours. So why don't you get off your pedestal, princess, and brief me or I'm walking." Frost took another sip, glancing over at the woman.

"Short and to the point," the other woman said. "Just like Tau. You will make a good Admiral some day." Chuckling at her own candor, she moved on. "You are hereby ordered not to fraternize with anyone connected to the inquest hearings, especially anyone from Mike Tango." She didn't bat an eye at her own throwback radio jargon from 20th century Earth. Mike Tango. MT. Memory Theta. "Once this plays out, you will be free to do as you please." Another chuckle. "Well, not whatever you please, but I need not be condescending."

Arianna took another sip, leaning a little closer the woman's way. "You have as long as it takes me to finish this to finish the actual briefing." She turned sideways, one arm draped over the back of the booth, "Tik tok."

"And tell you what you already know?" Yet another chuckle. "No, that would be a waste of my time. How about instead you tell me what you've already figured out and I'll fill in the blanks. Then the both of us can get the hell out of here."

"Get out! Get out! Get out!" Arianna's gut told her. Questions arose as to the true motives of the woman and more to the point, did she even work for Tau or if she'd been compromised by another party, ie: the Black Nagus. Or was she just another player biting off more than she could handle?

Frost downed her drink in one swig and got up from the table. "G'day, princess." Ari set the glass down and started walking away.

This conversation needed to be had elsewhere. Somewhere preferably where Ari could turn the proverbial table and get some answers herself rather than being strung along as she was.

"Wait!" The woman jumped up from the booth and grabbed Ari by the arm. "I can't live without you!" She leaned in for an impassioned, desperate kiss but stopped millimeters from contact. "Okay, so that went badly," she managed to mutter through very slight gyrations of her jaw. "But we both have a job to do. Now make a good show so we can sit down and resume our conversation with minimal attention."

Frost gave an exaggerated sigh as though the expression in her eyes was icy cold, as she tucked one hand into the woman's hair, the other sneaking around her waist, keeping up with the pretense, or rather checking for weapons and/or gadgetry. "" Ari replied. The other hand joined the first around the woman's waist.

"I love you, too, darling!" The obnoxious handler guided Ari back to the booth where they still held a modicum of privacy. "All right..." She let out a sigh that dropped her playful tone a whole octave. "So you're being called upon to deliver testimony in regards to your previous assignment. This is a bin job if there ever was one, so make sure your testimony aligns with that outcome. However you need to arrange your notes and logs will be supported through technical applications, so don't be afraid of being caught in perjury. Just make it sound good."

Arianna frowned, raising her hand and swirling a finger around in the air to indicate another round of drinks. "So, I am to understand that Tau's washing his hands of Tango. Why?"

Not to mention the fact that she as an Internal Affairs operative was being asked to help cover up the burying of Memory Theta, when in reality, they actually stood a good case staying active? Frost needed more information, she needed an edge.

"It's become a liability." The other woman sighed. "Not that I know what it is exactly. Nobody does. Maybe that's what makes it a convenient scapegoat for the disaster on and around Earth last month. Section 31 is gone, so I guess Th-Tango will have to do for the chopping block."

Drinks arrived, Arianna reached over for hers. "I see." She said finally, then took a sip.

Observation of the younger woman brought the senior operative to a few conclusions. Primarily, this young woman was a pawn. Secondly, she lacked a lot of experience and forethought. Finally, she had very little idea who she was talking to. All thoughts both encouraging and discouraging.

"When's the proceeding starting?"

"Tomorrow. You will attend the tribunal in the state wardroom that has been repurposed for the meeting." The woman let down her guard enough to give a half shrug. "Seems rather public for a closed hearing, but there it is."

A plan was forming in Arianna's mind already. "When? Who's conducting it? Who's coming in Tango side?"

"The tribunal is Admirals Tau and Nyel, plus some bureaucrat named Smith. They've called in Tango's command staff. And, I suppose, that is where you come in." She paused and leaned forward in order to drop her voice barely above a whisper. "Do you have some connection to Mem... Mike Tango?" Follow-up questions stopped but they clearly floated just beneath the surface of her silence.

"What exactly are you asking me?" Arianna leaned closer too, matching the woman's tone.

Frost knew exactly what the woman was asking. The young woman was leaking like a siv, much to Arianna's amusement and she was going to milk it as far as she could. Information was power, power she could utilize later, when the hammer came down. Power that could potentially break the hammer before it landed the blow.

"You must have... you know... investigated them." Waggle of the brow, an expectant smile. "Come on. Tell me something."

Arianna waggled her brow in response, then took a sip. She kept her thoughts deliberately structured, without giving away any specific thought as this young upstart posed questions she had no business posing. In case there was a telepath listening in somewhere, they were going to be hard-pressed to get anything from Frost's mind. Ari's gut, however, told her she wasn't dealing with a trained team, but rather a lone amateur.

"Yeah, yeah, I get it..." A disappointed sigh and a shrug indicated the curiosity had passed. "Well, you have your orders. Good luck." She made to get up, though she hesitated long enough to give Ari a look that craved answers she knew better than to ask for twice.

The professional's only reply was a look over the brim of her glass before she returned her attention to the PADD she had with her, a sign that the conversation was definitely over.

Without a word, the mysterious junior officer slipped away disappointed.

Ari stuck around for a few monutes, to give the other woman time to gain distance before she herself left Quark's and got lost in the crowds, allowing herself a moment to digest the conversation. One thing was certain, Frost was not going to lie on the stand to follow a burial order. How in the hells was she going to make sure she didn't get in trouble for it? That was another matter all together. Either way, the sitiation just got fucked.


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