From the Ashes
With the USS Valentine back in orbit around Earth Captain White and Commodore Shelk transported to the surface. They materialized in a plaza in front of Starfleet Headquarters in the Presidio area of San Francisco, the timeless grace of Golden Gate Bridge in the background. The space was surrounded by a complex of neo-futurist administration buildings, tilted steel columns, catenary curves, glass curtain walls and parabolic roofs vaulting on top, streamlined and graceful. Hundreds of Starfleet officers were commuting in the vicinity. A group of protesters were holding a peace rally, cordoned off by security, a few news crews reporting on the demonstration.
Commodore Shelk took a quick look around, content with the setting he returned his eyes to Captain White who was a bit uncomfortable.
“Are you sure this is the best course of action?”, the Captain asked his Andorian friend.
“Don’t worry, I explained it to you, you said yourself that we need the proper audience!”, Shelk replied.
“Yes, I did, but I didn’t have in mind this!”, White said while gesturing wildly,
“Argh! Alright, go ahead!”, he added.
The Commodore tapped his communicator. Looking up at the sky he inquired:
“You there, Gino?”
“Yes, Skipper, we are standing by”, Lieutenant Belafonte answered over comm.
“Start the show!”, Shelk advised his officer.
Shelk and White were both looking up now, shielding their eyes from the afternoon sun. The Captain continued his banter:
“You and your fondness for a big entrance! Hah! I can’t believe you always pull off these stunts, but you still outrank me!”
Commodore Shelk just laughed at White’s reaction.
From the direction of the bay a noise was now approaching, a high-pitched wheezing, coming ever closer. Increasingly getting louder it became clear that this was the sound of a starship’s engines in atmospheric flight, yet there was nothing to be seen. People around the plaza began to notice the unknown phenomenon, it’s only identifying trait being the whirling roar of thruster engines propelling exhaust. It seemed to be directly above the Starfleet Headquarters buildings. It began circling and hovering one hundred meters in the air, the engines pushing down air with gale-force, swirling up dust and violently whipping nearby palm trees. Many bystanders, afraid of another Patronage attack, were running for cover while others kept on watching in awe.
The ship began to decloak, its features slowly rippled and warped into visibility out of thin air. The scene began to attract more and more spectators, civilians as well as Starfleet officers at the plaza staring in amazement, the windows of the administration buildings congested, the news crews training their cameras at the vessel, which had extended its undercarriage skids and was now coming down for a vertical landing. The ship touched down in a wash of air in the middle of the square, all of the onlookers had cleared the area, except White and Shelk who were now standing only a few meters from the ship’s cockpit section.
The doors of the main entrance to Starfleet Headquarters sprung open and some two dozen security officers with phaser rifles filed out and began to surround the unknown craft.
Shelk turned towards the guards and shouted:
“Everything is under control, gentlemen, please stay calm!”
The hatch under the vessel’s cockpit opened and Lieutenant Belafonte climbed down, after spotting the armed securities he raised his hands with an innocent smile. A group of Starfleet brass was now coming out of the building, descending the stairs, their looks ranging from confused to angry. An exasperated Fleet Admiral Jorel Quinn elbowed his way through the crowd of people which was gathering close to the craft now.
“Jeffrey, what is going on here?, the Admiral fumed.
Captain White, still overwhelmed and satisfied by the sight of the advanced ship directly in front of him, answered him without looking away from the vessel:
“This is your evidence, Admiral.”
Commodore Shelk gave Belafonte a affirmative look who turned towards the ship’s hatch and yelled:
“Bring him out!”
Now two more men climbed down from the craft, it was a bedazzled and stricken Major Winslow and the security officer from USS Rabin, guarding him.
The Commodore now stepped up to the Admiral and explained:
“Admiral Quinn, allow me to introduce you to Major Winslow, former head of security to the President until he was found being involved in the attack on USS Leeds a few weeks ago and disappeared on his way back to Earth where he was to be interrogated. He is an agent for Section 31, but he is prepared to fully cooperate with us now. As for the ship, I stumbled on it in the Mutara Sector. I suggest you have your people investigate it, the contents of its computer core, communications files and flight schedules as well as the vessel’s design should be quite revealing.”
Director William Jefferson had been observing the events in the plaza from his office window. He turned around and closed the window’s blinds.
In his Paris office, Federation President Okeg was standing in front of a large viewscreen along with his staffers, everyone was watching a news feed.
On the screen a flashy red ‘FNN’ sign was popping up on a rotating blue sphere animation, an off-voice announced:
“Federation News Network, Eyes on Earth at Noon”
Then the picture cut to a male anchorman wearing a sharp suit and Pompadour hair.
“Good Afternoon, I am Tom Flint. Our top news story today: The mysterious influx of supposedly secret information about a clandestine organization who is working in the shadows of numerous Federation agencies. The information was exposed by an unknown source transmitting from the edges of our borders, sending corroborative evidence including recorded conversations, membership lists as well as strategy papers concerning sabotage, espionage on Federation citizens, violation of intergalatical treaties, corruption and murder as well as other illegal activities.
The data was received not only by news agencies, but also forwarded to authorities, among them the offices of the Federation Council and the President, several of Starfleet’s institutions, foreign embassies and even private citizens.
The information claims that a number of prominent figures are among the members of this organization which calls itself ‘Section 31’ with a high-ranking Starfleet admiral as their leader and that some of the most recent tragic events may have been the result of their actions.
In relation to this development we just learned that an unidentified spacecraft which is believed to be the source of these transmissions apparently landed in the middle of Starfleet Headquarters.
Federation News Network reporter Arzuri happened to be live on the scene while reporting on a peace rally when the incident occurred right in front of her, let’s go to her live from San Francisco.”
The picture cut again to a tall Kelpien female, in the background the aforementioned buildings and a crowd of people surrounding the ship.
“Tom, I am standing here right in front of Starfleet Headquarters where just minutes earlier an unidentified spacecraft had landed. The vessel which witnesses described as being of Starfleet design has no registry or markings. Most shocking however is the fact that the ship apparently is equipped with an advanced piece of technology, called a ‘cloaking device’. The Starfleet officer piloting the ship during its approach impressively demonstrated this by passing Earth’s orbital defenses with impunity, which have been on high alert ever since the attack on Khefka IV and landing here at the heart of Starfleet, staying invisible to eyes and sensors until the last moment before disengaging the cloak in front of hundreds of eyewitnesses. Cloaking technology has been outlawed in the Federation since the signing of the Treaty of Algeron almost hundred years ago. This is also a reminder of the infamous Kelso incident of 2395, when it was revealed that the Federation starship USS Kelso was lost with all hands in the Devron Sector after suffering a malfunction related to an experimental cloaking device. President Okeg famously signed a bill reinforcing the bann and pledging the Federation to peace. With these latest developments our galactic neighbors are going to have a lot of questions. Back to you, Tom.”
President Okeg, still watching the live report leaned to his aide and told him:
“Find out what is going on over there.”
The man nodded and went off. Another staffer appeared beside him with a padd.
“Sir, here is a transcript of the message we received a few hours ago. Exactly like they just said on the news.”
Yet another assistant approached him.
“Mr President, I have several Council members on hold for you, they are asking for a statement.”
“Tell them we’ll look into it”, President Okeg instructed.
“Yes, Sir”, the woman answered.
Okeg turned towards the others and ordered:
“Get in touch with Starfleet Command, I want their Intelligence to verify these accusations.”
One of the staffers grimaced and replied:
“Argh, excuse me, Sir, but there might be a problem with that…”
In his office Director William Jefferson was sitting and waiting, resigned and knowing it was the end of his journey, waiting for his demons to catch up with him. The doorbell rang.
“Enter”, he said.
As he expected it was Captain White who came into the room, accompanied by two security officers carrying phasers. The two men surrounded Jefferson at his desk.
“Sir, please stand up!”, the first one prompted.
After Jefferson complied the second officer frisked him, checking for any dangerous items, but found nothing. The two men nodded to Captain White who then signalled them to wait by the door.
“I assume this time your intrusion is sanctioned by Starfleet Command and not another rogue folly like last time you came in here”, Director Jefferson calmly asked and sat down again.
“No, Sir”, White replied.
The Captain cleared his throat and took a deep breath before announcing:
“Admiral William Jefferson, I am here to arrest you on charges of conspiracy, treason, incitement to murder and sabotage, forgery and falsification of records, obstruction of justice, malfeasance, defamation as well as the violation of at least forty-seven Starfleet regulations.”
Jefferson looked at him skeptical while bobbing his head and asked:
“That’s quite a lot. Can you prove all of that?”
“Yes, Sir. I can.”
After a short pause White corrected himself:
“Actually, we can. I brought someone who has been of great help to me.”
Jefferson looked at him quizzically.
The door opened again and another man entered before walking slowly towards the desk: Jesse Phoenix.
Jefferson could not believe his eyes.
“Phoenix?!, but I thought you were dead!”, he wondered with a gaping mouth. Jesse Phoenix nodded.
“So did I, until he showed up in time to save my life from the killer your people sent after me”, Captain White disclosed.
Phoenix began to explain:
“It was obvious to me that you wouldn't stop looking for me until I was either captured or killed, so that I could not investigate you any longer. You sending a hitman after Major Winslow was a welcome opportunity. I captured both as well as your man’s little toy: the cloaked ship. I had the killer take my place at the Hitora compound where you thought I was hiding. I fired at the house from orbit to make it appear as if I had died. It was the only way to continue my investigation undisturbed. Your little cloaked ship turned out to be a gold mine of logs leading to many of your organization’s members.
As for Major Winslow, before I put him in stasis onboard the ship, I told him that after having been the target of your killer he should consider if protecting the secrets of Section 31 is worth risking his life any further. When Commodore Shelk brought him in, he chose to fully cooperate with the investigation and gave a comprehensive confession of his own role in the attempt on President Okeg as well as your involvement.”
Captain White now interjected:
“We also successfully restored the Valentine’s records showing that you tasked Commander Low with sabotaging my efforts of investigating you, a sabotage which almost led to the loss of my ship and crew. We were also provided with a recording between you and Speaker Hayes which revealed her connection to Gumo’s attacks on Khefka IV and Starbase 56, as well as the attempt on my own life. Last but not least Deputy Station Chief Mettus from the intelligence office on Starbase 56, I am sure you remember him, has sent me a message. He made a fruitful trip to the Antares Shipyards, the place of Admiral Pita’s demise where he discovered some irregularities. A subsequent inquiry revealed that a female Starfleet Petty Officer and former protégé of yours had been tampering with the Admiral’s shuttle. She then engineered the evidence in such a way it would point to Phoenix as the man responsible for the death of your predecessor.”
“It seems as if there is not much more for me to add. I compliment you, gentlemen. I must say I underestimated both of you”, Jefferson praised them.
“And I was wrong about one thing. I thought you were the traitor behind the Khefka IV Attack, but it was Hayes”, the Captain admitted.
“What I don’t understand is how and why you, an outstanding Starfleet officer with a distinguished career ended up working for and eventually being in charge of Section 31?”, Captain White wanted to know.
Director Jefferson leaned back in his chair and reminisced:
“It was a long time ago, I was young and idealistic. I joined Starfleet because I wanted to serve the Federation. A certain man eventually recruited me, he said he saw potential. At the time I thought it was the right thing to do. My involvement with Section 31 has always been with good intent, since I believed a more interventionist stance was sometimes necessary and that the Federation was hampered by its pacifist and cautious policy, which also made it responsible for many people’s harm throughout the decades. The aftermaths of the Hobus Supernova in the Romulan Empire seemed to prove my point. Starfleet made a lot of mistakes back then. Section 31 did things that were simply necessary for our survival. But the people out there would never understand this. So it had to be kept a secret at all cost.
When I got wind of Phoenix conducting a covert investigation on us and that he probably let Admiral Pita in on his findings, I thought I could kill two birds with one stone. I couldn’t do it without Hayes. She has always been after the Presidency. When she offered her support I convinced myself that she was right about wanting to remove Okeg and she promised I would be the undisputed leader of the organization. She had been leading a rival faction for a long time: they were more radical, wanted to implement even stronger actions, not just to safeguard our citizens and secure the interests of the Federation, but doing it by making us an aggressively expanding power, dominating the Quadrant. I thought they were going too far, I needed to be in control and let Hayes be the popular political leader she wanted to be.
Hayes needed Okeg’s death to maintain her grip on power. Although a long-term member of the Council and with considerable influence, she had made many enemies and ran the risk of being ousted by younger candidates during upcoming elections. But her position as Speaker made her first in line for the Presidency, in case anything would have happened to Okeg. I take it that it was you who warned the Klingons about the drone attack on the President’s ship?”, Jefferson inquired while looking at Phoenix.
“Correct”, the latter replied.
“With all those charges against you, you will have a hard time proving you didn’t know about Khefka in advance”, White reminded Jefferson.
“I didn’t. But I curse myself for not seeing it coming. Since the attempt on the President failed and Okeg survived, Hayes needed a different way to secure her future presidency. I reckon she contacted Gumo's militant group early on as a backup plan and made a deal for mutual benefit. Gumo would attack the embassy on Khefka IV, the resulting infamy would make him rise in status over other groups fighting for independence from the Klingons. In exchange he apparently received weapons and intel on Klingon targets.
The way I see it, the embassy attack had two goals: the death toll and Starfleet’s expectedly poor response would incite unrest in the Federation and create the demand for a more active, preemptive, aggressive policy. Furthermore, the embassy was holding a conference at the time of the attack. One part of the negotiations was the proposed membership of Khefka in the Federation, which would have the Federation absorb their rich tritanium deposits. This in turn would have hampered the business of an old friend of Hayes, a Karemma merchant, who owns tritanium mines in an asteroid belt”, Jefferson explained further.
“But the attack ended the conference and it’s plasma explosion created a severe fallout, contaminating the tritanium deposits, making them unusable”, Captain White jumped in, finishing Jefferson’s sentence.
“Thus Hayes friend’s profits increased, while he in turn promised her privileged access to his mines, which she needed in order to build a bigger fleet, satisfying the security needs of the people and using the political tailwind for her next run at the presidency”, Jesse Phoenix now theorized. Jefferson nodded affirmatively.
“But why did you have to kill Admiral Pita, Sir?”, Captain White wondered.
Meanwhile a few meters behind him another figure quietly walked through the door. None of the three men sitting at the table noticed it.
“I had my reasons”, Jefferson dryly stated.
“I would really like to know them, Billy!”, a female voice sounded from the opposite side of the room.
Director Jefferson suddenly stiffened, his face turning into stone. White turned around and stared in disbelief at the approaching female.
Admiral Jessica Pita was very much alive as well.
William Jefferson looked as if he had seen a ghost. Shocked and bewildered he rose from his chair and walked around the table.
“Jess, this can’t be real. I don’t understand”, he stammered.
Pita slapped him hard across the face.
“Real enough for you? That’s for trying to kill me! Mr Phoenix suspected this outcome months ago and came to me. We decided to play along and set a trap for you to see what you would be doing next. But I want to know why!”, she yelled.
Jefferson, coming about, looked at her.
“You know why. Because I realized that you would always be standing in my way. I spent more than twenty years of my life serving the Federation and things never changed. Despite all the diplomacy and the handshaking and the rhetoric the Federation is a paper tiger, toothless, not able to protect itself. I was trying to change things. I saw that in order to build a better world you need to tear the old one down first. It is the price of freedom and security. I did what I did to protect the people. Section 31 is not your enemy. Disorder, war, all our petty bickering, our indecisiveness and negotiating: those are the enemies, we tried to save the Federation from its own flaws.”
“You’re talking just like Hayes, I listened to the recording. You want to be a hero like her, saving the Federation by murdering fifteen hundred people?”, Pita scolded him.
Jefferson answered her, his voice becoming ever more agitated and shrill:
“You people think everything is nice and comfortable. You know nothing about how it really is out there. We have been doing the dirty work, so you could shine in a bright light. Despite all my efforts, I was unable to save them. You stood in my way. We cannot let this happen again. Things had to change. Or they will have died for nothing!”
Admiral Pita stared at him, her eyes gleaming, suddenly she understood:
“It’s about them, isn’t it? It has always been about them? Molly, Madison and Emily!”
Her mentioning of his deceased family member's names struck Jefferson like lightning.
He marched back to his desk, opened the drawer and took out the picture of his family, the present they could not give him in person anymore. He stared at it for a moment, then he went on shouting at Pita:
“I was trying to save them! Why didn’t you save them?”
“I couldn’t!”, Pita answered, lamenting.
“Yes, you could have! You could have stood up against their rules and trusted my judgement. I warned you, but you wouldn’t listen. I wanted to do this right. By the book, like you asked me to. I should have done it like he said. He wanted me to forge the report. But you would have known. I did everything I could. You should have listened to me. Why didn’t you? We have been friends for all our lives. You knew you could trust me. It’s your fault. I warned you. Your fault!”, Jefferson continued.
“I was trying to do things the right way, the responsible way. I am sorry!”, she replied, her own anger giving in to her guilt.
“You wouldn’t dare justifying yourself, if you knew what I lost. You never had to tell the people you love most that everything is alright, when you knew it wasn’t: your husband, your child. You are lucky for being able to embrace them again. My family was not so lucky. How could you ever know what it has been like for me? How can you ever look me in the eye and tell me you are sorry?”, Jefferson went on railing at her.
“My death would not have brought back your family!”, Pita suggested.
“It was their loss that showed me what was wrong in this world”, Jefferson calmly expressed.
“Our work is not done. There are many more obstacles to clear”, Jefferson suddenly heard a voice saying from across the room.
He fixed his eyes in the direction and barked:
“Oh, shut up! Shut up! Shut up! I should never have listened to you!”
Pita as well as Captain White and Phoenix were looking in confusion at Jefferson shouting at the empty corner.
“All our work, the entire organization is coming down, because I did what you told me to!”, Jefferson added, completely ignoring the other people in the room for a moment.
“Billy, what’s wrong? Who are you talking to?”, Pita now asked him while trying to follow his gaze at the unoccupied corner.
“Don’t you see it? It’s over! We have lost everything!”, Jefferson finished and turned away.
Suddenly he realized he was still holding the picture in his hand. He stared at it, whining:
“I have lost everything! Oh God! Why did you have to go away and leave me all alone? I miss you so much! I love you so much!”
Jefferson held his family’s picture tightly to his chest and sank to the ground, sobbing profusely. Jessica Pita, distraught over his breakdown, hesitated, but finally she knelt down in front of her longtime friend and he fell into her arms; his face, drowned in tears, pressing against her shoulder and the two embraced dearly.