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Ethan Neufeld

The Devil You Know

10 JUN 2388
Chez Antonio, Commerce Sector, Aegis

“Relax, Lieutenant. Your tension is palpable.”

He felt irritated that she casually pointed it out, much less that he struggled to hold it back in her presence. He heard the scoff-like chuckle that came from him before he could stop it, sensed dissonance in his curious look even as he tasted bitterness. He had written her off months ago, daring to hope on the flight to Aegis that he had more time to prepare for this conversation and more that it would never happen.

“Lieutenant, do you know why you were sent here?”

“Guessing you're about to tell me,” he countered, sounding more cynical than he had intended.

“I would, but unfortunately I cannot. However, what you believe and the reality of it is... complicated. But I suppose you suspected that.”

“Hmm,” he hummed wearily.

“Apparently you were not wanted… for whatever reason.  So I asked for you, and it was granted.” She reversed predictably from his perspective. “Though few know that, and it would be best to leave it that way. Does that disturb you?”

He shook his head, unable to hide the flash of incredulity on his face as he verged ironically. “No. Surprises.”

“I know your history, Lieutenant.”

“Hmm.” He sounded almost dismissive. “What are you up to, Chirakis?”

“Explain what you are asking. I am unfamiliar with ‘what are you up to’.”

Irritation drew up a wry smirk. She knew exactly what he asked and exactly what she wanted, and he hated this dance. “Why did you ask for me?”

“Ah... well, there are many who would like to see you hang - which is ridiculous. Then there are others who understand your abilities. You are a valuable operative, a leader among other things. This station.... is in need of quality officers, especially those who have 15 years of impeccable service as an operative. Some said that putting you here was a waste. I know otherwise. But you have a choice.” She looked relaxed, yet he felt her relentless focus on him as she turned the server away.

“Hmm. You're not remotely concerned about how this might end?” After all, he mused, he had just contributed to the downfall of a once distinguished admiral and her entire organization.

“How this might end? No one knows how things might end. You don't have to make a decision now, Lieutenant. Consider it more of an offer.”

He sighed at her persistence and philosophizing around the question, nodding noncommittally as he still waxed ironic. “I'll think about it.”

“Take as much time as you need.”

He stared at her for a long time, picking at his order before the disillusionment and buried anger finally won over his laconicism. “It's been a while. Picked up an interesting package last time I was here. Everything still copacetic?

“I am not Terran, Lieutenant. Explain ‘copacetic.’”

He scoffed out of annoyance. “You know, it's not a disgrace to use a translator.”

“I understand. I prefer to ask the question.”

“Hmm,” he indulged despite feeling piqued. “Copacetic: Uh, is everything ‘in good order?’”

“I see... as good as it can be.”

“What about you? ‘As good as it can be?’” Ethan couldn’t help the hollowness in his gaze. It had almost slipped it into his tone. 

Everyone works an angle. Anyone who says otherwise is a Romulan selling state secrets.

A mutual wariness had defined the so-called relationship between Ethan and Chiraks from the beginning. Or friendship, for lack of a better word. For all the long-standing success of her operations, Ethan had turned down posts under her command before, steering clear of direct involvement in her methods and connections. Until, laughably, her resources became the only force capable of deposing an admiral guilty of orchestrating extensive war crimes.

The possibility that the captain would exploit the situation had crossed his mind over a year ago. Admiral Farragut and her project had critics, including Chirakis who played so close to the chest that he had never figured out why. At the time, he had hoped they shared the same justification for seeking Farragut’s dismissal as much as he worried that she coveted the power vacuum. In the months following the admiral’s indictment, while his unit fell from leaderless to suspended and finally disbanded, Chirakis had said nothing. Not even a call just to talk. She had ghosted him. Abandoned him while she reaped the advantage, masterfully backing him into an isolated corner. He felt like a fool to have gambled against this scenario, knowing that it fit her modus operandi.

Her voice seemed to echo down a long chamber as he stared. “There is always something happening on this starbase. One never knows what might happen the next minute. So... things are well, as good as can be.”

“Hmm.” A look of wry amusement pulled taut through his jawline as he nodded behind Chirakis, eyes on the short, babyfaced brunette who paid a tab for the beer she had just finished. “The kid at the bar—she one of your Geheime Staatspolizei, too?”

Having almost inhaled a quantity of ale, she coughed a few times, then stopped to glance at Sierra, then back to Ethan. “Geheime Staatspolizei?”

“Turn on your translator and listen,” he said levelly, leaning on crossed arms at the edge of the table. “Won’t play your games with my back to the wall.”

“Qo’!” she replied casually, watching him seethe.  “And it is not a game, unless you allow it to be.” 

He scoffed, settling against the seat to study the girl while he absently rubbed the side of his face and then sighed. “She’s not one of your spies,” he remarked dryly, more observation than a question.

“Qo’ - she is not.  She is an engineer, and a very good one at that.”

Lips pressed in another exhale, he nodded as he found some other distant object at which to glower. “What do you want from me?”

“That depends on what you want.  Do you want to continue as an operative, or would you rather remain a civilian?  It is your choice.”

His head lowered in a shake, blue eyes briefly closed as he muttered, “Scheisse, wir reden im Kreis.” Rising to fix her gaze, he pointed between them. “This an official meeting?”

“I suppose you could call it that. Perhaps more of a discussion that could lead to an official meeting,” she continued, her expression becoming more serious and her words sincere. “My question to you is, are you interested in joining our operation against the Alien Alliance?” She paused, leaning forward to rest her arms on the table for confidentiality. “Lieutenant, we are in great danger here, more than most realize.  In fact, more than many in Starfleet realize.  However, for me to continue this discussion I must know if you actually want to work with us.” 

A short, cynical chuckle spilled out as an excruciating sense of deja vu filled his brain. He could hear Admiral Farragut’s voice mingled below the captain’s like a bad overdubbing. The flatness of his tone couldn’t mask all of the profound disaffection he felt. “Permission to be dismissed, sir.”

Relaxing into her chair, she nodded. “Permission granted.”

“Thank you, sir,” he said, promptly standing. Then as he passed unhurried toward the bar to pay his bill, added neutrally, “Enjoy your lunch, sir.”

Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t.

Edited by Ethan Neufeld

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