Klaxons screeched in the dim yellow emergency lighting as SubCommander Valekh stood before the transported pad. He could hear boots rushing back and forth along the hallway behind him, the shouting voices trying to restore order amidst the chaos. He should have been out there directing the response teams, but his day had yielded yet more unwelcomed visitors.

They appeared on the transporter pad in a swirl of green light, a pair of Uhlan flanking a woman dressed in black. “SubCommander,” she said when he let the silence linger. “It appears you are in need of assistance?” Her lips curled at the corners - did she think this was funny, watching his crew picking up the pieces after being blindsided?

He tried not to voice his rising anger. “We have the situation in hand, Major.” He was almost successful. “This situation hardly warrants the presence of the Tal Shiar.”

“And yet here I am.” That smirk, that damned smirk! He could practically hear it in her voice, the bemusement she did not even have the decency to hide. “In fact I had expected your gratitude, given the state of your installation and its support vessel.”

Gratitude?! The word nearly escaped his lips, caught only at the last instant by his better judgement. No, that was what she wanted, for him to give her reason to doubt his control of the situation, and of his station. A deep breath steadied him, and gave him a moment to regain his composure.

“I assure you, we have things well in hand. Repairs are already underway, and will be completed in short order.” He had hoped that would be enough to wipe the smirk from her face, but no.

“Perhaps you could enlighten me, then, as to just what has happened here?”

Valekh stiffened his posture. “We were attacked during a maintenance cycle. With our sensors down we were given no notice of the attackers approach. They disabled our support vessel, and boarded the facility. We estimate their boarding force at two squadrons, and lost as many in repelling them.”

“And have you any idea just who ‘they’ were?”

“We have little sensor data, but readings of their weapons fire are consistent with… Dominion technology.”

Bracing for a rebuke of his performance, or perhaps the bark of a disruptor, Valekh found himself stunned when the Tal Shiar officer began to laugh. “The Dominion? SubCommander, if the Dominion had found this outpost you and everything else here would be atomized debris. It is much more likely that one of your people grew weary of this distant posting and sold you out to pirates, hoping to be repaid for his information.”

Valekhs ears burned. He had lost nearly two dozen crew in the chaos, his stations T’Varo was adrift with a severed nacelle, and now this Tal Shiar susse’thrai dared to impugn his competence and the loyalty of his crew in the same breath?! He rushed toward the woman in black, thrust a finger into her face, and was about to tell the Major just what he thought of her when he felt it. The barrel of a disruptor pressed between his ribs, jabbed like a knife by a hand he had not even seen move. She had goaded him into making the first move, and now she had him dead to rights. And he could see in the gleam of her yellow eyes, so close to his own now, that she knew it too.

“You have proven yourself incapable of adequately defending this outpost, SubCommander. The Tal Shiar has obviously allowed the Star Navy too much leeway. From this moment I will be assuming control of this installation, and conducting a thorough review of the loyalty and ability of its assigned personnel. You,” she said, removing her weapon from his side, “will demonstrate your own loyalty and ability by seeing that repairs are completed as soon as is feasible. Am I understood, Centurion?”

Even though Valekh was easily half a head taller than the woman before him he could feel her looking down on him, and under her gaze he withered. “Yes, Major.” He watched her savor his defeat, that damned smile of hers like a twist of the knife.

“Excellent.” Leaving him reeling at the edge of the transporter pad the Major brushed past him and out into the station, now hers, her pair of black clad Uhlan in tow.