Chapter 1: Scattered

Two weeks prior...

Dearest Uncle:

I am sending you this message in hopes that by accounting for my actions in the following days, things will be easier for you all to understand. I know that Father was most upset with me given our recent disagreement, but I am convinced there is more to this story. To that end I have found suitable and discreet accommodations aboard a Bolian freighter, The Orlaxian.

Hope you are doing well,

Your Beloved Nephew.

Xakais frowned as he read over his writing. It technically conformed to Tal Shiar guidelines. Apart from being a seemingly innocuous message, it would be sent using four levels of encryption. The intent was clear and would be known to both friend, and enemy. At a minimum, his precautions notwithstanding, the message would be read by Dominion Intelligence and Starfleet.

The Romulan agent brushed his black hair out of his eyes, exhausted from the futility of it all. His once prominent, government-sanctioned bowl cut had grown unkempt and hugged his features like a mane of a Korbaxian wildcat. Things had been very different ever since that wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant was discovered; it was, after all, the greatest advancement in interstellar transport of the century. And it had the bad luck to be in Federation territory, just beyond Deep Space Nine.

The vast reaches of a virtually inaccessible quarter of the galaxy were now open to be explored and exploited. However, it triggered contact with the most viable threat to Romulan, Federation, and Klingon alike: the Dominion. And that had changed everything. Suddenly the Romulan Star Empire was assisting the Federation. They even went as far as to sanctioning the creation of a cloaked ship; technology that was previously forbidden to the Federation.

Not like they never tried to violate this agreement, Xakais mused bitterly, suddenly reminded of the existence of the USS Pegasus.

Responding to that unpleasant discovery had been one of his first missions. From there began a snowball of events upon which the Tal Shiar operative would be cast like a log in a stream. Three years he had been wandering through Federation space; disguising himself as a Vulcan and sporadically sending coded messages back to Romulus. A task which had grown considerably more dangerous when the Romulans signed a non-aggression pact with the Dominion and cut off nearly all diplomatic ties.

Then last week it had all come to an end.

Senator Vreenak's murder was yet another bend in the river; a new normal to adapt to. Many Tal Shiar operatives like himself – not all of them, his people were nothing if not cautious – were being withdrawn to refocus on their new enemy. But there was a greater demand to find a weak point within the Dominion leadership.

This was where Xakais' "disagreement" had come into play. After what felt to him like a routine investigation, the matter was closed and the official ruling was that Vreenak was murdered by the Dominion. Regardless of the evidence suggesting the destruction appeared to come from within the vessel rather, than an attack. Regardless of the rumors of Vreenak making an unreported stop at the Federation warfront Deep Space Nine. Regardless even of the simple fact that the Dominion turning on the Romulans at this juncture made no logical sense.

Xakais seemed to be the only voice of reason left within the Tal Shiar. His opposition was shouted down by none other than Chairman Koval himself. This was whom he identified as "Father" in his recorded message. That should have effectively ended things, but Xakais was unwilling to let the matter slide. He would go it alone, and send updates on his progress to his contact Thokeem. The fact that Thokeem was genuinely his uncle made the deception even more convincing. There is no safer place to hide the truth than in a lie.

His quarters, for lack of a better word, were rather dismal. The Bolian freighter was just that, and it devoted more of its limited space to storing as much cargo as possible. For stowaways like Xakais, the best 5 strips of gold-pressed latinum could arrange was a closet that just so happened to have a recessed sleeping bunk. It might have been worse; Bolians at least had communal food replicators. Xakais had traveled aboard a few Klingon vessels where the choice of starvation was preferable.

Nearly bumping his head as he stood up from the console, he grabbed a tiny holo-chip out of his bag. This was a record of the findings from an optolythic data-rod that had been uncovered in the wreckage of Vreenak's ship. The footage was badly damaged – allegedly a result of the explosion- but what was there would be enough to turn more than a few heads.

On the surface it seemed to be a secret recording, supposedly uncovered by Vreenak, detailing a surprise attack by the Dominion. The fact that it was recorded using a Cardassian data rod was compelling; these were nearly impossible to come by outside of Cardassia Prime, and even then the forgery would have to be perfect. This was not perfect. Even as he reviewed the scrambled footage there were minor imperfections. Koval's assessment be damned. This was not from an explosion. The footage was sloppy.

Alright, we have a theory. But where is the evidence?

Xakais was certain of this, but convincing others required something solid. He had to admit, his foundation was faulty. Still, the first step would be to determine if forging one of these rods was within Starfleet's capabilities. Therefore, two questions had to be answered.

Could Starfleet acquire a genuine optolythic data rod? And could they find a competent forger?

The answer to the second question was obvious: of course. Encoding holo-programs was so popular it had become a commonplace hobby in the Federation. And there were those who took particular pride in their work; they were usually smut-peddlers. Finding somebody onboard Deep Space Nine with this ability would be easy. Locating a person with sufficient skill to fool Senator Vreenak was another issue, but it was a start.

As far as the first, that was a trickier matter. Obtaining the device used by Cardassians to record essential government meetings would be no small feat for Starfleet. They were produced on an as-needed basis. The only possible lead there was that Obsidian Order remnant, who now served aboard Deep Space Nine as a humble tailor. Xakais knew he would, eventually, have to come face to face with this Cardassian, but he would rather it be later. If rumors were true, his skills had not dulled over the years.

The dim blue light of the console was blinding. He only realized when his eyes began to water that he had not slept in nearly 24 hours. Piecing together the puzzle of what lay before him was a job meant for the entire Tal Shiar. Without his usual resources, it all fell on him. Ever more questions lingered in the back of his mind, all of which needed a satisfactory answer before Koval might possibly accept his findings.

Was Vreenak convinced of the veracity of the rod, or was he bringing it back to report to forgery? Where and when did Vreenak obtain the data rod? Who gave him the data rod?

Obviously, the answer to the last one was Starfleet. But whom within Starfleet? Xakais was operating under a theory that Vreenak obtained the data rod on Deep Space Nine. This was shouted down by Koval; there was no confirmation that Vreenak had ever visited the station. Yet all the bread crumbs seemed to lead there.

A sudden jostle from below stirred him. The Orlaxian crew was busy preparing their cargo for final inspection, and it seems somebody had mishandled a crate of self-sealing stem bolts. Colorful Bolian cursing echoed through the chamber below, and that was all the prompting Xakais needed to finally surrender to sleep.

He slipped off his unassuming brown tunic, and dug his disruptor pistol out of his bag. It was his own design, machined to look from afar like an ordinary tricorder. This certainly helped sell the Vulcan illusion, but he hadn't run into an occasion to fire it. Not yet anyway. Setting the stealth weapon gingerly beside him, he turned his back to the wall, and kept his head trained towards the door.

"If you are caught in bed, you'll have half a second," Thokeem had once told him during his training. "You have to make that time count."

He was headed to Deep Space Nine. For all intents and purposes this was the frontline of the Federation war effort. For a rogue Tal Shiar agent operating without the blessing of the Romulan state, there was no more dangerous place to be. But the truth would out, one way or another. Xakais took a deep breath and slowly closed his eyes.