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SISKO COULD FEEL the tension in the air even before everyone was seated. He already knew this was not going to be a pleasant meeting. The Aulep and Rylep commanders had readily agreed to join him at eighteen hundred hours in his office; the hard part had been persuading them to show up without a contingent of armed escorts. To allay their fears for their personal safety, Odo had stationed security personnel at their docking ports with the promise of full protection for everyone. Odo's men had escorted them to Sisko's office. Since Aulep and Rylep had arrived, not one cordial word had been spoken. In fact, hardly anyone was speaking at all. They sat staring steadfastly at the pattern of stars so clearly visible through the large, eye-shaped portal just behind Sisko's desk. "Is everyone comfortable?" Sisko asked, taking his seat, interrupting the two aliens' apparent concentration. Flenn and Dorram nodded, more or less; then each turned a cold, vexed glare on the other. Sisko was glad Odo had required two additional security officers to stay in the room. If ever a meeting seemed likely to break down into a fist fight, this was it. Odo himself stood between the visitors' chairs, back a pace, hands clasped behind him. Which was exactly where Sisko wanted him. "This is a small office; you don't have stare so loudly," he said, trying to lighten the mood. He watched with slight amazement as the two leaders continued to glare at each other as if locked in silent mortal combat. Seeing them like this, so close to each other, he found their similarities even more striking. The likeness extended from their physical features and mannerisms to their attitudes -- and both struck him as particularly unpleasant. "Good evening," Major Kira said in a lively tone, as the twin doors to Sisko's office hissed open. She glanced first at Sisko, then at Odo, and finally at the two visitors, who were staring at her, unblinking. She wore her usual uniform, its deep red and light salmon colors in stark contrast to the red-and-black or blue-and-black uniforms worn by Starfleet officers. The short series of ridges on the bridge of her nose made her gaze seem more intense, and the bounce of her short hair amplified the aura of energy she tended to emit. The Aulep and Rylep commanders seemed to find her enchanting. The door opened again, and Quark entered, pausing directly behind Major Kira. He seemed more at ease than he had a few hours ago, but quick recoveries were among Quark's many talents, Sisko knew, so that was no surprise. "I trust I haven't missed anything?" Quark said enthusiastically, then proceeded to greet everyone. "No," Sisko said. "Things have been pretty quiet so far. Which leaves that first step up to me, I guess. So let's get started by making a couple of things clear. The Federation does not like being used, lied to, or fired upon, and neither do the Bajorans." "And neither do we," Dorram said, "which is precisely what these Aulep tlasatt have done!" Dorram had used a word for which the universal translator had no direct translation, but Sisko was fairly certain there were several human phrases that would have fit. Judging by the scowl on his face, Flenn seemed to understand it exactly. "Your ship fired first," Sisko pointed out. "And not only at the Aulep ship but on our station as well," Kira added. "We have a right!" Dorram said. "The Aulep have wronged us and made you their accomplices, and they must be made to pay." "What exactly have the Aulep done?" Sisko asked. "Nothing, of course," Flenn said loudly. He sat back and folded his arms. "We are the victims here. Victims of an unprovoked attack by these ruthless --" "You call us ruthless?" Dorram demanded. "Yes, I do." "And yet you find no crime against the Rylep beneath you!" "I find the Rylep beneath me, that is for certain," Flenn said. He turned quickly to Sisko. "Captain, the Rylep are ruthless aggressors who will tell any lie, break any law, and attack any helpless world in order to expand their wealth and territories." Sisko raised an eyebrow. "Is that so?" "That in itself is a lie!" Dorram said, gripping the arms of his chair. "The Aulep are nothing more than ruthless pirates. They have preyed upon neighboring space lanes for years!" Flenn looked less than amused. "Well," Odo said, as Sisko looked at him, "at least they both agree on the 'ruthless' part." Sisko in turn looked at Quark, who for the time being seemed inclined to say nothing at all. "I think we need to discuss a few particulars," Sisko told his visitors. "Don't you agree, Quark?" "Oh, yes, I do," Quark said, glancing from person to person, all around the room, "but I have so few of them to discuss. Perhaps we could start with everyone else's particulars." He paused, then nodded benevolently at both the visitors. "Very well, I will tell you of the Rylep's many crimes, Captain," Flenn offered. "I will tell you of the many races who fear the appearance of Rylep ships in their skies, of the helpless thousands they have exploited, even ruined, and then you can judge for yourself." "And when you are through listening to this great fiction," Dorram said, his voice reduced to a growl not unlike that of a bull terrier,"I will tell you of the countless cargoes the Aulep have stolen, the crews who have died at their hands, the many worlds that live in fear of commercial ruin because Aulep pirates have cost them so dearly." Flenn stood up and pointed a stubby orange finger at Dorram. "You would dare accuse us --" "Indeed I would!" Dorram shouted, rising as well. "I should have known better than to try meeting with you!" Flenn snarled back. "These station people should have blasted you from the skies the moment you appeared, just as I told them to!" "If it wasn't for this station, you would not be alive to say such a thing!" Dorram said. "We would have blasted you from the stars!'' "Gentlemen, please!" Sisko pushed at the air in front of him with open palms, urging the two to settle down. Flenn leaned across the table. "If I had a weapon --" "Who needs one!" Dorram howled, and with that he lunged across the short distance between their chairs and wrapped both hands around the Aulep commander's neck. Odo and his security team were on them in an instant, prying them apart. Sisko sighed. This was not going to be easy, he thought. At least Quark had managed to jump back against the wall, well out of harm's way. "Lively pair, aren't they?" Odo said to Sisko as he tightened his grip on the struggling Rylep commander. "I think this might have to wait until they've had a chance to calm down again," Kira said. "I agree," Sisko said. "We aren't getting anywhere. Take them to back to their ships and keep them under guard." Odo nodded. Then he and his men began shuffling Dorram and Flenn out the door. "We'll meet again in three hours," Sisko called after his visitors. "And we'll keep on meeting until the two of you decide to settle down, tell me what I want to know, and work this out." "From the looks of things, that might take a while," Quark said, apparently no more pleased with the results of the meeting than Sisko.
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